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 insiders. Inside/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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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.
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.
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.”
“I don’t know.”