March 5, 2012

Paradigm Shift

A guest post by SPU professor, Roger Feldman, reflecting on his participation in a recent art installation ("Paradigm Shift") based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

Now that we are nearly two months from the construction and installation of “Paradigm Shift,” there are several things that continue to surface in my mind as important ingredients to this installation.  The first has to do with process.  As our team went away for the summer, we had each read and re-read the book of Mark from beginning to end, multiple times to prepare for our conversations in the fall.  During fall quarter, we met weekly and found points of overlap in our communal understanding of the narrative.  What surprised me was not the sense of certain scriptural accounts standing out, but rather the themes that surfaced.  One of those themes was how events were repeated, and the disciples still didn’t get it. Moving by boat on the Sea of Galilee from one place to another, the wind and waves arise and the disciples fear for their lives as they wake Jesus.  Jesus rebukes the storm and the disciples are amazed.  (Chapter 5) Jesus says “ Do you still have no faith?”  In chapter 6, Jesus tells his disciples to take a boat and go ahead of him.  Again, he walks on water and they are terrified when they see him in the storm.  He got in the boat with them and the wind died down.  Mark’s account says “they were completely amazed.”  This repetition of similar events, including the feeding of 5,000 and 4,000 point to Jesus’ sovereignty over normal reality, normal paradigms associated with the way things work.  And the disciples lack clarity to see what is going on.  So repetition became a theme that acted as a visual element to be included in the piece.

“Immediately” is used over and over again in Mark, and provides short-segmented glimpses in the narrative.  This idea of glimpses became an element reflected in the way walls were lifted slightly (16”) to allow viewers from the outside to get glimpses of others moving through the piece.  There is an awareness of engagement from the outside, but one doesn’t know what is being “engaged” unless they enter in themselves!  Christianity from the outside is only as good as engaging what is “inside.”  Throughout Mark, the outsiders seem to be more perceptive than the insidersInside/Outside became an important ingredient.

There are two possible entrances.  One is a triangular door, and many people have tentatively poked their head in to see what might be inside, then chose not to enter.  (These are all metaphorical actions, by the way).  The other opening is a small doorway with an angular top. (4’6”)  In fact, inside, there are two more short doors, requiring one to duck low to gain entrance.  Through humility, one can enter the semi-circular space through this door to come into a confining space and move through two more humbling entrances.  It is this humility that brings one into a tall semi-circular space that cannot be experienced or understood unless one enters in.  By the time the viewer enters and leaves this space,  they have changed direction, they have “repented.” As a group, we saw this as the “Holy of Holies” space.  After talking with a number of people who have experienced the piece from the inside, this tall space seems to have done it’s job.  People come in, look up, and often spend more time in this space.  When Jesus breathed his last (Chapter 15:37) the next line says, “ …the curtain of the temple was torn in two, top to bottom.” (v.38).  The sail that hangs down references this event, recorded in three of the four gospels.  Immediately, across town, the curtain in the temple ripped from top to bottom, signaling a “Paradigm Shift.”

Finally, the beam across the top connects the tall curved wall with the tall-slim leaning wall creating the triangular entrance.  This beam acts as a continuum and serves as a support for the sail-curtain in the Holy of Holies.  The Holy Spirit continues to guide, reveal, and enable each generation to see the larger reality that we attest to.  Mark had the courage, foresight, and tenacity to put forth his collection of encounters with Christ, and led the way for the other gospels.  Indeed, Mark is a “Paradigm Shift” for the early church and for us.

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