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90.3 WBHM | Birmingham -- Emuna is something that's perhaps difficult to grasp at first. Particularly when you hear things like...

"It's not about ideas. It's about stories."

Or...

"What is true will rise."

Even...

"We trust that the spirit of God working in us, expressing itself through our own creative process will come together to tell one story."

Tim Mayhall is an associate pastor at Shades Valley Community Church. But he'd probably recoil at being called an Emuna spokesman.

"Part of our thing is that no one person is empowered to speak for everyone else."

But Mayhall did have a hand in starting Emuna, a group he describes as a faith community designed by artists. At this gathering at the Shades Valley Church, about a dozen people lounge on couches which hug a throw rug on the floor. Across the room, a sign above the coffee maker invites you to, "Perk up your day!"

The group is not a church, although it uses the church building. Emuna's work has Christian overtones, although Christian faith isn't required and some espouse no faith. It's an organic group, Mayhall says, where people with different understandings could come together for discussions of important issues. Emuna's platform for that is what they call an "environment." An environment?

"A bunch of artists and curators, engineers get together. We pick a theme."

Their last theme was war.

"We invite artists, vocational artists, into that process. Some of them have works that are already about that issue. Others create works that are specifically for the environment."

The works are assembled into a gallery of sorts. It's lit by candles. Artwork may be on the floor. The viewer follows a specific path to take in the art. And there's text along the way to provide a narrative and an interactive element.

Joan of Arc"At a point in the environment we ask people to stop to consider the ways the church has participated or perpetrated war. There was another place where we had some pottery shards from the Mowa Choctaw and invited people to hold those in their hand and think about the ways our culture is built on the shattered pieces of another."

"It's not just pictures thrown on a wall. It's a conversation, Mayhall says, between the viewer and the artwork. So while some might label it Christian art, it's not cutesy angels. Artist Mike Hawkins says it's supposed to challenge you, make you think or feel something.

"My artwork alone deals a lot with rejection or abandonment. Some of my artwork has nudity involved in it."

Matthew 5:44One work from a California artist in the recent war environment contemplates an advertising campaign for Bible verses. In this case, Matthew 5:44 - that's the "Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors" verse. The reflective posters feature Osama bin Laden and Hitler.

Emuna's members emphasize it's not about a specific point of view or communicating a particular idea. It's a dialogue through art. But it is personal for the artists. Carolyn McDonald's work is part of her struggle with her husband's addiction. Spiritual therapy she calls it.

"I have a body of work that I sell in galleries. This body of work is mine. I sometimes call the other art 'no-bainers.' I love the colors and I learn a lot from doing a landscape, a still life, I do portraits. But this is straight from the heart."

Emuna's done three environments so far. They're discussing potential future topics, different projects, also locations away from the church. The details, though, that's an ongoing conversation.

-- Andrew Yeager, December 11, 2008