Day 75 | Cameron Garrett

Language is in essence a dialogue. It’s dialectic. It requires a response. Language is not just words on paper or words dictated. It’s always conversation. In that way, everything in scripture is conversation.

Language in conversation is always changing. Language is therefore a creative act, a dance of give and take reflective of our ever-changing relationships with each other, life, and the divine. This is why good conversation – be that good prayer, worship, or fellowship – is so life-giving. We feel deep joy in the act of creating and responding together.

We also know the boredom and pain of stagnant and exclusive conversation. Though necessary, a certain honesty and life is robbed from conversation when it becomes too familiarized: “How are you? I am fine, thank you.” This stagnancy in conversation is intimately bound up with an inevitable exclusivity, an unwillingness to speak a new word or listen to a new voice.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to shake up the conversation a bit, to see and say what the insiders are no longer privy and/or willing to. Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank was one such outsider.

With his use of unusual focus, low lighting and cropping that deviated from accepted photographic techniques of the time, Frank published what would become the most influential book of photography in the 20th century: The Americans. With clear eyes from his position as an outsider, Frank found a tension in the gloss of American culture and wealth over race and class differences.

Psalm 124 reminds me of one of the photographs from his collection, “Bus:”

The main theme of psalm 124 is identified in its last verse:

“Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and Earth.” (124:8 ESV)

Our help is in the name – the Word – of the Lord who, as the psalmist points out in the second stanza, begins with Creation.

What is our help? For those in the photograph, it is in freedom, equality, and equity; it is in the opportunity to be seen with new eyes as human; it is in the opportunity to be heard and to speak a new word. In the creative act of this photograph, Frank captures an exclusive, harmful word by seeing and responding to what is there.

“We’ve flown free from their fangs,
free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken; 
we’re free as a bird in flight.” (124:7 MSG)

I believe it is God’s creative Word that proves ultimately liberating. That is, Jesus. Jesus was not only the Word of God – he was the outsider that spoke a new Word of radical Love. We too can speak and respond to this Word. It only requires that we open ourselves up to conversation.

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