This oft-quoted adage rings true for me, who tends to be a visual learner (and semi-lazy reader). Perhaps that is why reading picture-less books such as the Bible is sometimes a struggle. Yes, there are plenty of illustrated Bibles to choose from, including Robert Crumb’s illustrated book of Genesis, which touts itself as “the first book of the Bible graphically depicted! Nothing left out! (It also recommends adult supervision for minors.) Any more though, I often find illustrated Bibles deeply problematic too, especially given how often God and God’s entourage is portrayed as white, as if that is somehow the “norm” or default.
So these days, while I still think images are a powerful mode of communication, I don’t see images as inherently superior as communication tools. Images, just like words, can mislead, manipulate, damage, remain ambiguous, and all out fail at communicating effectively, sometimes even at a faster rate than words. Images are loaded in other words, sometimes with the agendas of those creating them and sometimes they are exploited by the agendas of those with the power to interpret and replicate them.
It’s no wonder we as humans often clash over images (and words). What we see, how we see what we see, and what shapes our interpretations of what we see is loaded. Images, just like words, have the potential to create worlds full of wonder and/or horror, depending on who/whose you are.
That’s why, as I launch this new inquiry, which I’m calling Stained Theology (more on that later), I’m clinging to 1 Corinthians 13 of the Christian Bible, especially the words,
“12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”1 Corinthians 13:12
Why this chapter of this letter, you may ask? It’s not lost on me that in the very next chapter in 1 Corinthians 14, women are admonished to be silent and subordinate. So to be clear, it’s not Paul’s specific conclusions that I cling to as much as the sad but accurate reality that Paul seems to paint of the church being a place, just like any other place, where humans have the potential to clash–to become clanging cymbals and noisy goings, to become harmfully competitive, to reason only like children, to be rude, insistent on one way, and to rejoice in wrongdoing. It’s always been this way and the potential for this behavior therefore always remains. So does the potential, I believe, for unlearning some of these behaviors and the power dynamics that fuel them.
“When you come together,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” I’m not under any illusion that this inquiry into Stained Theology will be smooth sailing and without any clashing. Some things, quite frankly, need to be torn down in order to rebuild. And yet I remain committed to the goal of creating conditions where faith, hope, and love can abide and be built up-the greatest of these being love.
So in closing: Did you know that the quote “A picture is worth a thousand words,” originates from the saying, “A thousand words leave not the same deep impression as a single deed”? How we treat one another with our words and images matter. That is the case in this inquiry and all inquiries.
This blog henceforth (and foreseeable future) will be a place for Stained Theology prompts, learnings, quotes, journaling, and yes lots of images. Probably some mistakes too. Hopefully, together, we will keep unlearning those things which need to be unlearned.
Special thanks to Louisville Institute who is funding this inquiry that I’m calling Stained Theology. Click here to learn more about this Pastoral Study Project.