Saving art, saving faith

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Art by Jackson Thomas

In the World War 2-era movie The Monuments Men, a small platoon of art scholars go behind enemy lines to save art stolen by the Nazis.

Their mission is to retrieve some of the greatest works of civilization before the lost pieces go either to Hitler’s Nazi museum or the incinerator.

In a moving speech, the leader of the band, Frank Stokes (played by George Clooney) states that the cause is worth the fight: “If you destroy a people’s achievements and their history, then it’s like they never existed.”

With ISIS’s march across the Middle East, history is repeating itself.

Several news sources (see here and here) reported that ISIS leveled ancient sites at three cities: Nimrud, Ninevah, and Hatra.  They destroyed countless monuments, some dating 2000 years old.

If some of those cities sound familiar to you, they are: Ninevah was the ancient city to whom God called Jonah to preach.  Nimrud was a major Assyrian stronghold.

Although the ISIS campaign is especially brutal and total, a certain contempt for artwork has always existed in some ideological worldviews.

In the medieval Eastern Roman capital of Byzantine, for instance, Leo II led a time of iconoclasm in the sixth century to destroy or deface icons (art used for purposes of worship and religion).

Years later, the Protestant Reformation in Europe did not promote the destruction of religious art, but the removal of it from places of worship.

The focus centered on the pulpit, where the preaching of God’s Word was the only thing needed for the edification and building up of the church.  The days of great artists and artwork arising from the womb of the church had nearly come to an end.

We may look back on the puritanical ideology of the Reformers or the sheer evil of ISIS and cast judgments on their lack of appreciation.   We modern folk realize the value of art, not only for the sake of our heritage, but also for art’s ability to incite the senses and inspire the mind.

Yet, if we look at many Protestant churches today, artwork continues to take a back seat.  Sure, there may be a collection of original paintings or prints in a church foyer or education wing–and many churches now use letter decals to express biblical verses upon a central wall–but most sanctuaries remain devoid of art (some churches even remain devoid of crosses).

We no longer destroy or deface art; we simply ignore it.

Some churches are changing this lack of creativity by hosting ministries that promote art, appreciate it, or do art for the sake of worship or therapy.

Many churches promote the arts in their children’s ministries, while others reach into adult communities to produce art that speaks to the hearts and minds of worshipers.

Some creative pastors, like the Reverend Angela Yarber, use movement and art as visuals for preaching.

A newly refurbished altar at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Rockdale County placed a high priority on the visual arts.  Classes at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit teach photography and landscaping.

10929171_919559994731719_2722439885153296039_oMy own place of worship, Trinity Baptist Church, has a resident artist on staff, Jackson Thomas, whose job description includes reaching troubled youth on the margins through creative arts and dialogue.

He is currently renovating Trinity’s art studio to offer studio time for the community and create a safe space for artists to grow in their craft.

“Art is an excellent tool to connect ourselves to the Creator God,” Jackson said when we spoke last, “Its a tool to express my faith into something visual, something I can see.”

Jackson’s vision, not unlike that of other churches across the nation, is allowing the Body of Christ to reclaim its position in the community as a hub of creativity, expression, and faithful engagement of God’s creation.

Whereas ISIS is destroying sacred art at the peril of human civilization, many religious groups are taking intentional steps to produce art for our and the many generations to come.

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Rabbit’s Clover reflects God’s Intimacy

Rabbit's Foot Clover Trifolium arvense

Rabbit’s Foot Clover
Trifolium arvense

By Orrin Morris

In chapter 16 of Matthew’s Gospel, we have an account of Jesus asking His disciples for input on who they thought the general public perceived him to be. They responded by naming John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

He then turned to them and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter, being the oldest, responded, “Thou art the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him “Blessed are you because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Then He added, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock (the confession) I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it” (vv 13-18).

Churches within God’s Kingdom come in all sizes and varieties. None are perfect but all are committed to proclaiming the good news of God’s love and redemption made possible through the Easter message. Empowered by God’s Spirit, the true believer strives to live the kind of life exemplified by His Son.

Generally, I have been part of a small church (attendance under 200) where most members know each other, pray daily for those with special needs, makes visits to comfort and support one another. Such a congregation meets a personal need that some of you might call the “warm and fuzzies.” I like that kind of a sense of belonging. I guess that is why I like the wildflower for today, a warm and fuzzy wildflower, the Rabbit’s Foot Clover.

Rabbit’s foot clover is one of the most delicate of the several varieties of clover. It is small and the light lavender and pink of the blooms gives the appearance of a gray or even a dead weed. Thus, it is easily overlooked. In fact, it is likely that not many of you have even stopped to take a close look.

Rabbit’s foot clover is so abundant and prolific in the spring that no damage to the species will occur if you pulled up a handful of the plants to make a careful inspection. Here is what to look for.

The leaves are three-part like most clovers, however, rabbit’s foot clover leaves are narrow rather than the broad spoon-shaped leaflets of the other clovers. Most of those leaves are found at the axil where branching occurs. Note also that the stem and branches are covered with soft hair.

At the tops of the stems and branches are the flowers. Technically, this is a fuzzy head that measures 3/4-inch tall and 3/8-inch wide. The actual flower is a pea-like bloom about 3/16-inch in diameter buried beneath long hairs that dominate the head.

The rabbit’s foot clover is an annual and thrives in dry fields and roadsides. It starts blooming in May and may be found as late as October.

Religious research conducted several years ago revealed that many members of very large churches were participants in small groups, for example, Bible study groups, music ensembles, cancer survivors clubs, grief support clubs, and book clubs, to name a few warm and fuzzy opportunities. Of course, there are those who prefer large setting in which they, like rabbit’s foot clover, can be overlooked and left alone.

Whatever circumstance you find yourself in this year, may your journey of faith be empowered by God’s spirit to live the kind of life exemplified by Jesus.

Spiny Field Thistle Communicates God’s Love

field thistle

FIELD THISTLE Cirsium Discolor

 By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 115:113-115, the psalmist describes the idols that men make as having mouths that cannot speak; eyes that cannot see; ears that cannot hear; hands that cannot feel; feet that cannot walk.

Then in praise of the Living Lord, he states, “He will bless those who fear the Lord, the small together with the great. May you be blessed of the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth.” Oh what a thought. He blesses “the small together with the great.” Each of us are valued equally in God’s loving eyes.

Society may award millions of dollars in salary to a gifted athlete or clever chief executive officer, but in God’s sight the value scale is different. They are no more important to Him than the poorly paid waitress, or a homeless person, or a Nepalese orphan.

Today we examine a wildflower, the Field Thistle, that is rejected by the farmer because it spoils the hay and gives cattle indigestion. Only goats and aphids love it. In spite of its lowly position, it has a beauty worthy of recognition.

One should approach all thistles with caution. This field thistle does not have spines on the stem like the bull thistle or the nodding thistle but the leaves are armed to make life miserable for intruders.

The blooms of all thistles are very similar. They could be called magenta, but closer examination reveals some hot pink in the center of young blooms and light purple on the outer edges of the aging blooms. The flower heads of the field thistle measure 1 to 2 inches across.

A distinguishing characteristic of this thistle is the leaves under the bloom that curl upward around the flower head. A second characteristic to note is the light color of the stem and the vertical veins of different hues. When undisturbed, the field thistle has been known to exceed 6 feet, but when regularly mowed they rarely reach 3 feet.

Field thistle starts blooming in early summer and may continue into fall. It may be found wherever weeds grow except in regularly cultivated gardens. They like roadsides, waste places and pastures.

From Psalm 115, we learned that God’s attention has no bounds. Let us expand the bounds of our love and learn the full scope of Jesus’s command, “Love they neighbor as thyself.”

The Reverend Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister and artist who focuses on the intersection of Georgia Wildflowers and a variety of biblical themes.  His books, “Consider the Lillies, Volumes 1 and 2,” are for sale by request.  Contact odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com to order your copy today!