A message for our community

Dear friends,

This month, as a service to our community, Episcopal Journal is making its April issue available for free on its website. It is also attached here. Thank you to all who contributed photos. Page 8 represents a selection and art director Linda Brooks did a wonderful job. Please just let me know if you wish to use the photo page in any way. For the rest of the original content such as Sharon’s column and Jerry’s arts feature, the authors should be contacted for permission, and I’d be happy to facilitate that.

I’m seeing that churches and dioceses are already planning for Holy Week and Easter, and I am putting out the call for photos and images again. We lay out the paper during the week after Easter Sunday, April 12, so please send images that specifically show Holy Week and Easter being celebrated in an unusual ways during this unusual time. Please copy both me and Linda (in the cc line).

Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

With much gratitude,

Solange De Santis
Episcopal Journal
123 Mamaroneck Ave. | #616 | Mamaroneck, NY 10543
Desk phone 914 835 0923 | Cell phone 917 379 2260

Click on the cover of our April issue to read.

Highlights for February

Kay Collier McLaughlin
People say the darndest things

By Kay Collier McLaughlin

Shortly before my older daughter was to depart for a two-year opportunity to study with the famous violin pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki in Matsumoto, Japan, an acquaintance leaned into my car window in the carpool pickup line and said, “You’ll richly deserve it if she comes home with a slant-eyed husband. Every one of her birthday parties have had the politically correct racial mix!”

The ugliness came roaring back to me recently as news reports magnified the current damnable rhetoric on immigration with accusations and counter accusations, and the drama escalated far beyond the level of carpool lines and personal opinions. There is visceral recall of the stinging pain of those words; of the sadness and the fury I felt at knowing that, despite the world of multiculturalism that so greatly enriched our lives as a family, I could not protect my children or their future children from the kind of hate that would make such a statement, or others like it.

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“Starry, Starry Night” quilt by Pat Merriman.
Artist transforms harrrowing experience into quilted art

By Jerry Hames

Twenty years ago, when she taught Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip on behalf of Michigan’s Marquette University, Patricia Merriman drove a U.N. van to Jerusalem’s Ben Gurion Airport to pick up another faculty member.

When she crossed at the Erez checkpoint, her van was placed on a hoist while white-gloved military searched thoroughly for explosive devices. She described that daylight border crossing as a piece of cake compared to the return trip with her companion.

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Companion dioceses work to rebuild Puerto Rico

By Dan Webster

The companion dioceses of Maryland and Puerto Rico are committing to several years of hard work to rebuild the Caribbean island after two killer hurricanes last fall delivered devastation and privation.

Churches and individuals in and outside the Diocese of Maryland responded to the call to raise money for its “Rebuild Puerto Rico” fund. More than $20,000 for immediate emergency needs was raised the month after Hurricane Maria. So far, $47,000 has been given.

Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and the Rev. Margarita Santana, canon for Latino ministry for the diocese, presented the first of these funds last October to Puerto Rico Bishop Rafael Morales when they visited the island territory.

The Diocese of Puerto Rico now operates two centers for emergency relief and supplies, one at the Diocesan Center near San Juan and the other at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Ponce.

Sutton sent the Rev. James Snodgrass to the diocesan convention in Puerto Rico last December, where he read a letter from Sutton. For Snodgrass, it was a return trip to the diocese in which he’s still canonically resident. He and his wife, Patty Parsley, spent 5½ years as missioners in the rural, mountainous region of Aibonito. They founded a retreat center and new mission congregation before moving to Baltimore in 2012.

Sutton asked Snodgrass to assess the damage done seven weeks earlier. Damage was extensive to vegetation, landscape and buildings — huge trees uprooted, wooden structures demolished. When the sun set, some places had electrical service, often provided by generators; many places were surrounded by darkness, some lit by a candle or abandoned. Snodgrass recalled the words of John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

On an island with a high density of automobiles and 9 percent of the population living in urban areas, driving without traffic signals, especially at night, was harrowing. In some places, foliage had reappeared, debris had been collected along the roadsides, and businesses had reopened. In other places, especially among the very poor, destruction lingered.

During the 110th Asamblea Diocesana (diocesan convention), Morales, newly consecrated in July, delivered a hope-filled address to the delegates. He thanked all who had responded to emergency needs, encouraging all to pitch in and reach out, and he outlined his vision and priorities for the diocese for the foreseeable future. He proclaimed a new Christian year, which began with Advent, as “El Año de Discipulado” (the Year of Discipleship). He concluded, “Nuestra iglesia es dinámica, misionera y evangelizadora” (“Our church is dynamic, mission-oriented and evangelizing”).

It was said that this diocesan convention was one of the most upbeat, well-organized and harmonious in recent memory.

After the convention, Morales told Snodgrass his top priority was to complete the retreat center, Centro Espíritu Santo, in Aibonito. The project would entail building a church and overnight facilities. Morales and Sutton have discussed this project, and how, as companion dioceses working together, it can happen.

Morales agreed to a proposed parish-based mission work project in Aibonito, sponsored by St. John’s Church, Havre de Grace, Md., and led by Snodgrass, priest-in-charge there. The group members will stay in a church-owned house, pray daily and cook their own meals, repair damaged houses in the surrounding neighborhood and plant trees. The group expects to go in early March.

The experiences of this initial group will help the Diocese of Maryland advise other church groups interested in going to the island to help in the restoration and rebuilding effort. The Rev. Rafael Zorrilla, canon to the ordinary, oversees all groups coming to Puerto Rico. He told Snodgrass that he’s overwhelmed by requests from church groups around the United States wanting to come and help. He asked the Diocese of Maryland to develop a screening process and recommend which groups should come. Those groups would then be partnered with churches in Puerto Rico. Together, they would work out travel and work project arrangements. He stressed that groups coming to Puerto Rico need someone who speaks Spanish.

When Sutton visited Puerto Rico in October, he saw a statue of Jesus at Misión la Santa Cruz. He said it reminded him of the words of Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.”

The hands on the statue were missing. Sutton said he hoped that the Diocese of Maryland would become the hands of Christ together with its sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico.


The Rev. Dan Webster is the former canon for evangelism and media in the Diocese of Maryland. He was recently named interim dean at St. John’s Cathedral, Albuquerque, N.M.


Art reflects creator’s desire for inclusiveness, peace and love

By Jerry Hames

The peace marches and protestors during the Vietnam War prompted Karen Loew to create a monotype in the fall of 2016 as a political statement. “Symbols of the times were the hand peace sign and the daisies placed into the gun barrels held by soldiers and police,” she recalled.

The art, “Come Together,” also served as her Christmas card that year. “It is my update for our time in history, combining both visuals in a new way, to show my hope for inclusiveness of peace and love for all, united as in one hand, created by God and met in God. I want to encourage us all to come together, as human beings, on the same side, in favor of life and love and happiness for all humankind,” she said.

A member of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts for seven years, she often contributes to the organization’s online exhibitions. She remembers painting when she was as young as 3 after her parents purchased art supplies for their children.

“I came from a blue-collar family — people said I’d starve to death if I became an artist — and so I decided to go into advertising art,” she said. “I graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, got a job with a top design agency in Pittsburgh, but I also continued with my artwork on the side, as often as I could.” Loew enjoys monotyping, or making prints by drawing or painting on a smooth, nonabsorbent surface. The surface, or matrix, was historically a copper etching plate, but in contemporary work it can vary from zinc or glass to acrylic glass.

Loew, chair of the Coast Guard Art Program (COGAP) Committee of New York’s Salmagundi Club in New York and a member of the club’s board of directors, served in the Coast Guard at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2002 when she documented activities of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 305. She addressed the opening reception of the COGAP exhibition in Vlissingen, Holland, in 2009. Six years ago she received the Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest recognition given to men and women who have made outstanding contributions in advancing the Coast Guard’s missions.

“Art can be healing for those who create it and for those who view it,” she said. “This is certainly true for me as an artist — great art therapy. I hope it works for my audience.”

These artists use the Good Book as their medium

By S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate
Religion News Service

In 2015, Montreal-based artist Guy Laramée placed a large-format Bible from the 19th century upright with the spine open. Then, using a power grinder, he carved a landscape into the pages and painted along the curvatures, evoking the space of a cave whittled into a sheer mountainside.

It is a beautiful summoning of desert spaces, conjuring the place of the biblical prophets. It is, however, an unusual treatment of the Good Book.

And it is one that would never find its way to the $500 million Museum of the Bible, which opened on Nov. 17 in Washington, D.C. That museum is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the sacred text through the ages.

Laramée, along with a number of contemporary artists, has been working with books not as muse, but as medium. You could call these artists book lovers, but only in the way that you could call Michelangelo a marble lover or Edward Scissorhands a tree lover.

The trade-offs involved in this sort of love become much more stark when the book in question is someone’s version of sacred scripture.

Artists such as Carole Kunstadt, Islam Aly and Jan Owen create their own sacred books, stitching together pages of handmade papers in creative ways, writing their own poems and prayers or carving symbolic designs out of the pages. The finished product is like a book yet also like a piece of sculpture. It’s not clear if the works belong in the library or the gallery.

Other artists, such as Laramée, Brian Dettmer and Meg Hitchcock, do the opposite. They each work in books the way other artists work in oil or marble, cutting away unnecessary elements to make way for a final product. Some of the most striking are those that use religious texts such as the Bible, Quran and Torah.

Hitchcock’s recent solo show, “10,000 Mantras,” which was on view last fall in Brooklyn, N.Y., displayed some creative uses of Holy Writ that probably never occurred to religious adherents.

Her artistic process has been to take sacred texts, carefully cut out individual characters from them, and then paste those characters in another place to form new words and new sentences that constitute other sacred texts. In one example from the show,  sge cut up a Bible and turned the letters  into the Buddhist mantra “om mani padme hum,” repeated 10,000 times. In this way, one text is transposed into another.

Asked whether he and artists like him are engaged in the desecration of sacred books, Laramée countered, “I’m sacrificing them, and like in any true sacrifice, the victim becomes sacred precisely because it is killed.”

For her part, Hitchcock comes from a strict evangelical Christian upbringing, and so knows what it is to have a high regard for the Bible. As she moved away from the faith of her youth, she retained a respect for sacred texts. She cuts them into pieces painstakingly, letter by letter — two short vertical cuts, two short horizontal cuts, repeated thousands of times. In this activity, Hitchcock finds, “I can get into a flow, and it’s very meditative.”

In earlier artworks such as “Throne: The Book of Revelation,” Hitchcock undertook a radical statement of the unity of faiths: She cut out individual characters from an English-language translation of the Quran and then pasted them on a large sheet in a dynamic design, spelling out the entire Book of Revelation from the Christian Bible. At the center of that piece she created a mandala spelling out the “throne verse” from the Quran, with all the characters cut from a Bible. In a single work, the Bible is transformed into a Quran, the Quran into a Bible.

“I search for the common threads that run through all scripture,” she said, “then weave them together to create a visual tapestry that speaks to our common ancestry and, ultimately, to our human condition.”

Others have not been so convinced of the reverent intentions behind the artistic liberties taken with sacred books.

In 2005, when London’s Tate Modern was about to display John Latham’s “God Is Great (#2)”— a sheet of glass slicing through a Bible, Quran and Talmud — the museum pulled the piece from display, fearing negative reactions.

And in 2014, in Frankfurt, Germany, three men entered the Portikus Gallery, agitated the workers and stole the Quran from the middle of Latham’s installation “God Is Great (#4)”. This was one of the last works by Latham, the father of what might be called the “Scriptural Manipulation Movement,” who died in 2006.

Hitchcock, whose artworks now sell well enough for her to work full time in her studio in upstate New York, says that every once in a while her gallery owner gets an earful from some visitor about the potential sacrilege going on. Even so, most people tell her how much they appreciate her art, and this, she says, is “even from some pretty hard-core believers.”

Hitchcock said her work theoretically could be “read,” but she also arranges the characters without punctuation or spacing, as she is “trying to discourage a literal reading.”

By downplaying the content of books — what they say — and emphasizing their form — their physical dimensions — these artists have found a medium that can be played with, sculpted, cut into pieces.

In contrast to Laramée’s power grinder, Brian Dettmer takes an X-Acto knife to the pages of books, carving through the leaves one by one to reveal layers of images and words throughout a book.

In a TED Talk in 2014, Dettmer said we could think of books as “living things.” Thus, “they also have the potential to continue to grow, to become new things.” Through the act of destruction, a new creation is born.

Between destruction and creation, the physical nature of letters, pages and bindings takes on new lives, in new forms.

By paying attention not only to the spiritual nature of the words and sentences in the holy books, but also to the very form of the book, these artists reinvent the sacred texts in new ways. As Hitchcock noted, even Bibles subject to standard use do not remain physically pristine or unaltered. Their pages, she said, “are stained with the tears and fingerprints of the devout.”

Through artworks such as hers, “words of God” truly become incarnate.


S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate is a writer, editor, public speaker and part-time professor at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

Speak up, Episcopalians! Sing!

By John Stewart

Why is there all this talk in the liturgy? Outside church, we silently stare at our smartphones, smiling and frowning at Facebook and Instagram posts, thumbs flying in reply. But inside, lectors read Scripture aloud, intercessors pause to let the people respond, sermons are spoken rather than distributed in written or electronic form, and we’re even expected to sing together — out loud! Why can’t we just worship in silent silos?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks answers when he explains that speaking and listening is what makes the three Abrahamic monotheisms different. All of us believe that God acts in the world by speaking. “What makes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam different from other faiths is that they conceive of God as personal, and the mark of the personal is that God speaks,” he says.

Through spoken words, God creates the world. Acting in the image of God, humans create order with spoken words. The first thing Adam did was name the animals. Through spoken words, Adam also related to the first “other” in history — Eve — when he said, “This time I have found bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”

Silence and silos

I notice that many 21st century Episcopalians forget the importance of speaking-listening contact when we worship. Some of us mumble when we read Scripture aloud, or we concentrate on the print version in the bulletin or on the screen rather than what’s being spoken by the lector.

Sometimes we do this because the reader is hard to hear or understand, but often it’s just habit. We forget that the point of having scripture read out loud is to re-create a version of the formative experience of our entire religion — God speaking and humans listening.

Some of us also recite familiar creeds and prayers without paying much attention to what we are saying out loud. Maybe we’re forgetting the special power of speaking something in public. What you speak out loud, you own; When you speak in the presence of others, you get marked by what you say.

This is why most people don’t say “I love you” without really meaning it, and when they say, “OK, I’ll be there,” they realize that they’ve made a pledge. We know that a public utterance is a public commitment, and yet we mouth the words of prayers and creeds without thinking much about what we’re saying.

Many of us also don’t join in singing. When the Psalm is chanted, we skip it because the Gregorian-like tune seems strange. Many are silent during the hymns, because, we claim, we “can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

We forget that Scripture asks us to “make a joyful noise,” not to produce a professional performance. Rather than being strengthened and supported by the community-building power of group singing, we huddle in our silo of silence.

Am I being too critical when I say that this preference for strategic silence and solitude is un-Abrahamic? Or at least incompletely Episcopalian?

Hearing and making joyful noises

Our Creator originally entered the world by speaking to chosen humans — Moses, Abraham, Noah, Isaiah, Paul and many others. Most importantly for Christians, God spoke to us in Jesus’ presence and Jesus’ speech. This emphasis on speaking and its partner, listening, suggests a limitation to the translation of the Greek word “logos” as “word” at the start of John’s Gospel.

According to Strong’s “Greek Concordance,” logos did not just mean “word,” in the sense of a symbol like “ball” or “democracy.” Logos originally meant “reasoning expressed by speech … discourse, communication-speech.”

So, “In the beginning was the logos” means more than “In the beginning was the word.” More adequate translations might say, “In the beginning was communication-speech.”

John’s gospel calls attention to the point Sacks makes. Speaking is God’s unique way-of-being for us. Jesus is God’s way of being present to us as God’s speaking (“the Word”). This is a pretty unusual way to describe our Lord, and I think we should take it seriously.

To be made “in the image of God” is to be one who lives in language. Humans are uniquely, like God, beings who can listen and speak. To be God’s people, children of God, is to engage these capabilities. Among other things, this means actively listening, singing and speaking at appropriate times in our worship.   n


John Stewart is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dubuque, Iowa. His most recent book is “Personal Communicating and Racial Equity, 2nd ed.,” and he blogs at www.johnstewart.org.