Sunday, November 27, 2016


By Ernest & Gregory Disney-Britton
"Word of Life" (aka Touchdown Jesus) at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
Football has never been a part of our Thanksgiving tradition, but it was this year because our son Kai came to visit us in Indianapolis. Through his eyes, this weekend, we watched football: Colts, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and we witnessed the solidarity and a near sacred purpose it created. Religious art used to do the same, and for believers like us, the University of Notre Dame makes prints of Millard Sheets's "Word of Life" (aka "Touchdown Jesus") available online.

Beautifully executed in 1964, the "Word of Life" mural was created by Millard Sheets for the library facade at the University of Notre Dame. At 134 feet high and 68 feet wide it is America's most famous work of religious art, but while football made it famous, it also replaced the religious intent. The mosaic of 140 colors of granite is Sheets's representation of Scripture: "...In the beginning was the Word...." (John1: 1-5). It features Christ's raised arms and he is surrounded by doctors, teachers, and saints but has come to symbolize touchdowns instead of Christian learning.

Is "Word of Life" a failed work of contemporary religious art because it lost its meaning? We worry that the sacred purpose has been replaced by football and the same has happened with Thanksgiving. Do Christians care about Mark 7:8: "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men?" The answer is in the amount of time we spent watching football this weekend versus the amount of time spent focused on the Word of God.

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"Word of Life" mural at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.