Hubert Shuptrine is one of my favorite artists. He paints water color, a form of water color he calls dry brush. I don’t really know anything at all about painting, I just like the fact that Shuptrine seems to be able to capture, not a picture of people, but the story of people in a painting. Hubert’s wife says that Shuptrine painted biographies, not portraits. Shuptrine often told a story about a man he had painted years ago. The essence of his story was that many times we’ve forgotten the difference between living a good life and making a good living. The story centered on the portrait of a 99 year old man that Shuptrine had used on the cover of his book titled Home to Jericho. George Houston Greene was the man’s name and he lived on a mountain top in North Carolina. Greene had lived in Detroit most of his life, but when his wife became very ill they moved to that North Carolina mountaintop to live a simple life together. Shuptrine’s words: ‘He (Greene) told us about his wife and how he nursed her to the very end…He grew his own vegetables, chopped his own firewood. When we got ready to leave (his property), we said our good-byes and we started toward our vehicle. Halfway there, he (Greene) stood up and said, ‘George Houston Greene is a rich man,’ And, I turned around to face him, and he yelled that out at me three more times. ‘George Houston Greene is a rich man,’ almost in anger. He said it one more time, and turned and walked into his little shack, and the dogs followed him in there. I was puzzled by that. Coming down the mountain Phyllis (Shuptrine’s wife) and I talked about it-what he might have meant by that. ….I painted him four more times over the years, and I came to realize he meant, (in your paintings of me) ‘Don’t depict my poverty or my station in life.’ But what else he meant was this: He, George Houston Greene, didn’t just die at 103; he lived to 103 – a big, big difference.
Now it would be easy to write about the rich young ruler, or the evils of money or perhaps some things we should not be doing with our money. There are hundreds of teachings from people, terrifically talented and anointed people, to do that. I instead want to write just a word about how George Houston Greene could say such a thing, or in our case, how can we say the same thing because of our Gospel.
I don’t know how we are going to do it, how we can share it, but Christians are in critical need of being able to share our message and share it in a way that people come to understand how George Houston Greene could think like that and how we can come to think of ourselves independently, not finding all our identity by our financial successes. Our schools, media, movies, television and now the new social media come up short on that one. Somehow we have to find a way to ‘model’ a life for our children and the people around us, show that there’s a life that is more than making a good living financially, and point them to a Life that’s more than that, show that there’s a good life to live that is purposed and worth living. What’s surprising is that the Gospel message has that as one of its very purposes. A life that isn’t measured by what we have in our garage, house, or bank. People need to learn of a God kind of Life, separate and many times hidden in our human life. Those two lives are not the same. In some perverted way, we’ve tried to humanize the Spiritual kind of Life rather than spiritualizing the human kind of life. One is associated with simple biology: food, shelter, etc; the other is associated with the Mystery of Life, one that is not so obvious but can be discoverable, a Life that might be hidden at first glance. That’s why it’s harder for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. His success and self-satisfaction so dominate that he misses the simple meanings hidden in the Life of God. He’s typically trying to get satisfaction with things that don’t satisfy. Even knowing that, he tries just the same. Human life is eventually frustrating; God’s Life is rich with beautiful and profound meaning and purpose. I think we’ve all discovered that apart from the Life of God, human life grows stale and wearying, but we may not want to admit that to ourselves or others.
Sellers get wealthy convincing us that they have what will satisfy, but we discover sooner or later it does not. Education promises satisfaction, ‘sex, drugs and rock-n-roll’ whispers it to us as well, but doesn’t deliver what we truly need or eventually want. The Gospel of Grace, the Love of God, is the only promise that keeps its promise; it’s the only thing that really has the power to change. It makes us rich when we may not be wealthy; it can make us satisfied when we are facing any unpleasant or threatening situation.
I’m not seeing that enough right now. We live in hard times– scary might be a good term to use. As with David, trouble on every side, yet David was comforted. When Jane was so severely ill, we always knew that God was with us, comforting us. Today, while it seems so many things are coming apart, He is with us. It’s not an easy time to live; everyone I know is facing a challenge of some sort. Yet He comforts us if we will permit that. With all the stress, all the pressure, even when the very foundations are shaken and things don’t seem to be getting better, when it seems they are actually getting worse, the warmth of his love, the closeness of his breath is present even then. (Maybe more so then.) NEEDTOBREATHE touches on it in their song “Washed By the Water”: ‘even when the rain falls, even when the flood starts rising, even when the storm comes, I am washed by the water.’
Jesus lived in very hard times, suffered HARD times. The suffering Cross, the name-calling, being misunderstood, even his disciples who witnessed and walked with him abandoned him and lived in some unbelief. (Each generation has its Herod, hypocrites and in essence crucifies Christ again and again.) But, knowing his purpose, Jesus kept moving toward that purpose no matter what seemed to thwart his effort. We can do the same in our hard times as well. Something about the world’s callousness, the country’s divisiveness and spirit of this whole earth disappoints, but knowing that, we can find the touch of God’s Love enough to manage any fear, frustration or discouragement. If He is real we can Rest in Him; our world does not have to be perfect and at peace in order for us to be comforted. He was rejected by men once before, the Holy Spirit of God is being rejected by men again…that’s nothing new for Him or so defeating for us that we can’t depend on our Faith…God is the same no matter.
Just like George Houston Greene asked, don’t depict us by our surroundings, don’t paint our picture showing only the things that are not going well, not going our way, ‘don’t depict our poverty’ because God has made us peaceful, made us free, made us rich with His Truth and Grace. George did not shout that (at Shuptrine) trying to be poetic, and he wasn’t boasting. George said that because it was true. While no one else might be able to see it, or think it, it was true just the same. Our Faith is like that. While others might not understand, may not believe that we really mean it; it’s real and it’s true just the same. No matter what is going on around us, because we are in Christ, we are rich!