Roundup: Joseph and Child icon; Clarence Fountain; “First Reformed”; novels for pastors; and more

I had every intention of completing an essay for publication yesterday on the fatherhood of Joseph as expressed in the visual arts, but as I got into the thick of research, the field of discovery proved much vaster than I had anticipated. So that I can do the topic justice (and so that I can continue trying to track down artist, dating, and location info for particular paintings), I will be postponing the essay until a later date. In the meantime, here’s a charming little neo-Coptic icon I found of Joseph holding the Christ child; the narrative scenes in the corners are the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, Joseph’s Dream, and the Flight to Egypt. For more on Coptic (Egyptian) iconography, read an interview with the artist from Orthodox Arts Journal.

Joseph of the House of David by Stephane Rene
Stéphane René, Saint Joseph of the House of David. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bunhill Row, London.

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OBITUARY: RIP Clarence Fountain, founder and lead singer of the Blind Boys of Alabama: Clarence Fountain of the five-time Grammy Award–winning gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama died June 3 at age eighty-eight. Fountain formed the group in the mid-1940s along with five friends from the Alabama School for the Negro Blind in Talladega, and the group, though it has gone through iterations in membership, has been touring continuously ever since. (Fountain retired from touring in 2007.) Ray Allen, a folklorist and music historian, said that over the years the Blind Boys’ sound evolved from the more staid style known as jubilee gospel into one that is distinguished by “a prominent lead singer shouting and preaching and backed by a rhythm-and-blues band.” Below you can hear Fountain sing “Look Where He Brought Me From” and the group’s signature song, “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”):

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ART EXHIBITION: “The Morality Theatre Project: The Art of Barry Krammes,” Green Art Gallery, Biola University, La Mirada, California, April 25–June 29, 2018: Only two weeks left! For this exhibition, the culmination of seventeen years of studio work, Barry Krammes has assembled nineteen open-ended narrative scenes—reminiscent of miniature theater sets—using objects and figures gathered from flea markets and dumpsters, estate sales and antique shops. Although the exhibition title references a genre of medieval drama intended to inspire Christian virtue, the artworks do not preach or provide straightforward moral lessons; rather, they stand as little worlds of mystery that invite association and contemplation. If you’re not able to see the exhibition in person, stay tuned for the forthcoming catalog: I’ve been informed that one is in the works, to be published later this year.

Krammes, Barry_Of Mystery (alt photo)
Barry Krammes (American, 1950–), Of Mystery, 2018. Mixed media assemblage. From “The Morality Theatre Project,” Green Art Gallery, Biola University, La Mirada, California. Photo: Johnny Choura.
Of Lamentations by Barry Krammes
Barry Krammes (American, 1950–), Of Lamentations (detail), 2018. Mixed media assemblage. From “The Morality Theatre Project.” Photo courtesy of the Green Art Gallery at Biola University, La Mirada, California.

The occasion of the exhibition is Krammes’s retirement in May after serving for thirty-five years as an art professor at Biola University (he now bears the title Professor Emeritus). He has been instrumental in making Biola’s art department one of the top ten among Christian colleges and universities, and moreover, he helped to foster art appreciation campus-wide, designing and directing “Arts in Worship” chapels and organizing a yearly Arts Emphasis Week, which developed into the Biola Arts Symposium. He has also been active beyond the walls of Biola, especially as a founding member of the national organization Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). To learn more about his art, see “Interceding in the Theatre of Struggle: A reflection on the assemblage work of Barry Krammes” by Betty Spackman, published Sunday at ArtWay, and, from about ten years ago, the Image journal essay “Barry Krammes: Shepherd of the Wasteland” by Christina Valentine.

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VIDEO ART INSTALLATION: Three Women (2008) by Bill Viola, St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Edinburgh, May 1–September 1, 2018: Bill Viola, a pioneer of new media art, has said that his works “function both as aesthetic objects of contemporary art and as practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”—which is one reason they are so well suited to display in churches. In Three Women, a work from his Transfiguration series on temporary view at a Victorian church in Scotland, a mother and her two daughters pass from black and white through a threshold of water, entering a realm of color and light. The work speaks to me of the experience of illumination, of being drawn into a new and glorious understanding of divine truth. Watch an excerpt of the video at the New York Times.

Three Women by Bill Viola
Bill Viola (American, 1951–), Still from Three Women, 2008.

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NEW IN THEATERS: First Reformed, written and directed by Paul Schrader: I’ve been hearing great things about this movie, which follows Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), the pastor of a small Dutch Reformed congregation in upstate New York, as he grapples with mounting despair. Schrader is the writer who brought us Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and the folks from Fuller Studio recently sat down with him to discuss his Christian upbringing and how the unique language of film—especially the transcendental style—helps him explore religious questions.

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FICTION RECOMMENDATIONS: “Ten Novels Every Pastor Should Read” (+ part 2): Kolby Kerr of LeaderWorks is an exceptional literary guide, whose “ten poets” list I commended in a previous roundup. Here he switches gears to novels. But first he opens by addressing the utilitarian inclination of pastors to nonfiction, which they believe will give them a bigger return on their investment. When it comes to novels, Kerr says, instead of asking What will these books do for me?, we should be asking, What will these books do to me? We should read not only to be informed but to be formed. And once again, what a great list! It’s divided into the categories “saints who sin,” “lost and found” “the dark side,” and “let’s get (meta)physical,” and it concludes with practical advice on how to form and maintain good reading habits.

Get Ready (Artful Devotion)

Last Judgment (Florentine mosaic)
Detail of the Last Judgment, 1240–1300. Mosaic dome, Baptistery of Saint John (San Giovanni), Florence, Italy. Photo: Johann H. Addicks.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

—2 Corinthians 5:10

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SONG: “Judgment” by Rev. Sister Mary Nelson (1927) | Adapted and performed by Benjamin Blower and the Army of the Broken Hearted, on Kingdom vs. Empire (2013)

 

Listen to the original.

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POEMS: “The Last Judgment” by Raymond Oliver is darkly humorous and a true account of how some medieval artists stuck it to the man. For a more reverent reflection on the topic, read “Judgment Day” by R. S. Thomas, in which a perpetrator of injustice against the sick and the poor on earth stands before God’s heavenly throne, contrite; the speaker could well be Dives from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus—or, to name a more recent literary example, Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. She could also be you or me, if we heed not the many commands of scripture to love and support the needy.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Book of Revelation roundup

Over the past year or so, it seems I keep running into artistic responses to the book of Revelation. There was the “Apokalipsa” icons exhibition held in Nowica, Poland, in fall 2016, to which thirty-six artists contributed (see photos, plus this Artful Devotion); then last September there was the release of the book Picturing the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation in the Arts over Two Millennia, which I mentioned in an earlier roundup. What’s more, this April, Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan, was awarded a Vital Worship Grant by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship “to enrich worship by collaboratively creating artistic liturgical resources inspired by the book of Revelation in order to promote a rich engagement with Scripture.” I’ll be interested to see what they come up with!

The Angel Locks Satan in the Abyss by Joanna Zabaglo
Joanna Zabagło (Polish), The Angel Locks Satan in the Abyss [Rev. 20:1–3], 2016. Tempera on board, 18 × 10 cm.
Now I see that the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) is calling for papers on the topic of “Waiting for the End of the World: Eschatology and Art 1850–2000,” for a symposium to be held February 11–12, 2019. Proposals due by September 4.

After 1850, religious subjects became increasingly suspect among modernist artists determined to paint only what the eye can see. Gustave Courbet’s pronouncement, “show me an angel, and I’ll paint one,” exemplified a new, more skeptical orientation. Nevertheless, historical forces and personal motivations compelled many artists, working across a spectrum of materials and visual methods, to directly employ or obliquely reference themes of the Last Judgment and the Apocalypse. Over a century that saw two world wars, economic booms and devastating depressions, the rise and fall of ideologies of left and right, the collapse of colonial empires and the chaos of failed states, the threats of nuclear annihilation and ecological degradation, artists frequently turned to eschatological imagery to visualize the experience of modern life.

The Last Judgment described in the sacred texts of the Abrahamic religions threatens damnation and promises redemption for both the individual and society. This symposium will explore the way that apocalyptic beliefs and imagery—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic—have informed the work of avant-garde artists from all regions of the globe. We invite proposals for 20-minute papers of original research that explore questions such as, but not limited to: What different visual languages have artists used to address the idea of the end of the world? What meanings have they found in the eschatological narrative? How are cultural differences and similarities manifested in their work? To what extent is the teleological narrative of modern art a disguised, secular version of a theological narrative?

Another recent release, from December 2017, is the poetry collection What Will Soon Take Place by Tania Runyan, “an imaginative journey through the book of Revelation” that “offers a poet’s view of the prophetic, not in the sense of seeking out clues to the ‘end times,’ but a means of taking this strange, fantastic book of scripture and letting it read its way into personal lives.” I love Runyan’s poetry (all the poets published by Paraclete are great), so this volume is near the top of my to-read list. Check out “The Angel Over Patmos” and “The Great Throne,” and see the promo video below, with an excerpt from “Vision of the Son of Man.”

Also from 2017, a collage by Nicora Gangi inspired by medieval Last Judgment triptychs. Commissioned by Spark and Echo Arts, Kiss the Son calls on us to love Christ with sincere affection, adorning his feet with kisses like the woman in Luke 7. The left panel shows a heap of humanity’s various “golden calves,” those things we worship that only lead to death. This is contrasted on the right with the New Jerusalem, where the Lion and the Lamb sit atop a cascade of glory. At the bottom of the central panel is the city of destruction, the destination of those who give Christ the betrayer’s kiss; the snake-like forms recall the Evil One who deceived Adam and Eve and plummeted humanity into alienation from God. Above, though, the Son shines brightly, inviting all the reconciled into his loving presence.

Kiss the Son by Nicora Gangi
Nicora Gangi (American, 1952–), Kiss the Son, 2017. Collage, 21 × 33 in.

Lastly, though it was released in 2013, I just recently discovered The Lamb Wins by the Lesser Light Collective, an album of thirty-plus original songs by fifteen-plus artists based on John’s Apocalypse. My favorite song is “The River and the Tree of Life.”

Oh yes, and because I just finished reading the massive Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, here’s a short, thematically relevant excerpt, from “Figures for an Apocalypse: VIII. The Heavenly City” (page 148):

Shine with your lamb-light, shine upon the world:
You are the new creation’s sun.
And standing on their twelve foundations,
Lo, the twelve gates that are One Christ are wide as canticles:
And Oh! Begin to hear the thunder of the songs within the crystal Towers,
While all the saints rise from their earth with feet like light
And fly to tread the quick-gold of those streets . . .

Look to the Unseen (Artful Devotion)

Embroidered photograph by Aline Brant
Photo and embroidery by Brazilian artist Aline Brant, 2017.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

—2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1

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SONG: “The Sweet Forever” (When They Ring Those Golden Bells) | Words and music by Daniel (“Dion”) de Marbelle (1887) | Arranged and performed by the Sensational Nightingales, on It’s Gonna Rain Again (1972, re-released 1998)

There’s a land beyond the river
That we call the sweet forever,
And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree;
One by one we’ll gain the portal,
There to dwell with the immortal,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

I wonder, can you hear those bells a-ringing?
I wonder, can you hear those angels singing?
Talkin’ ’bout glory, glory, hallelujah, Jubilee!
In that far-off sweet forever,
Just beyond that shining river,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

We shall know no sin or sorrow
In that haven of tomorrow,
When our barque shall sail beyond the silver sea;
We shall only know the blessing
Of our Father’s sweet caressing,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.

When our days shall know their number,
When in death we sweetly slumber,
When the Savior commands the spirit to be free,
Nevermore with anguish laden,
We shall reach that lovely Eden,
When they ring those golden bells for you and me.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Roundup: Poetry releases; Heaven, help us; interfaith art exhibitions; 3 free albums

POETRY BOOKS: I just learned about some recently released poetry collections in the Christian Century’s Book Reviews section: Joy: 100 Poems, compiled by Christian Wiman (the review responds to the comment Adrianna Smith made in her otherwise positive review for the Atlantic, that the book’s one fault is its “slant toward a theological comprehension of joy, specifically, an over-representation of a Christian one”); Wade in the Water: Poems by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith; and Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul, a collection of verse-style renderings of the thirteenth-century German Christian mystic by Jon M. Sweeney and Mark S. Burrows, like this one:

“You Are Not an Answer”

There is no Why in You
and so I must learn to trust

that You are not an answer
to my questions but rather

the source that is true before
every question I ever had

and the love beyond every
answer I will ever know.

SONG: “Heaven Help Us All”: This a cappella Stevie Wonder cover is by the vocal group Accent, featuring guest singer Vanessa Haynes. Comprising six male vocalists from five different countries, Accent creates music through Internet collaboration. This song is an intercession to God on behalf of the desperate poor, the homeless, the abused, the lonely, and the depressed. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

ART EXHIBITIONS:

“Pathways to Paradise: Medieval India and Europe,” Getty Museum, Los Angeles, May 1–August 5, 2018: “The pages of medieval manuscripts reveal a dynamically interconnected world filled with real and imagined ideas about foreign peoples and places. Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians living across Europe and Asia conceived paradise as a place of perfect harmony, but the path for locating such a site or achieving this state of mind varied between these religions. By exploring the terrestrial and celestial realms, this exhibition highlights the spiritual motivations for creating and owning portable and devotional artworks.”

“Shared Sacred Sites,” Manhattan, March 27–June 30, 2018: Spread across three Manhattan cultural institutions, the multidisciplinary exhibition “Shared Sacred Sites” aims to raise awareness of the potential for cooperation among the three Abrahamic faiths. The tour begins at the New York Public Library with illuminated manuscripts and documents that highlight holy figures shared in common, like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and (between Christianity and Islam) Mary and Jesus. The Muslim miniature below shows the Miracle of the Table recounted in the Qur’an (5:111–114), in which ’Isa (Jesus) causes a table set with food to descend from heaven, corroborating his status as a true prophet. This miracle story echoes the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes in the Gospels.

Jesus receives food from heaven (Persian)
“‘Îsâ (Jesus) receives food from heaven and is able to feed his followers,” from Qisas al-Anbiya (Tales of the Prophets), Iran, ca. 1580. Spencer Collection (Pers. ms. 46, fol. 152v), New York Public Library.

Then it moves to the Morgan Library and Museum, where the celebrated Morgan Picture Bible, produced in thirteenth-century Paris, is on display. This masterpiece of Gothic art offers exquisite visualizations of some three hundred Old Testament scenes (one of which I featured on the last “Artful Devotion”), and it’s also a testament to intercultural exchange: as the book circulated across civilizations, explanatory captions in Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew were added in the margins.

Lastly, the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center presents artifacts, videos, contemporary art, and photographs that showcase examples of peaceful coexistence of people from different faiths throughout the Eastern Mediterranean as a counternarrative to the stories of conflict that saturate the news media. Several of the photos are of shared worship spaces, like the mosque-synagogue in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, West Bank, or Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, where Muslims can often be found praying alongside Jewish friends and neighbors or attending pilgrimage ceremonies. (For more on Djerba’s beautiful culture of religious tolerance, see “Jews and Muslims Celebrate Unusual Coexistence in Tunisia’s Djerba.”)

Jewish and Muslim Women Praying
Jewish and Muslim women pray side by side in the Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia, 2014. They stand before the building’s eastern wall, behind which the scrolls of the Torah are preserved. Photo © Manoël Pénicaud.

FREE ALBUM DOWNLOADS:

Weep + Rejoice by Trenton Durham: This four-track EP was released in March as a series of soft-rock meditations on Christ’s death and resurrection.

Top of the Stairs by Scott Mulvahill: Mulvahill is a singer-songwriter and upright bass player from Nashville who toured for five years with Ricky Skaggs’s bluegrass band, Kentucky Thunder. “The Lord Is Coming,” which Mulvahill wrote with Alanna Boudreau and Gabi Wilson, is one of eight songs on his latest EP. See below for a live performance from 2017 with two backing vocalists, or click here for a more recent solo performance from the Tokens Show, uploaded yesterday.

Volume 2 by Deeper Well Records: Five Deeper Well artists have contributed two songs each to this compilation of acoustic hymns, a mix of classics, like “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and “This Is My Father’s World,” and originals. I can’t speak highly enough of this label—the quality of music they release is superb. You can stream all the full songs on Bandcamp.

Open Your Mouth (Artful Devotion)

Manna from Heaven (13th c)
Manna from heaven: illumination from the Maciejowski Bible, Paris, 1240s. Morgan Library MS M.638, fol. 9v (detail).

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”—Psalm 81:10b

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SONG: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (Bread of Heaven) | Words by William Williams (1745), translated from the Welsh by Peter Williams (1771) | Music by John Hughes (1905; tune: Cwm Rhondda) | Performed by Kelly Joe Phelps, on Brother Sinner and the Whale (2012)

I love Phelps’s gentle, guitar-picked rendition of this classic hymn. For a live recording from March 10, 2012, click here. See also performance snippets interspersed with interview footage here.

Scenes from Exodus
Bitter water made sweet; manna from heaven; water from the rock at Horeb; Joshua fights the Amalekites. Morgan Library MS M.638 (Maciejowski Bible), fol. 9v, Paris, 1240s.

This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, cycle B, click here.

Book Review: Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art, ed. James Romaine and Phoebe Wolfskill

Typically when scholars interpret African American art, they do so through the primary lens of racial identity, often glossing over overt Christian themes, expressions of religious identity. Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art (Penn State University, 2017), edited by James Romaine and Phoebe Wolfskill, seeks to redress that dearth by examining the Christian content, including theological significance, of works by fourteen African American artists who came to maturity between the Civil War and the civil rights era: Mary Edmonia Lewis, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Aaron Douglas, Malvin Gray Johnson, Archibald Motley Jr., William H. Johnson, James Richmond Barthé, Allan Rohan Crite, Sister Gertrude Morgan, William Edmondson, Horace Pippin, James VanDerZee, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence. Many of these artists were themselves devout Christians, working out of internalized religious convictions and not merely outward tradition or market expectations.

Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American ArtThe essayists certainly take race into account as a factor in the works discussed, but not the only factor; political, socioeconomic, and biographical circumstances are also considered. Christianity, however, as the title suggests, is given pride of place in the selection and examination of the fifty-five images reproduced in the book.

One of the hallmarks of Beholding Christ is the diversity of styles, media, and denominational affiliations represented. As the book shows, African American art is no monolith, and neither is African American Christianity. While there is so-called primitive art and visionary art created by self-taught individuals with crayons, cardboard, or salvaged limestone, there is also neo-classical sculpture, as well as other academically informed works that tend toward impressionism or expressionism. Among the pages are rough-hewn stone sculptures, abstract watercolors, naturalistic oil paintings, and portrait photographs. While there are many depictions of Christ as black, there are also, per tradition, white Christs, and even a Middle Eastern one. What was most surprising to me was to see examples of art by African Americans from high-church traditions, like Catholicism and Anglicanism, who distinguish themselves from low-church Baptists, Pentecostals, and Holiness Christians. The editors are to the applauded for resisting the urge to perpetuate a narrow vision of “Negro art” in line with what the artists’ contemporary critics and viewers principally sought.

Another hallmark of the book is the rigorous formal evaluation and content analysis of specific artworks that make up the bulk of almost every essay, encouraging readers to look deeply. Biographical information about the artists is well integrated and does not overwhelm the focus on the works themselves. Given this image-forward approach, I must say, I’m disappointed that a handful of works, for which color photographs should be available, are reproduced in black and white—for example, Motley’s Tongues (Holy Rollers), Edward Hicks’s Peaceable Kingdom, and Lawrence’s Sermon II and Sermon VII. Luckily these can be found online, but seeing as the entire book is printed in full color with glossy pages, I wonder why color photographs of these were not sought or obtained.

Lastly, I really appreciate the connections between artists made possible by the bringing together of these essays—some made explicitly by the authors, others implied. Douglas and Lawrence both dignified the art of black preaching by visualizing sermons. Crite and Johnson visualized the spirituals, but using very different approaches. Edmondson and Morgan were both motivated by a belief that they were divinely ordained to create by supernatural visions. Episcopal Crite and Catholic Motley intertwined class and religion in their works.

This book is essential reading for anyone in the fields of Christianity and the arts or African American studies. As one belonging to the former category, I see these artworks as part of not only art history but Christian history, and as worthy of being studied by Christians as any theological treatise, written scripture commentary, saint’s biography, or church trend. These artworks teach theology; they encapsulate hopes and fears; they comment on public issues; they expose sin; they lead us in celebration and in lament; they help us to re-member the works of Christ, and invite us into communion with him; they tell us who we are and from whence we’ve come; they cast a biblically grounded vision for the future.

What follows is a brief summary of each chapter.

In chapter 1, Kirsten Pai Buick traces the network of patronage that supported Catholic sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis, as well as the multiple geographic moves she made to further her career: from Boston to Rome (1865), Rome to Paris (1893), and Paris to London (1901). Because many of Lewis’s religious works have been lost, little attention is given in this chapter to the art itself; the only art illustration is her conventional-looking Bust of Christ (1870), mentioned cursorily in the text.

In chapter 2, James Romaine demonstrates the shift in Henry Ossawa Tanner’s paintings from the visual clarity favored by nineteenth-century academic art to a mood of personalized spiritual mystery favored by the twentieth-century symbolists. He examines four paintings as representative of this move—The Resurrection of Lazarus (1896), Nicodemus (1899), The Two Disciples at the Tomb (ca. 1906), and The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water (ca. 1907)—revealing how each explores the complex exchange between vision and belief.

Nicodemus by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Henry Ossawa Tanner (American, 1859–1937), Nicodemus, 1899. Oil on canvas, 85.5 × 100.3 cm (33.7 × 39.5 in.). Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

In chapter 3, Caroline Goeser examines the seven gouaches Aaron Douglas made in response to James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. These images align biblical narrative with modern black experience to tell socially resonant stories. In its attention to the African Simon of Cyrene, for example, The Crucifixion (1927) promotes an “Ethiopianist” narrative, influenced by the late nineteenth-century biblical scholar Edward W. Blyden. Simon looms large as the most prominent figure, heaving Christ’s heavy cross over his shoulders, heroized by his vigorous stride and his active gaze toward God’s light above. Bearing similarities to that of the trudging African American migrant in Douglas’s On de No’thern Road (1926), this pose subtly associates the Great Migration north with the burdensome road to Calvary.

Crucifixion by Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas (American, 1899–1979), The Crucifixion, 1927. Oil on Masonite, 121.9 × 91.4 cm (48 × 36 in.) Private collection.

Up Golgotha’s rugged road
I see my Jesus go.
I see him sink beneath the load,
I see my drooping Jesus sink.
And then they laid hold on Simon,
Black Simon, yes, black Simon;
They put the cross on Simon,
And Simon bore the cross.

In chapter 4, Jacqueline Francis examines the dozen or so paintings Malvin Gray Johnson created between 1927 and 1934, the final years of his life, as visual interpretations of Negro spirituals. Modernist in style, these paintings, she says, united old and new and high and popular expressions, helping to revive and elevate this genre of black folk music that saw diminishing audiences during the Great Depression. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (1928), a night scene painted in thick, dark hues and mounted in a gold lunette frame reminiscent of medieval icons, received the most critical attention in Johnson’s time, eliciting comparisons to Albert Pinkham Ryder. The artist said,

I have tried to show the escape of emotion which the plantation slaves felt after being held down all day by the grind of labor and the consciousness of being bound out. Set free from their tasks by the end of the day and the darkness, they have gone from their cabin to the river’s edge and are calling upon their God for the freedom for which they long. (qtd. 56)

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot by Malvin Gray Johnson
Malvin Gray Johnson (American, 1896–1934), Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, 1928. Oil on canvas, 124.5 × 73.5 cm (49 × 29 in.). Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City.

Continue reading “Book Review: Beholding Christ and Christianity in African American Art, ed. James Romaine and Phoebe Wolfskill”

Into Your Family (Artful Devotion)

How God loves his people by John Muafangejo
John Muafangejo (Namibian, ca. 1943–1987), How God loves his People all over the World, 1974. Etching. © John Muafangejo Foundation. Source: The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow—The Art of John Muafangejo, p. 64

All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

—Romans 8:14–17

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SONG: “You Are the Lover of Our Souls” by Mike Crawford and His Secret Siblings, on Bright Hopes! (2017) (written 2012)

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Artist John Ndevasia Muafangejo was born around 1943 in southern Angola, a member of the Kwanyama tribe of the Owambo people. He moved to Namibia as a teenager and was educated at an Anglican mission school, then spent 1967–69 in training at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre in Rorke’s Drift, South Africa, an art school that scholars credit as integral to the development of modern African printmaking. Muafangejo is one of the most famous alumni of the school, gaining international recognition for his linocuts, which have been exhibited throughout Europe and America. But his career was cut short in 1987 when he died suddenly of a heart attack, just three years before Namibia gained its independence.

The artwork pictured above is somewhat uncharacteristic of Muafangejo, being an etching (he was much more prolific with and is better known for his linocuts) and excluding the political and autobiographical content that mark much of his other work. Church life and biblical narratives, however, did regularly find expression in his prints. He thought highly of the church, whose local leaders fought against apartheid, supported his art, and (through Father C. S. Mallory) cared for him during bouts of mental illness.

How God loves his People all over the World shows God the Father embracing all his children, who tenderly place their hands over their hearts. A family portrait! What Muafangejo visualizes in anthropomorphic terms, Mike Crawford, in his music video for “You Are the Lover of Our Souls,” suggests through images of sun, sea, sky, and breeze, which feel like a hug from on high. “God, you are so good / You are beautiful / So mysterious / How you’re calling us into your family / You’ve invited us into your family / We’re your sons and daughters now. / . . . / Yes, you have adopted me.”

For more information on John Muafangejo, see The African Dream: Visions of Love and Sorrow—The Art of John Muafangejo by Orde Levinson (Thames & Hudson, 1992).


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Trinity Sunday, cycle B, click here.

The Franz Family (bluegrass gospel)

I grew up in North Carolina, so bluegrass music feels like home to me. Its acoustic strings (strummed, picked, and bowed), its stacked vocal harmonies—this “mountain music” from the southern US sounds sweet to my ears.

The Franz Family
The Franz Family, 2012

Lately I’ve been enjoying some video-archived bluegrass performances by the Franz Family from Berryville, Arkansas, a family of seven—Mom, Dad, three sons,* and two daughters—who toured together as a bluegrass gospel band continuously from 1991 to 2011, performing at churches, camps, prisons, and parties. (*The second oldest son, Hadley, left the group in 2004 when he got married and moved to Kansas.) Click here to watch a short documentary on the Franz Family, produced in 2010.

Everyone in the group sings and plays multiple instruments, but here are the instruments you’ll most commonly see them on:

Randy Franz: Guitar
Ruth Ann Franz: Guitar, double bass
Caleb Franz: Guitar, mandolin, banjo
Audra (Franz) Mohnkern: Double bass
Emmett Franz: Dobro
Olivia (Franz) Jahnke: Fiddle

So many songs from the traditional bluegrass repertoire were written as Christian testimony. Most celebrate the personal redemption from sin wrought through Christ and eagerly anticipate heaven, inviting others onto that glory train. They also proclaim the loving aid God provides through the storms of life, which the family experienced when Ruth Ann passed away from cancer in 2016. Her death renders even truer the lyrics she sang again and again:

I’m just a pilgrim here
Soon I’ll be gone
Nothing can hold me here
I’m headed home

And:

Somewhere in glory you’ll find me
Singing and shouting in eternity

(Related posts: “Don’t let the rocks cry out”; “The Avett Brothers sing gospel”)

Here are three studio recordings of the Franz Family from December 2009 in Denver, Colorado: “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand,” “Somewhere in Glory,” and “Getting Ready to Go.”

These can be found on their two albums, The Tale You’ll Never Hear (2008) and Sorrow and Wisdom (2012).

Franz Family albums

I’ve compiled some other video recordings below; for more, see Randy Franz’s YouTube channel.   Continue reading “The Franz Family (bluegrass gospel)”

Come, Energy Divine (Artful Devotion)

Descent of the Holy Spirit
Roman Barabakh (Ukrainian, 1990–), Descent of the Holy Spirit, 2017. Cyanotype print, 54 × 42.2 сm. Available for sale via Iconart.

“I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live . . .”—Ezekiel 37:14

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SONG: “Abbeville” (Come, Holy Spirit, Come) | Words by Benjamin Beddome (published posthumously in 1818) | American folk tune from The Sacred Harp, arr. Elisha J. King (1844) | Performed by Marsha Genensky of Anonymous 4, on American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory (2005)

You can hear this song—and twelve others—on “Anonymous 4: The Sacred Harp,” a Saint Paul Sunday radio broadcast that aired on American Public Media in September 2006. The entire concert-interview is worth a listen, or you can skip to 7:49.

Anonymous 4’s a cappella version of “Abbeville” is my favorite, but another nice version is the Wilder Adkins–Gabrielle Jones duet with acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Come, Holy Spirit, come,
With energy divine,
And on this poor, benighted soul,
With beams of mercy shine.

From the celestial hills,
Light, life, and joy dispense;
And may I daily, hourly feel
Thy quick’ning influence.

Melt, melt this frozen heart;
This stubborn will subdue;
Each evil passion overcome,
And form me all anew.

Mine will the profit be,
But Thine shall be the praise;
And unto Thee will I devote
The remnant of my days.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Pentecost Sunday, cycle B, click here.