Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview with author Judith Couchman

A while ago I posted a short review of Judith Couchman's book, The Mystery of the Cross published by IVP Press. It is a wonderful read and a great resource for parish Bible study groups and or Christian book clubs.

Below is an interview that I recently had with Judith:

1. What inspired you to work on this particular book project, it is so unique, a combination of art history, theology, and Scripture? How did you manage to bring these three subjects together wholistically?
While working as a writer for years, I began studying art history just because I loved it. Then I decided to get a second master's degree in art history (I already had one in journalism) and studied online for it. I focused on Christian art. Especially as I studied early Christian andmedieval art, the visual representation of Christianity moved me deeply. It felt like viewing God at work in the world through images. It also intrigued me how, in a secular university classroom, I encountered Christian images and the beliefs related to them. The information spoke for itself, like a soft approach to sharing the faith.
While writing the book, I wasn't sure I was bringing art history, theology, and Scripture together wholistically. I wrote with hope and prayer. I thought the biblical and extra-biblical stories and beliefs offered context for the images. We can understand art better if we learn about its context. And always, readers want to know how ancient Christianity relates to their lives today. I wasn't sure if anyone else would benefit from the book, but the research affected me. Too often, the cross is just a common symbol to us. To the early Christians, it was everything. It represented their suffering Savior, the one who resuced them from sin. The one for whom they radically changed and sacrificed their lives.
2. Is there any particular chapter or chapters that are especially inspiring or memorable for you? Why?
Oh, yes. Chapter 9, The Descent from the Cross, touched me where I'd actually been living. That chapter relives how Joseph of Arimatheaand Nicodemus obtained and cared for Christ's body after his death. When my mother died, I helped prepare her body before the mortician took it. This was a loving, sacred act for me. A last chance to touch my mother and kiss her face. For the first time, I undestoodd the holiness of taking Christ's body down from the cross and preparing it for burial. I'd usually skipped that part when I thought about his death and resurrection.
Chapter 36, Desperately Seeking Sanctuary, also meant much to me. It described the ancient practice of sanctuary for those who'd committed crimes or fell into trouble. They ran to a church for sanctuary and received forgiveness through santuary laws. This practice is foreign to us; we want revenge. But the sanctuary laws and the cross's participation in them, exemplified God's forgiveness. It is broad, deep, wide, incomprehensible. I'm still trying to grasp the nature of such forgiveness.
3. What are some of the comments or feedback that you received from readers? I can imagine a lot of book clubs or small groups will be using this book for reading or devotional use.
Authors don't always know what's going on, unless people contact us. I'm no exception. But I do know the book has been discussed on blogs, taught in Sunday school classes, and read by churches for Lent. Readers have been complimentary about the content and the writing. I've worked hard to write decently, so good remarks about the writing cheer me. Some say they plan to read the book more than once. The book seems to be doing what I'd hoped: reaching into diverse Christian groups and bringing them closer to the Cross. I hope it's a book with a long life because the cross is a timeless topic. As the author, though, I think it's crucial to watch the book's progress with humility. It's really Christ's Cross that's speaking, not me. Whether the book sells a lot or a little, my responsibility is to follow God's call to write.
4. Has anyone, especially in the Protestant world, objected to the over use of Christian art or symbolism, especially the cross?
No, not so far. Instead, Protestants have been thrilled to read extra-biblical stories they hadn't heard before. I tried to write the book with a strong biblical foundation, in a way that Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians could appreciate it. I wanted the Scripture and the stories to minister to a broad range of Christians and possibly, spiritual seekers.
5. What are your future book projects? Any follow ups to this one?
I don't have a follow-up to The Mystery of the Cross, but I'd like to write one at some point. However, I just finished a book titled, The Art of Faith: A Guide to Understanding Christian Images (Paraclete). It releases in December of this year (2010). This book helps anyone interested in Christian art, from its beginnings through the Baroque era. You can read about the initial stirrings of Christian art; brief overviews of the Christian art eras; learn about common subjects in Christian art; understand its popular symbolism, and much more. The book is formatted so you can look at Christian art and consult the book for interpreting it. For every definition in the book, I've included, as an example, a work of art from somwhere in the world. And again, anyone can use it. You don't need a background in art or art history to understand and enjoy Christian art.