A series of oil paintings titled Yan' Guan Town, by Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong, explores two families, one Christian and one Muslim, both living in a region of China considered a "crossroads of cultures." At the center of the series are two paintings: large family portraits. The Christian family—"Z's Family"—is shown in their church, while "H's Family," the Muslim family, is seen in the café that the family runs. (Painting was not allowed in their mosque.) The series is filled in by studies of individual family members. Through these studies Xiaodong patiently builds a picture of religious practices and of common and private spaces. He offers reportage, not interpretation. In one interview, Xiaodong said, "The artist has a responsibility to use his critical powers to cut through social issues for a dispassionate standpoint. . . . You don't need to condone or blindly eulogize."
For the first five years of my ministry, I served a small church
bereft of young children. Christmas presented the perfect opportunity to delve
into the mystery of the incarnation; our Christmas Eve services dripped with
candle wax and Christology.
In my new call as an associate pastor at a large suburban
congregation, I'm responsible for the Christmas Eve pageant.
Aside from the Bible, The Chronicles
of Narnia have been the most formative books in my life. My parents hung a
Narnia map in my nursery, and my dad started reading the books to me at age
three. Soon I was reading the books a couple of times a year.
I appreciate when other people recommend
favorite CDs. In that spirit, I share with you some of my favorite Christmas
CDs. (A warning: I tend to favor the less familiar over tried and true
Christmas carols. I also prefer vocal music to instrumental and a cappella to
So, I didn’t latch onto a holy word and go into space and, ethereal, lose touch with my body. But God, in those thirty slow minutes, you unfolded in me the bud of a fresh flower, with color and fragrance that was more than my soul was capable of, on its own.
. . . We all, with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.
And when the peony showed up, I knew it as a kind of mirror. This was glory in pink and cream, with a smell of heaven. Petals like valves opening into the colors of my heart.
I saw myself kneeling on a grass border, my knees bruising the green, pressing my face into the face of this silken, just-opened bloom, and breathing it, wanting to drown in it. Wanting to grow in its reflected image.
Following outbreaks of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, an Israeli hummus restaurant near the coastal city of Netanya offered 50 percent discounts to Jewish and Arab customers who sat together. “If there’s anything that can bring together these peoples, it’s hummus,” the restaurant manager said (Jewish Telegraphic Agency).