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Students at commencement

Ministry in Context

A Little Crazier All The Time

At the end of May, my wife and I had a wonderful tour of Spain, during which we engaged in one of our favorite activities: buying things for our grandchildren. (We have enough things. Too many, in fact. But that is a story for another day.)

In one of the two Picasso museums we visited (Barcelona and Malaga), we bought the children’s book Picasso’s Trousers by Nicholas Allen. In this book, people are always saying no to Picasso, telling him what he cannot and should not do. They say he cannot paint pictures only in blue. But he does it. He cannot do pictures from the front and the side at the same time. But he does it. He cannot do a painting in under sixty seconds. But he does it.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

The title of the book comes from an occasion when Picasso decided that he wants a pair of pants with horizontal stripes to match his shirt with horizontal stripes. “Everybody” said that it couldn’t be done and shouldn’t be done. So he made his own. With horizontal stripes.

When Picasso was a young man, he was very much a conformist. His earliest paintings mimic the style of the old masters. As a young man he mastered the basics, and as an old man he became the wildly nonconforming genius that brought him fame. Toward the end of his life, he said of himself “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

I’m no genius. I’m no Picasso. I’m just a guy who was lucky enough to spend a lot of years being a parish pastor. I didn’t enjoy every day, but I loved every year. As I think back, I realize that I worried too much about the details when I was a young pastor, worried about doing things the way they were supposed to be done. The older I got, the less I worried about the “musts” and the “shoulds”. (Decided in my last parish that Advent was too short. We made it a six week season, and the world did not end.) It was probably a good thing that I learned the basics, but it was also a good thing to move beyond the basics and dare a little creativity.

Internship years are good for learning how to do the basics; but as students move on from internship and head toward ordination, it is time to be pushing the limits and testing the “musts” and the “shoulds.” Take it from me, this is when things really start to be fun, even if a few onlookers shake their heads. It’s a process of becoming more and more child-like.

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