God at Work: Student with Down Syndrome Collaborates with Photographer

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Erics Exhibit 01 1

The signs of God’s kingdom at work are often hidden in plain sight.

And they’re easy to miss. Especially when we’re distracted by more mundane concerns like work deadlines and the busyness of day-to-day life.

Sometimes you have to stop and take a second look, says Larry McCormack.

This past summer, McCormack, a longtime photographer for The Tennessean newspaper, was asked to take part in the 21 Collaborative Art Project in Nashville.

The project paired 21 local artists with young people who have Down syndrome to create new works of art.

At the time, McCormack’s plate was full—there were a lot of changes brewing at his work, and he didn’t have the time to take on one more thing.

“When they first asked me, I said no,” says McCormack. “I am in this mode now where I’ve got to say no to everything—because I am so overwhelmed.”

Then he took a deep breath and realized he was about to miss something remarkable. He turned around, went back to the organizers, and begged them to let him back into project.

“Part of me wanted to say, “Let somebody else come in and do this,” he says. “But I couldn’t. I want to be involved in not just taking pictures but changing lives, one person at a time.”

For the project, McCormack was paired with a young man named Eric Wilson, who wanted to learn how to take photographs. He eventually shot a video about the project with Wilson’s help.

Eric Wilson and the Lessons of Down Syndrome

“Part of the reason I took the assignment is I wanted to see how Eric sees life,” says McCormack. “I think he sees it a little closer to our creator.”

As a veteran journalist, McCormack is used to being skeptical when he meets someone new. He always wonders, “What’s their agenda?” or “What do they want from me?”

“Eric doesn’t do that,” he says. “He just accepts you unconditionally at that moment.”

As part of their project, Wilson and McCormack covered a day camp for children who have developmental disabilities. At one point, the organizers started playing music, and children started dancing.

A little girl held out her hands to Wilson. He put away his camera, took her hands, and started dancing.

McCormack caught this tender moment on video. It was a reminder of what he might have missed, had he turned the assignment down.

“I asked Eric later—if you could choose between photography and dancing—which would you do?” says McCormack. “He thought about it for a minute and then he said, ‘dancing.’ How great is that?”

McCormack says the project helped him focus on what really matters in life—the small, day-to-day connections with people.

It all goes back to your worldview, says McCormack.

“Do you see a big, bad horrible world—or do you see God’s creation, filled with his children?” he says.

Our Work Can Reveal God’s Redemptive Grace

In an interview with The Covenant Companion magazine not long before his death in 2003, the late Mike Yaconelli, author of “Messy Spirituality,” talked about how the pace of modern life can blind us to God’s presence in the world.

That blindness, he said, can keep us from seeing the possibilities God’s grace offers. That’s worse than being led into temptation, he argued.

“Our secular pagan culture doesn’t make us get drunk; it makes us dull,” Yaconelli said. “It robs us of our creativity. We don’t sit around thinking, how can I redeem this situation? We have lost the power of the tiny, of the small, of the little thoughtful things that we can do for each other that will make all the difference.”

Spending time with Wilson reminded McCormack of that kind of redemptive look at grace. It refocused him on why he became a photojournalist in the first pace.

“I want to use photography to show people a glimpse of the world God gave them,” he says.

A Nashville native, McCormack first began taking pictures professionally while a student at Middle Tennessee State University. That led to jobs at the Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, and then to the Nashville Banner. When the Banner closed in 1998, he came to The Tennessean.

He hopes to spend the rest of his career there.

“I’m a local guy, been here all my life,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of job offers in other places—but these are the people I care about. These are the people I want to inform.”

These days, he often runs into folks who want to become professional photographers because they love taking pictures. But taking photos is only one small part of the job.

The Secret to Great Professional Photography

The real work happens long before the shutter is snapped.

It’s a mix of preparation and expectation and the ability to see the possibilities in any assignment—whether it’s the opening of a new store in Nashville, the funeral of a country music icon like the late George Jones, a University of Tennessee football game, or a non-profit art project.

“Before I get ready to photograph, I start walking through a room and shoot a little bit here and a little bit there and start trying to figure out what I think is going to make a good picture,” he says. “Then I’m waiting for things to happen.”

On some assignments, he may snap as many as five hundred frames in search of the right picture. It’s a matter of persistence and hope, waiting for all the pieces to click into place.

McCormack says he believes that God’s always at work in the world doing something remarkable.

If you go to the right place at the right time and pay attention, something wonderful may unfold. But you have to be there—and to be fully present.

If you aren’t looking, you may miss a glimpse of the kingdom.

“The trick to living life is to focus your eyes more on God,” he says. “You’ll see differently.”


God at Work

Where is God? Does he inhabit only the sanctuaries and monasteries and seminaries of the earth? Or, is God with you in your cubicle, your classroom, your kitchen, your conference call? What about the carpool lane? And if God is there with you, what does that mean? Join us for this series, God at Work, where we explore what it means that God is not only at work in you, but also, quite literally, with you. It may be difficult to see the Kingdom of God through the deadlines and reports and meetings and evaluations and budgets, but be encouraged: he is there. Together, let’s find him in the ordinary places you work, and let’s consider how his presence makes a difference for good.

Featured image and images in article by Larry McCormack. Used with Permission.