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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Lessons from a Sidewalk Chalk Artist

September 09, 2010

"I've always coveted your sidewalks..."

That's what Hani said to us.

Who is Hani?  Well, Hani Shihada is a chalk artist. If his website is accurate, he may be one of the only remaining chalk artists in the city of New York.

About a year ago, I saw Hani's work on the Upper East Side.  People were pausing, looking, snapping pictures of his work.  I took down his information.  Then, this past June, we began a conversation.  I asked Hani if he would ply his craft on the sidewalks outside of the church.

He was excited.  We were too.

Then came the question, "What do you want me to draw?"

We discussed classical art.  Hani has done some great copies of Michelangelo and Rafael on pavement.  We thought about something modern-something eye-catching.  Then Hani suggested Norman Rockwell.

Would Rockwell play in New York?  Hmm...

I had my doubts.  Until my colleague, Tim Palmer, showed me a copy of Rockwell's "Lift Up Thine Eyes."

Rockwell painted this piece in 1957.  It shows one of our sister churches on Fifth Avenue-St. Thomas-with people walking by staring at the side walks.  Their downcast eyes and hunched shoulders perfectly capture the isolation experienced by so many urban people.

It has got to be one of Rockwell's most sober images.  Although, of course, hope stands near at hand... If only the passers-by would lift up their eyes!

Perfect, we thought!  Just perfect.

So, Hani has his inspiration.  What will he do on the side walks around the church in coming weeks?  Well, he's an artist.  I'll leave that up to him and his classic American muse.

Hani does say that he hopes his work will draw people's attention to our beloved church and, more importantly, beyond the church to their Creator.

His words got me thinking... On a busy day, over 100,000 people walk by the church, (and yes, Rockwell was right) most of them are looking down.  Maybe a little sidewalk evangelism is exactly what the Spirit is calling for!

[Taken with permission from Dr. Scott Black Johnston's blog, "Sharp About Your Prayers," Sept. 8, 2010]


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