One of the reasons the St. Francis quip, "Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words," is so often quoted is because it pokes fun at Christians' propensity to think sharing our faith is primarily about words. And for good reason. We study the words of the Bible. Our church services are filled with words. Our endless discussions on hot-button issues overflow with words. Even prayer, our most intimate form of communication, is nearly always reduced to mean those prayers we make with words.
But if mere words were enough, perhaps the Word we worship wouldn't have gone to the trouble of becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Sharing our faith can't be reduced to rehearsed sound bite, but is something as complex, sensitive, and alive as we are.
In September 2009, The United Church of Canada's WonderCafe online discussion forum (www.wondercafe.ca) invited four internationally acclaimed aerosol artists to show faith can be much deeper, richer, and more complex than most people think. Their resulting "Paint Your Faith" mural collaboration in Toronto's downtown core is a unique public display of faith filled with colors, shapes, imagination, and emotion.
The massive 30- by 60-foot wall where the Paint Your Faith mural was created could have been prime commercial advertising space, but Metropolitan United Church instead used it to beautify their community and bring the inner life of the church out into the streets.
Each of the four aerosol artists worked on a quadrant of the wall. The graffiti-like styling of the word "Yahweh" by Toronto's Mediah provides a foundation for the mural in the bottom left area. At the top left, another Toronto artist, Elicser, offers flowing imagery depicting a family's complex engagement with faith, religion, and life.
The top right corner of the mural is dominated by San Francisco artist Chor Boogie's powerful spiritual symbolism and the rainbow of "color therapy" techniques for which his work has become known. In the lower right, Siloette, also of San Francisco, offers her own stunning expression of faith in the form of an angelic woman in prayer. At the center, the four pieces of the mural are brought into harmony by the gentle and innocent image of a child filled with wonder by the surrounding expressions of faith brought to life on the wall.
Of course, public displays of faith are nothing new for the church. Almost from the beginning the church has used its buildings and public spaces as expressions of faith, from the towering architecture of steeples and sanctuaries to the sublime and gentle beauty of gospel stories wrought in stained glass.
Yet, in our post-Christendom era, we lack a shared understanding of religious symbolism that was once assumed. For many, the symbols of faith carry a lot a baggage -- both good and bad -- and that makes it difficult to use these symbols as a place to start a discussion about the things we consider important in life.
By sidestepping traditional and predictable religious symbols, art like the Paint Your Faith mural raises opportunities for us to share our values, hopes, and dreams about those things we find beautiful. These are issues of faith, and there's no reason the church shouldn't raise them in the streets as well as from the pulpit.
Paint Your Faith is a way of praying in color with the world. It is an expression of our spirits that goes beyond words, yet can be shared by all.
Click on the image below to watch a video about the paint your faith mural.
As a youth, Aaron McCarroll Gallegos was one of the "Los Ninos del Mundo" ("Children of the World") who helped to paint the famous Estrada Court murals in East L.A. Currently he is executive producer for The United Church of Canada's WonderCafe.ca. WonderCafe is planning another Paint Your Faith mural for Vancouver this spring, as well as other possible locations in the future. Visit paintyourfaith.ca for the latest news and ways you can participate.