Sunday, June 5, 2016

Visual Preaching in the Summer

Summer is a great time to add visual content to preaching.  The relaxed nature of the season offers opportunities to try new things for a week or two, and even build some attendance when people know there will be something different and visually interesting to hold their attention.

Here is an idea that could work on July 10 for lectionary preachers with Luke 10:25-28 and the Great Commandment (best by referencing Mark 12:29 and the Shema).  For those not using lectionary, this idea can work on any Sunday, or save it for next Valentine's Day!

While visiting the Vatican Museum in Rome, I noticed the stylized heart from an old sarcophagus with the heart serving as the "O" in the DOM, the abbreviation for "to God most good and great."

What struck me was how this heart is not like the usual imagery of the hearts we see!

Some time later, while holding my young granddaughter in my arms, I noticed that her ear seemed to keep the shape of this heart! This seems to be common with most infants and toddlers until the ear develops into a more adult (less heart-like!) shape.

Combining these images of hearts with the shape of toddler ears and various scriptures can offer some effective visual anchors to your theme, as with Proverbs 2:2, or the Shema in Deut. 6:4-9, and with the Great Commandment particularly in Matthew 22:36-40, or Mark 12: 28-31.

Amazingly we find a connection with ear and heart from the Rule of St. Benedict,  "Attend to the Master's instruction with the ear of your heart."  We may also realize our heart of love grows out of response to God: "We love because God first loved us."  (I Jn 4:19)

As our bodies, minds, and hearts grow and change over time, we gain love's wisdom and continue to be called into a life of compassion, generosity, and loving kindness!  

Monday, February 8, 2016

Preaching St. Valentine's Day 2016

A few years back I posted in this blog a St. Valentine's Day sermon possibility for those not using the lectionary.  You can click 2010 in the Blog Archive, or you can find it linked here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Art As Public Collaboration

What is worship if not art? For me, worship is at its best when it is art.  Worship and art involve beauty, mystery, inspiration, revelation, challenge, collaboration, creativity, meaning-making, and impassioned purpose.

These thoughts were stimulated by a presentation I heard yesterday from Amy Franceschini, an artist and designer of Future Farmers.  I invite you to browse information about a course she is teaching at UW-Madison this semester to learn about her work, and then to visit FutureFarmers to see samples from the collaborative community projects this group creates.

Of particular interest to me is the Flatbread Society involving farmers, bakers, oven builders, artists, activists, soil scientists, and city officials, and the "Reverse Ark" project involving a collaboration with an environmental scientist, the Los Angeles Mayor's Office, the Department of Water, a priest, and a computer scientist.

The Flatbread Society Seed Journey is another project designed to transport ancient seeds found in Norway to Jordan, where they originated.  The "seed mast" pictured above is filled with ancient grains grown by members of the Flatbread Society in Oslo, Norway.

These projects, and the others listed at their website, are examples of a rich and deep multi-disciplinary approach to the art of shared living in an interconnected world.

As I listened to Amy's lecture in the context of an Art Colloquium, I was challenged to connect what I was seeing and hearing to "art." Such is the FutureFarmers method: to broaden perspectives through participatory projects, playfully, so "participants gain insight into deeper fields of inquiry-not only to imagine, but to participate in and initiate change in the places we live."

What I draw from this is a reminder that in church settings, beautiful worship that connects to a church's central mission and purpose will involve engaging the skills and gifts of a variety of people in a participatory and collaborative process that welcomes innovation and creativity, while nurturing spaces that open one another to inspiration and revelation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Nevica Project

The UW Ceramics Program welcomed Jayson Lawfer as a lecturer at the Chazen Art Colloquium January 27.  As a potter, Jayson has grown his own business showing, appraising, and selling ceramics, sculptures, and photography, as well as managing collections, through his Nevica Project.

His website ( offers a look at beautiful objects produced by contemporary artists from all over the world, both for sale and for on-screen visual enjoyment.  Of particular value is the Artists page on the site, with a list of those engaged in pottery, sculpture, photography, and prints, including a short biography and samples of their work.

Jayson used the word "passion" quite a bit in his talk, and it is clear to me that visiting his web page and the worlds he introduces is a way to invigorate one's own artistic imagination.

Virginia Scotchie, Untitled 3, 2013
clay and glaze
From home page The Nevica Project

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dakota Mace Photography

Those of us who work with visual arts in teaching and worship need to continue to nourish our creativity by experiencing what others are doing.  During this spring semester, I am attending a weekly Art Colloquium at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The first session featured a lecture by Dakota Mace, a UW grad student and photographer seeking to share and preserve aspects of her native New Mexico Navajo culture.  With an eye towards Navajo arts like beading, weaving, and basketry, she also studies media stereotypes of native women, preserves images of mothers in a matrilineal society, and offers insight into the history of cultural appropriation.

A visit to her website ( will offer a glimpse of complexly designed art forms that are sure to expand horizons and nurture visual imagination while offering an introduction to a rich and lively artistic heritage.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Handmade Midrash

Some years ago I attended the first, and what was the only, International Conference on the Visual Arts at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley, California.  Along with meeting many incredible artists working in academics and the church, I attended some amazing lectures.  One lecturer, Jo Milgrom, continues to have a great influence on my own teaching as I introduce art projects into church educational settings, or introductory Bible courses I teach at a state university.

In her book published in 1992 by the Jewish Publication Society (and available used at reasonable prices at Jo Milgrom offers a number of easy art projects that help unskilled/untrained/amateur artists (like me!) to enjoy making art that connects to biblical texts, theological themes, and liturgical forms.

One method I have used with middle high students, college students, and seasoned church members simply involves colored construction paper and glue.  I usually buy a package of large sheets of 12"x18" construction paper and another package of 8 1/2"x11" construction paper, and enough glue sticks for the expected number of participants to share.

Select a theme to illustrate: it could be a scripture passage a group is studying.  It could be something from worship, like "make a picture of a baptism" or "make a Communion picture."  It could be to illustrate a hymn verse.  Assign the project to an individual, a pair, or a triad. They would select their "canvas" of one of the large pieces of construction paper, their materials of several pieces of the smaller paper, and a glue stick.  They are instructed to make a picture by tearing pieces of the colored paper and glueing it on the larger piece of paper (no cutting, no crayons, no pencils, no pens).

Two university students made the picture below, illustrating I Samuel 8 and early Israel's debate over whether to make a king to govern them.

Their explanation of their picture: the crown at left with the red X through it shows the "no king for us" view, and the crown below it without the X, depicts the view of the pro-king faction.  The right panel shows the resolution, with a crowned heart in a cloud (which the students said represented God) who appoints a human king (yellow arrow over middle person).

The students read the story, decided what they would show from the story, selected colors of paper, tore the paper, and glued it on to the base. They then explained it the rest of the class.

Not only is this a simple and fun project in the classroom, but this kind of artwork could be displayed around the classroom, or your church, for others to see.  It could also be photographed and inserted into presentation technology (like PowerPoint) and used as a visual illustration during a worship presentation.  

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Screen Use Early 2016

During Advent-Christmas 2015 and the first couple of weeks of 2016, I visited two United Methodist Churches, one ELCA Lutheran Church, and one Presbyterian Church for worship.  Each church used a projector and screen for the entire worship service.  The visuals mostly included words for prayers, hymns/songs, and scripture lessons.  The congregations seemed engaged with these words.  One church added youth ministry activity announcements with recorded music and interesting visuals just prior to the start of worship.  Another church used a visual "anchor" which was a photographic image of the worship bulletin cover. This image was projected throughout the worship as a symbolic connection to the worship theme.

While it is good to see visual technology in use, that use was primarily to show words on the screen. Adding more visuals to the worship service, even to show the main sermon points in 3-4 pictures or diagrams, would increase the visual interest and begin to harness the fuller potential of the linkage between computer, screen, and projector.

I was surprised and pleased to see these congregations comfortable with the use of the screen and projector, and was impressed with how they have integrated these nicely into their architecture and liturgy.  There are plenty of creative options available to them if they want to increase visual interest by showing more imagery/art to make worship themes and messages vivid and memorable.