I love my church here in Winston. Over the last three years I have come across a number of prophets in the community. There were those who came to visit like James Forbes, “Buzz” Thomas, Paul Fiddes, and John Cobb. Then there are a bunch who serve, share, and worship with me each week. My favorite are the single women at least 40 years older than me, which is something I would not think I would ever say. This past week we had a new prophet in residence and it was one of the most refreshing and hope-filled moments I have had in a building with a steeple in a long time. Stewart Gerarad, a 24-yearold artist of the photographic variety, showed up with a sampling of the photos from his most recent collection on display here in Winston titled “Augmented Reality.” There was bit of news surrounding his exhibit after two photos with nudity in them were found in a closet. Apparently in the ‘Christian city of Winston, here in the Bible belt’ that kind of stuff shouldn’t be around. Aside from engaging in a debate of what classifies as art or the religiously imperialistic tone of the wanna-be ‘critic,’ I was struck by the insight of a number of comments Stewart made in a 30 minute interview with our Education minister Ken Myers. (Since its been a week I am not sure if he said what I am reporting during the public forum or afterwards in a conversation, but here we go. Plus other than what I wrote on 3×5 card the quotes are paraphrases)
Stewart, while not a church-goer since youth group, is not foreign to religion or the Christian faith. In fact he mentioned being ‘sword drill champion’ at his church growing up. In church speak that means he memorized a bunch of bible verses and knew the Protestant ordering of the two testaments. Point being, at some point he was heavily involved in his faith community. Ken asked him couple different ways why he wasn’t compelled to stay in a church to which he said, “When I got older I came to see that religion, at least how I had experienced growing up, wasn’t attached to the reality I was living in. Plus I did the whole Christian thing enough to have Jesus on tap.” Something that stuck out to me was his use of the word “pure.” He didn’t use it with a good protestant guilt complex, but as something treasured, valued, and even messily honest. In a response to a question about postmodernity and ‘why photography,’ he made a rather profound even prophetic observation about postmodern purity. There are a bunch of forms of art, most of which have a form of technical perfection. There are things like painting with a bunch of styles that you perfect the technique to do and then new digital based art that with the mastery of more technology there are more possibilities. Photography is simply the image. It is limited by what was actually present in history at the moment of the shot, it is limited by vision of a single lens, and is limited to the power present of a single sense, sight. The photo is pure in the postmodern sense. Stewart said, “technical perfection doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t get the image right.” Images are revelatory beyond the confines of technique and system, they reveal reality that is true but often ignored for the sterile, clean, edited, socialized, and manufactured existence we know. The stark difference Stewart saw between religion and reality was a prophetic judgment of our faith-imaging, not our religious speak that ‘sounds’ religion to the center of our life, but the substance in the religious images of our community. Where are the images of reality in religion? Is the religious reality imaginable? Bearable? Simply speakable?
When pressed by questions on how to get his postmodern people to church Stewart said, “I would think you should create a recovery zone that anyone can come to and those with the will-to-heal can find partners.” A pure community with postmodern sensitivity is one where the reality of life can find an open space to be as messily honest as need be and a community that encourages the will-to-heal. I imagine that this community is one where it is ok for the cross present and dirty or should I say pure.