Rev. Mary Button, liturgical artist
2023 Annual Event Conference Artist and Spirituality Center Director
The two churches I pastor use the Revised Common Lectionary, which means preaching through the Gospel of Luke this season, with a focus on the parables of Jesus. It seems that many of Jesus’ parables are about money, money, money. Jesus warns about the power of greed:
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NRSV)
Jesus goes further and tells his hearers that people meant to give up possessions entirely.
Christian ethicists have for centuries tried to parse out the economics of the New Testament. They’ve applied all kinds of political theories to Jesus’s teachings, trying to conform Jesus’s message to present-day realities. The problem with this is that what Jesus fundamentally proposes in his parables is an entirely different way of being in the world. One that recognizes the abundance of God’s creation and lives into God’s abundance without the fear and anxiety of a scarcity mentality.
What we need, what Jesus asks us to embrace, is a theological imagination. We cultivate in ourselves the ability to imagine a new world: a world where God’s abundance is shared and not hoarded.
Jesus teaches in parables because parables make us consider another perspective. We become faithful servants, prodigal children, rich fools, a good Samaritan, and so much more. There’s a reason why the lectionary pairs the reading from Luke, which tells us to renounce our possessions, with Abraham’s story in Genesis and in the letter to the Hebrews. Who better than Abraham to teach us the wonder of having a theological imagination? Such an imagination is open to the abundance of God, looks to the beauty of the world, and asks “how do we flourish together?”
In Genesis, God brings Abraham into the night, directs his eyes to the sky, and says to him:
“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then God promises, “So shall your descendants be.” And Abraham believed God, who reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6)
Abraham has faith in God’s abundance. And this faith–this extraordinary, all eclipsing faith–is what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews describes:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)
We don’t often think of church as a place for grandiose creativity and imagination. But it’s what we’re called to cultivate. We are to imagine a new world, to have new visions, to joyfully seek out new ways of being in the world. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, and he set out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
Abraham goes out into the world–just as we’re meant to go out into the world–in faith, in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen.
As a liturgical artist, it is my job to help churches cultivate creativity and nurture our shared theological imagination. To imagine that a more just world is possible. A world without poverty is possible. But first, WE have to be able to imagine it.
For years now, my art practice has revolved around creating devotional art: icons, prayer cards, coloring books, and so much more. I create things meant to help people deepen their prayer practice and spirituality through art. My work makes connections between Scripture and contemporary social issues. My hope is that making such connections deepens our own theological imagination.
I’m excited to be on the creative team for the 2023 Association of Partners in Christian Education Annual Event. I’ll be creating a backdrop that will grow and change over the course of our time together. You’re cordially invited to be a part of this process of making and transforming. We will create with joy and expand our theological imagination together.
For more information and to register for the 2023 Annual Event, click here