Sunday, August 30, 2020

Matthew 18.21-25: As We Are Forgiven

How many times should we forgive? (Matthew 18:21-25) Think about the nuances of the question if it is changed slightly: How many times do I have to forgive? Have to or should, Jesus' answer is the same: there's no number. You must forgive as many times as God forgave by sending Jesus in human form to die for us. Oh. 

The parable Jesus tells drives home the fact that we are obligated to forgive others if we ourselves have been forgiven. If the language sounds familiar, I'm sure that's not by accident. Earlier in Matthew's gospel, when the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, his model included the phrase "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." 

The connection between the parable and the petition is clear in the relief panels of the bronze doors on the Grossmunster in Zurich, Switzerland. Construction began on the church about the year 1100 and was completed about 1220. The Grossmunster became a Protestant church under the leadership of Huldryc (Huldrich? Huldrych? Ulrich?) Zwingli. Zwingli was succeeded by Heinrich Bullinger. 

The doors on the south portal are, of course, much more contemporary. Created by German sculptor Otto Munch in 1950, the two scenes show the same servant as debtor and debt-holder. In the background the servant stands before his master. In the foreground, the servant stands above the man in his debt. The man, on his hands and knees, begs for time to repay the debt. The answer comes from the figure standing ramrod straight, his right arm crossed over his chest and his left hand making a fist. None of this implies any conciliatory gesture. 

The architectural structure between the foreground and background provides the "as you have been forgiven" element. The post supports the ceiling over the two background figures (the ceiling might also be the floor of a second story to the "building"). The post and floor/ceiling create a cross, a reminder of God's work in Jesus Christ. 

This panel is one of a series that illustrates the petitions of the Lord's Prayer. The need for forgiveness gives rise to the obligation to forgive. We who have been forgiven much, should forgive much. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Romans 13.8-14: You Know What Time It is

 Paul, over and over, reminded his readers that Jesus was coming back. They should pay attention to that and remember how they are to live as followers of Christ. With every day that passed following Christ's ascension, we are one day closer to Christ's return. Because of their certainty of Christ's return, Christians are people of the future -- oriented toward the day of Christ's return. Christians are to live in that day rather than in the evil past (Romans 13:13).

Does the kind of clock we have say something about our view of time? Is time cyclical like a clock with hands that sweep around the face? Is time digital, numbers changing but standing in place? Is time sculptural? 

Calling James Borden a clockmaker is a true statement, but his work is more than that. His clocks are indeed sculptural, hanging on walls, sitting on tables, even suspended from the ceiling. These kinetic sculptures are large pieces, some as large as 10' wide and 6.5' tall. They tell time but they engage more of the viewer than your average clock. 

James Borden. Suspended Clock made of Walnut, Cherry, White Oak, and Box Elder. 

Can you figure out how to tell time with this clock? Does it change how you perceive time and the passage of time? That's what Paul hopes his words will do for the Christians in Rome. He wants them to remember that every moment moves us closer to Christ's return. That should change how we perceive and value and use each day. Paul's timetable may have anticipated a return sooner than events have proven to be true, but the ultimate day is still moving toward us. Each day bringing us closer to salvation than we are right now. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Leave Only Footprints...Or Maybe a Little More

Burning bush (Exodus 3:1-15) and burning coals (Romans 12:9-21). Two (more) stories in scripture that employ some element of fire or flame. There is an interesting fire-related difference in the two, though. When I think about burning coals, I imagine the grill that fired hundreds of family cook-outs and barbeques. I can picture those glowing charcoal briquettes (my dad was in the lumber gas grills for him). Heating up slowly, passing through the flame stage and then becoming a bank of glowing embers ready for the ribs, sausage, corn, portobello mushrooms, and more that might be on the grill on any given occasion.   


       Vincent Van Gogh. Peasant Burning Weeds. 1883. Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)/Drents Museum (Drenthe)

After dinner the coals were usually still glowing enough that the coat-hangers-turned-marshmallow-sticks were brought out, sometimes with chocolate and graham crackers, to make dessert. The coals were dealt with before bedtime, and by the next morning there was nothing but a pile of cold ashes. 

There were no ashes after Moses left the holy ground where he spoke with God. Because the bush burned but was not consumed. That means no ashes. Aside from the bush, which was there before, only Moses' footprints were left. 

Paul's instructions to the Christians in Rome (Romans 12:20) include a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22. Do more for your enemies, he instructs. Give more, love more. As I heard more than once when I was growing up, "Kill 'em with kindness."  Heap burning coals on their heads. The hope seems to be that at the end of such actions as feeding hungry enemies and giving drinks to thirst ones, what will be left isn't just cold ashes, it is a new or restored relationship between former enemies. 

Take only photographs, leave only footprints is good advice for walking through nature. Such attention to detail is important when thinking about the potential for fires. We have all seen what is left (or not) after a wildfire. For Moses and the Christians in Rome, the result of the fire is not destruction. It is growth and transformation. People who are no longer enemies. Moses commissioned to lead God's people. Those are what is left. Not just footprints. Maybe a little more. 

On Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, another part of Paul's instruction in Romans. Can you tell which verse from the thumbnail at left? Check your answer on Facebook

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.