Most if not all readers will be amused by what lies inside this volume. Most will be, but for a wider variety of reasons than many books enjoy. And if you are among the latter, "amuse" will turn out to be too weak a word. "Beguile" will be more likely.
The first time you read this book, you will know that it is one of those that you will return to again and again in the future. Is it a book of photography? -- of art more generally? -- of puns? -- of religious architecture? -- of questionable, comic, and at times tragic religious architecture? The answer, of course, is "yes." Hence its beguiling nature and consequent beckoning to regular revisitation.
Herman Krieger describes himself as a non-practicing Jew who has not been to synagogue since he was 12. Would that all religious education "took" as well as his! The most obvious and, in many ways, most delightful interaction that he will quicken in you is that between caption and photo. And most of the captions will, in turn, be drawn either directly or indirectly from Jewish and Christian scriptures. Herman thus nicely illustrates the ancient insight, voiced by Ignatius Loyola but universally true, "give me a child until he is six and he will be a Catholic forever." Religious truths, often embodied in text but always pointing beyond the text to experience itself, rarely go away for good. At worst, they hibernate. In the gentle humor that is the conversation between caption and photo, this book might well awaken hibernating truths in you as well. Another beguiling level of meaning, therefore: not, "Will this re-awakening happen?" but rather, "Did Herman intend it?"
The puns in this book, that is, the multi-layered conversations between image and caption, are witty. I mean this in the widest possible sense, what the Oxford English Dictionary laboriously reminds us is "that quality of speech or writing which consists in the apt association of thought and expression, calculated to surprise and delight by its unexpectedness; the utterance of brilliant or sparkling things in an amusing way." Wit is thus the conjunction of the author's insight and foresight that opts to use humor as the conduit to the receiver's mind. How could anything other than wit better account for the effects of "The High and the Lofty," "Littergy," and the adjacent, "The Pope's Answer to Luther," and the "Sign of the Crossing?" These are not simply pictures with headings; indeed, they are sermons whose spiritual precision is the more appropriated (and enjoyed) the more that one patiently awaits it. Priests at Notre Dame have been known to be fired for exceeding 10-12 minutes per sermon. It was not until well after 10 minutes, though, that I finally got the point of the sermon titled "Auto da Fe" (hint: look carefully at the car model and then at the bumper sticker). Jesus could not have been more concise.
What this volume ultimately is, then, is a book about what the catholic tradition terms "sacramentality," the insight that God's presence is mediated by any and all parts of creation, and hence that God is permanently as close, or as far away, as the individual wishes God to be. It is not that God is ever far away, though. All that the individual can accomplish is to recognize, or resist, that permanent adjacency. More than this is not given to us to do. Herman's volume shows us how perilously close that divine adjacency is on a daily basis. Easy to overlook, isn't it? Hence, all the more delightful to acquire.
A final illustration of this that I hope you will
not resent. While embarking from vastly different shores, Herman and I
share much of our respective journeys. We are both graduates of the University
of California at Berkeley. We are both avid bicyclists, a habit nurtured
at that same University. Computers are the primary "how" by which we serve
our professions and our constituencies. We are both drawn to the subtle,
the common, and the humorous as the means by which religion is seen as
universally evident. I say this not to elevate myself to his level of insight,
attentiveness, or artistry, but instead simply to add one closing picture
to this volume. Thank you, Herman, for including me in it.
Kern R. Trembath, Assistant Chairman
The Department of Theology
The University of Notre Dame