Category Archives: Religion

The Family of Jesus Portrayed in a Controversial Way

While doing some research on a painting by John Everett Millais at the Winnipeg Art Gallery I came upon this intriguing work of his.  

It shows Jesus in his childhood, a time in his life not really described in any detail in the Bible.  The 1849 painting is called Christ in the House of His Parents.  The painting was very controversial because of the realistic way it portrayed Jesus and his family. Millais set the painting in a carpenter shop that looked very much like a carpenter’s shop in Britain in 1849.  The floor is dirty and full of wood shavings. Millais’ friend William Holman Hunt wrote that Millais spent many days in a cold carpenter’s shop on Oxford Street in London doing sketches for the painting. The writer Charles Dickens wrote a scathing essay about the painting saying Millais had painted Mary to look like an alcoholic and Jesus like a blubbering red-headed guttersnipe.  In this detail from the painting you can see the cut in Jesus’ hand foreshadowing the wounds that will appear there when he is nailed to the cross.  Mary is offering her cheek to Jesus for a kiss. Anne who is Jesus’ grandmother and Mary’s mother is also working in the shop.  Anne is using a pair of pliers to pull out the offending nail that has pierced her grandson’s hand. Joseph is making a door which is laid out on the carpentry work table. He reaches out tenderly to touch his son’s wound.  Can you see the wooden triangle over Jesus’ head a symbol of the Trinity?  Is the ladder referring to Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament?  Do you notice the dove representing the Holy Spirit sitting on the ladder?  The boy on the right may be John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin.  He is carrying water. This could be a reference to the way Jesus would later wash his disciples’ feet or it could  foreshadow the way John will baptize Jesus in the river Jordan later in their lives. Matthew 3:4 describes the adult John as wearing clothes made of camel-hair fastened with a leather belt. Millais has dressed John that way here.  Look over to the left at Jesus’ right foot.  Do you see how a drop of blood from his hand had dripped down onto it foreshadowing the way Jesus’ feet will also be wounded on the cross? 

Some art academics have suggested the man on the left represents Jesus’ future apostles or followers.   The sheep in the background might reference the way Jesus was referred to as ‘the lamb of God.’   It might also represent the ‘flock’  of followers Jesus gathered around him. Apparently Millais went to a butcher shop to get real sheep heads to look at as he painted the sheep. See the basket that someone is in the process of weaving just left of the young man?  There is one bright flower blooming in the background. Can you see the well in the distance through the window?  Could it allude to the woman Jesus will meet at a well? That encounter will change her life. Does that path we see through the window represent something and is there any significance to the fact that the object on the carpenter’s table is a door? Blogger Nel McCombie says Christ in the House of His Parents was Millais response to the time in which he lived, a time when spirituality was facing a severe threat as social conditions grew worse, and the gap between poor and rich grew wider.  Sound familiar? Millais was trying to combat this by giving ordinary people a Holy Family they could feel involved in and relate to.  I wonder what depictions of the Holy Family do that today?  

Note: Christ in the House of His Parents is in The Tate Britain in London which also has this drawing Millais made before painting the original.  It is kind of interesting to compare the two. 

Other posts……….

A Grandmother for Jesus

What Did Jesus Look Like? 

A Veronica Sighting in Costa Rica

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Many Women Are Pastors But Our Language Still Excludes Them

“Words of encouragement, gift cards, free babysitting services, and cash donations are all great ways to let your pastor know you appreciate his hard work.”

A regular columnist for the regional newspaper The Carillon used that line this week to exhort church communities to treat their pastors with more respect and appreciation.  I agree with the columnist when he says the  job of the clergy is demanding and many congregants are very hard on their pastors. 

Interestingly an article in Christianity Today points out that church goers seem to save their harshest judgements for female pastors.  Yet the Carillon columnist’s use of a male pronoun effectively excluded them.  I checked to see if elsewhere in the column the male writer had used a female pronoun to describe a pastor to balance things out. He hadn’t.  

Minerva Caracano United Methodist Bishop

United Methodist Church Bishop Minerva Caracano

Language is a subtle but powerful thing.  Probably without even realizing what he had done the columnist’s use of that little pronoun his excluded an ever-growing sector of the clergy.  

Being a pastor can be tough. It wouldn’t be for me.   Kudos to both the women and men who dedicate themselves to the profession and care for and inspire their congregants in positive and hopeful ways.  

Other posts……..

More Visible But Not Equal

A Facebook Page for Huldah

Doc Schroeder

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The Book of Creation

Last Sunday the sermon in my church was about creation. Our pastor talked about nature being a kind of book and when we are outside enjoying creation we are reading the pages of that book. It is good to read scripture but it is also important to read the book God has written with creation. That made me think about references to the created world in Scripture and so on this Sunday I am going to illustrate some passages with photos I’ve taken. 

Rainbow near Vik Iceland

When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature- Genesis 9:15

Flowers in Sydney Australia

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, – Song of Solomon 2:12

Morning flight of pelicans at Isle De Capitan in Costa Rica

………..and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky. – Genesis 1:20

Natural grasses in New Zealand

You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning- Psalm 90:5

Clouds reflected in the water in a pond in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg

God it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth- Psalm 135:7

Bamboo forest in Costa Rica that sang when the wind blew through it

Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy- Psalm 96:12

On the ocean in Tulum Mexico

You silence the roaring of the seas- Psalm 65:7

Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona

Enduring is your dwelling place, and your nest is set in the rock-Numbers 24:21

Other posts……..

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Is It Wrong To Die For Your Faith?

In the Saskatoon church I attended last Sunday the pastor told the story of Anneken Jans a 28 year old Dutch woman who died for her faith.  In 1539 she was drowned in Rotterdam. Her crime was being an Anabaptist. She rejected infant baptism for her son and had been rebaptized herself as an adult. She was caught singing an Anabaptist hymn and when she refused to recant her beliefs she was sentenced to death.

Etching of Anneken Jans handing over her baby by Jan Luiken from the Martyrs Mirror, 1685

Anneken was a single mother.  Her husband had died. At the time of her death her son Isaiah was fifteen months old. Anneken was wealthy so on her way to her execution she offered a purse of money to anyone who would adopt her child.  A baker with six children of his own took Isaiah. Anneken’s son grew up to become a successful business man and the mayor of Rotterdan. He did not adopt his mother’s Anabaptist faith. 

Anneken’s story is included in the 1685 illustrated edition of Martyrs Mirror a book containing the stories of Anabaptist martyrs. She has become a faith heroine. Even though several scholarly papers and research documents I found show how her story has been mythologized and embellished, the core of it is that Anneken is revered because she chose fidelity to her religious beliefs over her own child. 

The Saskatoon pastor asked us to think carefully about Anneken’s decision. Was her martyrdom the best choice?  

I don’t think Anneken made the right decision and to me she is not a heroine.  The kind of loving God I believe in would understand if a parent publicly denied their faith in order to save their own life or to protect the life of their child.  I think glorifying religious martyrs can be dangerous. It can make us idealize suffering and it implies that our beliefs have more value than someone else’s, that we are spiritually superior . In an article on the Psychology Today website David Dillard Wright explains the harm that has been done and continues to be done by the idea of martyrdom. He suggests it is more important to live your faith than die for it.  I agree.

Other posts……..

Questions After Watching the Movie Silence

No Christians Fed to Lions

Questions at the Vatican

 

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Choosing A Good Fight

Last week I attended the funeral service for a dear friend’s mother.  One of the Scripture passages chosen for the pastor’s message was from 2 Timothy 4:7.  ” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  The pastor reminded us we need to pay attention to the word good in good fight  He said people so often choose to spend their time fighting for, or about things, that aren’t that important.   An example he gave of fighting for something good was fighting to give refugees a safe place to call home.

There are some 50 verses in the Bible that reference the idea of opening our hearts to strangers or refugees.  Everything from the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy 10:19 where God reminds the children of Israel to show kindness to strangers because they were once strangers themselves in Egypt, to Matthew 25:38 where Jesus says that when we welcome strangers we are really welcoming him. 

According to United Nations data there are more than 65 million refugees in the world today. There is no lack of opportunity for us to take on the good fight to love the stranger by welcoming refugees and helping to support them in their desire for safety and peace. 

Other posts……..

Supporting Refugees 

Thoughts on Refugees

Standing Up For Children

 

 

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You’re Not a Christian

When I was a writer for the Faith Page of the Winnipeg Free Press I would frequently get letters telling me I was not a Christian.   I would write about the equal roles men and women should play in the church, or encourage religious institutions to join the campaign against smoking, or present evidence that sanctions from other countries were hurting the most vulnerable in Iraq.  I never knew what kind of column might invite a response from someone who’d tell me I was not a Christian or inform me that despite my membership in a Christian church I did not represent its views. 

I was reminded of that this week when the Nashville Statement from 150 evangelical leaders was released.  One of its articles essentially states that you cannot call yourself a true Christian if you approve of homosexual or transgender lifestyles. The article goes on to say  people who call themselves Christians shouldn’t even agree to disagree about the morality of those lifestyles.  

That certainly leaves me and my church out of the Christian loop.  We have a rainbow flag on our church website and each week our church bulletin states that……………….  Imitating the inclusive welcome of Jesus, we seek to be a community marked by the love of God. Regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation, we invite you to make our church your spiritual home.

Literally thousands of Christian leaders have responded to the Nashville Statement saying they disagree with it. 

Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg

It seems to me that debates and pronouncements  about whose ‘in’ or ‘out’ when it comes to being a Christian are a colossal waste of time in a world where millions are waiting for love and help and hope.  

Other posts………

Chinese Spiritual Practices

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

Can Spirituality and Sexuality Dance Together?

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Seeing Things In A Different Way

 I talked with someone who had experienced a disturbing situation recently. Immediately afterward they sat down and wrote out how they might view the troubling incident in eight different ways……. with perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. After contemplating and responding to the event from each of those standpoints it seemed less daunting and distressing. I asked if it wasn’t hard to view challenging conflicts from all those different angles. I was told if you make a habit of doing so, it becomes relatively easy. 

dali lama and desmond tutuThose eight ways of looking at a difficult situation are the eight pillars of joy explained in The Book of Joy which records a five day conversation between the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Author Douglas Carlton Abrams weaves their dialogue together with narration.  I purchased the book for our church library and have just started to read it.  

In am looking forward to learning more about how I can use the principles in my own life.  I can already think of a number of situations and relationships where the pillars of joy might just come in handy. 

Other posts……….

Start and End Happy

Pura Vida

Coin Rings- Luck Springs

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