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Intertwined Identities, Hospitality, and Belonging

Intertwined Identities, Hospitality, and Belonging

Something I’ve been wrestling with in the last few years is the complexity of being a perpetual stranger in the country that has been my home away from home. I have lived in the United States for 17 years! Yet I still feel like a stranger in the place where I have forged most of my adult life. I have attended graduate school here, I work, pay taxes, and vote here, I serve the church here. But somehow, that feeling of otherness, of never belonging, does not go away. Why is that? 

 

The perils of navigating intertwined identities in a culture that loves labels

I am Puerto Rican. That means that my body tells the story of colonization and slavery, that through my veins runs the blood of our native Taínos, Spaniards, and African slaves. It also tells the story of a resilient people who have lived through hurricanes, earthquakes, neglect, and disenfranchisement, but are still standing and working for a better future. My body narrates the story of the Puerto Rican diaspora scattered throughout the U.S.A. while fiercely fighting to hold on to our roots. My body speaks of teachers, engineers, nurses, doctors, and many other professionals who train in Puerto Rico, but feel the need to move to the U.S.A. to find employment opportunities. My body speaks of people en la lucha (in the fight) who would rather die than give up.

Somehow, all of that has to fit in neat categories and boxes upon arrival to the U.S.A. How does one box a story? I loath filling out government forms that ask me to identify as Native American, Alaska Native, Hawaiian, Asian, African American or White. Since I don’t fit any boxes, I often leave it blank. Whenever I find a box that says Puerto Rican, I often breathe a sigh of relief albeit tainted by the sadness that comes with the realization that someone finally managed to make me check a box. With every box I check (whenever I do check them) that feeling of otherness, of not belonging, floods my soul.

Navigating through the labels people assign to us is a confusing and exhausting endeavor. Those of us who walk through that on a daily basis, often feel the need to add many footnotes to each label in order to capture the nuance of who we are. How do we navigate this constant sense of otherness? How do we figure out how to be in spaces where we are perpetual strangers? How do we manage this tension? 

 

The solidarity of Jesus with those who do not belong

The Four Chapter Gallery hosted an exhibit titled, Altars of Reconciliation. In these works of art, indigenous Christian artists wrestle through the tensions of being Native American while professing the faith of the people who invaded their land. One day while on a break, I decided to spend a few minutes studying the art. One work titled Protect Us From Ruin by artist Erin Shaw (Chickasaw-Choctaw) caught my attention. Erin pasted the pictures of three family matriarchs on three individual wooden frames. On each frame there were also other pictures and prints of family documents that spoke of their identity as Native American Christians. Each frame was wrapped in colorful rope, which I interpreted to symbolize the family’s intertwined identities. As I looked through the rope, I noticed that among the documents on the wooden frame Erin had included the words of Jesus, specifically his question to the disciples, “But you, who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

People were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, this prophet or that prophet, the Nazarene, the Galilean, a blasphemer. Boxes, labels, desperate but failed attempts at explaining the unexplainable. But Jesus wanted to be known for who he truly was by those who walked closely with him. He was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). He was and still is both man and God. The church fought fierce battles in the fourth century against false teachers who questioned either Jesus’ divinity or his humanity. Both are true and essential for God’s salvation plan for humankind. The very salvation of the world rested on the true nature and identity of Jesus Christ! Hence, throughout the centuries, believers around the world have affirmed and recited what the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381) declared about Jesus’ identity. We believe in “…one Lord, Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made…” Jesus cannot be put in boxes or Enneagram numbers; he cannot be explained away. Likewise, humans who are fashioned in his image cannot be easily boxed or explained away. 

Contemplating Erin’s artwork I realized that the God-Man, Jesus, who lived among us and navigated the liminal spaces of intertwined identities, stands in solidarity with those of us who are far away from home, striving to belong and seeking to be known in the complexity of who we are. No labels, no boxes!  

 

Toward hospitality and belonging 

What can the church do to welcome those who look and sound different from the majority culture? How can we practice hospitality toward people from different nationalities and ethnicities that walk through our doors? 

Hospitality is an ancient spiritual discipline and Christian practice that may be summarized as welcoming others in the name of Jesus. Since Jesus came to die for people of “every nation, tribe, and tongue,” differences are implicit in the practice of genuine hospitality. Therefore, expecting others to assimilate to our way of doing things for the sake of our own comfort and uniformity is not hospitality. Hospitality is not comfortable! It demands mutual sharing and vulnerability in both good and hard times, joy and suffering, the extraordinary and the mundane, parties and funerals. What does this practically look like?

 I offer some examples of acts of hospitality to foster belonging in our church communities:

 

1. Learn to spell and pronounce given names correctly 

Names are a key part of someone’s identity. Parents name their children with purpose. Thus, we should make every effort to know someone’s name and address them as such. Whenever we hear someone’s name and immediately ask them if they have a nickname, we are communicating that we have no intention of learning to address them by their proper, given name. If someone doesn’t want to learn your name, do you think they will truly want to know you? Do you think you will truly belong?

At Christ Community we strive to live into our cultural habit, “We remember names.” That includes learning to spell and pronounce people’s names correctly regardless of how unfamiliar and complicated they may sound to us.  

 

2. Avoid commenting on how well someone speaks English

Whenever we hear a non-native speaker eloquently expressing himself or herself in English and comment, “You speak English so well!” We are communicating our surprise that that person can properly express himself or herself in English and reinforcing the sense of otherness and outsiderness that our sibling in Christ may already be experiencing when walking into a new space.

 

3. Know that you are not entitled to another person’s story

People that walk into a new space, particularly those of a different ethnicity and background, are often asked to share their stories, all the time, as if we were entitled to them. The constant explaining of oneself is exhausting and repeatedly reinforces the notion that “I am not from here. I do not belong.” Curiosity and inquisitiveness about a new person is understandable, but we must realize that entering into a person’s story is a privilege, not a right. Thus, instead of asking a person, “What’s your story?” or “Where are you from?” say something like this, “I’d love to get to know you better and share my story with you. Would you be able to join me and my family for coffee or dinner?” Vulnerability ought to be a two-way street!     

 

4. Learn to receive hospitality    

Embrace the truth that we have much to learn from people who are different from us. This includes us entering into their space, sitting at their table, and eating their food. Of course, this will take time and effort to build the relationship to the point you are invited to their home. You will likely need to take the first step in welcoming people into your home. But when they extend the invitation for you and your family to sit at their table, do not reject it, make space for it, and assume a posture of learning. You will be blessed! 

When we learn to welcome people in the name of Jesus, especially those who are wrestling through intertwined identities and a sense of otherness, we grow more and more into what Jesus intended his church to be, namely his family, a place where his children belong.

Engaging Culture with Humility: Dr. Bock on Christian Love and Politics | POD 028

Engaging Culture with Humility: Dr. Bock on Christian Love and Politics | POD 028

WATCH

HOSTS & GUESTS

Dr. Darrell Bock – Guest

Paul Brandes – Co-Host

Bill Gorman – Co-Host

 

Show Notes

Engaging Culture with Humility: Dr. Bock on Christian Love and Politics

How do Christians navigate the complex arena of cultural engagement with grace and truth in today’s polarized society? In this episode of theFormed.life, Dr. Darrell Bock shares his insights on reconciling the tenets of faith with the demands of compassionate societal governance. We’ll explore the virtues of humility and respect in our interactions, and the importance of distinguishing between those who pose a threat and those who contribute positively to our communities. Join us for a discussion that aims to equip believers with the tools for thoughtful, effective, and loving cultural engagement.

 

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  1. A compassionate, respectful approach to cultural engagement in a world of hostility and dogma, simply listening well without interjecting can win trust for a more fruitful conversation.
  2. Living out an authentic Christian faith that is positively engaging, inviting dialogue with humility and love rather than operating from a position of fear.
  3. The importance of listening to and understanding diverse cultural dynamics to foster meaningful, gospel-centered conversations within society.

#CulturalEngagement #CompassionateImmigration #ChristianLove #SpiritualDisciplines #EvangelicalismToday #RespectfulDialogue #LivingFaith #GospelHope #DrDarrellBock #theFormedLifePodcast

 

RESOURCES:

Cultural Intelligence: Living for God in a Diverse, Pluralistic World – Dr. Darrell L. Bock

Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels – Dr. Darrell L. Bock

Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News – Dr. Darrell L. Bock

 

GUEST BIOS:

Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from 2000 to 2001, served as a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College and Chosen People Ministries. His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction; serves as a staff consultant for Bent Tree Fellowship Church in Carrollton, TX; and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.

 

QUOTES:

“…cultural intelligence is how to walk into that mix and how to interact well with that mix. The real key in the book is talking about becoming a good listener and engaging with people in a way in which your concerns and, in some cases, your agenda might need to be set aside for a while just to establish the relational connection you need in order to have the challenging conversations that inevitably come up because the the plate tectonics are rubbing against each other and pressure could be building.” — Dr. Darrell Bock

 

“I’m talking about films that are made that really ask live questions and what people are struggling with and wrestling with. And if you keep your ear close to the ground, you can see that they’re wrestling with the value of family or the importance of legacy or the importance of test, there are values that pop up, because even though, you know, theology says we’re totally deprived, it doesn’t mean that we’re we’re as bad as we could be. It just means that we’re that we’re messed up, that it’s not aligned, that it’s dysfunctional. But there are some things about who we are in our instincts that actually reflect having been made in the image of God and being responsive to people. And you’re looking for those kinds of things.” — Dr. Darrell Bock

 

“But in the end, if you don’t have something positive or something aspirational to move the person towards that takes them towards the gospel and the good news, all you’ve done is critique them.”— Dr. Darrell Bock

 

CHAPTERS:

00:00 Christians and cultural engagement in today’s world.

05:01 Understanding and engaging with diverse cultures.

09:54 Living out gospel, sharing hope with respect.

14:04 Christians should engage with cultural intelligence intentionally.

15:24 Understanding others requires a spiritual GPS reading.

19:49 Entertainment can ask live, important questions.

21:55 Promoting hope and goodness in Christianity’s message.

25:16 Reflect on election impact, advice to pastors and individuals.

28:18 Political polarization undermines meaningful value-based conversations.

31:24 Bible references to compassion, society’s right to decide.

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

Christ Community has always been intentional about its mission and discipleship. A few years ago we began to think about how to be a more intentional influence on the culture of our communities and the world. What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation? What if, rather than critiquing or vilifying it, we became active participants; in redeeming it and creating redemptive work that influenced it?

Part of this shift in our thinking led us to the arts. We began to imagine using our creativity and talents to positively impact the world. We wanted to create art that was beautiful, thought-provoking, and redemptive.

What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation?

The Power in Art

Arts have the power to transform individuals and communities, and we were brazen enough to believe that we could impact the artistic culture in our city and around the world. Art can help us see the world in new ways, to understand each other better, and to connect with our shared humanity. 

We began to imagine using our own creativity and talents to create art that was not only beautiful, but thought-provoking and redemptive, and encouraging one another to embrace works of art and the artists who create them. The arts could be a powerful tool to actively engage and  steward the gifts of our congregants to influence the world for the glory of God by supporting artists, performance organizations, scholarship programs, and missional partnerships.

Looking at how far we have come in the past few years, I am grateful to see the fruit of those conversations. 

Serving the Artistic Community

The Four Chapter Gallery is a prime example of how we are putting these conversations into action. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the gallery is a beautiful space in the Crossroads District that serves Kansas City’s thriving artistic community. With regular gallery hours and a rotating selection of art installations, it has become a beloved presence in the city, especially on First Fridays.

More than just a space to exhibit art, the Four Chapter Gallery is also a community hub where artists come together for encouragement, collaboration, and deep conversation. Under the leadership of curator Kelly Kruse, the gallery is helping to support a new generation of artists who are creatively renewing the world alongside God through the act of generative creation.

A Storytelling Mission

Inspired by a similar mission, two other Christ Community congregants set off on a venture to engage the arts by creating movies that make a difference. Stephen and Mary Pruitt, an economics professor, and an up-until-then stay-at-home mom, focused on crafting beautiful art through the visual storytelling medium of film. Despite having no prior filmmaking experience, the Pruitts set out to make movies that would shape imaginations and spark better conversations. Fifteen years later, their fifth full-length feature film, State of Grace, is making the rounds at film festivals around the country, including two highly acclaimed festivals in Los Angeles and New York City, along with a Kansas City premiere at the Glenwood Arts Theatre (coming October 13-15, 2023).

State of Grace is a timely and beautiful film about a young mother who loses control of her life and the custody of her one-year-old daughter, Grace, due to a growing addiction to fentanyl. Inspired by actual events, it is a deeply moving film about the power of community and the price of love. Another example of how Christ Community is quietly encouraging artists to create art that sparks meaningful conversations. 

Consider Engaging

Creativity is taking place all around us in closer proximity than you could imagine, and supporting the growing impact of Christ Community in the arts is as simple as taking the time to view exhibits and shows being presented. In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation. Engaging locally, relationally, and intentionally moves this mission forward. And when we are relationally connected to the artists who created the work, we view and respond to it differently. 

In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation.

Join Christ Community in our mission to engage in the arts and influence culture. Start by supporting the opportunities for engagement right around you. Two ideas for this month include visiting First Friday at the Four Chapter Gallery and seeing State of Grace at the Glenwood. Maybe next month attend an art festival in the community, find an artist whose work resonates with you, and start a conversation. 

 

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

It was January 26, 2023, the end of my fourth week as a pastor at the Downtown Campus. That month had been filled with endless meetings, some delightful and others…I’ll let you fill in the ellipsis. My favorite meetings were those I had with congregants over coffee, dinner, or just about every meal! That cold January evening, as I walked to my car after having coffee with a congregant, I stumbled upon what looked like a lovely place to grab some dinner; soup to warm up my Puerto Rican bones. A little while after I was seated and cozy in my chair, with my head buried in something, (probably the menu or a book), someone approached my table. She waved at my face so that I would notice her presence. It was a young woman from the Downtown Campus. “Are you dining alone?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied with delight. “May I join you?” she continued. I was filled with joy and gladness on account of such a wonderful “coincidence” (or shall we say providence?). “Yes, absolutely!” I replied. After some small talk and giggling over God’s gift to both of us that evening, my new friend blurted out a question with puzzled sincerity, “So you went from scientist to pastor? Please explain!” I bursted out laughing because I often see this question in people’s faces when they meet me for the first time, but no one had ever asked it in such a creative, pointed, and hilarious manner. Hence, here I am, explaining.


From scientist to pastor: when God’s calling makes no sense

I moved to the mainland U.S.A. right out of college in 2006. I was armed with a newly acquired B.S. in Microbiology, two suitcases, a handful of professional dreams, and tenacious determination. I was excited about my internship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, M.D., about the things I would learn from the world class scientists that worked there and, of course, about working with human blood and Hepatitis viruses! What’s not to be excited about? My two-year internship flew by. I loved it! My laboratory skills had sharpened, my spoken and written English had improved dramatically, and I was ready for graduate school. So, I enrolled in the Immunology Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh, where my love for the immune system deepened and I started an affair with fungi. Upon graduation, I moved to Madison for postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin.

Throughout all this moving around and training in different universities and government institutions, I was also learning how to “do church” in English and figuring out my place amidst the predominantly white evangelical church, which is, perhaps, the most difficult experiment I have ever handled! Over time, I became acquainted with my English Bible and the worship style of the churches I attended, although I must confess that I keep dreaming of walking into church to the beat of salsa music, but I suspect that will never happen! I also began to serve at church, although never to the extent of involvement I had engaged in back home. I had leadership and public speaking gifts that were underutilized. Hindsight tells me that during those relatively quiet ministry days, God was maturing my character: teaching me to listen, sharpening my cultural awareness, and shaping me into the woman that one day would bear the responsibility of shepherding God’s people. Those quiet days ended during my time in Madison, Wisconsin, when my particular set of gifts became evident as I participated in prayer meetings, served in prayer teams, and started preaching again. Eventually, I became an elder at that church and I could not run from God’s calling anymore. 

When the time came for me to decide what to do after completing my postdoctoral fellowship, there was turmoil in my soul. I had planned on a long teaching career at a small college, but something in my soul would not find rest in that pathway. I was losing sleep and focus, I was waking up to pray at crazy hours of the night, and I sobbed and had tantrums in the presence of the Lord because I could not understand why God would ask me to leave a career I had studied long and hard for in order to spend the rest of my life preaching his word and caring for his people. But he gave me no choice. He provided what I needed to go to seminary and made his calling crystal clear. So, I packed my bags and moved to the greater Chicago area to complete the M.Div. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 

I must confess I still do not understand why God chose to do things in this manner in my life. So, I cannot fully respond to the “Please explain!” of my dinner buddy. I cannot fully explain how Dr. Hernández-Santos became Pastor Nydiaris. However, I can offer a few insights I’ve gained along the way.


What does a scientist turned pastor do with her lab coat?

First, when a scientist turns pastor, she brings her lab coat to church. When I greet the congregants and guests of the Downtown Campus on Sunday morning, they will not see me wearing my lab coat, but they will surely encounter part of the skill set I gained while working in the laboratory. This can be hard to imagine, perhaps because most people do not personally know a scientist and what they do on a daily basis. Let me briefly describe the task of doing science for you. 

The duties of a scientist vary depending on where they work and what their position is, but at the core of our profession is curiosity about the natural world. We observe the universe, living creatures, the environments in which they live and ask questions. Then we attempt to answer such questions in a systematic manner, guided by the scientific method. Practically, in the academic settings where I worked, I would spend most of my time designing and performing experiments, which was always my favorite part, working with my hands and cool machines. Some days, I would be writing papers and grants, preparing presentations for conferences, public speaking, teaching the occasional lecture, and collaborating with my colleagues.  

Do some of those tasks sound familiar? Does that sound like anything I could use on Sunday morning? I think so. Sure, I no longer intubate mice (yes, that is a thing and I was really good at it!), but many of my observation, communication, project management, and people skills are still incredibly useful! So, maybe Dr. Henández-Santos and Pastor Nydiaris are not so different after all! Perhaps I should don my Sunday best with my lab coat one of these days. 

 

Lab skills repurposed not wasted

This brings me to my second point, namely that my lab skills have been repurposed, not wasted. How so? My “observation powers” kick into gear on Sunday mornings when I greet people. My brain starts gathering data: Have I seen this person before? Where? What is their occupation? Do they look distressed? How can I help? Betsy, she’s limping, I wonder what happened. When I go to someone’s house or the hospital for a pastoral visit, I am observing and reading the room, wondering what’s the mood and what questions I should ask, figuring out if now is a good time for a hug and some prayer. Observe, observe, and observe again! Good for science and, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, it is a super power! 

When I am writing sermons, blogs, or curriculum for theFormed.life, a conglomerate of the skills I honed in the lab come to the forefront. As soon as I am assigned a passage or a topic I start reading and researching, looking at the original language, making observations, asking questions, digging deep trying to understand the culture of the biblical text. Then I gather all the information and start thinking about how to communicate it, my favorite part! Just like I did when I worked in the lab, I think about how to tell a coherent and compelling story about the things I observed. This is when my writing and public speaking skills shine through.

Finally, when I worked in the lab, I had the gift of working alongside people from all over the world. They taught me about their religion, their food (a favorite part of mine!), and their culture. They told me about their families and holidays, their upbringing and their academic journeys. Oh what a precious gift! Few things have done as much for my cultural awareness than working in the lab. Being aware of other cultures helps us empathize with our neighbors by gaining understanding of who they are, which is a deeply pastoral endeavor and something that the church in the U.S.A. is in desperate need of.

I will be forever grateful to the scientific community for providing me with such a safe space to grow and develop, a space to try things and fail, a space to be myself and find my voice, a school of storytelling, a place for growing patience and endurance, a place for training a pastor! 

So, have you ever thought of a particular season of your life as a waste? Have you ever asked the question, “What were those years about? Why did I spend so much time studying that?” Have you ever said, “I have all these skills that are useless to me now?” Think again! Your skills may be on the way to being repurposed, even if you cannot explain the journey.

Seeing the Word: An Introduction to Illumination

Seeing the Word: An Introduction to Illumination

THE ACCESSIBILITY OF GOD’S WORD

Have you ever stopped to think how incredible it is that we are able to have such immediate and unrestricted access to God’s Word? It was not always so in the history of the church, and still isn’t for some believers today. While Scripture is not always easy to understand, we can engage with it in a myriad of forms whenever and wherever we want. We can choose from multiple translations, read it on an app that will give us access to the original language, and listen to recordings at almost any speed we want.

It is a massive privilege to have so many ways to access Scripture, especially to accommodate unique learning styles. But such privilege can create indifference. If we aren’t careful, the living Word of God can become just another kind of media consumed in the same manner as other information.

 

THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD AS A RARE WORK OF ART

As an undergraduate, I studied in Florence, Italy for a semester, devoting all of my learning energy to Renaissance Florence. I began to truly see the arts and sciences as deeply shaped by time and place, interconnected and influencing one another. I saw an illuminated manuscript for the first time in a side chapel of a cathedral in Florence. Illuminated manuscripts are a historic art form, and they comprised a range of texts from contracts and legal documents to poetry and Scripture. To be illuminated, a manuscript generally contains some kind of decoration in the form of ornate calligraphy or illustrations. Illumination has existed in various cultures from around the world. This particular volume was like a predecessor to a church hymnal, though it was at least five times the size of any hymnal I had ever seen. The letters were decorated with bright pigments and gilded with real gold. It was more beautiful than any other musical score I had ever laid eyes on. This manuscript was not made to be creased, marked and used, but venerated and treasured.

In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, these manuscripts were handwritten by scribes, often on vellum made from animal skins. Even the most skilled scribes typically produced only a few pages per day. When editors found mistakes, they had to be painstakingly sanded off the page or creative notes had to be made in the margins to clarify or add missing words, because to start over meant discarding days’ worth of work. Entire workshops were devoted to the creation of a single manuscript, sometimes taking years to complete.

In the late Middle Ages, the largest library in western Europe included less than 2000 books. If a household owned even a single volume, they were considered very wealthy. You can probably imagine how rare it was to have a copy of the Bible in your household at this time in history. The Word of God was not nearly so accessible to them as it is to us.

The accessibility of knowledge in written form changed forever in 1450 with the invention of the Gutenberg press, and with movable type came the ability to mass produce books in the Western world. What had once been accomplished by human hands could now be done by machine at over a thousand times the speed. In fact, Gutenberg’s first project was to print a new edition of the Bible. But before movable type, copies of the Bible in a single volume were extremely rare. Instead, you’d find several books of the Bible grouped together, like the gospels or the psalms.

Because of their rarity, these manuscripts were precious, and so a lot of effort went into making them beautiful. These handwritten Bibles featured beautiful calligraphy–the words themselves were works of art. Detailed paintings, decorations, and symbolic imagery graced the pages alongside the words. Some volumes are so big that they take up to three librarians to lift. But not all of these books were created for ceremonial display; there were also devotional prayer books built around the passing hours of the day that were essentially pocket-sized and likely used in personal worship. Even these pocket volumes were lavishly decorated across the pages and margins.

Some of the images and symbols from these Bibles feel totally foreign to modern viewers, while others are awe-inspiring in their detail and beauty. The Bible stands as a living artifact, in many ways outside of time. Human beings continue to carry Scripture in their hearts and minds through time, which means that we wear a specific lens when we engage with it, and it takes effort to become aware of that. This is a beautiful reminder of the fact that God chose to partner with human beings in the ancient Near East who were bound to their particular time and place, too. They also wore a cultural lens, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God used people to create something that transcends time and continues to alter the course of the future.

 

“IMAGISTIC” THINKING AND SCRIPTURE

The vast majority of Bibles from the Middle Ages were illuminated, and that speaks volumes about the way Western Christians in that time period approached the text. It doesn’t just mean that they valued beauty as a part of their practice of worship, it also communicates that images were valuable to their process of understanding and meditating upon Scripture.

Imagistic thinking means that when we encounter an image, either in a painting or in the pages of Scripture, rather than only evaluating it analytically or materially, we are looking for the connections and meaning behind it. John Walton argues in his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve that ancient Near Easterners were imagistic thinkers, and were “more likely to think of the world in terms of symbols and to express their understanding by means of imagery.” By contrast, in our culture we are more analytical and scientific in our thinking, and are “primarily concerned with causation, composition, and systematization.”

A great example of imagistic thinking comes in Exodus 14, when God gives Moses the power to divide the sea and makes a way for the Israelites to pass through on dry ground.

The image here is of water being divided and dry ground emerging. The first time we see this image is during days two and three of creation, when God orders the chaotic waters and makes a way for human beings to survive on dry land. If modern readers analyze Exodus 14 and focus only on the material possibility of separating water in the particular manner described in this text or focus on the question of the historical accuracy or dating of such an event, they miss the rich meaning behind the image: God orders chaos and makes a way for salvation, no matter how dire the circumstances, and he has been doing so since the very beginning of creation. This doesn’t mean we disregard questions that are natural for us to ask, like, “Did this actually happen?” It means we don’t only ask those questions.

Art can sometimes remind us that there are invisible meanings and connections beyond what we can see and understand, and if we develop our capacities to engage meaningfully with art, it can assist us in the more difficult process of engaging with the complex images of Scripture. There’s always another layer of meaning we can discover beneath any given passage. Art also provides a material means for us to meditate upon an image without needing to hold it in our imagination. We live in an increasingly visual culture and younger generations are filled with more visual learners.

 

PROLONGING OUR ENCOUNTERS WITH GOD

It isn’t just recovering imagistic thinking that makes illumination valuable. Contemplating illuminations with the text slows us down, beckons us to stop and look, and through that act of intentional seeing, it enables us to notice things that we may not have otherwise. Sacred artists spend time soaking in Scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and they return from that in-between place, offering us a glimpse of their experiences through their work.

When I consider the workshops of illuminators from the past, I imagine artists and thinkers who spent their days contemplating the text and in this in-between, meditative state, they created places for the readers of Scripture to prolong the moment of being in the presence of the Living God.

 

WHAT WAS LOST AND THEN FOUND: IMAGE WITH WORD

With the invention of the printing press, the practice of illumination rapidly declined. Books could be mass produced and so they became less precious. The materials used to produce books changed with technological advances. Yet, though it declined, illumination did not disappear entirely. There were some workshops that continued to produce illuminated manuscripts. It was after the end of the Renaissance that the practice of illumination faded into obscurity.

Fast forward nearly four hundred years to Collegeville, Minnesota, a small town northwest of the twin cities. British calligrapher Donald Jackson was visiting Saint John’s Abbey and University in 1995. Jackson had encountered an illuminated manuscript in a local museum as a child, and his dream of one day creating an illuminated Bible was born. While visiting Saint John’s, he sensed the high value they placed upon aesthetics and faith. He invited them to share in his vision of a modern illuminated Bible, and Saint John’s University made the huge commitment of time and resources to commission one of the first complete illuminated Bibles since the invention of the printing press.

 

THE SAINT JOHN’S BIBLE

This project was a collaborative effort of theologians, scribes, artists, and craftspeople from around the world. It was created in seven volumes, with over 1,100 pages that are two feet tall and three feet wide. Each page of calligraphy took 7-13 hours to complete and was written on calfskin vellum using turkey, goose, and swan quills. The team of scribes used natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments, and gold and silver leaf gilding. There are over 160 illuminations that grace the pages.

The project took over eleven years and cost 8 million dollars, funded by approximately 1,500 donors.

Though the materials and processes used to create the Saint John’s Bible mirrored the ancient practices of Medieval Bibles, the symbolism, art, and imagery of these Bibles is firmly rooted in the twenty-first century, a reminder of our ongoing participation in carrying Scripture forward, bound as we are to our particular time and place.

One beautiful example of this is that all of the symbolic illuminations that feature plants and animals in the Saint John’s Bible are native species to either the woods surrounding Saint John’s University or Jackson’s scriptorium in Wales. One illumination is of a monarch butterfly in various stages of transformation. The monarch was an endangered species at the time the Bible was created, and one of the donors was heavily involved in conservation efforts to save monarchs. At the same time, the chrysalis and butterfly are powerful symbols of death and resurrection. This reveals the many layers of meaning and significance that can exist within an image, some of them tied to time and place, while others are timeless.

The Saint John’s Bible is a gift to modern Christians. It speaks to the power of beauty as we engage with the truth of God’s word. As a visual artist and an arts advocate, it also reminds me of the role the church can have in encouraging artists as a community. When the Holy Spirit spoke the dream of creating an illuminated Bible into Donald Jackson’s heart as a boy, I doubt Jackson understood how many people it would take to realize such a vision. God’s provision can be seen all over the pages of this magnificent Bible, and it will be a heritage of beauty and truth for generations to come.

 

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION

View the Book of Kells online. This is a gospel book from c. 800, and it opens with ornate visuals that demonstrate the harmony of the gospels.

The Black Hours is a worship book containing the office of the hours that was created on vellum that was stained black. You can view the manuscript online.

The Ebbo Gospels can’t be viewed in its entirety online, but you can see the stunning and unique portraits of the gospel authors, which are in a style that is energetic and unusual for the time period.

The Saint John’s Bible has an amazing website that you can explore to learn more.

Gender Dysphoria Issues | Dr. Julia Sadusky | POD 003

Gender Dysphoria Issues | Dr. Julia Sadusky | POD 003

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Hosts & Guests

Dr. Julia Sadusky

Paul Brandes – Host

Bill Gorman – Co-Host

Show Notes

We hope to challenge you to think deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life. In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Julia Sadusky to talk about gender identity and gender dysphoria and how the local church can be a place of hope. As followers of Jesus, it is our desire to respond with grace and love to the many cultural shifts relating to gender identity while remaining tethered to a biblical foundation. Our special guest is Dr. Julia Sadusky joining hosts Paul Brandes and Bill Gorman.
 
This is Episode 3 of theFormed.life Podcast, where we hope to challenge you in thinking deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life.
 
 

 

 

At Christ Community, we affirm with our Lord Jesus and believers throughout history that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6; Genesis 1:27). There is a good design to our bodies being sexed, and a beautiful diversity of women and men contributing in genuinely complementary ways in the church, the family, and broader society.

And yet, how do we respond both to a culture that is increasingly opposed to biblical truth and to individuals who are image-bearers of God navigating difficult situations related to their gender identity?

Facing these complex questions can be daunting, but humble listening and learning is always a good next step. This is why, with the encouragement of our Elder Leadership Team, we invited Dr. Sadusky to join us. She is deeply rooted in an orthodox view of the authority of Scripture and holds to a biblical understanding of gender and sexuality. And she models beautifully how to think clearly and love compassionately.