Sunday, August 9, 2020

Romans 12.1-8: Transformed

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds (Romans 12:2a). In his Romans commentary (Interpretation), Paul Achtemeier suggests this translation: Do not let yourself be shaped by what everyone else does, but rather let yourselves be transformed by a whole new way of thinking... (p. 195). 

One of the most ordinary things in the world is a piece of computer paper. 8.5" x 11" is standard in the US. A4 paper is standard in the UK. The paper is plain and smooth so that it can pass through a printer. Until the paper is acted upon in some way, it simply exists with no real meaning on its own. But with the right mind in charge of the paper it is changed into a report on an infinite number of ideas and information. With the right mind in charge of the paper, it is transformed into art.


Peter Callesen transforms A4 paper (in inches 8.3 x 11.7) into complex paper sculptures evoking a variety of responses. In his hands, through his mind, the paper becomes a world of thoughts and ideas. Two examples are above. The works are created from a single piece of A4 paper. Callesen's cuts are made precisely so that the paper from the cut shape is perfectly transformed into the 3-D shape you see. Thus the flat hand shape is crimped and folded into the skeletal structure of a hand (left). The birds are created from the 2-D shapes drawn on the A4 paper.

This is definitely the world (the mundane) transformed by a whole new way of thinking. 

For Peter Callesen's work, click here and here.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Brothers and Tribes

The psalmist sings that it is good and pleasant when families can live together in harmony (Psalm 133). But another text reminds us that as good and pleasant as it might have been, Jacob's children could not manage to live together in harmony (Genesis 45:1-15). Yet a third text reminds us that for generations, Jacob's descendants were well aware of the son who was their ancestor (Romans 11:1-2a,29-32). Those twelve brothers who couldn't get along remain(ed) a touchstone for their descendants. Paul knew that he was of the tribe of Benjamin.

Nowhere is the significance of the twelves brothers/tribes apparent than in the windows designed by Marc Chagall for the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. In the synagogue the twelve windows, each with a round-arched top, are arranged in a square, three windows per side. Primarily in shades of blue, yellow, and red glass, Chagall has explored the symbols of stories of each of the twelve brothers.

Chagall's windows employ imagery from the blessings Jacob gave to his sons (Genesis 49) and the blessings of the tribes by Moses (Deuteronomy 33). The Benjamin window (below) includes the ravenous wolf as a symbol (Genesis 49:27) at the bottom. Other symbols are evident, along with Hebrew letters spelling the name of the tribe. 
(Left) Marc Chagall. Benjamin. 1962. Abbell Synagogue, Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem. Israel. 
(Right) Chagall. Lithograph of Benjamin window.
Each window is approximately 11' tall by 8' wide and filled with animals, fish, flowers, and other symbols associated with these twelve brothers and their father Jacob (renamed Israel). The shared color palette and design elements make a united statement from twelve different works. As the light shines through the windows, their arrangement in a square and their placement in a sort of clerestory has led them to be imagined as the crown for Queen Esther (whose Hebrew birthname is Hadassah). 

Jewels in a crown. Even if the brothers couldn't, the windows clearly live together in harmony. 

For information and photos of the Chagall windows at the Hadassah Medical Center, click here.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Romans 10.5-15: Beautiful?

Approximately one in a thousand people would disagree with Paul as he wrote to the Romans. In the section for this week, Paul declares that the feet of those who bring good news are beautiful (Romans 10:15). But approximately one in a thousand people are affected by podophobia, and those people probably wouldn't find any feet beautiful.

Podophobia is defined as a persistent, irrational fear of feet (podos "feet" + phobia "fear). For some, their podophobia means they will not touch their own feet. For some, the sight of any feet is disturbing. Some do not want anyone else to look at their feet. Bringing good news or not, those feet would not be appreciated.

My day job is teaching high school art. In the classroom next to mine, my colleague has beginning art students do a graphite drawing either of their hands or of their feet. The year when "feet" are in the syllabus results in many more comments by students. The students are "creeped out" by feet as they (or the photography students in my class) take photos of their feet to serve as reference photos (left above). One family has had multiple children in that beginning art class during "foot year". We've suggested they should frame and hang all the feet drawings as some kind of weird family portrait.

My teaching colleague knows what Albrecht Durer knew: hands and feet are demanding subjects for students, but they are also subjects that are very helpful as students are learning to draw. While podophobes (and beginning art students) may be "creeped out" by feet, Leonardo da Vinci is credited with describing the human foot as a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

Durer's study of two feet (left bottom) is a study for a now-missing altarpiece. In an interesting intersection, these feet will become the feet of Paul. Durer has made the feet of Paul into a work of art. Perhaps Paul's math would say that engineering + art + good news = beautiful.

(Bottom) Albrecht Durer. Study of Two Feet For the Apostle Paul in the Heller Altarpiece. c. 1508. Brush and grey ink, grey wash, heightened with white, on green prepared paper, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.