Friday, December 8, 2017

Thirteen Cards A-Failing

Copyright © Edward Riojas

If you’re looking for sincerity, this isn’t the week.

I assume some of you have already mailed a batch of Christmas cards to friends and family. Others are opting out, and still others haven’t yet found the right card that is oozing with enough sentimentality – and glitter.

In an attempt to be helpful, I’ve decided to give you some ideas in the form of vintage greeting cards. One can hardly call them Christmas cards, in spite of the sentiments. I will try to give explanations where needed, or simply make stuff up. It's often better that way.

Let’s get started with the first one.

This is about as safe and useless as they come. A snowman with undisclosed "best" wishes. Seriously, that's the best you can do? And the only thing I wish is that they had picked blue for sky and snow instead of visceral red.

Everyone I know has root crops on their minds when the holidays roll around, so what's not to like about, uh, Mr. Beet, or whatever-the-heck he is, on a card. Makes sense to me.  Here's a hint: A walking stick and monocle will never sufficiently dress up something you pull out of the dirt. (My apologies to Mr. Peanut.)

Rockets and interplanetary travel have lots to do with Christmas. How else does Santa do it? Hopefully, jolly old St. Nick has miscalculated his trajectory, and will fly past Pluto and into a black hole.

"Kris Kringle" and "kleptomaniac" are pretty darn close in the dictionary. Otherwise, why would he give us a weird grimace with all that crap stuffed in his boots? Call security! This guy bypassed the checkout lanes and is already halfway out the door.

The Ghost of Chewbaccas Past is apparently not a new thing. Pondering the misery of frozen terriers during the holidays is also old hat. This card has "Merry" written all over it. Well, okay, only on the bottom in nearly-illegible type.

Here's an idea: Let's put dumb animals in a dumb tableau doing dumb things. Sheeesh. Everyone knows kangaroos don't wear slippers. They wear wingtips.

Let's spread a little cheer with a dead bird. Hey, there's always someone less fortunate than you, so put on your Stitchy McYarnpants sweater and smile for the camera already!

Drinking too much spiked eggnog is bad for all concerned, as is evident with little Suzy Snickerdoodle, who obviously fell down in front of her intoxicated cat. But we can make a card out of that.

A creepy Santa playing with dolls and an unconscious child warms the hearths and hearts of everyone. Yeah, right. I'm pretty sure some kind of interpersonal boundaries have been crossed here.

And what about clowns?! And policemen?! And a gutted deer?! I'd rather get roughed up by a Krampus than look at this uncomfortable scene.

Who knew the ornaments on your tree could be so heinous? Apparently, there's a part of Christmas that I've been missing.

Anyone want a helping of Christmas pudding? Just for the record: It's not my fault if you have nightmares of pockmarked, peg-legged men wearing glasses of milk on their heads. No wonder the artist used B-movie horror type and then stuck a fork in it.

Finally, a greeting card that actually says what I want it to say.

Friday, December 1, 2017

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Copyright © Edward Riojas

In every communicative endeavor there are two parties involved. This is true of art. An audience does not benefit anything unless something is first produced, and the work of authors, artists and musicians is for naught unless there is an audience.

I was recently blessed in creating an image of the risen Christ behind the altar in a local church. Working on-site allowed occasional conversations with the pastor, and at several points Rev. David Rufner and I discussed the visage of Christ Jesus.

As an artist and creator of what must necessarily be an idealized image of Christ’s face, there is but one opportunity to render an appropriate likeness, and much thought and effort goes into its execution. For some scenarios – Jesus praying in Gethsemene, for example – it is fairly straightforward; simply show an anguished face dripping with sweaty blood. Well, okay, it is somewhat straightforward. In other scenarios it is not simple at all.

An artist is often torn between showing a just God and a loving God. There are Orthodox icons that attempt to show this very thing simultaneously and fail miserably in the attempt. A resurrected Christ, in similar manner, should show deep joy in being crucified for our benefit, but a toothy grin is simply wrong. The degree of expression becomes critical.

The viewer, too, is faced with a dilemma of equal importance. Like the goyim who approached Philip as recorded in John 12, we desire to see Jesus, but our expectations are rarely in tune with reality, and therein lies all manner of problems.
Detail of "Resurrected Christ"
Edward Riojas. 2017.
(New Hope Lutheran Church, Hudsonville, Mich.)
Copyright © Edward Riojas. Image may not be
reproduced for any purpose.

When St. John the Forerunner was in prison and wanted to definitively know about Jesus, the latter sent a message to John describing miraculous fulfillment of prophesies. Jesus then added the somewhat odd, “...Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Later in the same Gospel account, Jesus preaches about John, and asks some very pointed questions of his audience.

““What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see?””

John was indeed a prophet, but Jesus, in His role as Prophet, could have asked the pointed questions of Himself. We wish to see Jesus, but what do we go out to see? What do we expect to see? When confronted by the reality of Christ, does jealousy ensue as in the case of the Pharisees, or does awe manifest itself as in Peter’s confession?

In the case of the Resurrected Christ I painted for New Hope Lutheran Church, I am thankful that the image is not so crucial as the reality behind which it stands. How appropriate that my artwork, no matter how adequate, is but a pale shadow compared to the reality of Christ’s body and blood on the altar of the Lord. There is what the faithful come to see, and not only see, but to “Taste and see and the Lord is good.” Many might take offence. Others might content themselves with seeing a reed shaken by the wind – or less.

Not by our own determination or righteous resolve, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, are we brought to the portals of the sanctuary and humbly inquire, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tares Among Wheat

"Parable of the Wheat and the Tares" Abraham Bloemaert. 1624. (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland)

Copyright © Edward Riojas

One Dutch master got it all wrong. Abraham Bloemaert painted “Parable of the Wheat and the Tares,” but he apparently didn’t have access to St. Matthew’s full account.

Perhaps others explained the parable to him. Maybe Bloemaert didn’t follow the Scriptural passage far enough to read how Christ Himself explained the parable. At any rate, the artist expounded on the one point that Jesus didn't explain and ignored most everything else that Jesus did.

It could very well be that Calvinism was steering Scripture in a moralistic direction in the wake of Luther’s reform. At any rate, Bloemaert’s rendition of the parable fully exploits the fact that the good farmer’s workers were sleeping while the enemy came to sow evil seed. Never mind the fact that Jesus didn’t even address the insignificance of the detail. Laziness was just plain wrong, and of the Devil.

Of course, the artist didn’t just stop with putting sleeping workers in the foreground of the painting – he underlined the fact, drew circles around it, and highlighted it in red. The sleepers – male and female – lay naked for all the world to see. A dove cote is elevated nearby – a symbol of slothfulness, since harvesting doves in this manner didn’t necessitate the bother of raising them. A goat and peacock serve as icing on the ugly cake of laziness, alluding to self-indulgence and pride, respectively. The overall image shows what happens when, in man’s slothfulness, Satan is allowed to run rampant. But that picture is wrong.
"Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat"
Attributed to Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg. c. 1600.
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

A different painting on the subject is attributed to Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg. “Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat” takes a more moderate approach, although the imagery still isn’t spot on. van Swanenburg’s piece lacks the heavy-handed moral preaching of Bloemaert’s. In the painting, the good farmer addresses the viewer while workers carry sheaves of wheat away and others carry sheaves of weeds to a huge fire. van Swanenburg, however, glosses over details of who exactly reaps the wheat and tares, assuming that the farmer’s workers are thus employed.

Christ’s parable is not aimed at moral living. It is aimed at comforting His own while they must live among the annoyances of heresy and evil men. In His explanation, Jesus simply states that Satan comes to sow evil men among His saints. The fact that Satan comes while the workers sleep simply points to Satan’s cunning and deception. Sleep is not the point. The sainted workers, however, are anxious to rid themselves of evil men and their heresy.

“Master... do you want us to gather [the tares]?”

This certainly seems righteously reasonable to us, and the question is echoed in another account in Jesus ministry. Jesus and His dicsiples were snubbed by a Samaritan village while they traveled toward Jerusalem.

“And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he [Jesus] turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9: 54-55)

We may be eager to weed out rascals in the Kingdom, but we are not qualified for such a job of surgical precision. We are not reapers. That job simply isn’t ours. Rather, we should recognize heresy, avoid it, and pray ceaselessly that God’s Kingdom may come upon us. The Lord’s angels will do the harvesting at the last, and the tares, along with their bad fruit, will then be separated out from the good crop and utterly consumed.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Christmas Gift Guide

"Förtrollade Skogen" ("Enchanted Forest") giclée print
9" x 24" / $80  •  13.5" x 36" / $135  •  17.5" x 48" / $160

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“Christmas is coming; the goose is getting fat. blah, blah, blah...”

Who comes up with those lyrics, anyway?! And to top it off, I can only hear Kermit and Miss Piggy in my head when I suffer through that sorry song. Thankfully, there are far greater options when it comes to Advent and Christmas music – like Bach, Buxtehude, or anything else that doesn't involve an amphibian and a barnyard animal.
"Parable of the Buried Treasure" giclée print
10" x 16" / $75  •  15" x 24" / $110
19" x 32" / $150

The same is true when it comes to chucking crap in a shopping cart and calling it a “gift.” You know who you are: The one who slowly peruses an entire pink aisle with glazed-over eyes; the one who hefts a sausage/cheese/stale cracker box to estimate the amount of saturated fats contained therein; the one who decides Uncle Cliff really can use an air fryer. C’mon, there are alternatives, so let me help.

There is enough variety in what I offer to make everyone happy – including you. Whether it is a fine art print that reflects the Divine, or a whimsical image that teases the child within, or wearable, edgy art that makes a statement, each item will tell the recipient that you cared enough to find something a little extra special. What follows is a small sampling of items – each of which might appeal to that certain someone...
"There Was A Drake" giclée print
12" x 15" / $75  •   16" x 20" / $120

For the kid [in you]
My earliest “troll” painting was extremely popular with children of all ages, and prints found their way to doctors’ waiting rooms, kid’s rooms, and into collections of discerning adults. Prints of “Förtrollade Skogen” are available in a variety of sizes and prices. Of course, ‘Skogen’ is just one of several whimsical images that I offer. There are two other "troll" paintings done in the same format so they can be ordered in the same dimensions. As with all my giclée prints, prices include domestic shipping, etc.

Comfort in the home
One of my most popular sacred images is “The Parable of the Buried Treasure.” It’s slightly-different interpretation of the parable is appropriate for everyone, and serves as a constant reminder of our Hope in Christ Jesus. Another image in the same genre is “Precious in the Sight of The Lord.”

For the nursery
If you are searching for images that are perfectly cute for a nursery, please consider one or more prints from this set containing a drake that went out to rake. Oddly enough, they are based on an old mummers’ Christmas tune –the theme is how different animals work a farmer’s field, “on Christ-a-mas Day in the morning.”

For those with an attitude
What do you give a guy who rides a hog? A black t-shirt. What do you give a pastor who wears black all the time? A black t-shirt. What do you give anyone who is Lutheran and doesn’t appreciate papal bulls? THIS black t-shirt. Perfectly at home under an Armani suit and paired with jeans, you’ll be the envy of every Augustinian monk. Sizes S-XXL, while supplies last. $25 includes domestic shipping.
"Gospel Crucifix" giclée print
13.5" x 18" / $75
16.5" x 22" / $100

For home, wherever that is
These crucifix giclée prints can make a dorm room more like home for someone spreading their wings, or simply make any house more like a home. I offer a couple of variations, and in multiple sizes and prices. The version shown here contains the four Gospel writers on the arms of the cross. Another version shows blood and water pouring into Chalice and Baptismal font.

For parents, grandparents and little saints
I recently finished illustrating this fine, little book written by Ashlee and Rev. Gaven Mize, and it’s bound [see what I did there?!] to become a classic. While I don’t offer it on any of my sites, please allow me to steer you to places where they can be purchased. “God Loves Me Such That He Would Give” is available in hard cover and soft cover at Mize Family Books, Ad Crucem, and Amazon.

For an even greater mind-boggling selection, please visit or swing by my public Facebook page to see what’s new. As with all the products I offer, purchase inquiries funnel into my e-mail address, Send me a note if you’re interested in anything you see – and let me know if there’s something you don’t see. I promise I won’t send you down the pink aisle.

Friday, November 10, 2017

“God Loves Me Such That He Would Give:” The Little Book that Can

Cover art of the new book, available at Mize Family Books,
Ad Crucem, and Amazon

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I can still see my Dad loading up his briefcase – the one he would often take to congregational meetings or on the trips he had previously taken to St. Louis for Hispanic Outreach meetings. At times my late father would load his briefcase with a few copies of a newly-published book that I illustrated, trying to impress everyone with his son’s talent, and selling one or two in the process. That he did so showed fatherly pride – the kind that I dearly miss.

That was 1991, and the book testified to the fact that I was eager for illustration work in the form of a book deal. In theory, that book was a testament to the saving Grace of God. In theory. The book was a reprint of John Calvin Reid’s “The First Rainbow,” a Bible story book that was now lavishly illustrated by a little-known Lutheran artist and given a slightly longer shelf life. The author’s name should have been a clue and probably was, but I was ready for illustrating experience and, apparently, wasn’t quite so ready to be more discriminating.

I did gain experience, however, and it taught me to expect silly things from some Christian quarters. Images of skulls, for example, were a no-no in the book, even where illustrations of Goliath were concerned. Skulls, you must know, are of the devil. I never did quite figure that one out.

That first book. I didn't even
get credit on the cover.

What was worse, there was too much beating around the Scriptural bush where writing was concerned, and the Bible story book was obviously moralistic instead of being Christo-centric. I had sense enough, finally, to refrain from reading it to my own children. If you are willing to dig through the bargain corners of the internet, that sad book can now be had for nearly a nickle.

Now there is a much better book written by Rev. Gaven and Ashlee Mize. For its brevity of words, the contents of their little book, “God Loves Me Such That He Would Give,” far outweigh Reid’s attempt to catechize children. It is, above all, Christo-centric. Moral components tag along, faintly shadowing, but never outshining, the work of Christ Jesus on the cross and His continuing work in the life of the Church.

The illustrations I executed for the book work in a similar way. Utmost respect is given to the images of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, but the illustrative technique also carries a nostalgiac, retro feel that compliments the major visual character in the book – a small boy. There is an additional layer of characters  – the boy’s playthings – that endear the boy to us and serve as an extension of the boy’s personality. I will admit I walked a rather fine line between “cute” and “catechisis” where the illustrations are concerned.

Yet it is the words that serve the book well and make it worthy of a book collection. Consider the following excerpt:

“The types and shadows from of old
were imaged in the Lamb foretold.
When Jesus died upon the cross,
His death, our gain, was Satan’s loss.”

There is heavy theology packed with economy into that verse and the rest of the pages, making “God Loves Me Such That He Would Give” not only fun to read, but well worth the time invested. Hopefully, my efforts in illustrating serve to underscore both. I know parents will be pleased.

And yes, I know Dad would be proud.

"God Loves Me Such That He Would Give" is available in hard and soft cover from Mize Family Books, Ad Crucem, and Amazon.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Not Simply for Show

Copyright © Edward Riojas
“Jesus has blessed His church with pastors who [adapt our sensibilities to Christ] in preaching, but it's better for our church when He also gives us authors, artists, architects, and hymn writers who can do it through their crafts.”

Those words were recently written to me by a Lutheran pastor. It may seem a simple thing, but saying them out loud is important and the sentiments cannot be stressed enough.

There are folks in Christendom, however, who challenge those thoughts. I’m still learning my lesson when it comes to avoiding the elephant-sized rabbit hole of differing opinions on sacred art. Hopefully, I’ll never learn.

My arguement always backtracks to the most basic of ideas. Some folks like to worship in Spirit with no external stimuli. Some folks like to keep things simple. Some folks are offended by Catholic images and trappings. Some folks are petrified of having graven images. Fine.

Besides trying to live in an imaginary world, those same folks must also face reality: Their houses are usually nice; Their houses typically contain photos of family members, some of which are long gone; Their houses contain other fine things meant for the eyes.

So why insist that The Lord’s house look like an entertainment venue or a Zen temple or a pole barn?

It is maddening that we think so much of the Lord that we avoid picturing His Divine work on our behalf. Heaven forbid that we remind ourselves what Christ has done for us, because that would be heresy. Instead, we are more apt to invest in window stickers that show our family is comprised of six stick-figures, two cats, and a dog; we are more apt to wave a pennant displaying whatever sorry sports team we follow.

"Parables of the Vineyard." Edward Riojas. 2017.
(Collection of the artist)

If folks are so terribly afraid of graven images, then perhaps every visual should be trashed. That includes profile pictures, traffic signs, faceless Amish dolls, family photos, and the cameras that produce the same. And don’t EVEN think about purple giraffes. I realize that the graven image-thing was behind a lot of bickering and bloodshed when the Eastern and Western churches butted heads, but the point of graven images was aimed at other non-existent gods that sucked the salvation out of stupid people.

But now we preach Christ crucified, and we do it with every fiber of our being and in every vocation, whether it is visible in the sanctuary or hidden in the home. Mothers proclaim the love of Christ when they change dirty diapers, and artists do the same when producing images of the crucified Christ. Mothers can’t help it, and neither can we.
"Precious in the Sight of The Lord." Edward Riojas. 2016.
(Collection of the artist)

Which brings us to the Sola Art Exhibition currently showing at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In what is now a biennial event, the modest show exhibits the talents of living, breathing artists working within the Lutheran sphere.

Two originals of mine, “Parables of the Vineyard” and “Precious in the Sight of The Lord,” along with the work of several other artists, will be on view in the seminary library through January, 2018.

Sacred art, however, is not simply for show. Neither is it something we worship. At its best, sacred art points to Holy Scripture and, by extension, The Word in the Person of Christ and His salvific work on our behalf.


Both original paintings are for sale, as are giclee prints of the same. For more information, e-mail the artist at

Friday, October 27, 2017

Luther: For All the Saints

Copyright © Edward Riojas

In many Lutheran congregations, Church festivals are celebrated on the Sunday after the actual date. Because we don’t want to minimize the importance of the Lutheran Reformation, the festival of All Saints is most often kept separate from the festival of the Reformation, even though they are but a day apart.
“Martin Luther on His Deathbed”
Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder.
1546. (Lower Saxony State Museum,
Hannover, Germany)

At the risk of appearing as a morbid curmudgeon while the rest of the Lutheran church is celebrating 500 years of the Reformation, the death of Martin Luther is something worth considering.

The fact that he was not burned at the stake as were his reformist predecessors is noteworthy in itself. Luther avoided the death of a labeled heretic, even when he constantly spoke his mind in the presence of nobility and clergy alike; even when he wrote against errors in the Roman Catholic church; even when he wanted to give the common folk what was denied them and protect them from church-endorsed heretical practises. It is easy for us to thump our chests and declare that truth always triumphs – we have 500 years of insulation between us and the reality of Luther’s day. Luther’s “peaceful death,” therefore, is important.

Regional folklore had a tight hold on the people of Luther’s day, and superstitions were sometimes interwoven in the already-questionable teachings of Roman Catholicism. Hence, the church was quick to invent accounts of the reformer’s death to suit their agenda. To us it may seem a trite matter, but Luther’s opponents did not want him to have a “peaceful death.” Doing so would force the papacy to recognize that Luther was indeed in heaven, and that, in turn, would topple massive chunks of their theology. Instead, they wished he died either suddenly or in his sleep – both would bolster convictions that he died an evil death and therefore was of the devil. Such were the superstitions of the day. Ill rumors were spread immediately after his death that ranged from shrieks in the death chamber to demons fluttering about Luther’s room to Luther’s empty grave emitting a sulfurous odor. To preempt such nonsense, the death chamber was filled with many witnesses who recorded a far different event.
“Luther’s letztes Bekenntnis”
(Luther’s last Confession)
William Pape. 1905.
(Luther’s Death House Museum,
Eisleben, Germany)

Ever the reformer, even in death, Luther did not exchange his clothes for a monk’s frock, as would have been acceptable – especially to those who expected him to repent of his teachings and return at the last to Roman Catholicism. Luther did not recant any of his beliefs. Neither did he hold a rosary, as was customary.

In his final moments, Luther was asked,"Reverend father, will you die steadfast in Christ and the doctrines you have preached?"

He simply replied, “Yes.”

Luther’s resolute confession, along with his empty hands, could arguably be one of his greatest sermons.

We rejoice that Luther died thus, we rejoice for all the saints who have gone before us with the sign of the Cross, and we rejoice that Jesus Christ defeated death by His own death and resurrection so that we may be added to His train.

May The Lord keep us ever in the palm of His hand, and bring us to that day when we, too, may endure a “peaceful death.”