There is a stretch of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail that runs from the town of Millvale down to PNC Park that I have enjoyed walking, running and cycling over the past few years. It follows the edge of the Allegheny River and travels under quite a few of the city’s many bridges. It passes beneath old railway infrastructure, along a fairly new pedestrian bridge and eventually ushers you either over or under the Clemente Bridge to the ballpark. The trail runs further in both directions, but this is my favorite segment.
There is more than a little bit of graffiti that adorns the support structure for these bridges and overpasses along the trail. At many points, it creates a very stark contrast between the trees and rushing water of nature over one shoulder and the industrial and urban scene over the other. Some might categorize this “street art” right alongside the rank smell from the river that occasionally fills your nose.
I personally love it.
For the most part, the taggers have restrained themselves from intentional destruction and vulgarity, in favor of personal expression.
I am somehow less thrilled with people that feel the need to spray paint nature. If I find myself on a mountain trail, and come across a massive boulder that has somehow decided to stop tumbling about halfway down the mountainside, I am far less appreciative of this artistic expression.
Those that feel the need to give nature a coat of paint, also seem to be less constrained when it comes to phallic illustrations and drug allusions… so that’s definitely part of it.
The deeper issue at play in my mind is that in that cityscape you have two expressions of man competing against each other. One generally finds its inspiration in some cold bureaucracy somewhere that has decided that a bridge must be built. As we know bridges must be built (along with bypasses *wink*), making thundering statements of the power and ingenuity of man. Later, someone with an array of paint cans comes along and decides that his voice should be heard as well.
It can be like competing voices in a debate, or in the best of circumstances it can symbolize the complementary voices of a community.
In the case of nature, we see a voice that truly booms forth and says that “God has spoken”.
In a way, the person who paints nature landscapes on canvas is trying to interpret or at the very least experience what it is that God is saying in nature. The one who decides to use nature as their own canvas has become a critic of what God has said through his creation.
He has chosen to rewrite nature in his own image… and the image is often a foul one.
For those who would give me a second thought, and I doubt that there are many, I may be seen at times as a vandal on the walls of the church. I have very little use for spray paint, excepting for the occasional salvation of an abandoned piece of furniture, so the walls that I speak of are the metaphorical ones.
When I talk about something like the subtle (and not so subtle) manipulation that goes into worship music, the nature of the sermon in our gatherings or the authority structures within the church, there are those who would see those in the same light as a vulgar image scrawled across the wall of a physical church building.
It comes down to a matter of perception. There is a perception that those things that are spoken against are as natural to the church as that boulder perched on the side of the mountain. From my own perspective, I see each of these things, among many others, as man-made structures that have served to obscure the view of what is natural to God’s called people.
The church that man has made seems to be obsessed with building bridges. That bridge might be a hierarchical leadership structure that mediates between man and God. This bridge might be a fog filled room of flashing lights and thumping Christian contemporary music. The bridge may be a seminary trained preacher packaging and delivering an interpretation of God’s word to an audience of people.
There is a great bridge that has been constructed by God, painted red with the blood of his Son, that serves to span the great chasm that exists between ourselves and him.
As long as we continue to construct bridges other than the one that has been appointed for us, there will be those that feel the need to vandalize those man-made bridges. Their voices may not be as loud as those of the bridge builders, but my hope is that they continue to be the voices that call for people to look to the true bridge.
May no man vandalize the bridge, that true bridge, which God has constructed.