It took me less than half an hour to pack. Everything I have fits in my backpack and my briefcase, and that includes the little bit extra I’ve picked up while here. My backpack sits there now, full and ready for the sixteen hours of terminal waiting and sky flying that’s still between me and home.
This will be my last post from Paris, and my last post for this blog. Thank you for reading. This blog was an integral part of my practicum, and those of you who commented and liked and retweeted gave me greater reason to continue writing beyond my course requirements. I’m a better writer when I write for someone. Thank you for being my “someone.” These posts were written for you.
I have never dreamed of visiting Paris. Had I made a list of places in the world I’d like to become acquainted with, Paris would not have been included. It’s not that I didn’t want to come here. It’s just that I never really considered it. I wasn’t even aiming at coming here when I began planning my practicum. I was trying to go to Madrid, and then Paris suddenly appeared in all her promise and perfection.
I can’t imagine a better place to have done my practicum. I am keenly interested in introducing people who are anti-sympathetic to church to Christ. I find these people particularly amongst artists, who, because of their propensity to doubt, hostility toward easy answers, and experience of the Divine in unorthodox places and ways, tend to be an ill-fit in most churches. Many of them eschew church and Christianity all together, but I know Christ to be bigger than Christianity and Christ’s Church to be more dynamic than any one church. I want them to know this too.
France is a culture that has rid itself, violently, of the church. During the French Revolution, the people didn’t just kill their kings. They killed their priests too. By the end of the decade of revolution, 30,000 priests had either fled France or been executed. The result is one of the most secular societies in the world.
France also has a deeply artistic soul. Everything in France is crafted, and nothing is ever good enough. French people reveal in their food. They obsess over their environment. Every facet of life is supposed to fit perfectly in harmony with every other facet. They adore paintings and sculpture and cinema and music. I’ve never seen so many people reading books in the Metro, on park benches, in cafes. The French language itself is a language that breaks free of purely utilitarian concerns. Beggars in the Metro speak so beautifully they make me want to give them all my possessions in exchange for their golden tongues.
I could not have gone to a better place to consider the difficulties and opportunities inherent in ministry among post-Christian, artistic people.
And I could not have found better people from whom to learn.
The artists and pastors and artist-pastors involved in La Fonderie are valiantly standing in that gap between people finished with Christianity and Christ. The people I have met are the Church that these French artists need. It is difficult work. As I’ve written before, French culture is deeply suspicious of groups. The French language even uses the same word for both “worship” and “cult” – culte – and artists are even more reclusive and individualistic than other French people. Love is never easy, but loving distrustful, hostile, particular, pride-prone people seems especially trying. I have been humbled and blessed to interview and spend time with these Christians attempting to share Christ with people who proudly proclaim that they killed God two hundred years ago.
No one has blessed me more than Francisco and Stephanie Ramos. I was homeless, and they gave me a place to sleep. I was hungry, and they fed me. I was dirty, and they allowed me to use their shower. They arranged my interviews. They have shown me their city and their ministry. They have welcomed me into their home and their hearts. Our conversations have honed my ideas better than any formal study I could have ever done. Everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve experienced, every good memory I am stuffed tight with like my backpack is stuffed with my clothes, I owe to them.
I pray and will continue to pray that they continue to know God deeper in their life and work. I pray and will continue to pray that their work is fruitful and that their life brims over with the grace and goodness of God. I pray that they, “being rooted and established in love, have power, together with all the saints, to grasp the width and length and height and depth of the love of Christ, to know this love that supposes knowledge.” I think they already know it, because they have shown it to me.
I am amazed that God brought me here. I am confused by God’s goodness in my life. I am shocked that a place and a people could prove to be such a perfect playground for my passions, such an ideal context for my continued contemplations on the inclinations I have concerning Christ’s calling on my life.
I shouldn’t be so surprised.
If my twenty-three years of following Christ has shown me anything, it’s shown me that He is faithful. He knows me better than I know myself. He loves me better than I love myself. He provides for me exactly what I need, and His provision extends to relationships and opportunities and a future.
A life of faith in Christ, sensitive to the sometimes subtle shifts of the Spirit, surrendered to the promise of God’s grace is a better life than any I can imagine. God’s goodness knows no limit. God’s love surpasses all.
Once again, thank you for reading. May the grace of God be with you always. I’m sure it will be.
Gene Kelly Was Here
These blog posts were all written in the summer of 2011. They chronicle my time in Paris completing an internship as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary. I worked at an art gallery run by missionary-artists ministering to other Parisian artists and got to know the missionary-artists working there.
I am including them here for you to read because I think they work well together as a series. I wrote them as a kind of narrative collage about what it means to be a practicing artist whose first commitment is to Christ and who seeks to share the love of Christ with other artists.