This is a picture of individual wealth. It is clearly a picture of an individual declaring her individuality. Departing from the expected, from the norm, combining and recombining unexpected fashion markers. She has something to say, she projects an independence in her flippant sort of way. She dares you not to admire her.
Is this a superficial gesture by a material girl, or an act of spiritual possibility? We need to know a lot more about her, we would need to know a lot more about anyone seen just from the outside–we must be careful not to make unwarranted assumptions. For instance, we can’t see much of her biological parentage and chromosomal makeup, the physical and mental attributes she inherits from mom and dad. Nor can we see the string of decisions she made over time, the history of choices made at sensitive intersections in her life. We can’t see her emotional state, we never can–it’s largely invisible to outside observers.
What you create out of your life cannot necessarily be seen whole by others at any one given moment. Yet here is a fun and carefree invitation to others to get out of our life’s rut–Come on, depart from your norms, live a little. What might it cost her–? Perhaps she risks the approval of her friends, the school authorities, her boss at work? Maybe she risks getting into the college of her desires.
Never mind, she has the temerity to model a love of herself that says, “I am a work of art.” It could reflect a deeper love that really says, “I am God’s work of art.” I am taking all that I am and painting a canvas that represents me. I am the artist of my life, created in the image of the creator God, and painting, dancing for you, sculpting for you, composing for you a whole person. She seems secure in the knowledge articulated in the Psalm this morning–
A new thing today is how people are declaring who they are and say that they “identify as.” At last, people are encouraged and it seems possible to take pride in either our forebears, our ethnicity, or our gender/orientation, in ourselves. People are invited now to make that known by some explicit, verbal introduction with our pronouns.
Myself, I am a straight, white, married male of tall persuasion (6’3”) in the Social Security zone (over 65). But I figure that people can see that for themselves. So, what would my self-introduction be, how should I identify? And I’m not honestly sure. I’d rather let other people draw their own conclusions from the canvas that I have painted, and let whatever chips fall where they may. In the privacy of my mind, I am more inclined to be thinking about who I “identify with,” but you can’t see that. Where does my heart incline, but you can’t see that. Who do I admire and wish I were or, even, feel that I could be, whose pain or joy do I identify with, but you can’t see that. Those feelings contribute mightily to the amalgam that is “me.” Growing up, and even growing old, making my choices adds color and shape and texture to my canvas.
But I’d rather think that I, like you, am a work of art, a work of God’s art and trust that people will accept me that way. I think the spirit in places today is to trust that you are you in all your individuality, which will be respected and honored, even though I know this isn’t fully operational. My wealth is all that God gave me to paint. In sum, I am a wealth of possibility and possibilities. God made us to live lives being reconceived, recreated, repainted, and celebrated.
At the same time, everyone wants to be financially wealthy, doesn’t everybody dream of making a million dollars? As a campus minister, I was a little shaken when I would overhear undergraduates predicting when they would make their first million dollars. It was not a joke, they meant it–the choice of college majors in Business and Economics grew over the fifty years between 1970 and 2020–from 115,396 to 390,564. Of course, the student enrollment grew over that period. But let’s compare those numbers with English, Humanities, and foreign languages and literatures over the same period: 92,395 to 100,119. A growth of only 1%. The growth in business majors was 330%.
A popular movie of the 1980s was Wall Street (1987) in which Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas) lectured people that “greed is good,) A signal song was “I am a material girl” sung by Madonna in 1984. But this was nothing new. The pursuit of financial wealth is universal–think of the Crash of 1929, the antitrust laws against the robber barons, etc., the slave trade. We are fully aware that the love of money, not money itself, is the root of all evil. Love of money blinds, as evidenced by the slave trade, the genocide of the indigenous Americans, and the rape of natural resources in our country.
But this young woman reminds us that our true wealth is what God gave us–we are each a wealth of possibility and possibilities. When Jesus summarizes the law as loving others as one loves oneself, he is certainly not talking about the kind of love that is just self-interested. It is the deep love that comes directly from God’s love of us, that gives us the courage to live in place and the joy of being ourselves. We should feel like my friend who astonished himself once when he said, “I like who I am.” God’s love that reassures us that our past course needs a mid-course correction, that bad judgment or willful offenses are wiped clean off the slate.
WHAT GOOD ARE WE TO OTHERS IF WE ARE NOT WHOLLY AND TRULY OURSELVES?
Finally, I don’t know if INSTITUTIONS are capable of this kind of artistry, self-invention and self-correction. Institutions tend to be like oil tankers, hard to steer. And so many expire before they are able to adapt. The Roman Empire that executed Jesus finally fell, due to its quest for dominance and wealth. We celebrate Jesus today because his love did triumph. We are the proof of the Resurrection, and so, we pray, is the Church.