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Icons (Updated)

December 13, 2006

If you need to get caught up on the conversation, read the last several comments under the Q and A tab above.

I’m not condemning anyone here, we’re not under law, but I’m particularly intrigued by the redundancy of icons at the communion table.  Don’t we already have the requisite and ordained symbolism right there in the bread and the cup?

Stephen Charnock wrote this in a work titled “The End of The Lord’s Supper”:

“The mind of man can conceive more than the eye of man can see….Christ left behind no other picture of himself but this.” 

Just last week I was particularly blessed by thinking on the bread during the Lord’s Supper.  I thought about how Jesus was the bread of life and how that means that I should come to Him with my spiritual hunger.   I took a particularly large hunk of bread Sunday just to remind myself that Jesus satisfies my hunger.

On an unrelated note, let me be clear with my bias.  I like visual austerity in a worship service.  Whenever I visit an historic cathedral, I always feel like it’s very Old Testamentesque.   And then I think of the summers that I worshiped on bamboo mats on cement floors with impoverished Indian Christians and I remember that Art Wars, like Worship Wars, only happen among the affluent.   It’s a luxury most Christians throughout the world can’t afford. 

43 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2006 7:13 pm

    Gorfchild and Oddball posited an analogy between images and music. I think there’s a big difference simply because in the OT God digs music and hates images. Thoughts?

  2. December 13, 2006 7:19 pm

    And here’s my last conversation starter from the Q and A page, in case you didn’t read it there…

    When Colossians 1 says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the word for image is icon. Jesus is the only icon we need. Only a living image can communicate a living God. Lifeless images are inevitably reductionistic. Many homes have a picture hanging of Jesus the gentle shepherd. How many have a picture hanging of Jesus on the white horse with a sword coming out of his mouth and blood staining his garments? Why behold one every day and not the other?

  3. December 13, 2006 9:23 pm

    Although God clearly decries images of himself in the OT, he apparently loves symbolic images of all sorts of other heavenly phenomena, as evidenced, for example, by the ornateness of the temple.

    It’s odd to think that Jesus is our only icon. Or more accurately, was our only icon. Which is to say that we have no icon. We did not see Jesus in his earthly incarnation, so we have nothing to look at.

    So on one hand, we are not to have images of God, but on the other, for a brief moment in history, God enters history in an iconic way, and then disappears from view until his great return.

    I can see how the very idea of the incarnation would drive any commandment-loving Jew up the wall. After all God’s admonitions not to make images of him, he goes and images himself right into the visible world. Then he disappears, leaving us with a wondrous and bewildering puzzle.

  4. December 13, 2006 9:36 pm

    Another thought:

    We speak of wanting to see God, to see Jesus more clearly, but we really don’t mean seeing Jesus’ resurrection body better; we mean something spiritual, not material. As we mature, we don’t expect to see Jesus’ body better; the venerable saints are not known for their greater knowledge of what Jesus looks like. We get to know Jesus in a decidedly nonmaterial way. And this is the knowledge of Jesus that counts.

    This is all completely weird: We see God, but not with our eyes; we hear his voice, but not with our ears; we are touched by him, but not in any way we can feel on our skin. To the person on the street, this can sound pretty unhinged. It is pretty bizarre.

    Maybe the bizarreness of it to our natural minds and hearts is a reason for the image prohibition. Maybe God is telling us that the pursuit of a vision of him is so utterly removed from how we think of vision, so alien to our most basic ways of interacting with life, that any image we make of him is a step backward, a step in the direction that says that somehow seeing God is something like seeing other things, when in reality natural sight and spiritual sight are so utterly discontinuous that, if you really want to see Jesus, you must put aside every attempt to see him in any way that makes natural sense. If your natural eyes perceive him, then you are not really perceiving him.


  5. December 13, 2006 10:15 pm

    Yeah, yeah, I’m with you on this. The “weirdness” is something to be valued and defended. You have not come to a mountain that can be touched… (Heb 12)

  6. December 13, 2006 10:39 pm

    I think because we ourselves are made in the image of God, we as humans are driven to create, too, whether it’s words, music, artwork or children. I think they can all be a form of worship. So, I think Gorfchild’s initial mention of God’s Incarnate Son is pretty good evidence that God likes it when we create, especially when doing so while meditating on Scripture worshipfully. But I’m talking more about how and why we create than whether God’s preferred form is icons or music or children. I couldn’t tell you, though I suspect kids take the top layer of the cake. But I would maintain that it can all be made as a way of worshipping God.

  7. Oddball permalink
    December 13, 2006 10:52 pm

    The 2nd commandment prohibits images of anything, not just of God. However, what it actually prohibits is bowing to or serving them. That’s why I think the whole issue with icons comes down to how they are used.

    As for music, I think it can touch even a nonbeliever in a genuinely spiritual way, but not one that he could articulate. Like gazing at a beautiful sunset or landscape, I think it’s a form of common grace, or an encounter with what C.S. Lewis called the “numinous.”

  8. December 14, 2006 9:15 am

    I think we need to interpret the second commandment in light of the golden calf incident. When they made the calf they said something like “Behold this is your God who brought you up out of Egypt…tomorrow is a feast to the LORD”. So it’s not that they were worshipping the calf, they were making a graven image of the LORD in the form of a calf.

    I’m about to update the front page post with another thought.

  9. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 10:16 am

    As I said in an earlier post, I would agree that we shouldn’t direct prayer/worship to OR “THROUGH” icons, but I have no problem with their presence in the sanctuary.

    I also don’t think it’s fair to assume that only the affluent care about aesthetics. I suspect that many beautiful Palestinian and Coptic Orthodox churches in the Middle East are attended by far less affluent believers than Evangelical churches in the US. Franky Schaeffer said it well in “Sham Pearls for Real Swine”:

    Most contemporary American church buildings are symbolically ugly, accurately reflecting the taste of pastor and people alike. In Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas, for example, one finds a number of so-called superchurches, churches with five thousand to ten thousand members. These churches house congregations with the money, power, and means to build contemporary Chartres cathedrals, if they had the vision. The profound ugliness of these churches is not the result of budget priorities. These buildings are expensive; studied ugliness does not come cheap. Many of these church buildings seem to express the same sense of aesthetics as that of the living-room/kitchen set from the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” They constitute an assault on the senses: a nightmare of red velvet and prefab ceiling “tile,” StainWare carpet in pastel shades from hell and the Easter Bunny, a Mt. Everest of canned sweet corn and lime Jell-O.

    Distorted echoes of a now-pacified Christianity ring out in an electronic clarion call to middle America. These churches are the elevator music of religion, the counseling rooms in which the latest psycho-babble is used to assuage the anxieties of the pre-and-post-mid-life crises menopausal congregation. They provide childcare facilities to assist families in staying apart. In Christian bookstores, greeting cards and wall plaques decorated with pious sayings compete for space with the latest cassette tape wisdom of the local Protestant “pope” of the superchurch ministry outreach, worldwide international evangelism, counseling/suicide prevention hotline, daycare, elementary school, high school, senior citizen center, Bible school, fund raising, youth center, parking lot ghetto. If these churches were food, they would have a shelf life of one hundred years — all sugar an preservatives, the two basic evangelical fundamentalist intellectual food groups. They are giant cash registers in which sham pearls are fed to the enlightened who in turn excrete money to feed the machine. Here, the artist has as much chance of thriving as the plastic plants do in the artificial light of the “sanctuary.”

  10. December 14, 2006 10:28 am

    Sorry to be glib, but I find there’s a reverent, holy, calming atmosphere in Catholic Churches I’ve been in that promotes humility on my part that walking into a dirty gymnasium just can’t match.

  11. December 14, 2006 10:45 am


    Like I said, I’m not condemning you. I’m not accusing you of worshiping through images. But I would find the icons distracting. What kind of icons do you use? Statues of Jesus? Crosses? Pictures of shepherds and sheep?

    I’m not a fan of Franky Schaeffer. Talk about breaking the fifth commandment, sheesh!

    It’s easy to mock kitsch megachurches, I enjoy it as much as the next guy. I’m not an advocate of expensive ugliness. I am an advocate of simplicity.

    And there are other places for Christian artists to use their gifts even if we did conclude that some of it was inappropriate in the worship service.

  12. December 14, 2006 10:48 am

    Mobile Oak,

    Sorry, I can’t get past the false doctrine long enough to calm down. I just think, “BONDAGE!!!!” the whole time.

    And would you vote to buy that buiding? ;-)

  13. December 14, 2006 11:03 am

    I actually haven’t seen it yet (although I’ve heard stories). I was actually referring to Judah. Everything else being equal, I’d rather our church met in a beatiful building than a gym. I think it’s better to be distracted by stained glass images of Christ’s crucifixion than how many seasons the basketball team has gone to the state championship.

  14. December 14, 2006 11:15 am

    By _that_ building I didn’t mean the one we’re actually considering as a church. I mean would you vote to spend a gajillion dollars on the hypothetical cathedral that had a calming influence upon you. How much money is that calming influence really worth?

    I wouldn’t expect the building we’re considering to have a calming influence on anyone! It’ll be a lotta work. :-) If we’re going to buy a building, the one we’re considering definitely embodies the value we place on frugality for the sake of missions. No one will accuse us of going overboard with self-indulgent ostentation.

  15. December 14, 2006 11:46 am

    Artistically and architecturally speaking, there is certainly a kind of simplicity that can be aesthetically pleasing and beautiful and holy without being at all distracting, whether the distraction comes by its being excessively beautiful and extravagant or excessively ugly and reductionistic – think Shaker homes, for example. I think the building we are considering purchasing (with a lot of work!) could be made to reflect that kind of aesthetic – a place that is cared for and humble at the same time.

  16. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 11:48 am

    We have replicas of various ancient Eastern Orthodox icons in our sanctuary, which is a rented high school auditorium. They’re certainly not a major expense! Some are roughly 8″ x 10″ frames at the communion tables, and others are larger tapestries hung on the walls. To my recollection, they’re all depictions of Jesus, taken from different biblical narratives.

    (We also have one authentic Russian Orthodox icon hanging in our bedroom. I suspect that it’s quite pricey, but we inherited it from my father-in-law, who was quite a collector of antiques.)

  17. Karen permalink
    December 14, 2006 12:10 pm

    So why is it okay for Christian artists to use their gifts in other places if not its not allowed in worship? That seems like a double standard. If images are prohibited, then they’re prohibited. Because if they’re only prohibited in the sense of worshipping God through them (reference conversation w/ Oddball above), then that wouldn’t prohibit the use of images as art within a church/cathedral.

  18. December 14, 2006 12:22 pm

    I agree that debate about art is kind of an affluent Christian thing to do… however, I’ll continue, because I think artwork is an excellent topic for reflection.

    Here’s a couple of personality-based differences to take into account: I’m easily distracted, visually, musically, etc. With religious-themed art, at least my distraction draws me back to Christ, and not to wondering about things that are useless (like the basketball team’s score or how cute that kid is). Actually, I find people and cute kids to be the most distracting element of a church service.

    I, like my husband, find a calming, humbling aspect in the great cathedrals. I walk in and think “Wow! I am so little, and God is so big,” and then when I get distracted, I can look at a stained glass window and think about the story presented there, and then I can hear lovely music to worship to, etc., etc. I find it much easier to worship surrounded by icons and artwork and stained glass and music and so on than I do to find it in a Puritan house of worship, devoid of artwork, and sterile. That just makes me uncomfortable. That is not to say that I could not or would not happily worship in a simple chapel (or a gym, or a hut with a dirt floor, or in my office cubicle)- I can and probably have worshipped all of those places. But for me, it’s easier to reflect on Christ when surrounded by things that reflect him, rather than in an atmosphere of sterility.

  19. December 14, 2006 12:27 pm

    Karen- one of the most interesting programs I ever heard of a church doing was hiring an “artist-in-residence.” Obviously, this church had the budget to do that, but I thought it was a really awesome example of a church using its members gifts, especially when, as you say, artists’ gifts are frequently overlooked in a lot of modern churches.

    There are a lot of art forms I think the church has unfortunately abandoned (how about dance, for instance?), that I think would be great to integrate back in.

    Although, hopefully, y’all won’t expect me to get up and perform a ballet for you, because not only am I a crappy artist, I can’t dance to save my life. I can’t even do the Electric Slide! *sigh*

  20. December 14, 2006 12:30 pm

    The aesthetics of the place of worship are just as mutable and adaptable as musical aesthetics. As the conflicting visceral reactions of MobileOak and Isaiah543 (see above) illustrate, there is no humanly absolute archtectural aesthetic, because aesthetics isn’t just about the appearance of things themselves, but the meanings of those things on an individual and cultural level.

    It would be unhealthy (and impossible) to accommodate every individual preference in a church, but it seems missionally appropriate to pay attention to and work with the shared aesthetic sensibilities of the local church as a whole. Looking for the absolutely right interior decoration scheme is a doomed enterprise.

    Even the restrained simplicity that Ellie mentioned above would be seen by many, many people as simply “empty”: “This place would feel a whole lot more inviting if there were more stuff in it.”

    The Catholic cathedral that prompts calm and peace in MobileOak can elicit fear and dread in others; the hugeness and majesty of the archtecture reinforces the distance between God and people, even as the Gospel beckons them nearer.

    On the other hand, a worship space that looks like, say, my office, would be terribly distracting. I’d feel like I should be doing something else all the time. (Do basketball players feel that same constant sense of distraction when they worship in a gym? I’d never thought of that before.)

    The worship space should look both new and familiar, both different and the same. There is no One True Worship Aesthetic. The cultural expectations of the worshipers should be a primary indicator.

    As Ellie said, a lack of distraction is probably the single most important goal. Per my earlier comment, because the focus of our devotion is immaterial and inaccessible with our senses, the best settings are ones that simply don’t get in the way of the pursuit of a heart-vision of God.

    Oddball: I believe that music and art can stir any human heart, perhaps very, very deeply, but I resist calling that “spiritual.” People without the Spirit are spiritually dead. They have a spirit, but we would not call them spiritually alive. When people have incredible epiphanies listening to Beethoven, there is no truth there; there is merely a compelling feeling state. (Boy, do I sound like a reductionist!) It may be like natural revelation, but I think it even less helpful. People may feel wiser, or more alive, or more in touch with God after a Beethoven epiphany, but THEY AREN’T. They have learned nothing. They have not changed in any spiritual meaningful way. They are no closer to God. What is worse, they _believe that they are_, and this deception can stand in the way of their receiving real life and real truth from God.

    I have to admit that I suspect the use of the word “spiritual” to describe what music does to us should be off limits to Christians. We have a far deeper, far more real, far more significant thing signified by the word “spiritual,” and to use this bibically rich word to describe a primarily natural experience seems to cheapen the depth of true spiritual affections and obscures the fact that there is a yawning chasm between a Beethoven epiphany and a Spirit-filled exuberance.

  21. December 14, 2006 12:32 pm

    Also, I think I should mention that my husband is more likely to continue to want to spend his dollars on missions, rather than building intricate cathedrals :) We both feel that way, which is why we don’t mind worshipping in a gym- we’re very glad that our church has similar financial priorities to our own.

  22. December 14, 2006 12:40 pm

    Gorfchild’s right- there is no One True Worship Aesthetic- everyone else seems to think lack of distraction is a primary goal… I think we should just realize that people are going to be distracted and do our best to have those distractions refocus us on Christ :) There’s no possibly way I’m *not* going to be distracted, no matter how austere and “Zen” the worship environment.

  23. Karen permalink
    December 14, 2006 12:46 pm

    I feel like I should clear things up—I honestly don’t care if I worship in a cathedral style building or in a more Puritan style building (or a gym). I’ve worshipped in both before, and I didn’t experience God more in one place than in another. I’m not wishing things were different in our church (it actually feels like home; outside of my time in Germany, I have always worshipped in austere buildings).

    I brought this topic up simply because I was confused. Its an important issue in the Church as a whole. I get really frustrated with issues that divide the Church for no reason–and I usually prefer acceptance/tolerance over a hardline on issues I don’t see as important. But that is precisely what I wanted to clarify–just because I don’t view icons/images as an important matter doesn’t mean it isn’t. And I’ve been challenged to see how important it actually is. With that, however, I’m still confused on the different uses or appropriateness of icons/images in certain settings.

  24. Egana permalink
    December 14, 2006 12:54 pm

    Karen: there are some things that are prohibited becasue of the context, not the action… like, say, physical relations between husband and wife… they are prohibited in a worship service, but not in a bedroom or other room of relative privacy…

  25. December 14, 2006 1:08 pm

    You bring up point that is also germane to me. I find corporate worship diffcult, because I am easily distracted. And some of the most distracting things are the other worshipers! I can’t really be in corporate worship without other people, though. So somehow that’s a good distraction to have to deal with.

    I confess that the idea of distractions that “refocus me somewhere else” seems odd to me. If a stained glass window is beautifully done, I will want to look at the stained glass window. Even if the representational content of the window art is about Christ, I’m going to look at the window, and maybe, in some vague way, think about Christ. But the whole point of a beautiful window is that it’s beautiful! It gives pleasure to me when I look at it. And this is a whole lot easier than trying to perceive Christ with the eyes of my heart by, say, meditating on the Word, or trying to appropriate the words of a sermon or hymn.

    In other words, looking at a window is a lot easier and more immediately satisfying than pursuing a heart vision of God, so the temptation to rest in my apprehension of the window, thinking I’m doing something akin to spiritual meditation, is almost irresistable. Heck, I don’t even like having music in worship, for exactly the same reason! It if weren’t for the huge significance of music and singing in the Bible from beginning to end, I would gladly throw it out, so I could just THINK ABOUT WHAT WE’RE SAYING for a change.

  26. December 14, 2006 1:15 pm

    A self-effacing thought:

    It might be that some “distractions” are not really supposed to be, but are supposed to be completely in line with the purposes of corporate worship. Being together and music are the two that come to mind. They’re both very important in the Bible.

    So maybe my difficulty in worshiping with these things, at least, just indicates my lack of maturity. Perhaps, as I grow in grace over the years, I will see these things as the blessings to worship that they really are, but right now I have a pretty hard time not being distracted by them.

  27. December 14, 2006 1:15 pm

    Perhaps then, we should do as the Muslims do and keep all images out of our worship that aren’t strictly text?

  28. December 14, 2006 1:38 pm

    P.S. Last comment was directed at no one in general- it’s just the logical extreme of wanting to keep images of God out of a church, right? :)

  29. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 1:52 pm


    Must one attain saving knowledge of God in order to be spiritually moved by his majesty manifested in creation? What about Ps. 19:1-4, Acts 17:27-28, & Rom. 1:20?

    Have you read “Surprised by Joy” by C.S. Lewis?

  30. December 14, 2006 1:53 pm

    Frankly, I think the Muslims got this one right.

    Puritan worship is all about the centrality of the word. Tear down the altar and put up a pulpit.

    I empathize with the easily distracted. But in the words of Jesus in the parable of the sower, be very careful how you listen. At least when you’re mind wanders to the basketball banners, you know you need to work harder to listen. If you’re mind wanders to a stained glass image of Christ, you still should be listening, but you might feel a false spirituality about your inattention.

  31. December 14, 2006 2:15 pm

    Actually, a few sermons ago, I was very glad to see God’s mercy in keeping me distracted, while Paul’s words spoke about how our spiritual lives should reflect our marriages, and bear fruit to whomever we were under the authority of. Carl was concerned that he was going to have to pick up all my emotions post-sermon, but I had been happily distracted by something (I don’t even remember what now). Better to be distracted for that part of Romans, I think.

  32. December 14, 2006 2:24 pm


    I haven’t read the Lewis book. Would it be helpful?

    I’m still stumbling over the phrase “spiritually moved.” I can certainly go with “moved”; people are moved by all sorts of things all the time. But what is the significance of adding the word “spiritually”? What does that mean?

    I think many people use the phrase to describe being moved deeply. What I am asserting is that there is a different kind of being moved; it is not merely a matter of degree.

    The verses you mention are short on information about the actual feeling states of the people involved. But the thing that strikes me about those verses (especially Rom 1:20) is that this kind of natural revelation is largely ignored and suppressed; you have to go out of your way call attention to the fact that it’s God talking. How many people who are deeply moved by looking at the night sky are feeling something “spiritual”? The certainly feel something, and it can be huge, but why and how is that “spiritual”? The near-universality of the experience leads me to call it “natural.”

    It now occurs to me me that maybe this discussion is about my ideas about word usage. To put it on surer footing, I would rather ground it in the Word, but I am unable to do that off the cuff. So maybe it would be better if I withdrew from the discussion at this point.

    Thanks for the ideas. I’m going to work on them.

  33. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 3:55 pm


    I’m using the word “spiritual” to refer to the eternal/transcendent yearning that God has placed in every human heart. (Ecc. 3:11)

  34. December 14, 2006 4:39 pm

    A couple of records set today.

    First, this is the most comments ever on a vomit blog post. I wonder why this has stirred up such interest. (Thanks to all, by the way, for maintaining civility while disagreeing with one another)

    Second, Oddball posted today the 1000th comment on my blog. I was planning to buy the maker of comment #1000 a beer, but Oddball is on the other side of the continent. What to do…

    You comin’ round these parts for Christmas, Oddball?

  35. December 14, 2006 4:41 pm

    So, about those Muslims…

    I am curious where in the NT we are told anything specific about images? Are you opposed to all Christian art, or just art used for worship purposes? When people get excited about God, and it churns up all sort of creative feeling inside them, and they are visual sorts of people, what in your mind are they supposed to do with that impulse?

    Take me, for example. :) I loved to paint as a kid and all the way up through high school, back when I didn’t believe but would be very moved by religious music like Handel. I majored in fine art in college, but as I got older I got more and more bitter about God. Slowly my desire to paint went away, and for the past 6 or 8 years I hadn’t had the desire or the ability to paint anything. Then last year, I started reading the Bible, and WHAM, I suddenly wanted (needed!) to paint again. That river of living water you talk about came out of me in writing and paintings, all directly Biblically inspired, although admittedlly I have not made any paintings of God or Jesus because I don’t think I could make them well enough – they would necessarily have to be reductionistic, like you said. I’m not saying any of the paintings I have made are great art, but they ARE worshipful art, in the sense that I made them thinking about God and trying to express the honor and appreciation I feel towards him, and I can’t make myself feel like it would be better to be Muslim and have to surpress that just for the sake of a rule. What do you think?

  36. December 14, 2006 5:30 pm

    Ah ha! This is a good conversation. I just figured something out. Art isn’t worshipful for me (I don’t really praise God by making art) but it is MEDITATIONAL! I paint as a way of meditating on God’s word and actions. That is an entirely different thing.

    So, sorry, I guess I answered part of my own question there. I am still curious about what the NT has to say about images and art. Anything specific or is this a case where we have to generalize?

    And when I mentioned Biblically inspired creativity, I didn’t mean that I do stuff that is divinely inspired. (ha ha.) Sorry if that sounded rediculous – I just meant that when I read the Bible it makes me feel very creative.

  37. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 6:46 pm

    I want a rain check for that beer, dude!

    We’re going to Mexico for Christmas this year, but I’m sure I’ll be back in the Midwest before too long. Then again, if you ever make it out to Portland, I’ll bet we have a far greater microbrew selection than Urbana . . .

  38. December 14, 2006 7:00 pm

    Oooooh, now you’ve got my dander up. More microbrews in Portland than Urbana???


  39. December 14, 2006 7:05 pm


    I’m just talking about images of God in worship, not all Christian art.

    Actually I don’t believe there is such a thing as Christian art. There is art done by Christians and there is art done with Christian themes, but art doesn’t get saved, so there is no Christian art.

    As for art done by Christians that doesn’t include images of God used in worship, I’m all for it.

    Since I’m not an artist, I’m not the guy to come up with great examples for you.

    I was given a walking staff hand carved out of ebony and elk antler and engraved with Matt 6:33 and Proverbs 3:5-6 that is quite beautiful.

    I also had a bronze statue of Jonah and the whale that I thought was pretty cool. What ever happened to that?…

  40. Oddball permalink
    December 14, 2006 7:26 pm

    Perhaps I should have specified LOCAL microbrews:

  41. December 14, 2006 9:14 pm


    Okay. That seems reasonable. You are right, art doesn’t get saved. Nor does it save. It’s good to have perspective on these things. :)

    Speaking of perspective, I would love to have a wide enough perspective on this whole thread to understand why we all got so excited about this. Any group psychologists out there?

  42. December 20, 2006 1:29 am

    Ah man . . . of course MS updates fries my computer on the morning of the 14th so I MISS this entire topic!!! Just now getting back on the computer and jumping in late here. Back to Karen’s original question about images, Ellie suggested I share a story about children and images at our house.

    I want to preface this by saying that I don’t have any objections to the CEFC usage of children’s picture books, flannel graphs, coloring books, etc — we even have some of the same books on our shelves . . . BUT . . . I have had conversations specifically with my Things 2 and 3 about the images b/c they have pointed to the badly drawn caricatures of the bearded man in the gleaming white robe and said — that’s Jesus! That’s who I pray to! And I’ve said, Um, no, not really. That’s a picture to help us see the story, but that’s not to whom we pray — Jesus is much more than this picture.

    It’s been great for continued conversation about Jesus, but it’s also been a difficult thing to get through. At the young ages they think the cartoon characters are real — Bob and Larry are real veggies that live in a kitchen and tell stories, Barbie really is a princess, or even more confusing — human actors playing fictional characters such as in the Pippi Longstocking movies they have seen.

    Images are necessarily reductionist, tainted by our human limitations, and down right confusing to some people, not just children. I knew a few Catholics who didn’t just pray ‘through’ their icons in a sort of physical reminder of the immaterial — they used a crucifix like any other kind of idol to pray to, as a superstitious ‘good luck charm’, and a constant reminder of their guilt. It minimized his victory on the cross and His resurrection by constantly keeping Him as the pitiable ‘suffering servant’. There were never an images of Jesus the kick-a** King, though. ;-)

    Isaiah543 — I really appreciated your comment in the sermon about Jesus *being* the image of God, the radiance of His glory, etc.

    It’s 1:30 in the morning . . . I should be in bed . . . if I keep ‘talking’ I’ll just get myself in trouble! :-)

  43. Egana permalink
    December 20, 2006 5:04 pm


    my cousin Jerry (Brother Jerome of the order of Christain Brothers (very super catholic, education focus)) is a sculptor, and makes lots adn lots of iconography… I have know him forever, and have always yearned over his objects, at his studio in Italy as well as what he brings with him when he tours the states each year…

    anyway, he makes “risen Jesus” wood carvings and sculptures that are AWESOME! they are inspiring and fearful, as they are “Jesus the kick-a** king” in a big way. I don’t know if I can find any pictures, to share them with you, but just wanted to let you know they exist at all…

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