Early-bird registration almost up for CIVA’s biennial conference

There are just four days left to register for this year’s CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference, “Between Two Worlds: Contemporary Art and the Church,” at the early-bird rate of $235. Consisting of keynote presentations, panel discussions, exhibitions, workshops, and cultural outings, it’s taking place June 11-14 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’ll be attending and would love to see you there!

For more information, visit http://civa.org/events/conference/.

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Who was Saint Patrick?

St. Patrick’s feast day is tomorrow, March 17. Here’s a short clip from the video curriculum Christian History Made Easy that explains why the church commemorates him every year.

For more on St. Patrick’s outreach to the Irish, read the article “The Mission of Saint Patrick” by David Mathis.

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In Song and Picture: Lightness of Being

Listen: “I Lay My Sins on Jesus.” Words by Horatius Bonar, 1843. Music by Justin Ruddy, 2010. Performed by Castle Island Hymns (featuring Kevin Burtram), 2010.




The hymn “I Lay My Sins on Jesus” by Horatius Bonar draws together several different metaphors and roles of Jesus: Jesus as sin bearer, scapegoat; Jesus as Paschal lamb; Jesus as cleansing agent; Jesus as healer, redeemer, liberator, co-sufferer. Underlying them all is the notion of transfer, cost—we bring our burden to Jesus, and to free us from it, he takes it upon himself. Whatever it is that’s weighing us down—sin, guilt, yearnings, sickness, grief, anxiety—we are invited to pass it on to him who alone can bear it perfectly.

Though the text is a bit sprawling (Bonar later apologized for it, admitting it to be “not good poetry”), I appreciate what the musicians at Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston, known collectively as Castle Island Hymns, saw in it. Justin Ruddy’s retuning of this Victorian hymn, and especially the instrumentation, evokes a sense of lightness, of liftedness. Spirited guitar plucking sets the tone that is sustained throughout, which the piano, at first trudging, is lifted up into by the strings.

For visual complements to this piece, I chose first Jyoti Sahi’s Lamb and the Tree, which shows a lamb cut open, letting loose a stream of blood, and at the base of this blood flow a green shoot is sprouting up—life rising out of death. Second, I chose Brad Lucas’s bronze sculpture of Christ falling on the way to Calvary, the cross breaking him down and twisting him up. (Click here to view the sculpture from other angles and to read the artist’s commentary.)

Lastly, a painting by Michael D. O’Brien, who describes the image like this:

The ascending birds represent souls being rescued from destroying flames. The rescuer exposes his arms to the fire in order to hold it back while he guides the birds upward toward the horizon, toward light. The human figure is a “type” or symbolic metaphor of Christ.

Jesus is the hero in all three artistic works: he causes us to flourish and to fly. To enter into this growth, this freedom, we need only lay our sins on him.

Lightness of being—that’s what Jesus achieved for us. But as these artists remind us in their respective images, he first had to be torn open, crushed, burned.

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Confessing our role in oppression

“For self-righteousness that will not compromise, and for selfishness that gains by the manipulation of others, forgive us, O God.

For the lust of money or power that drives to kill, forgive us, O God.

For trusting in the weapons of war and mistrusting the councils of peace, forgive us, O God.

For hearing, believing, and speaking lies about other nations, forgive us, O God.

For suspicions and fears that stand in the way of reconciliation, forgive us, O God.

For words and deeds that encourage discord, perpetuate racist assumptions, sexist stereotypes, and classist attitudes—for everything that contributes to oppression, forgive us, O God.


Source: The Worship Sourcebook, page 100
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In Song and Picture: The Color of Christ’s Passion

Listen: “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red.” Words by William Johnson, 1958. Music by Vito Aiuto, 2008. Performed by The Welcome Wagon, 2008.




Presbyterian minister Vito Aiuto and his wife, Monique, make up the duo known as The Welcome Wagon. The final track on their debut album, “Deep Were His Wounds, and Red” is, in the words of its producer Sufjan Stevens, “a quiet bluesy dirge” with an Appalachian feel. It’s a retuning of a mid-twentieth-century hymn that, despite its gruesome opening line, is ultimately bright, for there is “healing in the wounds he bore.”  Continue reading

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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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