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Signing urinals versus crying Jeremiahs

Once upon a time, there were works of art. Now we only have theories about what works of art are. These theories themselves are disguised as works of art.

For example, Marcel Duchamp famously signed a urinal and, by signing it, made that urinal a work of art. Duchamp’s action is actually a commentary about what art is. He is suggesting that by someone signing something mundane, by institutions agreeing to display it as something artistic, by publications willing to comment on this phenomena, by academicians and others with time on their hands (not to mention lattes) discussing why this is “art” -- by all of these things going on around a urinal with a signature on it, that urinal has art-status conferred upon it. So it is a work of art.

But actually the urinal is a commentary -- a theory – about what makes an object an object of art. The urinal is an object-lesson about what art is. The problem is that object-lessons should be about the actual objects; they shouldn’t be the objects themselves.

Fast forward to Jeremiah. (Or fast backward to Jeremiah). In chapter 20, we find him depressively wailing away as he usually does. But in chapter 20 he out-depresses even himself. Everybody hates him! He must speak God’s word nevertheless! If not, the word in him is “like a burning fire shut up in my bones!” He hates being like this!

Then he really gets out of hand. He curses the day he was born! His mother should not be blessed! And the man who brought the news of his birth to his father should have killed his mother instead, so that her womb could have been his grave!

But in the middle of all this: “Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers …”

This morning I read this in the comfort of my pajamas – with a cup of coffee in my hands – and find the whole thing strange. I need to write a commentary on it. I need to say something really deep and profound about why Jeremiah is acting this way. Then I would have done my Christian duty for the day.

Then it comes: Jeremiah is the work of art. What I write about him is not.

The problem with Christianity in an age of comfort is this: commentaries about Christian experience are not themselves Christian experience. And there are just too many commentaries.


Jeremiah 20:7-11 (12-13) 14-18 [7] O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me. [8] For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. [9] If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name", then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. [10] For I hear man whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him." [11] But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. [12] O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause … [13] Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. [14] Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! [15] Cursed be the man who brought the
news to my father, saying, "A child is born to you, a son", making him very glad. [16] Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, [17] because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb for ever great. [18] Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?


Daniel Leslie Peterson April 9, 2009 at 10:20 AM  

"in an age of comfort" ... but take away any comforts and WE are the ones crying.

"A picture paints a thousand words" ... but it takes words (commentary) to say that. Beware of separating raw experience from the raw word (Word, logos, accounting) that brings Meaning to that existance.

"And there are just too many commentaries." What a commentary (!) upon our information/data/digital age, all facilitated by seemingly unlimited "memory."

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