Exhaustion. Physical, spiritual, emotional exhaustion. This is all that remained in me after letting out today’s drawing.
Tired, discouraged, hungry and broken, Nehemiah and his reconstruction team now stand at an impasse their own design. Famine has struck and the normally lucrative crops have become key to the survival of individual families. With motives ranging from honest empathy, self-preservation, to raw greed; the community has become indebted to each other in order to cover their taxes due to king Artaxerxes. The crops designated to feed families are erased as payments due. Like the modern payday lender, the poor are exploited with exuberant interest rates and unreasonable collection fees. Many are reduced to selling their own children into slavery to begin satisfying their debts. Neighbors are now collectors, the leaders who helped unite a community around this dream of rebuilding a magnificent city now own the children of the men they once led.
Assessing the moral and economic condition of the community, Nehemiah takes charge to right the ship by changing the direction of this small society. In a charge that eerily resembles an ancient Emancipation Proclamation, Nehemiah alters the course of the people by calling out their hypocrisy (and that of himself). In this charge, he enacts a period of Jubilee. This social and economical reset levels the landscape of a society by erasing all outstanding debts and returning property to its original owners, free from liens or dues of any kind. It creates a cultural shift that refocuses a community on serving each other rather than consuming one another.
The inspiration for today’s drawing struck hard when it hit my brain. This image encompasses far more than the broken state of an ancient society facing a conflict between quickly separating social classes. It is the very core of Jesus’s message, serve others before yourself. It is the essence of modern society. It is the raw brokenness of world we know.
The end-goal of an individual’s plans and guided efforts is commonly referred to as their “brass ring”. Advertisers and graphic designers exhausted this analogy in the late ’90’s with commercials of people on trampolines stretching to grasp a golden ring, just out of their reach. A brass ring dangles from the top of today’s drawing, the focus of most of the people below.
The ring is suspended from the top of the page with a ribbon. I imagine this ribbon as silky red, like the bow on a new car in holiday commercials bombarded on any regular television watcher. Beyond the focus of the shiny metal object is another item that tags along with the ring. The complete opposite of the smooth, refined, polished circle is a rough, dull, dirty sphere. Tied to the opposite end of the ribbon holding the prize is a live grenade.
Completely ignorant to the impending consequences of accomplishing their goal and securing their future, shadows of you and me relentlessly climb to be the first to take hold of our prize. We scale a mountain of collateral damage to reach our end-goal, leaving a path of broken relationships and people we’ve used in our wake. Pause a minute to take a personal assessment of the relationships in your life. How often has a “Christian” touted their personal success at the hands of another’s misfortune as “God’s will” or God’s blessings”? Who do you genuinely care for and who are you just using to further your own agenda?
Ok, so the world is evil, cynical, selfish and ruthless; what am I supposed to do about it?
The place of the Christian, the follower of Jesus, is counter-cultural. We are the juxtaposition of modern society. God doesn’t use people to make our lives better. He uses us to make people better.
The interaction happening at the bottom of today’s drawing is the place of the Christian in a broken world.
Two figures form the foundation of the mass of bodies. I drew the figure on the right to appear sick and malnourished as compared to those using him to gain their own footing. He looks down and to the left as a foot presses against his head, shoving him further into the pile of bodies. The figure on the right embodies the compassion of Christians in a cynical world. Kneeling in the position of a servant, he offers a loaf of bread to the oppressed figure on the right. By lowering himself into a position where he can serve another, the compassionate figure becomes a footstool being used by another for personal gain just like the oppressed figure.
The position of these two characters at the bottom of the pile, focused on each other is also a position of safety. Once someone finally captures the ring, the safety pin will pull free from the grenade and destroy everything within its reach. Remaining low and guarded from the attraction of self-centeredness, the servant and the oppressed are protected from destruction.
Jesus does not promise you an easy life with wealth or popularity if you follow Him, He guarantees the opposite. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. Serve people anyway.