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root and grow

September 13, 2009

Mark Rothko, the much maligned modern painter, once said:

“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing.
No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money.
Yet it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain.
Today it is not quite the same, it is a time of tons of verbiage activity, consumption.
Which condition is better for the world at large, I will not venture to discuss
But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow.
We must all hope we find them.”

What a perfect picture of our role in redemption. What a perfect picture of the peace, the still small voice, and the rest that comes in the arms of forgiveness and justice and hope. Beautiful.



September 10, 2009

Pablo Picasso created this painting, Guernica, in the aftermath of the bombing of the town of Guernica. The town was bombed by German and Italians at the request of the Spanish National Army during the Spanish Civil War. The casualties were mostly innocent civilians. The fascist Spanish with the help of the German and Italians, had attacked a small town…causing an outrage this painting.

The story goes that during WW2, Pablo Picasso was in Paris. At that time it was under control of the Nazis and art was controlled. One day a German member of the gestapo came to tour Picassos studio and noticed some photos of Guernica. Since the Germans had aided the Spanish Fascist government and the painting was highly critical of this action, it could have meant bad news for Picasso. The gestapo agent picked up the photo and asked , “DID YOU DO THIS?”

Picasso replied, “NO, YOU DID.”

How powerful that art in this instance was able to speak, to witness for the dead, the innocent and chastise the oppressor. How powerful that Guernica the painting could give voice to the dead of Guernica the town.

Olafur Eliasson. Wilderness/Urban. Wonder.

September 9, 2009

New York City Waterfalls

How often do those in an urban area, a city, especially a major metropolitan area like NYC get to see waterfalls?

My mom was a teacher in a low income, mostly migrant population of mexican and central-american families. She would often invite a student from her school with us on a family vacation. One kid named Oscar went with us on a few. Oscar had never been to the ocean, he had never been to the snow. With our family, he got to experience those things. Can you imagine? Growing up withing 2 hours of both snow and sea, but never seeing them. I am lucky to live in Portland, Oregon, where mountains, rivers, snow and wilderness all converge closeby. The ocean is within an hour.

Olafur Eliasson is a master or bringing the outside world in. He has created rainstorms and clouds in museums and galleries. He creates experiences that are not often had. This waterfalls installation is powerful. Giving us a chance to interact with the ‘outside world” is a amazing gift.

How do you see this as connecting to out job of glorifying God?

How do you see these waterfalls connected to creation and the creator? How is/has this artist created something beyond an object? What do they mean to you?

Stained Glass of Gerhard Richter

September 5, 2009

Gerhard Richter created this staggeringly beautiful and pixelated window for the Cologne Cathedral. He calls it a “window for eternity.”  Some have criticized its lack of religions figures, forms or teaching. Other praise its ecumenical approach.

What are your views? Can something religiously indescript and vague still create a window to the divine? Should this be in a place of worship?


September 4, 2009

Keith Giles is one of those ghosts of the internet. He and I have never met face to face, never shook hands. From time to time, he pops up in my life, like he’s always hovering. One of those good ghosts though, a benevolent ghoul who always has a good word, a challenging thought. Keith, Thanks as always. I hope to meet in person someday.


by Keith Giles

One aspect of the Incarnation which fascinates me is how God, in human flesh, manifested Himself as a common, simple person born into humble circumstances who traveled the countryside telling stories.

Jesus was a storyteller. He was a creative personality. His stories were allegorical snapshots of what life inside the Kingdom of God was like.

Only one of his stories, which he called “Parables”, was ever actually explained to his disciples. All the rest he left up to interpretation and discovery.

The Parables of Jesus provoked thought and invited those who were curious to explore for themselves what the Kingdom of God was really all about. By internalizing the search for Truth contained in his stories, Jesus entrusted the human mind with the task of working it out in due time.

Jesus was comfortable with loose ends. He didn’t feel any anxiety over how many understood the parable. He knew that those who were truly hungry for real spiritual sustenance would discover what they were craving after in their own time.

There was an organic quality to the ministry and teaching of Jesus that appeals to me in ways that are deeper than I can even comprehend at a conscious level. He had ideas that were subversive to the status quo of the culture and he transmitted the code of this social rebellion through simple stories about farmers, widows, travelers, sons, fathers, and fields.

Jesus was comfortable with unanswered questions. In fact, I think that many of us who call ourselves his followers could learn something from adopting his style of asking questions and telling stories without getting hung up on the answers.

Too often we in the Church are too quick to provide answers to questions we’ve never been asked. That is a serious problem, in my mind. It paints us as people who are more concerned about results than we are about other human beings. We provide answers without taking the time to really listen to the questions being asked. Often we are answering the wrong questions.

For example, no one cares about your answer to spiritual poverty if you have yet to address the very real physical poverty all around you. When you show an indifference to the very real poverty that is easily detectable with the naked eye, it doesn’t paint you as someone who is particularly skilled at relieving poverty. Your poverty-relieving skills come into serious doubt.

Those who have yet to embrace Christ are skeptical of the slogan- “Jesus Loves You” when those who claim to be transformed by this love look and act just like everyone else.

It matters, then, who we are and what we do. Our reputation has become soiled. This is what makes the pursuit of personal Holiness and ethical behavior essential to the Christian life. Not just for our own personal need for sanctification, to be transformed into the image of Christ, but for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus does indeed change lives and make us a new creation.

It shouldn’t take faith to believe that Jesus has the power to set us free. It should not take faith to accept that Jesus is capable of making us into better fathers and mothers and employees and citizens.

Is a painting considered Christian if it includes a Cross? Or does the absence of religious iconography sap the spiritual impact from a work of art?

I believe that any art that is honest, real, raw, and true is capable of inspiring emotional and intellectual hunger for God. Much like the parables of Jesus invited further thought and inspired introspection, I believe that all of the creative disciplines have the potential for provoking and disturbing us. Yet, any artist or creative person who begins to pursue this sort of strategy will also inspire controversy as Jesus did.

When my oldest son turned nine years old recently I bought him a Bible to replace his “Kid Friendly” Story Bible. Soon afterwards we began to get up early together and read the Bible as a way to start our day. His choice was to start reading in the book of Genesis and it wasn’t long before I discovered that the Word of God is not a G-Rated book. It isn’t even a PG 13-rated book. It’s more like a an R-rated book, and in some places even an X-rated book.

The Bible is full of stories about murder, lust, rape, incest, mutilation, prostitution, and all the basest follies of humanity. More often than not, I found myself editing the Bible for my nine year old son’s ears.

So, let us suppose, for example, that you, as an artist, attempted to illustrate the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. Would such a work be accepted by the Christian culture, or would it be reviled and condemned?

My guess is that most of the Christian community would be up in arms about a film or an illustrated version of the Bible that communicated visually the same details available on the written page.

Simply put, telling the Truth may not be popular. However that should never prevent us from telling the Truth.

The thin line between art that communicates a scandalous truth and art that is sheer shock-sensationalism is something that takes time to explore and courage to proclaim.

When does art begin to confront the culture in the same way that the parables of Jesus perplexed and challenged and offended the culture of His day? When does art stop pandering to our basest desires and begin to challenge us to shrug off our complacency? Shouldn’t real art have the power to disturb and unsettle us?

The truth is, we don’t know the answers because examples of this type of art are so rare in this day and age. But isn’t this the sort of thing that our society desperately craves? Art that communicates to the soul?

Recently I came across a great quote from Steve Turner about artists as prophets in Image: Journal of the Arts and Religion: “One role of the artist is to provoke and even disturb us so that we can see in new ways. As the ancient prophets did, art frequently condemns the values and concerns of its surrounding culture-often in a loud, harsh voice. In consequence, the artist is often outcast, rejected, or unpopular.”

Maybe the problem is that, most of those whom we call artists today are in reality only entertainers. But a true artist, as defined above, is one who challenges the lifestyle, thought-pattern and behavior of a society, regardless of what anyone thinks—even if it means being unpopular.

Why don’t more artists take the role of prophet? Perhaps because it’s just a lot more difficult. Perhaps because we’re making some wrong assumptions, one being that to be evangelistic, we must somehow spell out the Gospel in plain English in a song or a painting.

But the world doesn’t want things spelled out. It doesn’t want the punch line. They’ve already heard the punch line (in regards to what the Christian faith is all about) numerous times. What they want to know is, How does it relate to my life? How do I actually “do” this stuff? What value are the teachings of Jesus to my life today?

Art has the power to ask these questions and to provide clues regarding the answers. But, the more important elements of the equation are the question and the clues, not the punch line.

The problem with a lot of contemporary Christian art is that it’s easier for an artist to look through an art magazine and take cues from what the rest of the world is doing. Maybe slap a cross here or a few nails there and, presto, you’ve got something that other Christians might call “Christian art.” But, if your hope is to communicate something more potent and effective to the culture we live in, then it’s going to involve submission to the Holy Spirit when you sit down to create your art.

The finished product might not look, on the surface, like something that God could or would use, but as you continue to seek God’s face in your work, you’ll begin to find more and more success at hearing His voice and responding to His direction.

If our art is ever to stray into the territory of the Prophetic, we must learn to hear the voice of God, like the Prophet. We must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, like the Prophet. We must develop a heart for people and long for them to see the Truth of the Kingdom of God, like the Prophet. We must not be artists who are concerned with popularity, or legitimacy.

Art has the power to change people, but not overnight, and not of it’s own volition. Much like the deceptively simple stories from the mouth of an itinerant carpenter challenged the culture of his day, and won as many detractors as followers, our art has the same potential to disturb us and help us to see things in new and different ways.

My hope is to find more artists who are willing to step into the role of prophet to this culture we live in. My prayer is that God would raise up workers to step into this field of harvest armed with digital cameras, paint brushes, laptops and clay. My prayer is for creative human beings, touched by the heart of God, who would be willing to develop a habit of waiting on God and surrendering to Him their various talents and skills.
Keith Giles is a pastor who does not take a salary at a church where 100% of the offering is shared with the poor in the community. He’s a published freelance writer and author of the books, “Nobody Follows Jesus (So Why Should You?)” and “The Gospel: For Here or To Go?”, both of which are available as free, downloadable PDF’s at his blog:

Adolf Hitler, the penitent.

September 4, 2009

Maurizio Cattelan is used to being on the receiving end of the mud slinging end of things. The word HERETIC is thrown around  a lot when people look at his work. When two of your most famous sculptures are Adolf Hitler praying and The Pope being crushed by a meteor, I think its a bit par for the course.

“HIM” is Cattelan’s sculpture shown below, that gives us a picture probably never soon otherwise. Hitler on his knees in prayer.

Hitler seems so small. He seems so quiet, so ineffectual …. almost impotent. How could this small humble man have exacted so much violence and power?

Is this before the war? Does he get up from this prayer and walk out the door to ignite Krystall Nacht, does he leave to sign into being the concentration camps?

Or is this Hitler at the end, begging for forgiveness?

The look on his face does not betray the inner secret He is almost serene.

I guess he may not even be in prayer.He could be kneeling waiting to be shot in the back of the head, to tumble into a hastily dug grave like all those mass graves he brought into existence.

This is what great art does and is for! Which option is it? Or can it be one of the wonderful, BOTH/AND, YES/NO, and ALL OF THE ABOVE moments in life and in art where all options are possible. One could walk into the gallery or museum and see a horrible portrayal of a horrible man receiving his word and commission from a horrible God.

Or one could walk in and see an artists portrayal of what might have been…a penitent Hitler beseeching God and possibly changing his ways.

One could see Hitler in the last moment, his execution.

What it means to me and says to me is…YOU DECIDE. Not only the fate of this work, but the fate of this man.

Is he forgivable? Is he being murdered? Is he planning the beginning or the end? You decide.

Instead of seeing this as a heretical statement (which would say more about God’s limits than it would about Hitler) maybe we can see that as a discussion about what it would mean, all the myriad possibilities, if Adolf would kneel down and pray.

Raymond Pettibon and the art of forgiveness.

September 2, 2009

Pettibon creates work that is often dark, sinister, morbid, sexual. All those words that send a shiver down your spine. His portrayals of rape, murder, serial killers, the grotesque are shocking and off putting.

Raymond Pettibon creates from and for the fringe, the outcast, the dirty udnerworld. His paintings are like the photos of Diane Arbus, forcing us to come to terms, or at least face to face, with a world we do not often see. A world that is often pushed under and aside.

However, far from reveling in the macabre and the shocking it seems Mr. Pettibon has a bit different message in mind.

from the Believer magazine:

BLVR: Do you think of your art as overtly sinister or morbid, or does it have more to do with hope and redemption? I don’t mean that in a biblical way.

RP: I don’t know if it goes that far in either direction, really, or begins or even ends there. I believe in redemption, sure, as much as we have it on earth. For the record, I don’t believe in any spiritual redemption. But my work is much more complicated than redemption or no redemption. I do feel it’s dangerous, both on a personal and a political level, to be anything other than forgiving. The stakes are just too high nowadays. I don’t want to express violence or anger or hate in my art. I want to express forgiveness. That’s the nature of my art in general. It’s expressing love and compassion, the kinds of things that don’t make sense in any other context other than emotive expression.


How rad is that. Through these portrayals of the dark and seedy he seeks to express love, compassion and forgiveness. Showing it from and to the places that need it most.

Matthew 9:11-13 

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”