Don’t Close Your Heart to Your Neighbor

Let’s try something different.  Something New.

For a while, I’ve been wondering how to incorporate certain images from the world of art and the world of literature.   The images from the world of art may or may not be considered art based on your definition.  Regardless of the work itself, the image presented will be a means of jumping off for us to discuss and talk about a topic.

Please leave a comment or send me a message letting me know your reactions to it.

Here We Go!

We will start with a work of performance art by Chris Burden titled ‘Doomed.’  The performance took place in 1975 at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

What was ‘Doomed’?

For this piece of conceptual performance art, Chris Burden set up a clock on a blank wall.  He leaned a large 5’ x 8’ piece of clear glass up against the wall and proceeded to lay in between the clear glass and the wall.  Onlookers observed.  One day passed.  For almost two days Chris Burden laid fairly motionless.  There were moments when he would sleep, but were just that, moments.  He did not get up but stayed in the same position lying under the clear glass.  At the 45 hour mark, a member of the museum staff placed a pitcher of water next to Burden.  At this point, he stood up, grabbed a hammer, an envelope, and proceeded to smash the clock with the hammer, and leave the museum.  That was ‘Doomed.’

What was in the envelope?

The envelope contained an explanation of what would cause his performance to end.  As it turned out, the performance would end whenever someone acted upon either the clock, the glass, or Chris himself.  This happened when the museum staff placed water by him.  The piece could have lasted under a few seconds if someone had acted that quickly.  Instead, it lasted for 45 hours.

What was the point?

‘Doomed’ was to test people and their responses to art.  It was to pose the question of the ethics of art, both audiences and museums.  While Burden was pleased with the response on the first day, of everyone respecting the integrity of the piece, later he said:

“On the second night, I thought, don’t they care anything at all about me? Are they going to leave me here to die?”

That was a long setup.

What does this example have to do with anything?

Is this not what we do with people who need our help?  It may be the hungry, the poor, the homeless.  It may be those who have a mental illness, physical illness, or even a spiritual illness which we determine to be something we can’t help.  How often do we simply walk by someone and not help them when we can?

The clear glass in the work called attention to the visibility of the person.  So often we see people who need help.  Instead of helping them we do what the audience did.  We simply observe them.  We treat them like objects.  There are obvious times where we may pass a homeless man/woman, glance and then proceed to do nothing.  Perhaps we see someone in the grocery store who is unable to pay for their groceries.

We are to help others!

Many times those struggling can’t find their way out of their situation without the help of others.  In helping others we can help bring an end to their situation; to an end, just like ‘Doomed.’  This help may be as simple as smiling or offering words of encouragement.

Don’t close your heart to the other!

“But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

What about at the monastery?

At the monastery, it is often the simple act of listening to the visitors that helps.  Many people just need to be seen.  Many people who visit don’t have anyone to talk to, or are struggling with something in their lives.  Once I know of their presence, it is my duty, out of love, to recognize their existence,  say hello, offer a smile, or maybe even sit with them.  This may interrupt my day, keep me from accomplishing some task, or keep me from some other duty.

Are there any other examples of this art being imitated in ‘real life’?

Sadly, yes.

All the time.

Just recently there was a particular case that showed the brutality of indifference. Horrors occur when we do not help our brothers and sisters out.  Instead of the glass, clock, and hammer of the art, the material was a phone (taking video) and a larger body of water.  I will not show the video out of respect to the deceased and because we don’t need to watch someone die in that manner.

A group of teenagers watched as a man drowned to death.  They did nothing to help him.   They saw the man struggling; video taped the incident on their phone, mocked and laughed at him while he was drowning.  Article Link

‘Doomed,’ the work we are using as an example has an aptly eerie name.  Where Chris Burden, was at first thinking of the integrity of the art, he later seemed to think of the integrity of the person.  This latter case of the teenagers shows a clear disregard for the integrity of the person.

We saw a sort of precursor of this recent event of indifference when it took 45 hours for someone to act to help out Chris Burden by offering him water.  It is also disconcerting to realize that in both of these cases water ended up being the cause of ending the situation.

Also disturbing, now in light of the events, is an old scene from the sitcom ‘Seinfeld.’  Perhaps ‘Seinfeld’ was pointing this issue in our society out in this clip.


Look at how it mirrors the situation.  We have someone in trouble.  We have a group video taping and mocking as it happens.  The person receives no help.  In the rest of the episode mentions of the story of the Good Samaritan are can likewise be made in the case of the teens and the drowning man.

In the end…

We should take from these examples an obligation to help those who are in need of help, regardless of what it is.  We should do what we can, and that will vary for each person and in each situation.  Let us not treat others as objects to be consumed but as people who, without our help, might never be able to be freed from that which is hurting them.

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

Br. Isaac

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