Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Happy Birthday Norman!
Today is Norman Rockwell’s birthday.
Most of us have heard of Norman Rockwell. Norman Rockwell was one of the most famous artists of the 20th Century. Rockwell was best known for his paintings that appeared on the covers of the Saturday Evening Post and for his drawings depicting President Roosevelt’s Four Freedom’s.
Rockwell was so beloved that the Saturday Evening Post would run extra printings whenever they featured a Rockwell on it’s covers. Rockwell’s idealized versions of common American scenes were usually universally understood and required no explanation. Viewers knew the story immediately whether it was about homecomings or about humor in everyday life. Even though these pictures were idealized, the viewer felt that they knew the people in those pictures – sometimes they saw themselves.
Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were even sent on tour to raise war bonds because people felt so strongly about them.
What is less well known is that Rockwell never considered himself an “artist.” He was classically trained and would always refer to himself as “just an illustrator.” Despite his enormous commercial success and his popularity among hundreds of thousands of people – Rockwell never thought he stacked up to the great artists that he admired.
That happens a lot.
Actors want to be Directors. Journalists want to be authors. Workers want to be the boss.
There is nothing wrong with ambition. Ambition motivates and has propelled people to great acts and great achievement.
The problem takes place when we start to lose sight of what we have and begin to despise what we do.
Our society is especially hard on our women. Our secular culture seems to insist that a woman only has worth if she has a career outside the home and away from her family. Our secular society seems willing enough to celebrate motherhood but then in the next moment asks, “So, when are you going back to work?” As if motherhood was not a full time job!
It is easy for women who want to be stay-at-home Moms to feel that they are not valued.
Part of the big push to have women priests is the charge that the Church does not value women because they will not let them be priests. As if, the only worthy religious life a person is to be a priest!
It is not much easier to be a man. A man is expected to be a good provider, to be manly and sensitive at the same time. All the while, the media portrays the father as the biggest bumbler in the house. The man is no longer the leader of the household but the butt of the jokes. We have gone from Father Knows Best to Homer Simpson!
How are we supposed to be these things when we are all so different?! How can we do these things when we are we too short, too fat, too tall, too skinny, too dumb, too smart, too…us.
But the Bible tells us differently.
Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Most of us will never be famous. Few of us will have a building or a street named after us. Fewer of us will find a cure for cancer. “Greatness” will elude most of us but we can do great things. Wiping away a tear or a bottom, holding a grieving friend, listening to a troubled heart - it can make all the difference in the world.
As Mother Teresa observed, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Our happiness in using our gifts can only come when we first let go of what society tells us we should be and accept what the Lord has given us as our unique gifts.
God does not make mistakes. And he has not made a mistake with you.
Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, you are exactly where God wants you to be right now. All of us can serve God and each other and whatever our lot – we can do it cheerfully if we accept things as they are instead of what our culture tells us it should be.
Norman Rockwell thought of himself as only an illustrator. He never valued his work and yet his work changed the way that America viewed itself. Over 50 years have passed and his illustrations still strike a chord with every new generation.
Happy Birthday Norman! We can learn a lot from you.