In this regular series, we share innovative practices from the world of stock photo ministry.

The thing about a truly great awkward stock photo is that, if it’s framed and lit well enough, you won’t even notice how little sense it makes—at least not for a while. When you first glance at this week’s image, for instance, you might simply think, “Hmm, that’s cozy and/or terrifying.” But if you look at it a bit longer, you’ll start to feel that something is deeply, darkly amiss.

A human skull, some rosary beads, a burlap sack, a Bible, another Bible (extra credit!), all casually sitting in front of a crackling fire—have we stumbled into the lair of a Zorro villain? Are we trying to conjure a curse on the local parish priest? Maybe we’re just cleaning out Rick Santorum’s attic? Who knows? (Probably not poor Yorick there.)

Of course, there have been generations of Christians for whom the juxtaposition of the skull and the Bible wouldn’t have been so strange. Many generations have lived when following Jesus could literally get you killed, and in times of persecution, the early church was rumored to have worshiped secretly in the catacombs, surrounded by decaying flesh. This macabre legacy can still be seen throughout Europe, where numerous churches, chapels, and shrines are decorated with the bones of the saints.

This décor, while unusual outside of the Hot Topic set, was easy to accomplish, considering the medieval church was basically drowning in dead bodies it didn’t know what to do with. For most of their history, Christians regarded cremation as essentially pagan, if not outright sinful—deliberate destruction of a body that God had created ...

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