Last week Friday, I posted a few thoughts about our lectionary readings from the previous weekend on the earth joining in the human sufferings in this time. This was a new thought for me. I concluded my post with the question offered numerous times in the Psalms, “How long?”
I thought of this story that Calvin Grinnell shared with me last summer. Factually true or not, its implications are relevant. Calvin told us a story of a Hispanic man was out working in the oil fields and had to make a call but the spotty reception let him up to the summit of a nearby butte (this is, an already spiritual place and the action may be an exercise of native spirituality). While he was up there, an elderly native woman approached him as if from nowhere and asked him, “When will they feed us?” Confused, the man finished his call and the woman was gone. When he relayed the vision to the others, the elders took this as a sign from the earth that so much was being taken from her without feeding her a sustaining diet. They subsequently when back to the butte and made an offering.
I am not an expert in Native spirituality, and I am not sure what to do with such stories and claims. But I am ok to let them live as guides for our lives and interactions with creation. Perhaps the groaning of the earth in North Dakota is because is skin is being pulled continually scraped off or stomach growls because she is hungry from all the oil pulled from the earth each day without thanks, without blessings, without care, without concern for her well-being.
This past weekend in church, one of the readings was Romans 8.12-25. In it, I saw something new that I had never seen before even though it is a passage I have read and heard countless times during my life. It may even be one of those that I might even be able to recite part of from memory. It is curious to me how these things happen. Now Christians explain this as the Holy Spirit illuminating the scriptures. Which I do believe happens, however anyone who spends enough time with a text has the possibility to read it with “new eyes”. All those things that we encounter in our lives between the readings come into play and activate in our most recent reading to suggest the possibility of new depths of or alternate meanings. Whatever it is, I appreciate the new ideas and possibilities.
So here is the passage:
12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
I think, looking back on it now, I likely read this passage in a way was about human struggles and the hope that comes from faith in spite of current circumstances. Now, without looking, Paul is writing to encourage and teach those living in Rome dealing with a pretty crappy situation struggling under persecution. This is all pretty standard. What was new for me is how creation is bound up with humanity in this struggle.
Look at verse 19-23 again.
Creation awaits salvation too! It languishes awaiting its freedom. Again, looking back on it, that I think I conflated humanity as part of creation, which it is, but verse 23 articulates an important rhetorical distinction (23and not only the creation, but we ourselves). This distinction that Paul sets between humanity and creation is an important one. We see, that creation suffers awaiting the same freedom from bondage that humanity awaits. This was an unbelievable thought.
Over the recent years, with my interest in place and shifting theological emphases, I’ve come to think more about the relationship between humanity and the earth very differently. Often, for a variety of long held philosophical reasons firmly rooted in Protestant thought, the physical is diminished in favor of the spiritual. The logic goes that since “we” will fly away from this physical earth, it is of no real lasting significance. Tragically, the position of caretaker from Genesis becomes one of dominance and misuse rendering it a disposable reality to be mined for all its worth to fuel our economies.
As I think about this further, this action only amplifies the groaning. Perhaps what has allowed this idea to emerge is my recent time in the oil fields of North Dakota. At the beginning of this month, I spent 2 solid days, driving through some of the most beautiful landscape of North Dakota which has now become a sprawling oil field. Land is being drastically reshaped, gouged, drilled, drug, and about any other manner of soil movement you might consider. I cannot help but to see the groaning of the earth around me when I drive out there.
While the Psalms retell the laments of those who cried out, “How long?” I fear this is the cry of the earth as well?
FYI - Baylor is hosting a conference on Faith and Film...the call for papers is out.
Yesterday I bumped into this article discussing the disparity of the historical legacy and tourist future of the Nazi concentration camps, particularly Auschwitz. The author discusses her recent visit to the site, and as she passed through, she struggled with, what might be construed as her comfortable humanity poking through in pointed ways, with thoughts of her hunger (as starving), her tired feet (killing her). At each point, she shuddered at the thought once her mind had articulated it.
She wonders, as I have, what is this place? What place should it hold in our world. With my long interest in sacred space, is this a sacred space of sorts. Not the way a church or mosque is, but because of memory of the horrors committed by humanity upon humanity. The idea of holy typically connotes set aside, and in that sense, this place is set aside, not from Godly prerogatives, but because of its awfulness. With Israel's command to remember, in the Torah, this place serves as a place, a sacred place, set aside to carry forward the memory of those who were killed here.
As this place has become a tourist site, with its positives of moving forward the memory as those who survived the Holocaust are passing at an increasing rate because of their age, this place will remain, beyond their live and witness to be 2nd hand physical memory of the terrors inflicted here. With this necessity, comes with it the unfortunate reality of consumer products (coffee mugs with the word Remember printed upon it). There is something that turns in my stomach with this thought of commercializing this place, and yet, I understand the need for funding to preserve this place. I understand it...it still doesn't feel right.
I agree with her that this place, and others like it, along with the remaining survivors, these places and experiences need to be kept alive, images made, stories told, and places intact to avoid letting these memories slip into the abstract, but must remain as concrete as possible.
So while this is way overdue, it is still worth the time to blog about it. In January, my colleague Jessica Christy and I shared an exhibit in the MSU library gallery here on campus. It was to be a solo show for her, but she asked if I wanted to share the show which, of course, I jumped at the opportunity to show with her again.
Jessica is one of our closest friends from back in our days at UND in grad school. We were office and studio mates, shared many hours together in those places and as friends away from them. In the light of this, it is no wonder that when so many shared ideas, concepts, and such, that our work seems to hang together so well. While we are off on our own topical trajectories, we employ many of the same methods, concepts, materials, and forms. Hers often about the difficulty of navigating two cultures (Native and white), mine the memory and identity attached to the photographic objects. We both use pine trays, boxes, and found objects to explore these ideas in a variety of ways.
In our estimation, the exhibit hung together well, suggested an array of complex themes and ideas, and allowed the visitors to consider the symbolic nature of daily materials that have been re-purposed and re-contextualized.
Take a look at the works below. Enjoy!
Oh...and apologies for the iPad shots...its just too easy not to use.
Last Friday was MSU's annual Juried Student Exhibition. It was again this year a frenzied week of framing, finishing work, and for a few, starting, finishing, and framing the work all within a matter of days. This year's juror, Jim Park from Minnesota State Moorhead, had to pick through a record number of entries and some very good work.
I am thankful that a good number of my photo students not only were jurored in, but received awards as well. I am proud of them and their hard work has paid off.
On Thursday, my alternative process photo students turned in a salt print portfolio conceptually focused on the human body. I was so excited by the quality of work presented and the risks taken. Students are busy...unbelievable so compared to my time in college. I encouraged, urged, coaxed, cajoled them into entering their fine work in spite of the short deadline. They came through!
I've been encouraging them to consider the photographic object through this course exploring installation and printing on alternative substrates rather than simply creating a beautiful cyanotype or whatever processed image. Several have moved in that direction...good preparation for their final.
In addition to the usual awards presented by the gallery, Karina and I have sponsored a photo award selected by that years juror. This year, the piece chosen was an altered photograph of many faces, cut into slips, and re-arranged to considerable effect pursuing the idea of biological chances in ones development. Each strip represents something like 100,000 to one that you exist. Nice concept, nice execution.
Enjoy the images below.
1,2 Chicago Triptych, Cyanotype on Masa with alternative hanging
3-6 Cyanotype on Silks with alternative hanging
7 Salt Print on Masa, mounted as a folio
8 Salt Print on Arches Platine
9 Salt Print on Rives BFK Tan
10-11 Salt Print on Arches Platine
12-13 Digital Print mounted on wood panel
14-15 Digital Prints
16-18 Altered Digital Prints