Eye-gate evangelism

You’ve seen them:  those huge roadside crosses.  It seems that some pastors are promoting them as what they call “eye-gate evangelism.”  Now they are becoming controversial, with some people throwing up obstacles to their construction, considering them kitschy eye-sores.  See Controversy over great big roadside crosses | Believe It or Not | HoustonBelief.com. (The linked article includes a guide to where the biggest of these crosses are located, with at least one being taller than the Statue of Liberty.)

So what do you think?  Are they effective witnesses to the Cross of Jesus Christ?  Or not?  Do they do any harm?  Are they at least pious symbols that are perfectly appropriate, especially on private property?  Or do they trivialize something sacred?

The Catechism as graphic novel

Concordia Publishing House is putting out an edition of Luther’s Small Catechism in comic book–I mean graphic novel form.

I think it works! Don’t you? Buy it here.

Cranach painting for sale

A newly discovered work by Lucas Cranach will be auctioned off today at Christie’s in New York.  It’s entitled “Bacchus at the Wine Vat.”   Here is the description:

A gloriously eccentric work by Cranach (1472-1553), “Bacchus at the Wine Vat,” 1530 (pictured at left; estimate: $2.5-3.5 million), re-imagines the typically youthful wine god Bacchus as a balding old man with tankard in hand amidst a rollicking group of putti grouped around a vat of wine. Enabled by an old crone who serves them, the cherubs engage in messy antics that wryly warn the viewer of the perils of excess drink—fighting, falling down, vomiting, and even passing out. Interestingly, the work is believed to be one of the earliest references in painting to the process of wine-making. Given the German origins of the work and the surrounding landscape depicted within it, the white wine inside the vat may specifically reference German Riesling wine, a varietal first recorded in royal ledgers in 1435.

via Rediscovered Old Master & 19th Century Works among Offerings in Christie’s Auction | WorthPoint.

Click the link and scroll down to see the painting.   (Caution:  baby nudity, nymph nudity, crone nudity, underaged drinking, substance abuse, and explicit Riesling.)  If anyone would like to spend $3 million to buy it for the Cranach Institute, that would be fine.

HT:  Paul McCain

How God is in the world

Longtime Cranach reader and commenter Dan Kempen “got” yesterday’s post Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship. His reflections are worth considering in themselves:

God is in the world, not merely as the one who has authority over it, but as the one who is creating it. Even in a broken world, everything God creates is a work of art. Everything God creates is a masterpiece. There is a wonder of God in the created world that is both immanent and transcendent. It is not the deification of “nature,” but the perception of the handiwork of God, and, to follow Makoto Fujimura, when your eyes are opened, you can even see the second article woven into the first. You can perceive the Grace of God in the very fabric of his creation.

Granted that, strictly speaking, the grace of God is revealed in His Word rather than creation as such, in what sense is that last sentence true?

Could this be the basis of a Christian environmentalism? How would it be different from regular environmentalism?

Do you see how this relates also to vocation?

Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship

My former student and current. . . tech guru Stewart Lundy has a fascinating interview with via Makoto Fujimura, the acclaimed Japanese-American abstract artist who is also a devout Christian. Read the whole interview. What struck me the most was what he said about paganism and about worship:

There is spiritual danger in Paganism, and as Origen stated (and recently quoted by Pope Benedict) Paganism is defined by “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood.”  In other words, Paganism flattens our perception, makes all experience virtual, dumbing down our senses. Paganism, as in the Matrix movie, is virtual, manageable, flat reality, whereas the red pill takes you down into the harsh reality of pain and suffering. Christianity opens our perception and our understanding of Reality. . . . .

Proper worship is central to our understanding of reality, the arts, and it affects everyone, Christians and non Christians.  Culture is affected by how we worship God. . . .

By “proper worship,” I mean a distinctively Christological way of looking at God, the world and ourselves that is driven by understanding and experiencing God’s grace.

Do you get what he’s saying? What’s the connection between worship as he defines it and our understanding of reality, the arts, and culture?

The Liberty Cap

My son and I went into D.C. yesterday. I can tell you that the brand new Capitol Visitors’ Center makes touring the Capitol much easier. No longer do you need to go through your Congressman or Senator for a good tour, or stand outside by daybreak to get a ticket for a tour much later in the day. You can reserve a time online, or, especially in the off season, just walk up and get a ticket. We also visited what has to be one of my favorite buildings, the Library of Congress. Its beauty inside is breathtaking. One highlight was seeing the Gutenberg Bible. There are only three complete, perfect copies in existence. This is basically the first major printed book. A dealer who bought it from a German monastery offered to sell it to the United States Congress in 1930 for $2 million. In those cash-strapped times, Congress voted to spend the money. Now it is priceless.

But what I learned from both tours, with our guides talking about the art that was everywhere in both buildings, was the symbolism of the Liberty Cap. This is the conical cloth hat, usually red, with the peak pointing forward or to the side. It appears everywhere in early American iconography.

It comes from classical antiquity and was known as the “Phrygian cap,” being commonly worn in that country of Asia Minor. The Greeks considered Troy part of Phrygia, so early illustrations of Homer used it to identify Trojans.

Phrygian cap of a Trojan

But then it was used in Rome as a formal marker worn by former slaves to signify that they were now free. Classicist James Yates describes the custom:

Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty. When a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus (πίλεον λευκόν, Diod. Sic. Exc. Leg. 31º p625, ed. Wess.; Plaut. Amphit. I.1.306; Persius, V.82). Hence the phrase servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty, by which slaves were frequently called upon to take up arms with a promise of liberty (Liv. XXIV.32).

The Phrygian cap thus became associated with freedom and became known as the “Liberty Cap.” American revolutionaries wore it, as did the most radical French revolutionaries.

Liberty Caps on French Revolutionaries

It adorned the head of many allegorical representations of Lady Liberty, both in the French and the American versions:

Goddess of Liberty with Phrygian Cap

In the United States, it is upon many of our older coins and national symbols, such as the Seal of the United States Senate:

Seal of the U.S. Senate

The personified statue of “Freedom” that is at the top of the Capitol building originally wore a Liberty Cap. But Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War who had been put in charge of overseeing the construction of the Capitol, objected. We are born free, he insisted. We have never been slaves. Mr. Davis, who would soon defend the institution of slavery as the president of the Confederate States of America, was repelled by the very idea of being a slave himself. So he rejected the Liberty Cap. The headdress was changed (as you can see in the first article linked above).

Still, I am wondering about the difference between being “born free” and having been freed. It seems that liberty would mean something more to someone who knew bondage and then experienced liberation. In Christian terms, we are not born free; rather, we are born into the slavery of sin. In Christ, though, the Son has freed us and we are free indeed.

We can wear the Liberty Cap, and maybe we should. (Note: I repudiate any Jacobin or Masonic associations that this headgear may carry in proposing to give it instead a Christian meaning.) Politically, it would be an appropriate fashion statement, along with the appropriation of other early revolutionary symbols such as the “don’t tread on me” snake, when attending a Tea Party.