So Much Good in Kansas City

The last couple of weeks, my wife and I decided to spend more time exploring all the “good” there is in the Kansas City community.  By “good,” I mean all the fun and rewarding things to do as well as all the people serving others in remarkable ways.

On Friday evening, June 15th, at least 400 people gathered at Livestrong Park (home of Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC soccer team) and honored Monsignor Tom Tank, the current pastor of Ascension Parish in Overland Park, Kansas.  Monsignor Tank had the vision to challenge local clergy, bankers, and community leaders in Wyandotte County to help tackle the problem of inadequate and deteriorating housing that was quickly leading to unsafe neighborhoods. In 1996, an organization called Catholic Housing (now known as Community Housing of Wyandotte County, or CHWC) was formed, and a slow revitalization of historic neighborhoods began to occur. CHWC has helped hundreds of families realize the “American Dream” of home ownership, and prompted development in a community that had not seen new construction in 85 years. CHWC also facilitated low-interest loans and home-repair grants for existing home owners, helped first-time buyers educate themselves regarding the home buying process, and offered financial and budgeting classes. So what has been the economic impact on the Kansas City community? Since 2006, CHWC has directly invested more than $16.5 million into these neighborhoods and, in 2011, CHWC created or sustained 23 construction-related jobs and served 117 families. The total direct investment for 2011 was over $3.1 million. This outstanding result illustrates not only the power of faith, but the power of faith coupled with a vision to serve others. “To leave the world a better place . . . is to have succeeded.” (Emerson) Thank you, Monsignor Tom Tank!

As for the fun and rewarding things to do in Kansas City, my wife and I took a “stay-cation” during the first week of June.  We visited sites in Kansas City that we had never visited or had not seen in many, many years. Thus included a trip to the new aquarium in Crown Center, a visit to the World War I Museum (a spectacular experience, for a history buff like me), a trip to the Kansas City Zoo with our grandchildren (the African Veld is wonderful, and so were the grandkids), and some time at the Nelson-Atkins Museum (where the painting of John the Baptist by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is stupendous. Caravaggio (1571-1610) was, by most accounts, very difficult to get along with and appeared to enjoy brawling and fighting after spending hours producing his amazing art. He even killed a young man in a brawl and had to leave the community where he was staying with a bounty on his head. This is very un-artist-like behavior! Caravaggio was forgotten after his death but he was soon thereafter rediscovered and became known for the use of “chiaroscuro” in his paintings. Chiaroscuro literally means “light-dark” in Italian and refers to Caravaggio’s use of clear tonal contrasts within a painting. His art is a realistic portrayal of the human condition (which includes struggle, at times) and his paintings capture the physical and emotional dimensions of the characters with dramatic lighting. Caravaggio, after his death (under mysterious circumstances – no surprise there!), influenced Baroque painting mightily.  There are 80 known works of his that have survived to this day. The fact that the Nelson-Atkins Museum has a painting by Caravaggio in its collection is a treasure, and I encourage all Kansas City residents to see it. You might also enjoy the book entitled The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr.  It’s worth reading because it is a true detective story about the recovery of a work of art thought to be long-lost.

Speaking of art, there has been some real controversy about a sculpture of a nude and headless adult female taking a picture of herself at the Arboretum in Overland Park. The exhibit was assembled by a gentleman from China, and this particular piece is so controversial that a young mother, with help from the American Family Association, began a petition drive to force a city council hearing on the matter.  Her goal was the removal of the sculpture from the Arboretum. However, the mayor of Overland Park was not swayed by the petition (which apparently got enough signatures to force a hearing). Now the matter has been forced to a grand jury hearing based on a charge of “promoting obscenity to a minor.” An editor for the Kansas City Star said the whole thing has been blown out of proportion because the work of art is not even that good, and that it could be interpreted in several different ways by the viewer.

When I hear all of this, I am reminded of the story of putting a frog in water and turning up the temperature gradually. The frog will attempt to adjust to the temperature changes but will ultimately boil to death. This is what our society has come to:  obscenity and vulgarity promoted as “art.” The editor of the Star is correct – the sculpture is not good art, and the mother is right – it is obscene and has no place in a family venue. What has not been mentioned is that it disfigures what a true human being is – body, mind, and soul. Certainly it is obvious that there is a body present but the piece is headless (there is no mind without a head), and it is lacking soul because there is no dignity in the sculpture. It is just exposed flesh taking a picture of itself. What a symbol for a narcissistic culture – “the cult or worship of the body.” Eliminating a person’s head (and thus face) dehumanizes the person and suggests that humans do not possess a spirit that yearns for the eternal and ultimate union with God. Come on, Carl Gerlach – admit the mistake and get rid of the statue. Put something in its place that is not so vulgar and narcissistic. Art should enrich our environment not degrade human beings as just a bunch of body arts thrown together without intelligent design. Come on, Overland Park Mayor and City Council – be courageous and admit that this sculpture is not appropriate for a family setting.