Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stella's Table Manners

After a difficult beginning in life, Stella (a German shepherd-Husky-Rottweiler mix) came to live in a very good home. However, Stella will occasionally get overly enthusiastic when dinner begins and will beg at the table. When that happens, Stella's people will get her attention with the words, "Stella. Table manners." The image of dogs eating under and arround the dinner table is familiar to many people who share their lives with dogs. Jesus' exchange with the Canaanite woman about children, bread and dogs - the Gospel reading for Proper 15(20)A/Pentecost 11A (Matthew 15:(10-20) 21-28) - adds something new to the conversation. Jesus' association of bread, table, children and dogs offers a strategy for looking at images of the Last Supper. Are there crumbs falling from that particular table? Are there any references to Jesus' conversation with the Canaanite woman?

Jacopo Tintoretto painted at least ten different versions of the Last Supper. They are busy, active scenes - quite a contrast to the solemn poses and perfect perspective of, say, Leonardo's iconic version. In Tintoretto's compositions, the disciples are not alone with Jesus - other people are present. In one version, the dishes are being washed in the same room as the supper while smoke and doves fill the space. In the version at left (top), now hanging in Venice's Santo Stefano church, a dog is shown on the steps directly beneath Jesus. The line of the dog's body, which points directly to Jesus, is echoed by the line of a child (to the right of the dog) and by the line of a women (to the left of the dog). Dog, child, table, woman. The reference is to Jesus' conversation with the Canaanite women.

The bottom left image is another of Tintoretto's versions of the Last Supper. There is another dog present on the steps leading up to the table where Jesus (at the back of the room) is eating with his disciples. What do you see in that image? Is there a woman and/or a child? Who are the human figures on the stairs? Is there something about those people that should make us think of crumbs falling from the table?

As we gather around the Lord's table, we should mind our own table manners. Is everyone being served? Is everyone welcome? Is anyone relegated to receiving only the crumbs that fall from the table?

(Top) Tintoretto. The Last Supper. c. 1570. Santo Stefano, Venice, Italy. 
(Bottom) Tintoretto. The Last Supper. 1579-81. Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice, Italy.

For a take on the reading from Hebrew scripture for this Sunday, click here.

This week on A&FM's Facebook page, a look at Psalm 133. Click on the link below.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

It's the Horizon

Proper 14(19)/Pentecost 10A gives us an early episode in Genesis' Joseph cycle of stories (Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28). Having been identified as his father's favorite, Joseph is quick to let his brothers know of the newly announed rankings. As you might expect, the news is not well-received, and the brothers decide to move Joseph out of the picture. They throw him into a pit and then sell him to a passing caravan of Midianites.

The two images below tell the story of the pit and the selling. On the left is an image by Karoly Ferenczy. Painted in 1900, the action of the story is in the foreground. Joseph, stripped to the waist, is handed off to white-garbed travelers passing through Jacob's land. At the right, the same story is told by a contemporary artist Yoram Raanan. The action is in the foreground with figures standing around what appears to be a well-like hole.
(Left) Karoly Ferenczy. Josseph Sold by His Brothers Into Slavery. 1900. Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest. (Right) Yoram Raanan. Joseph's Brothers Throw Him Into the Pit.
The two images share a color scheme: brownish-yellow earth tones, blue and white. Both compositions are similar with the action happening at the bottom/front of the painting. But both also remind us of "the rest of the story": that there IS a rest of the story. In both paintings, it is the distant horizon that draws our attention in the upper half of the composition. And that is where we need to at least glance as we read the Joseph cycle. Incidents along the way seem to be the end, but they are not the end. Not the pit, not prison, not famine. There's something more waiting for Joseph, for Joseph's descendants and for the people of God. It's probably a good reminder for us, too.

For an additional consideration on Joseph and his brothers, click here.
For a take on the gospel reading for this week, click here.

Click on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook link below for some thoughts on the dreams that got him in trouble with his brothers.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Boy with a Bento Box?

The story can be called to mind in two words: loaves and fishes. We can fill in the blanks from there: a boy with a lunch, lots of people, disciples, baskets of leftovers. It's a familiar story found in several versions in scripture. It's Matthew's version that we get in the lectionary reading for Proper 13(18)A/Pentecost 9A (Matthew 14:13-21).

The elements of the meal are present in Dutch artist Johnny Beerens' mural in Breskens. Five loaves and two fish, all neatly arranged in a silo-sized bento box. Probably the boy in the story did not bring his lunch in this fashion, but the orderly arrangement has been placed with great care and effect into the architectural elements of the building. The subject matter does, of course, call to mind the gospel story of loaves and fishes. But the setting of the work takes the subject farther.
Johnny Beerens. Loaves and Fishes mural. Breskens, Netherlands.
The port city of Breskens is in the southwest corner of the Netherlands. Situated on the coast, the town hosts an annual Fishery Festival. The mural is located on a grain silo in the port, which ties the location to bread. The combination of fish and bread recognizes the gifts of the earth - both from the land and the sea - and their location on a silo and port recognizes that harvesting and distributing those gifts require human work.

The location of the mural calls to mind more than the miracle of the gospel parable. The images and the work of the port as a hub of distribution remind us of our call to feed hungry people (" give them something to eat"). That call is not bound by the past or by geography and is not a one-time event. The mural can be an incentive to remember and do better.

You give them something to eat, Jesus said. All we need is...a bento box.

An essay on the reading from Hebrew scripture (Jacob wrestling) is found here.

See what a pelican has to do with this week's lectionary readings. Click on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook link below.