a true parable about christian art and iconoclasm set in summer camp

I went to Christian summer camp quite a bit as a kid. We sang a lot of choruses with catchy melodies. They were fun and theological. One of my favorites when I was 12 started out with the line "Somewhere in outer space, God has prepared a place, for those who trust him and obey." Here is a cute video of some kids singing it.



I was a very enthusiastic singer of this song back in the day, though I'm not keen on its theology anymore. The song moved me so much I was inspired to draw a picture about it. I drew my cabin flying through space, including comets and moons and spiral galaxies in the background. I had my multi-color pen with me at camp so it was also a polychromatic picture and the cabin was drawn in perspective! I spent a lot of time on that picture, probably an entire free period. I was quite proud of it when I finished and showed it to my cabin counselor, who was nice about it.

I left it on my bunk and went to dinner and evening chapel. When I got back that night, my religious art had been torn up. Why would other boys do something like that, my own bunkmates? I never found out, but it may have been to bring me down a peg after seeing me get some faint praise from our cabin counselor. There was no inquisition. I did not receive justice. Confessions were not made. My religious art, as much as it can be called that by a 12 year old boy was desecrated by fellow christian boys.

Scott Erickson
As much as that hurt back then, I had forgotten about it for 36 years until I listened to a podcast yesterday by Justin McRoberts, interviewing his friend, collaborator, and visual artist, Scott Erickson. Scott has worked with churches and WorldVision over his career translating religious words and ideas into visual art. His work is profound. Here is my favorite on his home page which they chatted about on the podcast, Forgive Thy Other. He tells a story of him meeting someone who did not have a christian look about him and said to Scott, "I get that." There was no sermon. There was no essential Bible verses under the work. Sometimes people get art. Scott tells of other times when he creates during a church service as an invited communicator and church people will come up afterwards and tell him they don't get it. He doesn't hold it against them as they may not be familiar with less didactic and more obtuse themes of art. It's sort of like reading the Bible. It's not that simple...but I digress.

from wikipedia
This discussion also reminded me of the work by Andres Serrano, Immersion (Piss Christ). His work was also vandalized, in France, by conservative Catholics. They didn't get it. It was too complex, too obtuse. Nor did they care what he said about his work. In 2004 he said, The only message is that I’m a Christian artist making a religious work of art based on my relationship with Christ and The Church. The crucifix is a symbol that has lost its true meaning; the horror of what occurred. It represents the crucifixion of a man who was tortured, humiliated and left to die on a cross for several hours. In that time, Christ not only bled to dead, he probably saw all his bodily functions and fluids come out of him. So if ‘Piss Christ’ upsets people, maybe this is so because it is bringing the symbol closer to its original meaning. The iconoclasts in France mistook criticism for blasphemy. A visual exploration of the full humanity of Christ was too much for those who were unable to think about this creedal affirmation of the church in a creative way. Certainly one can argue about whether art is good or not, there is plenty of derivative Christian art, but mature art is supposed to challenge. And religious art can be prophetic, not in the future telling aspect, but in the challenge of social norms aspect. Basically, artists, like prophets, can call people in power on their bullshit. Serrano also says of this art, "while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture."

His critics did not like the tone he took in his visual criticism. It's much like critics of movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too, Colin Kapernick and Christine Blasey Ford. They are criticized for the means of the message so they do not have to discuss the merits of the message itself. In response to difficult art, I recommend starting with Scott Erickson's idea, Forgive thy Other.

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