DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Icons & Renewal

Written by: on September 5, 2014

As I write I can lift my head slightly, glance over the top of my laptop to see before me images of significance, invitation, and embrace. Over time they have contributed and added to my faith. As I began to read Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue by William A. Dyrness I stopped to consider why in my later years I now experience God amid high ceilings and altars more than I do in spaces with guitar stands and microphones with large screens to compliment the cross hanging at the front. What is it about the former places that bring dialogue into presence? What is it that allows me to focus and be present?



I thought about my friends Karen Luke Fildes[1] and Karen Mains.[2] The first an artist and musician, the second is an author and gifted with sight. They have traversed and mingled in this intersection of art, theology and worship. They have experienced the tensions, potholes and misdirection, yet they continue to faithfully press on. I wonder what they might say to me about this book? What, I wonder, would they say to me (period)? For starters I think they would embrace fully the observation concerning the biblical narrative, “What is visually lovely and true reflects who God is and, consequently, all that he does.”[3] My observation is that we often focus on seeing the biblical glory through the lens of outcome drawing from the intended purpose. Yet ever so purposefully I found that I was seeing glory not from the end result but from within the act of creating. Dyrness reminded me (and reminds us) that we couldn’t separate creation and goodness without the risk of projecting our own feelings and desires upon God.[4]


If there is inspiration to draw from this book it is found first of all in the author’s willingness to recognize the differing seasons of time and the contribution offered to an ongoing conversation. Dyrness does not seem to back away from the rough places in these needed conversations. As one preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA) with a foundation of Reformed theology I desire to hold God’s purposes as potentials within creation, where God is vested and present.[5] Having experienced a legalistic framework I know my potential to ignore the challenging aspects. Incarnation, Trinity and creation do not exist apart from the other. “Art,” Dyrness asserts, “is that human activity that goes beyond the useful to embody in allusive color, shape, or sound the joy or pain of being human.”[6] Throughout the book we are called to recognize both limitations and potential.


Herein I am drawn again to icons. Perspective, east and west provide different viewpoints. Emerging and conservative today present another. Understood, icons in Eastern Christianity were not something to be worshiped but an access to divine reality. In the West they provided the impetus and reason for devotion.[7] If we can recall, and for many of us learn, what an icon presented and represented we might consider, what are the icons of today? What would we say is our present framework?


My husband and I spent the last few days at Cannon Beach. We have come to this place for many years. When my children were growing up we made an annual summer visit. On holiday our familiarity with this place allowed us to relax and shed our busy burdens much more quickly. We had no vacation agenda; there was no the hurry to do, except what we wanted to. Being there whilst reading Visual Faith I could not escape that I am a consumer. Jeffrey Hull[8], the artist, has become a friend, first through family acquaintance and then gradually touching base summer by summer as we would visit his gallery. We came home this time with new giclée prints. However for the first time I considered the significance of frame and matting. One frame and mat accented individual colors of the painting’s individual elements. While the gray frame with lighter mat drew you into the scene itself. In some way I wonder if a gap has been bridged. Referring to Paul Willis, “Symbolic creativity is actually able to bridge the gap between performance and consumption. Consumers become, as it were, secondary performers actively engaged in building their lives in terms of highly developed aesthetic standards.”[9]


Karen the author paints with her words, illustrating the human condition and possibility of healing. Karen the artist reflects and interprets the beauty of clouds and need for sustainable water. Jeff translates the changing seasons and mood of the ocean, bringing serenity and while helping us to recognize the power and uncontrollable essence within creation.


The invitation of this book reminds me to pay attention to the framework and the mat of the gospel we present. Dyrness calls us to take the “gospel deeper into our singing, walking and working – into that deepest part of ourselves where our hopes and ambitions lie.”[10]


[1] Karen Luke Fildes website:

[2] Karen Mains website:

[3] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 75.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 98.

[6] Ibid., 99.

[7] Ibid., 41.

[8] Jeffrey Hull website:

[9] Ibid., 129. Dyrness refers to Paul Willis, Common Culture: Symbolic Work at Play in the Everyday Cultures of the Young (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 1990). 49.

[10] Ibid., 155.

About the Author


Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

12 responses to “Icons & Renewal”

  1. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    “Pay attention to the framework and the mat of the gospel we present.” – such a good point! The frame can draw you in, or distract you… I have to think about this for a bit. Thanks Carol!

    • Ashley says:

      Isn’t that true, Stefania?! The frame itself can be the difference in reaction and, as a result, the participation and interaction with the piece. Some will preface a song with the history and meaning of words, giving a context to when and where and why the song was written. Because of that, the sung words may have a different effect on my heart and state of worship. Likewise with a painting or sculpture…if it is framed differently, or even explained with words, my reaction may be different…

    • Stefania…

      I am thinking about it too! 🙂

  2. Liz Linssen says:

    Lovely blog Carol, and interesting to hear how each of your friends engage with art in different ways.
    I really appreciate where you wrote, “My observation is that we often focus on seeing the biblical glory through the lens of outcome drawing from the intended purpose. Yet ever so purposefully I found that I was seeing glory not from the end result but from within the act of creating.”
    For sure, when we observe and appreciate art, we are focused on what that art does ‘for us’. But like you say, for the artist, it’s a different story altogether. It’s something they HAVE to do, that they’re compelled in doing. It’s in the actual creation, whether a picture, photo, song etc., that the joy and satisfaction comes. It’s the experience of creation that connection is made. Thank you for raising such a great point!

    • Liz…
      So good to be in conversation again! I think I am realizing that we put a great deal of emphasis and pressure on making certain that what we do or what we create brings God glory (outcome). When that is our focus we put tremendous pressure on the doing, being perfect and success. Yet when we see ourselves as created in God’s image, that our creating (and doing) — the process itself provides opportunity for growth and refinement there God is glorified. It shifts everything, especially our motivation. As you mentioned it is where the joy is …. perhaps we need to hold that out as encouragement to one another! 🙂

  3. mm John Woodward says:

    Carol, I was also struck while reading this book by my pilgrimage with the visual in terms of worship. I think my travels over the years to places like Russia and Romania challenged me to consider how icons and art can (as you so well state) “not something to be worshiped but an access to divine reality.” Over time, I felt that visiting beautiful cathedrals and mediating on sacred art (icons, statues and paintings) have been invitations to worship, having stirred in me something at a deeper level than I have experienced in many worship services in my own church. I often wonder if this has required on my part a maturing of my faith and a greater understanding of the incarnation and God’s hand in the created order, that makes possible an awareness of God’s presence and glory in the world. Might age provide this wisdom and deeper appreciation? Thanks for a beautifully insight post!

  4. Ashley says:

    Carol, your words continue to paint a beautiful picture, as if walking through art itself. I loved that you pointed out — We are consumers. I wondered what will help us take the step from being a consumer to a participant? Instead of just being on the receiving end, how can we make the jump to being interactive? What creativity should we bring on our part to bridge that gap? Hugs, dear!

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Carol, thank you for such a reflective post. Indeed you share well your own going relationship with the images and art in your walk with God.
    It is informative to know how God has used the images and icons in the picture you’ve used for the blog. The call to “… pay attention to the framework and the mat of the gospel we present”, is very pertinent to the discussion of visual art. One that note, Carol, if framework is part of it, what about framework or any other observations do think stand in between “why in [your] later years [you] now experience God amid high ceilings and altars more than [you] do in spaces with guitar stands and microphones with large screens to compliment the cross hanging at the front”?

  6. mm Clint Baldwin says:


    I like the potential redemptivity that you discuss between performance and consumption — as related to the noting of the original work and the matting/framing of said work — through the idea of establishing a “symbolic creativity” link between the artist and the viewer/observer/conversation partner.

    As a personal point related to myself and coming from my background training, I always hesitate to use the words ‘consumer’ and ‘consumption’ and when I do use them I try to do so only very carefully. I’m not suggesting you did not use them carefully, I’m only sharing my frame of reference (Hah…I didn’t see that pun coming related to your writing) that I bring to a reading when I encounter these terms. I don’t like to refer to persons as consumers due to how the word seems rather one-dimensional, has been strongly co-opted as a term used to suggest economic control and tends to refer to people being only takers as opposed to givers/creators. As well, the term has its origin in the reference to the disease of consumption that ravages the human body.

    Anyhow, there’s lots more with this, but I do like to think that most often, even in most of our baser (at least banal) moments, we still sometimes are doing more than solely consuming and instead are somehow part of a much greater complex of interactivity that will be shared with others often above and beyond our expectations.

    Thanks for you reflections. 🙂

  7. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Hi Carol, I am just beginning to learn the limitations and potential of Art to discipleship and spirituality. Like you and Miriam said, we need to “pay attention” which is a tough thing to do in the midst of noise but necessary to grow in faith. I have to ask myself “ What is it that allows me to focus and be present?” Great blog! Thank you!

  8. Miriam Mendez says:

    Carol, I was struck by your questions…What is it about the former places that bring dialogue into presence? What is it that allows me to focus and be present? I guess as you said there is a different season and time and the ongoing conversations and reflections. Could it be also our desire in seeking to experience God in a new ways. Your last sentence resonated deeply with me… “pay attention to the framework and the mat of the gospel we present.” How mindful are we of this framework and mat? Thanks Carol for your insightful post.

  9. Hey Carol, glad that you recovered from your stomach flu. I know all to well how miserable all that can be.
    Great reminder as to how we present our “art,” be it painted, sculpted or spoken. In my post I spoke of seeing the glory in the act of creating a art expression but continued to the glory of God behind both the artist, and his work. Yet that was me. Other’s may simply see a great piece of art and have not transcendent experience. I keep going back to the fact that we as writers, educators, pastors, and leaders of the Christian community must assist in the maturing of the body so that art is “consumed” in a proper way, always a window to the Glory of God. Thanks for your matting and frame of this post. Glad you are feeling better.

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