beauty, fragility, dignity — a photo exhibit

As part of celebrations of the 35th anniversary of the New Hope Senior Citizen’s Centre – which locates itself within the building of Kensington Church – I have prepared a small photo exhibit. The exhibit combines images of members of the Centre with detail images from the stained glass windows of Kensington Church. The juxtaposing of these images points to shared characteristics of the human and of stained glass – the shared identity in beauty, fragility and dignity. Here are three of the images…

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congregational aesthetics: the weight of history (1/3)

What is the aesthetic profile of your congregation?

When you think about the artwork or memorials or liturgical accoutrements of your congregation, what kind of profile emerges? More importantly, perhaps, what does this aesthetic profile say about the identity of your congregation. It’s an interesting and compelling question (and a multi-faceted one) when we stop to ask it.

For many congregations the question of aesthetics is one that hangs only vaguely in the background of church life. In such cases, a congregation receives its building with furnishings and artwork from a previous generation and accept that these have defined, and shall define (!), the aesthetic space within which worship and Christian friendship shall be expressed.

Of course there are some congregations that are profoundly aware of the aesthetic dimension of their congregational life. These aesthetically aware congregations could perhaps be subdivided into two categories: (i) those preoccupied with how nice things look, where niceness is defined by a sense of tidiness and welcome, and (ii) those pushing to think about how our faith is expressed or shaped by the aesthetic spaces we inhabit as congregations.

214The congregation I serve has had such questions thrust upon it. This is because we are in the process of subdividing our property/buildings, and selling our beautiful 700-seat sanctuary. Not only this, but for various reasons our large sanctuary had become home to a number of significant items of historical and ecclesial significance: including those from historic St. Gabriel Street Church, the first Presbyterian congregation in Montreal. Continue reading

Representing Advent and Christmas

I am by no means an artist. In fact it’s only in the past number of months that I’ve begun putting pencil to paper – that I’ve begun taking baby steps in trying to understand how to use shading, lines and different pencils (2B 4b HB 6H) in service of an idea or image. And aside from being a total novice, I don’t exactly have a lot of time on my hands for drawing. Though I do find it a soul-nourishing way to make myself slow down for a moment, to reflect on life and its meaning.

Earlier this Fall the Presbyterian Record opened its annual art competition for the December issue of the magazine. I took the competition (and the reality of a deadline!) as a source of motivation to create something. It was an opportunity to think about how I would represent some aspect of Christmas. The end result is the pencil drawing, below, which I have also put through a “sepia” filter in iPhoto.

pensive smallerLike many within the church I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Christmas. On the one hand I have beautiful childhood memories of Christmas – of trees and lights and family celebrations. And even today I have a kind of delight  in aspects of the season. And yet beneath these positive aspects of memory and celebration is a deep frustration with the way Christmas (Advent is essentially bypassed!) has become a saccharine and tinsel-strewn affair of little or no substance. Worse, perhaps, the church often caters to this indulgent and superficial approach to the season, which means that our representation and celebration of Christmas is not as rich as it could and should be.

In submitting my own drawing to The Record, I had no sense this was a great piece of art or that it had any chance of making the cover of the magazine. It’s not, and it didn’t! The piece absolutely belongs in the small little corner they found for it toward the back pages. Continue reading

Beauty and Baptism

IMG_3572The image presented here is of a painting by the internationally known artist Makoto Fujimura – it is entitled “Golden Sea.” (To the right is a poster version we have purchased, and which hangs in the church entranceway.) And for this sermon I would actually like to do something a little bit different. I’d like to explore the question of baptism partly by looking at this painting. And rather than beginning with my own reflections, we are going to begin by viewing a short, 6-minute documentary video. It’s a video that gives a little bit of a sense of who Makoto Fujimura is and of the meaning and significance of his work – specifically of this particular work. One important aspect of his identity that I would point out ahead of time is that Fujimura is a Christian – he came to faith as a young adult and today he is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.

Our New Testament reading for today is from a letter the Apostle Paul sent to Christians living in the city of Rome. In that letter the apostle offers a foundational statement about who we are – a foundational statement about the identity of those who belong to Christ. Now the truth is that Paul doesn’t spend a lot of time on the question of baptism in this letter – just a few short verses. Yet in his very short discussion of baptism, we discover that baptism captures almost every aspect of Christian faith and life. Here is one key statement that Paul offers on the subject: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” Continue reading

Nail Polish and Parenting – muddling through

At the best of times, raising kids is a complicated business. In any given situation, multiple factors are at play: our own personalities, our children’s personalities, wider family dynamics, faith commitments, cultural assumptions, and the list goes on… and on… Very often, all we can do as parents is make our best guess at what we should be doing.

I recently found myself in a situation that gives almost perfect expression to the complexities of parenting – and this need to just muddle along. This particular situation arose when my eleven-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to put on some nail polish. Not that this was the first time that she had worn nail polish. She had done so in the past both for ‘dress up’ or as simply a fun thing to do with cousins or friends.

Yet this time was a little different. Most importantly, this was the first time she was putting on nail polish by herself, as an expression of who she was or wanted to be. It was sparkly turquoise nail polish she had gotten from one of her aunts. (Of course the aunts had to be from my side of the family – so I couldn’t even blame the in-laws for this!!)

greenBut as my daughter was putting on the nail polish, she very quickly discovered that while it is easy to put the nail polish on your left hand (when you are right handed), it’s not so easy putting it on the right hand! When she came down from the bathroom, the nail polish was, as you might expect, uneven. There were turquoise bits on the edges of skin around her fingernails. I responded with a wonderfully helpful, “oh, that doesn’t look very good.”

And in that moment the uncertainty and conflict about what to do arose. Continue reading