From the Editor

Art for Art’s Sake

A tribute to Raymond Gordon Johnson

We’ll miss Ray. Ray Johnson, Metro Lutheran’s faithful and creative cartoonist, died on July 25, at 65.

Ray was an ordained ELCA pastor. He was also a professional artist, who created cartoons for Metro Lutheran for the past five years. His work always appeared on our Forum page, which faces this one. One of his pieces appears there again this month. His art gently, often subtly, told the truth about the way we ‘do church’. He tweaked our consciences. His ministry was to tell and teach with graphic art — art for God’s sake.
There were also a series of art panels which we asked Ray to create for us, during a period when we featured his work, quarterly, on page one. The most recent such piece was the December art he rendered for the paper, in color, picturing Joseph and Mary, huddled beside a dumpster in a downtown Minneapolis alley, looking for a warm vestibule where they could find shelter in the midst of a frigid Minnesota winter. That piece, in particular, brought a good deal of positive response.

I first met Ray Johnson after our previous source of religious cartoons dried up. I asked my Editorial Committee for suggestions. One in the group had been a seminary classmate of Ray’s, and told me to get acquainted with him.

I was hesitant. What if this person, whom I’d never met, showed up with a portfolio of samples I didn’t like?
We met for coffee one weekday morning in a Perkins Restaurant in Golden Valley. Ray walked in with a pack of artistic work. He started laying samples in front of me, suggesting modestly that they might not be exactly what we were looking for.

I was stunned. This guy was good — really good. Where had he been? How had I missed him?

I offered Ray a guarantee of monthly placement and a remuneration he thought was fair. That began a happy relationship that continued until his untimely death.
There were other venues where Ray’s art gained currency. His cartoons frequently appeared in The Lutheran, the ELCA’s national magazine, and in Lutheran Partners, a journal for clergy.

Ray also created cartoons for local neighborhood newspapers, whose editors, he once told me, were far less predictable than Metro Lutheran in guaranteeing publication of his work.

My favorite story about Ray concerns a time he attended a synod assembly meeting as a voting member. The debate droned on, and his eyes began glazing over. So, he did the only logical thing: he began cartooning people who went to the microphones to speak, people at the head table, people sleeping over their notebooks. The cartoons began to circulate. You could tell where they were in the room by watching to see who was laughing.

After the event, the bishop, at whose table the cartoons had finally arrived, announced to voters that Ray would allow the set to be printed for everyone, as part of the post assembly report.

We’ll miss you, Ray. Thanks enriching our lives — and for enhancing our pages with your good and godly art.