Monday, September 10, 2007

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“The Arts in Latin America: 1492 – 1820” is a terrific exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art tells the story of the church in Latin America, a story that saddened and depressed me.

As I toured the exhibit, my spirit grew heavier and darker – this is not the Gospel, this is not what our LORD intended for the church – ceaseless pomp and glory, power and command, a total determination of life, a manipulation of emotions - hardly the church of Acts 2.

Two pieces unsettled me deeply: a portrait of a 19-year old girl entering the convent. On her head a crown of flowers (perhaps added by a later artist) to indicate the glory and the beauty of marrying Christ and entering His service. But the artist (knowingly?) captured something else: in her eyes, fear and bewilderment, like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

A two-piece set captured the burning and rebuilding of a “retreat” for unwed mothers. A huge structure, burning in one frame, and then being gloriously rebuilt in the other. All across the Catholic world, homes for unwed mothers – one of the darkest stories in all of Christendom. Baby factories, and the children born in them were fodder for the church – being raised as priests and nuns. Nothing more needs to be said, but history has yet to tell this tale for an institution that excels in hiding the truth to this very day.

The heavy altar pieces, the statuary – and up to the present time, processions – men shouldering and carrying heavy images – reminds me of something Isaiah wrote: “Some pour out gold from their bags … they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god … they bow down and worship it … they lift it to their shoulders and carry it … they set it up and there it stands … it cannot move, it does not answer … it cannot save from troubles (46:6-7).

On an artistic scale, this is an incredible exhibit, but it comes too close too home for me; everything that can go wrong with religion went wrong in Latin America. Command and control – whether it be the Roman Church in Latin America or a right wing fascist like Pastor John Hagee – is destructive of the church and brings no good to the world.

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