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The Work of Our Hands: Art as Story

S. Beth Taylor

Artist Jennifer Bunge has settled in Northern Colorado with her family and her favorite art supplies. She enjoys opportunities to exhibit her art at galleries and in churches along the Colorado Front Range. Jennifer finds the theme of healthy decision-making important; her wish to emphasize this topic led her to her current project: a graphic novel about climbing mountains and making good choices.

I♥MyPhone, watercolor on paper, mounted on wood, waxed, 2017, 18″x24″

My art began out of the rural Canadian prairie of my childhood and the suburban cityscape of my youth. I have always lived inland but am especially moved by the mystery of the sea. Fanciful imaginary scenes, social commentary, faith, and expressionist landscapes are all part of the imagery that connects with and emerges from my work. I often use metaphor, allegory, motif, and archetype to proclaim belief in new, imaginative ways.

While the subjects in my artwork may be diverse, the use of dramatic color contrasts and black outlines are constants. Comic books and graphic novels use black outline and basic blocks of color to create imaginary worlds; I was impressed as a child by the lush yet simple landscapes in the Tintin comic books by artist Hergé. The German expressionist Karl Schmitt-Rotluff uses similar bold color and black outlines in his woodcuts and paintings.

Small, watercolor on paper, 2020, 8″x8″

A Bulwark Never Failing, watercolor on paper, mounted on board, 2016, 18″x18″

I like to tell stories through my work. I♥MyPhone is a clear, cautionary tale: get too involved in your electronics and you may become ensnared by them. I tell another straightforward narrative in the work Small, where a man surrounded by fancy digital gadgets has lost his grounding and has become oblivious to his environment. The character in both of these pieces possesses an insatiable desire to consume; he is my metaphor for the darker side of our modern consumerist culture. He is a combination of characters, including the gendered trope of the grandfatherly Old Testament God, as portrayed in certain Bible storybooks of my childhood, William Blake’s confusing Nobodaddy, and even the powerful female villains in the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.

The stories I tell through my art can be more nuanced, such as in A Bulwark Never Failing. In this piece, I use an unaware yellowfin tuna stuck in tangled, weedy waters to describe the snares and distractions that can steer a church congregation off course. I have experienced conflict and polarization in church communities. I have lost church leaders, friends, and mentors due to church struggle. I use weeds and tangles to symbolize the ways in which church relationships get complicated. In the deepest days of my experience of church turmoil, I painted this tangled picture and wrote an accompanying song using the prayer of Psalm 42:11 (ESV): “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Slipstream, watercolor on paper, mounted on wood, waxed, 2017, 18″x24″

Sometimes, my work illustrates an idea. Slipstream describes an ideal of the Christian life. The fish in this piece swim freely within the vase-shaped boundary, living out their life in love. Just as the fish swimming within the boundaries of the vase show a sense of colorful freedom, so can there be vibrant and diverse freedom within the healthy boundaries set forth in the Bible. As we love God and are loved by God, we respond by living our beautiful, colorful lives. But we are fish—I love using fish as a metaphor for our humanity. Their wild-eyed expression indicates confusion and bewilderment; the most beautiful part is that God loves us in spite of ourselves.

The fish in Golden Mean River III are working hard to follow their path against the relentless current. In this piece, the dangerous current of a mountain river in early spring signifies all the ways we leave the path. Written in the deeper waters below are some of Aristotle’s key virtues for the good life: courage, temperance, magnanimity, courage, shame, liberality, magnificence, patience, truthfulness, wittiness, friendliness, and justice. Aristotle says that a person should strive for the correct amount of each virtue—not too much nor too little. This message is conveyed by the fish that strive to keep going and keep their balance between the rocky shores. It is God’s love and grace that motivates each of us to seek our personal set of virtues, grow in them and through them, serving those around us.

My aim when making art is to produce something new and worthy of a second look. In some cases, an explanation enhances the work, but it is important to me to make art that is interesting to contemplate even without the explanation. I feel called to use my own unique style to tell these stories, illustrating critical ideas in fresh, innovative ways.

Golden Mean River III, watercolor on treated canvas, 2019, 27″x14″

Introduction – 56.2

Introduction – 56.2

The story of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 begins when an angel of the Lord calls Philip to set out on “the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza (This is a wilderness road)” (Acts 8:26). Luke does warn us, doesn’t he? I can hear the moody background music between the parentheses. This won’t be a story about the familiar baptismal font and rehearsed liturgy of Sunday morning.

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Naming God at Baptism

Naming God at Baptism

We want to know the name of God. It makes sense that religious people try to ensure that when they address their God in praise or petition, whether during rituals in the assembly or in the personal prayer of their hearts, they are calling on God using the right name. We want to honor the deity of our choice; we wish to stand within a hallowed tradition; we are glad to unite with others of our faith community.

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Naming God at Baptism

Why Baptism Matters for the Work of Dismantling Racism

Perhaps my favorite definition of the word sacrament is “the visible sign of an invisible grace.” Coined during the Council of Trent by Augustine of Hippo, the North African theologian on whose theology much of Western Christianity laid its foundations, it remains one of the most used definitions in both the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions.

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