Carved in to the façade of the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, is a quote credited to Victor Hugo. The first part of the quote is this: “the human soul has still greater need of the ideal than the real.” These words face the rather famous Country Club Plaza and I noticed them all over again as my children and I milled around the sculpture park that decorates the green space in front of the museum recently.
Approaching Easter, my thoughts naturally (and supernaturally for that matter) turn to resurrection and then to the pressing global needs that cram airwaves, news tweets, and editorial blogs. Will Iran spiral in to a war with Israel? Has the rise of the Western economy stopped and it’s now the rise of the rest that will dominate the future? Is there a ‘new world’ being developed somewhere on earth with immigrants looking for a home for their family and faith? Does anyone notice that the tomb of Jesus is still empty?
Back at the sculpture park, my children are racing from one piece to the next and we’re playing a game that I unapologetically started. The first to name the material used for the sculpture and the age of the sculpture (time period if you will) wins. To see a nine year old boy and seven year old girl yell out, ‘bronze, before 1940,’ is both twistedly fun and a bit odd. But, my mind is elsewhere. I keep thinking about the Hugo quote staring down at me.
Victor Hugo led a fascinating life and interestingly, his famous novel, Les Miserables was first released to the public in April 1862, almost exactly one year after the Civil War started in the United States. One of his biographers, Graham Robb, writes this: “In this way, two points of view (in Les Miserables) are constantly in play: Society’s disgust and God’s pity.”
Perhaps, the ‘disgust’ that rears its head around the world in the form of famine in some parts of Africa, war in the Middle East, and the dehumanizing aspects of power struggles, juxtaposes with ‘God’s pity’ or some translators may call it compassion. The latter word, compassion, means literally ‘to suffer with’ and at Easter this is perhaps another reminder of the uniqueness of the Christian story. God suffers with people.
Back at the sculpture park, my children are winding down and I’ve lost track of who is winning the game. ‘What’s the name of that one?’ I yell as they digress in to a foot race toward me. ‘that’s a three point sculpture,’ they say in unison. Sounds like a sermon, I say to myself. Score one for the Hugo quote.