DMINLGP

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

Oh be careful little eyes what you see!

Written by: on September 14, 2014

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Morgan‘s book titled The Sacred gaze:Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice is an intriguing read. I was tempted to judge the book by its cover and in fact, at first glance, I wondered what Gandhi, an Avatar of possibly one of the Hindu faith goddesses and an image of Jesus, have in common? My sight was confronted with a moment to think through the differences or similarities. This is why the lyrical phrase “oh be careful little eyes what you see” is the heading of this piece, since along with gazing at anything comes the need to exercise caution. In Christianity and certain religions particularly, there are warnings about syncretism, sometimes to the detrimental ends of instilling a fearful and legalistic faith in people. Case in point, a good friend once shared with me about the prohibition against dancing in their family Christian upbringing. At the age of 56 years old, my friends wants to dance, but still sees the words “oh be careful…” My suggestive idea to my friend was, “just go have fun, dance your socks off my friend and start with a ballroom dance!!”

I gravitated to inquiring about commonalities of the figure heads on Morgan’s book cover because they are sacredly revered in particular traditions. Gazing on icons in my opinion is a spiritual and social experience. The initial visual images on Morgan’s book, readily present an opportunity for the reader to engage in the intellectual and imaginative dance with the subject matter in his writings. I have always believed that all life was created scared but have at times also struggled with certain theological persuasions especially when I see what we as human beings are capable of doing to one another. For example, the wars we fight against one another, theologies of dominance and the current beheading in the media etc. The ability to keep one’s gaze on biblical truth is paramount because truth informs human development with sound values and can nurture environments of freedom. Morgan’s chief argument, “… is that seeing is an operation that relies on an apparatus of assumptions and inclinations, habits and routines, historical associations and cultural practices. Sacred gaze is a term that designates the particular configuration of ideas, attitudes, and customs that informs a religious act of seeing as it occurs within a given cultural and historical setting. A sacred gaze is the manner in which a way of seeing invests an image, a viewer, or an act of viewing with spiritual significance.”[1]

The stewardship of sight in all is forms are a dance we all perform in the ballrooms of this world filled with all sorts of images. What people look at, perceive or not gaze at, is a question of discernment. Morgan’s perspective on gaze ashes in a sense of depth to perception and how crucial it is to humanity. Of gazing Morgan writes it, “… encompasses the image, the viewer, and the act of viewing, establishing a broader framework for the understanding of how images operate. A gaze is a practice, something that people do, conscious or not, and a way of seeing that viewers share. By gaze I mean not just on domain of vision, such as “the male gaze,” but rather an entire range of ways of seeing.”[2]

Such an outlook might aid the appreciation that believing can be a form of seeing, but seeing is also crucial for one’s belief. I am reminded of Jesus Christ’s question, “do you have eyes but fail to see…?  Images help me see words of truth that might not sometimes be obvious in other media systems of perception. Such were my experiences when I visited Greek orthodox churches.  I agree with Morgan that theologians and ministry practitioners of all backgrounds should be open to demonstrating the usefulness of imagery in spirituality. Morgan notes, “unless scholars are able to show that they learn something more about religion by understanding how it happens visually, the visual culture of religion has little to recommend it as a field or method of study”[3].

 

[1] David Morgan, A Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 3.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 257.

 

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

14 responses to “Oh be careful little eyes what you see!”

  1. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Thanks for your post, Michael.
    I appreciate your orientation toward finding similarities between the images. This was something that I found Morgan also emphasizing in his work. It’s all too easy to find the differences — we’re often unfortunately good at doing such. Finding the similarities among a cacophony of dissimilarity…now there’s a worthy pursuit capable of bringing about great good!
    I too agree with Morgan and you that we need to show that there is learning available in the study of the “visual culture of religion.” However, I am glad to find that there is no lack of such “proof” available…through Morgan and through many, many others.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Brother Clint, I do appreciate your comments about the similarities. I want to be found learning and listening that’s why it is helpful to be open to learning about common grounds.

      Thank you

  2. Michael,

    I loved your post, particularly these two lines: “The stewardship of sight in all is forms are a dance we all perform in the ballrooms of this world filled with all sorts of images. What should people look at, perceive or not gaze at, is a question of discernment.” That is brilliant!

    Dancing, both physical and spiritually, is something that we should all do regularly — especially Christians. When my wife and I started ballroom dancing several years ago, we learned many lessons about thinking in new ways, about touch, and about community. Too bad that some people say that dancing is sinful. Their loss.

    This idea that what we look at is a matter of discernment is spot on. Frankly, sometimes my discernment is pleasing to God and sometimes it is not. I have gazed at things in this life that have hurt my soul. But I have also gazed upon things, especially when sitting quietly before the Lord, that have fed my soul. We do not always have to see something to practice discernment. Faith is partly about “not seeing.” I think it is not only our physical eyes that see. In fact, perhaps we see more when our eyes are closed.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Bill, thank you for the comments. I get weary about the focus on the visual with out the truth about the fallibility of the subject.

      Thank you.

  3. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Good Sunday,Michael. I appreciate you bring up the issue of syncretism. Like you say, churches play down the importance of contextualization to avoid the pitfall of syncretism. Do you see syncretism in the church today?
    I also love you reminded me about “the stewardship of sight.” You’re right when you say, We do not always have to see something to practice discernment. Faith is partly about “not seeing.” Thank you.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Telile, thank you for the comments. Indeed, I get weary about the focus on the visual with out the truth about the fallibility of the subject.

      Thank you.

  4. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Michael
    You make some interesting points. I especially like how you mentioned, “they learn something more about religion by understanding how it happens visually.”
    All art is expression, an expression of someone’s inner convictions or passions, and often the actual creation of that piece of art brings great joy and satisfaction. The same must be true in religious art. We may all not appreciate the same kinds of art, but they do tell us something about the heart of the person who created it. Why did they create what they did? What was their purpose or intention? Such questions intrigue me.

  5. Richard Volzke says:

    Hi Michael,
    I enjoyed reading your post. You stated, “I have always believed that all life was created sacred but have at times also struggled with certain theological persuasions especially when I see what we as human beings are capable of doing to one another. For example, the wars we fight against one another, theologies of dominance and the current beheading in the media etc.” Reading the scriptures, it is hard to fathom why God allows wickedness to exist. What I have come to realize through prayer and study, is that humans created the wickedness in the world. Many times we are reaping what we sowed by sinning against God. What I appreciate about art, is that we can see the best and worst of human beings.

  6. mm Julie Dodge says:

    I think the key point that stood out to me from your post was the note about discernment. We are flooded with images. And there are many religious and sacred images. But we must also be able to discern the intent of the artist. Are they trying to express their own experience with God? Are they trying to communicate Biblical truth? Are they trying to create an image that demonstrates the cultural relevance of the Jewish Jesus to another people group? For example, a former student is also an artist, and she recently posted some pictures of her Black Madonna. I don’t think she was trying to say that Mary was Black, but rather, the gospel is relevant to all people. I am certain, however, that some people would take offense at the variation for the historical fact. But art does that – it isn’t always intended to be a representation of fact, but more a reflection of how the story relates to the audience or the artist. We must be able to discern, and teach others to discern, the difference between metaphor and fact, and value the intent of the artist without compromising the truth. In this way we can dance, dance, dance – enjoying the music and the artistic expression – while standing firmly in truth (as we understand it).

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thanks Julie for the comments. Discernment is a lifeline. I get weary about the focus on the visual without the truth about the fallibility of the subject.

  7. Miriam Mendez says:

    Michael, You mentioned, “The stewardship of sight in all its forms are a dance we all perform in the ballrooms of this world filled with all sorts of images. What should people look at, perceive or not gaze at, is a question of discernment.” This caught my attention–discernment. We certainly live in a world that offers and at times bombard us with tons of images. I wonder if the image that catches our gaze will feed our souls and minds or will our minds and souls be corrupted. I wonder when the process of discernment begins— at our first gaze or at our continued gazing in our minds? Thanks Michael for your post.

    • Michael Badriaki says:

      Thanks Miriam for the comments. Discernment is a lifeline. I get weary about the focus on the visual without the truth about the fallibility of the subject.

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