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Priceless art in the gallery of pain

Eugene Scott

This courtroom in the Chaffee County Courthouse had been “rode hard and put away wet.” The dark stained wood benches no longer held the polished promise of justice but rather the scratches, smudges, and stains of the thousands of broken lives that had parked on them. Their stories were stuffed in the files on the edge of the judge’s desk and written on the tired faces of the courtroom staff. I was early apparently, leaving too much time to muse about why I was there. To support him, help him. But how does one do that? I prayed. I don’t know what, though. I didn’t know what to pray. Would freedom really help him or jail time really hurt him?The gallery filled slowly. My prejudice must have been showing because everyone sat across the aisle away from me clumped in a corner, like they all knew one another and had done this before. One man, crumpled, tired, and hung-over, pestered the public defender, saying his positive alcohol test was due to cough syrup. He later admitted to the judge it was tequila. His sadness washed over me like a wake behind a boat as they led him down the aisle and off to jail.A guard followed in a string of men, my reason for being there among them. They were dressed in chains and orange or black and white striped jump suits. They shuffled, chains jangling around their ankles, holding their cuffed hands palms up, belt buckle high as if pleading for a second, third, fourth or fifth chance. My reason for being there glanced over his shoulder at me and tried to smile. His eyes said, get me out of here. I flashed an impotent smile back.Once he was a bullet fast halfback in Pop Warner football. Better than me at most things I thought mattered back then. Smart, funny, mechanical, handsome he was. That was twenty-five years ago before he slowly but surely poisoned himself with alcohol, cocaine, pot, and any other substance that would kill whatever pain, joy, hurt, or love he didn’t want to feel. I once partnered with him in this life-killing lifestyle. I may have even started him out. We once shared a childhood bedroom. Now all we shared was blood, guilt, and the pain of his brokenness that no drug could anesthetize. The judge sentenced him to a year.I hung my head. I prayed something. Anger, hurt, confusion, and helplessness swirled inside me, only imagining what swirled inside him. I looked around at the abusers, the abused, and the bystanders together. A gallery of pain. No one can convince me that drug and alcohol abuse are not demonic destroyers of life. Oddly I remembered a story by Gary Thomas, from his book “Sacred Marriage,” I had read few days earlier. Thomas related how he and his family had visited the National Gallery of Art. One of his children had reached out to touch one of the priceless pictures. His wife whispered sharply, “This is a Rembrandt. You can’t touch these.” The lesson for Thomas was that his wife too was a work of art – a Rembrandt, so too speak, to be treated with holiness, respect, dignity, love and all that we offer other great works of art.I realized these too, these gathered in a local gallery of brokenness, were God’s works of art – more priceless than any Rembrandt. Once they were painstakingly created under God-sized dreams, hopes and designs. But something toxic had touched them, often, ironically from within themselves. So, here they stood, unrestored masterpieces. But I knew, in that instant, they were still passionately loved by the Artist who created them. And me too, even though the marring on my canvas was not as obvious. Finally, I knew what to pray, God, restore him; let us all see the art you wrought in us, lest it be obilerated.Eugene C. Scott is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church. Come gather with us on Sundays at 8 a.m. in the Beaver Creek Chapel or 11 a.m. in the Vail Interfaith Chapel. You can reach Scott at eugene@connectcpc.com or 477-0383.Vail, Colorado


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