Hello to members, friends and others who are aware of the First (and Only) Presbyterian Church of Paoli, Indiana — F(&O); a family-sized congregation with a community-wide vision.

My seminary and fellow Brown Hall buddy, Tom Heger, had a print of Picasso’s painting “Guernica” on the wall over his desk. It was showing the wear and tear it should have after being untacked from a wall then rolled and unrolled and retacked as he moved through his academic life.

But its blacks and whites and grays were vivid and the portrayals of the bull, the horse, the women, even the walls screamed with clarity. The pain, suffering, death and vision of betrayal thrust their way off the wall and into the room.

Tom and I were both Prairie State boys. He from Chicagoland. Me from farm land. He did the private church college thing and I the U of I — Urbana course. In spite of my secular and his Lutheran tinged undergrad educations we both came out wanting to serve the Presbyterian church. Should the church want either one of us that is.

We were more social activist Christians than most of our more pious first year (1965) cohort at Princeton Theological Seminary. We had guys from Wheaton, Bob Jones U, Whittier and the like. A spritz of Big Ten, Pac Ten and ACC folk were admitted as an experiment I think.

So Tom had his Guernica, and Rod over in Alexander Hall, had a used smoke grenade he picked up off the street while a protesting Cal-Berkeley undergrad. Others brought in a Malcom X picture, a JFK campaign flyer and several LBJ photos with big red Xs scratched across them. With dessert we watched Cronkite tell us how many died yesterday in Viet Nam.

  • And someone over in Hodge Hall kept painting a big black rat on the basement floor where the spiral staircase framed it for all four floors of the dorm to see. Around the rodent’s profile were inscribed “Non Illigitimatum Carborundum”. That’s bad Latin meaning “Don’t let the Bds grind you down.” In those days at an “Old School” (1812) religious institution that was about as rebellious as things got. No buildings burning, no protests. Kind of passive “Got a paper to write” sort of time.

But Tom’s Guernica poster got to me. It was about war; the civil war in Spain fought in the mid-late 1930s. Francisco Franco and his group won it.

He did so with the help of Hitler’s air force. Besides Hitler being Hitler this war gave the Fuhrer an opportunity to test out his theory about how to conduct a modern war. You do it from the air to start with. Bomb the BeJesus out of the enemy cities killing as many noncombatants as possible then re-bomb them with incendiary weapons to burn up what was blown down.

And it worked. Destroy the buildings, the infrastructure and eventually the will of the people. “Attention: Basque region of Spain, the following is a test of the way the wars to come will be done. This is only a test. The real thing will be even better to watch. Stay tuned.”

The next showing was to start in September 1939 and continue for a half decade and would include Dresden and two cities in Imperial Japan. The most recent showing was this past February 24 in Ukraine and concentrates on the port city of Mariupol.

There needs now for an artist to come forward with a “Mariupol” mural of equal force as “Guernica” to display the thunderous carnage, mass destruction and unrelenting bombardment of a citizenry.

Like Picasso’s “Guernica” “Mariupol” needs to be huge; 25.5 feet by 11.5 if a match. The images of Mariupol the city that need to be inserted in “Mariupol” the painting should certainly include some representation of the bombed out maternity hospital and the scene of litter bearers rushing a near term mother to a point of safety that ended up not safe enough to keep mother and baby alive.

An artist without constraints could portray both the blasted out exterior of the theatre-bomb shelter as well as its crumpled interior with its hundreds of shell shocked women and children covered in concrete and stone debris. How many open coffins are included to convey compounding grief?

The monochrome of Pablo’s work showed an event in it’s completeness. The dead were buried. The living pushed on as they could. “Mariupol” is an event still in progress. Any color included could be a sliver of hope scratching the portrait for some bit of recognition.

What color and where? The national yellow and blue of the Ukraine flag is needed. Is there a corner for Zalenskyy’s olive drab T-shirt? Is it right to show the quilts, afghans and duvets that wrapped up the dead as they were laid toe to head in trenches of graves?

Do you insert the rocket’s red glare as it bursts into the 10th floor of an apartment flat? Is there a serene space for the candle lit scene of women and children huddled around some food in a subway tunnel or the tulips seen in some of those underground photos?

What is the color of war besides the red of blood? I leave it to the one with the brush and palette to imagine. I will accept their decision. Other than those scenes no color should be allowed. Do not pretend there is more hope where none is to be found.

Picasso’s “Guernica” in its Cubist Style showed war in all its gory vividness with greater clarity than any click from a journalist’s Leica. There are times when reality is just too real and our brains can not reassemble into a comprehensive whole the debris of shattered buildings, blasted vehicles and sprawled bodies in the street.

“Mariupol” would have to do that for us in much the way of “Guernica.” Words won’t do. Images sear into the mind’s eye a truth told in the silence of the canvas.

While we await for such a courageous and talented artist to portray that which is the most awful we are left to our own devices to Keep the Faith, Do the Job and Ask for Help.

Bob Turner is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Paoli. These are his views and do not necessarily represent those of the congregation’s members or participants.