One of my big beefs with the current Western Church is that they have made Jesus either commemorative or simply a part of a salvic formula – but pretty much ignored His active Mastery and “holding the universe together” right here and now.
Hey – I didn’t say it – St. Paul does often and well – but nowhere better than when he, er..um – probably borrows an early christological hymn and applies it in his letter to the Colossians in 1:15-20.
I mean just read the audacious things which are said – seriously.
15 [a]He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For [b]by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He[c]is before all things, and in Him all things [d]hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.19 For [e]it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the [f]fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in [g]heaven.
This is all present and active – not commemorative (past) and passive. Talk about the power of now! We have no idea because we are too small-minded and unimaginative. We are like the disciples who are utterly surprised when Peter and the gang show up fatr the jail has been rocked-open and the others ask “Hey – what are you doing here? We have been praying for your release from prison?”
Iconography is literally “written (“graphos”) images of theology. It is not “painting” it is “writing theology,” most often for those who did not read. Well we do not read theology much either and when we do it is mostly crap – theologians sunk in the minutiae talking with a few other theologians sunk even deeper in the minutiae about some side point that may or may not even be viable at all (it may simply be en vogue or warrant a grant because it meets a political agenda).
Or it is controversial enough to sell books – and I am thinking of our friends Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels – who have parlayed 3rd and 4th Century Gnostic texts (which are irrelevant to New Testament studies coming hundreds of years later) into a kind of perpetual cottage industry on truly controversial “controversies,” that the unlearned just love to gobble up.
It doesn’t help that so -called believers are doing essentially the same thing – commoditizing the actual Gospels on the other side – and making Jesus either commemorative or just part of their salvic formula on the other side of the fence. In all cases what is by-passed is adoration, openness to the living Lordship of Christ and a sense of awe at His glory.
These are no small things. They impoverish us while we are seeking spiritual riches. It is terribly ironic – and it invokes His words in the book of Revelation to many of the churches there in the opening chapters. I will let you study and apply.
Criticism doesn’t work in this postmodern world of ours – but artistic opportunities do. Working artistically off the tradition of “reliquary boxes,” I am modifying and moving from a box which houses past relics to one which invites present-day contemplation as drawn out potentially by iconography, the written word, and various types of sacred art – both visceral and digitally delivered.
The front lid features an icon of Christ centering devotion and adoration on the Living One. It is meant to be “written theology” in the iconographic tradition and not a “painting.” It is meant to draw one into a sense of coming before the actual resurrected Christ who “holds all things together” at that very moment (Col. 1:16). It is a place of open adoration if one opens up. Of course God provides the grace and leading.
The inside door (or if that does not work, mounted within and removable for easy handling) will be a Kindle “Fire” with an interface especially designed to simplify devotion with no distractions. The main components are a compilation of texts including:
- the Bible,
- contemplative texts:
- Theresa of Avila
- John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul
- Brother Lawrence Practicing the Presence of God
- Catherine of Siena
- Thomas A Kempis The Imitation of Christ
- Bernard of Clairvaulx On Loving God
- The Cloud of Unknowing (author unknown)
- Merton’s Book of Hours
- My own exegetical/devotional commentary on the Christological hymn of Colossians (1:15-23 with original art from my longer commentary)
- Selected poems of a “Christ the Center” nature.
Inside the box this consist of modified “Kanji” style scrolls – New Testament words and texts done in Greek in a Asian Kanji style on Joss (funerary) paper. An unintentional move on my part (I just liked the paper and it was cheap at my Asian market) I learned later that it was used as “Money Paper” to write messages to dead ancestors and then burned in an urn to reach up into the heavens. I simply wanted to take the Word of God – so opaque and overused/misused in American culture and present it in a different artistic form so it could be seen in a different way. Thus, the box will have a small number of mini-scrolls with significant terms like kenosis, pistis, agape, didiskalos, kerygmata, etc…I am not sure just yet.
Of course the form requires a red cinnabar seal made from an original “chop” and I have been wrestling carving a new one as my “Azotus” one was lost in Santa Cruz (seen in the art to the left). There was a elderly man in Chinatown who did that for me after much negotiation (he spoke no English and I no Chinese o it was rather hilarious). Now he is gone so I am somewhat forced to attempt this myself. I have acquired a dremel with attachments to help (hopefully – it might still be dreadful).
A painted stone, incense (with a note of explanation for many an American thinks incense is simply an Eastern metaphysical phenomenon and to be rejected – quite superstitious), perhaps a tea candle in a holder (I need to experiment).
Normally I would do a long paper along with this, but I feel the addition of my actual poems, long N.T. exegetical commentary (which will need editing) and additional original art) should be quite enough as all of it has to tie together as a whole in one small 9” x 9” x 2.75” deep box.
I would like to do a small write up like a museum piece that gives small instructions on “how to use it” in a gentle/general sense (a spiritual formation sense). Just suggestions.
At first I bucked a little at the use of technology (and also –haha – the price..I am a very poor student financially). I heard Ellul in the back of my head on the use of technology – and I am a big fan. But having access to Christologically central texts, poems, art and also audio overruled. I am a hybrid in so many ways – perhaps more than most anyone I have ever met – so why not here?
As always, I am utterly open to suggestion. I do think it has to be Christological because the Church is not and is suffering because of it. I came to seminary to do Christology and somehow it seems fitting that while the GTU seems to have thwarted me exegetically and theologically – artistically I would have a green light. This is a very good thing and fits my nature – as I have spent most of my life creating in a secular context and done quite well.
I am, of course, scared out of my mind to begin the icon. Everything else is easy.
 My Summer project is a series of large oil paintings – cityscapes working off of Ellul’s The Meaning of the City where I do very Wayne Thiebauld-esque paintings wherein a crucifixion is inlayed within the city itself – if you have eyes to see it. Each painting will be a reflection of an Ellul quote. I had hoped to get a teacher behind this and get credit – but now I am just going for it and will hopefully get credit for it after and a good gallery showing.