Sunday, January 10, 2010

Preschool Portraits and One Dimensional Beings

Yesterday, I was looking at a tea towel I bought when my son was in preschool that has self-portraits of all the people in his preschool class. Many of the children in that class have ended up in his classes through primary school. So I see them a lot. I know what they look like. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to learn that what they actually look like is nothing like their preschool self-portraits.

Even their self-portraits have changed. At last year’s fete, they had books that included self-portraits from every child in my son’s year. And those paintings looked a lot different than what is on my tea towel. But they still did not look anything like the real person.

The paintings were back to back in plastic sleeves, and the names were written on the other side of the painting. So in order to find out who had painted with portrait, you had the take the paper out of the paper sleeve and look on the back. My children were with their Nanna and Pop as I was searching through the books, so I thought I would be there for ages, taking out each piece of paper until I came to my son. Because I could not recognise any of the portraits as real people.

But I actually ended up taking out only one piece of paper – the one that belonged to my son. Now this isn’t to say that my son did such a good representation that it actually looked like him. My child is no more artistic than anyone else. But even though his self-portrait looked nothing like the real person, I know him so well that I could see the real person behind the portrait.

It’s easy to see that one-dimensional preschool portraits look nothing like the people they are meant to represent. And nobody would be foolish enough to go into a preschool class and start looking for a child with a triangle head, oval body and stick legs. We know that the real person will not conform to this picture of them.

But how many times do we draw one-dimensional pictures of people in our heads. We may not be drawing shapes as such, but we take certain aspects of them and turn them into shapes we understand nonetheless. That person votes Labor – so instead of drawing a triangle, we draw a picture of what we think a Labor voter is meant to be like and have that idea in our head. She likes Bon Jovi, so instead of drawing an oval for a body, we draw a picture of what we think a Bon Jovi fan should look like. Instead of feet, we draw something that represents what we think Christians are like.

One of the reasons why children’s drawings look so different to the real thing is that they tend to see everything in simple, familiar shapes. (Which isn’t a bad way to start drawing, by the way.) But the problem is that nobody’s head is really round or triangle or oval. It is a different shape that doesn’t conform to the shapes we learnt in primary school. Our arms and legs are not sticks. They have bumps and grooves and angles. Our bodies are not just one big square or oval, but have many different parts to them. The shapes of our body are different to anyone else’s shapes.

And the shapes of our personalities are also different to anyone else’s shapes.

We do not conform. The person who likes Bon Jovi may actually spend more time listening to classical music and opera. The Labor voter may believe that abortion is not a right, even though she thinks people who have abortions need compassion and understanding. And considering the variety between Christian denominations, there is no one shape or form that will cover all of them. Christians do not fit into a nice little shape that is easily recognisable to the outside world.

We are not just square pegs in round holes. We are shapes that don’t even have names, let alone holes for them to fit into. We are more faceted than a brilliant cut gemstone. We have sides and grooves and bumps and curves. We are multi-dimensional beings.

You cannot judge the quality of a gemstone by just one brief glance. You need to hold it up, inspect it carefully, look at it from every angle, see how it responds to light. And yet humans (who are more faceted than gemstones) often do get judged by just one look – or at least a few brief glances. Or we see them in a different setting and tell them they have changed.

And the thing is, we can never see every aspect of a person. We just can’t do it. Even if we spend our lives living with someone, we will never know all there is to know about them. And I don’t think we can ever know every aspect of ourselves either. There are veins running through us that we may never see. But we often show ourselves as one-dimensional beings. Sometimes I think we even try to conform to other's one-dimensional views of us. Can you imagine if you looked at your head in the mirror and said well it looks like an oval, so I better try and make it even more like the perfect oval shape. We don't do that. We know that although our heads may look oval, they were never meant to be perfect ovals. That's what makes them unique.

But God does see all of us. I think that what we see, compare to what God sees, is as different as preschool self-portraits are to the real person. He sees what we’re really like. Not just what other people think we’re like. Not just what we think we’re like. He doesn’t just see the different sides to who we are. He sees below them. He sees what’s inside just as clearly as he sees the outside.

And the last point I would like to make is that when gemstones are cut and polished, it can bring out beauty that an untrained person would never even have known was there. I think God not only sees what we are really like. He sees what we can be like – if only we let him shape us and polish us.

Grizzly Adams Productions

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