2013
March 29

Good Friday Contemplation

Heidi Hansen

Caravaggio Entombment

Image and Story

At first glance, Caravaggio’s iconic image of Jesus being taken from the cross he died on seems dark and brutal. Just as death parades itself to be. Unexpectedly however there is life in this image. Rarely are religious images of the dead Christ without emblems of birth, life, or eternity. Even in this Counter-Reformation image characterized by the artist’s use of dark and light, there are whispers of things to come.

Imagine if this life size painting were hanging in a position that you were eye level with the body of Christ. As viewer of this scene, our eyes descend the diagonal line of mourners. Each one in their own world of sorrow. One holds hands to heaven, mouth gaping, another falls in on herself, others take the weight of the dead Christ silently, stoically.

It is hard to look closely at those that grieve.

But sorrow was not meant to be private. We are invited to look directly at the man who faces outward and are brought further into the scene when our eyes fall to the body of Jesus. We are part of the scene now.

The light in the image is brightest on the body of the dead Christ. We are forced to linger here. To consider the weight of his innocence and our guilt.

The arm of Jesus hangs limp, and his fingers rest just to the outside of the platform. This is an invitation to the viewer to come closer, to look at what is below...stones, a corner of the white cloth used to wrap the body, and a single green plant. These three symbols combine to tell the story of what was, is, and is to come: A hard earth, innocent shed blood, and life forevermore. As invited viewers of this scene we can in our hearts embrace Jesus as he descends from the cross, and trust that what is to come answers every sorrow.

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Tags: art, theology
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2011
December 08

The Tree of Life and My Suffering Friends

John Haralson

Linn and I watched The Tree of Life two weeks ago. Written and directed by Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), it is a powerful movie. I found it to be beautiful, provocative and full of depth.

It's also a very polarizing movie. The film received the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival but was also booed by many.

What really blew me away about the movie, though, was Malick's courage. A devout Episcopalian, Malick assumes God's existence from the beginning of the film. The opening scene uses this quote from the book of Job. God, speaking to Job, asks him this question:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38)

When I saw that, I thought, "Well, that's a pretty bold way to get things going." At some point, I assumed he would back down. He never does.

Throughout the film, he doesn't so much try to prove the existence of God. Rather, he assumes it to be the case and forces the audience to wrestle with the follow-up question "So what are we supposed to do now?" He does this beautifully and powerfully, but at times he might make you squirm. While watching the movie, I got uncomfortable on several occasions and thought to myself, "Did he really just say that?"

Malick is also courageous for taking on an tremendously difficult question:

How can God be good if there is so much suffering in the world?

Regardless of your beliefs, this is one of the most important questions with which we have to wrestle. Malick approaches this question artistically and wonderfully. But he also tackles it head on.

I have a lot of friends, both Christian and otherwise, who are enduring a lot of pain right now. I know people who are facing financial ruin. I know others who are dealing with past mistakes that are making life right now nearly unbearable. I know others who are going through chemotherapy, some of whom do not have great chances of success. And, with the holidays just around the corner, a lot of people are facing a painful reminder of the brokenness that exists in many of our families.

I would like to think that this film takes our pain and questions seriously. But I also think it does point to real and profound hope that is found in God.

PS Here is a review that helped me navigate through the movie.

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Tags: art, beauty, bible, film
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2011
November 17

Bifrost Arts: The Third Record

Jess Alldredge

Bifrost Arts is an inspiring project based out of Charlottesville, VA that aims to create beautiful and creative sacred music that can be listened to and played in a variety of contexts. Bifrost has released two albums (Come, O Spirit! and Salvation Is Created) in which musicians from around the country were recorded playing and singing original arrangements of hymns and spirituals. The churches in Seattle that I am connected with have benefited greatly from these albums and I am excited for Bifrost's third record. They have aKickstarter campaign to help fund the making of the album and I highly encourage you to donatehere. They have two days left of the campaign and are close to raising all the money they need. For a little more info on what Bifrost does, check out the video below.

Bifrost Arts - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
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2011
September 15

And the Word Became Flesh: A Call to Creativity and Support

Gabriel St. John

(Note: Today's post is by Gabriel St. John)

You may have recently heard on the Grace Seattle grapevine whisperings of a new Artists and Writers Guild. If this is the case, then I’m most delighted you already know something about it, but I’d like to take this opportunity to give a definite and audible voice to those hushed mutterings. And if this isn’t the case, then I’d love to introduce you to this very nascent and exciting project. Below are some questions about the Guild you may have; questions I have attempted to answer, almost all I have asked myself at one point or another.

First and foremost, what on earth is this Artists and Writers Guild? It is a group of artists and writers of all kinds – painters, sculptors, sketchers, poets, music composers, song writers, you name it. I suppose you could call it an umbrella of “artistically-minded” people.

What’s the deal, then, with this Guild, and what does it have to do with Grace? It’s a very good question. The deal is this: we want to use this year’s worship emphasis on the Gospel of John to inspire members of the congregation to work creatively and to produce works that will reflect and encourage devotion on what we as individuals and as a church are learning. We also want community and fellowship to be a vital part of the Guild, and so on the third Thursday of each month there will be a working-soiree hosted at the MacDonalds', which will be an opportunity to come together to share ideas, to work on projects, to inspire each other, and perhaps even to work collaboratively or inter-disciplinarily.

It sounds awfully pretentious, if not a little intimidating – what gives? These are fair concerns, but please understand, this is not going to be an elitist clique; no one is claiming to be Michelangelo or Ezra Pound. Our intention is to mirror the simultaneously profound and humble sentiments of the apostle John himself when he wrote of his Gospel, “But these things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah” (John 20:31). In the same way, we want the things that are written, painted, drawn (etc.) for this project to point not to our own selves, but to our Creator. That may sound cliché or cheesy, but it’s nonetheless very true.

So are we working towards something, or this an indefinite thing? There is certainly a time frame: the duration of our congregational emphasis on John's Gospel (September-June). Being early days, though, what we are working towards is still somewhat fluid, and there is plenty of space for ideas and suggestions. Some already thrown out are: an open-house art exhibit, incorporating some of the items onto the Order of Worship covers, and a self-published book of poems.

OK, but what if I’m not “artistically-minded?” The answer to that question should be, "Are you sure you’re not?" And here is another aim of the project: to draw out and encourage the creative side of your character, whether it’s a side of you that you know you possess but are apprehensive or embarrassed to reveal, or whether it’s a side of you that you don’t yet know exists. And if you truly feel you have nothing to offer artistically, then support us. We want the church behind us, we want people to be interested, we need that encouragement; it’s a part of the community and the fellowship we seek. So I’d encourage you – all of you, “artistically-minded” or not – to come to the working-soirees, come to the events we may (or may not) organize. Hang out with us. Be a part of it.

Below is a video clip to give you a taste of what the Guild has been up to.

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2011
June 08

Thoughts on Lady Gaga's New Album

Michael Subracko

Last week I decided to step deeper into the world of Gaga and bought her new album Born This Way. I enjoyed my first listen as I cleaned my house. The music provided the motivation I needed to keep sweeping. Immediately, I concluded that the songs were simply captivating and catchy and, by the sixth song “Hair”, proclaiming a message.

I just wanna be myself,
And I want you to love, me for who I am.
I just wanna be myself,
And I want you to know, I am my hair.

Lady Gaga is extremely popular among teenagers because she provides guidance, comfort, and embodies the attitude they wish they could pull-off. She seems to understand the pressure that all of us, particularly young people, feel to be someone other than who they are. She says what we all want to say (even if she may not mean it): I'm going to be me. Deal with it.

Though this message seems to comfort, I think it lacks imagination and is predicated on a narrow definition of love.

I just wanna be free, I just wanna be me.
And I want lots of friends that invite me to their parties.
I don't want to change, and I don't want to be ashamed.
I'm the spirit of my hair, it's all the glory that I bare.

We live in a world where we are accepted by others if we meet their rules of acceptability. For Lady Gaga, and God for that matter, this is unacceptable. Acceptance should be a gift. But where I believe Lady Gaga gets it wrong is her implied notion that acceptance should be free of having a better vision for another. It seems for Lady Gaga that love is only expressed by accepting one as they are.  Again, this a narrow understanding of love and lacks imagination.

Love, particularly God’s love through the gospel, says “I accept you no matter who you are or what you do. And, because I love you, I have a vision for a better version of you and will walk with you as you become that person. I will not let you remain as you are.” When I look back on my life and consider those people who have loved me well, it is those who model this sort of love. Love embodied by full acceptance of who I am combined with a vision for who I could become and a willingness to participate in that journey.

For more reading on Lady Gaga, I thought this from The Other Journal interesting and helpful.

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Tags: art, culture
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2011
May 30

"Christian" Art

Jess Alldredge
These groups, their ties to faith invisible, serve up some of the most vital art in town, pushing back against the widely-held notion that the church, today, is a cultural regurgitator or a voice ...