May 10, 2011

The results are in

Okay. It isn't official yet, but I can safely say that the Risen Savior triptych will not happen. Last week there was a WELS district pastors' convention hosted at Risen Savior, and some of us, myself included, thought that it would be a good idea to poll the pastors as to what their reaction to the triptych was. The model was on display, and a detail of the triptych was provided on each survey. Thirty or so pastors were there, as well as a few laymen, and we received 22 surveys back. The results were heart-breaking for me.

The questions were based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least favorable and 5 being most favorable.
  1. What is your impression of adding the triptych to the chancel? The average score was 1.9, the overwhelming majority being 1s.
  2. Does the triptych assist in the mission of Risen Savior, which is 'Equipping believers to share the risen Savior, Jesus?' The average, again, was very low at 2, the majority of which were 1s.
  3. Is liturgical art important to your worship experience? The response here was evenly scattered, with a few low scores, but mostly 4s and 5s. The average was 3.4. 
The survey asked for written comments as well, and they provide a glimpse at the reasoning behind some of the scores. Some questioned the use of the church's money, while others commented that it didn't fit with the chancel, because it covered up part of the cross. One commenter didn't want to see any depictions of death, and another criticized the lack of body hair on Jesus and Adam. But overwhelmingly, most comments focused on the implied nudity. While several responses complimented the symbolism and strong theology, they warned that the nudity would distract or even offend people, and thus, should be avoided. Some went so far as to call it "suggestive" and "risqué."

What does this mean? Most of the Elders agreed that with so much opposition to it from pastors, and essentially with not one, but two, main obstacles, that the triptych would not be a good fit for Risen Savior. The majority view was that such an important project should not be pushed on the congregation without a consensus, and such a consensus is obviously impossible.

It is heart-breaking, because it proved my thesis more right than I hoped it would be. Conservatism, a sparing attitude toward the arts, and the fear of causing offense are driving the church (I think) ever deeper into mediocrity. I argued in my thesis that a minimalist, sparse, and utilitarian aesthetic most often accompanies a spiritual sparsity, such as it did after the Enlightenment. How long will it take for the church to realize that an artistic vacuum is not a good thing?


  1. I'm so sorry to hear about this. Was Jesus worried about causing offense? No. Absolutely not. Then why would we be? How frustrating, but I love your work and thank you for sharing.

  2. I definitely understand where you're coming from. There are very few churches out there that support the arts AND Biblically centered. It really does hurt the Christian art community but most don't mind that because it is such a small group of people. I'll be praying for change.

  3. I pray frequently for the hearts in the members of the Body to be opened and softened to the gifts of others that they may not understand. The members of the Body cannot continue to keep rejecting one another if we as a Body wish to stand against the assault of darkness.
    Appreciating your artwork I can see the power of the Holy Spirit moving in your pieces. The artwork is very beautiful and clearly an act of worship.
    Keep it up man. I will be praying for you and those around you.

    P.S. I apologize for the re post. I misspelled something :P

  4. As a visual learner and lover of art, our churches need it. Christians are also sinners. The nudity would distract many especially children who did not understand the art. Keep at it. God gave you the gift and wants you to use it to His glory. Be patient with the rest of us. We learn from the printed word and most certainly art. Julie

    1. Dear Julie, I actually think the nudity would be less distracting to children than to adults. Children have not been conditioned to think that nakedness is shameful yet. (Some of my drawings from kindergarten might be called "explicit," simply because I didn't know any better.) It is adults who think that seeing a bit of bare hip is sexually suggestive, mainly because a sex-saturated media has made it so. I don't think we should let society taint what might otherwise be good and worshipful artwork.

  5. aw, that is sad. We need more art in our churches and worship sessions. My church recently had this super creative idea to incorporate art in a walk-through worship experience intended to allow for soaking in His presence and positioning viewers to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. It was held at the church, where they totally gutted the basement of all furniture, and created 7 different "Sets", or "Tableaus", or scenes (all biblical). They were interactive experiences, with music, fragrances, lighting, etc, all playing a part. The viewer then enters into the scene and allows themselves to feel as though they are there. I was very impressed, not necessarily even at the caliber of the displays (imagination was still needed, as fire was represented by red cellulose paper with a light beneath it, etc) - what impressed me was the decision to create this experience, and the carry-through in actually emptying out the church. The belief that the Holy Spirit wants to move through visual art and that the Holy Spirit CAN move through visual art. It really filled me with joy. I wrote a whole article on it on my blog if you want to check it out. (

  6. I'm sorry to hear, Jon. I think the piece is beautiful and very well done. You mentioned that some pastors complimented the strong symbolism and theology, but they were worried that the "nudity" would offend others. Maybe it offended them too, and they were using their congregation as a scapegoat. But if they really do think it is good theology, why would they keep it from their congregants? Aren't *they* supposed to be the leaders, not the other way around?

    1. I think you probably nailed it, Erika. I kept hearing this phrase thrown around, that if the painting causes even one person to leave offended, then that is one person too many. So the hypothetical exception becomes the basis for the rule. A very backwards way of doing things, if you ask me.

    2. " ... if [X] causes even one person to leave offended, then that is one person too many."

      Oy vey! How many times have I heard THAT in the past 50 years? This principle seems to be deeply carved into the communal psyche of modern Protestantism of all sorts.

      There are exceptions to this, of course. For a great many congregations "X" will NEVER be contemporary doodah ditties projected on the wall and sung a numbingly stupifying number of times until everyone's arches have fallen. Nope. Nevah hoppin, dat!

      I wish I had some way to encourage you. I don't. I myself get discouraged about this. The only solace I've ever found is a slowly dawning (and still imperfect) understanding of what is missing in the world view of those who find the triptych you've designed unacceptable ~for the reasons stated~~.

      A comment at a blog is no place to lay all this out, but I'll hazard a distilled critique of that worldview in this: modern Protestantism of any sort is utterly missing any notion of the sacramental dynamics of ~knowledge~ as those dynamics work within God's creation. It would vastly oversimply things to say that every last speck of the creation is a sort of symbol system inside of which, behind which, through which the hidden God makes Himself manifest to man.

      And, the "interpretation" of that symbol system is not arbitrary. We have a pattern, we have the elementary "vocabulary" of that symbol system modeled for us in Holy Writ. Theologians have rightly noted that God reveals Himself in the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture (cf. Psalm 19). What is not so often explicated is the way each book ~needs~ to be read in light of the other.

      Said another way (and after this, I'll shut up already!): those who take offense from a Biblically informed re-presentation of something from the Book of Nature (something visually artistic, that is) show by their offense how profound is their ignorance of Scripture.

  7. Truly disappointing, but hardly surprising. This is a tough sell even in the most agreeable of situations. Discussions of nudity aside, the very first hurdle is having to deal with criticism by committee. It's no surprise that they all came up with something different. Something like this requires an influential champion who is comfortable overriding the "will of the group."

    While very few people know enough about art to speak persuasively about it, everyone feels quite comfortable playing the role of critic. Long gone are the days where the patron defers to the artist as expert. They don't know anything, but they know what they (don't) like.

    So what is left for the artist to do? "Dumb down" the work and compromise strongly held beliefs? Or maybe find a way to realize some kind of creative satisfaction while producing what they know will please people. Neither seems very palatable.

  8. This is a beautiful piece with some great symbolism. I have to admit that I was blown away by the comments the pastor's made about nudity. It honestly hadn't even entered my mind! I had to look again, and then I was like, "Oh. Yep. They don't have clothes on. So what?"

    Pietism, especially in America, has utterly ruined and bound the conscience's ability to truly appreciate the undraped figure in art. When you make even implied nudity taboo, you spit on God's finest work, which He called, "Very good." Our sin drives us to believe the lie that nakedness is "bad." We cherry-pick a few out of context passages and twist God's own words to try to make Him confirm what our twisted consciences are telling us.

  9. Hi, I just found your blog. This is a wonderful piece! I would love to see this in my church. I can't believe anybody was concerned with the nudity. They are aware Jesus was crucified naked, right? This type of prudishness is one of the worst legacies of Pietism. What's happening with the piece now?
    Bethany Kilcrease

    1. Right now, nothing is happening with the piece. It is a part of my portfolio, and I am still proud of the design and concept. If a church is willing to commission it, I would gladly produce it.