On Christian Art

A few days ago as I was looking through some entries in FB, I saw the photo of a friend of ours who works in Prague, leading a small church that meets in a very nice cafe.
The photo depicted him with his eyes looking up. I thought it was a very inspiriting shot, simple, but communicating the sense of aw and wonder that many in our western world seemed to have lost.
As I read different comments, I realised that he was inside Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.
As I shared with Sean, my husband, about the photo and the place, he said to me: “That is christian art”.

All of the above made me think once again about: What is christian art? Is there such a thing as christian art? Is the art christian because it was made by a”christian” or is it christian because it portraits certain christian elements?

When I went to Sagrada Familia, several years ago, I found myself in a place that it was full of joy, colour and beauty. Antoni Gaudi, the architect who envisaged this project, was a man ahead of his time. I don’t know what his religious beliefs were, I do know that nature played an important role in the way he designed things. For example, the fact that there are no corners in nature, influenced his architecture, as his designs have no corners but curves.
But even if I don’t know what he believed in relation to God, Jesus, etc. he managed to have a vision of a place where, as I said, joy, colour and beauty, reflect the Creator.
He designed a place, that takes you and me, outside of ourselves and make us think of somebody much greater than us.

For many centuries before the Reformation in the XVI century, christian art was the portrayal of religious scenes. The early works were characterised by hardly any perspective and by their darkness. Later we will find other masterpieces like the Sixtine Chapel, where the story of God is told in a magnificent way. These fabulous pieces of art, however, are not relational and they don’t reflect the world that people were living in.
When the Reformation took place, the emphasis changed. Francis Schaeffer, in his book “How should we then live?” makes a very helpful point. The Reformation affected the way art was done. Now, it was not the religious paintings that occupy the mind of some of the artists, but the ordinary people, and we see this very clear in many of the dutch painters.
The people that before were unnoticed, now, they became the centre of the paintings. Every day life became sacred: bringing the milk, harvesting, writing a letter.
The artists started to observe the world around them, and by bringing the ordinary out of the obscurity they came to reflect the reality of the world that they lived in.
Now, were these artists christians? I don’t know, they certainly have been affected by a new understanding of God and His world.
I believe that every time somebody creates something that somehow depicts the nature of God, His creation, the world as it was intended to be, an awareness of what the world is not, that gives voice to those who haven’t, that brings out the people and things that are in obscurity, that that is, what I like to call “God centred art. It is the art done with eyes wide open, observing, taking it all in. And by doing it we reflect the One, who was a craftsman, who walked around and was able to see the lilies of the valley, the tears of a widow and the hunger of the multitude.

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What Pope Francis made me think about.

Because I come from Argentina and I come from the same city as Pope Francis, I have found that people like to ask me what I think of him or share with me articles or interviews, and I am grateful for that. I had never heard of Jorge Bergoglio before as I haven’t lived in Buenos Aires now for 29 years. However, because he comes from Argentina, I tend to pay a bit more of attention about what he says and does now that he is the new pope.

A friend of mine shared a clip of an interview with him, done a few years ago by the president of Youth with a mission in Argentina. In it, he asks Bergoglio, future pope Francis, the difference between a nominal Christian and a committed Christian. It was his answer but made me think a lot about my relationship with Jesus. He said that a committed Christian is one who have had an encounter with Jesus but also one who had allowed himself/herself been found by Jesus. What does this actually mean?

I realised, that one can encounter Jesus, know about Him, know what He did, what He preached, but at the same time never allow oneself to be fully known by Him.
If we think in term of human relationships, most of us if we want to go deeper, we don’t only expect to share our hearts with the other person, but we expect that they will open theirs to us as well. If that doesn’t happen, then the relationship tends to stay at superficial level.
I am not saying that all relationships have to be deep, but there are some, like marriage, that require more than encounter, they demand that we open ourselves to the other without fear, it demands transparency.

To be fully known by Jesus, means to be loved, but many times we prefer to hide rather than allow Him to see all of us. We can hide in many ways, by being too busy, so we haven’t got the time to listen to our lives. I have come across people that by the way they are living, even when they are doing things for God they are actually running from Him.
We can hide by performing religious duties, doing what is required but never allow Him to speak a word into our lives.
I think that we hide because we fail to realise that shame and guilt have nothing to do with us. We hide because many times we do not believe that we are fully loved, that somebody can look into the darkest parts of our hearts and still say: I love you and I want to bring the best out of you.
Many times we prefer to look at Jesus from a distance, it is easier but it is not life transforming.

The far away land.

I have been trying for a while to understand or re-interpret different words that have become too familiar for many of us, and therefore have really lost the power they had. In another previous entry I wrote about repentance and now I want to understand once again the meaning of the word SIN.
As repentance, the word sin carries a lot of baggage, mainly, guilt and shame or anger.

In the last few months I have heard or read different explications about sin, which I will try to put together in a way that hopefully, it will make sense.
The first one is: that sin is an injury to a relationship, and of course the relationship is that of God and humankind.
We all know somebody who has been affected by an injured relationship, either somebody who has gone through a divorce, somebody who has been let down by parents, authorities or somebody whose child left one day and they never heard back from him/her again. Injured, broken relationships are not uncommon.

Jesus explained this very well in the parable of the two sons. The younger son asked for his part of the inheritance and leaves home to live his own life. He goes far away, trying to forget who he is, to which family he belongs, he tries to forget and cut his roots. This was definitely and injury to a very special relationship.
When I think of sin, I think of humanity choosing to leave the Father’s security, the place where things were as they were meant to be and going to a far away land, where we forget where we came from and who our Father is. The further we travel and more that we will not remember what we were created for and how to live life to the full.

My son Luke highly recommended to us to watch the film Blood Diamond, about the explotation of people by companies and guerrillas groups to obtain diamonds.
One of the characters and his family are attacked by guerrillas and his son is taken away to be trained as a guerrilla child. Apart from the training in warfare he is also allowed to smoke dope, etc as nobody really cares about the well being of this children.His father after searching and searching, finally finds him. Initially the boy does not want to go with him, he doesn’t recognise him, so the father starts telling him things from the past, things that they did together and then he looks at him and says: I am your Father you are my son, remember?
For me this is a picture of what happens when we move to the far away land, we forget our Father and what life was like when we were with Him.
Now some people say: well I am a good person, I live a decent life, therefore I haven’t gone anywhere.
The reality is that everybody lives with longing. Longing to be different either physically or emotionally (why are there so many magazines addressing things that are not right?). Longing for a just world, for peace, for relationships that are good, longing for eternity.
These are all the signs of a humanity that once knew a perfect world, but having inflicted an injury to the relationship with his creator, by rejecting, packing the bags and leaving, now it can’t remember the way home.

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Jumping into a mystery.

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Did you ever come across people who say they can’t believe in God because they don’t like the type of God they read about? Or because they cannot get all the answers to the questions they have?

Yesterday morning I encounter one of those persons. The person was angry about what we have just finished reading in the book of Revelation. Mind you, I am not saying that what we read it was easy to swallow, it was a challenging read. However as she complaint about it she also gave an image of the god she would like to believe in, or the way a god should behave. I went home and I spent a good part of the day thinking about it.  The following are my thoughts on the subject.

if we decide that we want to pursue life with God, we have to accept that God is in part a mystery. We humans, don’t like mysteries because we cannot control them. But let me ask you a question: isn’t it like that with all relationships that we encounter? When we start a new relationship, whatever that might be, we always jump into a mystery. Most husbands would say that their wives are a mystery!

Relationships are a journey of discovery, there is always something new to discover about another human being. If that is true of human beings how much so of the creator of heaven and earth.

Somehow, when it comes to God we want to have all our questions answered and we want to know everything before we commit ourselves. We also like the idea of a god that is “like us”. We are like the Greek and the Romans. We want a God that we can tame, who punishes those we think deserve punishment, who sorts out the world so we can be happy, a god that we can keep satisfied by certain religious activities and then let’s us carry on our lives the way we think we should live it. But this type of god is not a god that gives meaning to life, who knows my deepest desires and longings, how can he know? He can’t because I have created him. Meaning in life is found outside ourselves not within us, only the one who created us can tell us who we are.

One of the biblical examples that I admire, somebody who really jumped into a mystery, is Mary, Jesus’ mother. Mary jumped into the unknown, the consequences could have been enormous, however she decided to jump. She knew, the character of the God that she was following, but she didn’t know all the ins and outs of what she was going to face. But she jumped into the mystery, she opened the door for herself, others around her and us to be able to see and experience what God is really like by bringing Jesus into the world. A God who know what is like to be human, to experience rejection, misunderstanding, to be viewed as odd, to be treated with contempt, to suffer physical and emotional pain and the cruellest of thing, to be separated from the one He loved and with whom He had been united for eternity.

When men created gods, they created non-relational human beings alike deities, who were not willing to become part of humanity but rather to be served and honoured. But when the real God came down, He took our form and lived like one of us. He did not seek,to be served but became a servant for our sake and died and rose again,so justice would be satisfied. To defeat humanities’ two enemies, sin, that has distorted us as human beings and death, our greatest fear.

“CREATION, LIFE AND BEAUTY,
UNDONE BY DEATH AND WRONGDOING,
REGAINED BY GOD’S SURPRISING VICTORY”

If human beings continue to try to create the “ideal” god, they would never come up with somebody as Jesus, it is not within our capacity to create somebody so magnificent, so challenging, so sacrificially loving, so merciful and so powerful.

On discipleship

There is a lot of talk about discipleship these days in certain evangelical circles, which I think, is great.
I have been thinking how my journey in understanding discipleship has changed. For many years I understood that to become a disciple of Jesus, one had to understand first that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, rose again and is alive and continues to change lives. I totally agree with this. However, as I read the gospels I realized that Jesus invited Peter, John, Andrew and others to follow him, before they understood anything about who He was. To them, Jesus was a rabbi, somebody who was inviting them to something that to them was a mystery. As I read more about this invitation, I asked myself: what was Jesus inviting them to? Well, He was inviting them to repent. The word repent has a tremendous negative way of thinking, we usually associated with guilt and shame. But a close look at the Greek word gives us the understanding of changing your mind, assessing what you have thought so far and consider to change your perspective, others have said: to turn around, though I don’t think it communicates strongly enough the thought. So, Jesus is inviting his disciples to reconsider how they think about and what they think about God and is inviting them to follow Him so they can see what a life in perfect harmony with the Father looks like.
In talking with different people I have come to realize that what they think about God is the first barrier that they need to jump. One doesn’t trust somebody that you don’t think is trustworthy, we don’t want to follow or imitate somebody that we don’t admire. So why do we think it would be any different when it comes to God? Why do we think that what we think about Him doesn’t matter? What Jesus was trying to show the disciples was, that what had been portraited to them as God, had been badly portraited. That’s the reason people were saying about Him, that He spoke with authority not like the scribes and Pharisees. He modelled what a life could look like if they embrace the God that He knew. A life that could be lived with all the challenges that come our way, but without anxiety, worry, lust, jealousy, because when we know the God that Jesus knew, we can bring all our hurts, our pains, joys and struggles and He can changes us into people who live freely and lightly and that others want to try to understand and it open the doors to a wonderful invitation.

Mary and her Magnificat

imageMary is one of those controversial figures within Christianity. Much loved by Catholics and almost not recognised by Protestants. But is there a middle ground between these two ways of looking at her? I have been meditating on Mary’s Magnificat or song for a talk that I had to give last Sunday. I read and thought about it and continue to do even when the talk has been done and dusted.
Here is a teenager, living a male dominated world, politically and religiously, embarking in an adventure that to the human eye is closer to madness than to the real world. She is single, engaged to be married, which it could have meant that she was going to face death by stoning. However, she sings this wonderful song that makes you think that may be she has been made queen of a very powerful country.
If we look at the annunciation we can see that Mary had her moments of wondering when the angel Gabriel appeared to let her know that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. After spending time with Elizabeth, who was also pregnant in her old days, Mary realised the wonderful privilege that has been bestowed on her.
She thanks God for remembering the humble state of His servant. There is no self-pity here, she is not saying I am worth nothing, she is saying I know who I am because of the God I believe in, I know I have been created, I know I depend on Him for the air that I breath, I am his creature. At the same time there is no sense of fear in this song, but absolute joy and love. Grace had been shown to her, she hasn’t done anything to receive the privilege of being part in what God is doing: bringing salvation to the world.
As human beings, we are always trying to find our identity somewhere else apart from God. We either look outside ourselves, in work, family, our peers, or inside ourselves, trying to use positive thinking, saying we are worthy it, wonderful, we are the captains of our destinies. What Mary shows us is that the only way we can know who we are as human beings is to look at the God who created us, He can tell us who we are.

Mary embraces the mystery of what is going to happen to her. Even when in the back of her mind, she could be thinking about the consequences of her situation, she is there for God, to take the role in the big play that God is directing, her story takes second place, so God’s purposes can be fulfilled. What is being asked from her it is not safe, but she trusts in the goodness of God, in his faithfulness to his people.
In the words of Mr. Beaver, in The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, referring to Aslan, the lion: Of course he is not safe, but he is good, he is the king.
So much of our Christianity in our western world is about how God can fit my life, my story. I follow Him so He can solve my problems, help when things don’t go my way. We make Him into a very small god, manageable, that we can use in case of emergency. If we want to go deeper with God, we have to understand that we cannot tame Him, that there is a lot still that it is a mystery to our human condition, we only know in part but He knows where the story is going.

Finally Mary was a woman of justice, she longs for justice in her country, a theme that is expressed a lot in the Old Testament. However Mary’s understanding of justice was of course, very earthly, she wanted the rich and powerful to go down and the poor raised up. Unfortunately justice in human hands can easily become injustice. If you ever read Animal Farm by George Orwell, you will know what I am talking about.
Mary, was only beginning to understand what was going to happen and how God works. God’s solution to injustice went deeper, it went for the root of injustice. Injustice come as a result of total separation from God,of humanity trying to run the world on their own. But rather than making humankind pay the price, on the cross, Jesus by his death and resurrection offered humanity the opportunity of starting all over again, to experience justice in its utmost purity so we could become people who brings justice to the world.

Mary, perfectly human, but courageous, with a great vision of God and the world, not to be dismissed.