Roundup: Jewish mosaics; New Psalm Contest; revising hymns; tree-inspired chapel; and more

I will be going on vacation soon and will be mostly unplugged, so you will notice less frequent blog posts for a few weeks. I’ll cue up some Artful Devotions to be published automatically each Tuesday I’m gone but won’t be posting the links to the blog’s Twitter and Facebook pages as I usually do—so be sure to check the site instead! (Or subscribe by email by clicking the “Follow” link, located in the sidebar if viewing from your computer or at the bottom if viewing from your phone.) My regular publishing schedule will resume in September.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIND: “Discovery of Jewish Mosaics in Israel Bring Color to Biblical Accounts” by Sarah E. Bond: “At the ancient site of Huqoq, near the Sea of Galilee in modern Israel, a number of stunning mosaics depicting biblical, astrological, and historical narratives have been uncovered in a Jewish village that flourished during the late Roman empire. The colorful and large number of mosaics found in a synagogue challenge traditional views about Jewish art of the period as symbolic rather than representational of biblical texts, bland, and in decline during the period.”

Fish swallowing Pharoah's soldier
A giant Red Sea fish swallows one of Pharaoh’s soldiers in this mosaic detail from the late Roman (ca. 5th century) synagogue at Huqoq, Israel. Photo: Jim Haberman, via UNC-Chapel Hill.


SONGWRITING CONTEST: “In an effort to encourage Psalm-singing, Church of the Servant [in Grand Rapids, Michigan] invites congregational songwriters to submit a Psalm-based song to its 2018 COS New Psalm Contest. The winner will receive a $500 award. There is no entry fee and the contest is open to all. Submissions must be emailed or postmarked by October 1, 2018. The song will be premiered in worship on January 27, 2019. Church of the Servant is a Christian Reformed Church with a rich history of encouraging the arts in worship. Its worship is Reformed, liturgical, participatory, eclectic, and open to creative new worship expressions.”  


THEOLOGY-ARTS: “Theology through the Arts: Using the Arts to Express the Divine” by Michael Wright: Wright is an editor for FULLER studio and the person behind the weekly arts e-newsletter Still Life (which I highly recommend you subscribe to!). In this article for Fathom magazine, he discusses four mistakes we risk making when we engage the arts only at the level of the mind: confusing content and form, prioritizing written content, assuming knowledge, and reacting in ignorance.


REVISING CLASSIC HYMNS: “John Piper Changed ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.’ Experts Weigh In.”: At a recent Gospel Coalition conference, a worship team premiered a new version of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that included two additional stanzas written by John Piper, giving the Wesleyan hymn a Calvinist stamp. While the revamping of old hymns, even classics, is a longstanding Christian practice, there’s still debate about whether or not it should be encouraged, especially when revisions contradict the theology of the original author. Eleven hymnody experts weigh in on the issue. I especially appreciate the list of five considerations provided by Professor Constance M. Cherry, and the examples David Taylor gives of well-known hymns that were taken in new theological directions as they crossed denominations to become what we know today. It was interesting to hear from John Wesley too.


PIANO SOLO BY HARRIET GEREN: A dear family friend of mine, Mrs. Geren, turned 100 years old this month! In 1947 she and her husband, Virgil, founded Shadyrest Bible Church in Chesterfield, New Jersey, a church that had a formative influence in the lives of my grandparents and parents; she is, therefore, part of my “spiritual lineage.” Since she was twelve, her most cherished ministry has been piano playing: she uses her fingers to praise God and to testify to his goodness, extending blessing to church congregants, gospel-radio listeners, and nursing-home residents. Here’s a modest performance piece of hers, recorded in 2015 when she was 97. It’s an original medley arrangement of three gospel songs by John W. Peterson (1921–2006) that inspire trust and rest in God: “I’m in His Keeping,” “Held in His Mighty Arms,” and “He Will Hold Me Fast.”

Virgin and Harriet Geren
Virgil and Harriet Geren, 1995


Check out these photos of Agri Chapel, designed by Japanese architect Yu Momoeda and completed in 2016. Located inside a national park on the northwest coast of Japan’s island of Kyushu, the chapel reflects the surrounding forest through wooden pillars stacked in the shape of simplistic tree branches. It also pays homage to nearby Ōura Tenshudo, a wooden, Gothic-style Catholic basilica that French missionaries built in 1864. For more on the design, see the article from Architect magazine.

Agri Chapel
Agri Chapel, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Designed by Yu Momoeda.

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