Community Arts, Visual Artistry, and the Christian Faith

Leah Samuelson is Associate Lecturer of Art at Wheaton College.

Community Arts, Visual Artistry, and the Christian Faith

In this episode of Theology for Life, Lynn and Ed talk with Leah Samuelson about community art—what it means and how it benefits the community and those participating. How are relationships built while doing art? Samuelson shares that when you work shoulder-to-shoulder and solve small problems together, the application to broader life is incredible. You accomplish something together that matters to those who participate, which is a stepping stone to deep friendships.

Why should Christians be engaged in community art? There are, according to Samuelson, certain things that you can do in art that you can’t otherwise that help you in relationships.

When did we lose our passion for the arts, and how do we get it back? Samuelson explains that we may never have truly lost our passion, but that it’s ebbed and flowed throughout the centuries.

How do the arts bring out the biblical texts? Visual arts mix the material and the spiritual. We look at the the stories in the Bible through new eyes when we look at what others have created.

Samuelson discusses the mosaic that was recently created for the lobby of the Billy Graham Center to help us understand the important role of art in our theology.

Leah Samuelson is Associate Lecturer of Art at Wheaton College. Trained in high-end commercial mural painting with a Chicago-based studio and also in poorer centers of urban areas with the Philadelphia-based arts-intervention and education group BuildaBridge, Samuelson now focuses on transformational pedagogy, socially engaged art curriculum development, and strategies of institutional collaboration through the arts. Projects currently in development use traditional byzantine …

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The Dead White Man Who Could Fix Our Race Problem: Oswald Chambers

As a black woman wrestling with racism in America, I lean on a Scottish theologian’s four key insights.

Oswald Chambers didn’t know Lecrae and John Piper. Or your church leader or mine. He didn’t know about tensions today between white evangelicals and black evangelicals. Or between Democrats and Republicans, left and right. Even if he did, he’d still say the same thing:

“If your life is producing a whine, instead of the wine, then ruthlessly kick it out.”

That’s classic Oswald Chambers—more direct than diplomatic. More practical than politically on-point. The 20th-century Scottish evangelist and theologian known for the best-selling devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, writes with raw clarity and common sense wisdom that, according to biographer David McCasland, “makes you feel like he’s reading your mail.”

What, then, would Chambers say to believers on the 100th anniversary of his death this month about the never-settled, twisty knot of race in America—the whole mess of it, from church politics to racial infights, alt-right marchers to kneeling football players, Confederate statues to immigrant bans, from red states and blue states to MAGA and Twitter trolls, ad infinitum?

Chambers wouldn’t be surprised by any of it. “Over and over again in the history of the world,” he observed during the crisis of World War I, “man has made life into chaos.” In America, that’s surely true regarding race—this genetically irrelevant concept that has gripped the nation’s psyche from its slave-holding beginnings. If a nation and its churches can have an original sin, the scandal of racism—with its plundering of black lives (and also red, yellow, and brown)—qualifies among the world’s absolute worst.

Into this cauldron …

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What Does the Lord Require of You?

Micah’s most beloved verse is more than a spiritual to-do list.

In the early 1960s, political writer Hannah Arendt attended the trials of Adolf Eichmann, the German officer who had orchestrated much of the Holocaust. She expected to find a monster. How could it be otherwise? Only a deranged psychopath could lend his considerable organizational skills to the mass murder of millions in Nazi Germany. What stunned Arendt and enraged some of her readers was her startling discovery of a “normal” and “simple” man at the trial. The notorious architect of the Holocaust did not appear as a devil but as a banal bureaucrat doing what he was told.

Arendt’s jarring discovery led to her oft-repeated phrase: the banality of evil. The implications of Arendt’s descriptive phrase are chilling. Without prudence and self-reflection, normal people are capable of gross injustice. Micah 6:8, perhaps the minor prophet’s most famous verse, has something to say about Eichmann and the banality of evil. It has something to say to us.

A Familiar Verse in Unfamiliar Territory

The prophetic books of the Old Testament bear their fruit with patience. They challenge. In their own ways, Martin Luther and Saint Augustine found the prophets puzzling. So, when you and I experience similar hurdles we are in good company. Philippians for morning devotions or Haggai? Jesus or Zerubbabel? If we’re honest, most of us would probably pick the former.

As a result, the prophetic writings remain a strange land for many Christian readers. But not Micah 6:8. This verse is the stuff of political speeches, Christian kitsch, and bumper stickers. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” …

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One-on-One with Elmer Towns on His New Paraphrase “The Bible by Jesus”

An extended sermon in the words of the Savior

Elmer Towns has a new book that will raise some questions and spark some discussion. He spoke with The Exchange about “The Bible by Jesus” recently and this is what he had to say.

The Exchange: So how did this book come about?

Elmer Towns: About 15 years ago I was having devotions in Psalm 37 in the Hebrew text and I decided to pray through it using the first person. So, instead of saying, Fret not yourself because of evildoers, I prayed, I will not fear… It was so refreshing to look at each psalm, including those like Psalm 23 which is, of course, a first-person psalm: The Lord is my Shepherd…

So, the next day I repeated it with Psalm 27 and the day after that, Psalm 1. Well, it turned into a 150-day program that I had no idea would turn into a book. But when a friend heard what I had written, he insisted that we publish it. And we did. And it was received very well.

The Exchange: So that was a book on the Psalms, but how did this one about Jesus come about?

Elmer: It didn’t happen immediately. I next covered Proverbs. And then Job. My friend, Lee Fredrickson, got the idea about the Gospels going. We worked on his idea until the present volume came about.

The Exchange: And it is a paraphrase?

Elmer: Yes. People know about Ken Taylor’s Living Bible and Eugene Peterson’s Message. This is the Bible as studied by Towns/Fredrickson in the original languages and then paraphrased as if it were Jesus himself talking. So, for example, John 1:1 begins, I am God the Son, who is from the beginning.

The Exchange: You come from a pretty traditional background—will some think that you are changing the Word of God?

Elmer: Yes. I knew Ken Taylor for many years, since the 1960s. When he first started …

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Why was Jesus so effective at reaching messy people? [Gospel Life Podcast]

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

Why was Jesus so effective at reaching messy people?

Daniel Yang, Director of the Send Institute at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, pulls from Luke 15:1-2 to talk about God’s love for lost people. In evangelism, there’s always a chance people will be offended if you tell someone they are lost, but what we are saying is that Jesus is seeking them. What can feel like offense can turn to conviction and a life changed forever. Daniel shares why lostness can lead to life.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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The Many Faces of Martin Luther

Herman Selderhuis’s biography proves that just about every adjective, good or bad, can apply to the great reformer.

Brilliant, tormented, passionate, scatological, superstitious, devious, loyal, bitter—pick an adjective, good or bad, and it invariably applies to the German reformer Martin Luther at one time or another in his turbulent life. “I was born to wage war against sects and devils,” Luther said, “and that is why my books are so stormy and combative. … I am the great woodcutter who has to forge a path and therefore I have to destroy so much.”

The towering figure who changed the course of Western civilization also had feet of clay. That is one reason why, 500 years later, we continue to find Luther captivating. There is a historical footnote that illustrates Luther’s ongoing impact. In 1934, Rev. Michael King Sr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, attended the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. So taken with the story of the German monk, Rev. Michael King changed his name to Martin Luther King Sr. and then changed the name of his five-year-old son from Michael King Jr. to Martin Luther King Jr. Such was the enduring legacy that inspired an African American pastor to name his son after a German monk.

As a Reformation scholar, I too find myself returning again and again to Luther, both for amusement and insight. I am not sure my ego could have survived the scathing rebukes he dished out to some of his closest friends. The truth is many of his friends learned to bite their tongues, or else they became his enemies. It was indeed difficult to stand in the presence of what his closest ally, Philip Melanchthon, described as a “militant temperament” and a “cocky self-righteousness.” Luther was a raging fire.

Herman Selderhuis has managed to write a biography …

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The Problem of Suicide: How is the Church Caring for those Impacted?

A church without the broken is a broken church.

Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide which, on average, amounts to 121 suicides per day.

For many of us, these figures don’t feel too far off. We can picture the faces and remember the names of those in our own communities who’ve taken their own lives.

As a young pastor, I too came face to face with the harsh realities of suicide and the pain brought on by watching those I loved experience such deep suffering. Particularly, I remember a man named Jim in our congregation who was struggling with mental illness. For a while, he fought the good fight and did what he could to spend time in prayer and read Psalms to find comfort. Eventually, however, filled with despair, he took his own life.

I was devastated.

At the time, I was unprepared, idealistic, and largely unsure how to handle the events that had just transpired in the church community I was shepherding.

Unfortunately, I think many churches today fit that same description. They are trying to figure out how to help people struggling with mental illnesses and care for loved ones in the aftermath of loss but don’t really know quite what to do.

But, if we’re honest, we must know that our unpreparedness is actually hurting the very people we care most about: our church communities. If we—as pastors, leaders, and churchgoers—really want to offer help, it’s time to look at the facts.

The American Association of Christian Counselors, Liberty University Graduate School counseling program and medical school, and executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recently partnered together to produce important new research on the topic of suicide in Protestant church communities.

Some of their survey findings:

  • 55% of churchgoers say that they hear about a suicide in their community about once a year or more

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The Truth about Suicide

More and more Americans are taking their own lives. How the church can step up.

In 2015, more than 44,000 Americans died by suicide—one death every 12 minutes, as the Department of Health and Human Services put it. The overall suicide rate has grown by nearly 30 percent over the past 15 years, prompting some to call it a new public health crisis.

Al Hsu knows this reality personally. Nine months after the InterVaristy Press senior editor got married, he received a phone call from his mother. “Daddy killed himself,” she told him. When he heard the news, Hsu and his wife already had plans to visit his parents. His 58-year-old father was in rough condition after a stroke had left him partially debilitated and gravely depressed. The aftermath of his father’s death sparked Hsu to reflect and research, the results of which found their way into Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope (InterVarsity Press), first published in 2002 and re-released this year.

Hsu spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about the inner conflict of grieving a suicide, the best and worst ways his community responded to his pain, and whether ending one’s own life condemns a Christian to hell.

What is it like to lose someone you love to suicide?

Counselors call this kind of grief a complicated grief or a complicated bereavement because grievers are actually dealing with two realities: grief and trauma. The grief of losing a loved one is normal and expected, but with suicide comes trauma. In processing a suicide, there is no easy path to peace and the grief journey cycles through all sorts of different feelings and emotions.

So it’s important to realize that this grief will strike you in many different ways.

Right. For grievers, there are any number of emotions that …

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Making the Unclean Clean

Seeing God’s redemption in a toilet bowl.

With a flick of the wrist, your mess disappears. This isn’t a clever infomercial on late night television, but what often happens to feces in the United States when you flush your toilet.

I vividly remember visiting Nejapa, El Salvador, a community unconnected to a wastewater treatment plant, in 2008. Kids ran barefoot and jumped in the water—liquid household waste emptied into the street and mixed with garbage—splashing their friends. Exposure to waterborne pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and worms can increase the likelihood of becoming ill.

Yet as a wastewater engineer, what I’ve learned is: God is in the business of redeeming things. Yes, even what we think is “unclean.” Rather than viewing wastewater as a waste to be discarded, a new paradigm for sanitation is recovering beneficial NEW resources from wastewater: nutrients, energy, and water.

As Christians, we know that our sin can have profoundly damaging effects—sometimes ones we don’t see or think about. So it goes with wastewater. In a working sewer system in the US, the effluent from our toilets, showers, sinks, and laundry, called wastewater, commonly leaves our homes through pipes and travels to a wastewater treatment plant. After a few treatment steps, the clean water is discharged to a river or ocean and the contaminants are often hauled to a landfill. In rural areas, septic tanks are often used to treat wastewater.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of wastewater in the world is not treated nor reused and 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. In some countries, the untreated wastewater released upstream may be someone’s source of drinking water downstream.

Furthermore, wastewater contains …

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South Sudan: Famine, War, and Hope

The fields of South Sudan could feed the whole continent.

Three years ago, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) flew us from Uganda onto a dirt landing strip in Yei South Sudan, a wind-blown village bravely holding onto life. For four days, with 90 chiefs, elders, and government ministers, we endeavored to broker a peace. These weren’t enemies because of religion; instead, they were fighting and killing each other over cattle dowries. In a Dispatch then, I outlined the feud going on among the tribes.

Recently, I landed with Aiah Fouday-Khanenje, head of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, in Juba, capital of this newest of nations, South Sudan. Since its 2011 independence, warring factions within the government has left thousands dead and exasperated food shortages. Five years after independence it has what it wanted: nationhood. But it also got what it didn’t want: civil war.

At home in Canada, a friend winced when he heard of the places I visit. He asked, “How can you do it?”

I heard myself say, “I love being there.” There are more convenient and comfortable places to visit; yet it is here, in a county hanging on by its fingernails, that one experiences the joy of faith. The opportunity to make a difference sounds its call.

A Great African Nation

As a country, before its separation into the north and south, Sudan was Africa’s largest. It was critical to the spread of the Christian message. One of the largest missionary agencies in the world, SIM, had its name by way of this country: Sudan Interior Mission. Catastrophe after calamity, this area and its people are still at the forefront of the church. What they do and become matters, and this is made more urgent by the steady crawl southward of Islamic influence.

Historically, Sudan has had …

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