I still remember a particular apologetic encounter I had with some students in my residence hall last year. A friend had invited me to join him in answering some questions these students had about a passage in Matthew. With zealous confidence born out of my two years of Greek study, I marched into the fray, ready to field their objections with reasonable, winsome answers. Instead, as the conversation progressed, I found myself more and more frustrated by their callous and skeptical attitude. For all my bravado, my combative apologetic mindset really originated in fear. I was afraid that I would lose the argument and fail to defend the faith.
Looking back, I wonder what it would have looked like for me to approach that conversation not with a taut, defensive posture of fear but a receptive, hospitable posture of openness. What would have changed if I didn’t see those students as enemies but as partners, fellow pilgrims on a road towards restoration and redemption? And how could I have cultivated that sort of perspective in my heart?
I propose that we can use our interaction with art as a sounding board to help us navigate these questions. By picturing what it looks like to receive art as a gift, an open dialogue between artist and audience, we might be able to reconfigure our approach to apologetic conversations as well.
Visiting the Art Museum
For a moment, imagine with me a quaint, historic art museum, located in the heart of your local downtown. As you enter the lobby, the doors creak behind you, stifling the droning commotion of Wednesday afternoon city life. You mumble a polite greeting to the curator and step into the first exhibit where you’re met with an open, empty space. Crumbling alabaster walls and warm, glowing spotlights draw your attention to the first painting to your right, a simple, unassuming oil-on-canvas composition accompanied by a small nameplate.
As your footsteps squeak on the rustic hardwood floors, you slowly approach the frame. There’s no rush, no confrontation, no tense showdown; it’s just you and the art in front of you, eye-to-eye. At first, you feel that the work is a little too abstract. You can’t really tell what the artist was thinking. And yet, instead of feeling frustrated, you feel intrigued—a little curious.
Why not paint a traditional landscape? What’s up with the texture of these brushstrokes? Why did the artist choose those particular colors? Maybe you excitedly scan the description close by, eager for clues.