Monday, November 30, 2009

Rhino hanging on my wall

On the wall of my office hangs a work of art. Now, this art isn’t a famous piece or an image that might catch a collector’s attention and cry out, “purchase me!” Still, the drawing in my office means a lot to me. I can still remember the day that I first saw this drawing and thought, “I’m going to buy that.”

Having just returned from the AIM field in Glasgow, the world was now a much different place than it had ever been before. I walked with a swagger now, having “seen the world” and living in Great Britain, I knew what life outside the U.S. was like. I was informed and self-aware, unlike so many of my other contemporaries that I went to high school with (or so I thought). However, there also existed a great contradiction within me. While newly awakened, I was also “broken.” Things that I once understood and knew were now more complex and confusing to me. The seriousness of God’s call, the largeness of God’s world and word, the truth about my own sinfulness, these too filled my heart. Needless to say, I was a living inconsistency in my character. I was a mixture of both “good” and “bad”, both “humility” and “pride”, both “flesh” and “spirit.” I was confused! Looking back, it makes total sense to me why I first took notice of the piece of artwork that I ultimately purchased and placed on my wall.

Walking through an art show at Texas Tech, an older, wiser AIM assist had invited me to come and look at the work on display in the University’s art department. So, I jumped at the opportunity and gladly strutted through the gallery, taking in every image mounted on the temporary walls of the Red Raiders’ formal meeting room. One could say that the art was a testimony of its time. Some images exposed the “demented minds” of young university students who were for the first time enjoying the freedom of expression that a state school could provide. Other paintings were more traditional in nature, focusing on the simplicity of color and light within the natural world. I must admit, I loved walking around the art studio, just to take a peek into the minds of those living in Lubbock. I felt as if I had a “sixth sense” to be able to know the inner thoughts and workings of those around me. The experience was eye opening to me.

At the end of the room, stood an art display that I had been anticipating seeing since we first arrived at the gallery. In fact, this final display was the reason that we had come to Tech in the first place. You see, it was an AIMer’s work that was on display that had called us to attend the event that evening. At the time, I didn’t know much about that former AIMer who I have now come to think very fondly of. All I knew was that following his AIM experience, he had returned to Sunset for a short while, and then had begun Texas Tech. As I looked towards his display, I turned to see the work of art that would change my viewpoint on life. The black and white image seemed to jump off the page in an almost three dimensional way. Every line was so perfectly placed, so wonderfully balanced, that I could not tell if the image had been drawn with pencil or pen, carved, or stamped using some technique that I was ignorant of.

What made the art amazing however was not the way it had been created, but rather the subject matter being used. The image was of a rhinoceros, lying wounded on the ground of a library floor, covered with books. As I looked at the image, I saw deep into the rhino’s eyes. He looked so sad, so broken there. The great beast had been leveled by books! The monster had been defeated by information! And not just any books had killed this goliath, this behemoth, but rather theology books. Books about Jesus, books about creationism, books about Biblical history and archeology had put the rhino in his place. As I stood there blown away by the image, I heard a gentle voice over my shoulder. The artist himself stood behind me, as if to offer some appropriately needed commentary to the image. He said, “You’d think a rhino could stand up to books.” He then paused and said, “There is one more book that can’t be overlooked.” As the former AIMer pointed to the page, I saw that behind the rhino was one final book, with words too faint to read without careful study and examination. After a minute of looking, I asked, “What does the book say?” The artist then replied, “It says ‘faith’ Chris.”

Today hanging on the wall of my office, next to a shelf of theology books, is that drawing. I purchased the image in 1997 for under fifty dollars, had it framed, and look at it almost daily. That image reminds me of how far we’ve come. At times, we feel like giants. There are days that we feel as if we have truly “arrived.” In many instances, we believe that we have been “through it all” and are able to “handle it.” We are majestic beasts, with armored plating that stand tall over the plains. We are like rhinos! However, other times we surprise ourselves how easily we can fall. We find ourselves lying on the ground, broken and empty inside, in need of answers, filled with information. Sadly, sometimes it seems that the process of greatness is exactly that thing in which is now destroying us. Sometimes the road we have taken has lead us further and further away from who we truly are. And like a rhino on the floor of a library, we lay down to die, losing the very thing in which we hoped to gain, “our faith.”

Why have an AIM Alumni Association? That is the question. And while “networking” seems to be all of the rage these days, this is not the reason that I am here. My answer is always a simple one. “There are people who went to AIM, did incredible things, but afterwards have been paralyzed in their walk with God.” I love AIM, I always have and I always will. I grew to know God in AIM. When I returned, I was different. And while I’ve seen countless people return and grow closer to God, I have also seen some people return and “burn out” with God. I’ve watched people get lost in a “post AIM world.” And so, it is to these that I write today. My friends, don’t lose heart! While faith may be hidden, I can assure you that it need not be gone forever! In the library of our “post AIM worlds”, there are lots of books, lots of things that would challenge us and even discourage us, bringing us to our knees. Still, we have people who love us, people who care about us and who desire to encourage us to “walk once again.” In my mind, this is what an AIM Alumni Association will bring to the table. A place for those who are hurting, a place for those in need. Likewise, a place for those to serve and a place for those to share.

We are all in this boat together my friend. We all leave Aim with all of the potential and all of the challenges. I pray that God will bless you in your journey. I pray that if you have found yourself hurting after the adventure, you will see that there are others around you who care. You are not alone my friend. The adventure has only just begun!

- Still Aiming, Chris Johnson

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