Graffiti On Our Hearts
by José V. Rojas
Most of us have observed that where there is a clear surface in a public place, someone will often write on it. In modern terms we refer to this phenomenon as "graffiti." When I was a child in Los Angeles, California, I first noticed graffiti on the outside walls of my elementary school buildings. There were always those words on the restroom walls as well.
It seemed that everyone had something to say on the public walls of the community. As I got older, I noticed gang graffiti in different sections of the city that helped designate territories for each group. At the city park the picnic tables are carved with statements of love between couples and the names of those who may not necessarily put their names on a wall.
This whole subject has fascinated me for many years. I have come to the point that, when I travel to different parts of the world, I look for graffiti on the walls of the places I visit. Other people take pictures of palm trees and scenic beaches or mountains. I enjoy increasing my understanding about a particular community by reading its graffiti. Indeed, graffiti in most of the cities and islands that I have visited around the world even seem similar in appearance, with only language differences.
Young people account for most of the graffiti that people see today. In the city of Los Angeles alone, leaders complain that graffiti accounts for more than $30 million U.S. dollars each year in damage to private and city property. Leaders have succeeded in defining graffiti as a crime punishable by fines, imprisonment or both. Not surprisingly--whether rightly or wrongly--graffiti artists continue to mark the walls of the city to express themselves.
In the search for a solution to the challenge of graffiti, some community leaders have commissioned beautiful murals to be painted on the walls of many urban areas of the world. These more organized art forms become an official expression of the community and create a sense of ambiance and charm.
The whole notion of writing on walls to express something to the public is not new however. Don Diego de Vargas of the Spanish Army arrived in the State of New Mexico, U.S.A. more than 400 years ago, along with eight Franciscan monks. After planting the Spanish flag and declaring the area "New Spain," Don Diego and his men went to a prominent local rock and there inscribed their names, which are preserved on that rock to this day. The rock is known as "inscription rock" and brings many tourists every year to gaze upon the carved names. This graffiti has become valuable!
One need not look far to note that civilizations throughout history have used formal types of graffiti as official records of achievement. The Babylonians, Egyptians, and Romans carefully preserved records of battles, rulers, transactions, and many other events deemed important to their reputation. Their walls, columns, and paintings are considered priceless relics that help us understand those pivotal eras of time. To destroy any of the few remaining examples of this ancient informational art form is considered a major crime punishable in some places by death.
More people have been involved in the writing of graffiti than we can imagine. The Bible yields several examples in which God Himself is seen writing for public viewing. In the book of Daniel we find an example of a party gone out of control (Daniel 5:25-28). Belshazzar the king defied God in specific terms while drinking strong drink from the silver goblets taken from Solomon's temple during the destruction of Jerusalem. Suddenly a hand was seen writing on the wall. Like most graffiti, no one could read the writing. The prophet Daniel was brought to read and explain the writing to the king. God was bringing Belshazzar's kingdom to an end. The writing was a communication of what would happen as a result of Belshazzar's actions as a leader. That very night, Babylon fell to the Medes and the Persians.
On an earlier occasion, God had written on stone and handed the tablets to Moses. On these was inscribed a powerful definition of love. The first four commandments refer to love for God, while the last six commandments refer to love for our fellow man. God wrote these commandments on stone, a symbol of an eternal, long-lasting relationship with Him. He wrote them with His own finger, lest anyone should doubt their origin.
In another instance, in contrast to the firm, unmoving nature of the stone tablets, Jesus wrote on the sand in response to priests who demanded that He judge a woman before the people in Jerusalem (John 8:1-12). Jesus could have written on the walls in front of the people and totally discredited the leaders of Israel. But instead, He wrote private communications in the sand so that only those whom the writing concerned would read them and see their own need for God. Jesus easily erased all the writing done that day for the sake of those whom He succeeded in touching.
I believe that God enjoys writing, because there are clear indications from these experiences that His writing has always been of strategic importance and relevance to human life. But there is an ultimate writing experience that God would like to perform. The apostle in Hebrews 8:10 refers to the ancient statement made by God: "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (KJV).
God wants to inscribe within the depths of our lives the ultimate expression of love. His law is not simply a list of duties. As we develop in the joy of loving God and our fellow human beings, we find that it is a way of life. Now that is a life-changing graffiti!
José Vicente Rojas is the new director of Youth Ministries and Dialogue representative for the North American Division.