Insight into Bush?

/ 25 January 2008

Here’s an interesting piece by Scott Horton at Harper’s, which explores President Bush’s favorite painting — a painting Bush himself says is emblematic of his leadership. Horton’s piece points out a sharp discrepancy between what Bush thinks the painting is about — a Methodist circuit rider spreading the Word — and what the painter thought (it was an illustration for a short story about a horse thief who got caught, and the caption under the painting was “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught”).

I'm the first person to argue that the meaning of art is not controlled by the artist, so I'm not suggesting that it's somehow inappropriate for Bush to make this interpretation, but I DO think it's worth those of us who toss around words like "missional leadership" taking thought.

How often, for instance, do we move forward certain of our interpretation of the biblical text? And how often might that very certainty carry us off down a dangerous road? I'm still percolating with James Carroll's ideas from a couple of days ago, and torn by the ways in which what he termed "subliminal" elements of our humanity -- think original sin, for instance -- combine with religious justification and turn into vicious blood sacrifice in the form of war. How often have Christians ridden off to war as a way to "spread the Word"?

Even putting it in capital letters like that, "the Word," suggests a kind of unitary notion of meaning. It seems to me that one of the very most crucial elements of the newer ways of thinking about missiology, is a deep commitment to Trinitarian theology, to an essential belief in the relationality of our God and hence of us as humans. Such a belief, combined with recognition of human brokenness, ought to compel us towards communal discernment, towards critical thinking, towards any process that can support our continued attempts to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.

I want to ask, alongside of Carroll, what do we need to do to reshape our theologies for peace? How is our image of God re-forming to support our transformation? What risks of vulnerability are we openly embracing that we might love our neighbor, that we might love our ENEMY, as ourselves?