When Brothers Dwell in Unity (Artful Devotion)

All of Mankind by William Walker
North facade of the former Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, with mural by William Walker, 1972. (The mural was painted over in 2015.) Photo: Gabriel X. Michael/Chicago Patterns.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!

It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!

It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore.

—Psalm 133

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SONG: “Together (Psalm 133)” by James Zeller | Performed by David Potter, on The Good Life by the Psalter Project (2017)

All of Mankind by William Walker
William Walker (American, 1927–2011), All of Mankind mural detail, 1972 (now lost). Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Public Art Group.
All of Mankind by William Walker
William Walker (American, 1927–2011), All of Mankind mural detail, 1972 (now lost). Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Public Art Group.

For more info on Walker’s mural, see my review of Painting the Gospel.

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This weekend we witnessed how bad and destructive it is when brothers dwell in disunity. For congregations seeking resources for responding prayerfully to the racist attack carried out in Charlottesville, Virginia, Rich Villodas has written a litany:

Leader: Lord Jesus, your Kingdom is good news for a world caught in racial hostility. We ask that you would give us grace for the deep challenges facing our country.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess our anger, our deep sadness, and our collective sense of weakness to see this world healed through our own strength.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we honestly confess that our country has a long history of racial oppression, that racism has been a strategy of evil powers and principalities.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess that the gospel is good news for the oppressed and the oppressor. Both are raised up. Both are liberated, but in different ways. The oppressed are raised up from the harsh burden of inferiority. The oppressor from the destructive illusion of superiority.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we confess that the gospel is your power to form a new people not identified by dominance and superiority, but by unity in the Spirit.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we ask that you would help us name our part in this country’s story of racial oppression and hostility. Whether we have sinned against others by seeing them as inferior, or whether we have been silent in the face of evil. Forgive us of our sin.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we pray for our enemies. For those who have allowed Satanic powers to work through them. Grant them deliverance through your mighty power.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we ask that you would form us to be us peacemakers. May we be people who speak the truth in love as we work for a reconciled world.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.

 

Leader: Lord, we commit our lives to you, believing that you are working in the world in spite of destructive powers and principalities. Bring healing to those who are hurt, peace to those who are anxious, and love to those who are fearful. We wait for you, O Lord. Make haste to help us.

 

Congregation: O Lord, only you can make all things new.


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 15, cycle A, click here.

Book Review: Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago by Kymberly N. Pinder

Members of the majority white culture may not realize it, but white Jesus is a fraught symbol. According to black theologian Major J. Jones, when European colonialists came to Africa and began treating its people as less than human because of their color, it became “psychologically impossible” for Africans not to have problems with God’s color. How could they ever conceive of a God who looked just like their oppressor? This legacy of black oppression, of course, traveled to the Americas, where white Jesus is omnipresent in visual culture.

Painting the Gospel book coverIn her book Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago (University of Illinois Press, 2016), art historian Kymberly N. Pinder unpacks some of the ways that twentieth- and twenty-first-century Christians have countered the dominance of white Jesus with alternative sacred imagery that is black-affirming. Lavishly illustrated with sixty color photographs and eight black-and-whites, the book explores African American religious images—murals, mosaics, stained glass, sculptures, even T-shirt designs—from Chicago churches and their neighborhoods between 1904 and the present, focusing on their intersection with the social, political, and theological climates of the times. The image of a black Christ, Pinder argues, participated in some of the most significant movements in black history, including gospel music, sermon broadcasts/televangelism, the Chicago Black Renaissance, the civil rights movement, Black Liberation Theology, and the Mural Movement. The stream of influence flowed both ways, as each church’s preaching and outreach, musical, and visual cultures fed into one another.

A collection of case studies rather than a comprehensive guide, Painting the Gospel features churches whose pastors consciously nurtured a strong visual culture. “These sites,” Pinder writes, “enable me to chart how the arts interact with each other in the performance of black belief in each space, explain how empathetic realism structures these interactions for a variety of publics, and observe how this public art sits within a larger history of mural histories” (2). “Empathetic realism” is a term Pinder develops throughout the book as she considers how religious images have the power to assert political agendas of equality and humanity and thereby empower viewers, providing social and spiritual uplift. “Christ’s own difference, for which he was persecuted, becomes a source of empathy and identity for the African American,” she writes (8).

Christ as a dreadlocked black man on the cross, hip-hop youth kneeling at his feet, and Mary as an African woman in traditional Nigerian dress activate personal narratives for a black audience where private and public, the personal and the holy, the real and the represented, all meld, allowing for a spiritually transformative experience. (22–23)

The book covers works of art that have been largely excluded from art historical, theological, and sociological scholarship because of their racial or religious particularity. Working at the confluence of these disciplines, Pinder is concerned not with the artistic merit of the images but rather how they make meaning, how they “work” for an individual or a community—and especially how they interacted with and impacted certain milestones in black history. Her approach, her angle of inquiry, is much in the vein of David Morgan and Sally Promey.

Holy Angels mural by Engelbert Mveng
Mural by Engelbert Mveng, 1990, Holy Angels Catholic Church. The scenes depict moments when angels have intervened in the lives of Christ and the saints: (counterclockwise, from top center) The Star of Bethlehem; St. Michael Slaying the Dragon; The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace; The Liberation of St. Peter; The Annunciation; The Resurrection; The Agony in the Garden; Judgment Day; The Hospitality of Abraham; The Healing of Tobit; The Nativity. Photo courtesy of Holy Angels Catholic Church.

In many ways, Painting the Gospel is an extension of an article Pinder wrote in 1997, titled “‘Our Father, God; our Brother, Christ; or are we bastard kin?’: Images of Christ in African American Painting.” This article addresses black-Jesus images in the world of twentieth-century fine art, which were produced by such artists as Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, Aaron Douglas, Archibald Motley Jr., Frederick C. Flemister, Romare Bearden, John Biggers, David Hammons, and more. Pinder wondered whether black Christians consumed this imagery in the public sphere.   Continue reading “Book Review: Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago by Kymberly N. Pinder”