Finding Bright Spots In Your Starry Nights
Who Was Vincent Van Gogh?
When I say the name “Vincent Van Gogh” – what comes to mind? Get a mental picture and one or two thoughts. In fact – write down one or two statements about Vincent Van Gogh on a piece of paper and we will come back to it.
I want to forewarn you. We are going to dive into some deep waters here and – by doing so – will be touching on some pretty dark stuff. Don’t worry…this story has an unexceptingly great ending – and its one you get to decide.
Have you written down your thoughts?
So…what do you think of Vincent Van Gogh? Was he a painter? An artist? A guy that was talked about on a couple of Doctor Who episodes? I’d be willing to bet that many of you recalled that he was a mad man and cut off his own ear. Am I right?
Why is it that we tend to remember a man who created some of the most amazing pieces of art by such dark details? The answer is simple, right? It’s history, Jason.
And that…is where our journey begins.
History gives us a depiction that is very dark and painted with depression. You see – Vincent Van Gogh, according to historical accounts, suffered from depression for most of his life. He was a lonely man – and often fought with bi-polar disorder. Medically suffering with epilepsy made life even harder for the artist. He was, by most accounts, a ticking time bomb.
No doubt there were people in his own town that looked the other way when he walked near. Or perhaps they stared as he walked by with his head low. After all – this was Van Gogh. Mad man. “That’s just Vincent. Thats the way he is.”
On a bleak December day in 1888, Van Gogh had been fighting with a friend. After the fight, he slumped deeper into depression and cut off a portion of his ear lobe with a razor blade. Drunken and dazed, Van Gogh wrapped the fragment of his ear and took it to a local prostitute that he visited regularly and presented it to her – causing her to pass out.
Van Gogh continued his bought with depression for another two years until he took a gun into a wheat field in france and shot himself. He managed to walk back to a local inn where he soon after died from his injury.
So here’s the powerful question:
You know Vincent Van Gogh as a painter…a creative genius…and a mad man. Would you place him on your creative team? On your worship team?
Let’s be honest. Most people in Vincent’s towns would never have gotten to know Vincent, right? We know him now by his art. But his fame as a mad man would have been enough to have limited social interactions and working relationships. It is likely that we miss the genius in many around us that just waiting to unlock their God-given potential to be a creative force on your teams, a great musician, a dynamite vocalist…all because we think “thats just ________”.
Now…the other side of the story.
Facts Always Ruin A Good Story, Don’t They?
Did you know that it is most likely that Vincent Van Gogh never cut off his own ear? During the time that “eargate” occurred, Van Gogh was living in France with his friend and french artist Paul Gauguin. According to letters between the two that have been uncovered – the two got into a heated discussion one day. Gauguin was an avid fencer and, during the heat of the fight, looped of Van Gogh’s ear. Van Gogh created the story of cutting his lobe off himself to keep his friend out of prosecution and to protect their friendship.
Yes, but the man did still kill himself right? About that…
…history has uncovered more evidence in that story. I could bore you with forensics of the wound that don’t add up to suicide – but…I’ll stick with the end result:
Historical accounts have best determined that a pair of younger boys would request the area that Van Gogh died and would play “cowboys” in the wheat field. The gun used in the fatal blow was a gun known to have a malfunction. It was a gun that the boys used often playing the game of “cowboys”. Van Gogh was also known to partake in the games for brief periods. The wound Van Gogh received – most likely from a well meaning boy walking up to Van Gogh with a malfunctioning gun and saying “bang”…and never intending that the gun would follow through with his play-acting.
The Night That The Lights Went Out In The Church
When I asked you to write down some thoughts about Van Gogh, chances are that none of you wrote that he was a missionary pastor. Van Gogh came from a long line of preachers and artists. Van Gogh himself failed his entrance exam to seminary and, instead of quitting, decided to become a missionary to the farmers in Belgium.
He was a man who cared deeply about serving people. He sold or gave away most all of his possessions in order to help clothe, feed, and help the farmers. One historian, William Havlicek, Ph. D , author of “Van Gogh’s Untold Journey”, even accounts of a time that he ripped his own bed linens apart so that he could use them as bandages for the men and slept on straw instead.
“Vincent was a very generous man. He understood that unconditional love of God extended to unconditional love for others,” said Havlicek of Van Gogh. “He would never recognize love that was not an action.”
I’ll go back to the same question I asked you earlier. Knowing this information…would you have Vincent on your creative or worship teams?
Of course! Sign him up! I need 10 more just like him!
It seems the local church had a different view of Van Gogh. According to accounts, Van Gogh’s style of dress was not “eloquent” enough, nor was his preaching style. The local church that oversaw Van Gogh ‘s missionary work fired him as a result.
Take a look at the painting from the top of the post again. This is, perhaps, one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, “The Starry Night” from 1889 – just one year before he died. In it you can see a blue sky full of stars and a bright moon.
In fact every building in the town is brightly lit…except one.
Go ahead…look for it.
Yep…the church is dark.
Could it be that, to Van Gogh, God’s love shone brightest outside the walls of the church and was dark inside?
Ponder that for a moment.
I want to share a personal detail: For years now I have had a sad fondness of “The Starry Night”. One day I want to own a copy of that picture to hang in my office. I want to look at it often to serve as a reminder that I never want to be the cause of any person to think that the lights of the church are out – or even the slightest dim. I never want to be personally responsible for stifling the creative genius of any person because of my actions in ever thinking that…well…
…”that’s just Vincent“.
Church…go find your Vincent’s.