More love among the ruins – Pastoral Backstory – November 30th, 2016


December 1st, 2016

We’re a little early with the Backstory because it’s a special week with a special service tonight at 6:30p.But three things herein: why union matters, why art matters, and why prayer matters (and why you might join us at tonight’s Liturgy in Blue for healing and hope)


First, to union:

Magazines will at times print multiple covers for a single issue. Worship bulletins don’t have quite the same flexibility. But we did have an alternative idea to the one we selected last week.


“The Kiss,” Gustav Klimit (1908)

You may have before seen this striking painting layered in gold leaf by Austrian artist, Gustav Klimt.

It’s entitled “The Kiss,” and it portrays an embrace between lovers as if the two are melded together in unwavering devotion. When Klimt first debuted the piece in 1908, part of his three work Vienna Ceiling series, critics found it almost entirely objectionable. But the work continues to garner admiration for its celebration of the luminousness of love.

And that admiration has made its way beyond the safe confines of an art gallery into even the perilous regions of a war-zone.

Tammam Azzam's re-creation of Klimt's "The Kiss."

Tammam Azzam’s re-creation of Klimt’s “The Kiss.”

A Syrian artist by the name of Tammam Azzam recently placed himself in harm’s way to render Klimt’s masterpiece in a locale the original artist never dreamed of displaying his work. Upon the wall of a bombed out building somewhere in Azzam’s war-torn homeland he, without notice or comment, re-created “The Kiss,” making use of the shrapnel-blasted pock-marks to round out the reproduction.

He needed no press release to explain his act. Beauty had come to reclaim part of the darkness of war.

But this particular work of beauty–an image heralding communion–found its way into a space antithetical to its meaning in order to re-imagine what might be possible in that space, that region, that people.

Placarding a place essentially given up for dead, lost beyond repair, was Azzam’s way of saying love has not been lost. A way continues to exist for a world to be re-created in love. The image of binding and delighting commitment stood (and stands) against the degradation and despair born in this case of societal animus.

It’s the burden of a sermon series, on a doctrine so fundamental to our faith and yet ironically so unfamiliar to so many who embrace that faith, not just to isolate its meaning but moreover to capture its relevance. We introduced the doctrine in last Sunday’s sermon, insisting that our union with Christ must ever shape our sense of the nature of One who has given us manifold spiritual gifts. That we are in Him–and He in us–means there are no gifts from Him that are meant to be substitutes for Him. As He is our greatest gift, what He is most glad to give is Himself.

And what that means for how we think of Him, and thus how we relate to Him and live for Him, is that He is not a benefactor who will ever enumerate his immeasurable inventory of gifts to us as a guilt-ridden inducement to compliance with His will. Instead He will confirm, by the power of His Holy Spirit, the reality of those gifts in order to assure us of His commitment to us, His love for us.

In our union with Him we have not so much a ledger of His magnanimity as we have a confirmation of His embrace–His kiss, if you will. And should we, after years of making choices in which we feel our souls hollowed-out–bombed-out by ourselves or others–it’s the doctrine of our union that reminds us how God has entered into the war-zone of our condition to stamp His commitment to our renovation upon the pock-marked walls of our heart, and this world.




Next, as we intimated a couple weeks back and as you heard during announcements Sunday, we’re having a Christmas gathering on Saturday the 17th at the home of Bill and Robin Harris. This year though we’re spicing it up a bit with an invitation to each of you to tap into your aesthetic sensibilities. You’ll see more details on The City soon but the long and the short of it is that we’d like to commission as many of you as are willing to create something themed on the Nativity and bring it for display and description. Your medium can be whatever you choose.

Let us inspire you here with two works from the poetic realm.


Famed author Kurt Vonnegut, himself an admirer but no worshipper of Jesus, wrote to a long-standing friend who’d recently become a Christian. His first words were, “I forgive you.” He then proceeded to share a poem he’d taken the time to compose in homage to the baby Jesus:

Dear Lukas—

I am not a Christian either, but you have to admit it’s one hell of a story. So:

Angels said come to this stable rude,
Where deep in the hay, which is cattle’s food,
Lies a baby who sleeps full of milk so sweet,
More precious than rubies from head to feet.
Here is my guide, sang the Angels, to Paradise.
Am I foolish to come here, or am I wise?
This is the place,
He is here, he is here.
Those who would kill him
Are near, are near.
So keep him our secret,
So dear, so dear
And the mother’s name is May-ree.
Starlight did wake me from deathlike sleep
So filled me with joy I did laugh and weep.
I did follow the star to this rustic shed, That my starving soul might at last be fed.
Here is my guide, said the starlight, to Paradise.
Am I foolish to come here, or am I wise?
This is the place,
He is here, he is here.
Those who would kill him
Are near, are near.
So keep him our secret,
So dear, so dear.
And the mother’s name is May-ree.

Season’s Greetings,
Kurt Vonnegut


Now one less tongue-in-cheek and far more arresting. This one from poet Chelsea Wagenaar, aptly entitled “Advent.”


Last week a jellied disc
in one of my husband’s lower vertebrae
cinched, slipped—on the x-ray
the bones’ thorned edges gritted against each other,
his whole spine yearning left,
a lily stem arched toward the promise
of light. Now the days shrink
into themselves, the trees bare-limbed
but for squirrels’ nests and the green
bloom of mistletoe, the opalescent berries
suspended like droplets of milk.
All my comforts are questions:
is it better, does this help, and to wonder
at the body as host, his to pain,
mine to our firstborn. Unseen, unfelt
arms and legs push into socket,
joints form, the elbow a door
swinging open. Before you, before your
cloistral assembly of parts, I knew
words waiting to become you:
Face. Hair. Cuticle. Was it this way
for Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit?—
her body not hers, reworded with the promise
of flesh? How can this be? I echo her,
though I have known a man.
Here? I ask him, and soothe cream
into his skin, the two divots in the small
of his back—gates that keep the invisible hurt.
May it be as you have said—
and I picture her trembling hands,
the hour dusk, everything vague and blued,
hour all the shadows become shadow.

As those made in His image we share in His abiding inclination to create. We hope to manifest some of that creativity among us on the 17th. We hope you’ll dig deep and bring forth something we can all share in.


Chelsea Wagenaar

Chelsea Wagenaar


Finally, why prayer matters

As he has often in recent years, Makoto Fujimura will adorn our Liturgy in Blue bulletin with his captivating work–this year’s selected piece, “Beauty without regret.” In the self-description of this deep and ominously blue painting Fujimura shares a poignant word about art, faith, suffering, and beauty:

Every beauty suffers. A research scientist friend once told me that the autumn leaves are most beautiful on the trees by the roadside because they happen to be distressed by the salt and pollution. Every sunset is a reminder of the impending death of Nature herself. The minerals I use must be pulverized to bring out their beauty. The Japanese were right in associating beauty with death.


Art cannot be divorced from faith, for to do so is to literally close our eyes to that beauty of the dying sun setting all around us. Every beauty also suffers. Death spreads all over our lives and therefore faith must be given to see through the darkness, to see through the beauty of “the valley of the shadow of death”.


Prayers are given, too, in the layers of broken, pulverized pigments. Beauty is in the brokenness, not in what we can conceive as the perfections, not in the “finished” images but in the incomplete gestures. Now, I await for my paintings to reveal themselves. Perhaps I will find myself rising through the ashes, through the beauty of such broken limitations.

We will pray this evening together for healing and hope. Whatever brokenness or lament you might feel in this season–physical, mental, spiritual, or relational–we hope you’ll give us the privilege of interceding on your behalf. Every prayer that we’ll make will attest to Fujimura’s axiom that every beauty suffers, for every one stamped with his image is not immune to the depredations of this world. But among the gifts of our union with Him is access to His power and His presence, both available through prayer. Your circumstance might require more than prayer, but it won’t require less.


Author: Glenn Machlan

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