Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Icon

Recently, in one of my classes at seminary, we studied the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox church. Each of us was given an assignment to find an icon that had personal meaning. This is the icon that I chose:

In the icon, the number around his neck is from a now famous mug shot photograph from one of many times he was arrested for nonviolent resistance to injustice. Behind him are the bars of a jail cell which speak not only of his incarcerations but of the slavery and oppression of African-Americans as a whole. The Greek lettering on either side of his head says "Holy Martin", a beautiful epitaph considering the horrible things he was called during his life. The scroll he is holding contains a quote from one of his speeches and also poses a challenge to the viewer. The look on his face seems to display a hint of sadness and of questioning, again challenging the onlooker to respond.

This icon was painted by Robert Lentz, an American iconographer and Franciscan monk from an Eastern Orthodox family. Lentz learned iconography at the school of the master Greek Orthodox icon painter Photios Kontoglou. In other words, Lentz's icons are the real deal. However, he has ruffled some feathers because of the subjects of his icons. Personally, I find this contemporaneousness appealing. If the purpose of icons is to provide us with an example to reflect upon and follow, then I am less drawn to someone from the 6th century of whom we know more legend than fact, and more drawn to someone closer to my own time and place; someone who I could perhaps more easily imitate and whose imperfections have not yet been hidden beneath layers of veneration.

Because of his phenomenal accomplishments in human and civil rights, it is often overlooked that Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant theologian and a man who followed Jesus unto death for the sake of the marginalized and oppressed. When I first read the autobiography of MLK (compiled by Claiborne Carson) I was profoundly impacted. I have also been blown away by King's theological writings. He exemplifies everything that I would aspire to, and so this icon is very meaningful to me.


Post a Comment

<< Home