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The end of Matthew

Today I finished the first draft of the last novel in my juvenile fiction series about Matthew. It needs work, but the basic story is recorded.

FritzLiedtke-Italy-familyThe following interview with Fritz Liedtke by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 47-49 of the April 16, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

Viewing the extraordinary fine art photography of Fritz Liedtke opens your eyes to the unique beauty of each person created in God’s image.

“Everybody has a history, everybody has secrets, everybody hurts,” he says. “I give people an opportunity to be honest about their hidden lives and to create beauty from ashes. I consider this to be a natural outworking of the compassion Christ has developed in me. Good art is incarnational, meaning that it puts flesh to the spirit, it makes concrete something that is intangible. What is inside an artist will naturally be expressed in his or her artwork.”

Most photographers would not consider some subjects Fritz chooses: highly freckled people, awkward adolescents, or persons with eating disorders. But his fine art photos of these people showcase his heart for the hurting and his talent for capturing their inner beauty and strength. He calls his limited edition series with freckled subjects Astra Velum.

Liedtke-AstraVelum-Asia“When I look at people with freckles, I think of constellations of stars in the sky,” he says. “So I named the series Astra Velum, which is Latin and means ‘veil of stars.’”

Liedtke balances his fine art photography with a successful commercial photography business that includes more traditional subjects: professionals and models as well as graduates and wedding participants. His interest in photography began as a teen, when he carried a Kodak 110 Instamatic on a US tour with his dad. He has a BFA in photography and has won an increasing number of awards over the last 25 years.

I met Fritz at the 2013 Glen West workshop in Sante Fe, and later communicated with him via email for Christian Renewal.

Christian Renewal: Fritz, 2013 was a big year for you. You were the featured photographer at the Glen West workshop in Sante Fe, and you were chosen as one of nine American photographers to exhibit work at the Lishui International Photography Festival in China. What other significant events in your career occurred during the year?

Fritz Liedtke: Yes, 2013 was a big year for me. My photography was shown in and collected by museums, was in numerous gallery shows, and it took me to China for the Lishui Photo Festival. I had work published in a number of magazines, including a feature in Image. I had the privilege of teaching at The Glen, and was invited to teach in Italy at Incarnate (where I am now for a few months). The International Society of Media Photographers chose me as one of their Best of 2013. My limited edition artist book Astra Velum passed the halfway point of selling out. My book Skeleton in the Closet was also published (available on Amazon). So yes, it was a busy and exciting year.

FritzLiedtke-QuiteNormal-MaudeCR: Incarnate in Italy is a three-month immersion experience for artists from around the world, who pursue their artistic calling in a striking setting (the Italian Alps!) and within a creative community centered on Christ. This year’s dates are from February 11 through May 3 (2014). Can you share a bit more about your teaching stint at Incarnate?

Fritz: This is a truly unique experience for me. We are halfway through the school as I write. It is formatted to be both a time of deep discipleship, and of artistic exploration. Its focus is to help students become deep people—deeply rooted in Christ, practicing spiritual disciplines, listening to God’s voice—and from this deep place to create art. It has been a life-changing experience for my students as well as for me. We live in community for three months, studying and creating. I am so impressed with the folks at OM Arts, with whom I am serving here. They’ve put together an amazing program, and I’m privileged to be part of it. You can read a little more about it here.

CR: You mentioned your books Skeleton in the Closet, which features people who struggle with eating disorders, and Astra Velum, available in hand-printed limited editions of photogravures highlighting freckled people. Your portfolios “Welcome to Wonderland” and “Quite Normal” depict adolescents, often revealing their hidden thoughts. These are unusual subjects most photographers don’t consider. What motivates you to work with these unique subjects?

FritzLiedtke-QuiteNormal-MabelFritz: If you take a look at my personal work overall, you’ll sense my compassion for the displaced, the lonely, the broken among us. Everybody has a history, everybody has secrets, everybody hurts. This is what I end up being drawn to, and is the connection I see in these projects: I give people an opportunity to be honest about their hidden lives and to create beauty from ashes. I consider this to be a natural outworking of the compassion Christ has developed in me. Good art is incarnational, meaning that it puts flesh to the spirit, it makes concrete something that is intangible. What is inside an artist will naturally be expressed in his or her artwork.

CR: Sometimes the expression of what’s inside an artist will be obvious and sometimes it’s more subtle. It seems to me that photography may be a more subtle medium in general than, say, painting or writing (although both of those can be extremely subtle). It would appear more difficult to be overtly incarnational in photography, although I believe any viewer of your fine art work feels—at the least—a connection to the human spirit. A Christian would—I believe—recognize this as a sense of the divine image. What pieces or portfolios do you view as most incarnational? Or which would you say is your best art?

Fritz: I’m not sure I’d say photography is more subtle than painting or writing, but that it has its own set of challenges. While I can’t create something out of nothing like a painter or writer can (because I have to photograph things that exist in the real world), I still choose what to fill the frame with. This refers back to my answer above: my compassion, for instance, is ‘incarnated’ in my photography.

Liedtke-AstraVelum-EllaCR: What has been your favorite project and why?

Fritz: Honestly, I think the most fun work I get to do is with adolescent kids. They’re surprisingly creative and imaginative and sensitive. I feel like they are an overlooked gem in the world, and it’s fun for me to create art with them. Last year I created a new set of images for the Quite Normal series, where I photograph the kids, and then let them write about their lives based on my portrait. Then they write a phrase or two directly on the photograph. I really enjoy watching them open up when they see that I’m actually interested in listening to their stories. Amazing things happen.

CR: What’s the basic philosophy behind your photography?

Fritz: Hmm, if I have one, it would incorporate these elements: Photograph things I care about, try to make the most beautiful images possible, surprise the viewer, surprise myself.

CR: I’m intrigued by the balance you maintain between commercial and fine art work. How do the two create conflict or complement each other?

DierdreFritz: I used to think that if I photographed commercially, it would hinder my personal work. I was afraid that my personal work would start to look like the images I was paid to create. Or that I would use up my creative energy making money, and burn out as an artist. While I certainly have to maintain a careful balance between the two in order to avoid burnout, I find that the commercial work has actually enhanced my personal work. Because I’m photographing regularly, my technical and aesthetic skills are strong and fluid. This means I can approach a personal project with these skills, and not have to start from scratch. I can make stronger personal images because I’m in the habit of making strong images all the time.

NoemiCR: How does your Christian faith inform your work, your family, and the balance you seek between those two elements of your life?

Fritz: Since high school, when I first had a glimpse of what good art is, and that I could actually be an artist, I’ve felt a sense of responsibility. Not a burden, but a responsibility to be the best artist I could be. I saw so few examples of Christian artists, that I wanted to be one of the few who actually was faithful to this gift God had given me. But I’m also responsible to be faithful in other areas of my life, including participating in my church community and caring for my family. So I’m careful to balance these things. I don’t want to be one of the artist-stereotypes that throws out everything healthy and good in life in order to pursue his gift. That’s folly. My relationship with the Lord is at the heart of who I am, and infuses everything I do.

To peruse Fritz Liedtke’s extraordinary fine art photograph, visit this website. To view his commercial work, see this site.

DSCN2876Iowa may not have mountain vistas or white beaches, but in summer its lush green fields and rolling tree-covered hills are beautiful. The land between the mighty Mississippi and the churning Missouri, creased by river valleys and meandering streams, displays more summer beauty than I-80 drivers realize.

And it’s a far cry from the arid wilderness of Judah, where David hid many years and what he calls in Psalm 63 a “dry and weary land where there is no water.”

David longs for God so fervently, he compares it to the intense desire for water and refreshment experienced when traveling through a desert.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1, ESV).

I may live in a lush land between two rivers in the heart of America, but I identify with David’s longing. Even the greenest land seems barren when it feels as if God is far off.

But when we participate in corporate worship and hear the Word faithfully proclaimed, we see a brief glimpse of God’s glory and power.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory (verse 2, ESV).

Our focus shifts from ourselves and our needs to God and his glory. We remember God’s unfailing love and we praise him for it.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands (verses 3 & 4, ESV).

God’s love defies limits. It never ends, it never wavers, it never changes. He always loves us with an abundance and compassion beyond our ability to fathom.

Because concerns kept me awake between 2:00 and 6:00 AM, the next section of this psalm speaks directly to me this morning.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me (5-8, ESV).

I don’t always praise God with joyful lips or sing to him with joy. But if I remember what he’s done for me, how he’s guided every step of my life’s journey, and how he continues to shelter me under his protective wings, I ought to praise him. And praise leads to joy in the most downcast heart. In times of distress and discouragement, my soul can cling to God. His right hand holds me in his everlasting embrace.

The schemes of the devil and all his minions will come to nothing.

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped (9-11, ESV).

DSCN2853God will thwart the plans of deceivers, manipulators, and liars. They will perish on the points of their own sharp schemes. We may not see their specific demise, but God promises that evil will not triumph.

Christ and his people will exult and rejoice in our God, who satisfies our longings more than an oasis of fresh water in a parched land.

Mosaic makers (photo credit Paul Jubenvill)

Mosaic makers
(photo credit-Paul Jubenvill)

Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church in Surrey, BC, marked its 60th anniversary on March 7, 2014. The church’s celebration concluded with the unveiling of a unique mosaic titled: Broken people made whole in Christ.

Artifacts from the congregation’s early years were displayed at a program that featured speakers, greetings from former pastors and civic officials, a humorous story, and various styles of musical numbers, including hymns in English and Chinese.

Rev. Theo Lodder says, “I find it striking how reflective such an event is of the spiritual functioning of the body of Christ. So many members are involved, and every member has a part to play. And like the anniversary mosaic that is now in our church foyer, each one of us, in all our fallen, shattered, broken humanity is brought together, bound together and made one by God and His Spirit, made whole and complete in Christ.”

Cloverdale’s members contributed Delft, tea cups, a dragon dish, and other tableware for the mosaic. A group of women, under the direction of artist Sheila VanDelt, formed colorful pieces into a stylized depiction of exultant people with a cross a focal point in the background of hills, fields, mountains and sky.

The variety of mosaic materials reflects the diversity of Cloverdale’s 300 members, who are Dutch, Metis, Scottish, Burmese, Congolese, Chinese, Taiwanese, South African and more.

ps 126

Youth performing a rendition of Psalm 126 photo credit-Paul Jubenvill

Cloverdale was founded in 1954 by primarily Dutch farmers who immigrated to the Vancouver area after World War II. Because the congregation understands the difficulties of starting over in a new country, it has always supported refugees and missions.

Mission efforts focus on both home and foreign fields. Cloverdale partners with Langley Canadian Reformed Church to oversee a local Chinese congregation as well as foreign work under the Asia Mission Board. Rev. Frank Dong is Cloverdale’s missionary pastor to the 40-member Chinese Reformed Church that meets in a separate space of Cloverdale’s building from 1:00-4:00 on Sundays (English services are at 9:30 and 2:00). Dr. James Visscher, Cloverdale’s former pastor and emeritus minister of Langley, works with Rev. Dong, particularly regarding mission work in Asia.

According to Rev. Lodder, the church rejoices in “seeing our mission opportunities in Asia explode.” He says, “Many people hunger for God and many pastors and church leaders plead for further instruction and guidance to be faithful disciples and churches of Christ.”

Cloverdale supports church planting efforts from Surrey westward into metro Vancouver, including Burnaby and New Westminster. Rev. Lodder notes that New Westminster, on the Vancouver side of the Fraser River, was the location of the first Canadian Reformed Church in British Columbia, established in 1950. At least two other congregations grew out of Cloverdale: Langley Canadian Reformed Church (1976) and Willoughby Heights Canadian Reformed Church (1990).

Cloverdale was formerly Surrey’s town-centre, but the area now is more suburban and suffers from “eastward drift” as more families seek larger and more affordable homes elsewhere in the Fraser Valley. Rev. Lodder believes the eastward movement increases the church’s longing for evangelistic ministry to urban areas. “Our burden for our cities becomes more pressing,” he says, “especially that sinking feeling that we are letting prime opportunities for mission and evangelism slip away.”

While he acknowledges the church’s challenges, he also expresses many joys such as its growing ethnic diversity, mix of age groups, and “large pool of talents—musical, artistic, literary, social, political, educational, and technical—and a rich diversity of trades and skills and professions.”

The congregation welcomes new members who might consider moving to the area. Rev. Lodder says, “Anyone who enjoys living and working in a thriving West Coast city with a pleasant climate, near the scenic shores of the Pacific Ocean and against the stunning backdrop of the Rocky and Cascade mountains, within driving distance of the beautiful city of Vancouver, should consider joining us.”

The theme verse for Cloverdale’s anniversary was Psalm 126:2, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

“Psalm 126 talks about how God’s people ‘were like those who dreamed,’” says Rev. Lodder. “God has done great things for us in Christ, and when that happens, all sorts of other things happen that only seem possible in a dream. The dream of being a light and witness of Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, has always been alive and well in this congregation. The church of Jesus Christ is the most ethnically diverse body of people anywhere in the world. Our hope and prayer is that our ethnic diversity will grow richer as the years pass, and as God continues to bring all the nations of the earth to Jesus.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16 & 17 of the April 16, 2014, issues of Christian Renewal.

DSCN3737

Pablo and Verenisse receive congratulations.

In contrast to the September meeting of Classis Central US of the URCNA—which ran out of time to discuss the four overtures on its agenda—the March 3 & 4, 2014, meeting was the shortest in most delegates’ memory. A contributing factor was an abbreviated exam with a prompt decision. Another reason was that discussion on five overtures was not protracted. But the primary factor was the unusual absence of credential requests for advice, which can be a time-consuming activity conducted in executive session.

Delegates voted to revise the agenda in order to accommodate the candidacy examination of  Pablo Landázuri on Monday evening. Because he’d already sustained the other six portions at the September Classis meeting, this exam consisted of only two sections. Rev. Jacques Roets (Redeemer URC in Dyer, IN) examined Pablo on Bible Knowledge and Rev. Simon Lievaart (Doon URC in Doon, IA) questioned him regarding Confessional Knowledge.

The consistory of Faith URC in Beecher, IL, supervises Pablo. Following the time of questioning, the Faith URC consistory determined, and Classis concurred, that he had sustained the areas of biblical and confessional knowledge.

Pablo later reflected, “My main thought is that God, once again, has shown me how his fatherly hand works in all situations. I have had the great privilege to have the time to study the Scriptures and the Three Forms of Unity in a detail that I wouldn’t have had in any other situation, for which I am thankful. Also, I have learned that the result of a Classis examination is not only an intellectual exercise, but a spiritual one by which God has molded me and shown his will for the future. This is a very comforting feeling.”

Since June of 2013, Pablo has been serving an internship at Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, IA. He has assisted Rev. Doug Barnes in a variety of pastoral duties, regularly taught fifth grade catechism, provided Spanish instruction at a local Christian school, led Bible studies in Spanish for some area families, and frequently preached at Covenant or other churches. His wife, Verenisse, volunteered in the Spanish language immersion program at Pella Christian Grade School.

Classis decided to waive Pablo’s ordination exam, should he accept a call within Classis Central US. That is likely, given that Covenant Reformed Church has been working to develop a Joint Venture Committee to support his work when he returns to Ecuador.

Rev. Barnes said, “We’re delighted at how well our brother did on his examination. Our Council plans to meet within the next few days, in part to finish laying the groundwork for holding a congregational meeting to extend a call to Pablo. Lord willing, we hope to ordain him before his return to Ecuador in June. There’s a lot to do between now and when the Landázuri family leaves, but we know that God is entirely able to ensure that it all gets done well. We urge the churches to keep Pablo and his family, along with our Consistory, in prayer as we seek God’s help in bringing a strong Reformed witness to Quito, Ecuador.”

Classis met earlier than its regularly scheduled date in order to vote on five overtures prior to the deadline for synodical materials. Three came from Covenant Reformed Church in Pella, one from Covenant Reformed Church in Kansas City, and one from Grace URC in Waupun, WI.

Revs. Spencer Aalsburg, Bradd Nymeyer, and Keith Davis enjoy a break.

Revs. Spencer Aalsburg, Bradd Nymeyer, and Keith Davis enjoy a break.

The first overture from Pella would request Synod Visalia 2014 to editorially revise Classis credentials. URCNA Church Order stipulates that Consistories delegate two of its members to attend Classis and Synod meetings, but the approved classical credential uses the word “council” rather than “Consistory.” This overture requests editorial revision of the current classical credential to replace “council” with “Consistory” throughout the form. After little discussion, the overture passed.

A second overture from Pella and the one from Kansas City both suggested the appointment of a synodical committee to study the matter of resignation. Brothers from the churches made clear that neither had been aware of the other’s work on the overtures. Classis delegates considered the two overtures separately because each had its own nuances.

In discussion regarding the Pella overture, concerns were expressed regarding adopting a blanket approach that failed to consider each unique situation of individuals. After some discussion, the overture passed with only a few dissenting votes.

The Kansas City overture generated more discussion, related primarily to terminology. Several brothers felt uncomfortable with the word “desertion,” which was used in this overture. Rev. John Vermeer said, “It sounds like the word already is presuming culpability.”

Although Rev. Harold Miller expressed the belief that the overture primarily spoke to the issue of a person already under discipline, Rev. Bradd Nymeyer felt that was not clear. After another concern was expressed relating to possible legal ramifications, the delegates amended the overture with a question relating to that matter. The revised overture passed, but with many dissenting votes.

The third overture from Pella requested clarification of the status of the Three Forms of Unity and consisted of two affirmations that delegates considered separately. The first called for Synod to affirm the Three Forms of Unity as they appear in the 1976 version of the Psalter Hymnal. The second called for Synod to affirm the “substitute statement,” which appeared as a footnote in the 1958 version of Belgic Confession Article 36, “as part of its confessional binding.” Rev. Barnes explained that the footnote had been approved by the CRCNA Synod of 1958, but the temporary footnote was used while awaiting feedback from other Reformed churches.

The first affirmation passed with a few negative votes, while the second passed without dissent. The above four overtures will now be forwarded to the federation’s Stated Clerk for inclusion on the agenda for Synod Visalia 2014.

The overture from Grace URC in Waupun requested revisions to Classis Rules of Procedure and consisted of three requests, considered separately. The first would allow the Clerk to update the Rules of Procedure when changes are made to the Church Order that require revision of corresponding citations in the Rules, as long as he reports such changes to Classis. The motion was adopted. The second suggested the Clerk remind consistories that seminarians under their care be encouraged to attend Classis meetings at which candidacy exams are scheduled. That motion was defeated. The third suggested changing the word “delegate” to “member” at two points in the Classis Rules of Procedure, and it passed unanimously.

While a total absence of request for advice is extremely rare, this doesn’t mean that the churches are not dealing with many pastoral concerns. It simply means that no consistory felt the need to request advice at this time. Some have recently moved beyond that point and others have not quite reached that point with discipline problems.

DSCN3722Before lunch, delegates finished their business: re-electing Rev. Jody Lucero to serve on the Missions Committee, continuing the Clerk’s current $1,200 annual remuneration, appointing the consistory of Sioux Center United Reformed Church to supervise the Classical Treasurer, and electing elder Martin Nuiver (Faith URC in Beecher, IL) to serve on CECCA.

Redeemer URC in Orange City, IA, convened this meeting, but had asked Covenant Reformed Church in Pella to host it. Rev. Todd De Rooy served as chairman, Rev. Doug Barnes served as vice-chairman, and Rev. Talman Wagenmaker is currently Classical Clerk.

The date for the next meeting of Classis Central US was set for September 15 & 16, 2014. Covenant Reformed Church of Pella, IA, is next in rotation to host and convene.

A slightly edited version of this article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 13 & 14 of the March 26, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

Fiction focus

CIMG4520

Focusing on blue butterflies (read about it here)

Focusing on fiction every Friday has been my longstanding practice, but lately my fiction focus has flowed into nearly every other day.

And something else has been flowing. Since mid-May, I’ve logged an astounding 67,000 words of fiction writing. Okay, so it’s only been 66,926 words as of this moment. But the day is young.

And those fiction words were written in addition to thousands of other words meeting deadlines for paying work, crafting documents for volunteer positions, and communicating with friends and relatives. I’ve also invested hours in editing projects and a significant nonfiction collaboration.

I must admit that during this time frame, I’ve barely blogged or journaled and I’ve missed an appointment as well as a meeting, but–hey–you can’t have everything.

In my most recent (a relative term referring to May 9) Friday post about my fiction writing, I wrote that Matt was back. In January, I shared how I’d picked up this juvenile fiction series after an almost five-year hiatus. Because I didn’t write much fiction during the first part of this year, my almost 67,000 words since mid-May amazes me in many ways.

It’s as if God lifted his hand from my chest (you can read about that expression from Larry Woiwode here) and pressed it against my back, propelling me forward at break-neck (perhaps better, break-finger) speed.

I’ve completed the first two novels and I have less than 20,000 words left in the last one. I’ve already written the final three chapters, which I love. I simply must bring this kid from about the middle of the book to that end.

So now you know what I’ve been doing since mid-May. And now, back to my regularly scheduled program of focusing on fiction.

Blue butterfly day

DSCN4227Yesterday was a day of blue butterflies. We visited Reiman Gardens in Ames, spending nearly all our time in the butterfly wing, taking pictures and reveling in the profusion of fluttering beauty.

About 800 butterflies spend their brief lives in this enclosure, delighting viewers who amble through. My husband excelled at catching the large blue butterflies on the fly, while I did better at close-ups.

Only it was nearly impossible to get a close-up of the large blue butterflies, which the hallway chart identified as Common Blue Morpho. Immediately on landing, the bright wings folded shut, revealing only the brown spotted bottoms.

We took  many pictures, trying to catch these blue beauties on the fly, and last evening enjoyed reviewing them and sharing our best captures.

The butterfly is often used as a symbol for new life and resurrection. It’s easy to see why. The humble (frequently homely) caterpillar crawls up a branch, appears to “die” inside a tomb-like chrysalis, and emerges to fly with beautiful wings.

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Walking into clouds of fluttering butterflies lifted my spirits and raised my praise. The palette of hues and the range of sizes reminded me how much God loves variety and beauty.

He created an amazing array of creatures for our enjoyment and his glory. What mind could have imagined the miraculous transformation of caterpillar to butterfly? Only the ultimate Creative.

Who doesn’t love the butterfly? Butterflies have inspired artwork, jewelry, story, and poetry. Poet Robert Frost painted effective word pictures, as he does in this poem about his own Blue-Butterfly Day:

It is blue-butterfly day here in spring,
And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
There is more unmixed color on the wing
Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry.But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
They lie closed over in the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.

Frost’s poem ends on a sad note that evokes a sense of life’s transience, but that only reminds us of the resurrection symbolized by the blue butterflies he brilliantly describes as sky-flakes and flying flowers.
May you soon experience the delight of your own blue butterfly day!

Dr. Wolterstorff, image found at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture page of the University of Virginia website.

In 1987, Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote Art in Action, promoting practical application of art in contrast to the prevailing view of purely aesthetic contemplation. Rather than keeping art cloistered within the walls of elitist museums and exclusive galleries, Wolterstorff advocated putting art into action to elevate urban areas and ennoble private homes.

The book caused some controversy, but it also fueled the creative fires of artists who strive to enrich human lives and glorify the divine. It became such a seminal work that the International Arts Movement (IAM) chose “Art in Action” as the title for its 2009 conference, at which Wolterstorff was invited to speak.

A video of that speech is available on IAM’s website. It was fascinating to hear Wolterstorff express his views on the subject more than twenty years after the publication of his book.

While acknowledging existing criticism of the book, he said he still stands by his original premise about the need to live and act artistically. He revealed he’s had some new thoughts since writing the book, especially two additional ways he thinks about art.

Wolterstorff reiterated his belief that “an enormous amount of art” ennobles or elevates work or common experiences, making them less painful or boring. “How impoverished our lives would be if they weren’t ennobled in this way!”

He then related how two epiphanies have expanded his view. The first related to memorial art, and he cited the example of people viewing the Vietnam Memorial. “Aesthetical contemplation is not the point.” He described their active participation. “They descend into this gash in the earth. They touch the wall. They cry.”

He remarked how this participatory experience contrasts with museums’ usual rule: Don’t touch.

“Philosophers have had nothing to say about memorial art,” he admitted. He sees it as art created for “the effect of keeping alive memory.”

Wolterstorff believes memorial art is more than effectiveness. It also reflects an “intuitive sense that only art befits the worth of the person or event remembered.”

In connection with memorial art, he spoke about how great artists honored the birth and crucifixion of Christ. He also related how he and his wife had commissioned a requiem in honor of his son’s death in a mountain-climbing accident. (Their personal grief is recounted vividly in his Lament for a Son.)

Wolterstorff’s second epiphany occurred when he attended a poet reading and workshop. The poet often illustrated points by showing earlier versions and final drafts, explaining his changes by saying simply, “Because that made it a better poem.”

What struck Wolterstorff was that the poet didn’t say, “Because I liked it better” or “Because I thought it would give my readers greater aesthetic pleasure.”

This generated a revelation about art as something of intrinsic worth, a good thing of its kind.

“That’s what I and all my fellow philosophers, I think, had been overlooking,” he said. “And that’s why my critics felt uneasy with Art in Action. Yes, art ennobles what we do. I shall continue to defend that thesis with vigor. Yes, sometimes only art befits the worth of what we want to accomplish. And I shall continue to defend that thesis with vigor.”

“But what also happens in the arts, I submit, is that the artist produces a painting, a sculpture, a work of music, a poem, a play, a dance that is of intrinsic worth. Not just something of instrumental worth, of intrinsic worth. Something that increases the world’s stock of what is intrinsically good.”

“Engaging art differs from the other kind of art I’m talking about,” he said. “It does not accomplish something. It does not have worth because it gives delight upon attending to it; it’s the other way around. The worth and delight of attending to it lies in the fact that, doing this, we’re putting ourselves in touch with something of intrinsic worth.”

“The appropriate response to the gift is love,” he said. “One form being drawn to something on account of its worth, of relishing in it, reveling in it. That’s the form of love Augustine thought we ought to have for God.”

Wolterstorff offered three concluding comments:

1. “I find it nothing short of astonishing that intrinsically good paintings, sculptures, poems, dances and so forth, should be so incredibly diverse.”

2. “God as Creator makes things of intrinsic worth…you and me, tigers, hawks, butterflies…so the artist in creating things of intrinsic worth is like unto God. Artistic creation is one aspect of bearing the image of God.” At this point, he warned about the danger of idolatry, which some artists have succumbed to.

3. “I think we have to see these creations of intrinsic worth as radiations of God’s good, sort of the rays coming out from God, as it were.”

“Humanity longs to be part of a great story, but it needs great storytellers to point the way,” he said. “Humanity needs artists, and yes, artists need humanity.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 42 & 43 of the March 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

DSCN0035What does it mean for the soul to wait for God in silence?

The Psalms surge with emotional expressions, communicating deep feelings of joy or despair. They provide a pattern for expressing universal human emotions to a God who hears and answers prayer. But Psalm 62 speaks of waiting for God in silence. Why does the psalmist speak about a silent soul, when he so often talks about pouring out his heart to God?

The first two verses of the psalm say:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken (ESV).

The psalmist submissively puts his trust in the One and Only True God. He alone provides salvation and protection.

Charles Spurgeon, in his Treasury of David, points out how Psalm 62 emphasizes the only God and says about this first verse: “The presence of God alone could awe his heart into quietude, submission, rest, and acquiescence; but when that was felt, not a rebellious word or thought broke the peaceful silence.” And, “No eloquence in the world is half so full of meaning as the patient silence of a child of God.”

When my soul waits for the Lord in silence, I no longer murmur or grumble. Without complaint, I submit my stubborn and rebellious self-will to his loving and almighty divine will.

And why shouldn’t I? God alone is the source of salvation. He alone is my shelter and protector. Secure in him, I will not tremble.

Verses 3 & 4 depict the psalmist’s crisis:

How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse. Selah (ESV)

David evidently wrote this psalm during a period when deceptive hypocrites sought his downfall. We all have times when we feel such attacks, either from specific people or general forces. But David reiterates his submissive trust in God alone:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God (verses 5-7, ESV).

These verses replicate the first two, adding references to hope and glory. Repetition emphasizes the Only God as our only hope.

David urges everyone to trust in God at all times (verse 8, ESV):

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah

He assures us that a silent soul doesn’t mean a silent heart. We may still express our deepest feelings to the Lord, while we trust in him with a submissive spirit.

We must not trust in people or possessions:

Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them (verses 9 & 10).

Poor or rich, every individual lives only for a brief time with limited influence. A short human life is like a breath or delusion that quickly passes away. Extortion or robbery may bring temporary wealth, but riches–however gained–are a vain hope.

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
    and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work (verses 11 & 12, ESV).

As the psalmist has repeated his words in the psalm, God has repeated his promise. He alone is the almighty and loving God. Salvation depends totally on him; we can do nothing to earn or secure it. Yet our work matters. God commands obedience, and those who love him will desire to obey him.

Don’t hesitate to pour out your heart before God. But examine the attitude of your soul. Are you grumbling and complaining about your lot in life? Or are you submitting your stubborn human will to his loving divine will?

Rev. Edward J. Knott

Rev. Edward J. Knott

Members of the United Reformed Churches owe Rev. Edward J. Knott a debt far greater than most realize. He provided biblical servant leadership at crucial points in the federation’s history, but this humble hero would be the first to downplay his role and redirect all glory to God.

Few ministers have accomplished more during their retirement to promote Reformed community and education. Rev. Knott provided direction during years of denominational turmoil. He and others were instrumental in the forming of the Concerned Members of the CRC, the Alliance of Reformed Churches, and eventually the United Reformed Churches of North America. He chaired the meeting organizing the URCNA, presided over its first synod, and chaired its first general classis. He provided counsel and pulpit supply for many churches during the URC’s early days. He served multiple terms on the boards of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and Reformed Fellowship.

Rev. Knott turned 92 on March 5, 2014. An Associate Minister (Emeritus) at Bethany URC in Wyoming, MI, he still lives in his own home and drives a car. But pain in his legs and back led him to give up preaching at the end of September, 2013.

“I told Pastor Freswick I was finished with preaching,” he says. “It was just too difficult for me to stand that long.”

For over nine years, Rev. Knott had led worship services at a local retirement home every other month. The committee that arranges those services agreed that last September, with its five Sundays, would be his final month. He continues to lead a Bible study for women on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. He also currently serves on the Board of Reformed Fellowship.

Asked how he felt about finally relinquishing preaching, he said, “I’m okay with it. But I always enjoyed preaching.”

Preaching instruction, however, was his least favorite subject at the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That class was extremely demanding with sermons extensively critiqued. But it became easier when Rev. Herman Hoeksema took an interest in him, and his classmate and close friend—Rev. Hoeksema’s son, Homer.

Edward Knott married Harriet Doezema in 1946, and he was ordained in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America in 1947. The couple lived in various locations during his three years as a home missionary. In 1950, he accepted a call to the Kalamazoo PRC, which he served for nine years. He ministered to the Second PRC in Grand Rapids from 1959-1961.

He entered the most difficult period of his ministerial career when the De Wolf segment of the Protestant Reformed Churches merged with the Christian Reformed Church—a merger he opposed.

“I was dyed-in-the-wool Protestant Reformed,” he says. “But a number of the older ministers felt we had more of a future in the CRC.”

His strong commitment to the PRC and his close relationship with Rev. Herman Hoeksema led to a summer-long struggle, trying to decide if his should leave the PRC behind to join the CRC.

“It was necessary for the PR ministers to go through a colloquium doctum to be received into the CR ministerial ranks,” he says. “The decision to apply for such an examination was difficult for me, as was the exam itself.”

When he finally submitted to a CRC colloquium doctum, he told examiners that he still had differences with the denomination.

“I felt this might be the end of my ministry,” he says.

After a break in the meeting, however, a committee presented three questions in a brief re-examination. When he was able to answer their questions affirmatively, he sustained the exam. Shortly thereafter he accepted a call to Beverly CRC, where he served ten years, from 1961-1971.

He next spent seven years at West Leonard CRC in Grand Rapids before serving five years at Calvin CRC in Rock Valley, IA. During this time, Rev. Knott was diagnosed with melanoma and underwent chemo therapy for six months. The Knotts returned to Michigan in 1983, when he accepted a call to Forest Grove CRC.

He initially retired in January 1988, but continued to serve the Forest Grove congregation as counselor and one Sunday per month pulpit supply. In 1992, he and Harriet became members of the Beverly congregation they’d previously served.

Rev. Knot conducted the morning worship service at Beverly URC on October 21, 2007, as part of a celebration marking his 60 years in ministry. The Lord unexpectedly took Harriett to her heavenly home on July 3, 2011. She had gone with Rev. Knott as he preached at the retirement home that morning, and when they returned she complained of a headache. Only a few hours later, she was gone.

The biggest challenge of Rev. Knott’s ministry was balancing congregational and denominational requirements with personal commitments to wife and family. It was also difficult to find time for personal growth through reading and reflection.

He views his largest reward as “a good conscience that the work accomplished was done to God’s glory and the welfare of the church.” Other rewards of his work included times of peace and harmony within a congregation, when good relationships among the members nourished the ministry. He enjoyed witnessing young people profess their faith, and was touched when members expressed appreciation for the proclamation of the Word. He found personal satisfaction in doing what he was called to do and rejoiced to see evidences of God’s blessing.

Highlights of his ministerial career were the meeting at which Mid-America Reformed Seminary was formed (April 22, 1981), the meeting at which the United Reformed Churches came into being (Lynwood Independent Reformed Church in November, 1995), and the first synod of the URCNA (also at Lynwood in October of 1996).

Rev. Knott believes the URCNA faces some crucial issues, the most pressing a danger of doctrinal drift. He’s concerned about the indifference to and a lack of understanding about the antithesis and the resultant worldliness. He thinks ecumenicity is being overemphasized during this initial stage of the URCNA, when it should focus on growing in its own identity. He also sees remaining elements of individualism and independentism that prohibit unity.

He quotes the White Horse Inn theme in encouraging United Reformed members to “know what you believe, and why you believe it.”

Rev. Knott shares these words of advice for pastors: “Ministry is a full-time occupation; regard it as such.” He adds, “Love God’s people!”

The above is a slightly edited version of an article by Glenda Mathes that appeared on pages 22 & 23 of the March 5, 2014, issue of Christian Renewal.

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