JUXTAPOSITION – Art Imitating Life and Vice-Versa

tlc-cover-2015-11-01-pix417_0Picasso El Loco

If you study the two pictures above you will see a decided resemblance.  The sonorous expression of Michael, Presiding Bishop (Archbishop in actuality) Curry, expresses a sentiment similar to that of the subject of “El Loco” one of the works of Pablo Picasso from his “blue period”.

“El Loco” represents an expression by the artist of his experience of seeing a homeless man virtually driven mad by the deprivations he has suffered.  His deprivation is a poignant reminder to us Christians of the suffering and deprivations suffered by Our Lord before, during, and after his crucifixion.  It reminds us of why those who have been deprived or neglected are our special care and delight. Pablo Picasso has captured the essence of a homeless man at the end of his rope.  He is one bewildered and befuddled by what he perceives to be the abandonment of his life by his God.  His madness is a call for help from any and all who might be near.

In my real life dealings with the homeless I find them to be on the front line of the battle between good and evil.  They readily admit their need for God and willingly embrace the call to salvation. They confess their sins readily and seek to amend their lives to atone.  Unfortunately their weakness creates barriers which they cannot alone overcome.  But, always they admit their dependence on God and God alone.

The Episcopal Church of the United States is much like “El Loco” in that many of its members now feel they have been abandoned by their God and left homeless and bereft of spiritual direction. They have been driven “mad’ by the uncertainty and imprecision of its doctrine.  In this time of moral and economic crises their Holy Mother Church itself stands uncertain as to its core beliefs.

Now we see the rising up of Michael Curry. He is 62, and has been bishop of North Carolina since 2000, leading a diocese of 48,000 church members, 112 congregations and a network of ministries. He has confirmed and or ordained at least two of my friends to the priesthood.  Both of these friends readily attest to his Christ like civility and humanity and have exemplified those traits in their own ministry.

A Chicago native who has two daughters with his wife, Sharon, Curry,  grew up in Buffalo, New York, and graduated from Hobart College and Yale Divinity School. He was ordained as a priest in North Carolina, leading parishes there and in Ohio. He then served for 12 years at St. James Church in Baltimore, Maryland, which was established in 1824 as the third black Episcopal congregation in the U.S.

Quoting from the Huffington Post

Curry is known for his emphasis on evangelism, public service and social justice. Author of “Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus,” he has said he prays “for a church passionately committed to making disciples.”

He takes charge at a time when fewer Americans are formally affiliating with a particular religious group, contributing to steady membership declines in the Episcopal Church and other liberal Protestant groups, as well as some conservative churches. Membership in the Episcopal Church has dropped by 18 percent over the last decade.

Curry supports gay rights, speaking against North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage, which is now invalid, and allowing same-sex church weddings in the North Carolina diocese. Curry said the U.S. Supreme Court “affirmed the authenticity of love” Friday by legalizing gay marriage nationwide

The Presiding Bishop elect has chosen the tile ‘Crazy Christians’ as the title of a major work which speaks volumes about his perspective. We Christians are called to be “counter-cultural” We are not called to conform or to support the status in quo.  We are called to suffer with Christ as a witness to the world as to the “right’ way to live which in its essence requires “material sacrifice”.

Michael Curry understands this as he understands suffering through his African American heritage and that suffering has bred in him a bond with Jesus that is unbreakable. It uniquely qualifies Michael Curry to serve as the Presiding Bishop of Episcopal Church the United States.

May God protect him in his calling to preserve the very existence of the Anglican Communion in these United States.

DOROTHY DAY: Saint or Crank?

I firmly believe that by studying the lives of the saints, or near saints, we see a picture of the Gospel brought to life in prayer and action which then serves as a model for our own lives.   I am re-blogging here today a post about Dorothy Day a Catholic poverty worker whose work and ideas concerning economics remain controversial.  However, she was one of four Americans who Pope Francis held up as an example in his speech before Congress.  His eminence Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the New York Archdiocese is a proponent of her canonization by the Roman Catholic Church  as a saint/

This is a post via the Nomocracy blog: 

“Dorothy Day: Saint or Crank?,” By John Zmirak

“Dorothy Day” by Blanchethouse – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the four Americans Pope Francis held up as an example during his speech before Congress was Catholic poverty activist Dorothy Day (1897–1980). While Day herself once scornfully said, “Don’t trivialize me by trying to make me a saint,” she has in fact been singled out by the Vatican as precisely that: a potential future saint—provided that her life and her public statements stand up to scrutiny, and it’s found that two miracles have occurred as a result of prayers for her intercession. (That’s our Catholic version of empirical, laboratory testing!) Kathryn Jean Lopez recently effused about Day in National Review, and New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a big booster of her “cause” for canonization.

It is easy to see why Day’s personal story inspires many. Like Margaret Sanger, she was appalled by urban poverty in an era where there was no effective safety net for the jobless and sick. But instead of Sanger’s top-down eugenics solution—reduce poverty by culling the poor—Day sought to better the conditions and wages of workers so that they could support their families in dignity. Like Sanger, Day began her adult life as a sexually “liberated” secular intellectual. But the experience of having an abortion changed Day profoundly and turned her into a lifelong opponent of that cruel procedure. Having spent her formative years as a full-on supporter of the Communist Party, Day found her way to faith. It’s no surprise that Day seems like the most “relevant” American Catholic to many in our times, when we face angry cries about “inequality” and divisive culture wars that obscure rational discussion of sexual ethics.

see more here: “Dorothy Day: Saint or Crank?,” By John Zmirak



For those of us who affirm the Christian Faith the veneration of Christopher Columbus (anglicized version ) is somewhat of an anathema. This is because Columbus represents something totally adverse to Christianity.  He was and represents a form of colonialism which was repressive and exploitative.  He sought out a shorter route to the Indies and ended up in the Americas and rather than admit a mistake he simply denominated the native tribes he encountered as indios which has come down to us as “Indians”.  As one article put it : Columbus spearheaded the transatlantic slave trade and has been accused by several historians of initiating the genocide of the Hispaniola natives.

Even my own city “Columbia. South Carolina” serves as a namesake for this great explorer.  And, even though we may lament Columbus exploitative motives we must celebrate his courage as a navigator.

It has been suggested by a dear friend, who happens to be a priest of the Episcopal Chruch. that a more suitable candidate for our veneration today is Bartoleme de las Caas.  He was a bishop of the Chruch who even though granted an “encomienda “(roughly equivalent to the Elizabethan “plantation land grant”) steadfastly espoused and advocated for the rights of the native Americans in what we now call South America.  His actions showed him to be a tireless advocate for the oppressed.

What better representative of a land who, despite recent political sentiment, had always prided itself on taking in the huddled masses as stated in the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the statue of liberty:

 “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Unlike Christopher Columbus America has always taken in those “corner-stones whom the builders have rejected” in imitation of Christian doctrine , And, those stones have formed a mighty nation stronger than anything imagined by European princes or Oriental potentates.  You, I, and our neighbors,  descendants of these outcasts, continue to bear the burden of extending our hospitality to those who are poor, and oppressed, yearning to breathe free. Let us never shrink from that duty. For our strength lies in diversity and not in rigid uniformity.

I pray this  day that the United States might return to an awareness of the fact that it has always been an immigrant nation and that there is no one who does not deserve to be here no matter how poor, how oppressed, of how disenfranchised they may be, Amen


The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge by Thomas Cole, 1829.

Despite the recurrence of false alarms proclaiming that dams were breaking and evacuation should occur immediately it was a beautiful sunny and clear day in Columbia as the waters of the deluge continued to subside.  As I emerged from what has seemed to have been an interminable confinement I was struck by the very beauty of Gods creation.  Everything seemed so light, and clean, and new, despite the debris, torn up streets, and destroyed buildings.  For sure,  we have endured much and many friends have lost much but in the end the promises of the creator hold firm and point toward renewal and rebirth,

I offer the work of Thomas Cole titled “The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge” painted in 1829 as an offering of Thanksgiving for the end of disaster and the beginning of re-creation. with regard to Thomas Cole I quote from Wikipedia:

Thomas Cole (February 1, 1801 – February 11, 1848) was an American artist. He is regarded as the founder of the Hudson River School, an American art movement that flourished in the mid-19th century. Cole’s Hudson River School, as well as his own work, was known for its realistic and detailed portrayal of American landscape and wilderness, which feature themes of romanticism.

and as to the work itself from http://www.womeninthebible.net/paintings_noah.htm

The deluge has ceased, the waters recede, and a new dawn opens up for the Earth.The most startling quality of this painting is the clarity of light . It is as if the whole world has been washed clean of every tarnish, and now lies ready for a new dawn. Certainly wreckage is strewn in the forefront of the painting, and the ground is still awash with the receding floodwater, but light coming from some point at the right of the picture seems to announce the new world that God is offering Noah. Cole seems to suggest that this is the scene that greeted Noah when he removed the covering from the door of the ark.

Bible reference:  Genesis 8

May we be truly thankful as the waters recede from the earth, and may we endeavour to serve those who have suffered loss with great zeal and devotion.


"The Return of the Dove to the Ark" by John Everett Millais (1851)
“The Return of the Dove to the Ark” by John Everett Millais (1851)

As the rain slackens and begins to stop the “Return of the Dove to the Ark ” seems a fitting offering as we give thanks for relief from continuing devastation. And, it speaks to us as we await the final word that the worst is over so we might begin our recovery and rebuilding. This painting was created by John Everett Millais in 1851 and the original is displayed in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. It is based on the narrative in the book Genesis telling of the return of the dove sent out by Noah to make sure the flood waters had receded.

The artist was born in Southampton, England in 1829, of a prominent Jersey-based family. The designation PRA after his name designates him as one of the members of the Royal Academy of Arts.  He was also a part of a group called the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. This was a group of English painters, poets and critics whose aim was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo.

Let us pray for our brothers and sisters who have endured pain and suffering from this natural disaster and give thanks that it is almost over.  May we have the strength to minister to those adversely affected and to rebuild our community.


The Deluge by Francis Danby c. 1837
The Deluge by Francis Danby c. 1837
Salvador Dali _ Die heilige Bibel (1964-1967)
Salvador Dali  “Aquae diluvil super terram”(1964-1967)


The Flood, Norman Adams (cir 1970)

In response to the flood being experienced in Columbia this morning I offer three works to contemplate and as prayers for deliverance.

     The first, is titled “The Deluge” by Francis Darby (1840).  Depicting the narrative of Genesis 7, Darby, in his typical epic style, depicts water dominating the landscape with humans being dwarfed by it.  As one site puts it :  ‘The waters swirl, dragging animals and people as they desperately try to cling to the mountain peak, now almost overwhelmed.”  

     The second is like love at first sight.  Dali has always been a mystery to me but viewing his work here titled “Aquae dilvil super terram” (roughly waters deluging over the earth) painted (1964) it is love at first sight.  Again as noted on the site shown above it is described thus: “…his terrifying image of a monstrous floor has poignant significance. Dali painted it after the 1962 flash flood in Barcelona, which killed nearly a thousand people in his home country.  The horror of mud and destruction is captured in the black menacing central form, though hope too is expressed in the ark and the dove behind.”   

     Finally, a real favorite, the best for last, a work by British artist Norman Adams, RA , “The Flood” (cir 1967).   This work was commissioned as part of a series of commissions from Oxford University Press for illustrations of the publication of the Old Testament portion of a bible.  Note how Adams uses water flasks as representative of storm clouds which adds extra dimension to the painting as it suggests that the water will pour out in volume rather than fall as rain. Magnificent!

     To my mind God is always interacting with his creation and he is doing that now. He continues  to remake the created world with wind and fire, rain and flood and brings about a remaking and reforming.  And, so it is in our lives as well as tragedy and misfortune, pain and loss are used to remake and reform us into an image more nearer, more clearer, to that of our maker.  Our chances and changes are not to be feared but rather to be embraced.

Note;  while I cannot seem to copy this hyperlink the address for the site from which this came is : http://www.womeninthebible.net/paintings_noah.htm#Hebrew.

This piece was written while listening to Sibelius Second Symphony, a joyous and uplifting piece to support the heart in this time of trouble.




I am borrowing again from my learned priest friend Emily Hylden (with her express permission this time) who has a knack for locating the most intriguing religious art and piercing the mysteries behind it so as to extract the very essence of what was intended by the artist.  The above piece titled the “Lynching” is by Julius Bloch (1888-1966) an American artist just one generation away from German Jewish immigrants. To give you some background I quote from the website of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, see Philadelphia Museum:

Julius Bloch (1888-1966) had a natural empathy for working people, whom he captured in moving portraits. He approached the subject of a stevedore, a prisoner, a factory worker, or a dispossessed farmer with the dignity and formality usually reserved for commissioned portraits. The financial hardships of Bloch’s own family–German Jews who emigrated (sic website spelling) to Philadelphia in 1893–made him attentive to the emotional burdens of the Depression, its crushing effect on the morale of the average person.

     Bloch’s compassionate identification with the suffering of innocent people naturally drew him to the Black community, which was faced with racial discrimination as well as economic privations. Powerful images of lynching in his work of the 1930s were followed by sympathetic portraits of Black community leaders and artists such as Horace Pippin.

    Emily viewed this piece during an exhibition appropriately titled “America is Hard to See” put on by the Whitney Museum in New York as the inaugural exhibit of a new building the museum had just opened. “America is Hard to See” contains five prints, of which Lynching is one portraying racially motivated murders in the guise of vigilante justice.  There is a link in Emily’s posting that provides access the Whitney’s website containing additional information about the exhibition:  see  The Whitney.  I will reproduce just a bit of the description just to provide some more background:

The Whitney’s new building allowed the museum to send curators deep into its archives to resurface artworks that hadn’t been seen in many years and tell new stories. One of the more disturbing, and thought-provoking, moments in the inaugural exhibition, “America Is Hard to See,” are five prints of lynching’s — racially motivated murders in the guise of vigilante justice — created by artists in the 1930s in protest of the then-widespread mob-rule barbarity. The Tuskegee Institute counts 117 African-Americans killed in this manner that decade.

These larger tensions make the images especially pertinent 80 years later, in light of massive protests around the police killings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown as well as the recent uprising in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. These events were “developing as we worked on this show, so it’s not in response to that specifically,” Foster says. “It’s unfortunate that these are so timely. It shows that this problem is a long-standing one.”

Unlike my learned friend, and my other learned clerical friends, I am but a babe in the woods when it comes to theology but I see two questions in this dark foreboding work.  First, how can God permit his creation, which is supposed to reflect his goodness and love, wreak such destruction on itself in such a brutal way? And, the image of the lynchee (a new word coined by Paul ala legalese) bears a not too subtle resemblance to another victim very familiar to us all who hung on a similar tree but with more proportioned Roman lines.  I am talking about Jesus, of course.

As for the first question it dovetails into a discussion in a post I did on Friday, October 2 concerning lessons learned about creation.  God above all wants us to love him and to obtain that love he sets us free to live our lives  as we will in the hope that we will truly love and serve him as a voluntary act and not one which has been coerced.  In this piece we see what happens when creation becomes corrupted.  When creation becomes the captive of prejudice it tends toward its own destruction. Little did those self-appointed vigilantes know it but they were actually destroying themselves by their act of vengeance.  We all engage in this sort of behavior in various degrees thinking that if we just exert enough force on those we hate, or do not like,  we can make everything right.  Like Dylann Roof who thought that if he could just kill enough black people he could set in motion a waive a “cleansing” to make everything the way it should be.

The second question is a bit  more subtle.  If you examine the bindings of the lychee and the positions of the figures it appears that the lynchors took great pains to make sure that the lynchee could not escape from that tree.  The artist has taken a slight liberty here in that the rope around the neck is missing but the arms, legs, and body are very securely fastened.  This suggests to me that perhaps what the artists might have had in mind was the idea that generally we prefer to keep Jesus in his place firmly fixed to the crucifix or enshrined in a church.  We keep him fixed and enshrined because we fear his coming off that crucifix and actually entering our lives will force us to make changes which we simply do not want to make.

I am not sure either of my sentiments reflect what the artist had in mind, but it is what I see when I contemplate this work.  I welcome comments by anyone who sees something different.

Note:   Along with George Gershwin, and Aaron Copland Julius Bloch was a very decidedly American artist who was just one generation away from immigrant parents.  Consider what would we have missed had his parents been denied entry into our country?

CREATION – God as creator and permeating substance


The Linn Cove viaduct, pictured above and located along the Blue Ridge Parkway running alongside Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina is not what one would consider a typical icon but it serves well today to illustrate something we discussed in our basic theology class  at Trinity Cathedral. Our priest and mentor explained to us one of the basic theological concepts concerning creation.  That is that God is separate from his creation and yet God is also in his creation and his creation is good. As I listened to this explanation my mind turned to thoughts of the Holy Trinity and the idea of the three in one; three distinct persons but one.  God is therefore in the world but not of the world and is separate from the world he has created.

As we discussed this concept one of the members of the class asked the question we all wrestle with and that is why if God is good and his creation is good do we have events like those which have occurred recently in Charleston,  in Columbia yesterday and in Oregon, today.  Our gracious mentor made the point that while God is good and his creation is good he does give us the freedom to carry out our own lives in our own way.  He and another member of our class noted that while the Charleston events were tragic the response of the community was miraculous in its healing power.  God, he said, took a tragedy and turned it into a miracle.

So why does God afford us the freedom to hurt ourselves and each other in such terrible ways? We didn’t quite reach the answer to that question but in thinking it over it occurred to me that I have always been told that more than anything else God wants us to love him.  And, in order for us to truly love him it must be a totally voluntary act on our part because if it is not it would be an empty gesture. As in our lives If you love someone and want them to love you, you first must set them free and allow them to determine for themselves if they love you or not .  You cannot make someone love you or coerce them into it. This is the only way that true love can occur.  So God sets us free in the hope that we will return to him and move closer to him by becoming Godlike in our actions.