Book Review: Take Me to the Water, compiled by Jim Linderman and Steven Lance Ledbetter

Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890–1950 (Atlanta: Dust-to-Digital, 2009) is one of the most unique book products I’ve ever engaged. A collaboration between Americana collector Jim Linderman and Dust-to-Digital front man Steven Lance Ledbetter, the book documents visually and aurally the Protestant ritual of immersion baptism during the early twentieth century.

Take Me to the Water (book cover)

The 96-page hardcover features 75 sepia photographs of outdoor baptisms collated by Linderman, the result of a decade’s worth of his searching through flea market bins, antique show displays, and eBay listings. It’s a slice of American religious history, an homage to a vanishing folk tradition. It used to be that river baptisms were commonplace events in the life of Southern and Midwestern communities. Practiced mainly by Baptists and Pentecostals, the ritual began with congregants processing in large numbers from church to water’s edge, singing all the way in joyful anticipation of the spiritual milestone about to take place.

As the crowd situated itself along the banks (and sometimes bridge), a minister and a deacon would wade out into the water to find a piece of firm ground on which to perform the rite. Once found, they would then invite the initiate(s) forward.  Continue reading

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In Song and Picture: Light for the Way

Over the next month-plus leading up to Easter, I’m going to publish a series of song-and-picture-group pairings based on different themes. My hope is that the music, lyrics, and visual art will combine to call you into deeper reflection on that theme and to foster in you a spirit of worship.

Each post will have an audio player embedded in it along with a small gallery of images. I recommend that you study the images, one at a time, (click to enlarge) as you let the song play. If you finish before the song ends, circle back through. Which image draws you in the most? Sit longer with that one; let it evoke what it will.

At the bottom I will include some brief reflections of my own, but I prefer you not read these until you’ve finished your own reflections. As already suggested, I intend for song and picture to interpret each other—they’re complementary—but feel free to follow your mind wherever either takes you, even if that be beyond my own curatorial design.

I invite you to share your responses in the comment field below.  Continue reading

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“Life, a Bubble” by William Drummond (1585-1649)

This Life, which seems so fair,
Is like a bubble blown up in the air
By sporting children’s breath,
Who chase it everywhere
And strive who can most motion it bequeath.
And though it sometimes seem of its own might,
Like to an eye of gold, to be fixed there,
And firm to hover in that empty height,
That only is because it is so light.
But in that pomp it doth not long appear;
For when ’tis most admired, in a thought,
Because it erst was naught, it turns to naught.

Hans Heyerdahl (Norwegian, 1897-1913), Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1882. Oil on canvas.

Hans Heyerdahl (Norwegian, 1857-1913), Boy Blowing Bubbles, 1882. Oil on canvas.

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Three upcoming observances in the church year

This Wednesday the church will be entering the season of Lent, a time of spiritual preparation in which we journey with Jesus in his passion, reflecting on the depth of his love and the meaning of his sacrifice and renewing our commitment to turn away from sin. Wendy M. Wright, in her book The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, describes Lent like this:

The forty days of Lent celebrate the dismembering, disequilibrium, and dying that are preludes to the creative transformation of Eastertide. It is a season of being changed and emptied so that new life might come to birth in us and resurrection be found in us as well. (17)

Thus emptied, we become ready to receive the fullness of joy that is the resurrection, an event so huge and so mind-blowing that we take fifty consecutive days to meditate on its meaning—to the first disciples and in our own lives and communities. We contemplate its promise, its victory, which are ours in Christ Jesus.

Eastertide concludes with the feast of Pentecost, a day in which we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Christian church. We invoke the Spirit’s power within us and without us to do mighty works, to bring comfort to the hurting, illumination to the unseeing, and revival to dead hearts and dead systems everywhere.  Continue reading

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Roundup: New Jesus movie, Lent retreat, Art in Orvieto, and Covenant and Exodus videos

Last Days in the Desert (movie poster)Last Days in the Desert movie review: Another Bible-inspired movie! Having premiered last month at Sundance, this one is about Christ’s temptations in the wilderness, starring Ewan McGregor. Critic Jordan Hoffman, writing for The Guardian, gives it four out of five stars.

Online Lenten retreat led by Jan Richardson: Next Wednesday inaugurates the forty-day season of Lent, and to help guide you through it, artist and writer Jan Richardson has organized an online retreat made up of written, visual, and musical reflections. Her blog provides a small sampling of what you might expect. Today she wrote, “It is a strange anointing, this cross that comes to mark us as Lent begins. Ashes, dust, dirt: the stuff we walk upon, that we sweep away, that we work to get rid of, now comes to remind us who we are, where we are from, where we are bound.” Click on the link to find out more details.

“Art in Orvieto” summer program: This summer the Institute for Christian Studies in the Toronto School of Theology is offering a four-week residency seminar with an optional writers’ or artists’ workshop in Orvieto, Italy, exploring the relationship between art, religion, and theology. You would be living and doing coursework in a Servite monastery. You have until March 31 to apply. (You do not have to be enrolled in a university to participate.)

Two new videos from The Bible Project—“The Covenants” and “The Book of Exodus, Part 2”:


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Tee Time: Jesus is my Valentine

Jesus is my ValentineFound at

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From my private collection: Crucifixion by Nicholas Mynheer

For all my interest in contemporary visual interpretations of biblical narrative, I own only two pieces of original art that fit this description (money and space being the limiting factors). One of them is a Crucifixion painting by Nicholas Mynheer.

Crucifixion painting by Nicholas Mynheer

Nicholas Mynheer (English, 1958-), Crucifixion, 1991. Oil and gold leaf on board, 16 x 11 cm (6¼ x 4⅓ in.).

The artist generously gifted this to me when I visited his studio in Oxford back in 2013. It is one of my most treasured possessions. It depicts Christ crucified on the hill called Golgotha, crying out in anguish to the Father. Close by him in the background are two figures bowing their heads in grief, echoing the bend of the crossbeam (both man and cross feel the weight), while in the foreground are two additional figures, also responding to the event but in a more contained manner.

Traditionally, Crucifixion paintings show two main figures beneath the cross: the Virgin Mary and John. That’s who I imagine the back two figures to be. But what of the two others? Notice how they seem to levitate; their feet are not firmly planted. For this reason I read them as angels, come to earth to bear witness to the death of the One who created them, to pay due reverence. At the same time, as patrons were wont to do during the Middle Ages (though I myself am not the patron of this work; it was made when I was a toddler), I read myself and my husband into the picture as two of the devotees.

Hands are prominent in the painting, drawing attention to gesture: a covering of the face, a joining together in prayer. These two related expressions—one of penitence and grief, the other of awe and thanks—give us a model for how to respond to the crucifixion of Christ on this side of the resurrection: it should disturb and aggrieve us, but at the same time it should console and empower us, because just as surely as it makes us aware of our baseness (our sin killed the Son of God), it lifts us up. The bright gold that seeps in from the fringes of the panel, coating the death-hill and transfiguring the blood-red sky, tells the story of how Christ’s death ushered in the glory that crowns us as saints.

Though not an icon in the Orthodox sense of the term, this small panel invites me daily into a deeper contemplation of what the cross means and what it calls me to. It sits atop my bedroom dresser, a constant reminder of Christ’s selfless extension of love over a broken world and of my charge to point people to that love, in part by extending myself likewise.

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