Two unlikely characters sharing the same space

I have tremendous admiration for Ben Quash for the contributions he’s made to the field of Christianity and the arts. As a professor at King’s College in London, his primary research interest is the way in which the arts can stimulate renewed theological engagement with the Bible. (Same as mine!)

His latest book, Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit, examines what happens when people in new contexts engage with old material, be it biblical narratives or texts, doctrinal formulas, or works of art or literature.

Most interesting to me was chapter 4, “In my flesh I shall see God,” an extended analysis of the Renaissance painting Contemplation of the Dead Christ by Vittore Carpaccio. Quash discusses the painting as a meditation on time, prophecy, death, and redemption.

Carpaccio's Dead Christ

Vittore Carpaccio, Contemplation of the Dead Christ, ca. 1505. Oil on canvas, 145 x 180.5 cm. Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

The dead Christ is of course the focal point of the image, but second to him is the hermit figure sitting under the tree in the middle ground—identifiable as Job through cross-reference to The Meditation on the Passion, another of Carpaccio’s paintings in which a very similar-looking figure sits on a marble slab with the Hebrew inscription “My redeemer lives 19,” a reference to Job 19:25Continue reading

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From my private collection: Wailing Wall: Song for Quin by Steve Prince

Two weeks ago my husband and I moved 400 miles down the East Coast from just outside Boston to just outside Baltimore. In our last few months as New Englanders whenever people asked us, “Where to?” our reply was oftentimes followed by a pitying “Oh . . .” or “Yikes, be careful!” They had the April race riots in mind.

But our assistant pastor at Citylife Presbyterian, David Cho, had a different reaction. He was genuinely excited for us, expressed a love for the city, and said something like, “What a great opportunity to practice justice and reconciliation—there are obviously a lot of hurting people in Baltimore, and they need more people to hear their stories and to advocate for them.”

David sees everything through a gospel lens, which is one of many reasons I was so blessed to be under his leadership and teaching for the last five years. When Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, David led our church in corporate lament—for the death of a young man, for the vandalism and looting that followed, for racial injustices that still persist in America, and for people who deny there’s even a problem. As a church we stood together and proclaimed that none of this is right. We were given time to grieve individually and to petition God for understanding, grace, and healing. We prayed for the families on both sides and for improved race relations in our nation.  Continue reading

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Karel Teissig’s Black Jesus

At the end of the TV miniseries Killing Jesus that premiered this March, several contemporary Jesus artworks scan the screen. I recognized many of them, but one that was new to me and that I really like is a crucifixion painting by the Czech graphic artist Karel Teissig (1925-2000). Here’s a screen capture:

Black crucifixionIt appears that Teissig created this image as a film poster illustration for Lotr po pravici, the Czech release of the 1968 Italian film Seduto alla sua destra (released in the US as Black Jesus). Directed by Valerio Zurlini, the film is a thinly disguised biography of the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba, here called Maurice Lalubi. Lalubi is a Christ figure who passively resists the dictatorial regime that had sprung up in his country and as a result is imprisoned and tortured.

Black Jesus movie poster

1970 Czech poster for the film Lotr po pravici (Black Jesus), designed by Karel Teissig

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“Ngarra Bura Fera” (Turn Back Pharaoh’s Army)

“Ngarra Bura Fera” is a Yorta Yorta adaptation of the African American spiritual “Turn Back Pharaoh’s Army,” which is in turn an adaptation of the two Jewish praise songs—one Moses’s, one Miriam’s—recorded in Exodus 15, following the Jews’ successful escape from slavery in Egypt.

Miriam dancing

Phillip Ratner, Miriam. Dennis & Phillip Ratner Museum, Bethesda, Maryland.

Yorta Yorta is the language spoken by the Aboriginal people of the Goulburn and Murray Valleys in northeastern Victoria, Australia. Discriminated against for centuries because of their black skin, they resonate with the Jews’—and African Americans’—experience of state-sponsored oppression.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers of Nashville, renowned for bringing the African American spirituals tradition out onto the world stage, visited Maloga Aboriginal Mission in August 1886. They sang their standard repertoire, but the song that stole the show was the one they had translated into the native language of its audience, “Ngarra Bura Fera.” The song celebrates freedom from oppression, victory over evil. It became for indigenous Australians a song of defiance and hope.  Continue reading

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Bottle cap Jesus

Jesus mosaic made of bottle caps

Artist: Paul Van Scott

Sacred Heart made of bottle caps

Artist: Jim Sanders

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Jesus’s stereoscopic vision: aligning what is with what will be

In his book Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution, André Trocmé gives an illustration that relates the binocular vision principle to man’s view of reality in an ultimate sense.

Humans’ two eyes enable them to perceive objects more truly, in three dimensions. This is because each eye views the target object at a slightly different angle, and then the brain superimposes those two images to create a single image with depth; if you use only one eye, objects appear flat. This superimposition function (called stereopsis) is not fully developed in infants, who therefore lack depth perception.

Trocmé says that when we take stock of the world, when we develop a worldview, we do so with two eyes: one that sees the world as it is, and the other that sees it as it should be. While we benefit from these two different viewing angles, most of us lack the stereoscopic function that combines view #1 and view #2 into one unified image. And so the present reality seems, to us, flat. Future reality—our idea of what should be—is likewise flat. We can’t see how these two realities overlap.

Jesus, however, saw complete and perfect overlap and acted accordingly: he ushered into the here and now the eschatological state foreseen by the Jewish prophets, which he understood not just as the goal of history but as a blueprint for everyday living.  Continue reading

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Tee Time Roundup

These four Jesus T-shirts are no longer available in the marketplace, as far as I can tell. I found them on the blog Defending Contending.

Heavy Drinker (John 7:37) Mr. Clean (Jesus)

Stay Out of Hell Free

Take the Deal (Eternal Life)

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