A Sermon by Norman Rockwell

I Blew My Trumpet
July 23, 2013
Who Would Master Stalin?
July 30, 2013

I suppose you could say I have an unhealthy obsession with Normal Rockwell. There’s just something about his magical renditions of America, something pure and unadulterated. And while I am far removed from the ’60s Americana that he immortalized, his work ring as true to life today as in the generations of yesteryear.

Perhaps it’s childish, but I have lately been painting my own Rockwellian scene. Imagine the spitting image of Mr. Kringle, his belly rolling out over fraying overalls. He sits perilously on a quaint little stool in a dusty workshop, one booted foot resting on a support beam below. In his crusty, cracking hands he holds something quite unexpected: a porcelain cup.

The cup is a patchwork of glued together chards and scattered pieces, which the octogenarian gathers gently from the workbench at his side. It is not complete yet—still a shadow of its former self, lined with cracks and imprints misaligned. But it will someday be whole again, and the very thought makes Mr. Kringle smile.

The image may well be too quaint to be the subject of a sermon, but it seems a fitting metaphor for humanity, doesn’t it? We are delicate, we are broken. And yet, we are also beautiful—vessels for good in countless forms. We don’t really have any say what sort of goodness lands in our cup. We are simply vessels.

I have long wished to be a certain kind of cup—one that carries nothing by organic, free trade coffee sipped by queens and pontiffs. Or perhaps a snifter swilling whiskey from the cask. I have also played off my brokenness as something like a fad; when the cup can’t be filled, well then… that is precisely what I designed. It is cool, after all, to fly off the handle—or, rather, to have the handle fly off.

But it’s all bunk. Because if there is no handle, it is awkward at best to drink. And if there are chips, it leaks. And if I pretend to be prissy about who drinks what and what is drunk at all, well then I come across a bit daft. After all, what coffee mug would argue with you, insisting that whiskey is the old thing to be enjoyed within it? Preposterous.

Though I confess it’s a fairly accurate account for me—and for countless others. I like to think that the benevolent Mr. Kringle would still be smiling at our insolence and stupidity, piecing us back together even as we strut about pretending to be purposefully broken. Even pretending that we designed our own cups.

The worst part about it all is that our deep and constant brokenness doesn’t allow for anyone to drink—not if we insist on being broken. And what’s the point in being a cup, however fragile, if people can’t enjoy that for which we were made? What becomes us if nothing fills us? Empty vessels, I suppose.

At least, with the jolly old fat man on the dais, there is one thing we can grin about: he will always be there. Like the candle-lit Christmas murals that live on with Rockwell’s gentle touch, we will always have the hope that someday wholeness comes again. Even if we choose with all our porcelain might to be forever broken.


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