Artiste! May 5, 2008

Do I need to draw you a picture?


It’s always curious how different strands of my life inevitably intersect. This morning I was chatting with my very good friend and Urban Artist Caroline Armijo about the courage it takes to be artistic. She’s exceptionally gifted, of course, so she doesn’t work so much at discovering her creativity as having the courage to rigorously practice it.

Me? I’m not creative at all . . . I don’t have those gifts . . . I can’t express myself this wa . . . . .. That was my internal soundtrack as we talked, but later I started to wonder if it’s not so much that I have a lack of creative artistic talent as maybe, possibly, potentially . . . a deep fear of summoning the courage it takes to be creative?


This second thought emerged when I (grudgingly) sat down to read a book assigned for a required doctor of ministry class next week. In this book Envisioning the Word, Richard Jensen makes the strong case for using images in preaching and worship, not just words.

In the process of reading this book skeptics like me are liable to think the author is being paid a commission by Microsoft as we promise ourselves (again) we will never, EVER, preach with the glow of a PowerPoint outline shining behind us . . . .

That’s my reaction, anyway, until I reach page 71 and a section entitled: “Who Killed the Goddess?”

This seems suspiciously unrelated to PowerPoint and related to some theological issues I think are fascinating, so I decide read on. (I also decide to read on because it’s required.) 

Jensen talks in this section about the widely known dichotomy (which apparently is not widely known enough for me to know it) between images and words. He cites a book by Leonard Schlain called The Alphabet versus The Goddess in which the proposal is made that: “When a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy, especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemispheric ones, which manifest as a decline in the status of images, women’s rights and goddess worship.”

In other words, through various social and historical trends we’ve all come to see words as superior ways to communicate, pushing images back to second (or fifth) place. All the “people of the book,” (Jews, Christians, Muslims) Schlain claims, have fallen into this trap and it happened just as soon as they took abstract ideas and codified them in words.

Words, he says, are exclusive. Images are more expansive.

And so, what I have concluded from all of this is that I have apparently been wasting my time writing blog entries and preaching sermons, an effort which has apparently unwittingly contributed to a patriarchal and male-dominated understanding of God. All this time I’ve spent in front of the computer subjecting the larger world to the scary inside of my mind thinking I was breaking the stained glass ceiling and I was really reinforcing it! Turns out I should have been sketching. Or painting. Or liturgically dancing!

Which makes me want to call Caroline and ask her to come back to my office to help me imagine how I might express ideas about God in a visual way that is not mistaken for a kindergarten craft project. Because while it’s getting more and more comfortable for me to post a written blog entry, it’s rather scary to think about taking an idea of God and depicting it in macramé. You know what I mean?

This very week we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. How do you describe the Holy Spirit in words? I could try (and, in fact, I will . . . for about 20 minutes on Sunday). But, I wonder, given what I’ve learned today about courage and visual art, words and containment: maybe the Spirit is better explained with a gust of wind? Or a splash of color. Or some balloons . . . or a puddle of fabric on the altar . . . ?

I can see already that this adds a whole new dimension to sermon preparation, in fact. When you start to see exegesis in finger painting, well, your whole view of the world changes. And so, now that I’ve put all of this down in words I need to summon the courage to draw you a picture.

Where are my crayons? I think I’ll go decoupage something.

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