Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

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8/23/11 – Worship Facilities Conference & Expo

Worship Facilities Conference and Expo (WFX) will be held in Dallas, TX November 9-11, 2011 at the Dallas Convention Center. The annual WFX draws around 3,000 pastoral leaders mostly from non-denominational independent churches. Designed to put church leaders in touch with the latest technology for communicating the gospel WFX is geared toward anyone who is passionate about helping their church achieve its vision.

Richard Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA will be making two presentations during WFX. 1) A Biblical Base for Sacred Space and 2) Art, Artistry and Architecture.


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8/17/11 – Intersection of Religion and the Arts

The Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture (ARC) will mark its 50th Anniversary with a celebration at Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City November 11-12, 2011.  ARC honors, challenges, and cultivates the relationship between religion and the arts. The celebration will include music, poetry, panels, painting, architecture, conversation, and more. Board member  Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA will be on a panel discussing the architecture and art of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Saturday, November 12, 2011.

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8/14/11 – Homily – Sticks and Stones …

20 Sunday A – August 14, 2011 – … But names do hurt me!

Is 56:1, 6-7, Ps 67:2-3,5,6,8, Rom 11;13-15, 29-32, Mt 15:21-28

Today’s biblical texts

When I was growing up it would not have been unusual to hear ethnic and racial slurs uttered in the neighborhood, schools and playgrounds. Words like Spic, Guinea, Polack, Hymie and … the colored. What are some words that you recall? Today those terms comprise what is known as hate speech where one person or group maligns or abuses another. There is a growing consensus in developed countries to restrict expressions of hate speech. However, the first amendment in the United States prohibits such regulation except in isolated cases when the incident incites violence.

The recently released movie The Help is a poignant example of the fear, disrespect, suspicion and anger that existed between the white and black people in the deep South in the 1960s. Three courageous women — two maids and one young writer — took risks to cross lines of hatred and discrimination. By establishing trust in one another they told their stories of humiliation. In doing so they broke boundaries and rose above the lines that defined them.

So, what can we say about what happened between Jesus and the woman in today’s gospel? What was he thinking when he said you don’t feed bread from the table to dogs? The word “dog” was a slur against Gentiles at the time. According to some interpreters the word “bread” referred to Jesus’s mission to save the Israelites from a disastrous course. Because she was a Canaanite and not a Jew he was not going to waste his time with her. [1]

The woman in this gospel, most likely stunned and hurt by Jesus’s response, would not take no for an answer. She tracked down Jesus because of his reputation for being a healer and miracle worker. She was not stymied by his rudeness. She fired back. Respectfully, cleverly, she addresses him as “Lord” and reminded him that crumbs from the table are given even to dogs. Now it is Jesus who is on the defensive. You can imagine him having a new insight, an “aha” moment, about his purpose on this planet. He says, OK. Your faith has saved you … and your daughter is healed.

Was this incident really about faith as some commentators suggest? Was it about who gets into heaven? Was it about which religion is the one true religion? Anyone who has ever worried about a seriously sick son or daughter knows that this woman was desperate. She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter and was willing to risk anything, offending a popular preacher and even expressing faith in him, to make it happen.

Likewise, the maids inThe Help were willing to risk their jobs and their lives to stop the deeply ingrained prejudice that existed in their towns and elsewhere. Telling their stories of disdain and disgrace did not completely eradicate racism. However, it did put a dent in the arrogance and self righteousness of those who perpetuated such divisiveness.

Today, although places of work and college campuses have established speech codes to counter harassment — hate crimes and subtle expressions of discrimination and disrespect still occur. Often we do not even realize that the words we use might offend someone. Years ago we were unaware of the harm we inflicted by using offensive terms to identify others. Further, we probably never thought of those actions as related to our religion or practice of faith. Both the woman and Jesus crossed boundaries. She had faith in the miracle worker. He responded by accepting her as she was. The differences between them no longer mattered.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while awaiting execution for opposing Hitler’s regime, wrote, “It is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.” [2]

The story of the woman in the gospel and the women in The Help offer concrete examples about the importance of faith and the choices we make in our day to day lives. We can’t say we have faith in God while discriminating against others.


1 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1995) 124-126.

2 Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Wind, Renate. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1995) 171.

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8/9/11-Transcending Architecture: Aesthetics & Ethics of the Numinous

An interdisciplinary symposium will take place this Fall (October 6-8, 2011) at the Catholic University of America School of Architecture and Planning. It is entitled “Transcending Architecture: Aesthetics and Ethics of the Numinous”.  Attendance is free of charge but you must register to secure a seat.

In an age obsessed with speed, consumerism, technology, immediacy, and quantity, an architecture that transcends constitutes a radical and risky act of love and compassion born out of a spiritual and cultural awakening.

This symposium will consider the aesthetics and ethics that move us from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the profane to the sacred. Far from avoiding the charged issues of subjectivity, society and intangibility, we will examine the phenomenological, symbolic, and designerly ways in which the holy gets fixed and transmitted through architecture.

A remarkable group of presenters will provide attendees with ample opportunities for intellectual, spiritual, and professional growth. Confirmed speakers include Juhani Pallasmaa Hon FAIA, Karsten Harries, Thomas Barrie AIA, Karla Britton, Michael Crosbie AIA, Lindsay Jones, Rebecca Krinke, Travis Price FAIA, Susan Reatig FAIA, Kevin Seasoltz, Maged Senbel, Duncan Stroik, Richard Vosko Hon AIA, Mark Wedig, and others

AIA CE credits will be available for parts or full program.

For more information, visit:

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8/7/11-Homily-Sink or Swim

19 Sunday A – August 7, 2011 – Sink or Swim

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a, Psalm 85:9-14, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:22-33

Today’s biblical texts

Thirteen miles long and seven miles wide the Sea of Galilee is about 700 feet below sea level and 150 feet deep. Hills on the east side rise up to 2000 feet where there is cool dry air. This is where the feeding of the multitudes in last week’s gospel may have taken place. The Sea itself is surrounded by warmer wet weather. This contrast causes rapid changes in the temperature and barometric pressure and can result in the unpredictable violent winds we heard about in today’s gospel. [1]

After the revival meeting, where thousands were fed physically and spiritually, Jesus tells his disciples to go to the other side of the lake; that he will catch up with them later. As the story goes, during a great storm in the middle of the night, blurry eyed disciples saw Jesus approaching the boat … walking on the water! After hearing Jesus say there is nothing to be afraid of Peter eagerly jumps into the Sea. Of course, we now know that Peter could not swim.

Sink or swim. That’s what great numbers of middle class and poverty stricken Americans are faced with these days. Yes, the politicians may have side stepped a national default, but at what cost? The sinking feeling comes when you are out of a job and grocery bills, mortgage payments and tuition loans still pile up. In New York State there are worries about reductions in social service programs. If you can swim at all in this swelling sea it is against the tide. Getting to the other side of the lake, the land of milk and honey described in the bible, seems almost impossible.

Jesus said do not be afraid. Jesus said you can swim in these treacherous waters. Jesus said all you need is faith. OK, Jesus. We get it. However, this presents a huge question for us who believe in his words. How exactly does a faithful person stand up straight and strong when, as the first reading suggests, the fierce and heavy winds tear apart mountains of American dreams and earthquakes shatter visions of a stable, peaceful world?

There is no easy answer. Yet. We gather in this church this morning looking for inspiration, something to reinforce the foundations of faith, hope and love. Yes, it is here where we can acquire solutions for fixing the infrastructures that seem to be wavering in an unpredictable climate where nothing is certain. Here is where we join other faiths — Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist — to plant our stakes firmly in the trust that God will calm the seas and tame the winds. I believe this and hope you do too.

The government has taken small steps to keep the country afloat. Depending on your point of view the bill passed last week is either good or bad, just or not, right or wrong. Regardless of our perspectives or the realities, the question for us, this body of Christ this morning, is this: What strokes are we going to take to make up the difference?

We believe there is room in our corner of the religious world to respond to the call that Jesus made to Peter, to come to him. Just jump in, don’t be afraid to get wet.  One parishioner who reads my blog wrote that Peter sank because he was not aware of his own strength, his own capabilities. Another reader said give the guy a break. At least he tried while the other disciples just sat in the boat! That cannot be true with us can it? We will not sit comfortably in the boat while others do all the work.

Once immersed in the waters of baptism we are convinced no sea storm can prevail over us. We are ready then to jump into the water to save those drowning in despair. This is the time for a spiritual stimulus package, one that pumps energy into us so we can get more involved in our parish and our communities; to see to it that people we know and don’t know do not sink to the bottom of the sea.

You and I have been buoyed up by the Word of God, we have been nourished with spiritual food and drink for how many years? Now it is time to give rather than receive, to share rather than hoard, to swim with strength and without fear. If we don’t … we just might sink.


1 DeYoung, Donald. Weather and the Bible.