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

What Image Portrays Your Brand of Discipleship?

Written by: on September 12, 2013

My wife and I are into “The Goodwife” tv series.  The story line is of a politician’s wife who comes out of the domestic scene to restart her law career to provide for her family when her husband goes to prison for legal issues but who is also publicly shamed for an adulterous relationship.  Alica, the good wife, works in an upscale law firm in Chicago, a city rife with legal and political intrigue.  Her colleagues are mostly young and middle age lawyers who invest 24 hours per day in their legal career.  The series presents a view of the legal profession that is addictive.  
Right out of high school I wanted to pursue a legal career.  I have always been enamored with the law and those who practice the law and looking at the Goodwife series, I have found myself attracted to the image I see on TV.  But, the image of a law practitioner that I had years ago and the image of a law practitioner on the series are very different!  The images of years gone put the emphasis on the law as the picture does below.  It appears there is a judge (lawyer), two lawyers making a point before the judge, and a court reporter.  What seems to be central, however, is the book in the hands of the female lawyer.  The book, the law, is the key focus.  Never mind that this is a recent photo, it presents what I remember imaging about the legal profession years ago.  It was and is in my mind’s eye.
The images of the Goodwife tv series rarely draw focus to the law!  There is much discussion about the law and court scenes where lawyers are arguing the law, but the primary focus is on the lifestyle of the lawyers.  Even their offices have changed!
Below is a picture of an old law office:
Below is a picture of a law office in the Goodwife tv series.  This is my preference!
Enough of this protracted beginning and the revealing of my glorified alter ego!  What about the images conjured up by the idea of discipleship?  Is it the image of the inside of a church building classroom?  Is it the image of doing some ministry, either alone or with others?  Is it an image of a group in a coffee shop with Bibles and coffee?
David Morgan’s book has been very stimulating to me.  (I did not much care for the previous read by Dyrness.  Perhaps writing style.  I think I detected a bit of a negatively critical edge.)  He has alerted my to the power of images and how those images can inform how we might view concepts and ideas.  Since discipleship is the genre of my research, I am naturally interested in how people “view” discipleship.  What is their image of discipleship?  Here are some images that portray a view of discipleship:
This one seems to portray that all different people are to engage in discipleship, that it is done in community, and that the engagement is active rather than passive, note they all seem to be walking.
This one portrays to me two ideas: 1) discipleship is done in community, and 2) it is Jesus, represented by the cross, who leads the process of discipleship.
This one, to me, portrays the importance of focusing on one’s personal development as a disciple in the face of wide open possibilities.  The boat represents the one way forward and relating to that boat is critically important.
I am often engaging conversations about discipleship with people, young and old, in the U.S. and in Eastern Europe.  Before reading these books about the visual religious culture, I was ignorant of the dynamic of images and their power.  Now that I have read the book I will surely ask people about their “image” of discipleship and where those images originate.  
I particularly liked Morgan’s choice of the word “gaze” and how he justified his choice, “I find the word gaze useful: it encompasses the image, the viewer, and the act of viewing, establishing a broader framework for the understanding of how images operate.”(1)  He goes on to state his thesis, “My overarching argument is that the study of religious images is best undertaken as the study of ways of seeing. This means that visual practice is the primary datum alongside images themselves and that the two, together, insofar as religion happens visually, constitute the visual medium of belief.” (Kindle Locations 279-281)
Morgan’s book helped me to put the images of my own faith into a more balanced alignment.  In particular, he makes his point very well when pointing out the iconoclastic tendencies of logocentric fanatics (Kindle Location 387).  When I started following Christ, I begin down the road of venerating the Bible.  As I look back at that time, it was the result of being within a very narrow community of believers who only “saw” things that they wanted to see and they only talked positively about the images that fit their visual construct.  I am not sure that Morgan needed to go to the length of stating that “Calvin needed to vilify images in order to secure the autonomy and transparency of the text.”  (Kindle Location 416).  I do, however, agree with Morgan concerning Calvin’s strong defense of the written word as being the primary venue of revelation.  
I was very interested in the author’s thoughts about the “covenant” that is struck between viewer and image. (Kindle Location 1379)  The idea he presents is not entirely new to me, but I was taken by the depth to which he unpacked the idea and the far reaches of the implications!  This is exactly what caught my eye in relationship to discipleship.  Morgan states, “Images are of special interest in the study of religion for this reason: their promise, or the viewer’s expectation, of a conveyance of something that will repay the investment of faith in them.”  (Kindle location 1491-1493).  What does a person hope to gain from engaging a discipleship lifestyle?  How is that lifestyle shaped by images of discipleship?  I found this most intriguing.  
Does the prospective disciple hope to gain what is pictured here:
Or, what is pictured here:
Or, here:
Or here:
All four pictures convey very different ideas (at least to me).  The question that i am wrestling with is this, can an image help me to change my way of seeing so that I make a positive shift away from the impact of previously viewd different images.  In other words, how hard wired is the contract between image and seeing/believing?  The author encourages me that there is a renegotiation of contracts.  Good.  Does it take other images to faciltate that renogiation or is the negotiation accomplished by words only.  I have an idea that images are important to the renogiation as they were when the original contract was struck.
I found the author’s discussion of patriotism and nationalism very interesting.  I was both challenged by him and found myself becoming somewhat defensive at times.  But, I generally agree with his careful analysis of the distinction between the two.  He really helped me to understand the difference in his explanations in Kindle Location 4271.  His explanation is insightful and applies to the missteps of right wing conservatives who confuse their faith with party (usually republican) and with patriotism, with the result being an offensive brand of nationalism.  
I heartily recommend this book to those, like me, who need to be challenged and informed as to how the arts and images in particular, communicate and inform our faith.  The impact of the book for me is twofold, 1) it is helping me to apply the visual contract to discipleship, and 2) it has moved me to more readily embrace my Kingdom citizenship as a priority.
(1) Morgan, David (2005-05-31). The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Kindle Locations 262-263). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.  

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