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.