Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Corinthians 12.1-11: Cogs, Gears, and Other Moving Parts

We often focus on Paul's list of gifts in I Corinthians 12:1-11: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Different gifts. Same giver. But why. Why are the gifts given? So the followers of Christ can find pleasure or fulfillment in the gifts? Not according to verse 7. According to verse 7, the gifts are given for the common good. It's a different way to think about our spiritual gifts. They aren't (just) for ourselves but should be used to benefit the whole people of God.

What we think of as just gifts might be described as gears. The job of a gear is to transfer power from one part of a machine to another. The gear, which can also be called a cogwheel, is a rotating part that has teeth, or cogs, on the edge. The cogs of one wheel mesh with the cogs on another wheel to transmit torque which is converted to power.

Power can be transmitted by gears fabricated from metal, but those same mechanical processes can be made by wooden gears. The appropriate materials are defined by each project.
Power can be transmitted by giant gears, but those same mechanical processes can also be made by tiny gears. The scale of the gears can be adapted.
Power can be transmitted by gears designed only for function, but those same mechanical processes can also be made by gears designed for visual appeal.

Metal, wood, big, small, strictly utilitarian or crafted for beauty, the important thing is that the gears are all functioning and that power is, indeed, being transferred. That's important for mechanical gears and for gifts as gears.

One person's spiritual gift meshes with another person's spiritual gifts as they move toward one another. As they move, the church is moved. For the common good. But when the gears/cogwheels are not functioning or when those gears/cogwheels are missing cogs/teeth, they themselves can't be turned and they can't turn another gear. So maybe the gear analogy isn't too farfetched (though a theology professor once warned our class to never let a metaphor take us farther than we want to go).

There must be gears. There must be cogs. There must be Spirit. All to be used for the common good. 

Top two photos: George Washington's Gristmill. Mount Vernon, VA. Website includes a video of the gears in motion. Author's photos.
Bottom two photos: Works of Jules Jurgensen Chronograph. c. 1870.

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook...a children's book about sharing gifts.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Through the Waters

Images of the baptism of Christ often show Jesus standing in gently rippling water - sometimes up to his waist, other times only ankle deep. John stands beside him pouring a gentle stream of water onto Jesus' head, often from a scallop shell. The waters of baptism as related in the text (Luke 3:15-22) are carefully controlled by the artist so as to not detract from either the Savior or his fur-clad cousin. It's a far cry from a situation that would lead God to promise that "when you go through the waters I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you" (Isaiah 43:1-7). It's hard to imagine that God would need to promise to be with anyone in ankle-deep water. But the path through those waters of baptism led to the cross and Jesus' anguished cry that God was nowhere to be found.

As artists have managed their images, perhaps we in Christ's church have managed baptism to the point that its waters no longer seem even dangerous enough to warrant our careful attention. We use a careful dribble of water or step down smooth-surfaced steps into a carefully filled pool. And we believe these tidy, manageable actions symbolize our being named as Christ's own and grafted into the body of Christ. Annie Dillard wrote about worship: “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”  [Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.]

Perhaps we would be better served (and have more truth in advertising for the claims baptism makes on our lives) if our baptismal images were more like Maggi Hambling's "Wave" paintings. Hambling's paintings are inspired by the artist's experience of the gigantic waves that crash onto the sea wall in Southwold, Suffolk, England. The paintings are often large, measuring over six by seven feet, allowing viewers standing in front of the paintings to feel the size and power of the waves. This is no ankle-deep wading. These are waves that threaten to overwhelm. This is the voice of the Lord that is over the waters, thundering over mighty waters (Psalm 29:3). This is drama and danger enough to make one search for and be grateful for the ongoing presence of God.

Top: Maggi Hambling. Wall of water V. 2011. 78 x 89 inches. Bottom: The artist in the "Walls of Water" exhibit at the National Gallery, London, England. 

For additional thoughts on baptism and the baptism of Christ click here, here, or here.
For an interesting illustration of Isaiah 43:1, see this week's Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Matthew 2.1-12: Look! Up in the Sky!

The story of Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) is, in one sense, about a follow a matter how matter how far.* That star that guided the magi has long been the subject of speculation and investigation by scientists and theologians and poets and dreamers. The months of December 2018 and January 2019 have seen (or will see) several astronomical events. On December 22, the night after the 2018 winter solstice, a full moon (the "Cold Moon") lit up the sky. On the morning of December 21, Mercury and Jupiter rose together. The peak of the Ursids meteor showers occurred during the same several days.

On January 20-21, 2019, skywatchers in the Americas, Greenland, Iceland, western Europe and western Africa will see a Super Blood Wolf Moon eclipse. This will be the last total lunar eclipse until May 26, 2021. The full moon is called a supermoon as it will appear bigger and brighter in the sky. As the shadow of the earth moves between the sun and the moon, earth's shadow will cover the moon, the sun's light will bend toward the moon, turning it blood red. It is called a Wolf Moon because it is the first full moon in January.
Giotto di Bondone. Adoration of the Magi. 1303. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy. 
In 1303 Giotto di Bondone covered the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel with two fresco cycles. One  tells the life of Jesus; the other, the life of Mary. Giotto's composition for the Adoration of the Magi includes the Bible's Star of Bethlehem but portrays it as a comet...with a tail as big as a kite. Halley's Comet had been visible in the sky during November and December of 1301. The artist was no doubt influenced, even inspired, by the heavenly activity, even two years later when he began the Scrovegni frescoes. The comet streaks across the sky leading the eye of the viewer to a point directly over the place where Jesus is. Just like in the Bible story.

The European Space Agency returned the favor when they launched a space probe whose mission was to study the nucleus of Halley's Comet. Launched in July 1985 and coming within 370 miles of the nucleus in March 1986, the probe was named Giotto. Giotto's on-board color camera took photos of the comet.

The Psalmist (Psalm 19) reminds us that the heavens are telling the glory of God:
God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
God makes a huge dome for the sun—a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.
That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith. (The Message)

The magi were used to looking at the sky. Because of that they were among the first recorded to show to the world who Jesus was. Perhaps we should be looking up more than we do.

*Lyrics from "The Impossible Dream" from Man of LaMancha. Lyrics by Joe Darion.

For additional thoughts on Isaiah 60:1-6, click here.
For additional thoughts on Matthew 2:1-12, click here and here.

This week on Art&Faith Matters on eclipse to accompany the comet in the life of Jesus. The heavens are telling.