Monday, December 21, 2009

Isolation and the Darkness of Cupboards

Man in Blue I - Francis Bacon (1954)

Perhaps the most revealing story I personally remember him telling about his early childhood in Ireland concerned a maid or a nanny - I had the impression of a sort of Irish mother's help - who was left in charge of him for long periods when his parents were absent from the house. She had a soldier boyfriend who came visiting at these times; and of course, the couple wanted to be alone. But Francis was a jealous and endlessly demanding little boy who would constantly interrupt their lovemaking on one pretext or another. As a result, she took to locking him in a cupboard at the top of the stairs when her boyfriend arrived. Confined in the darkness of this cupboard Francis would scream - perhaps for several hours at a time - but since he was out of earshot of the happy courting couple, completely in vain. ‘That cupboard,’ Bacon apparently said years later, ‘was the making of me.’

- Anthony Cronin, "An Irish Fear of Death?" in
David Sylvester edited Francis Bacon in Dublin ( Dublin, Ireland: Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery of Modern Art and Thames & Hudson, 2000). Exhibition catalogue with contributions by Grey Gowrie, Louis le Brocquey, Anthony Cronin and Paul Durcan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Humanity's Relation to Creation

Genesis I, Paradise - Sawai Chinnawong (2003)

Most churches today are not "ecological." The Sunday sermon is not about the flourishing of God's whole creation; more often, especially in North American well-off churches, it is aimed at the care and comfort of human individuals. The gospel - the good news - is usually addressed to human needs and failings. Occasionally, on Earth Day and when children help with the service, the environment is brought into the picture. Creation is allowed to take center stage a few times a year. But the well-being of the whole of God's creation is not seen as part and parcel of the gospel message. It is usually an add-on. Christian theology has been anthropocentric - concerned mainly with the well-being of human beings.

But can human beings thrive apart from nature? If salvation is understood as eternal life for some humans, then perhaps the answer is yes. But if salvation means the flourishing of all God's creatures here and now on this earth, then the answer is no. The world cannot be left out. The church must become ecological through and through.

- Sallie McFague, A New Climate For Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), p. 32.

Genesis 7:13 - Sawai Chinnawong (2004)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Filmic Visions of Community and Vocation

The Fireman's Ball - Milos Foreman (1965); Cinematography by Miroslav OndrĂ­cek

Romans 12: 3-21 (The Message)

[3-6] I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

13 Conversations about One Thing - Jill Sprecher (2001) - Trailer

[6-8] If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

You Can't Take It With You - Frank Capra (1938) - Mr. Poppins Scene

[9-13] Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

Gone Baby Gone - Ben Affleck (2007) - Opening Scene

[14-21] Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Theology and Evolution

2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick (1968) - Final Scene

How do you "put together" the theory of evolution and the affirmation of God's providence and/or continuing creation?

Jurgen Moltmann's three points on p. 196-197 of his God and Creation are especially helpful here to start. First, evolution is not concerned with the original creation itself, but is interested in shedding light on the ordering and development of creation. Second, this intersection between science and theology happens in a discussion of continuous creation (creatio continua). Finally, the human being is not the meaning and purpose of evolution, nor is the human being the crown of creation. In light of these realizations, we can talk about a biblically-based eschatological vision in line with an incomplete cosmic history of evolution. What we can say about the human being and his/her place in cosmic history and in continuous creation is that the human being is both a creature in the fellowship of creation and acting as creation's representative (imago mundi) and also as God's representative in the community of creation (imago dei) (pp. 189-190). Humanity has a special place in creation in this way, but it is a responsibility to open, loving participation and representation in the continuous creation.

Moltmann then proceeds into a discussion of evolution based around the metaphysical question: "Is the universe a determined system, or a partially undetermined one? Is it a 'closed' system or an 'open' one?" (p. 201). Over the course of the ensuing dialogue, Moltmann draws a picture of the evolutionary cosmos as an "irreversible, communicating system open to the future." (p. 204.) Some touchstones of this system, and the individual systems that comprise the whole, are: its participatory (highly communicative) nature, a trending towards the "universal symbiosis of all systems of life and matter"; its anticipatory nature, a movement or yearning towards self-transcendence (God and godliness); and its capacity for deepening complexity and interdependence (pp. 204-205). What does this mean for continuous creation? For one, it means that God both preserves creation through a constant Yes and prepares the way for creation's future completeness in the fullness of God. When we talk about creatio continua, therefore, we also need to talk about creatio nova, and creatio anticipativa, which, putting the three together, describe God's creative activity as sustaining, redeeming, and preparing creation for eschatological fullness, perfection, and unity (p. 209). Continuous creation participates in and points to God's other open, redeeming, and future-oriented activities.

I find this connection between the openness of the evolutionary cosmos and the openness of God's creative activity as incredibly compelling. It complements the picture of the perichorectic trinitarian community present in God. The perichorectic community is an open, future-oriented, interdependent, and highly communicative system. It engages what we know about the scientific principles of evolution and reframes them in light of what these principles say about God and humanity's place in the world. First, God is constantly opening up his creation and healing its brokenness, and we understand this activity through Jesus' actions on the cross. The God who opens up closed systems is one who would take all of the negativity and sin of the close systems onto God's self in a loving act of healing forgiveness. God desires wholeness for his creation, and the promise suggests that the evolutionary cosmos is moving creation closer to this future reality in God. Theology points to what humanity's role should be in this activity, as a proxy for both the creature and for God, as a loving participant in the perichoretic creation. Humanity's worldview towards creation should not be one of confrontation or separation or arrogance, but one of mutuality, belonging, and loving-ness. Humanity is called to acts and worldviews of wholeness that promote wholeness in the world and that engage creation holistically.

Commentary is mine. Quotes from Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 101.


Trinity - Andrei Rublev (1411 or 1425-27)

The Trinity provides a symbolic picture of totally shared life at the heart of the universe. It subverts duality into multiplicity. Mutual relationship of different equals appears as the ultimate paradigm of personal and social life. The Trinity as pure relationality, moreover, epitomizes the connectedness of all that exists in the universe. Relation encompasses and constitutes the web of reality and, when rightly ordered, forms the matrix for the flourishing of all creatures, both human beings and the earth.


If the image of God is the ultimate reference point for the values of a community, then the structure of the triune symbol stands as a profound critique, however little noticed, of patriarchal domination in church and society. The power of an interpersonal communion characterized by equality and mutuality, which it signifies, still flashes like a beacon through a dark night, rather than shining like a daytime sun. Human community in a relationship of equals has yet to be realized save in isolated and passing instances. Yet the central notion of divine Trinity, symbolizing not a monarch ruling from isolated splendor but the relational character of Holy Wisdom points inevitably in that direction, toward a community of equals related in mutuality. The mystery of Sophia-Trinity must be confessed as critical prophecy in the midst of patriarchal rule.

- Elizabeth Johnson, She Who is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroads, 1992), pp.222-223.

The Black Spiritual: Longing for Freedom, Forgiveness, and Peaceful Community

Steal Away to Jesus (traditional)

Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain't got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me,
He calls me by the thunder;
The trumpet sounds within my soul,
I ain't got long to stay here.

Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain't got long to stay here

Green trees are bending,
Poor sinners stand a-trembling;
The trumpet sounds within my soul,
I ain't got long to stay here.

There is a Balm in Gilead (traditional)

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

We Shall Walk Through the Valley (traditional)

We shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death
We shall walk through the valley in peace
If Jesus Himself shall be our leader
We shall walk through the valley in peace

We shall meet our brother there
We shall meet our brother there
If Jesus Himself shall be our leader
We shall walk through the valley in peace

There will be no weeping there
There will be no weeping there
If Jesus Himself shall be our leader
We shall walk through the valley in peace


Wings of Desire - Wim Wenders (1987); Cinematography by Henri Alekan

Eurydice by Arseniy Tarkovsky

A person has one body,
Singleton, all on its own,
The soul has had more than enough
Of being cooped up inside
A casing with ears and eyes
The size of a five-penny piece
And skin - just scar after scar -
Covering a structure of bone.

Out through the cornea it flies
Into the bowl of the sky,
On to an icy spoke,
To a wheeling flight of birds,
And hears through the barred window
Of its living prison-cell
The crackle of forests and corn-fields
The trumpet of seven seas.

A bodyless soul is sinful
Like a body without a shirt -
No intention, nothing ever gets done,
No inspiration, never a line.
A riddle with no solution:
Who is going to come back
After dancing on the dance-floor
Where there's nobody to dance?

Run along then, child, don't fret
Over poor Eurydice,
Bowl your copper hoop along
Whip it through the world,
So long as even quarter pitch
With cheerful tone and cold
In answer to each step you take
The earth rings in your ears.

Poem found in Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press, 1986), p. 157. Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair

Art as Act of Grace

Strata XXX, Ash Wednesday - Alfonse Borysewicz (1993); from the cover of the Fall 2001 issue of Image Journal that contained a section called 9/11: "Psalms & Lamentations"

Flannery O'Connor writes, "Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause." In my own forty-four years I have seen the meltdown of my hometown, racial injustice, Vietnam , poverty, the plague of AIDS, our endangered environment, and the narcotic of narcissism, along with my own frailties and self-inflicted stupidities. These have taught me, beyond doubting, that there is cause, that we need redemption desperately. And why painting? As the Renaissance Platonist Gabriele Paleotti noted, through painting is revealed the whole of life: the world of the senses, the world of the intellect, and finally the world of Love. Ultimately, painting leads us to love God's goodness. I want my painting to offer an opposition to our cultural iconoclasm, leading us not only to love God's goodness, but once again to see it.


I began working on a series of paintings called Strata . I walked paint across the canvas in horizontal rows, pushing it from right to left with my palette knife in layers of blue, yellow, pink, and black, like the poet in Tarkovsky's film Nostalgia, who walks a lit candle across a muddy pool, his road to Calvary.

- Alfonse Borysewicz, "Naked Grace," Image, Issue 32 (Fall 2001), p. 26, 34.

Nostalgia - Andrei Tarkovsky (1983)

Meditations on Wholeness: Introduction

Automat - Edward Hopper (1927)

Why is there a special need to emphasize wholeness? A similar question is Why do we need departments of health, that is, departments of wholeness? This paradox arises because there has been a prevalence of disease and illness which indicate lack of physical wholeness. Similarly, over the ages, in the psychological, communal, and spiritual spheres, there has been a serious and sustained breakdown of wholeness. Typically, this has taken the form of widespread fragmentation between nations, races, religions, ideologies, and so on, going on down to smaller groups, including the family. Indeed, even the individual is fragmented. This is yet another paradox. For the word individual means "undivided." Yet, each human being is divided into conflicting interests, passions, aims, loyalties, motivations, and so on, to the point of neurosis, and even of psychosis. Perhaps such a person could better be called a "dividual" rather than an individual, being a combination of all sorts of contradictory features that are picked up from the collective mixture in the surrounding society.

- David Bohm, "Fragmentations and Wholeness in Religion and in Science," Zygon, 20.2 (1985), p. 125