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By | 2011, Europe | One Comment

The conclusion. The grand, so what? The point where we ask what the point was. Did we all just go on an extensive holiday? A spiritual pilgrimage? A big experiment in social dynamics? A cool photo/marketing opportunity for the school? How do you classify the crazy adventure we all shared in? And how are you supposed to quantify its value?

I am hesitant to call this trip ‘life changing.’ Educational – yes. Relationship building – I hope so. Thought provoking – definitely. But life changing? Doubtful. I’ve only been home two weeks and already the only tangible result of going to Europe is the homework. It is just too easy to slip back in to the same patterns of living and thinking. I hope though, that I can take away a new definition of normal. Or rather, a destruction of the concept of normal. You would think living in the big yellow house would be enough to convince a person that normality is an illusion, but apparently not. In the Vatican, I saw a fresco of a smashed Roman idol being replaced by a crucifix, and I was reminded that this is the reason Christianity seems ‘normal.’ In the colonies section of the British museum, I was reminded of why English is the ‘normal’ language, and why I expect that I can get by in all other European countries without bothering to learn more than a few phrases. The Uffizi and the Louvre were reminders of where our categories of good and bad art – and female beauty for that matter – are derived from. While learning about the darker parts of Reformation history, I wondered why it is so easy to believe our own doctrines and heroes are ‘normal,’ or, dare I say, infallible. Eastern Europe showed us a people for whom capitalism is not normal, although it is quickly becoming so. Visiting the Flanders Fields museum, we remembered that for many people, peace is not normal. And a feminist NGO worker in Brussels told us that just because a system is ‘normal,’ doesn’t mean it has to be.

So hopefully I learned something. Hopefully it makes a lasting difference. And hopefully I can learn to live without divisions of who is normal and who is not.


Can this be called great art?

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Nudity in art never used to bother me. It’s everywhere, and you get used to it pretty quickly. Besides, you can’t draw realistic people with clothes if you don’t know how to draw them without clothes. Apparently.
   However, I’m starting to see a frustrating trend. I’m pretty sure artists weren’t fascinated with subjects like the rape of the Sabine women or Susanna and the elders because of their historical or theological importance. And artistic inspiration is not an excuse for having a string of models/assistants/mistresses to use and throw away. Maybe our art is creating a tribute to the beauty of the human form, but maybe it’s just a classier way of objectifying women.
   Sexism is alive and well, a drive through Czech Republic will demonstrate that quickly enough. And it is not confined to Eastern Europe, as a walk through Paris can so clearly illustrate. Violence against women goes unpunished everywhere; they are not people, they are whores, skanks, asking for trouble. I am sick of it.
   Unfortunately, I have no brilliant solutions. Only a deep sadness that these attitudes are so ingrained in our world that they can slip almost unnoticed into our business, our justice systems, even our art.


Why Europe is not what I was expecting

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Tourist and Pilgrim
Commercial and Authentic
Them and Us
As an enlightened student pilgrim, my task is to embrace rather than demonize the other
But my identity – my affirmation – must come from somewhere
I define myself by what I am not.
And The Tourist is such an easy target
The Tourist is loud and obnoxious
The Tourist collects pictures rather than experiences
Entertainment rather than relationship
I am not a tourist.
I am a student of art and history
The presence of The Tourist irritates me, and yet simultaneously justifies my smugness
But is it possible, if I set aside my prejudice, that The Tourist and I are seeking the same thing?
The Divine

Something draws us to these places.

As our world becomes more disposable, perhaps our souls long for permanence
For things as simple and as beautiful as a door made by human hands and worn through generations of use
For buildings that have withstood fires, floods, and wars
As well as the whims of changing taste
For art that transcends time and space
Perhaps in a fluctuating postmodern world, we no longer know who we are, and so we look to the past to tell us
When my own story feels hollow the ancient traditions lend me something solid, earthy, human

I think I secretly believe God doesn’t like people.
There is something about wild lonely places that just feels holier
And the atmosphere of cathedrals is completely ruined by crowds and noise
Solitude is saintly
Church must be solemn
Humans are a curse, not a blessing – it seems a logical connection, sometimes.

So, as The Tourist and I stand together
Seeking something solid for our souls
I am faced with a choice:
I can inwardly fume against mindless consumerism and crowds, or
I can recognize the foolishness and grace
The wickedness and beauty
The tourist and pilgrim
Within us both