by Makoto Fujimura
After spending six and a half years as a National Scholar in Tokyo to study Nihonga (Japanese Style Painting), in 1993 we returned to the United States. I was very fortunate to find a church home in a vibrant, movement oriented church in New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I found myself being challenged by Tim Keller’s vision for the city, and the church’s attitude toward culture: “We need to love the city, and be for the city, not against, or of the city.”
The Prodigal Son God
When Tim is asked what his favorite passage of the Bible is, he always speaks of Luke 15, the prodigal story. But I noticed that he never spoke of the story as a “prodigal son” story. He explains why in his book The Prodigal God. In it, Tim writes that the word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but instead “recklessly spendthrift.” In Shakespearian times, the word “prodigal” had a positive connotation, of someone committed to spending extravagantly toward restoration. Thus, Tim notes, the true “prodigal” was not the wayward son (as is commonly understood), but the father in the story.
Jesus’ message here is toward both the younger son and the elder brother, whose legalism keeps him from celebrating his brother’s return, and from having not made any effort to search out his lost younger brother. The elder brother thinks that he is doing everything right, but often does the minimal tasks grudgingly.
The In-Between Space
As an artist, a leader in the church, and as a husband and father, I myself struggle between legalism and waywardness, between determinism and grace. I painted the frontispiece for Luke in that liminal, in-between space. Therefore, visually, the painting is literally split between left and right, but with a white wing painted with pulverized oyster shell covering over both sides.
Next Thursday: Part 7 on The Gospel According to John, “In the Beginning”
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Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and founder of International Arts Movement. He has had over 100 exhibits worldwide, and from 2003-2009 was Presidentially appointed to the National Council on the Arts. An ordained elder (on sabbatical) at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Mako and his wife, Judy, raised their three children in lower Manhattan.