The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a] 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Image: Beth Lipman, Bride, 2010, glass with wood and paint and glue, 120 x 90 x 90 in. All photographs by Susan Shinn Turner and Sandra Hoffman
Bride as Self-Portrait
Beth Lipman’s Bride is a ten-foot tall, monumental still life made up of five tiers filled with over 500 glass objects. At the top, we see sparkling domesticated objects found at a wedding table. Each element is whole and carefully arranged like a crown. As we descend from the top tiers, the glass elements range from glasses, vases, cutlery, and candles. We find fruit, oysters, and fish. There is a kitten and a bird. An ornate scroll is easily spotted. But increasingly, chaos takes hold and begins to dominate the landscape. Items are knocked over; food is rotting, and objects are shattered and broken. And amid the broken glass that spills over to the bottom tier to the floor like the tulle or lace of a bride’s wedding dress, there is a human skull.
Beth Lipman (b. 1971) is an American contemporary artist known for her still life glasswork that references famous art works from the 16th-19th centuries with connection to contemporary culture. The North Carolina Museum of Art commissioned Lipman to fabricate a work that included works in the museum’s permanent collection to engage historical questions in new ways. Lipman wanted to create a holistic portrait of a human, a work that could serve as a reflective self portrait and could host a multitude of ideas and conversations.
Among other works in the collection, Lipman chose several works that highlight both the beauty and ethical failures in ethnic, cultural, and economic propaganda found in western culture and the church. She used a plate of fish from Pieter Aertsen’s 16th century market scene, A Meat Stall, a candlestick from Bernard Strozzi’s 17th century painting, St. Lawrence Distributing the Treasures of the Church and the 19th-century Ottoman Esther Scroll and Case from the Judaic collection.
Lipman’s Bride is asking, can you see your self-portrait in me? Is this a bride “for such a time as this?”
Esther 4:14, NIV “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
Images: details of the Esther Scroll, wilting flowers, half-eaten fruit, hourglasses, overturned plates and half-empty goblets, burning candles, oyster shells.
The Church as the Advent Bride
After a challenging year on far too many levels, people are desperate to get to Christmas, to have a reason to celebrate. But there is an order to Christian liturgy born out of the ancient Scriptures: lament always precedes celebration. Advent (40 days of lament) precedes Christmas just as Lent (40 days of lament) precedes Easter. In return, Christmas is the fulfilment of Advent and Easter the fulfillment of Lent.
Lament is an entirely honest, full-bodied expression in personal and corporate grief to God over sin, largely entailing complaints of injustice. Many American Christians struggle with Advent’s prophetic roots of lament because it is counterintuitive to the classic American optimism.
Yet Christ, as the Bridegroom, calls upon His bride to share His grief and anger over injustice in the world and in particular, injustice within the Church. After far too many tragedies, Black Christians are expressing their frustration, grief and despair with largely white evangelical churches that persist in the belief that racism is primarily a personal sin and not a systemic injustice that is pervasive in every venue of life today.
The Church, as the Bride of Christ, carries a history that is filled with both inspiring creativity and senseless destruction.
Some white Christians remain silent on racism because they do not see how it affects them. And some avoid uncomfortable conversations about racism because they do not believe they are complicit either personally or by corporate identity. While denouncing racism as sin, many white Christians do not believe they perpetuate racist ideologies that might be embedded in Western American culture and political values. And still the most segregated hours in American churches are Sunday mornings and at the family dinner table. This prevailing pattern of racial preference shows that racism is just as endemic to much of American Christianity today as it was centuries ago.
Yet too many in the church fail to listen to Black Christians under a notion that just preaching the Gospel will make injustice go away. But there is no peace without an honest lament. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Many white Christians are beginning the hard but good work of lament by engaging in honest questions with Black Christians and becoming students of justice as they learn from history. They do not remain silent but become advocates for justice.
As the Bride of Christ, when we repent and confess our fears and failures to do justly, love mercy and walk in humility with God and one another, He bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes. In the Lord's hand, we the bride, become a crown of splendor.