Crushed into Caring

Dear Culture Curators:

The method is called Nihonga. It’s a tradition of Japanese painting that uses crushed minerals as pigment. Pulverized by hand to a consistency finer than talc, the minerals are then mixed with water and Japanese hide glue, then spread in layers on paper of the highest quality. Each layer requires several days to dry, and it is not uncommon for a nihonga painting to have nearly 100 layers of pigment as background to the final image desired by the artist. The effect creates an iridescent, almost mini-geode-like quality. At a glance the painting simply looks shiny, but after a longer gaze one sees how the light is almost trapped between the layers, creating a mesmerizing optical depth.

The artist is Makoto Fujimura, who mastered the technique over a decade of study at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts. David Brooks of The New York Times refers to his work as “a small rebellion against the quickening of time.” Fujimura’s work has won international acclaim, but his deepest passion is his Christian faith. He sees nihonga as a metaphor for human existence: we are crushed, pulverized by the traumas of life, but in the careful layering through God’s will, what we thought was only destruction becomes light, beauty, wholeness and life. “It’s something you learn,” Fujimura said, “when the hardest work involves crushing things and restraining your next steps by watching paint dry.”

In 2009, Lane Dennis, president of Crossway publishing, suggested a massive undertaking to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible. He envisioned artistic plates for each Gospel and the ornate stylized capitals for the introduction of each portion. Fujimura was granted the commission, an unexpected invitation because Fujimura’s work is non-representational. He was given complete artistic control, and the work, The Four Holy Gospels, was completed in 2017 and is nothing less than astounding.

I’m musing over the work of Makoto Fujimura because of a quote I found in an article about the current crises in Evangelical Christianity. The author, Peter Wehner, argued that the problem is the whole notion of a culture war, in which evangelicals are fighting back to regain the ascendancy of their values. Wehner observes that nothing but carnage is brought by war; then he offers an antidote, Fujimura’s invitation to culture care. “Culture care,” wrote Fujimura, “is an act of generosity to our neighbors and culture. Culture care is to see our world not as a battle zone in which we’re all vying for limited resources, but to see the world of abundant possibilities and promise. It is practicing resurrection and a Spirit-filled life and culture.”

Rather than slapping on the next coat of paint, we are called to pause, to heal, to allow the light to shine through before we rush to our next engagement. It is a simple invitation: stop fighting, start caring.

Seeking truth in beauty and vice versa, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor