Once a year, each academic department at Westmont College is invited to host a chapel for the majors and minors in their department. Here in the art department, we’ve used this opportunity to present our “artistic testimonies,” to discuss what might constitute Christian art, and to use works of art from the past as foci for devotional exercises. This year, we’ve decided to ask students to read one of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom, the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. Perhaps before reading any more of this editorial, you’d like to re-read that passage, imagining that you are an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old art student at a Christian college.
As an art major, how would you read yourself into this parable? Do Jesus’ monetary “talents” provide any parallel to artistic talents? With which of the three servants do you identify? Why? What does it mean to multiply your talents? What does it mean to have one’s talents taken away? How does this parable tell us how we are to use our talents?
A Failure of Community
We’ve chosen to focus on the parable of the talents this year because we have found ourselves concerned as never before about how we, as Christians, steward our artistic gifts. Our students are struggling to value the talents that many of their peers and the larger community regard as frivolous. As a consequence, they struggle with how to “invest” or how to cultivate their talents. This lonely struggle, in my opinion, is a failure of community—a failure of our pragmatic American community as well as a failure of our Christian community. Certainly both are the poorer for it.
This state of affairs is one of the conditions that motivates the teaching and writing of William Dyrness (“Open Our Eyes,” p. 8), a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. In his recent book, Visual Faith (Baker, 2001), Dyrness seeks to analyze, historically and theologically, how we arrived at our current condition and what is at stake for churches if our neglect of the arts continues, as well as what is at stake for our larger society if the church fails to renew its artistic imagination. Dyrness’s positive and exciting vision helps us to imagine what worship might be like, and even what life might be like, were artists more faithfully drawn in to our church and civic communities. Ultimately, according to Dyrness, it isn’t just the church that needs a renewed appreciation for the role that the arts can play in worship. He argues that society at large desperately needs new models of how to engage art, and artists need new models of how to imagine community. For him Christians in churches, as Christ’s living body, are the most powerful key to offering a vivid image of redeemed fellowship to a world weary and worn.
Liberating Our Imagination
Though we are accustomed to thinking of churches as redemptive forces in the lives of individual people, in our local communities, and even around the world, we don’t often think of God’s church as a place where North Americans could turn for a redemptive, imaginative, prophetic vision of cultural life. Dyrness challenges us to take our faith as seriously as possible, which means as imaginatively as possible! In doing so, we are carrying out the mission of the church—that of glorifying God, tending the faithful, and healing our communities. In his words:
Whether in the church or in the larger culture, we must learn to treasure the gifts of artistic imagination, for we are desperately in need of the “visions” of artists to help us prepare for that grand worship around the throne of God in heaven. In the end, just as the biblical story explodes in a dazzling display of images and songs, we long to see images of grace, to break out into song, or to dance before the Lord. For this to happen, we all need a deeper education in the visual arts, but even more we need a liberated imagination. Most of all we need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, who continues Christ’s work of moving creatures to praise the Father (159).
This issue of RW provides ample room to catch a glimpse of how the artists in our midst can provide a new dimension and a broader language in which to worship God. As you look at the reproductions of these works, imagine being present during a worship service where these objects or installations are visible. Imagine how they open up ways of thinking, create new associations, or capture an allusive, fleeting moment. Imagine you know the people who made them, imagine that you have a sense of how the works came into being. Imagine how these objects can begin to help anchor points in your own spiritual joumey. Then give thanks for those who made them and pray for God’s Holy Spirit to encourage and strengthen the artists in our midst.
Reformed Worship is delighted to announce the results of our first Visual Arts Awards. Artists were invited to submit entries in any category of art that was created for use in worship spaces, including banners, paraments, bulletin covers, communion ware, stained glass, temporary installations, and furniture.
We received eighty-three entries that covered almost all of those categories. Submissions came from professional artists and amateurs, from individuals and teams, from adults and children. This variety gave an encouraging picture of the growing interest in finding ways to create visually beautiful and nourishing worship spaces.
Artists submitted three identical slides that were sent to our three judges, all professionals in the arts with a long-standing relationship to the liturgical arts as well as to Reformed Worship: Lisa De Boer, professor of art history at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, and former member of the RW editorial council (firstname.lastname@example.org); George Langebroek, studio artist in St. Catharines, Ontario, and current member of the RW editorial council (905-935-7917); Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, professor of art emeritus at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and an RW editorial consultant as well as a consultant to many congregations (email@example.com).
The judges selected three awards and three honorable mentions; the three award winners each received $250. The judges used the following criteria in their selection:
- visual impact, especially on first impressions
- images that went beyond conventional symbolism or provided new insight into an old symbol
- creative use of the chosen media
- excellent craftsmanship
- fittingness within the worship space
In addition to the award winners and honorable mentions, we plan to showcase some of the many other worthy submissions in this and future issues of Reformed Worship. We’re grateful that all of the artists gave permission for us to contact them for possible future use.
Finally, we are grateful to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for providing funding for these RW Visual Arts Awards and this full-color issue. With funding provided by the Lilly Endowment Inc., the Calvin Institute continues to help churches develop initiatives that foster grassroots worship renewal (see the announcement on p. 48 about the next round of worship grants).
58"x54", mixed media watercolor on watercolor paper with rice paper, sewn together with red string and hung from nails on a wooden beam.
Phyllis Thomas (Kangaart@aol.com), Orlando, Florida, is a member of Orlando Community Church. After earning a BS in Art Education and working as an art teacher, she spent eighteen years in Kenya as a missionary, returning to the United States in 1997. She is currently coordinator for a parachurch art ministry. Thomas cites her years in Kenya as a major influence: “Many of my pieces are very earthy; there is a lot of East Africa in my work.” She wrote an essay about the work and read it on Palm Sunday last year when it was hung for the first time (see box).
“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’ This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’ So this is what the soldiers did.”
This piece began from a study of the passage from John 19:23-24, a parallel passage to Luke 23:34 and Psalm 22:18.
As I researched historical information about the garment, I found that this undergarment was probably made from linen, probably woven by Jesus’ mother, and was worn as an undergarment, like our T-shirts. It was seamless, a garment a high priest would wear. Soldiers traditionally divided the spoils of victims on a cross, but this particular tunic was so valuable that it was kept whole and bargained for by casting lots.
I prayerfully pursued these thoughts and started sketching ideas, doing research of shapes and considering what the tunic would look like hanging above me, bodiless, limp, quiet and neutral. It began to be more than just a tunic with historical significance. I began to see it as an expression of suffering, wholeness, and submission.
By the time I started painting this piece three months later, it had become a powerful image of color and emotion and spiritual meaning for me. Not that this object is sacred, but I experienced a walk with Christ to the cross. When I started painting this crimson color, I was conscious that I had red paint all over my hands. I was reminded that I am responsible for Christ’s shed blood. I fit into this empty garment. I was there, as a sinner, the one who rejected Christ. His suffering was for me. I sensed humility and sadness, then praise, because Christ didn’t stop with the suffering. He didn’t stop when it was hard. He persevered through the mocking and the pain, the whipping, the stumbling to the cross for his death. Silently he bore the humiliation of being stripped naked of everything, even his tunic, and watched as the soldiers gambled for his belongings as if he were just another victim.
But Christ was untorn, whole, victorious, because of his obedience to his Father, even to the cross. You may find a paradox in this piece. It is titled “Untorn,” but in fact, it is in pieces, sewn together with red hemp string. The reality is that we don’t see the whole as God does. We’re only allowed to see our lives moment by moment; we live out God’s work daily. That is why it is so important to act on what our Savior has shown us at any point in time, including receiving wholeness through redemption. And that is how God’s will for our lives is fulfilled, just as this Scripture fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy from Psalm 22:l8.
Malcolm Muggeridge said: “The cross has called me inexorably to Christ.” May it also call you.
14'x10'x7', temporary installation/structure using resist dyed silk with choreography.
Alice Brinkman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Lansing, Michigan, had long wanted to combine a textile installation with dance. This piece was first designed for the large annual community-wide Christian Arts Show in Lansing, now in its fortieth year. Later this installation was performed during a service at University Reformed Church in East Lansing. Brinkman is a textile surface design artist who applies color to cloth and manipulates cloth using a variety of techniques. She has an MS in textiles from the University of Illinois.
This structure was based on Isaiah 40:31: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Though the textile structure, suspended from the ceiling and resting on the floor, stood alone as a reminder of the “space” we need to wait on the Lord, the work was conceptualized to include a solo dancer. The dancer expressed the theme of what could happen when we cry out and wait for God.
The choreographer/dancer was Rachel Tableman, then a high school student, now studying at Hope College, Holland, Michigan. The dance was accompanied by “We Follow a Star” by Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning from the CD Celtic Christmas—Selected Artists (1995, Windham Hill Records). The dancer had “wings” attached to her arms. At first she was wrapped in a cocoon-like mesh that was in her way, and she struggled to get free, only to discover that she had wings. She then “flew” using the wings (made of the same fabric as the structure) and finally entered the structure—a place of sanctuary. She ended up attaching the wings to a ring on an invisible pulley system that she then pulled to lift the wings to the highest part of the sanctuary.
“Good Friday Cross”
23' high, average thickness 8", tree placed on a steel base covered with stones.
Keith Huyer (email@example.com) of Shanty Bay, Ontario, is “a contractor/carpenter married to an artistic wife and father of artistic children.” Huyer writes,
The tree that we are using to represent the cross was nourished by a small brook while it was growing. During its life, the tree provided food for the forest animals and shelter for the birds of the air. Even a homeless person sought its comforting shelter.
The twisted trunk reminds us of the writhing agony that our Lord suffered on the cross. The one branch is like a hand reaching to heaven, echoing the cry of our Savior, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Through the shed blood of Jesus, we will one day see the tree of life rooted firmly beside the river of living water (Rev. 22:2, 14).
7'x10' cotton/calico fabrics stretched over a wooden frame.
The Visuals Team of Northfield (Minnesota) United Methodist Church, chaired by Darlene Cox (acpm@rcon nect.com). Eight amateurs worked on this project: Karin Bartlett, Darlene Cox, Reggie Fineran, Jeanette Gilbertson, Barb Hanisch, Cindy Robinson, Candy Taylor, and Jeanine Taylor.
“The Crossing” was created to illustrate a 2001 Lenten sermon series (Year C) on our personal crossings from destructive to more life-giving faith commitments as we are drawn closer to the love of God. The purple fabrics symbolize repentance for our darker side and the lighter, brighter shades symbolize the hope in what is possible with our Lord’s help. Such crossings are made possible by Christ, symbolized by the single golden cross in the middle of the river (the blue fabrics). “The Crossing” was placed at the front of the church during the series. It was created entirely out of crosses.
“Advent Series 1998”
4'x7' each, tempera/acrylic paints.
Larry Young (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Joyce Baker. Larry is a graphic designer and Joyce is an art instructor; both serve on the banner committee of First Christian Reformed Church, Denver, Colorado. These panels accompanied an Advent series on the various names for the newborn King of kings.
66"x120" fiber installation, woven strips of resist-dyed cotton juxtaposed with the (permanent) cross at front of sanctuary.
Alice Brinkman (see “Wait,” p. 5). She writes, “The strips of cloth symbolize life flowing from Christ, who ‘weaves’ into our lives and gives us peace, the peace that comes only from God through Jesus’ work on the cross.”