Let Those Who Have Eyes See
Sitting in a gathering of faculty at North Park this past January, I’m listening to President David Parkyn speak about our need to be increasingly present to the city of Chicago. He speaks of the worldwide trend toward urbanized populations, noting that demographers expect that by 2050 over 80 percent of the world’s population will be urban. Dr. Parkyn stresses that “the world of 2050 is the world for which we must educate and prepare today’s students.” My mind wanders into the past, almost as far back as he is pointing forward….
The autumn of 1976. I am a freshman on the first day of a class in introductory philosophy. It could be that I remember the professor best because of this very moment: Dr. Mouw enters the classroom—dressed relatively informally for an academic—sits, pipe in hand, on the front of the desk, and addresses us. I remember that moment clearly, but ultimately it was what followed throughout the semester and beyond that gave the moment meaning. Certainly the class was marked with academic rigor, yet we were challenged to bring our learning of this seemingly arcane subject into an engagement with the contemporary world. And further, it became clear that this esteemed professor did not regard his status as a barrier to engaging us as friends and colleagues in the pursuit of learning.
Now, back in the present, as I sit here listening to the president challenge the faculty, I am grateful to have had a professor such as Richard Mouw (and there were others to whom I feel equally indebted). And further, I share the hope to have the same sort of engagement with my students, some of whom will be my age come the year 2050.
Let those who have eyes see.
Early in this school year, the art department received an invitation from Tony Zamblé, director of North Park’s University Ministries, to develop a collaborative project for our students, one which would manifest the campus theme for this year: community. The project we came up with involved students making works that represented the eyes of a fellow student.
This was a simple project with a less-than-simple principle: humility in relation to the subject. That is, the students were asked to make works of art that were driven by the subject—both in terms of representation and style. Such humility would intentionally complicate the conventional understanding of art as “self-expression.”
The gaze in our human experience carries and embodies all sorts of possibilities: superiority, disdain, curiosity, shame, mischief, disinterest. In this regard it might be useful to consider the words, “let those who have eyes see,” as related to how we see. I believe Jesus calls us to a seeing—a gaze—of love, one of humility and openness in relation to the subject.
In the case of this year’s collaborative “Eye Project,” the subject of each artwork is the person represented. Collectively the subject of the project is a community called to a “seeing” that is rooted in love and humility.
I wonder how this idea might apply to how each of us approaches the subjects we face. Returning to President Parkyn’s challenge to the North Park University faculty, I think further of the subject of my work as a teacher, a subject I am called to regard with humility:
- the subject of art, its history, its ways of making and being
- the subject of my students: who they are and who they are becoming
- the subject of our context, the community of the University, the city of Chicago, and the world
Let those who have eyes see.
Click on the images in the story for a closer look at the collaborative community art project.