Lent, Day 12

LOOK: Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing by Leroy Almon

Almon, Leroy_Mr. and Mrs. Satan Fishing
Leroy Almon (American, 1938–1997), Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing, 1991. Polychrome bas-relief wood carving, 22 1/2 × 24 in. Gordon Gallery, Nashville.

Leroy Almon (1938–1997) was born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, but grew up in Ohio. While working for Coca-Cola in Columbus, he met the self-taught woodcarver Elijah Pierce [previously] at Gay Tabernacle Baptist Church, where Pierce served as lay preacher, and in 1979 became apprenticed to him. Pierce taught Almon how to make low-relief carvings in wood using pocketknives and hand chisels, and then to paint them. Initially the two collaborated on pieces, until 1982, when Almon returned to Tallapoosa. There he restored his childhood home, converting the basement into an art studio. Like his mentor, he too combined the vocations of art making and evangelical preaching.

Almon is well known for his didactic carvings on the subjects of religion, politics, and African American history. The battle between good and evil is at the forefront of his art. Satan fishing for souls is a theme he developed and returned to many times in variation; see, for example, here, here, here, and here. Such carvings show a caricatured Satan (red, horned, spiky-tailed, and goateed) dangling various vices—gambling, promiscuity, sex, drugs, greed, hypocrisy, etc.—as bait before humans who appear ready to bite. Sometimes he’s joined by his wife, Mrs. Satan!

In the version at the Gordon Gallery in Nashville, cards, cash, a romantic couple (presumably unwed), alcohol, cigarettes, a bomb, hard drugs, and a church building are on the line. The latter symbolizes the false piety of many churchgoers and the corruption inside institutionalized Christianity.

In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol. 23: Folk Art, Jenifer P. Borum praises Almon’s ability to “mix fire-and-brimstone warnings about the world’s evils with a playful sense of humor”; she refers to the “comic moralism” of his work. My first reaction upon seeing Mr. & Mrs. Satan Fishing was to laugh out loud. But then I wondered whether the humor was intentional. Does the artist want us to chuckle? I haven’t been able to find any statements from Almon. The image likely represents very real temptations that afflicted his community and maybe, some of them, him personally. I suppose the humor could be self-conscious, but if so, it’s a dark humor—gravitas masked in levity. Almon knew that “like a roaring lion [our] adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).

Leroy Almon
Leroy Almon on his front stoop in Tallapoosa, Georgia, 1987. Photo: Roger Manley.

LISTEN: “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” by Fred Rose; originally recorded by Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, 1947 | Performed by Pokey LaFarge on Pokey LaFarge, 2013

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He roams around with sticks and stones
Passing out his moans and groans
The devil ain’t no lazy bones
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He likes to see us fight and fuss
Makes us mean enough to cuss
Then he blames it all on us
He works 24 hours a day

He travels like a lightning streak
And he strikes from town to town
Then he gets you when you’re weak
He’ll tear your playhouse down

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

He tells us he won’t hurt a fly
Then he makes us steal and lie
Keeps us sinning until we die
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

Gets his pitchfork out each night
Gives the folks an awful fright
I know he does it just for spite
He works 24 hours a day

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

Tells us how to find success
I know he’ll wind up in distress
I’ll tell ya why: the devil is an awful mess
He works 24 hours a day

He likes to see things scorch and burn
He don’t make no excuse
If he catches you, he’ll turn you
Every way but loose

The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)
The devil ain’t lazy (No siree)

So if you think you’re strong and brave
Smart enough to not behave
You got one foot in the grave
He works 24 hours a day
24 hours a day (Yes, he does!)
He works 24 hours a day
He works 24 hours a day

Lent, Day 5

LOOK: (1) “St. Juliana of Nicomedia, the devil at her feet,” from a Picture Bible made at the Abbey of Saint Bertin, Saint-Omer, France, ca. 1190–1200. KB, 76 F 5, fol. 32r. Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library), The Hague, Netherlands. (2) “St. Juliana of Nicomedia binding the devil,” from the Passionary of Weissenau, made in Germany, 12th century. Codex Bodmer 127, fol. 44v. Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cologny, Switzerland.

St. Juliana of Nicomedia and the devil
St. Juliana binding the devil

Saint Juliana (ca. 286–ca. 304) was a Christian from Nicomedia in present-day Turkey—the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in her day—who suffered martyrdom under the Diocletian persecutions. Legend has it that she engaged in some serious combat with the devil, so in art she is sometimes shown beating him with a club, binding him with a rope or chain, or otherwise incapacitating him. Bam!

[Related post: “Stomp (Artful Devotion)”]

LISTEN: “Satan, Take Your Hands Off Me” by Essie Mae Brooks, on Rain in Your Life (2000)

. . .
Satan, take your hand off me.
I’m in God’s hand.
Jesus, my Jesus,
Has got his arm,
They wrapped all around me,
And the world can’t do me no harm.
. . .

Born in 1930, Essie Mae Brooks is a gospel singer-songwriter from Houston County, Georgia. Rain in Your Life is her debut album, which was followed up by I’ve Been Washed in the Water in 2002.

These two projects were financed by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who bear those traditions. Cofounder Tim Duffy realized, while studying folklore in college, that preservationists tended to focus on documenting and archiving rather than on taking care of the artists themselves, and he wanted to take a more people-centered approach. So he and his wife Denise launched the foundation in 1994, seeking to empower and sustain folk and blues musicians in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and beyond.

Music Maker provides tour booking, management, and recording services to its artists in addition to grants, but more than that, it offers ongoing support that helps artists pay their bills. The organization focuses on the most vulnerable musicians: those over fifty-five who live on less than $25,000 a year.

To learn more, you can listen to the 2019 NPR segment “Capturing the Undersung Blues People of the Rural South” (or, from 2014, “Preserving American Roots Music Begins with Keeping the Lights On”). And visit the Music Maker website to explore more artists.

“Satan, Take Your Hands Off Me” by Essie Mae Brooks is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

Resist (Artful Devotion)

Prayer by Arcabas
Painting by Arcabas (French, 1926–2018)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

—James 4:7

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SONG: “Way Down in the Hole” by Tom Waits, on Franks Wild Years (1987)


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 Proper 20, cycle B, click here.

Voices in the desert—whose blessing will we heed?

Temptation by G. K. Hajarathbai
Gulap K. Hajarathbai (Indian), Temptation, 20th century. Oil on canvas, 18 × 20 in. Source: Herbert E. Hoefer, Christian Art in India (Chennai, India: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute, 1982)

“Tempted” by Eugene H. Peterson

Mark 1:12–13

Still wet behind the ears, he’s Spirit-pushed
up Jordan’s banks into the wilderness.
Angels hover praying ’round his head.
Animals couch against his knees and ankles
intuiting a better master. The Man
in the middle—new Adam in old Eden—
is up against it, matched with the ancient
Adversary. For forty days and nights
he tests the baptismal blessing and proves to his dismay
the Man is made of sterner stuff than Adam:
the Man will choose to be the Son God made him.

This poem was originally published in A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation, edited by Luci Shaw (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1984), and is reprinted here by permission of the editor. www.lucishaw.com

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Mark dedicates a spare two verses to this initiatory event in the life of Christ: the forty days of temptation he endured immediately following his baptism: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:12–13, ESV; cf. Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13).

I’m intrigued by Mark’s use of the word driven (ekballō) to describe the manner in which the Spirit imparts motion to Christ. Whereas Matthew and Luke use the gentler led (anagō), Mark implies something more forceful: ejected, cast forth, hurled. In his idiomatic translation of the Bible, The Message, Eugene H. Peterson uses push: “At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild” (emphasis mine).

So the same Spirit who had just alighted on Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, presiding over God’s pronouncement that “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11), now pushes Jesus into the Judean desert, away from civilization. Why? So that in the quiet, he could get to better know himself and the Father, to better discern the task to which he had been called. This process necessarily involved doing battle with the prospects of other paths, other identities.

“Turn these stones into bread.” “Jump; let’s see if God saves you.” “Worship me; I’ll give you the kingdom of earth.”

Satan tries to draw Jesus from a messiahship of self-sacrifice to a messiahship of power. Performing miracles for his own benefit, to avoid any discomfort or pain in life; performing miracles for show, like a magician, to impress the masses; becoming an earthly king, with political control and dominion—these are all temptations Jesus would face again. Here he has the opportunity to confront them head-on in preparation for his imminent ministry to the Israelites. Over this period of forty days, Jesus solidifies his mission, rejecting the vision of himself and his life that Satan lays out for him. Instead of gratification, pride, and riches, Jesus chooses purity, humility, and poverty.   Continue reading “Voices in the desert—whose blessing will we heed?”