November 26, 2007

Image of Christ

(I apologize in advance both for this post being too long and not long enough. Most people won’t have the time to read it, but those who do will find that it barely scratches the surface.)

On Saturday Laura, Raghu, Adam, and I went to the Kimball to see their exhibition on early Christian Art. It was a fantastic exhibit showing great examples and leaving me pondering the status of art in the Christian world today. One issue that has been bugging me lately is the debate on images of Christ, which puts me directly opposite reformed thought. While I might not completely embrace the legacy of Calvin, I usually find my self at least respecting his underlying theology. So I dug a little trying to get to the central issues to find our differences(if anyone feels that I have misinterpreted the Reformed position please feel free to correct me).

The debate starts by asking the question: What is the purpose of the second commandment? Very specifically (in the English language) it seems to be prohibiting Idol making and worship. The argument goes something like this: God being a spiritual entity cannot be worshiped through a physical representation. Such a representation cannot properly convey His divine presence even in the slightest and so our worship would naturally fall upon the object instead. Christ is the pure image of the invisible God, so to make an image of THE image would be to try and make an image of the triune God.

On the surface the logic seems to flow (don’t make an image of God, Jesus is God, so don’t make an image of Jesus) but for better logic we must incorporate why we are not to make an image of God. The reason is tied up in the fact that He can not be contained within physical or mental limits. If we make an image we will start to view God as something with physical limits. But God did become something physical, the ultimate physical representation, with the Incarnation. We should be constantly reminded that the Creator of the universe walked in very specific dirt, actually touched very specific people, and was killed and resurrected at very specific locations. Christ, although God, has a physical presence and can and should be represented by physical images lest we separate ourselves from His Incarnation.

As a supporting argument: Christ’s story is told through narrative, where the mind naturally conjures images and is specifically described by John in Revelation. To try and repel any image of Christ from our minds and hands seems to contradict the very nature of the scriptures.

Why did Calvin (and many others) come to these conclusions? Though I think it was in a large part reactionary, I also think that there is a very real observation that creations of our hands can become idols and misrepresent the truth in their subjects. Take this quote from Lewis out of A Grief Observed:

"It doesn't matter that all photographs of (my wife) are bad. It doesn't matter -not much- if my memory of her is imperfect. Images, whether on paper or in the mind, are not important for themselves. Merely links. Take a parallel from an infinitely higher sphere. Tomorrow morning a priest will give me a little round, thin, cold, tasteless wafer. Is it not in some ways an advantage that it can't pretend the least resemblance to that with which it unites me?

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him. I want (my wife), not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and as such an obstacle.

Images, I suppose, have their use or they would have not been so popular. To me however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images-sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins."

Still, I don’t think that the banning of images is the answer. There should be a balance, like having an active teaching on the importance and meaning of images. Otherwise we are suppressing a natural imitation of the creative beauty of our Lord and (more importantly) suppressing the very nature of the Incarnation.

"Giotto and Fra Angelico would have at once admitted theologically that God was too good to be painted; but they would always try and paint Him. And they felt (very rightly) that representing Him as a rather quaint old man with a gold crown and a white beard, like a king of the elves, was less profane than resisting the sacred impulse to express him in some way. That is why the Christian world is full of gaudy pictures and twisted statues which seem, to many refined persons, more blasphemous than the secret volumes of an atheist. The trend of good is always toward Incarnation. But on the other hand, those refined thinkers who worship the devil, whether in the swamps of Jamaica or the salons of Paris, always insist upon shapelessness, the wordlessness, the unutterable character of the abomination"
G.K. Chesterton "The Mystagogue"

Futher reading:
A collection of anti-image quotes and verses.
An applicable modern situation for this discussion on The Passion of the Christ

November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Stories

Laura, Grace, and I ventured north of the Texas border to celebrate Thanksgiving with some of my great uncles and aunts in Oklahoma. Besides the tremendous amount of food and beautiful countryside, the best thing about the trip was the stories. I love listening to the assorted tales of my family, so I will try and retale a couple of the more memorable ones.

The Truck Stop

My Uncle Buck and Aunt Sut (whose house we went to) have been in the horse business (among many others) for as long as I can remember. One night they were delivering a horse to someone on the other side of Oklahoma and were headed back home rather late at night. Aunt Sut was in the back seat asleep and Buck decided to stop at a truck stop about an hour from their house to fill up. As he is filling up, Sut wakes up and walks in to use the restroom. After she is done, she walks out to the truck to discover that there is no truck. She walks completely around the store thinking that he might be maneuvering the trailer but there is no Buck and no truck. Keep in mind that it is about 2:00 in the morning. So she walks back in and asks the two Indians behind the counter if the man in the truck paid. They said he did and that he left. Sut takes a seat and waits for Buck to realize that he had forgotten his wife but he doesn’t ever come back. She approaches the clerks again and asks if they can call her husband. After reassuring them that it probably won’t be long distance, they call Buck’s cell phone (not allowing Sut to touch their phone). The resulting conversation:

Buck: Hello?
Clerk: Sir, you forgot your wife at the Flying J truck stop.
Buck: I think you have the wrong number, my wife is asleep in the back seat. (not even checking behind him)
Clerk (to Sut): What’s your name?
Sut: Carra McAdams
Clerk: She says her name is Carra McAdams.
Buck: (slowly turning around) Oh…

The Deer Hunter

This story stars out with Uncle Bubba (Sut’s brother) arriving early one morning on a visit to Buck and Sut’s house. In the early morning twilight he is walking to the door when Sut bust out in a nightgown with a deer rifle. After Bubba quickly starts to apologize for every thing he ever did, Sut explains that the gun isn’t intended for him but a lame deer they saw in their pasture. Bubba takes the gun and kills the deer and asks Sut for her deer tags. Well she hadn’t got them. Bubba after raising a fit about $6000 fines sends her to the local feed store to go and get some tags. So here is Sut at the counter:

Sut: I need some tags quick!
Clerk: Why are you in such a hurry? You think you’ll get a deer today?
Sut: I do believe I’m going to get a buck.

I thought I’d close with some hay bay jumping and other random country activities. Hope everybody else enjoyed their holiday.

November 19, 2007

Cat in the Attic

Update: The cat escaped on Monday. Laura heard it around the side of the house.

It all started Saturday morning when we heard a cat meowing from somewhere near the entry to our apartment. We thought it was a cat which had gotten into our trash we had left outside. It turned out to be a kitten trapped somewhere in our attic/wall, a wall that we shared with our neighbors. So I donned my headlamp and hankerchief (to provide my lungs some protection from the fiberglass insulation) and proceeded to crawl up into the attic. I found the approximate location of the cat (after scaring off its mother) but for the life of me I could not find it. I reluctantly retreated only to tear up the ceiling a little when exiting. Still the needy little cries constantly filled our apartment, so I repeated my trip several times with no success. I even hauled my drill up there and made a sizable hole in a section of the ceiling that dropped down a bit but still no cat. Now Monday morning, it is still crying and my best guess is it is somewhere above the neighbors apartment. Hopefully the apartment people will come today.

Here is a sectional sketch showing where I thought the cat was and where I think it is now: (I have been doing too many construction drawings at work)

And for the sake of randomness, here is a sketch of an Ent:

November 14, 2007

Jars of Clay Competition

Well, I made the first cut for the t-shirt competition. Here is my design and a brief description of the thoughts running through my head:

The incarnation of Christ heralds the arrival of peace into the chaotic, fallen world. It is interesting that our culture should juxtapose this gospel with the stress and disorder of the consumer season. In this design I wanted to incorporate the idea of peace in the midst of chaos by using the imagery of hibernation. The bears remain fast asleep throughout the blizzard above them knowing that through the storm there are the peaceful stars above. As the chaotic holiday season approaches, we too need reminding that the world has been redeemed unto Him who holds all creation firmly in place.

It is supposed to be a cross section of a winter night (J=stars, A=Clouds, R=Storm, S=Trees, OF=Snow, C=Leaves beneath the snow, L=Caves, A=Bears, Y= Ground beneath the bears). I hadn’t used photoshop in a while so it didn’t come out exactly like I planned.

Anyone who wants to see all the other t-shirts designs and to vote for your favorites go here:

November 11, 2007


We’ve had a busy week and weekend around here.

Laura has been preparing for her panel over Auden on Tuesday.

I flew to Harlingen to set up the new Southwest boarding system.

I went to tour several modern houses this weekend.

I finished up my design for the Jars of Clay t-shirt competition.

I went and saw No Country for Old Men last night with Raghu, Adam, and David.

And afterwards we (with Laura in tow) went to a huge Indian celebration (Diwali) at Texas Stadium in which a giant 8 headed statue was set on fire and much weird food was eaten.