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. 

Reflection on Advent and Christmas

A Feast Of Welcome And Inclusion

This past Wednesday, deeply troubling events in our nation called our attention away from the Feast of Epiphany. And yet, Epiphany it was. Epiphany is a feast that celebrates the light of God that shines in the deep shadows of our brokenness and our jagged ways of treating one another, illuminating a way forward. The Gospel for the day throws into sharp relief the story of a tyrannical and violent king who would hold onto power at all costs—and a poor family on the run from his political terror, a family who guarded the safety of a different, liberating kind of servant leader. It is a feast of welcome and inclusion, offering a vision of human community that comes together around the child who shall lead us—rather than pulling apart and destroying itself. In our worship service this past Wednesday, we read the psalm appointed for the day, which describes the true measure of a leader—one who ‘saves the lives of those who are in need’ and ‘redeems their lives from oppression and violence’ (Psalm 72.13,14).

“the true measure of a leader—one who ‘saves the lives of those who are in need’ and ‘redeems their lives from oppression and violence’ “

Psalm 72.13,14

Let Us Be The Ones Who Join The Work To Redeem Our World From Oppression And Violence

As we close our Advent and Christmas season, a time that we have studied and prayed together, let us not put aside the truth of Christmas like so many decorations to be un-hung or ornaments to be packed away until next year. Let us not only remember God’s call to change our hearts and our lives, as John proclaims at the beginning of Advent, but let us find the strength together to live in such a way each day. Let us not lose the eyes that have come to see that Christ comes to us not once, not twice, but every day—in the guise of the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Let us ‘save the lives of those in need.’ Let us be the ones who join the work to redeem our world from oppression and violence. And let us never forget that this light of love and liberation still shines in a darkness that can neither overwhelm nor overcome it. 

Sunday, December 27 – 1st Week of Christmas

Author: Steve Smith

Psalm 148

Reflection: v. 1, ‘Praise the Lord!’

This psalm reminds me that we are called to praise the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul—our everything. It is God’s kingdom that reigns forevermore. We’re reminded not to ever forsake God, because God will never forsake you. God is the all, the everything. And God cares about all people—all people. This makes me want to live my life and give all the praise and glory to God.

Prayer Give all praise and glory to our God Almighty. Amen!

Last Week at Mercy – (week of 12/6)

Have you ever wondered what a “normal” week at Mercy is like? While I have to say that nothing has seemed exactly “normal” for a while now, there are some things about the Mercy community that remain constant. Even in our creativity, and many adaptations, there are just some things about this community that never change–in a good way! Our constancy is intentional. When things get chaotic, when life is overwhelming, when there are not many people or things you can depend on, it’s good to know that you can rely on your church community to keep showing up for you and to be present to you in the good times and the bad ones too.

So what did this particular week look like for the community?

On Sunday we welcomed our partners and friends from Druid Hills Presbyterian to host a specially prepared breakfast before our outdoor worship service. It was so nice to see these friends now that we no longer share space on a regular basis! We love having visitors!

On Monday we opened in the morning for a hearty breakfast followed by our outdoor clothing closet. We shared a lot of warm coats, gloves, hats, hand-warmers, and sleeping bags as people prepared themselves for the coming cold. After sharing clothes we prayed together and studied scripture (all from the back of Pastor Chad’s truck!) before sharing hot delicious soup and cleaning up.

Tuesday is typically our pastors’ administration day, but it was extra cold this particular morning, so our pastors came out to share hot coffee, grits, and pull out some heaters for the community to warm up a little in the chill! That afternoon our friends from the Church at Ponce and Highland prepared a delicious lunch to be shared–they faithfully do this every single week for us!

On Wednesday we opened early once more for hot breakfast and coffee followed by prayer and bible study too. Our friends from the Harriet Tubman Free Foot Clinic stopped by to share clean warm socks and help us distribute clean shoes to our community members. After sharing a hot lunch, Pastor Lattimore led his Empowerment Group–a recovery focused group that is growing in numbers every week and meets spread out in the parking lot!

On Thursday we shared hot coffee, breakfast, and warm clothing once more with the help of some great volunteers and seminary interns! After music, prayer, and the study of scripture, we shared lunch while we waited for our friends from the Mercy Care street medicine team to stop by and check in with several members of our community.

On Friday, while our pastoral team takes a day off, our friends from Oak Grove United Methodist stopped by with lunch for our community, as they have been faithfully doing for years!

Beautifully Busy

There you have it–just another beautifully busy week at Mercy! Sometimes it feels like our active little community does so much that the weeks all meld together. Yet, I’m thankful for all the little grace-filled moments that make each week memorable too–I’m thankful for the volunteers with their sleeves pulled up, humbly and patiently washing breakfast dishes, for the pastoral conversations that happen between clothing closet and prayer and make all the difference, for the laughter and jokes made over hot coffee even when it is too early and freezing outside–all these things make Mercy what it is. And no matter what happens or how we have to adapt, we’ll keep showing-up for each other, creating simple Christian hospitality where it’s needed the most.

Do you want to get in on a week at Mercy?  Come volunteer and spend some time with our community–we’re currently meeting outdoors, wearing masks, and practicing social distancing, and there are a variety of ways to get involved!

Sleeping Bags for All God’s People

This winter is going to be extremely difficult and cold for our community, please consider a donation of cold weather gear; learn how you can help.

This week was cold–numb-your-extremities, 28-degrees-at-night, people-die-in-this-kind-of-weather cold. Any other year, this week would have been a week that our winter night shelter (a joint venture between Mercy and our partners at St. John’s Lutheran Church) would have been bustling and busy. Volunteers would be cooking and dropping off hot soups for an evening meal, community members would be distributing and sharing warm blankets and mats, your pastors would be working round the clock, and 50-60 beloved and valuable human beings would find a little bit of warmth and safety in a cramped and cozy fellowship hall. 

Winter during a pandemic

As if you haven’t heard this phrase enough—this year is different. Despite many brainstorming sessions and creative thinking, we did not know how to open our freeze shelter as in years past without significantly increasing our community’s risk to Covid19. Though our church community has continued gathering throughout the pandemic (always weighing the cost of multiple health crises at play), it has been with extreme caution. Many of our community members are elderly, others have health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable—and we have already lost someone to the virus. As a church community we are committed to protecting and caring for one another as best as we are able–we know we have to be exceedingly careful with one another. So then what were we to do when we didn’t feel safe coming indoors overnight, but also did not want our beloved friends and neighbors to freeze to death when temperatures drop this winter?

Our solution isn’t perfect and it definitely doesn’t feel like enough for the people we love, but what we decided to do was to equip our community members as best we could with warm winter clothes and sleeping bags rated for sleeping outside in 0 degrees. While the city is providing some emergency shelter indoors, this information is not always well-shared to those who actually need it. When announcements come out online, we try to inform the people we are with day in and day out so that they know what is available. But the truth is many people will still sleep outside. There is not enough shelter this winter to keep everyone safe. As a church, we have a responsibility to do what simple things we can to care for our beloved community. It isn’t the warm indoors—but proper winter gear can help people survive. Our friends at St. John’s Lutheran helped us purchase our first big haul of winter-rated sleeping bags, many of which we passed out this week. While we haven’t been able to gather inside, we’ve also purchased outdoor heaters and have been trying to help people stay warm with extra hot meals and coffee in the early mornings (which is often the coldest time of the day).  

Encouraged by generosity

While our storage space was full of sleeping bags, coats, gloves, and hand warmers earlier this week, I already see our stash diminishing after one week of winter weather, and every day new people show up, having heard that the lawn of St. John’s was someplace to get something to keep you warm. I am encouraged to know that many other churches and individuals continue to collect sleeping bags and warm clothes for us to share—we’ll need them.  

The response from the community has been one of grace. According to our members the sleeping bags work surprisingly well at keeping people warm enough through the night. Despite our limitations this year, the community has been understanding and even grateful. Every winter I am reminded just how much I love my church community and its radical commitment to Christian hospitality. For in the most difficult, longest, coldest nights, we manage to do what we can for one another—simply put, because we love one another. And if you love someone, you want them to be well and warm enough. What we do surely doesn’t ever feel like enough, but we’ll keep showing up to be present to those we love however we can.  I am thankful for that, as well as all the many people who make what we do possible.