I have always loved Norman Rockwell. As a young person I saw his paintings (or copies) in the doctor’s office: the scary needle the doc was administering; in the drug store next to the soda fountain I smiled at the couple in love sharing a straw and a soda. I saw the war/returning of soldiers on the front covers of my grandfather’s Post magazine covers: a mama with arms stretched out as a soldier returning from the war with a small duffle bag and clothes hanging on the lines drying; and the young marine with the flag folded in his hands as he sat on an old can in the old shop with a crowd of young and old looking on, listening to his stories. And, of course, the framed copy in Miss C’s music office, of a young boy trumpet player, looking on at his music, with his legs swung across the armed over stuffed red chair in his home, just playing for the pleasure of it, cheeks puffed out and a little dog peeking out listening. I felt the instant call to play an instrument and enter a world with a musical relationship as a friend for life.
In late high school I discovered another series of 4 paintings by Norman Rockwell called the Four Freedoms. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Today as I view them, I notice that everyone is Caucasian in the paintings, except for a very few people who have tanner skin. There is a calm to the painting: no yelling or ornery, no social distancing or masks. When the man in the Freedom of Speech painting stands, everyone very politely turns to him, listens as he speaks with an old dirty jacket on and with nails dirty from work probably in a coal mine, while others are in jackets and suits, look on but he has a right to speak because he is as important as the richer ones, in some kind of town hall. There is the 1950’s look of a mother and father tucking their 2 angelic looking children into bed under the freedom from fear. Clean sheets, sparce but enough, a shared bed and the watchful eye from the couple who believe they have the right to keep their children safe. The turkey in the painting freedom from want, I know now as an adult never turns out that golden brown, and children are rarely that polite waiting for the meal to begin. All the dishes match in the table scene and the apron the mother is wearing is white, starched looking exceptionally clean after cooking and preparing all day. But here too it is not a diverse-looking group, and not abundance on the table but enough. But I remember these were painted by a white man from Vermont, who had skill with a pencil and brush, who lived with a hope and imagination of what was possible in a simplistic way. He believed he was shedding some light on places and people forgotten in America. He does put women, the young, the common workers, the poor, the diverse faithful, lonely, and the joy which comes from being alive as a young person in his works. I read that when Mr. Rockwell first undertook to paint the Four Freedoms he thought he could finish them in two months and it actually took him 7. He said, “The job was too big for me, it should have been tackled by Michelangelo.” But as time would have it, they were not only well received and loved but it is said these freedom portraits came to even help win the war, posters with the painting were everywhere and they were called to ”keep the light of freedom burning.”
Even though the paintings may seem simple, the call to freedom is still deep and for us. These are good moments for each of us to think of what we hold true for all of God’s people. What are the freedoms we would go to war for, or speak out about? Or passionately brave the bullies or the nay-sayers, or even our family? Or congregation, if they disagreed? Does everyone deserve health care? Does every human being deserve to be safe when they sleep? Is it right that some can worship their God and some cannot in the same area of town? Do statistics lie when we see the incongruent numbers of people of color in the prisons? Are some inferior deserving different treatment or pay, or set of judgements or value? While in the midst of this time when life is in such an uproar, and we are at our wits' end, let’s not just imagine life as it was before but demand change and pray for a better place to call our home!
May we cherish and respect, share and advance our freedoms!
~ Pastor Angelee