Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kölner Dom, two views

The Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria, better known as the Kölner Dom or the Cologne Cathedral, is one of the best, and largest, examples of Gothic cathedrals. It was built over six centuries from 1248 to 1880. I was lucky enough to visit this several years ago and it is breathtaking. Here are two LEGO takes on this wonder of architecture. Jürgen Bramigk is a German AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) who built a massive replica at 3.0 meters long, 1.8 meters wide, and 3.0 meters high (see here to appreciate the size of this creation). Appropriately enough he first displayed it at FanWelt 2008, a gathering of LEGO builders in Cologne, Germany. The organizers of that event asked Michael Jasper to make a much smaller version of the cathedral as a souvenir set that attendees could purchase. I've yet to see a photo of these two creations together - it seems that someone should have taken such a picture since both were at the same event.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine

Note: In this and future posts on the Brick Testament I'll probably include a lot of my own opinion and not just straight reportage. I'm a huge fan of Brendan's work, but I also come at the source material from a different religious view, so disagree with him at times. Back when I was active on Lugnet I'd post my thoughts on both the LEGO building and the religious interpretation for each new installment, so I'll do that here. Hopefully I can get Brendan to respond as well to start a dialog in this forum.

Apocalyptic literature became an important part of both Jewish and Christian traditions from around 500 BC to 300 AD. These groups were facing trying times - the nation of Israel was destroyed by outside forces and many of the people were in exile in the Babylonian captivity, and even after they returned to their homeland they faced incursions by the Greeks and the Romans. In the first few centuries of Christianity the followers of this new faith faced many persecutions. These people found comfort in apocalyptic literature. The word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek for removing a veil. This literature told them that, yes, times were bad and would get much worse, but there was some ultimate triumph in which the righteous would be saved and things would be much better (messianic era or heavenly reward for the two traditions, respectively). Examples of this literature can be found in places like the book of Daniel or in various extra-canonical works, but the most well-known apocalypse is the book of Revelation, found at the end of the Christian Bible. This book is full of allegory and fantastic imagery, and Brendan Powell Smith has taken on the challenge of illustrating these in the latest installment of the Brick Testament.

Brendan illustrates the introduction to the book in Future Revealed to Guy on Tiny Mediterranean Island.

LEGO thoughts: Probably the best achievement in LEGO building here is the image shown above, with John coming ashore and a microscale building and ship in the background in soft focus to give a sense of perspective. I also really like how he did the Son of Man and the seven lampstands-a good realization of the poetic language there. To me the first few images, where the Father tells the Son tells an angel tells John seemed a little redundant and wasteful - there may have been a more efficient way to accomplish the same thing in a tighter fashion. I also disliked how in a couple of images Brendan removed the minifig's head from his body to try to make it look like he was bending at the neck (minifigs have very limited poses in some ways) - elsewhere in the BT Brendan does this with figs who are dead, so here it looks to me more like John has a broken neck.

Interpretation thoughts: One interpretive quibble - Brendan implies that John chose to go to Patmos on an evangelistic mission. Most people think he was exiled there in persecution for preaching about Christ. I realize, though, that either of these is a fair interpretation of the bare phrase that John was there "because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus" without any extra-biblical tradition.

The next section of Revelation contains the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, in which Christ rebukes them for their failings and promises rewards for their faithfulness. Brendan illustrates these in Children to be Killed as Warning.

LEGO thoughts: Good choice of figures here, especially for Jezebel and the other woman. Using doors as a table works well, as do other details in the building interiors. One thing that I feel doesn't work is the image where red dots were Photoshopped in as some sort of disease - I always prefer true LEGO solutions to this sort of thing. I also feel that there were some missed opportunities here. Most of the promises of reward were ignored (more below), but the faithful being given white robes, a stone, food, etc. might have made good LEGO illustrations. I could also see some humorous possibilities in giving each a new name, being made a pillar in the temple of God, or in the faithful sitting with Jesus on his throne as he with the Father (I could imagine the Christian sitting on Christ's lap who was on the Father's lap). Another passage that might have been fun to illustrate is Christ saying to the church at Laodicea that he would spew them out of his mouth.

Interpretation thoughts: I do think that some of Brendan's bias peeks through here. I believe (and I would love his feedback on this) that he feels that the God of the Bible is wrathful and capricious, and Christians need to confront this aspect of his character. As such Brendan tends to illustrate those passages with punishments or slaughters with great enthusiasm (e.g. his illustrations of the conquest of the Promised Land in Joshua and some of the tribulations in Revelation, below), but not passages showing reward. So the focus of this section of the BT is a very literal interpretation of Jezebel and her promised punishment, rather than noting how these seven churches each have their negatives and positives and God's rebuke to the former and encouragement of the latter.

In the next section of the book, John is taken up in a vision, as illustrated in Heaven Revealed. Even Christians who have not studied Revelation would recognize this section as it is the basis for much of the lyrics of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy.

LEGO thoughts: The real tour de force here is the scene where all of the creatures of land and sea praise the Lord, especially the illusion of the boat floating on top of the sea and the shark, fish and diver swimming underwater. I also really like the door in the sky, the choir of angels, and the saints casting down their golden crowns upon the glassy sea. The real failing here is the depiction of the four beasts with multiple eyes and the Lamb that was slain. I don't think these measure up to how other creatures are depicted in the BT (though doors as wings on the eagle is a good idea).

The Lamb goes on to open the seven seals upon the scroll in three stories: God Tortures, Kills Billions, Terrorized Humans Wish for Death and 144,000 Jews Saved.

LEGO thoughts: The first story has a good interpretation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I was kind of disappointed we didn't get a group photo of them, perhaps flying through the sky down toward the earth. Death on his pale horse may be my favorite - that skeletal horse is such a perfect element. Other nice build elements include the scales and the famished figs (I'm going to have to borrow that idea). Some good humor with the wild animals - landshark and switchblade monkey, especially.
The second story is largely perfect. I actually thought the Statue of Liberty, which Brendan used as his thumbnail, was the weakest of these. Very ingenious with the sky rolled up like a scroll (Brendan uses a poster for his background sky, so here he just rolls it up) and I really love the falling stars and the earthquake scene. The rockscaping in the hiding place is also great, though perhaps the ground shouldn't just be a flat baseplate.
The third story makes use of a LEGO built-globe. There have been variations on this idea in the past, but this one is very well done. In the group shot of the Jews there is one guy in the second row with a beard and black hat that is just perfect for a Hasid.

Interpretation thoughts: Not to sound like a broken record, but again I perceive a bias here, with the image of a capricious God who just decides to torture and kill billions of people for fun. For instance, the setting aside of a fraction of the Jews looks like a concentration camp, with people being branded with hot irons, rather than saving them from destruction. As I mentioned above, apocalyptic literature is written to people who are undergoing great persecution. It is ultimately for them a comfort rather than a horror movie. That said, as a LEGO builder I always enjoy some plastic destruction, so maybe I should be generous and say that Brendan enjoys building these sorts of things more than everyone sitting around singing praises.

Finally for now, the opening seventh seal brings seven angels to blow their trumpets in God Burns One Third of Earth and God Poisons Humans, Sealife. This gets us to the end of Revelation 8, so the next trumpets will pick up in the next installment of the BT.

LEGO thoughts: The first story has a couple of particularly effective images. "Crashes of thunder, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake" is well done, with an innovative way to make lightning - much nicer than his earlier solution. Most striking, though, is the picture of the burned earth. Oh, the golden censer filled with fire is also well done.
The second story also has some nice build details. I'm a little torn on the splash, but really like how he did angels knocking out the sun, moon and stars. As always, his interiors are great, with the people dying of bitter water (note the blue plume used as spilled water). My favorite may be the microscale cruise ship sinking - I'm a sucker for microscale. The one real fail here is the giant star Wormwood.

Interpretation thoughts: Pretty much the same as the last set of stories, so I won't repeat myself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Under the Bodhi Tree

Back in 2005-2006 Lenny Hoffman started a History of Humanity series, featuring important events and figures, such as Buddha's First Sermon. Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince but gave up a life of wealth and ease when seeing the suffering of common people. At the age of 35, he came to a religious awakening while meditating. Lenny illustrates his first sermon, where he laid out what would become the key tenets of Buddhism to his first followers. BTW, Lenny's been largely away from the LEGO community for a while now due to life changes (you get busy, you know), but I hope he comes back and adds to this project some day.

Navigational tool

If you look over on the right just below "welcome and essays" I've added a box called "Find posts on:". I'm going to add keywords to the end of each post so that it is easy to find posts on, say, Hinduism. Mostly I'm listing faith traditions, with "OtherFaiths" as a stand-in for either ancient faiths or current minority faiths. I'm also including keywords for The Brick Testament, since I'll probably have many of these, and Architecture, to find things like cathedrals, mosques, etc.

Right below that I've added another box with links to a few site of general relevance to this blog. Please let me know if you have others I should add.

-later edit- I'm redoing how I'm indexing posts.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ark of the Covenant

As mentioned previously, the Ark of the Covenant was the most holy object of ancient Judaism, holding a central place in the Tabernacle and Temple and even being associated with the fortunes of the whole nation. LEGO has a very small replica in one of the Indiana Jones sets, but AFOLs (Adult Fans of LEGO - hobbyists who collect and build with LEGO) have designed much better versions, such as this by Matija Puzar (there's also an earlier version if you follow that link).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stone Table

The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis are full of Christian symbolism, with the central character Aslan as a Christ figure. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is an extended allegory. Aslan is sacrificed on a stone table as a substitute for a traitor. The next morning the table is split and Aslan is alive again. Substitute Jesus, cross, sinners, empty tomb and resurrection and you've got the Easter story. Andrew Becraft made this nice vignette of the stone table with the characters Lucy and Susan.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More official sets

How could I forget this one? The Ark of the Covenant was the most holy object in ancient Judaism. It carried the stone tablets given to Moses on Sinai and was kept in the innermost chamber of the Temple. Only the high priest could enter this room, and that only on one day of the year. In popular culture, the Ark was at the center of the first Indiana Jones movie. Last year LEGO released a series of Indiana Jones sets, including Indiana Jones and the Lost Tomb. Note the small model of the Ark in the center.

Also note that that set has two statues of Anubis, the god of the afterlife in ancient Egypt. That makes me think that I shouldn't limit myself to the major religions of the current day. With that in mind, before LEGO had a specific license to make official Indiana Jones sets, they had a similar series of sets called the Adventurers. Johnny Thunder (the stand-in for Indy) explored Egyptian ruins in the Desert series, including the Temple of Anubis set shown below.

Next Johnny found himself in the jungle, where he found vaguely Aztec/Mayan/Incan/etc ruins in sets like Amazon Ancient Ruins, below. Note, for instance, the headress on the chieftan/priest.

After encountering dinosaurs (no religious content in those sets) Johnny went on an Orient Expedition, where, among other things, he visited the Temple of Mount Everest, below. We'll assume that this is supposed to be Tibetan Buddhist, I guess.

In a separate line, LEGO had pirates sets. A subtheme of that line had the pirates encounter the Islanders in sets such as Enchanted Island. Their religion is totally undefined, but we get a generic idol in that set. I'll assume that it's vaguely based on the Moai of Easter Island.

Okay, perhaps that exhausts the list of official LEGO sets with reference to religion. Are there any I missed?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Official sets

It seems that LEGO has decided to steer clear of official sets touching on religious themes. I suppose this is because they are an international company seeking to sell to people from all different faith communities and do not wish to offend anyone. Personally I think that's sad - faith is such an important part of the human experience and has had such a prominent role in the development of societies that it seems a glaring lack in, say, their Town, Castle, and Wild West themes. This hasn't always been so. Back in 1957 and 1958 they released two sets, both called "church" or "kirche", 309 and 1309. These are pretty much the same set, except in one the printed brick says "1762" and in the other it says either "ANNO 1762" or "AD 1762". The construction is pretty simplistic and so these sets probably would not be of interest to the modern LEGO fan, except maybe for the square windows and old-style trees that haven't been produced in 30+ years. I can't find any significance to the year 1762. Does anyone have a clue to this? Maybe there is a prominent church in Denmark that was built in that year?

The one way that LEGO may get over their avoidance of religious themes is to go with architecturally significant landmarks that have huge cultural importance in addition to a religious sense. One such is the recent Taj Mahal set.

While the Taj Mahal is not a temple or church, it is a mausoleum built for Mumtaz Mahal, the favorite wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in an Islamic tradition and, for instance, includes verses from the Koran as part of its decoration. Rituals and structures have been intimately linked to faith from tombs in ancient Egypt to European shrines to the saints. If LEGO can make the Taj Mahal a set due to it's architectural and cultural significance, surely they could do the same with something like Notre Dame. I should note that at the Legoland parks there are models of many such landmarks. I'll highlight some of those in future blog posts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


There aren't a lot of MOCs out there related to Hinduism, which is probably a reflection of the fact that there is not a large component of the community in those parts of the world where Hinduism is prominent (e.g. only one person has ever posted in lugnet.loc.india). Jhassett did make this South Asian Religion set as kind of a fake LEGO set for his brother, who was studying Hinduism.

This set features three Hindu deities--Shiva, Rama and Hanuman--and two devout characters, a swami and a snake-charmer (while snake charmers now may be more street performers, at one point they were considered to be holy men).

I'd love to feature more LEGO creations from Eastern traditions, but these are harder to find. So if you know of any, please drop me a line at bricktalesATgmailDOTcom.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Madonna and child

No, not a comment on the pop singer's quest to adopt a child from Malawi. Last December on MinilandBricks I highlighted several Christmas-themed MOCs, including nativity scenes such as Mariann Asanuma's Real Reason for Christmas.

Miniland scale is that scale used in the Legoland parks, where people are built of bricks and tend to be about 1/20th the size of real people. For more on creations at this scale, see MinilandBricks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Brick Testament

Probably one of the most prominent LEGO projects related to religious themes is Brendan Powell Smith's The Brick Testament.

Brendan is planning on illustrating the bulk of the Bible in LEGO form, and he's already completed a lot, from Genesis up through the time of King Solomon, the Gospels and stories from Acts, illustrations from the epistles of Paul and, most recently, getting into the prophecies of Revelations. He's even published three books based on his project.

I'm pretty excited about his recent foray into Revelations because I've been wondering how he would tackle some of the more fantastic imagery of the prophetic and poetic sections (as opposed to the more straight-up narrative). A couple of notes - Brendan is not a religious person. He actually feels that most Christians (and, I assume, Jews) do not really read their own holy book and that by confronting his illustrations (say, for instance, the slaughters described in the conquest of the Promised Land) they may think again about some things they've been blindly accepting. I'm a Christian, and so disagree with Brendan about some things, but I certainly agree with him that we all should learn more about our faith traditions and confront the difficulties rather than blindly accepting (or rejecting) them. I've been a big fan of Brendan's work from its inception, and, back when I was active on Lugnet, would comment extensively on each new installment, both on the LEGO construction and on his interpretation of certain passages. I'm going to try to take that up again on this blog, and will also hopefully be able to get Brendan to respond as well. Since there is so much there (given the backlog of past installments), maybe I'll try to make the BT a weekly feature here.

Oh, one last, where the text has people involved in sex or violence, Brendan does depict these in LEGO form. So you may want to look at his site first before sharing it with your kids. He does include warning labels on stories that include those things.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flickr group - LEGO and God

I've started a Flickr group, LEGO and God, with the same theme as this blog. There you can add your own images of religiously-themed LEGO creations and discuss these topics. In part my motivation is to have an easy place to find items for this blog, though I'll also search elsewhere, and also to have a place for people to discuss these topics.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg

From time immemorial people have built structures in which to worship God. From the Temple of Solomon to the modern mega-church, these often try to show some of the glory of God in their construction. Perhaps my favorites are the gothic-style cathedrals built in Europe in the late medieval era. Well, the construction of these often spanned centuries, so it may be better to say they were often started in the late medieval era. Actually, that in itself is worth noting - I love the faithfulness of those who knew they would never see the completion of one of these great works, but were willing to lay those first cornerstones anyway. LEGO builders have reconstructed many of these architectural gems, and over the life of this blog I'm sure I'll note many of them. Today, I bring you Drauger's microscale version of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg.

This cathedral was begun in 1176 and built over the next two and a half centuries on the location of previous churches. At one point it was the tallest building in the world, and is still the sixth tallest church. The south tower was never built, which is why it does not have the symmetry characteristic of most cathedrals.

BTW, I said this is a microscale creation. For the non-LEGO initiates, that means it is not built to fit the little people (minifigures, or minifigs) who come in many LEGO sets, but is instead built to a smaller scale. In the future I'll note some cathedrals that are built to fit the minifigs, which would make them much larger constructions. For more on microscale, see MicroBricks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LDS Vignettes

A vignette, or vig, is a small LEGO creation illustrating a scene, ususally with a size constraint. Nathan Cunningham made a series of vigs illustrating stories from the Book of Mormon, such as this from 3 Nephi (?) showing darkness and suffering in the Americas after the death of Christ. "Yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and great destruction which had come upon them."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Jesus statue

Thanks to Steve for pointing this out. From a story on Yahoo News:

This Easter, the Oensta Gryta Church in Vaesteras, Sweden, unveiled a LEGO statue of Jesus. There's another photo here. More details are in the original story.

Churchgoers had donated nearly 30,000 Lego bricks to build the 1.78 metre (5.8 foot) high statue, said Per Wilder, the pastor of the Oensta Gryta Church in Vaesteras, about 110 kilometres (70 miles) west of Stockholm.
The model was based on Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsens's 19th century work Christus, which depicts the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Wilder said the statue would remain permanently at the church and there were no plans to sell it to raise funds.

So if you're in northern Europe and interesting in making a LEGO pilgrimage, here's a possible destination (aside from the three Legoland Parks, of course).

Welcome to GodBricks

Hey all,

Welcome to my blog, GodBricks - blogging at the intersection between LEGO and religion. I'm a LEGO hobbyist (known in the hobbyist community as an AFOL - Adult Fan of LEGO) and also a religious person. I feel that our most deeply held views impact all of our lives, including our hobbies. This blog explores that connection. A quick FAQ:

Why start this blog? Religious themes have been at the heart of much of the great art and architecture over the history of mankind. Since I believe that LEGO is (or at least can be, though that is another debate) both art and architecture, it is no surprise that there are many religiously themed LEGO creations out there, from LEGO illustrated Bible stories, to recreations of great cathedrals, etc. This blog was inspired by a group on another site that was supposed to be about LEGO and Christianity. I joined, thinking it might be interesting, but it turned out to just be a forum to argue about different aspects of religion/atheism etc. Frustrated, I decided to start something more along the lines that I had hoped to find there.

What topics will be covered? Really any LEGO topic that touches on religion. I'll treat that fairly broadly. For instance, I could see an installment of the Brick Testament, a sculpture of a Buddha, something based on religiously themed literature (e.g. Narnia), or even something about Darwin (since evolution/creation is a debate that touches on religious themes). Full disclosure here - I am a Christian of a Protestant stripe, so I may tend to notice things related more to my own religious tradition, plus much of the LEGO community is based in the US/Europe where Christianity is the dominant tradition, so there may be a bias towards LEGO creations that touch on this, but I'll be open to blogging any LEGO mosque or whatever from a different faith system.

Why another blog? Yes, I already have three other LEGO blogs devoted to vignettes microscale and miniland. Some might question why not just have one big "all things LEGO" blog rather than split my attention multiple ways. The simple truth is that I really like blogs with themes rather than just anything cool, plus the Brothers-Brick and Klocki have, IMO, pretty much covered the ground on general LEGO blogs. If I did decide to go "all things LEGO", rather than expanding one of my own blogs, I'd ask Andrew if I could join his team at the BB. I like there to be one place to go to find all you want to about a given topic. Say, for instance, you're into LEGO train building. If there were a hypothetical TrainBricks blog, you could keep up on all the news in that area. Plus, if there were a non-LEGO fan out there who was into model railroading, they could run across this TrainBricks blog and find it very interesting, and maybe become interested in LEGO as a result. If their thing was trains, though, they'd be much less likely to stick around at, say, Brothers-Brick, where train creations are mixed in with castle, space, mecha, sculpture, general LEGO news, etc. I'm hoping that this blog could become interesting to people that are interested in religious topics, regardless of any prior interest in LEGO.

What about debates? I'm entering into this venture with fear and trembling, because I well know that this topic could spin off into debates about religion/atheism/creationism/stem-cells/transubstantiation/terrorism/etc. I'm going to ask people to stick to the brick in their comments. Yes, sometimes a LEGO creation has a message, and it's reasonable to discuss the message and how it is conveyed by the model. However, I'm going to try to stop any debates that spin too far away from the original topic, which starts with the LEGO.

Contact me


To contact me to ask any questions or to suggest topics for this blog, please drop me a note at:
bricktales AT gmail DOT com