A contemporary art exhibition built on the theme of the ancient Egyptian symbol of the ankh opened in New York on Sept. 21, the United Nations International Day of Peace.
The exhibition, titled “The Key,” showcases the work of 40 Egyptian, Middle-Eastern and Western contemporary artists using a modern 3D fiberglass portrayal of the ankh, the hieroglyph known as the “key of life,” as a means of engendering unity among people of different cultural heritages and faith backgrounds.
“It’s the canvas for a contemporary message of hope for a harmonious, peaceful and tolerant world,” said the Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest who is founder and president of CARAVAN, an organization that employs the arts as a peacebuilder among the creeds and cultures of East and West. “The Key,” already seen by thousands in Cairo and most recently in London at St. James, Piccadilly, will remain at New York’s historic Riverside Church, a stronghold of peace activism over the decades, until Nov. 6.
Finding comfort in the Prayer Book during the pandemic
By David C. McDuffie
Since COVID-19 has forever changed life as we knew it, we have become accustomed to hearing a constant refrain recognizing our anxiety, fears, and loss. “I hope you are doing well in these strange times” became a staple of email messages I sent.
We have heard these calls of lament from the pulpit or, more likely these days, from a Zoom box or Facebook feed. The church needs to address difficulty. If it does not, religion risks becoming shallow and superficial and will inevitably crumble under the strain of adversity.
Yet, Christianity is also a resurrection faith, and a deep and abiding religious faith provides us with not only comfort in times of crisis but also with hope for the future and confidence in God’s transforming grace.
Tiffany’s glass artistry creates a triumph of light
By Dennis Raverty
In 1894, Louis Comfort Tiffany patented his new processes for the production of stained glass, and the following year the seven magnificent lancet windows over the high altar in the Episcopal Church of St. Michael in New York City were completed, a marvelous tour de force of artisanry, exemplifying the unique qualities of color and luminosity now made possible by these new technical innovations in glassmaking.
Tiffany’s process for the manufacture of colored glass involved treating it with various metallic oxides while still in a molten state.
The areas of the glass so treated not only change color, they also increase in opacity, and so these areas appear somewhat darker in the finished window, because they let in less light.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, Pa. is hosting a juried art exhibit at its Riverfront Gallery focused on racial justice, entitled “De-Colonizing the Christ.”
Developed locally by a collaborative group of artists and community leaders, the exhibit presents 28 works of visual art that explore the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as a man who does not have the familiar Caucasian complexion. The exhibit runs until Dec. 19.
Recent events have opened conversations among churches, theologians, and biblical scholars, considering in the ways that the western portrayal of Jesus as a European has been used to marginalize people of color, according to the St. Stephen’s announcement.
Many suggest that the pursuit of racial justice demands the exploration of ways in which we can “de-colonize” the Christ — releasing the image of Jesus from a legacy of white supremacy and exploring images of Jesus as a man of color. The exhibit invites the Central Pennsylvania community into the conversation, said the announcement.
According to the call for artwork:
“Historically, images of the Christ are often enculturated, as different artists have portrayed Jesus as someone who bears their own cultural identity.
“As early as the third century CE, Syrian, Indian and Ethiopian artists produced images of the Christ that evoked the context of the artist. Since the Middle Ages,the image of a light-skinned European Christ has been influential in the world through the influences of trade and colonization.
“In an early modern colonial missionary context, the image of White Jesus reinforced a social system in which white Europeans occupied the upper tiers and indigenous people with darker skin ranked lower.”
A review of the show by Joyce M. Davis in the Harrisburg Patriot-News, also posted on www.pennlive.com, noted that “seeing Christ as a Black man is startling, even for many Black Christians used to seeing Jesus on the back of church fans as a tall, white man, with long, flowing locks and an aquiline nose.
“But the “De-Colonizing Christ” exhibit challenges traditional American images of Christ just as Christians in our region are trying to grapple with racism and the church. Many Christians are now openly acknowledging the role their churches played in providing religious support for slavery and systemic racism, and for allowing the faithful to turn a blind eye to both.”
A review by Bob MacGinnes in The Burg: Greater Harrisburg’s Community Magazine, said that “this exhibit is long overdue in dismantling the legacy of colonialism dating from the 15th century in portraying Jesus with fair skin and blond hair.
“In this new gallery exhibit, that myth is usurped with fresh and relevant renderings that bear investigation toward establishing social justice. This groundbreaking exhibit demonstrates the need for Christ to be experienced differently.”
The review quoted cathedral dean Amy Doyle Welin as saying, “there is such a breadth of works from iconic images to the abstract, the pious to pastoral, from artisanal creations to cutting-edge technology. There is truly something for everyone’s taste.”
Two cash prizes were awarded by the jury. Brian Behm, of Chapel Hill, N.C., was awarded Best in Show for his work “Pantocrator in Black and Brown.”
Lori Sweet, of Harrisburg, was awarded the Bishops’ Prize for her work “The Healer.” In December, one additional cash prize will be awarded by vote of those who attend the exhibit: the Peoples’ Favorite.
During the exhibit season, there will be three lectures on topics related to racial justice. All are free and open to the public.
On Sept. 12, scholar and artist Steve Prince, artist-in-residence at the College of William and Mary, discussed “The Arts, Justice and Faith: The Role of a Holy Imagination.”
On Oct. 17, Dr. Drew G.I. Hart, Assistant Professor of Theology at Messiah University, will discuss “White Jesus: Mangling Christianity and the Birth of White Supremacy in the West.”
On Nov. 28, the Rev. Catherine Williams, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lancaster Theological Seminary, will discuss the tension inherent in inclusive worship in predominantly white congregations.
The exhibit was conceived by Welin and congregant Carrie Wissler-Thomas, CEO of the Art Association of Harrisburg.
It is supported by a grant from the Arts for All Partnership, a partnership between the Cultural Enrichment Fund and the Greater Harrisburg Community Foundation, a regional foundation of the Foundation for Enhancing Communities.
Author uses imagination in researching family history
Review by Mel Schlachter
Some years ago, a prominent American cathedral with lots of visitor traffic reflected on its purpose in opening to tour groups and tourists. Was it just tolerating tourists, or was it in fact welcoming pilgrims who might be in those very groups but find themselves yearning for more than checking off another site? Thinking of pilgrimage changed some of the cathedral’s procedures and the mind-set of its staff and volunteers.
Pilgrimage is nearly back to pre-Reformation levels, and international travel writer and Episcopal deacon the Rev. Lori Erickson is all about teaching pilgrimage in her books and blog.
In her previous book, “Holy Rover,” she takes us to a variety of well-known and scarcely-known “holy places,” writing as a keen observer of the place and of her response to it. She is skilled at guiding the reader in how pilgrimage could work for their own spiritual insight.
Her latest book, “The Soul of the Family Tree,” digs deeper into her intuitive working out of identity by means of both pilgrimage and family of origin research.
Q&A: Westina Matthews, on authoring ‘This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church’
By Pat McCaughan Episcopal News Service
The unique blessings, joys, frustrations, challenges and realities faced by the first five African American women diocesan bishops in the Episcopal Church are explored in candid conversations in “This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church,” compiled and edited by Westina Matthews.
Matthews, an adjunct professor at the General Theological Seminary’s Center for Christian Spirituality, wrote in an August 1984 New York Times op-ed article of her own sense of loneliness as “the first, the only, or one of the few” Blacks in her academic and professional settings, a feeling she began having as early as age 4 when she was enrolled in a newly desegregated school.
Membership in this “exclusive club” continued throughout a 40-year career in leadership positions as an educator, researcher, grant-maker, public servant and author.
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and its affiliates mobilized to respond to an expected increase of people fleeing from Afghanistan to the United States after the Afghan government fell to the Taliban in mid-August, expediting the end of the 20-year American presence in the country.
EMM is one of nine agencies with federal contracts to provide refugee resettlement services on behalf of the U.S. State Department. The agencies also have helped resettle people through the special immigrant visa program, which is intended to offer sanctuary for Afghans and their families who fear persecution because of their work in support of the U.S. government.
As the Taliban took over most of the country and the capital of Kabul, EMM officials say they have received inquiries from across the United States — from immigrant Afghan families wanting to help relatives back in their native country and from Episcopal congregations and Episcopalians asking how they can support those families.
EMM was developing an online resource in Pashto, Dari and other languages spoken in Afghanistan to point families to available resources. Episcopalians interested in helping were encouraged to fill out a volunteer form or make a monetary donation.
“EMM is working in partnership with the government to assist our Afghan allies and provide resettlement services through our network of 12 affiliates,” Demetrio Alvero, EMM’s director of operations, told ENS. “We remain committed to providing welcoming services and necessary support to ensure Afghan arrivals receive the foundation they need to begin their lives in peace and safety in the U.S.”
Six of EMM’s 12 affiliates across the country already are working to resettle Afghan families, and so far this year, they have helped nearly 350 special immigrant visa recipients find new homes in the United States, officials said. EMM is working with its affiliates to increase capacity to receive Afghan families amid deteriorating conditions under the Taliban.
“Thousands of Afghan nationals and their family members who gave everything to help the American military have now found themselves in grave danger,” said Russell Smith, chief executive officer of Refugee Services of Texas, an EMM affiliate based in Austin. Smith said in mid-August that his organization has been told it will settle 324 Afghans through its offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.
Refugee Services of Texas and other EMM affiliates have asked supporters to contribute in various ways, including by helping to find affordable housing for the incoming families.
“We are asking our communities to help give back to these new arrivals who served us abroad,” the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office said in a Facebook post. It called for sponsor families and donations of household items.
Another EMM affiliate, Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven, Conn., issued a similar plea last week. “Help us find housing for Afghan families!” the organization said on Facebook. “We’re excited to welcome an influx of Afghans who’ve worked with the U.S. government — in some cases, with only a 24-hour notice.”
On July 8, President Joe Biden pledged to step up efforts to resettle Afghans connected to the American war effort — an issue that had gained urgency after his administration announced its plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
A first group of about 2,500 Afghans began arriving in the United States in July, initially to be housed at military bases during their completion of the special immigrant visa process.
An estimated 18,000 Afghans were in various stages of applying for and receiving the special immigrant visas, along with about 53,000 of their family members. Congress has authorized more than 26,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans in the past seven years. Pending legislation would allow the government to issue an additional 8,000 special immigrant visas to those awaiting approval.
The urgency was underscored Aug. 16 when large crowds stormed the airport in Kabul, desperate to gain access to one of the planes leaving the country under American guard.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry responded to the fast-moving crisis by issuing a prayer for the people of Afghanistan.
“There is a profound humanitarian crisis,” Curry said. “Countless people, mostly women and children, are now fleeing and vulnerable. The lives of many are now endangered. The hopes of many are forgone. Send your Spirit, Lord, to rally the resolve of the nations of the earth to find pathways to save human lives, protect human rights and to resolve the hardships of those seeking refuge, asylum and safety.”
EMM is best known for its refugee resettlement work. The Episcopal Church first began assisting refugees in the 1930s and 1940s through the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief, supporting Europeans fleeing the Nazis.
Since the Unites States created the current refugee resettlement program in 1980, EMM has resettled about 100,000 refugees, providing a range of services for these families upon their arrival in the United States, including English language and cultural orientation classes, employment services, school enrollment, and initial assistance with housing and transportation.
Refugee resettlement was reduced to the lowest level in the federal program’s 40-year history under President Donald Trump. The president sets the ceiling, or maximum number, for refugees to be resettled in the United States each year, and Trump slashed that number to a historic low of 15,000.
Biden has said he will increase it to 125,000, and on May 3, his administration raised the cap to 62,500 for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
The refugee cap does not affect the number of people eligible for special immigrant visas, but EMM and the other eight agencies have just begun to rebuild resettlement programs that were decimated under the previous president. Those challenges also will extend to the efforts to welcome more Afghan families.
The May issue of Episcopal Journal contained an Episcopal News Service story about St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, which was auctioning some extremely valuable items in order to endow a scholarship for African-American students to attend St. Paul’s Schools in Brooklandville, Md.
The story prompted reader Ed O’Brien to write, criticizing the church’s initiative. Episcopal Journal followed up the story, examining the liturgical items online at the auction house’s website, viewing the sale prices and contacting St. Paul’s co-rector, the Rev. Mark Stanley, for his perspective. The Journal also contacted O’Brien for permission to publish his letter.
The Alex Cooper auction house in Towson, Md., conducted the auction of 15 silver items, including a jewel-encrusted chalice and a silver offering plate, which brought $45,000. The auction brought St. Paul’s a total of $75,000 and the church funded the remainder of the $300,000 scholarship fund from its endowment, according to Stanley.
The relationship between faith and science and the church’s response to the environmental crisis will be “big picture” themes at next summer’s Lambeth Conference, which focuses on being “God’s Church for God’s World”.
The conference’s communications office featured the issues in a series of short films released in early June, including a special release of “How is the Church Engaging with Science in Responding to Environmental Issues” on June 5, World Environment Day.
The Anglican Communion also announced the foundation of the Anglican Communion Science Commission, a group of scientists and theologians from across its 41 provinces who will equip Anglicans “for courageous and confident spiritual leadership in issues involving science.” The commission will be formally launched at next summer’s Lambeth Conference and hopes to have its first conference shortly thereafter.
Any lingering ideas we might hold about artists who paint — or, more precisely, write — icons quickly disappear when we meet iconographer Kelly Latimore and his large body of work. The affable 34-year-old suburban Chicago native (now living and working in St. Louis) does not align with the image of an elderly monk bent over a panel and silently and reverently applying pigment or gold leaf to the sacred face he is depicting. Latimore is transforming old notions about icon writing with regard to what or whom should be represented.
In contemporary usage, the words “icon” and “iconic” have come to denote objects and people who have assumed a larger-than-life, emblematic status. But the fundamental definition of “icon” remains unchanged: image. Not merely an artwork, the icon has traditionally been a sacred image used in religious devotion. Most commonly a painting (although they have been produced in other media), the icon has its roots in the Eastern Orthodox church, as well as in the Roman and certain Eastern Catholic traditions.
Describing himself as a “Baptist preacher’s kid,” Latimore acknowledges that his personal background stands in contrast to the icon’s history and tradition. Although he was “always drawing and painting,” he had no acquaintance with the art form, yet had always connected with the arts as a vehicle for creating things which he deemed beautiful. Serious study of art took root during his years attending Greenville University in Greenville, Ill., where he learned about different genres, artists, and techniques.
After completing his university studies, Latimore moved to Ohio, where he met a couple who had started the Good Earth Farm, supplying food for pantries. Subsequently, he encountered a community called the Common Friars, centered on the monastic way of life and prayer from the Book of Common Prayer three times a day.
The new relationships he cultivated in this community, as well as learning about how to care for the earth, inspired Latimore to readjust his spirituality, from one which had been, in his words, more about “personal transcendence,” to being “up there with God,” to a consideration of how we care for the earth as Jesus did. The “lilies of the field” was the subject of his first icon.
Latimore began icon writing at Common Friars. He has enlarged the genre’s scope, informed by a wide range of artistic influences, such as Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and Alice Neel, and strongly focused on relationships, community, and social justice.
Given his experience as a farmer, connecting to the land has been very important to Latimore, and in many of his icons, he gives equal attention to the surrounding landscape as he does to the figures occupying it.
It is not simply a decorative background, but an element that interacts with and comments on the human subjects (such as “La Sagrada Familia”). Earth, sky, and vegetation are strongly delineated, impelling the viewer to engage with the totality of the icon, instead of solely on the subjects. Latimore’s handling of the background is a decided departure from writing traditional icons, where that pictorial element is rendered in gold (symbolizing the celestial realm), and the figures and their garments are pigmented.
Having grown up in a primarily-white environment and church community where he did not see or interact with people different from himself, Latimore has set out to fill those gaps by making visible in his icons those whom society has chosen to keep invisible. In that regard, the artist has peopled his icons with a different type of sacred figure, literally and figuratively drawn from the full spectrum of humanity.
This new imago dei comprises disparate public figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., the late Senator John Lewis, author Flannery O’Connor, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and Oglala Sioux Holy Man Nicholas Black Elk.
By today’s lights, these were the “envelope pushers,” who challenged the prevailing social order and protested injustice. To Latimore, these are people “who have connected the word ‘Christian’ (even if they were non-Christian, non-believers, or whose racial attitudes were not necessarily evolved) with the liberation of the poor. They lived lives of presence. They were not focused on being holy; they were focused on being present.”
These are not the canonized saints of the church, whose sainthood was determined by miracles of extraordinary healings, but by bringing justice to those who had been deprived of it. Regardless of faith or creed, Latimore gives all of the figures in his paintings a gold nimbus (halo) to signify sainthood.
Icon purists have not been pleased with Latimore’s iconographic choices, and many have denounced his work. Ironically, most of the threats have come from Eastern Orthodox individuals in Russia and Ukraine, according to Latimore.
Reactions have been especially strong to two paintings in particular: “Refugees: La Sagrada Familia” (2016) and “Mama” (2020). “Sagrada” was inspired by the story of a young Guatemalan man who told Latimore about his struggle to come to the United States, and of the remains of women holding babies he had seen along the way.
The family in this icon refers simultaneously to the New Testament account of the Holy Family fleeing state terrorism and to the countless refugees from Guatemala and other Central and South American countries fleeing terror, yet seeking refuge in an America whose tone sounded anti-immigrant and anti-stranger.
Soon after the murder of George Floyd, Latimore painted “Mama,” as a way to mourn the man whose brutal death was seen around the world. The artist has written it in traditional icon style, and arranged the figures as a latter-day pietà, where a Black Madonna holds her dead son, whose likeness is unmistakably that of George Floyd. (When asked whether the son is George Floyd or Jesus, Latimore always answers, “Yes.”)
Whereas the Madonna would normally look at her son, the artist shifted her gaze to the viewer. This subtle shift moves the focus outward, establishing a community of mourners who may reflect on what they have witnessed and act to prevent its reoccurrence. In some places, protesters displayed the image as they marched.
Some have also questioned whether a white male artist such as Latimore should represent people of color in religious paintings, to which the artist responds that white artists have been painting Christ as white for centuries, when the truth is that he was in all likelihood a person of color.
“Racism,” says Latimore, “is the denial of the Incarnation; the image of God is within all of us. In my interactions with other congregations and clergy of color, they are looking for other ways to represent Jesus. This is what it means to be human and to be present.”
There is growing concern that in the so-called “post-Christian” West, which is witnessing declining church attendance, creating religious art such as icons may be a futile activity. Latimore strongly believes that the church can participate in movements against war, racism, hunger, and poverty, and that it can be a “living, breathing, visible community of faith, which is but another word for ‹learning›. The main task of the church is the formation of people who love where it hurts.”
Based in New York, Pamela A. Lewis writes about topics of faith.
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