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Challenging preeminent authority (Blasphemous art at largest Episcopal cathedral)
Renew America ^ | January 17, 2005 | CJ DeStefano

Posted on 01/18/2005 10:42:35 AM PST by NYer

While Catholic bashing continues to rear its ugly head in America, it is usually relegated to the lowest common denominator in society, Hollywood and liberal elites striving for a more manageable secular society. I truly could not fathom the notion that this type of hate speech would not only be sanctioned, but peddled, by one of the last vestiges of the Christian faith.

I took my classes to Saint John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral in New York City earlier this year for our annual jaunt through the history of this wonderful structure. Unaware that an art display entitled "Season South Africa" was on display at the sanctuary of the church. After attempting to rush 43 students past this heinous display, with as little explanation as possible, I became enraged. Asking the tour director the nature of this work and why we were not informed of its location, she replied "it's only art." I then decided to take my case to a much higher authority, specifically The Right Reverend Mark S. Sisk, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Here is a copy of my diatribe:

Dear Bishop Sisk,

I am writing to you today in reference to my visit to the cathedral with my high school art classes. While I have been bringing students for many years to Saint John the Divine and all have enjoyed its majesty, I am disappointed to say that today's visit upset quite a number of students as well as staff members. I sincerely hope you might be able to shed some light as to what I would consider a poor and vastly inappropriate choice for the hierarchy of the cathedral to make.

"Season South Africa" is part of a visual and performing art's program on display in the Church. It has billed itself as "challenging the frontiers of artistic expression, both visually and intellectually..." Bishop Sisk, many of us were sickened at the selection of works permitted to be displayed inside this holy place. My only question to you is why art that not only disrespects some of our sensibilities but also demeans our beliefs is being officially sanctioned by the Episcopal Church? In particular, the artist Diane Victor and her work, "The Eight Mary's." Mary was illustrated in several different disturbing manors. Blood cascading from between her legs, as a wire hanger dangled from her left hand. Another scene has a dog precariously positioned under her raised skirt. Mary then appears as a wash woman with clothespins attached to her naked torso. One final image is a Pieta representation where both are nude and Jesus is lying across Mary's lap with his penis placed intentionally and prominently as a focal point.

I am an art teacher and one who is vehemently opposed to censorship of any kind. Radical art, the kind that forces you to think will always exist, and should. Great artists do not seek to imitate what has triumphed before, or to produce what is acceptable, but instead almost by definition inhabit the political, moral and legal fringes of society. I am also familiar with artistic controversy for the sole sake of controversy. Bringing shock value into one's art does not intrinsically incorporate artistic integrity or a decipherable message. Ms. Victor is slighting dogma to jumpstart a less than productive career. As Bishop Fulton Sheen so eloquently stated: "The Church discourages bad thinking, for a bad thought set loose is more dangerous than a wild man. Thinkers live; toilers die in a day. To kill one bad thought may mean the salvation of ten thousand thinkers." If this exhibit was located in the Brooklyn Museum or the Museum for African Art, this letter would certainly not be necessary. I would ask only that the exhibit be moved to a secular location, where its "meaning" could be pondered by serious art patrons without needlessly offending church attendants.

One aspect that sets the Episcopal theology apart from some other religions is its reverence for the Blessed Mother. How does the Episcopal Church expect its own members or others to have a semblance of respect, when it provides a forum for those that make profane use of our symbols? There are countless examples of those in this world who degrade people and principles many hold dear. I do not believe the Episcopal Church needs to assist these bastions of intolerance in this less than noble venture.

Hoping that the Bishop was at the very least unaware of the display I waited for a response. What I received was simply a puerile display of insouciance:

"Dear Mr. DeStefano,

Thank you for your letter concerning the current exhibit in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Let me begin by saying how sorry I am that you were offended by it. Clearly parts of the exhibit are controversial. I know that the Cathedral has a very careful and thorough vetting process for art that will be exhibited in that grand and sacred space. One criteria of which is that nothing blasphemous or demeaning to religion (whether Christian or not) will be displayed. Obviously there is a stark difference of opinion as to whether or not the works you mentioned meet that criterion. I would not presume to engage in this discussion on an artistic basis as I consider myself quite amateur in this field."

"Nothing blasphemous or demeaning to religion." I must have glanced over this line four hundred times while questioning my own memory and sensibilities. For some reason the image of the wire hanger resonates clearly with me as an irreverent symbol, so I decided to press on. Understanding that the Right Reverend was unable to provide an acceptable response, I turned my sights to The Reverend Tom Miller, Canon for Liturgy and the Arts. What arrived a few days later was nothing short of astonishing. I simply did not comprehend the angst and deep meaning of these artists, and the real reason this expose was necessary. However, what the Canon does not address is that he cannot deny the credenda of Christian teachings without denying at the same time his own legitimacy. Well, I will let you have a taste of some highlights:

Dear friend:

I was sorry to hear that your recent visit to the Cathedral was a disappointment, and that many of your students were upset by some of the artworks in the Season South Africa exhibit here. Many of the images in this show are extremely challenging and, I am sure, put to the test your ability to discuss their relevance impartially with young students. Encouraged by your comments and others, we have decided to put a cautionary sign near some of the work indicating it might not be suitable for young viewers without explanation.

I was glad to hear that you oppose censorship and I agree with you that there will always be a place for art that "forces you to think." Diane Victor's Eight Mary's is certainly a case in point. It is an autobiographical critique of the way in which feminine imagery has been manipulated to suppress and control women in many cultures.

...these works are rooted in the artists' truthful engagement in South Africa's struggle and in their experiences not only of hope, but also of the suffering from which this hope is revealed as grace upon grace.

...it is just such challenges that can, upon reflection, deepen our faith.

Believe me when I say after reading this response I certainly felt I was in it, fairly deep. So the Canon decided to place a cautionary sign "near" the works in question. This would be tantamount to hanging a "do not look" notice by an adult bookstore. More specifically, inside the bookstore, down the aisle and above the rack of magazines.

America needs to take a long look at the direction our faith is taking. We also need to take a vested interest in protecting the ideals we deem important. Anti-Christian forces control significant segments of our society. Unfortunately, their undercurrent of hatred will continue as an ineradicable presence in our society. All we can hope for is a growing trend to reject the nescient aimlessness of attempts to instill unproductive ire. The secularists need to alter a self-serving lament to a seemingly unattainable level of understanding for all people. I am saddened to now realize that when they target our houses of worship, our religious leaders are holding the doors wide open.



TOPICS: Business/Economy; Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections; US: New York
KEYWORDS: cathedral; episcopalcathedral; saintjohnscathedral; saintjohnthedivine

1 posted on 01/18/2005 10:42:36 AM PST by NYer
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To: american colleen; Lady In Blue; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; ...
Catholic Ping - please freepmail me if you want on/off this list


2 posted on 01/18/2005 10:43:38 AM PST by NYer ("In good times we enjoy faith, in bad times we exercise faith." ... Mother Angelica)
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To: sionnsar; All
FYI Ping!

CJ DeStefano is an artist and art educator from New York. He has been in the education system for 15 years and has been married to artist Marie DeStefano for 11 years. A self-described ultraist, he has written to countless organizations, politicians, and celebrities in an unwavering attempt to alter what he sees as a narrow and self-aggrandizing world view.

3 posted on 01/18/2005 10:44:58 AM PST by NYer ("In good times we enjoy faith, in bad times we exercise faith." ... Mother Angelica)
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To: NYer

Catholic bashing is allowed and encouraged......its the Mormons that you can't bash.......


4 posted on 01/18/2005 10:46:51 AM PST by cherry
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To: NYer

I belive that S. John the Divine is also the place where they have a 'Christa', that is a depiction of the cruficixion with Our Lord as a woman.


5 posted on 01/18/2005 10:49:52 AM PST by tjwmason ("For he himself has said it, And it's greatly to his credit, That he is an Englishman!")
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: NYer
Impotent clerical responses to these types of outrages will only push believers further and further away from the clerics and their churches. To allow this sort of display in this environment is sacrilegious.
7 posted on 01/18/2005 10:58:53 AM PST by johniegrad
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To: sionnsar; MarMema; Agrarian

Ping


8 posted on 01/18/2005 11:16:51 AM PST by Kolokotronis (Nuke the Cube!)
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To: Siobhan; Canticle_of_Deborah; broadsword; NYer; Salvation; sandyeggo; american colleen; ...
"Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make some sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."

-The Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, 13 July 1917

9 posted on 01/18/2005 11:18:13 AM PST by Pyro7480 ("All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady." - Tolkien)
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To: tjwmason
I belive that S. John the Divine is also the place where they have a 'Christa', that is a depiction of the cruficixion with Our Lord as a woman.

That's new! Never heard of this.

10 posted on 01/18/2005 11:21:59 AM PST by NYer ("In good times we enjoy faith, in bad times we exercise faith." ... Mother Angelica)
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Comment #11 Removed by Moderator

To: NYer
"How does the Episcopal Church expect its own members or others to have a semblance of respect, when it provides a forum for those that make profane use of our symbols?"

What do you expect when you have non-Christians in charge of your church?

I look for the Episcopal Church to start ordaining moslem imams into their clergy in the not-too-distant future.

Ecumenism, tolerance, and open-mindedness, you know.

12 posted on 01/18/2005 11:28:13 AM PST by nightdriver
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To: tjwmason
I belive that S. John the Divine is also the place where they have a 'Christa'

Don't they also have a annual service for animals?

13 posted on 01/18/2005 11:30:17 AM PST by Semper Paratus
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To: NYer; tjwmason
It was back in the 80s, it was a temporary art exhibit, like this one. Made a big stink.

Stuff like this makes me more and more glad that my family shook the dust (detritus? decomposed matter?) of the Episcopal Church USA from our sandals and finally crossed over the Tiber. I am astonished that we waited as long as we did. Inertia, I suppose.

But it's not til you're outside that you can fully appreciate the insanity of that denomination.

14 posted on 01/18/2005 11:31:09 AM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . Ministrix of ye Chace (recess appointment), TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary . . .)
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To: Semper Paratus
Hey, lots of people have an annual service for animals.

Our (very orthodox Catholic) church celebrates it on St. Francis's feast day in October. There is an outdoor rustic chapel on the church grounds, and the animals are blessed with holy water and appropriate prayers are said.

The Church has blessed crops and livestock throughout its history. Nothing particularly weird about that.

15 posted on 01/18/2005 11:32:48 AM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . Ministrix of ye Chace (recess appointment), TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary . . .)
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To: NYer
That's new! Never heard of this.

Actually it's old news (if there is such a thing). I don't know whether it is there anymore, but it once hung in all its ... er ... glory.

16 posted on 01/18/2005 11:35:33 AM PST by trad_anglican
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To: NYer

The Episcopal Church - at least those directing it - is no longer a traditional Christian Church in the sense that Episcopalians and Christians of the past would recognize it. The same may be said of the United Methodists and Presbyterians.

St. John the Divine has a long history of abberrant and bizaar behavior. They have a "Blesing of the Animals" ritual which includes Elephants and other strange beasts and a Winter Festival which is little short of neo-pagan.

If mainstream Christianity is not capapble of resurrecting its traditional moral base and jettisoning such odd and deviant beliefs such as oppositon to moral warfare, the right of the people to self-defense, the right of society to permanently rid itself of serial murderers, etc, the west will collapse like a ripe plum before the onslaught of militant Islam.


17 posted on 01/18/2005 11:35:43 AM PST by ZULU (Fear the government which fears your guns. God, guts, and guns made America great.)
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To: NYer

A "Charch of England" apostasy BTTT.


18 posted on 01/18/2005 11:44:03 AM PST by Cultural Jihad
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To: NYer

Re: "...many of us were sickened at the selection of works permitted to be displayed inside this holy place."

That was her first mistake, her class was in an Episcopalian Church, nothing holy about it.

As a recovering Episcopalian I can tell you the ECUSA is not even remotely Christian let alone holy.


19 posted on 01/18/2005 11:55:27 AM PST by Mark in the Old South (Note to GOP "Deliver or perish" Re: Specter I guess the GOP "chooses" to perish)
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To: Mark in the Old South

Correction she = he and her = his


20 posted on 01/18/2005 11:57:53 AM PST by Mark in the Old South (Note to GOP "Deliver or perish" Re: Specter I guess the GOP "chooses" to perish)
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To: ZULU

Blessing of animals on the feast day of St. Francis or the closest Sunday thereto is pretty common in a few Christian denominations, including the RCC. Priests bless all kinds of things; buildings, bells, people, etc. Why not animals?


21 posted on 01/18/2005 12:07:55 PM PST by RonF
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To: ahadams2; Brian Allen; kalee; walden; tjwmason; proud_2_B_texasgal; Perseverando; TexasKamaAina; ...
[Very disturbing indeed. --sionnsar]


Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this list.
This is a moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-7 pings/day).

Resource for Traditional Anglicans: http://trad-anglican.faithweb.com

22 posted on 01/18/2005 12:15:39 PM PST by sionnsar ( trad-anglican.faithweb.com || Iran Azadi || Kiev County: http://www.soundpolitics.com)
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To: nightdriver
I look for the Episcopal Church to start ordaining moslem imams into their clergy in the not-too-distant future.

It's been a week or three, but I encountered a story where an Episcopal church (cathedral) had hired an imam... I'll post it if I can find it.

23 posted on 01/18/2005 12:18:33 PM PST by sionnsar ( trad-anglican.faithweb.com || Iran Azadi || Kiev County: http://www.soundpolitics.com)
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To: TonyRo76

This is the place where a mysterious fire gutted all the New Age-y literature in the gift shop.


24 posted on 01/18/2005 12:22:07 PM PST by firebrand
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To: nightdriver
Found it! titusonenine

Denver Cathedral Hires Imam

Filed under: — kendall @ 10:58 am

St. John’s Cathedral in Denver formally installed a Muslim Shiite cleric as its newest staff member during a service Nov. 14. Ibrahim Kazerooni, an Iraqi native who has lived in Denver for four years, is interim director of the cathedral’s fledgling Abrahamic Initiative, a bridge-building effort among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Accused by Saddam Hussein’s government of being a spy for Iran, Iman Kazerooni was jailed and tortured.

Rather than pay him a salary, St. John’s will pay for a year’s tuition at the Iliff School of Theology, where he is pursuing a master’s in theology. He will continue to lead the Islamic Center of Ahl-Beit in Denver.

–The Living Church

25 posted on 01/18/2005 12:22:25 PM PST by sionnsar ( trad-anglican.faithweb.com || Iran Azadi || Kiev County: http://www.soundpolitics.com)
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To: Mark in the Old South; NYer; AnAmericanMother

"As a recovering Episcopalian I can tell you the ECUSA is not even remotely Christian let alone holy."

As an ex-ECUSAer myself, I can second it! The ECUSA is a New Age Pagan organization with bits and pockets of real Christians still scattered about - whose numbers are steadily diminishing. I don't use the term "episcopagan" for nothing. They make the rad-lib-revisionists in the US Catholic "church" look like amateurs.


26 posted on 01/18/2005 12:24:15 PM PST by Convert from ECUSA (tired of shucking and jiving)
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To: NYer

What else can we expect from St. John the Divine? If I recall correctly, they hosted a production of "Hair" (which featured full body nudity) in the hippie heydays.<P.
Incidentally, it's a magnificent structure. I visited as part of a Gray Line Tour.


27 posted on 01/18/2005 12:25:49 PM PST by Ciexyz (I use the term Blue Cities, not Blue States. PA is red except for Philly, Pgh & Erie)
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Comment #28 Removed by Moderator

Comment #29 Removed by Moderator

To: TonyRo76
Actually, that's not true.

That news story was posted here on FR awhile back. It was indeed an ECUSA church, and they did indeed allow animals into the sanctuary (I bet the sexton/custodian just LOVED that!) but the animals did NOT go up to receive communion.

IIRC, the confusion was generated by sloppy writing by a reporter who didn't understand the difference between attending a church service and receiving the Host. Since most Protestant denominations do have communion, although the beliefs with regard to its nature and substance vary widely, I can only conclude the reporter was unchurched or just unbelievably ignorant . . .

30 posted on 01/18/2005 12:38:54 PM PST by AnAmericanMother (. . . Ministrix of ye Chace (recess appointment), TTGC Ladies' Auxiliary . . .)
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To: TonyRo76
is how certain Episcopal churches have recently given Communion—yes, Holy Communion!—to the animals themselves. Yikes!!

Tony,

That story from the Wall Street Journal was posted here last March.

If you read the story very closely, you will discover that the sacrament was not actually being fed to the beasts. The pet lovers merely took their loved ones to the altar rail, presumably for a blessing.

That said, nothing from ECUSA would surprise me anymore.

I am hanging on by my fingernails, praying for a schism.

31 posted on 01/18/2005 12:43:20 PM PST by Martin Tell (Red States Rule)
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To: NYer
Note well: as with the recent "Word to the Church," Mr. Sisk is sorry that people were offended, but not particularly sorry that he allowed the offensive "art" to be posted in the first place.

Arrogance is bliss, apparently.

32 posted on 01/18/2005 12:51:04 PM PST by r9etb
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To: RonF

That service, as performed at St. John the Divine, is rather bizaar, and exceeds by far what is customary at most churches for the blessing of the animals.

St. John the Divine is a Christian Church in name only, as the description of the obscenity depicted therein amply illustrates.

The response of the deluded cleric to the complainant's very valid point lucidly depicts this fact.


33 posted on 01/18/2005 1:16:03 PM PST by ZULU (Fear the government which fears your guns. God, guts, and guns made America great.)
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To: cherry
......its the Mormons that you can't bash.......

Bash to your hearts desire.

Just do it in the Religeon forum where those who don't want to see it can avoid it.

34 posted on 01/18/2005 1:40:20 PM PST by Dan(9698)
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To: Pyro7480

Unbelievable! The Evil One must be very pleased.


35 posted on 01/18/2005 2:51:41 PM PST by Bigg Red (Never again trust Democrats with national security!)
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To: sionnsar
"St. John’s Cathedral in Denver formally installed a Muslim Shiite cleric as its newest staff member....."

Q.E.D.

36 posted on 01/18/2005 3:42:56 PM PST by nightdriver
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To: TonyRo76

Even among liberal Episcopalians, St. John the Divine is considered pretty way out.

In my opinion, that church sees itself as a 'cultural institution' more than a house of Christian worship. So not only do they embrace apostasy, but they are also propagators of the diminished and debased posturing currently sold as "high culture" by academicians.


37 posted on 01/18/2005 3:56:19 PM PST by good_fight
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Comment #38 Removed by Moderator

To: NYer

Why should anyone be surprised at what happens at Satan's Shrine, formerly known as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine? If one is going to take students there for edification, one should ALWAYS visit first to be sure some heinous exhibit is not in place. Remember Christa? This place went off the deep end long, long, long ago.


39 posted on 01/19/2005 6:23:39 AM PST by WashingtonSource (Freedom is not free.)
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To: NYer
I am an art teacher and one who is vehemently opposed to censorship of any kind. Radical art, the kind that forces you to think will always exist, and should. Great artists do not seek to imitate what has triumphed before, or to produce what is acceptable, but instead almost by definition inhabit the political, moral and legal fringes of society. I am also familiar with artistic controversy for the sole sake of controversy. Bringing shock value into one's art does not intrinsically incorporate artistic integrity or a decipherable message.

This person has undermined his own argument. Art was never about being radical until the French Revolution. "Epater la bougeousie" has been the dominant motif for the last few centuries except that it gets harder and harder to shock a jaded and decadent middle class.

Art is meant to reflect a cultures highest ideals and spiritual values. When it strays from this it becomes degenerate, it may have some aesthetic value, but quite frankly, if it contains a didactic socio-political content designed to be "provocative" or "create awareness" it has sunk to the level of propaganda. If it shows nudity it is ipso facto porneia. Nobody wants to say this, though, because it's too narrow-minded and backward.

40 posted on 01/20/2005 9:19:25 PM PST by TradicalRC (I'd rather live in a Christian theocracy than a secular democracy.)
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