Good-bye, and thank you (see you at ArtandTheology.org)

I’m sad to remind you that, as I announced in November, I am discontinuing The Jesus Question—but I’m happy to let you know that my new blog, Art & Theology, is now live! Please show me some love and share the URL with your friends and social media followers and “Like” the Facebook page.

Art & Theology website

 

Art & Theology Facebook page

The Jesus Question started out as a project for a social media class in February 2011. The assignment was to develop a blog in which we were to explore a well-defined subject of interest, the purpose being to enhance our online presence, connect with others of like interests, experiment with web building and marketing, and establish ourselves as an authority in a field.

It may not have achieved a vast reach by professional standards (it gets about 7,000 unique views per month), but I feel pleased with how it was received and what came of it. It led to my becoming assistant editor of ArtWay.eu, republication on other websites, free books from publishers, invitations to speak at a few local college events, and my being interviewed for a book project.

The blog also resulted in e-mails and comments from readers all over the world—students, pastors, missionaries, liturgists, ethnographers, visual artists, musicians, poets, and practitioners of different faiths. I sincerely appreciate all the messages I received, even if I didn’t always have time to respond; truly, thank you. The thoughtful questions, insights, and resource recommendations helped direct my research and refine my thinking, and the words of encouragement were a tremendous blessing to me.

The reason I’ve decided to replace The Jesus Question is because its tagline is no longer representative of what it has become. I started out “tracing the identity of Jesus through history, art, and pop culture,” but in the last two years the blog has become heavily weighted on the “art” part, since that is how my interests happened to develop. As I spent more time reading books and articles about artists and art movements and exhibitions and churches’ engagement with the arts, I spent less time reading Jesus scholarship and looking for amusing manifestations of Jesus in popular culture.

Art & Theology will allow me to explore with greater freedom what has become my primary passion: promoting the arts for use in private and corporate worship.

Last June I attended my first major CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it was that conference that has given me the impetus to say good-bye to this web project I’ve been nurturing for five years so that I can pursue a more dedicated study of the intersections between Christianity and the arts—especially the visual arts. The need for art interpreters in the church was mentioned independently by several speakers and panelists at the conference—a call to action that rang especially loud in my ears. There are a ton of artists in the church, they said, and in the last two decades there has been a steep rise in academic writing about the important ways in which art can serve the church, but what is missing is someone to train “non-art people” of faith in how to approach art, how to appreciate it, and to thereby help develop a more visually literate church culture. Hearing that art commentary from a Christian perspective is in demand really reaffirmed in me my calling to provide just that.

I realize it will be a particular challenge to reach the people I most want to reach. What would persuade someone who’s uninterested in art to click on a link to “art and theology,” or to stick with such a blog long enough that their curiosity has time to evolve into appreciation or even fondness?

It’s hard to leave The Jesus Question, because I didn’t end up addressing many of the topics I wanted to. In particular, I didn’t delve as much into the historicity of Jesus and New Testament criticism as I had set out to. My consolation is that there are hundreds of scholars out there, many of whom publish material online, who are more qualified than I to address such things.

This blog obviously doesn’t come close to exhausting the depth of who Jesus is or has become. I urge any one of you to pick up where I left off and keep the discussion going. As for artistic depictions of Christ, you can be sure that I will continue exploring those over at Art & Theology.

Peace Be with You by Roberto Lopez Lopez

Roberto López López (Mexican, 1977-), Peace Be with You, 2011. Acrylic on canvas.

Thank you so much, all of you, for your support over the years. You have been an encouragement to me in my spiritual walk, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of this virtual community of learners!

So with this final post, I now officially launch Art & Theology. Please visit me there and consider sharing the website with your family and friends, pastor, seminary professors, and coworkers.

The peace of Christ be with you now and always.

—Victoria Emily Jones

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The Pensive Christ (Rupintojelis) of Lithuania

Before Rodin’s The Thinker, there was the Pensive Christ.

Pensive Christ

Pensive Christ figurines by three contemporary Lithuanian artists: (from left to right) Tomas Ivanauskas (2001), Algirdas Juškevičius (2000), Svajūnas Motijoška (2001).

Dating back to the late fourteenth century, this iconographic type shows Jesus sitting on a stone, bent over, supporting his head with one hand while resting the other on his knee. Sometimes he is crowned with thorns, sometimes not, but either way he bears an expression of exhaustion and grief and is thus associated with the Passion.

Although the image first appeared in northern Germany, it is now most commonly associated with Lithuania, where the figure is called Rūpintojėlis (pronounced roo-pinto-YAY-lis): “the One Who Worries,” or “the Brooding One.” (“The Pensive Christ” is not a strict translation, but that is the name that has gained favor in the English-speaking world; “Christ in Distress” is another.) As Christianity spread throughout Lithuania in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, so did images of Rūpintojėlis, as the wandering woodcarvers (dievdirbiai) of native folk culture carved him into hollowed-out tree trunks wherever they went. Today he is found not only at crossroads and in forests but in churches, homes, cemeteries, and shops.

Lithuanians relate the figure to their own passion as a people, especially since having had endured persecution under the Soviet regime, including mass deportations to Siberian labor camps and other remote parts of the Soviet Union in the 1940s and ’50s. About 60 percent of the roughly 130,000 Lithuanian deportees either died in the camps or were never able to return to their homeland—a tragedy still mourned by Lithuanians each year on June 14, the date of the first major deportation (in 1941), which they call the “Day of Sorrow.” Others were executed as political prisoners.   Continue reading

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Stories about Jesus Christ, illustrated by David Popiashvili

The Moscow-based Institute for Bible Translation (IBT) exists to translate, publish, and distribute the Bible in the 130-plus languages of the non-Slavic peoples living in the Commonwealth of Independent States (that is, in former Soviet Union countries).

In 2002 the IBT published a Georgian edition of Stories about Jesus Christ, a children’s book based on the four New Testament Gospels. They commissioned Georgian artist David Popiashvili, who studied at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, to create thirty-one illustrations for it. People responded so well to Popiashvili’s images that IBT decided to create a digital version of the book that includes Russian and English translations as well as the original Georgian. You can access this edition here.

Annunciation by David Popiashvili

The Good News about the Birth of Jesus

Baptism of Christ by David Popiashvili

The Baptism of Jesus

Walking on Water by David Popiashvili

Jesus Calms a Storm

Good Shepherd by David Popiashvili

The Good Shepherd

Agony in the Garden by David Popiashvili

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

Christ carries his cross by David Popiashvili

Carrying His Own Cross

Continue reading

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Tee Time: Jesus Didn’t Tap

Jesus didn't tap

T-shirt_Jesus Didn't Tap (back)

Found at www.jesusdidnttap.com.

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Dallas Willard talks gospel, grace, and spiritual discipline

Dallas Willard (1935–2013) was among the greatest Christian writers of the last century, in my estimation. He was known for his accessible teachings on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and how to be in relationship with him. You can hear him speak on these topics in the twelve-minute interview below, from the 2010 Catalyst West conference.

 

When asked by interviewer John Ortberg to define Jesus’s gospel, Willard responds, “It’s how to get into heaven before you die.” Many evangelists, unfortunately, teach a grave distortion of that: that the gospel is all about attaining heaven after death.

In his preaching Jesus insisted again and again on the availability of the kingdom of God in the here and now. The Christian, Willard says, is one who has made the transition from a life lived on his or her own to the life that God is living in his kingdom. Thus the gospel is good news not only for the next life but for this life; it is the enactment of heavenly virtues, by the enablement of heavenly grace, on earth, for the good of all creation.

Willard corrects the mistaken notion that grace is only for the forgiveness of sins: “The sinner is not the one who uses a lot of grace; the saint uses more grace. The saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff, because everything they do is a manifestation of grace.”

One of the major problems with evangelical Christians today, according to Williard, is their passivity. Many tend to think of their salvation as an eternal-life contract they signed sometime in the past but which has no bearing on how they live in the present. For shame! cries Willard.

“Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning,” he says in this interview. “Effort is action; earning is attitude.”

Eternal life starts now—and yes, it is a gift, but it also requires the Christian to actively live into it.

The Kingdom Comes by Nikhil Halder

Nikhil Halder (Bangladeshi), The Kingdom Comes, 1978. Painted for the inaugural conference of the Asian Christian Art Association.

For book-length treatments of these topics by Willard, see The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God and The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Life. See also his article “Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done.”

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Maria von Trapp, plus seven artists, on Jesus the refugee

Many of you know Maria von Trapp as the singing nun-turned-governess in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews immortalized the character in the 1965 film adaptation.

Though the musical contains fictionalized details, Maria von Trapp (née Kutschera) was, in fact, a real person. The Sound of Music is based on her memoir, which recounts her experience as a novice monastic, her time as tutor to the seven children of the widowed naval officer Georg von Trapp, her later decision to accept Georg’s marriage proposal, the formation of the Trapp Family Singers, and the family’s flight from Austria after the Nazi takeover. (Georg was offered a commission in the German Navy but refused on ideological grounds and was therefore under threat of arrest.)

Sound of Music escape scene

Film still from the final scene of The Sound of Music. In actuality the Trapp family did not escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland. Instead they traveled by train to Italy, and went from there to America, where they embarked on a nationwide singing tour before finally settling in Stowe, Vermont.

Maria was a woman who loved Jesus and who wrote about his life and personal influence in several books. In Yesterday, Today, and Forever, she shares how Jesus’s story entered into the life and imagination of her family. She identified strongly, for example, with his early status as refugee, because just as Jesus had to flee the wrath of Herod and make a new home for himself in another country, so did she and her family have to flee the wrath of Hitler and reestablish themselves in a foreign land.

Escaping the authorities required a lot of courage, and Maria found it in Jesus’s show of solidarity. She was sure to point out to her kids how their circumstances could help them better understand the context into which Jesus was born and spent the first several years of his life:

“Children,” I said, “I feel as though we were at the beginning of a great discovery. It seems as if Herod isn’t really dead. He keeps living under different names, like Saul and Nero, or Hitler and Stalin. He still seeks the child to destroy Him.” How close Our Lord and His family had become all of a sudden when we met them as fellow refugees! (16, emphasis mine)

Throughout the book Maria muses on the fearsomeness and loneliness of the refugee journey, gently criticizing those artists who would mislead us into assuming it to be anything other:   Continue reading

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Adoration of the Magi bark painting from Papua New Guinea

The organization Wycliffe Bible Translators is committed to translating the Bible not only into all the world’s written languages but into its visual languages as well.

In 2011 Wycliffe missionary Peter Brook commissioned artist Nanias Maira, who belongs to the Kwoma people group of northwestern Papua New Guinea, to paint Bible stories in the traditional style for which he is locally known. Using the Kwoma palette of red, black, and white, Maira painted several pieces on the Genesis creation account and some on the early life of Jesus.

When these paintings were presented to the Kwoma people, their response was, “These are ours!” They were excited to see their culture honored in the telling of the gospel and were thus more receptive to it, more engaged.

Papua New Guinea nativity

Nanias Maira (Kwoma/Papua New Guinea, 1975-), Ner Wiynmaiy, 2011. Painting on sago palm bark. Photo: Peter Brook.

Maira’s painting Ner Wiynmaiy depicts a happy, naked baby Jesus framed by the Star of Bethlehem. The Three Magi sit below in adoration of the newborn king.

For more information on Brook’s role with Wycliffe and Maira’s art, see “Ethno Arts and the Gospel” on the Wycliffe website.

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