March 3, 2013  — Lent 3

Rev. David Boyd


Back in 1979, a small controversy occurred at Bloor Street United Church in Toronto. The Rev. Cliff Elliot, a beloved minister of the United Church and a mentor to me and many, was one of the ministers at this thriving, large church. It was Good Friday and several churches in the neighbourhood had come together to observe Good Friday; the theme was "battered wives." There had been many newspaper articles in 1979 of women of all social classes being beaten by their spouses. The Churches wanted to link this theme to the agony of the cross on Good Friday.

Bloor Street United at the same time was hosting a sculpture produced by a Canadian sculptur, Almuth Lutkenhaus. The sculpture was called "Crucified Woman." It was to be in the Chancel, the worship area of the church, for Holy Week and the season of Easter. The arts committee of Bloor Street United had arranged to exhibit art in the church hall from time to time, but when it saw "Crucified Woman," the committee realized that this needed a more religious display area. The artist herself did not see it as a religious piece of art, but as we all know, art certainly has a spiritual dimension to it.

Cliff Elliott wrote, "But could the congregation accept it? The sculpture was naked. It was a woman. It was in the attitude of the cross. Sex, politics, and religion—the most controversial themes possible—were all involved. Would the controversy be too destructive? Or could the very controversy be an aid and stimulus to learning? Finally the decision was made. We would take the risk."1

What would we have done, I wonder?

Well, we may have the opportunity to find out. Not about "Crucified Woman"; it now stands at Victoria University in Toronto, associated with Emmanuel College. The sculpture has been the raison d'être of many discussions about feminist thought and theology since then. The Observer featured an article about the sculpture.

One of the directions of the Board, and this fits in well with Nelson in general, is to be more intentional about the arts. This is what we wrote, and it's quite eloquent (from our Board's strategic statements):

We acknowledge and recognize that daring to live the way Jesus brings us to encounter the ineffable mystery and infinite depth of our Creator. Prior to word, to time, to existence, we acknowledge and recognize Being. We dare to invite others into the experience of the mystery of Being, the source of Being, through media and means that offer a transcendent experience outside words, worship, liturgy, or text. Through creative expression, visual and auditory, we offer to members and our community opportunities for spiritual expression and experience.

We invite others to co-create with us. We invite and affirm the act of creation as a holy act. We discussed...
               ·   NUC being a vibrant place of music—jazz, celtic evensong, poetry etc.
               ·  ideas such as a children's art workshop where they create spiritual pieces of art.
               ·  Community art creation—groups making an art object together.
               ·  Temporary art moments—connections to social justice—captured and transmitted via internet means.
               ·  Cultural diversity; for example, exploring more deeply 1st Nations art.
               ·  Encounters and engaging with the arts, encounters with each other as part of an arts and culture strategy.

Jesus used the art of the parable, a short story that disrupted the way in which people viewed the world. The stories today from Luke are parables. It was quite probable that Jesus had heard a sermon from some preacher that those who perished in the accident described and the abomination by Pilate was just reward for some great sin that the people had committed.

This was traditional theology in those days; remember Job and his friends? Job's friends kept saying to him, "Just confess your sins and it will be well again." In other, words, just admit that you're wrong. But Job maintained his innocence; he had committed no sin. The prophets supported Job and poked holes in the theology that said if you were successful it was because you were righteous and if you were a failure, it was because you had sinned. Jesus said, categorically, that this was wrong-headed theology. "We must all repent," said Jesus. We must remember that when we point fingers, there are fingers pointing back at us. We are in this together and God is not a God of punishment; God is a God of love who opens us to Being.

The fig tree parable underlines this point of love and nurture. Just one more year and the tree will bear fruit. Just one more chance and we'll get it right. Just one more opportunity to turn about and make positive changes to my life and to the life of the world.

The arts have the potential to shock us out of our comfort zones into a new way of Being. Jesus did it, so can we. We all know the power of music, but there are other arts media that can deepen and enhance our cultural understandings and our spiritual and religious lives together.

I failed miserably at art in school. I could not draw although it is part of my genetic make-up. My grandfather drew with the Group of Seven in Toronto and was a good artist; my sister and both Alanna and Iain are artists. I can sing and muck about on the guitar or piano... and we all have an artistic bent of some sort.

While we don't have to be practitioner per se, we can appreciate. We can engage. We can discover. We can be amazed. We can be transformed. We can change the world through art.

That's what we want to be about. We'll see where it leads us.



1   Cliff Elliott, Exchange Magazine, Winter 1982, published by the United Church of Canada.   return