February 27, 2012

The Disciple Experience

Another guest post from SPU professor, Dr. Brian Bantum, reflecting on his participation in a recent art installation ("Paradigm Shift") based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

Going through Mark was the first step in beginning to conceptualize the art/theology installation. We were encouraged to look for and identify main themes that could serve as a foundation. While reading Mark, I couldn’t help but notice the stupidity of the disciples. I didn't expect them to be geniuses, but their shortcomings and lack of understanding seemed to jump out at me as Mark gleefully highlighted their collective ignorance. Jesus had to regularly repeat himself and break down parables in further explanation for them. The man was even driven to anger because of them! Going through the gospel, I find myself thinking, “How dense can these guys be?” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is right there beside them, in the flesh, traveling and performing miracles and yet they are unable to make clear connections. The twelve had, unfortunately, fallen under my unforgiving and severe eye of judgment.

Well, God is never one to give up on an opportunity to open my eyes to a bit of empathy and insight. Little did I know, while working on this installation, I would experience a very humbling change of heart toward the twelve chosen men of God. As much as I hate to admit it, over the nine days building the piece, I found myself in very similar situations as the “duh-ciples.”

There I was, a visual communications major who had never built anything larger than a small box in her life, and I was expected to build 12 ft walls with intimidating power tools that could probably take my fingers off if I wasn’t careful. I was a bundle of timid anxiety from the first day out. While building the piece, I often found myself unable to comprehend the big picture of what we were doing at the moment. Even though Professor Feldman would patiently explain it to me multiple times, I could feel the look of complete and utter incomprehension plastered to my face as he explained why we were doing what we were doing. Thankfully, the man is a saint and kindly waited as my brain tried to wrap itself around the foreign concept of curved wall blocking. After repeated experiences like this, I found it was easier to stop asking why. I realized it was difficult for me to visualize the pieces while they were still naked 2 x 4’s and scattered bits of plywood. I found that if I was just obedient and patiently completed the task I was given, step by step, the walls slowly began to take shape and understanding began to dawn on me.

As we continued and became more familiar with the process, the work made more sense and was easier to grasp. Nevertheless, there would always be those times when we were asked to do something new and I would find myself completely lost without anything to hold on to except for the reassurance that Professor Feldman knew what he was doing. It was in the midst of this experience that I realized I was just like the disciples. I had thrown myself into a large project that I had no idea how to begin or where to start. I had no more skill of carpentry and architecture initially than the disciples had in public speaking and evangelizing. We were ordinary people thrown into situations beyond our comfort zones, but we were there because we wanted to be. We may not have understood everything that was going on, but we had a leader who knew what he was doing and whom we trusted in. Thus ended my brief reign as a superior being to the disciples. Now, I take comfort in having shared a similar fish-out-of-water situation. I feel that if the twelve and I were able to talk over a hot beverage, we could commiserate and bond over our common failings. Like the disciples, I may not always see and understand the big picture at first, but I try my best to remain obedient and keep the faith in the one to whom I have entrusted my life. As long as I take it step by step, it will be built.

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January 23, 2012

Mothering Art

Guest post from SPU student, Lara Musser, reflecting on her participation in a recent art installation on campus entitled, "Paradigm Shift," based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

What has been your interaction with the art installation in Martin Square? Have you spent time looking at it? Have noticed other people walking through it? Have you wondered about its meaning or had conversations about it?

One of my favorite parts of Mark’s gospel is the way Jesus’ arrival on the scene of 1st century Palestine affects every person who encounters him and affects them differently. The presence of Jesus Christ in Mark prompts many paradigm-shifting encounters. I love the way Jesus loves outsiders who sometimes have the most poignant things to say about him and that Mark’s account of Jesus feels chaotic but masterfully planned. For those who encounter Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, things are not what one would expect.

On the team that designed and built the installation, I am the only student who has never taken a formal art class. Art has a distinct way of intimidating me. Thus, it is understandable that I had a bit of a difficult time contributing to the artistic process. I avoided saying anything that might betray my artistic ignorance. Perhaps this is a feeling you resonate with—fearing that the meaning of the installation will be over your head. It is a feeling quite familiar in the Gospel of Mark.

From that intimidation, I focused my artistic experience on meaning. I now relate this experience to that of a parent. I helped create something that is from me but utterly independent from me. During the process, I wanted a clear concise meaning for the installation: a thesis statement to solve the question of meaning. But just as a mother prepares for the birth of her child with hopes and intentions for who that child will become, she cannot control every aspect of her child’s becoming. Instead of tight fisted control, she must open-handedly embrace the mystery of her child becoming independent. I, like the mother, am learning that what I labored over for weeks has become its own entity where meaning cannot be dictated by the hopes and intentions of the artists but rather, new meaning is discovered with each new encounter. Even as one of the artists the layers of unintended meaning I have discovered since the completion of the installation surprises me.

The process of creating Paradigm-Shift has provoked a paradigm-shift within me just as Christ caused paradigm shifts within many who encounter him. I hope that you would risk engaging Paradigm-Shift with the Gospel of Mark in hand so that you might physically experience the way something can prompt a paradigm-shift that reverberates Christ.

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January 17, 2012

Student Reflection

Guest post from SPU student, Amanda Hough, reflecting on her participation in a recent art installation on campus entitled, "Paradigm Shift," based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

In our weekly discussions approaching the construction of “Paradigm Shift,” the seven of us had many decisions to make about what sort of experience we wanted our audience to have, and importantly, what implications that experience would have about the book of Mark. One of the most significant decisions we discussed and made as a team centered on this question: “Do we want it to be a journey or a destination?” Did we want this reflective piece to have a destination, an obvious point of completion after which the viewer would turn around and leave? Or did we want a sense of journey, an ambiguity of whether the end had been reached and whether there even was one at all? We opted, unanimously and rather quickly, for the latter. In my reflections since the completion of the project, this aspect stands out to me and speaks to my life and faith loudly.

In the construction process, as I attempted to line up each block just right and get each screw in precisely the right spot, my perfectionist tendencies were quickly exposed. I love having an end in sight, a clear distinction of where I stand, a to-do list to check off. The past year I have been learning that what is sometimes most frustrating about life is also what makes it most beautiful– it is a journey. Maybe this is not something that everyone has to make him or herself consciously aware of, but I did. We enter in with our individual context and baggage, we walk through slowly, we speed up, we get lost in the crowd, we encounter, we grow, we heal, we move on, we look back, we learn. Sometimes we are unsure of where we are in the process or whether we are doing anything right at all. Christ is not someone we encounter only to check off our to-do list. In Mark we watch Jesus himself constantly moving from one place to the next, inspiring awe, faith and sometimes fear, but the people who encountered him weren’t content with that. They entered into the journey.

“Paradigm Shift” provides me, personally, with a space that allows comfort and beauty in ambiguity. As I stood within the installation’s enclosed semicircle, I heard two girls as they exited the piece and smiled:

“I think we went in the wrong way.”

“Did we?”

“I don’t know.”

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January 9, 2012

What is This Thing?

A second guest post from SPU professor, Dr. Brian Bantum, reflecting on his participation in a recent art installation ("Paradigm Shift") on campus based on the gospel of Mark. Check out photos of the installation HERE!

Hopefully, those who are a part of the Seattle Pacific University community have had an opportunity to see and walk through the installation in Martin Square. Many of you might have asked yourself a simple question, “What is this thing?!”

I might reply to you, “This is an installation that was part of a group’s reflection on the Gospel of Mark.” But this answer doesn’t necessarily give you any more information. Why? Because an answer to this question, “what is it?” is not simply a question about the installation, but also about art and about the Bible.

What is art? What are the Christian Scriptures? Do these questions have anything to do with one another? The relationship between art and Christian Scriptures depends somewhat on how you define Christian Scriptures. For many, Scripture is a veritable “answer book,” an encyclopedia of living that points us to the answers of our daily and lifelong questions. If understood this way, art that is done in conversation with Scripture is simply material that expresses some underlying idea. Put differently, art is a riddle to be “figured out,” deciphered so that we can get to the real meaning.

The group that designed and built this installation began with the book of Mark. We read through it several times over the summer, reflected upon specific parts, prayed diligently and gathered together in September to share the ideas, impressions and passages that we saw, felt, and read. What we discovered was not only a variety of similar themes, but also that these themes were understood in different ways. We grabbed onto hope in similar places, but for different reasons. It could be said that the “answers” we saw, put different questions to us that we then had to re-approach the text with.

In the process of talking and reflecting we came to find that the book of Mark was not a puzzle to be figured out, but a living thing that seemed difficult to pin down, that brought us into something, encountered us with someone. This idea of encountering is another way of thinking about what Scripture is. Scripture is, itself, something that arose out of a people’s attempts to understand and share the significance of an event, of a person. In many ways, we could say that the gospel of Mark arises out of an encounter. While written after Jesus’ death, the book attempts to make sense of his life, death and resurrection and re-encounter people with Jesus’ life.

This process of narrating Jesus’ life was not the singular task of one man, but a communal process of stitching together various stories, teachings, and accounts of this man’s life in order to faithfully tell who Jesus was and what he means for the world. What our group came to find was that this communal process of discerning our encounter with the gospel of Mark was not much different. The patching together of observations, connections, impressions, and themes all served to create a space where Jesus and his work could begin to be discerned and lived within.

If Christian Scriptures are about proclaiming this encounter of God and the world, about giving voice to a community’s discerning of what they saw in this particular man Christ, perhaps we can also begin to see the connections, in fact the necessity of art as we interpret the Word of God. In art, the visual (the aural too) work to encounter the viewer with beauty or pain, anguish or peace, or all of them together. Art confronts the viewer with something about the world and ultimately requires the viewer to ask something of themselves and their place in the world.

When we read Scripture we might come to find its truthfulness more profoundly when we stop seeking from it “answers” and become open to the encounter beckons us to. This truth of this installation (or Mark?) is not to be puzzled out or deciphered, but comes only when one sits with, looks upon, prays with, not once or twice, but returns again and again each time spotting new shadows, seeing new lines, listening for the shifts of sound. But even more its truthfulness comes when we are not satisfied with our perceptions or lines of vision, but offer them to one another and allow ourselves to be surprised in the process.

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January 3, 2012

Introduction to “Paradigm Shift”

Guest Post from SPU Professor, Brian Bantum, reflecting on his participation in a recent art installation on campus entitled, "Paradigm Shift."  Check out photos of the installation HERE!

The book of Mark opens not with Jesus, but with John the Baptist. John was one who heralded the coming of something new. John himself declared this not from the center of Judaic power, but from the wilderness. Beginning with the witness of John the Baptist, the gospel of Mark leads us into the frenetic and powerful ministry of Jesus, into the wondrous and unmistakable presence of a man who seemingly came out of nowhere, and could simply not be ignored.

From June to December, Professor of Art, Roger Feldman and I (Brian Bantum, Professor of Theology) with five students (Esther Cho, Kaelyn Handsel, Mandy Hough, Tracey Ige, and Lara Musser) ventured into this world of Mark with the aim of encountering the Christ of Mark as well as to express that encounter to the community of Seattle Pacific University. The culmination of this process, an art installation entitled, “Paradigm Shift“ now sits in the middle of Martin Square.

What will follow in the coming weeks is a series of reflections about the installation by those of us who participated in its creation, from reflecting on the book of Mark, to prayerfully sharing themes, conceiving shapes, and thinking about what it means to “stand” inside the gospel of Mark. In these posts it is not our intention to give “the meaning” of the installation. While the installation certainly represents certain ideas that we, as a group struggled with in our communal readings, we are also struck by a troubling and incredible reality. We are all continuing to learn from this installation as we walk through the space, look at it from different vantage points, and see it in varying light. In doing so, we begin to see both the gospel and the installation in new and surprising ways. Perhaps most disconcerting as well as miraculous, the installation is now speaking without us and to us as the people who built it.

It is our hope that the community might be drawn into this process of reflection, that we might learn from what you see and that we might all gain better insight into the God that Mark witnesses to in those blessed pages. Above all, we hope that the installation stands as an invitation. It is an invitation into an encounter, it is an invitation into the wonder that Mark attests to, that God became flesh.

 

Next week: “What is this thing?”

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