The Power of Art in the Cause of Hope

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Charlie Peacock that appeared in CCM Magazine in November 2003.  Peacock’s subject is the extraordinary contribution to life and hope made by one Vedran Smailovic during the course of the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Smailovic’s wondrous deeds have no less meaning for us today, two decades on. Further, they speak unequivocally to the power of the arts in buoying the human spirit. Read and be moved!

“At 4 p.m. on May 27, 1992, in the war-torn city of Sarajevo, people hungry for bread lined up outside a bakery. Without warning, a bomb fell and split the line into pieces, killing 22 people. Not far from the scene lived a musician named Vedran Smailovic. Before the weight of war crushed Sarajevo’s music, Vedran had been the principal cellist with the opera. At his wit’s end and sickened by the slaughter, Vedran made a choice that day. He decided to “breathe life” into the rubble of war. According to author Paul Sullivan, “Every day thereafter, at 4 p.m. precisely, Vedran put on his full, formal concert attire, picked up his cello and walked out of his apartment into the midst of the battle raging around him. He placed a little camp stool in the middle of the crater that the shell had made, and he played a concert. He played to the abandoned streets, to the smashed trucks and burning buildings and to the terrified people who hid in the cellars while the bombs dropped and the bullets flew. Day after day, he made his unimaginably courageous stand for human dignity, for all those lost to war, for civilization, for compassion and for peace.” This is a picture of what the new Kingdom way of Jesus might look like in the wild world we live in. Through this one daily act, Vedran illustrated the calling to do good to all people and Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” I have no idea whether Vedran professes to follow Jesus or not. Still, there’s something to be learned through his storied living. He preached through the gut, wood and horse hair of his cello, musically communicating: “People of Sarajevo! People of Bosnia! We are made for so much more than this! Listen, we are made for beauty! Listen, we are made for truth! Listen, we are made for peace! Listen, be renewed, inspired and cared for.” In the way he knew best, using the resources and talent before him, Vedran exercised “dominion” over the crater in his neighborhood and pushed back the effects of the fall. This was no neutral choice. It affected everyone around him, and its influence spread throughout the world. In fact, two years later, on the stage of the Royal Conservatory concert hall in Manchester, England, world famous cellist Yo Yo Ma performed David Wilde’s composition, “The Cellist of Sarajevo.” Vedran was there to hear it. This kind of story should be the norm for followers of Jesus. I should rise each day and ask God, “What rubble do you want me to breathe your life into today? Where do you want the Kingdom rule to be made visible? How can I help to make something or someone beautiful?” This kind of lifestyle is world-changing, and you never know how far or how long a story will travel on its trajectory of good. The Jesus story of good is still traveling the world today, isn’t it?”

Pope Francis on Christian Unity

“Christian unity will not be the fruit of subtle theoretical discussions in which each party tries to convince the other of the soundness of their opinions. The Son of Man will come and will find us still arguing. We need to realize that, to plumb the depths of the mystery of God, we need one another, we need to encounter one another and to challenge one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who harmonizes diversities and overcomes conflicts; to reconcile our differences.”

Pope Francis – from his homily at the Vespers service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2/27/15

C.S. Lewis on Christian Unity

“It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”