Art and the Image of God

Tracey Lynn uses art to honor the image of God in our community. With an introduction by Pastor Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum.

Throughout our sixteen years as a church, the Mercy community has always enjoyed creating art together. You have likely seen some of our members’ pieces in our Advent and Lenten devotionals, and if you haven’t, make sure not to miss them. Over the years we have had many art teachers and facilitators who faithfully encouraged the many creative artists our community boasts. You see, we believe that humans, created in the image of God, are creators too. Art is one way that we get to share our creative sides, work on projects together, enjoy one another’s company, and share our stories and perspectives. We believe all human beings have something to share and art can be an outlet for creativity and joy in community.

While we used to have a cozy little ‘art room’ decked out with the projects and pieces of different community members, when our community moved outdoors due to Covid-19 we stopped having regular art classes. Fortunately, last year our community was blessed with a talented and creative Columbia Theological Seminary intern, with a heart for art and pastoral care. Tracey Lynn helped us re-imagine a community ‘art hour’ outdoors safely, and now most Thursdays you can find a little group gathered around a pop-up table outdoors, making beautiful things together during Bible study. Tracey has faithfully nurtured, encouraged, and accompanied some of the artists in our community, while also imagining ways to use art for pastoral care and a tool for inclusion and sharing our stories. As a project for her theological education Tracey created and featured beautiful portraits of two of our community members. She utilized ethnographic practices to learn Herman’s and Ms. Kim’s stories and created beautifully and collaboratively-created pieces of these members for our community. Ms. Kim, Herman, and the entire community were delighted with the end results of Tracey’s project and are honored by all the ways she shares her time and talents with our community. Below, you can read Tracey’s thoughts on the creation of these pieces. We hope you enjoy them as much as we have! Behold, the image of God in Herman and Ms. Kim.

Tracey Lynn’s Artist Statement

The concept of my ethnographic project began with the idea that each of us is important and valuable. That we are all worthwhile and so are the stories we carry with us. Simply stated, ethnography is getting to know people while participating together in a community. After spending nine months with the Mercy community, I wondered about the stories of the people. I wanted to somehow convey the importance and value of their voices. I was honored by the trust and willingness Ms. Kim and Herman placed in my proposal to speak with each of them. The authentic interchange they shared with me created a life-giving source and image of humanity.

I ended each of my conversations with this question, “What do you believe it means to be made in the image of God?” I chose this question because I think it is a theological way of revealing, “You are beloved,” and “You matter.” Listening to them answer the question was striking. Each gave beautiful, poignant, and sound theological answers. Witnessing their body language, introspection and engagement with this question was the best part of our conversations. 

When conceptualizing this project, including a visual art piece was something I thought could add dimension to the ethnographic process. As I listened to Herman and Ms. Kim share a little bit of themselves and respond to my question, there was a great deal of our interchange that was difficult to put into language. Ms. Kim is so genuine and so true to the earth and all that surrounds her. She exists in the here and now. We were sitting by a tree when I presented her with my question. She paused, looked around and centered herself on the beauty of the tree we sat next to. To listen and just be in the moment with Ms. Kim as she spoke was indescribable. The photo of Ms. Kim is adorned with dried flowers and leaves from the forest to capture the unity of her, the tree and earth. The glass heart showcases the beautiful window that Ms. Kim freely and innately opens from within which allows light and love to exquisitely pass through. Crushed sea glass is sprinkled about the entire canvas to represent the illumination that Ms. Kim’s being exudes. Herman shared so openly and honestly about his life. He spoke about his childhood all the way through his adulthood. His stories instigated laughter and tears, heartache and grace. Herman is courageous. Herman is humble. Herman perseveres. Herman is compassionate. Herman is a conqueror. Herman emphatically teaches that this life is a process. That we are all in process. When I asked Herman my question he instantly responded. He knew his answer. For him, to be made in the image of God is to look at surrounding humanity that exists outside the window of the bus or the person in his neighborhood that needs a few dollars and see himself. Herman’s portrait is embellished with wire mesh glasses painted gold. The juxtaposition of Herman’s story is represented through these glasses. They are rough and frayed around the edges and smooth in the center. There is visibility through the lenses but also obstruction. They are gold and distressed industrial metal. Herman’s life is precious like gold, it has been a rough road from the past to the present, and it is a constant process to see life with an unobstructed view. The faces of the people in the bill of Herman’s hat is a gesture toward the portrayal he envisions as what it means to be made in the image of God. The image of each face was singed with fire and when painted onto the canvas the ash from the burned edges created a sepia tone. Herman’s ability to see his past, present and future God – created self in others is beautiful and messy.  In the end, my hope was to honor each of these beautiful individuals and engage in the practice of  looking toward one another as God does. 

Easter Sunday – April 4

Author Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Mark 16:1-8

Reflection: v. 8, ‘terror and fear had seized them… they were afraid’

The abrupt closure in the Gospel of Mark is my favorite of the Gospel endings. I love the touching relational details and interactions, the resurrection stories and reunions of the other Gospels. And sure, it can be nice to tie a big bow around the end of a story like a prim Easter bonnet and rest in the resolution that it all finished according to plan. But there is something strikingly real and relatable about the frantic open-endedness the writer of Mark leaves for us. I feel that especially this year. As Christians, some 2,000 years after Mark’s writing, we know how this story ends, and yet, we also know that the hope and promise of resurrection do not make everything instantaneously easier or resolved.

In equal parts today, I rejoice that death has been conquered by love in Christ, while I also mourn the stark reality that I do not always quite know what to do with that as I face another difficult day. I believe in resurrection, but I am also well acquainted with the death we experience here and now. I can see hope breaking like the dawn, but I do not quite yet feel its warm rays. Right now, the chill of the morning dew still feels a lot like fear and questions left unanswered. And yet, the tomb is empty. I stand before it in awe and fear. This year I feel a deep companionship with the women still vacillating between terror and amazement, running toward they know not what, filled with new hope still strongly spiked with fear. This Easter, I embrace that this is an acceptable place to be—maybe its even a faithful place to be, as we find ourselves caught up in a cautious hope that yearns and runs toward life.

Prayer May the hope of resurrection break upon us like the dawn. May we run toward you, O Lord, in our fear, our awe, and our rampant, reckless hope.

Holy Saturday – April 3

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Chad Hyatt

John 19:38-42

Whether it is because of disease or racism, political chaos or the disruption of so many ways of being community, we have experienced profound, almost overwhelming loss this year. If we are to find wholeness, we must find a way to grieve. Grief is the hidden gift— perhaps the unwanted gift—of these holiest of days, as we move from the cross to the resurrection. Sometimes we want to move so swiftly from death to the raising of the dead that we scarcely pause to pray.

But I’m not entirely sure we can sing again our joyful songs of Easter unless we stop to tend to the bruised depths of our hearts. Worship without grief—praise without lament—drifts perilously close to something so superficially shallow and hollow as to hardly be fit to call worship at all. Scripture invites us to praise God with our whole being; grief makes sure that all of me is present. It’s clear, both from common sense and from Scripture, that the crucifixion of Jesus was a major trauma for those who followed him. Some hide together, while others isolate. Some find their way to the tomb. Grief is what we do when we don’t know anything else to do in the face of loss—when we can’t do anything else, really. That’s what I like about the Gospel for Holy Saturday: here are people doing the little things they can—caring, burying, maybe even just doing the next right thing, going through the motions because there’s nothing else to go through. They couldn’t stop Jesus’ arrest, torture, and execution. They can’t raise the dead. All they can do in that moment is bury their friend—together. Perhaps in our rush to resurrection, we forget that Jesus really and truly died. If we don’t grapple with Jesus’ death—and feel the connections to our own experiences of loss and trauma—then the resurrection itself loses some of its power to heal us. I invite us to find a place this Holy Saturday for our grief. It doesn’t have to be long or drawn out, nothing extravagant or burdensome. But have the courage to bring all of yourself to worship without shame or guilt. Don’t despise your doubts or fears or feel you need to pretend that you’re not angry. If you feel like you have nothing to feel, that’s okay, too. Grief is about finding and bringing your whole self back to the table after loss has ravaged what used to feel certain. We don’t have to put on a good face or play the hero. All we have to do is just be. And that’s more than enough.

Prayer Lord, today I grieve what we have lost and trust you to heal us.

Good Friday – April 2

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Chad Hyatt

We sure do like to blame other people. It shows up in our personal relationships and makes it’s way into our politics. It helps us to hold on to destructive addictions long past the time we should’ve let them go. It leads to wars and genocide—and every other hateful, vengeful act by which we defend ourselves through shifting the blame to someone else.

We scapegoat to explain the evil we sense in the world around us by laying it upon the shoulders of others—even whole groups of people, absolving ourselves of any responsibility in the process. We can end up heroes as long as someone else plays the villain—and all just by pointing the finger away from ourselves. But if we are to be saved, we must stop finger-pointing and take a long, hard look at who we are. That is precisely what the cross invites us to do. As we look upon the broken body of Jesus hanging on the cross, we realize God will always be on the side of those who have been victimized by violence and oppression. God saves us by standing with us in our suffering, in our forsakenness, in our wounds, in our death. God not only hears our cries of anguish but cries out in dereliction with us. Everywhere there is a cross, God’s solidarity with those who suffer has made it a sign of protest against violence, torture, and death. As we continue to behold the lonely figure upon the cross, we begin to realize he doesn’t belong there. And neither does anyone else. The cross is not only a protest against injustice, it breaks open the mechanism by which so much injustice has covered the face of the earth: our willingness to make scapegoats out of other human beings in a vain attempt to save ourselves. Looking at the cross, we are called to own up to our part in the injustices of our world, in the violence that robs others of life, in the ways we bow before the idols of death in hope of comfort and security. Yes, there is misery in beholding such mercy. But God’s love will have the last word. God chose the cross we had made for others and made it God’s own—and destroyed the power of death by it. God’s love saves us; it doesn’t destroy us. The cross isn’t about punishment but delivering us from the broken ways we harm one another and ourselves. It isn’t about guilt; it’s about being honest with ourselves and about our world. Let us look again upon the cross, and let us be saved.

Prayer God of saving mercy, by your cross you have set us free.

Maundy Thursday – March 4, 2021

Author Holly Reimer

Digital Version of Devotional

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Reflection: v. 14, ‘If I, your LORD and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet’

Love transcends language. Jesus washes his disciples feet, considered one of the dirtiest parts of the body. He sits. He washes. He spends time with each one, and he reminds the disciples this is something they are to do, as well. They are to be humble in the ways they exist in the world

. They—and we—are supposed to show love in tangible ways. Love is simple, not because of words and phrases, but because of how we exist with and to one another. It’s the ways that we are present to each other. There is something about feet, about the offensiveness we feel about having to engage with someone else’s feet. It feels repulsive to us. And yet, for the person whom we sit and kneel before, we are taking time to care for their feet, to care for their physical body. We are showing love. We’re showing compassion, becoming humble. It is a way for us to be present to one another, regardless of speech. It’s not about what we do, but it is about our very presence. Words can often be found empty and unhelpful. Christ’s love is transcendent, and it is relational. His ministry was born of humility, honoring humanity and the value that each person holds to God. But the responsibility doesn’t reside solely with Christ. It is a responsibility we have as recipients of that love and grace—to pass it on, to be at the feet of scarred and broken bodies. Being present and vulnerable with another is a reminder that we are all beautiful and beloved by God.

Prayer Lord, may we be challenged to embody love. Amen.

Wednesday of Holy Week

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Bethany Apelquist

Hebrews 12:1-3

Reflection: v. 2, ‘looking to Jesus’

I have the all time worst sense of direction. I can get lost going somewhere that I have been to a thousand times. If I stop paying attention for even a minute, I am likely to get all turned around. Thank God for GPS, am I right? It’s easy to get turned around in life. It’s easy to forget who we are, to forget that we are beloved. It’s easy to get so lost that we forget what we are called to do, that we forget to love our neighbors.

I am sure that as the disciples watched Jesus carry his cross up that hill, they too felt lost. That they felt turned around, not sure where to go or what to do next. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? The author of Hebrews offers us guidance, a GPS for running the race. The author says look toward Jesus. Keep your mind ‘stayed on Jesus,’ as the old song goes. This is a powerful image, one of being focused on Jesus, leaning into who Jesus calls us to be, pressing on to love like Jesus loves. Look to Jesus in all things—look to Jesus to find love, look to Jesus to give love. Look to Jesus in all seasons, in seasons of lament and in seasons of joy. Look to Jesus when you are weary. Look to Jesus in times of certainty and uncertainty. And if you get tired on the journey, if you get turned around, remember you do not run the race alone. You run the race with a cloud of witnesses—those who have also set their eyes toward Jesus–and this cloud of witnesses will help remind you that Jesus is there, that Jesus is calling you, and that Jesus loves you.

Prayer Jesus, it is easy to get lost. Help us to look to you for all things.

Tuesday of Holy Week – 3/30

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

John 12:20-36

Reflection: v. 26, ‘whoever serves me, must follow me’

Just days ago, we celebrated Palm Sunday, a joyous and subversive protest proclaiming Jesus as king. Yet that happy triumph would quickly dissipate as the week escalated toward his impending death—a not so cheery, but no less poignant protest against the powers that be. Such things happen all the time—sometimes we rejoice in the image of God before us, and other times we murder it.

Sometimes we honor, respect, and care for our beloved siblings in Christ, and other times we reject their plights for our own gains. We humans, each of us beloved children of God, have the ability to love God and one another so fully, yet just as often we let ourselves get wrapped up in the wrong things—the things that hurt and kill one another. How is it that, though we want to serve Jesus and even claim him as our own, we so obviously miss the mark and forget what that means? In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that in order to serve him, they must follow him—and where he is headed is to his death, a grace-filled giving of God’s own self for us. If we want to serve Jesus, if we claim ourselves as ‘Christians,’ we must follow this humble poor man who lays down his life. And if we find ourselves walking in the dusty footsteps of our Lord, does it not seem rather foolish that we would stop along the way to put another down? Can we walk the steps of Christ and be distracted by the folly of trying to make a profit at the expense of others? Can we climb the hill toward that state-sanctioned execution and ignore the many others who have shared Christ’s fate? ‘Being Christian,’ claiming Christ as our King, requires that we stop dealing in death and all the other ways that we keep one another from thriving. In order to serve Jesus, we must follow Jesus, a task much more difficult than any words of allegiance or songs of praise, yet the task to which we are called.

Prayer Jesus, lead the way, and help us to follow you fully.

Lent – Monday of Holy Week (3/29)

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Isaiah 41:1-9

Reflection: v. 9, ‘the former things have come to pass, new things I now declare’

Lately, I have found myself in many pastoral conversations about transitions. Some people have lost or had to leave jobs and find themselves venturing into new waters. A blessedly large number of our congregants have made the big transition into stable housing after years of living on the streets. Others have made huge strides in self-care, finally deciding to take an intentional step toward recovery or well-being.

Whether or not they are something positive or something unexpected, transitions are still difficult. To let go of things, even to make room for new or better things, is hard.

Like labor pains, even when we know new life is on the other side, getting there can still be a painful process. Recently, a member who was finally moving into his apartment expressed his concern that he would feel disconnected from his community. We assured him that even though things would change, even if he couldn’t come to Mercy every day like he might want, he was still an important part of the community. We would continue to support him, continue to be there for him, and continue to love him.

As this Lenten season nears its end, and we set our eyes on Easter at the end of this week—the second Easter we have stumbled toward and celebrated together in this global pandemic—I would like to think we too are in a moment of great transition. We are experiencing a time when old ways will pass, and new ways will begin. We can glimpse hope on the horizon as more friends and family are vaccinated, but we must still be cautious and careful with one another. We are eager for things to ‘return to normal,’ yet too much has been revealed about the economic and racial inequality in our country for us to wish for the ‘normal’ that was before. This week, as we take one more step toward Sunday, my advice for us is similar to the encouragement my community had for our member—things may change, in fact it is better that they do, but we will not make these transitions alone—we are supported, never abandoned, and always loved.

Prayer Guide us through the changes ahead, O Lord, and show us new ways.

Lent – Palm Sunday

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Holly Reimer

Mark 11:1-11

Reflection: v. 9, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Folks saw Jesus. They welcomed him into Jerusalem with cries of praise, shouts of joy, and offerings at his feet. Yet did they really know him when they saw him? There are different kinds of knowledge: head and heart. They ‘knew’ Jesus in their heads, knowing his name and possibly what they’d heard him doing and preaching. But to really know something or someone resides in the heart.

It is something that you internalize into your very being, something you experience and feel from the inside-out. The crowds ‘knew’ Jesus in their heads, but it hadn’t been internalized. They didn’t recognize that God was before them, showing them not just a way to Jerusalem, but to life. Do we know Jesus, in such a way that goes to our core? Have we been transformed in such a way that we have experienced Jesus’ compassion as it extends to the vulnerable woman who has been fearful of the men on the street lurking her way, finding her a safe space to take refuge? Do we know Jesus in such a way that we take time to sit with a stranger, to learn their name and to look them in their eyes? Do we know Jesus in such a way that we care for people on the margins, even though it may push us to the margins as well? As we come into Holy Week, I encourage us all to take a deeper look at our knowledge of Jesus Christ. To us, Christ should never be someone whom we recite accolades about. Christ is incarnate—lived in us.

Prayer God, as we read of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and reflect on what we know, may it be a wisdom and a knowledge that is formed deep in the depths of our souls. May we be a way that others can know Christ, too. Amen.

Lent – Saturday, March 27

Digital Version of Devotional

Author Brittany-Fiscus van Rossum

John 12:20-33

Reflection: v. 31, ‘now is the judgement of the world’

Judgement is a word with baggage. If you grew up in a judgement-heavy religious tradition (or merely breathed some in second-hand), you may have some negative connotations with the concept of Jesus bringing judgement. I certainly did. ‘The church has got enough judging going on. I need God to be loving,’ my younger self often thought.

When I heard ‘judgement’ I thought of all the ways the church gets this wrong—the way our institutions have historically judged people for their gender-identity or sexual orientation, their race or religion. I feared how the church would judge me for my worst mistakes and my worst days and my worst thoughts if they knew them. Heck, church people will even judge you for what part of town you are from, the clothes on your back, or how you do your hair. But these surface level biases are not actually what ‘judgement’ is supposed to be about—and they are certainly not what God’s judgement is about. Judgement should always be married with justice—if it is not, it is probably just your bias rearing its ugly head. Judgement is ultimately what should lead us toward justice, and justice is what makes things right. So when Jesus says things like ‘now is the judgement of the world,’ we should sigh with relief that our God wants to make things right! And if the thought of judgement still sets us on edge? Then it’s possible we may need some inward turning and self-examination. It is possible we need to be kinder to ourselves and remember that the judgment of God is not the opinion of a mean church gossip nor the voice of your inner critic on her worst day. It is also possible that our resistance to God’s judgement is for fear of our own complicity in the un-just ways of our world—things we must all work to untangle ourselves from, day in and day out. But fear not! There is much to work on, but God’s judgement has come to set things right.

Prayer Bring your justice, O Lord, and set things right!