the Unfinished-ness of it all

A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to take advantage of being in Colorado a day early for a conference and drove up to see Mount Rushmore. It was a long drive from the Denver airport to Rapid City, but it was also unbelievably beautiful. I’ll have to do a travelogue post at some point so I can gush and post photos about all that…

But what struck me the morning I stood in front of the mountain and walked through the museum was the unfinished-ness of the project. Don’t get me wrong – the sculpture is stunning and beautiful. But the vision of the sculptor was so much more than what we see today. Like the Crazy Horse memorial a few peaks over, the depiction of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln is unfinished.

It reminded me of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC. His likeness is emerging from an enormous stone (granite?) piece, calling to mind a mountain and his image of the mountaintop. But compared to the statues of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson that surround him, Dr. King’s figure remains intentionally unfinished.

The timing of our visit to the MLK memorial was poignant. I posted some thoughts at the time about Trayvon Martin’s death and the slow response of the authorities. I couldn’t help but imagine Dr. King calling out to the other men memorialized in our capital- the ones who had written of freedom, who had dreamed of and fought for liberty and justice for all – pointing to the men and women of color who still do not feel part of that “all.”

As I settled into my little tourist cabin in Rapid City, the verdict came in. While it was clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that George Zimmerman killed the unarmed teenager, there was enough doubt in the minds of the jurors that they could not convict him of murder. I was stunned, but not surprised. And I thought back to that day we hiked the memorial trail in DC. The dream deferred once more.

The next morning, I drove up the mountain and walked toward the monument. It was moving, and beautiful, and like all the tourists, I snapped plenty of pictures. I smiled as a stranger took a photo of me, but even as I was happy to take in this amazing combination of engineering and art, the unfinished-ness of it struck me anew.

Each of those great men on the mountain had left the work of freedom and equality unfinished, even in their greatness. The slaves left unfreed, the indentured servants left destitute and women left with little voice and no vote, the near-genocide of indigenous peoples removed from lands, the immigrants used and discarded in efforts to claim and tame the west as part of our “manifest destiny.”

Someone famously described carving a statue as chipping away at everything that wasn’t the sculpture within. We are clearly not finished yet. There is much racism, bigotry, xenophobia, patriarchy, privilege, and just plain selfishness that needs chipping away from the American culture before we can honestly pledge allegiance to a flag that purports to represent freedom and justice for all of its citizens.

Maybe that is also how God takes away our hearts of stone as well- chipping away at the barriers we erect
between ourselves and our neighbors,
between ourselves and the ones who don’t look like us,
who don’t speak our language,
who don’t dress or walk or worship like me,
who don’t express their gender or sexuality like me,
who interpret the Bible differently or don’t read it at all
who don’t vote like me-

chipping away until we have hearts of love alone.

The unfinishedness of my own heart is all too clear these days.


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