Category Archives: faith

Right Message, Wrong Delivery

A month ago today a murder took place. It was a drive-by shooting right in front of the public high school of my hometown—the small, bedroom community of Owosso, MI—and the man killed was an activist infamous to the area.

I say infamous because he was an anti-abortion protester.

Knowing our nation’s diverse stance on abortion and the volatile topic it is, being “anti-abortion” can mean many things. There are those who believe in the sanctity of life and lovingly encourage others of God’s truths. Their goal, as humanly possible, is to mirror Jesus during his time here on earth.

And then, there are those who share this belief but voice it in a much more rank and oppressive manner. Owosso’s murder victim was allegedly one of those. Residents, including his own son, complained of his gruesome posters and the harrassing way he enforced his view.

Being obnoxious certainly doesn’t warrant getting killed. But one has to wonder how much more effective this activist might have been had he delivered his message in a less menacing way? Instead of shocking people with graphic images of dead babies, what if he enlightened them the beauty of a living one? Instead of angering pregnant women with biblical law at a critical, vulnerable time, what if he offered them hope, comfort and God’s love?

Instead of being anti, as in anti-abortion, what if he had been pro, as in pro-life?

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The Art of Illumination

Tuk e vzproizveden list ot Kru... Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

Tuk e v"zproizveden list ot "Krupnishkoto" evangelie (vzh. list 3, 4).Digital ID: 1551201. New York Public Library

I’m reading a book that’s totally awakened me to an art form I previously knew little about.

The book is Graphic Design and Religion: A Call for Renewal, by Daniel Kantor. The art is a historical technique known as illumination.

Illumination is commonly associated with Middle to Renaissance Age religious manuscripts. Considered the most sacred of all documents, these manuscripts were embellished with decorative borders, elaborate initials and detailed illustrations. Because artists created them in gold, silver and other brilliant colors, they appeared illuminated on the animal skin pages.

The Slavic piece shown here, exquisite as it is, is a somewhat muted example (it’s the only image I could find with copyright permissions). Comparatively, works such as de Brailes Hours or Biblia pauperum, two of many listed in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, are much more intense. Imagine the time and discipline that went into creating any of these beautiful works of art!

While illuminations, as an art form, are fascinating, I’m most inspired by the ideals they represent.

Kantor described the illuminators as the finest of artists who remained “lifelong students of their craft” and “eschewed shortcuts that compromised aesthetic integrity.” They chose the most quality materials available to create visuals for a largely illiterate population—visuals that, as much as humanly possible, communicated the divinity of Christ.

Illuminators saw their work as “a ministry worthy of their best efforts,” writes Kantor.

The techniques we use today certainly have changed the way we visually communicate our faith. Graphic design and commercial printing are light-years away from those hand-rendered illuminations. Yet the ideals are still the same. The time we spend training and conceptualizing, the quality of materials we use and the dedication we apply to our work, all reflect the reverence we hold to Christ.

Communicating Christ, after all, is a ministry worthy of our best efforts.

Happy Epiphany

Epiphany…the twelfth and last day of Christmas. The day Magi visited the Holy Child. The day John baptized Jesus. Or, the day Jesus changed the water into wine.

Depending on the tradition, this ancient church holiday commemorates any one of these events. Above all, Epiphany (Greek for “manifest” or “to reveal”) celebrates God’s revelation of Jesus Christ as his own Son.

As a kid, I remember my parochial school teachers saying we shouldn’t take our Christmas tree down before Epiphany. Now, as an adult, I’ve grown beyond such ideas, not out of apathy towards a somewhat forgotten holiday but because our tree—which, by the way, we cut only three weeks ago from our own woods— had dried to a crisp and threatened to ignite the whole house.

Who cares about a tree?

Instead, let’s think of Epiphany as the celebration it is. A celebration of God’s love.

Being the mortal humans we are, there’s no way we can fully comprehend an immortal God. Yet, when God revealed himself as a man on earth— someone people could see, hear and touch—he gave us an opportunity to better know him, to more easily understand his saving grace.

Wow! God did all that for us!

Epiphany in those terms certainly outshines any effort we put forth in sharing our Savior’s message. In spite of that, we have our own God-given command to reveal his message and tools with which to do so—words, visuals and, oh, so much more. My goal this year is to use them to his glory.

From Our House to Yours

christmas

The beautiful season of Christmas…

A new-fallen snow,
a brightly lit tree,
the joy in a child’s eyes,

Yet, none compare to the beauty
of our Savior’s grace,
his love for each of us.

Communicating Contentment

Summer days are lazy days for sheep. They eat and they lie around. They drink a lot of water. Then they eat and lie around some more. Such a life, eh?

This summer’s been pretty nice for my sheep because, in spite of recent dry weeks, their pastures have been lush and green the whole summer. I generally let them graze on one pasture for a few days. Then when they’ve eaten it down, I move them onto another pasture where new, thick grass tempts their palate.

This makes them happy sheep. Full. Content. And they lie around some more.

Anyone who knows sheep knows life is good when they see their flock lying around. As ruminants— animals with four stomachs—sheep will eat their fill of forage in minutes and then lie down and chew their cud for hours. This chewing is actually a regurgitating, rechewing and reswallowing of the grass they’ve eaten, creating a natural antacid, so to speak, which allows for better digestion in all those stomachs.

Isn’t that appetizing?

Well, I suppose not. But from a practical standpoint, a flock of sheep lying down and chewing their cud is a healthy flock. They’ve gotten enough to eat. They’re digesting in the proper manner. They are happy and content.

David, the Psalmist, is someone who knew sheep. When he wrote of lying “down in green pastures,” he wasn’t just penning creative prose. David knew sheep lie down when they are cared for and content. Using subject matter he knew best—the simplicity of sheep farming—David beautifully characterized the confidence he felt in God’s loving care.

I love to look out at my pastures and see my sheep. And as they look up at me, with jaws gnawing away, I know the good care I give them is fragmentary beside the complete care God gives me.

Attitudes are Contagious

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Our church is currently raising money for a $4 million building and renovation project. We’re doing this whether we can afford it or not. Well, sort of.

Nowadays, what congregation can afford to take on such a monumental expense? And what congregation operates on a relatively balanced budget? Certainly, not ours. Before starting the project, we conducted a feasibility survey and opinions ranged from half-hearted support to out and out refusal to commit. Most questioned how we could afford such an insurmountable task. In spite of this, we voted to go forward with construction.

Here’s where attitude comes in, and here’s where communication plays an important role.

We humans are fickle beings. Our attitudes are easily swayed one direction or another. Whether positive or negative, attitudes can be contagious. In the case of our congregation, where the vote has been cast and what’s done is done, it’s important that members’ attitudes go the way of positive.

Communication can shape attitudes. Communication can tell people how they feel or what they are. Tell people they are happy, they feel happy. Tell them they are go-getters, they become go–getters.

A quirk of human nature? A shaping of our emotional makeup? Oh, yes. The media, advertising and political arenas know this all too well. They successfully use it on us every day. Can we also shape attitudes with our communication, and can we do it in a God-pleasing way?

You bet.

For our capital appeal, the communications committee focused on creating a positive attitude that would dispel the Doubting Thomases. We chose a theme based on Isaiah 11:6 that provided a ready answer to the questions of why, when and how. We designed an accompanying logo that was bold, current and pleasing to all age groups…hey, even teenage boys were wearing the T-shirts at the church picnic! We regularly promoted church events to the community with news releases.

All of the above worked to permeate a sense of excitement in our congregation. But our campaign newsletters proved to be the biggest hit.

The appeal committee wisely approved a generous communications budget. This enabled us to professionally print eye-catching and well-designed newsletters that promoted enthusiasm and up-to-date information. Showcasing multi-generational families created a sense of heritage and history, as did photos and stories of bygone days from elderly members. Human interest stories, such as those of members going into the world with the message of Christ, reinforced our church’s mission. Stories involving community emphasized our relationship within our own city.

The tone of our newsletter was also well received. We kept the content light and easy to read. Of course we communicated God’s message—that is most important, after all. But we were also careful to do it in a non-preachy way. We included lots of pictures and most of them were of people. We recognized God’s blessings. We said thank you.

Have we raised our current goal of $1.75 million? Not yet. We’re still in the first of our 3-year campaign.

But God works in wondrous ways. What began as a negative attitude has shifted to a positive. Many people have commented there is a level of excitement and involvement within our congregation that they’ve never seen before.

To Him be all the glory!


No Shop Talk

As a web designer, I frequently peruse online forums to further my knowledge. And as one of the “older set” (meaning IT definitions were not the first words from my mouth), I sometimes have problems understanding the language.

Like, what is this?

CSS is a stylesheet format for HTML, XHTML, and XML, including SVG and XUL, endorsed by the W3C, which facilitates the ability to separate document content from document presentation in a format universal to all browsers.”

Huh?

Why not simply say, “Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a web design language used to format the layout of a web page. It’s endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium.”

KISS. Keep it simple (sweetie). No shop talk.

So, what about our faith language? Do we mistakenly assume all readers are equally as far in their spiritual journey? Does our faith writing also cause people to say, “huh?”

Assume zero faith knowledge
Much of our writing today is for the web. Our audience potential is endless! We should assume that some, if not many, of our readers know nothing of Christ. They may not even fully understand the English language, let alone our faith language. It must be simple.

Simple language is a must for our church members as well. People today have little time and our styles of reading have changed. Succinct, direct and uncomplicated are key.

Avoid jargon
Theological words such as “sovereign, justification, repentence, witness” and “sin” are shop talk to the believer but tech language to someone else. They carry different meanings to different people. Use them with care.

Avoid clichéd phrases
As Christians, we have a tendency to include the full law and gospel message in a single sentence, no matter what the topic. Or, we refer to Christ with a long string of names, just to be sure we’ve covered all his deities.

“With the certain hope of our Almighty Father’s love and guidance…”

Huh? It’s hard to read and too much to comprehend. It loses it’s meaning.

Why not simply say, “With God’s help…”