“My work as a visual artist depends on your willingness to see,” explained Conference Artist Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten as he thanked the Annual Conference attendees for participating in the artistic process with him. “It is a conscious act on your part.”
An artist, teacher, and theologian, Rev. Lyddon Hatten likes to work in a field known as “visual homiletics,” in which he uses visual art as a way of deepening our encounter with both the gospel and with each other. For Annual Conference, he has created just such an experience based on the late Bishop Rueben P. Job’s book Three Simple Questions.
“If you read it, you know that the title is not exactly true. There are three, and they are questions, but there is nothing simple about them.”
In his statement to the Annual Conference, Rev. Lyddon Hatten introduced his work – a combination of a visual piece, “Question and Answer,” available for viewing in the downstairs gallery, questions & guided conversation – by first talking about Matthew Chapter 28, when the resurrected Christ addressed his disciples.
“All 11 gathered in the same place at the same time. Some of them believed what they saw. And some of them questioned what they saw. The disciples differed. The disciples did not interpret the same experience in the same way.” Connecting past to present, Rev. Lyddon Hatten pointed out, “We have had difference and diversity and doubt and belief entangled from the beginning. There was never a time when we all believed the same thing. Not then, and not now.”
He continued, “So the 11 are gathered, and they hear the same thing. There is no litmus test for what is about to come. There is no voting guide, no endorsement necessary. Jesus says to all of them, ‘Go and disciple the nations’. He says to all of them, those that were certain and those who had questions, go and disciple the nations.”
Disciple, Rev. Lyddon Hatten notes, means to teach. “It is to ask compelling questions and listen in a way that draws the hidden out into view. Bishop Job did that. He listened in a way that gave room for the words to come.”
The Bishop’s three not-so-simple questions were printed on cards at the Conference attendees’ tables:
1. Who are you?
2. Who is God?
3. Who are we together?
Rev. Lyddon Hatten encouraged everyone to dig deep on these questions by answering each one three times – never repeating any of the same words used in the previous answer. But it was that third question – Who are we together? – that he really focused on. “That is the one that is hard for us, at least in these edgy times.”
“My answer, in visual form, can be seen in the installation surrounding the Baptismal font. It is dry, like exile. It’s dry, like us,” he said. “We know what exile feels like, and we know what it means to be far from where we felt at home. And far from where we’re going. The rocks form two circles, a Venn diagram, a visual expression of the intersection of two sets. The overlap is what we share in common.”
As he concluded his remarks, Rev. Lyddon Hatten confronted directly one of the hot button issues where the lack of common ground is most pronounced, highlighting disagreements “about human sexuality in the 21st century and biblical interpretation” among those in the church. In light of these differences, who are we together?
“The answer won’t be found in a pile of rocks or a haunting photograph. It won’t come from a Bishop. It will come from us. We will know who we are together by how we treat each other, by how we talk to each other, by how we talk about each other. We will know who we are, together, by the way we question each other and by the way we listen to each other.”
“This ground, the dry rocky ground upon which we stand, with all of our beliefs and questions woven and tangled together, this ground is sacred,” he insisted. “It’s time to listen and to question.”