Sunday, September 18, 2011

one hundredth visit: Oct 4th 2011 Presbyterian




12:25pm tuesday
First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

320 Sixth Ave, Pittsburgh PA 15222
downtown, central business district


Today's count of worshipers wearing Steelers garb while worshiping:

2 in jackets with Steelers logos

FINAL Total for this entire project: 43
(running totals here)


Several friends have asked me if gatherings' 100th visit will be a grand finale of sorts. Is the 100th of anything ever otherwise? First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh: In a project that vows not to play favorites, it makes sense to me that this 100th visit serves to ground (myself). As mentioned in my 90th visit, I was raised Presbyterian, and this last visit serves to bookend my 3-2-1 Presby countdown. To end where I once started, long, long ago. (And to note: except for this year, I have not regularly attended a place(s) of worship for 22 years.)

And to end at First Presby, in a city that is sometimes referred to as The Presbyterian City. Not to champion a particular belief... I'll let you research to find all the reasons why.

Along the way, someone had told me that this is also the oldest worship building within Pgh proper. (Beulah being slightly outside Pgh city limits.) This would add to the appropriateness of this 100th visit, but it's not the case.
Alas, this building (1905) is just 5 yrs older than our house. Does not make it any less grand though, with its 13 Tiffany windows, each one over two stories tall (26 ft). And the congregation does go back 224 years, and 5 days, exactly. Just 5 years younger than the reported oldest congregation in Pittsburgh (my 46th visit).

Downtown, FPCP stands right next door to Trinity Cathedral where the Blessing of the Artists took place last week (97th visit). It's a little difficult to tell where one building ends and the next begins. Especially when staring upward at the tangle of stone steeples. In fact, the stairs that lead to First Presby's front door are the same that are used to enter Trinity's admin offices.

So for a million reasons, out of Pgh's 3000 possible places of worship, this seems right, for today. I am attending "Tuesday Boost," a thirty-minute, non-denominational Christian service. Here, downtown employees spend their lunch break at FPCP pondering contemporary issues of faith's place in the workplace.

The sermon:
We find ourselves in unexpected places—places sometimes we'd rather not be—in order to search for and point to the truth.

I've mentioned that I teach a painting class called Obsessions. I give readings. Last February, during a class discussion, a student, Jason, brought up this passage from one of the readings: "...for I have one desire in life, the truth, and one purpose, to make the most of truth." (Lennard J. Davis, Obsession: a History, p.108) "I read that," Jason said, "and realized that's what I'm doing through art. To me, that made sense." In the silence that followed, you could feel the energy of 19 creative minds mulling that over.

Just 3 days later I was home, going through a stack of old articles I had saved, but never read. In a book review by Jon Meacham I came across this sentence “The search for truth—about the visible and the invisible—is perhaps the most fundamental of human undertakings, ranking close behind the quests for warmth, food and a mate.” And because I am an obsessive teacher, of course I emailed the student.

I'd been waiting for the moment that this story would find it's place in gatherings. I had almost resigned to the fact that perhaps I would have to write a separate conclusion. Perhaps not. Thank you, Reverend Tom at visit number 100, who, from the pulpit, declares:

"We find ourselves in unexpected places—places sometimes we'd rather not be—in order to search for and point to the truth." An artist drawing in a pew.

Of course there are a handful of exceptions to what I'm about to say, but here goes:
The ritual of attending worship service, and the ritual of making art;
in the end, I see these as two very different ways of pursuing truth. Too different in today's world, I suspect, for most to simultaneously take both paths.
One comes with a preexisting structured philosophy; the other asks you to sort that out on your own, along with everything else. So, with exceptions, of course, artists often choose one way, and the pious another, in our pursuit of making sense of life and the world around us. And some day, with effort from both sides, maybe it will be possible for both groups to set aside judgment and consistently approach each other with the openness that those in these 100 establishments have generally approached me. Maybe.

4 comments:

  1. You did it! What an amazing journey. Beautiful entry by the way...

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  2. I thoroughly enjoy reading about all of your experiences. I have always had an interest of the religions of the world (so many in our little Pittsburgh!) and appreciate the explanations you provide. This will be a great near-experiential supplement to the ongoing religious research that I am inclined to do. This project is truly amazing and unique! Your statement juxtaposing the artists and the pious is an interesting point to consider. You certainly have combined them fantastically.

    I thoroughly enjoy reading about all of your experiences. I have always had an interest of the religions of the world (so many in our little Pittsburgh!) and appreciate the explanations you provide. This will be a great near-experiential supplement to the ongoing religious research that I am inclined to do. This project is truly amazing and unique!

    Your statement juxtaposing the artists and the pious is an interesting point to consider. You certainly have combined them fantastically. Some Latter-day Saint artists include The Osmonds, Brian Crane ("Pickles" cartoonist), and Greg Olsen--one of my favorites for spiritual perspectives. Those that have caused us to view our world differently—as great artists frequently do—include Brandon Flowers (lead singer for The Killers) and videographer, Devon Graham (who can be found on YouTube as Devon Supertramp). I am interested in learning about the artists of other religions as well. Perhaps as someone’s thesis? :-)

    How do you feel about the project coming to a close? Relieved, exhausted, grateful, blessed, wondering where you will feel the same religious mixture of refreshment, pondering new artistic works, pleased to be back to being unassociated with a religious group?

    I really feel that God is proud of you. Way to combine all of the religions in our community into artistry. Every one will have an effect on your final works for this project, which impresses upon us the importance of being free to have religious diversity. None of our religions would matter in this project if it were not for you. You have created what most can only hope for: an unbiased, accepting religious myriad.

    Thank you for dropping into our lives (I hope we meet again!) to influence them for good. I hope that those that read your blog will feel a sense of unity in Pittsburgh, as I have felt while reading it.

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  3. I'm so sorry I did not notice this earlier, Gabe. I've been away from the site for a while, so busy catching up on other things. I really appreciate your comments and it means so much to me to know that you were following and responding, reacting. How do I feel? I feel a little more isolated now that I'm not out as much, interacting and learning. But I am really thankful that it's not a project that ends with the last visit. That would have been really heavy emotionally -- like hitting a brick wall. I still have video and animation to edit (of the transformation of the dress, shot at my home). Since Oct 4th I have been spending more time in my studio (finishing drawings, sending images for printing/framing for a small group show, working on video, and looking for other places to show the work) and that feels spiritually great, too.

    Getting ready to go back to Germany at the beginning of next month for 8 weeks. Will show the work in total there. Of course you are invited, but it's so far, far away from Pittsburgh, right? Hope to see you around! -Becky

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