Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Elsheimer’s book is more a practical workbook than a detailed treatise of theology. She aims her writing not so much at the professional artist as at the individual who used to play music in high school and college, but dropped it for more practical things. In many ways, her book is more like a Christian perspective on the very popular The Artist’s Way. Elsheimer rightly recognizes that there’s a lot of vague “spirituality” talk in books about reclaiming creative powers – but very little talk about the specifics of working out your art in relationship with the living savior Christ. She aims to correct that imbalance:
“Most artists see creativity and spiritual growth as intimately related, but Christian artists go a step further. They understand the need to reconnect our talents back to their source: the God who created us and who calls us to become a cocreator with him. The Creative Call offers Christians a point of view and an approach that is consistent with Christ’s teachings. Instead of hoping that finding ourselves will result in practicing art again, we need to realize that only through losing ourselves and becoming reliant upon God can we discover how to use those gifts the way he wants us to use them. We will find the artist God intends us to be when we empty ourselves of self and become open to his plan and to the inspiration of his Holy Spirit. Only then will we experience personal artistic revival.”
As such, this book isn’t a theology of aesthetics – it is a series of exercises designed to help people overcome barriers from their past and learn to exercise their creativity. She begins with a basic framework of all humans being made as creative beings in the image of God – and then she moves on through concepts of learning to listen, awakening to what God is stirring within, exercising forgiveness (for past rejection that may have led to stopping creative effort), breathing in (taking in material), breathing out (producing material), time management, and simplification. Through each chapter, she gives several exercises and cites numerous sources (possibly one of the more valuable resources of this book are the sources she cites – a ready list of where to go for deeper information). The book ends with a blueprint for a personal retreat in which one can launch one’s new artistic endeavors.
This book is meant to be used for the exercises. Thus, there’s not new information here – rather a deliberate arrangement of material from a host of other sources. It’s essentially a course workbook that could be useful for a group setting. Thus, Elsheimer gives us lots of practical tips about clearing the mind to do art. And these tips reveal insight into how the arts can advance sanctification. For instance, when talking about the idea of the “artist’s daybook”, Elsheimer acknowledges that journaling isn’t a new idea -- but she presents it not just as a technical exercise of recording ideas and working out thoughts – it’s also a spiritual discipline for working out prayers, recording insights on scripture, and pouring out the things on our mind so that we can more readily attend to our relationship with God. She also emphasizes scripture memory as a key ingredient in “listening” – listening to God’s call upon our lives. “Learning to hear God’s voice despite the cacophony of our everyday lives is something that will take time. Reading his Word, memorizing passages that speak to our desire to reawaken the artist within us, and writing regularly in our artist’s daybook are ways of quieting our minds so that we can hear God’s voice as we offer our words to him.” (35) Immediately we see how the regular discipline of working in the daybook involves self-control and patience – and the subjection of the creative impulse to the encounter with the word of the Living God will result in growth of other spiritual fruit alongside the development of creative material.
Similarly, in her chapter on breathing in (taking in material), she talks about paying attention to the details and wonder of the world. This is a basic need for any artist – to see the details that most of us miss. However Elsheimer takes this to a different level by reminding us that we are attending to the handiwork of the God whom we worship. Attending to the details and wonder is attending to the craftsmanship of the Lord. She quotes Annie Lamott: “There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness, a sign that God is implicit in all of creation…to see everything as an outward and visible sign of inward, invisible grace.” And thus we see the spiritual fruit of Joy – developing the capacity to rejoice in all the handiwork of the Lord.
The chapters on making time and simplifying rehash much of the same work that can be found in any time management text. However, in the context of the book, they remind us that our use of time and use of things are intimately related to our vocation and to our spiritual life – thus calling us to a greater exercise of self-control. I would have liked to see more about dependence on the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish these goals.
All said, a helpful book for the right audience. Not intellectually too challenging, but practical in its application.
Soli Deo Gloria
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
When I was in High School and college, the catchphrase Carpe Diem ("seize the day") had regained traction among my peers. We studied Thoreau and the British Romantic poets. The film Dead Poets Society gave us mental images of what it meant to seize the day -- savor every moment of excitement and emotion that you can out of life. In a classic scene of the film, the teacher, Mr. Keating takes his class to look at a trophy case with an 50 year old class photo -- he uses it as an object lesson:
They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
Seize the day, for tomorrow you may die. Thoreau said he went to the woods because he wanted to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,"
In the 90's, Christians began to pick up on this concept to explain the abundance of life in Christ. Tony Campolo came out with his book Carpe Diem, in which he argues for our seizing all we can out of life by living for Christ. In the same vein, singer songwriter Carolyn Arends' song "Seize the Day" topped the Christian Charts. This was about the same time that John Piper was going full bore on his Christian Hedonism concept.
Seems like there's a convergence here, right? I might call it a redemption of a concept. The problem with the romantic notion of Carpe Diem is that it simply falls flat. Seizing all you can out of every moment -- finding the deep reality of life if you will -- will only take you too far. When Thoreau went to the woods, he was only a couple of miles away from his parents; he had someplace to fall back to when his experiment went awry. Paul Johnson, in his book Intellectuals, tells how British Romantic Poet Percy Shelley kept seizing the day at the cost of emotionally wrecking the lives of nearly everyone he came in touch with. The concept of Carpe Diem alone does not satisfy.
But the Christian, perhaps, ought to view the concept through a different lens. Indeed, Jesus gave us lots of Carpe Diem-esque statements: "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." (John 10:10); "...seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew6:33-44).
The difference lies in this -- the romantic notion of Carpe Diem is about consuming all you can -- the Christian notion is about subjecting yourself to Christ and finding yourself filled. Jesus tells the woman at the well "...whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Then when she makes the request for this water, Jesus confronts her with her own sinfulness (a call to repentence) and then issues the call to worship in spirit and in truth. Worship is many things, but one key thing is the recognition that God is the object of worship. Worship is not about consuming an experience, like we would consume a movie or a theatrical performance -- worship is about coming before the living God in subjection -- and strangely He fills us and heals us and sanctifies us and sends us. When we kneel, he heals.
This is the secret of Paul's incredible capacity to endure suffering: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry; whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12-13). The romantic notion of Carpe Diem will wither and fade at the first hint of suffering -- but the Christian notion of being subject to Christ as our fulfillment -- that gives strength to endure suffering and pain.
Just thinking aloud -- I look forward to your thoughts.
Soli Deo Gloria
Monday, January 29, 2007
It was a great show. Liz has some terriffic songs that brim over with a kind of brooding transcendence. They were songs that I found to be nourishing -- a little melancholy, but nourishing. Kind of like a Shakespearian Romance -- the Tempest or the Winter's Tale -- there's an honest understanding of pain and hurt and suffering -- but on the other side of the suffering there is a view of redemption, reconciliation, and hope. Meanwhile The Spares have kind of alt country sound -- lots of great energy and fire and versatility in their work.
Now here's the thing -- John, our host, invited these musicians because they're all Christians. They're not "christian musicians" in the sense of playing gospel music all the time -- but they're musicians who happen to be Christians, and they're not ashamed of having their faith worked into their songs. Take note of this piece by Liz -- it speaks of dying -- but finding peace in glory. It's very different from the nihilism of hardcore rock and the bubblegum cliche of Christian pop. Meanwhile, The Spares, right in the middle of the show, broke into an 18th century hymn.
John designed this event as an opportunity for his Christian friends and his non-christian friends to rub shoulders and interact with each other. There were about 5 or 6 of us from Covenant-First there -- and several other churches and house churches represented. Lots of good mingling and conversation going on.
And he didn't even need an Evangelism committee to tell him to do it......
Soli Deo Gloria
Saturday, January 27, 2007
The site also has an interesting map on the growth of today's major worldwide religions. And yet another one on which American presidents have led us into the costliest wars.
Interesting stuff for edification
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, January 25, 2007
"Do our own young people read books? Do they know the pleasures of the solitary reading of a life-changing page? Have they ever lost themselves in a story, framed by their own imaginations rather than by digital images? Have they ever marked up a page, urgently engaged in a debate with the author? Can they even think of a book that has changed the way they see the world . . . or the Christian faith? If not, why not?"
Dr. Mohler interacts with an article in the Washington Post from a school librarian lamenting students' hesitancy, indeed resistance, to reading. Here's a story from the article that makes me wince:
Admittedly, Bleak House is a mammoth tome -- over 1000 pages (it's my goal to finish it this year -- a great story, but I have many irons in the fire) -- I'm not sure I'd have started there with a teenager. Even so, the story is revealing. I covet your thoughts.
I recently spoke with a junior who was stressed about her decreasing ability to focus on anything for longer than two minutes or so. I tried to inspire her by talking about the importance of reading as a way to train the brain. I told her that a good reader develops the same powers of concentration that an athlete or a Buddhist would employ in sport or meditation. "A lot out there is conspiring to distract you," I said.
She rolled her eyes. "That's your opinion about books. It doesn't make it true." To her, the idea that reading might benefit the mind was, well, lame.
A library's neglected shelves reveal the demise of something important, especially for young readers starved for meaning -- for anything profound. Still, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I'm turning the new-arrivals shelf into a main attraction in my school's library. Recently I stood Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" next to the DVD version produced by the BBC. Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) graced both covers. A senior fingered the DVD for a minute, then turned it over to read the blurb. "The book is too long," she said. "Is the movie any better?"
"You're right. The book is long," I said. "But once you start this one, you won't be
able to put it down, right from that first page about the London fog."
"I think I'll watch the DVD," the student said.
Soli Deo Gloria
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
The Newberry winner was Susan Patron's The Higher Power of Lucky while the Caldecott prize went to David Weisner's Flotsam. Neither of which I've read or seen, but being in the children's lit mode, I'll be checking them out.
Related to this story is World Magazine's piece a few months ago on noteworthy children's literature as recommended by prominent Christians (World's archives are pay per view). Which got me to thinking what are some of the most influential books that I remember from my young adulthood (not young adult books that I'm reading now, like the Harry Potter series, but what was it I read then that was formative) Here's my top 5:
The Chronicles of Narnia: Yes, I know it's cliche, because everyone quotes CS Lewis these days as though he were a pudgy British I Ching oracle. Even so, the series had a profound effect on my concept of God -- I think I learned something of how to approach Christ as both a friend to sinners and a holy king. I learned lots of things through the book -- including a yearning for "beyondness" -- heaven if you will.
The Lord of the Rings: Cliche #2 -- even so, Tolkien's work was also formative. The story of friendship, loyalty, nobility, and good versus evil continues to strike deep within -- it makes me want to be a better person, not for my own sake, but for the sake of goodness itself. I remember that my mother was very concerned that I played Dungeons and Dragons while I was a teenager -- I think Lewis and Tolkein were antibodies against the dark elements of those games.
Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries. These books started me on a love of mystery writing (which I continue to love -- Conan Doyle and Chesterton's Father Brown Mysteries are staples of my Sunday afternoon relaxations). And one of them taught me that the battle of Manassas and the battle of Bull Run were actually the same fight.
The McDonald Hall series. Gordon Korman's adventures of Bruno and Boots, two boarding school students at McDonald Hall. They continually get into misadventures that kept me rolling. Just pure fun -- but I read them over and over for the fun of it. And as a hat tip, this is another good thing that comes out of Canada.
Louis L'amour series (particularly the Sackett books) and Star Trek series. I lump these together because even though one is western and the other is science fiction, they both are action adventures that entail heroes and villans, good and evil, persistence in adversity, and loyalty to your friends when things get down to a pinch. They were simple stories where right is right and wrong is wrong -- not much irony. Not great literature, but they were still a lot of fun.
OK -- I guess I'll make this an official meme and challenge others to do the same -- what are 5 books or series that you read as a young adult that influenced and shaped you?
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
This title has been sitting on my shelf for about 6 months since John Jensen loaned it to me as a means of sharing our passion for history, things Puritan, action flicks, and really good battle scenes. However, I must admit that the shaky reviews from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes didn't give me much hope. I just read this Pop Matters review that rakes the film over the coals as a work of historic revisionism. DVD Savant believes the history is on, but the production is terrible. Interestingly, Britmovie's biography of director Ken Hughes suggests that Cromwell was meant to be a pale foreshadowing of Castro's takeover in Cuba (remember this was in the 1970s).
Here's my short take on the qualities of the film: Coming in a little over two hours, Cromwell gives us action and court suspense. Richard Harris as Cromwell seems to thrive in shout mode for most of the film, punctuated with a few moments of humor (His pre-battle delivery of the line "Put your faith in God... and keep your powder dry." is priceless). We get the sense that he's a noble man who is sucked into weilding absolute power, in the irony of becoming the very absolutist that he deposed.
Alec Guinness, on the other hand, delivers a complex and nuanced performance as Charles I -- at times playful, affectionate with his children, imperious, wily, waffling, and in the end facing his impending execution with dignity. The execution scene is one of the longest in the film, and it had me on the edge of my seat, mainly by virtue of Guiness command of the role. He invests Charles with a slight, almost imperceptible studder -- which invests both a sense of vulnerability and distance from commoners.
Interestingly, the film lingers for a bit on the families of both these men. We see Cromwell brooding over the grave of his son, killed in the Civil War; we see Charles comforting his two youngest children before he is led out to execution. Hughes does his best to portray these men, at times beatified and at times vilified, as men.
The film also gives us some wonderful lines. When protesting the idea of Civil War, Cromwell states "Every man who wages war believes God is on his side. I'll warrant often God should wonder who is on his." and later "When men run out of words, they'll reach for swords" Charles gets this masterpiece as Cromwell advocates for democracy "Democracy, Mr. Cromwell, was a greek drollery based on the foolish notion that there are extraordinary possibilities in very ordinary people."
The film does take historic liberties with Cromwell's role in the events leading up to the Civil War -- he was in reality a minor player until his battlefield genius came to the fore. We catch a sense of the spirit of the times in the maelstrom of power politics between Parliament and Crown -- but we miss out on the religious tensions at play, save for one early scene where Cromwell protests the king's order to have candles and ornamentation in churches (an allusion to Archbishop Laud's attempt to make the churches more sacramental and less Calvinistic). Interestingly, the film portrays both men and faithful believers who put their trust in Christ, indeed it deliberately plays on the tensions of both men practicing their faith as a way of bolstering their souls for the minefields of high politics.
All told, I think this a fine film -- a few poor cuts from one scene to the next, overdone music typical of the 1970s, but a fine script, good acting, outstanding costume and set design, combine to make this a fine film. Forget about the critics, this one is worth at least one viewing.
For further edification, I recommend the Oliver Cromwell website.
Grits -- Tim takes on this southern cuisine as food not fit for human consumption. Later he references Waffle House as another of his things that he hates -- and the truth becomes clear. Tim has never had grits. Yes he's had that white pasty stuff that some folks use as mortar in masonry repair jobs -- that's obviously what he had at Waffle house. But he's never had stone ground corn cooked with cream and cheese and served up with a plate of boiled shrimp that were swimming in the creek that morning. Judging grits based off Waffle House would be like judging the cultural output of Canada based on Bob and Doug MacKenzie.
A Lack of Tim Hortons -- Tim seems to consider Tim Hortons as the holy grail of the coffee and donut experience. Fortunately in our country we have many chains, many of them regional, that serve fine coffee and donuts. Yankees seem to have a predeliction for Dunkin Donuts while down south we have Krispy Kreme (and never the twain shall meet). You get fine coffee and great confections at either. Perhaps Tim was just too dazed and confused from his time in....
Ohio -- here's where Tim takes another crack -- this time at my adopted state. He seems to think that Ohio only exists to separate the US and Canada (and house the pro football hall of fame). I personally invite Tim to Cincinnati -- come stay with us for a few days so I can show you all about Ohio's great contributions (at least here in the southern part of the state) -- we have the oldest paid fire department, one of the longest running professional symphonies, the oldest protestant church west of the Allegheney mountains, the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside of Germany, and the most chili parlors per capita of any city in the world. Which leads us to Tim's next problem with America....
Biggest, longest, oldest --- He seems to think that all our communities like to brag about having the most of something.... well.... OK, never mind, I don't have a good rebuttal for that one (see above comment)
Sports -- he chides the Americans for obsessing about sports. Can we say "World Cup?" -- we don't have hooligans inciting riots over sports events here. And what is wrong about whole communities coming out to cheer on youth sports -- like high school football and soccer and basketball. In a sense it is a cleaner, more idealistic approach to the game -- less tainted by big money and outsize egos of professional sports. It speaks to the American spirit that we all have something to be proud of.
Highway lanes and oversize billboards -- OK, you've got us on that one Tim. Though I won't grant you the speed limits. The reason why speed limits are so high in Canada is because there's just a whole lot of tundra up there -- for an American analogy, go visit the plains states.
I am glad to see that Tim acknowledges the culinary virtue of Chick Fil-a, one of my favorite fast food joints going way way back. And he acknowledges that American Patriotism is a good thing -- we stand together as being a part of something, rather than simply defining ourselves as what we're not.
As for Canada, I really have no cracks to make -- beyond the fine cultural exports (where else could we have discovered a Celine Dion or Bryan Adams) and the outstanding athletic accomplishments (who else would have brought Curling to the olympics), it makes for a fine tourist destination for Americans wanting something of a break. Somebody needs to be up there to maintain the place.
Canadians also are some of the friendliest, most easygoing people I've ever met. Quips about patriotism aside, I've found Canadians to be proud of their nation, their culture, and their contributions. And most of us in America are proud of the friendly relationship our nation has with our northern neighbor
And all of that without a single comment using "beauty" or "eh?"
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
For those readers coming to from the editorial to check out the Eagle and Child -- here are a few of the posts that I've done on microlending and Kiva:
And here are a few posts about the African Church
Monday, January 15, 2007
For those of you not in the know, this tagging game is a regular thing that goes around the blogosphere. I'm supposed to answer the five questions and then tag five more people. I'm not going to tag anyone else (unless you feel so led to share your five things, in which case feel free to set up a trackback back to this post so I can see what you posted).
Finally, the "most people wouldn't know" is tough since readers of this blog include many old friends and mom (who probably has forgotten more than I know about myself). Those ramblings aside, here are my five facts for you:
1) I still have an active FCC radio license from my days as a radio announcer on WFDD, 88.5 FM, an NPR affiliate in Winston-Salem, NC. I earned my spending cash in college by working the late night shifts reading news and announcements and occasionally running a jazz show. I can still rattle off the station's positioning statement in my sleep.
2) Growing up in Columbia, SC, I lived just up the street from novelist and poet James Dickey, most famous for writing Deliverance. I had my encounter with fame one Christmas when I went up to his home to get him to autograph a book that I was giving my English teacher. We talked about track and field, guitar, and poetry.
3) My junior year in high school, I was given the leading role in Anything Goes. We had a very tight cast, including a very talented 8th grader named Allison Munn. Alison told me that her parents were planning to transfer her to AC Flora next year and we concocted a desperate plan to try to keep Alisson at school. So one night, Alisson's mom recieved a call from "Wilson Fisk", who claimed to be the chair of the Richland County school board -- he told her that Alison was far too advanced to go to Flora and that she needed to stay at Hammond. Needless to say, the ruse didn't work. Good thing for her, too. She's had a great career on broadway and is an up and coming TV star. (and an unofficial no-prize goes to the person who can correctly identify the source of the name "Wilson Fisk")
4) In college, I produced and directed an independent production of CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, featuring 4 actors (2 men and 2 women) who dramatically interpreted the letters through the lens of a different "type" of person for each letter.
5) I am a descendent of Jacques de la Fontaine, a French Heugonot who recorded in his memoirs the daring story of his escape from France and battles with pirates in Ireland, finally settling his family here in America.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Smythe (welcome to the Eagle and Child, by the way -- good to hear from old high school friends) made some very interesting comments about the impact of increased ethanol production on agriculture. Unless I miss my mark, her comments were based in real experiences in Brazil. Brazil moved to an ethanol based fuel system several years ago (see the wikipedia article) -- but one of the problems they encountered was in their agricultural practices. Many farmers in Brazil still practice slash and burn techniques that leave the soil depleted and pump a lot of smoke into the air. Of course, such practices were abandoned in the United States after the dust bowl travesty of the 1930s. But she raises an interesting point about unintended consequences coming froma spike in demand of one particular product.
John, on the other hand, took issue with the concept of government mandates driving this exploration into ethanol, preferring instead a market driven approach toward such fuels.
Both Smythe and John have points -- interestingly, the Cincinnati Enquirer had an article today demonstrating there is a market demand and the demand is driving exploration into more than simply ethanol. The article is about Proctor and Gamble's exploration into alternative sources of energy for fueling their supply chain. According to the article, increases in fuel expenses have cost this Fortune 500 company over $1.5 billion dollars in the past two years. They've been able to absorb the costs, but such costs are driving them into looking at alternatives. The first paragraph mentions a non-oil based steam plant that Proctor is building in Mexico to power almost all their operations in Mexico. "This unit in Apizaco, Mexico, will open this summer and will virtually eliminate P&G's reliance on the country's power grid. It's one of the early generations of what P&G hopes can be new energy sources for some of its plants that will help reduce its dependence on oil to generate steam and electricity."
However, being the shrewd outfit that P&G is, they are not putting all their eggs in one basket "Proctor is studying windmills in Europe, solar power in California, and even methane gas generated from a local landfill in the Midwest, said Keith Harrison, global product supply officer. The movement extends to raw materials as well. Procter has experiments underway in Malaysia and Indonesia to produce raw materials from palm oil that eventually could help make ingredients in shampoo, detergent, or other products."
If a market behemoth like Proctor is putting it's weight behind finding alternatives to petroleum use, you can bet a few things 1) they will likely succeed in generating a number of options that really work 2) they will develop a number of alternative lines of business in the energy providing sector -- likely spinning them off because they're not a part of their core consumer products business 3) somebody's going to make a lot of money -- and it will likely not be people in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, or Norway (top oil producing countries).
I feel the pain of rising energy costs as well -- we just purchased a new washer/dryer set (it was about time -- our old ones were wearing out). By choosing an upright washer, we save over 40% on the amount of water used -- and without an agitator, my shirts will suffer much less wear and tear. We also chose low energy consumption models, giving us a significant energy savings over the life of the washer/dryer. I've written earlier about use of compact flourescent bulbs in our home (we had our first one burn out yesterday -- after 6 years of use!).
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The first of the fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians is Love. This shows that love takes primacy over all the other gifts – indeed, it seems as though all the other gifts grow naturally out of love.
I Corinthians 13 gives us the most penetrating view of love, though it is in danger of becoming cliché because of overuse at weddings. The statements about love could be taken as a litany of the other fruit of the spirit “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v 4-7). So we see that love, in the primary place among the fruit of the spirit is the overriding feature.
However, the challenge here is that much of art’s efforts are all about love – defining love, exploring love, explaining love, encouraging, exhorting, and seducing. Simply because love is a subject of intellectual content of art, our approach to how art produces Godly love within us becomes much more tricky. We mustn’t confuse what particular artists have to say about love with the actuality of love as it is being worked out within us by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus tells us that the two great commandments are to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – he says “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (From Matthew 22:37-40). From this we see that love is oriented toward the other – it is not a sating of an inner itch. Love is not consumption of the other like a tasty morsel that momentarily slakes our appetite. Love is our becoming consumed with the reality of God and concerned with the dignity of humans made in God’s image.
So how do the arts further the growth of love within the Christian disciple? It is far easier to tackle the challenge of the other fruit of the spirit because they are easier to define. As we look at each of the other fruit of the spirit, we will come to understand the answer to how the arts grow love within the disciple (and how to recognize counterfeit idolatry).
Yet there is one compelling piece we can talk about immediately – motivation. What is the driving factor in an artist creating or a layperson receiving art. Artists, like people in any other profession, are driven by a confusing mélange of motivations that manifest themselves in as many unique combinations as there are artists. But at any given time, certain motivations rise to the fore of one’s psychology – affecting the decision making process and personal behavior. It is these motiviations that are the first clue in whether an individual is a hero or a scoundrel (they are certainly not the last word, but they are the first clue).
Why does the artist create? Among the many reasons might be:
A need to express inner turmoils and longings and passions
A hunger for respect of peers.
An affinity with the perceived lifestyle those with the artistic temperament
A desire to change minds and make prophetic statements.
A satisfaction that arises from the pure fun of doing art
A longing for attention and affirmation from audiences.
A recognition of talents and desire to use them.
Why does the receiver take in art? Among the many reasons might be:
Cajoling from friends
A desire for distraction/entertainment
Agreement with a particular artist’s position
Enjoyment of being thought intellectual/artistic
Liking the way art makes them feel
A longing for a deeper understanding
A desire to learn how to better produce their own art.
However, for the Christian disciple, the desire to create art must always be infused with the desire to love God with all our heart and soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In an interview with World Magazine, author John Erickson touches on this overriding need; he was asked “You've said that you learned from parents and teachers that your ‘business is not books. It's nourishment.’ What do you mean by that?” to which he replied “People need good stories just as they need home-cooked meals, clean water, spiritual peace, and love. A good story is part of that process. It affirms divine order in the universe and justice in human affairs and makes people better than they were before they read it. If artists are more gifted than ordinary mortals (we keep hearing that they are), they should find order and harmony in human experience. That's what Bach and Handel did. Artists should nourish the spirit, not poison it.” (Interview from December 2, 2006 issue). If artists are to approach their task with love, then it needs to be about more than ego, prestige, and power. Nourishment is a fine model for considering the needs of others in the creation of art.
Then there is art that is simply for the glory of God – art that aims at reflecting beauty, truth, or goodness simply because it reflects well upon God. These too have their place in the soulcraft of the Christian artist.
Yet we mustn’t forget the receiver of art as well. How does one receive art lovingly? How does one approach a work of art with full understanding that there is a serious human being behind it with serious intent? Author Zadie Smith laments the consumer-driven laziness of receivers of art: “But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, "I should sit here and I should be entertained." And the more classical model, which has completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That’s the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It’s an old moral, but it’s completely true.” (from an interview on the KCRW program Bookworm, November 2006, emphasis mine). The radical idea here is that receivers of art give a gift to artists by attending thoughtfully, diligently, and indeed lovingly.
Attending to the work does not imply agreement with the message of a work nor does it imply enjoyment of the emotions aroused by the work. Attending to the work means that as a labor of love we seek to experience and understand. Francis Schaeffer, in the face of an anti-intellectual evangelicalism of the 1960’s, reminded evangelicals that we need to extend love and compassion to artists “These paintings, these poems and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live, yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than an orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.” (The God Who is There, 36).
We might also consider that loving God by attending to the work does imply something beyond simply attending. I’m not sure if it would be evaluating the work or interpreting the work. Perhaps it would be deconstructing the work from within Christian worldview.
Soli Deo Gloria
Other links for the series and related posts:
The Arts as Soulcraft: Introduction
The Arts as Soulcraft: Patience
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, the agency that runs the
Metro bus service in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, estimates that it saved
almost $450,000 in 2006 by using biodiesel, which is fuel made from an
organic compound, such as soybeans. Metro's 390 buses used about 3.6 million
gallons of fuel last year - half of which was biodiesel. During warm months,
Metro fueled all buses with a blend made of up to 75 percent of biodiesel. It
switched back to 20 percent biodiesel blend in colder months because the
biodiesel can jell in cold weather. Ohio is the sixth-largest producer of
soybeans in the nation, and biodiesel burns cleaner and has fewer emissions than
standard diesel fuel.
Now on top of that, the Wall Street Journal reports that Governor Ahhhnold ordered California to cut at least 10% of carbon content in fuel by 2020 -- and 37 state governors are pushing for greater federal mandates for increased ethanol usage.
Ethanol use just makes good sense for consumers -- I'm hoping to hold out buying a new car until it's widely more available (listen up Detroit -- I don't plan on buying a new car until I can buy an ethanol using car). Ethanol use will pump more dollars back into our economy and it will be technology that we can export to other countries. It seems like a great win win for all involved.
If only I had bought Corn Futures.....
Reggie does bring up one very important factor that I hadn't considered before about this Psalm: the people who are invited to the celebration. He points out the counterbalancing sets: Israelites and the nations, the poor and the rich, the dead and the not yet born.
With the first set of Israelites and the nations, Reggie brings up the old Biblical truth of God's design to bless the nations and have them all come under the banner of Christ. He describes this theme as a "whisper" in the Old Testament, and this instance being one of the whispers.
The second set caught my attention -- the poor and the rich will be at the feast. I'm so used to churchly criticisms of the rich, that it's almost startling to hear that yes, there are indeed some God fearing rich folk who will be welcomed at the feast. Reggie is quick to remind us that there are other plenty of scriptures that warn against "satedness" and self satisfaction in wealth and riches. However, this little picture shows us that grace will indeed be extended to the wealthy as well.
Then the third set started ringing my bell. I've spent the better half of 2006 making a case for our covenant responsibilities to one another across the generations, and here Reggie takes it even further. Both the dead and the not yet born also have a place at the table. “In Christ, the dead and the living make up one community of praise....David understood that whenever any of us comes along in the timeline, and from whatever angle, we are there to serve those who come after us. The yet-to-be are part of our song as well as those who have died in God.” (83) This thought alone could fill up a whole series of blog posts -- in what ways do we truly give our antecedents a place at the table -- do we truly honor the faith of the saints of the past, or do we pay it lip service so that we can inhabit their house and plunder their riches for our own gain. In like manner, do we truly think ahead for the next generation, or do we concern ourselves with sating our present needs, with no heed for the long term viability of culture or the church. How much do we really see ourselves in continuity with the saints of the past and future-- and more importantly, is our continuity based in our shared song of praise? Good stuff here, Reggie!
“In a sense Psalm 22 is the theological center of the book of Psalms. Like Israel’s pilgrimage it begins in lonliness and dejection and ends, on the far side of God’s miraculous intervention in comradeship and elation.” (86) Reggie sums up here by turning to the heart once again -- I would have liked stories of how David's (and Christ's) song have tangibly brought comfort to some beloved saint -- but that's not a serious flaw, just a stylistic preference. All told, this chapter presents us solid material, continuing on his Worship Theology of the Heart.
Soli Deo Gloria
With One Voice: The Singing Savior
With One Voice: The Psalms
With One Voice: David -- Israel's Sweet Singer and Architect of Praise
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
As we look at the arts as one of the vehicles through which the Holy Spirit can grow the fruit of the spirit within us, we start with Patience (mainly because that's what's bouncing through my mind right now). In many ways, patience is the quality of waiting rather than grasping. However it is not a waiting in lethargy. Patience does not imply that we sit around waiting for something to happen. Patience implies waiting in expectation, but without anxiety. Patience comes in taking action, knowing that your actions will bear fruit in some unidentified way down the road in the future. Patience is the investor who sets aside a little bit of money every month for twenty years until a nest egg is built. Patience is the person who lets go of the dream of looking like a cover model, and begins to exercise every day, knowing that these actions will have a cumulative effect of contributing to good health. Patience is the scholar who collects articles and tidbits and thoughts in her files, knowing that someday down the road, those files may produce a treasure in the form of a book, project, or new insight. Patience is in the parent, who endures unfair anger and frustration from his child because he knows that the discipline he is exerting will pay off in unexpected yet beneficial ways down the road.
For the Christian, patience is ultimately rooted in the sovereignty of God. Our ground for patience is in trusting that no matter how baffling or confusing the situation, no matter how much we are hurt or aching, the Master Architect and Lover of our Souls, the Living God ultimately has all things in his hand. Such knowledge doesn’t dispel our anxieties with waiting with a magic wand. No, it takes the work of the Holy Spirit to apply that knowledge to our hearts. And the arts can be used as a vehicle for such application.
The artist who creates must learn the discipline of patience. Bending the materials of the craft to the will takes patience and diligence and a willingness to surrender. For every theatrical production, there are countless hours of rehearsal. Actors work diligently to build the inner worlds of their characters and then to work out their gestures, mannerisms, vocal patterns, emotional responses, poise. Meanwhile a legion of costume designers, set designers, lighting designers and other technicians work diligently to create a space that supports the vision of the play, rather than distracting from it. The director works long hours tying these various threads together. And all this for a few ephemeral hours to entertain and delight the audience. It takes tremendous patience to endure the weeks and weeks of rehearsal – but it is patience with expectation – there will come a show. The exact outcome of the show is uncertain – will it be a stunning success, will it flop. Will anyone come at all? In the performing arts, there is always the element of the unexpected. Patience is rooted in both expectation and uncertainty. The truly patient must accept the circumstances of the moment. Whether you have an audience of 10 or 1000, they deserve the best show that you can put on. Technical glitches should not derail the performance – for the show must go on.
I suspect it is true in many other art forms. How many hours of practice and training go into the mastery of an instrument. How many nights are spent before the strings of the guitar begin to produce a rush of harmonious music rather than a staccato shotgun of sound. The great puritan preacher William Gurnall, in his funeral oration for Elizabeth Dowager Countess of Clare, uses this image of playing a complex instrument as a way of indicating the spiritual journey for those to whom much has been given:
“The more strings an instrument has, the more art is required to handle it well; the larger the field is, the more labor it will cost him who is to till it. In a word, the greater the servant’s charge is, and the more business which lies upon his hands, the more care is necessary to tend it; and where the care must be great, the labor cannot be little, because care itself is one of the greatest labors.” (6)
Gurnall’s point is that the art, care, and labor involved in learning an artistic craft, maintaining property, or engaging in business is but a training ground for the spiritual labor of the Christian. And he makes the case in this funeral oration, that the labor has its sweetness from the anticipated reward. The patience arises from its roots of expectation. Thus, the title of this oration is “The Christian’s Labor and Reward”
And yet the arts also afford a training ground in patience for the receiver of the arts. Henri Nouwen in his book Return of the Prodigal demonstrates this. He talks of his obsession with Rembrand’s Return of the Prodigal. When He finally was able to take a trip to St. Petersburg, he was able to arrange a visit to the Hermitage to see the great masterwork – but because of the great lines out front he was frustrated in his attempts to draw close to it. Finally, through a friend, he was able to arrange an expedited intrance into the museum and preferential treatment to be able to sit and examine the painting. He spent 8 hours over the course of two days sitting and examining this painting –watching the light play across it at different times of day. Meditating on the faces of the various people depicted. Savoring every nuance like a freshly picked basket of strawberries – sweet and juicy and lush on the lips. He was surrounded by a thousand masterpieces all through the museum, but rather than hurrying through each room to make sure he saw everything – rather than treating the museum as an all you can eat buffet into which he must stuff as much into his intellectual maw as he can – he treated the painting as a gourmet meal to be savored and explored and relished.
And the savoring paid off dividends handsomely in understanding – and ultimately in the production of the book. Art positively invites the receiver to attend to it – and if we’re patient in the attending, then we reap rewards – even if ultimately we decide we don’t like the work, or we decide we like it, but that it’s not a “great” work.
More to come -- I look forward to your thoughts.
Soli Deo Gloria
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Best British Weblog: Adrian Warnock
Best Canadian Weblog: Tim Challies
Best American Weblog: Blogotional
Best Photography: Search the Sea
Best Political Blog: The Crunchy Con
Here are my nominees for last year - all of them still high quality.
Be sure to visit the nominations page and nominate your favorites.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thursday, January 04, 2007
First was Charlotte's Web -- the new live action adaptation of EB White's classic book. I must confess, I thought they were going to botch this terribly. But I liked it a lot better than the cartoon version from the 70s (the cartoon was produced by Hannah Barbera -- and it used the same vocal talent that they used in Johnny Quest and Scooby Doo. I always wondered why Mr. Zuckerman sounded like he was about to say "and I would've gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for that meddling spider!"). It had just the right blend of sentiment and seriousness about life on a farm. This production also showed us why Charlotte has such affection for Wilbur -- for it was only Wilbur who saw beauty in her (everyone else saw a frightful creature). Beau Bridges does a fine turn as the country doctor who tries to convince Fern's mother that the little girl isn't crazy for talking with animals; he tells her that she's a normal girl and that sadly she'll grow out of it. All said, a fine effort and worth the time.
Eragon was a different story. At first, I expected great things. Then the IMDB comments dissuaded me from going at all, indicating that it was horrible -- worse than the third tier 1970s fantasy efforts like Kull and the Conan series. But brother Jack talked me into going. What we have in this film is basically Star Wars with dragons instead of lightsabers: young orphan boy being raised by his uncle finds himself in posession of an object stolen from the evil emperor by a beautiful princess. The mysterious wise stranger takes young orphan boy under his wing after his uncle is killed by the minions of the emperor's dark and mystical right hand man. As they flee from the faceless hordes of the emperors minions, the wise stranger teaches the boy about the mysterious powers that he has access to and reveals that the boy is the last hope to resucitate an ancient order of heroes. The wise mentor dies while saving the life of the young hero, leaving the boy on his own. The tale ends as the boy takes his place leading the climactic battle in which he confronts the dark and mystical right hand man of the emperor and defeats him. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Some serious problems here -- the book is 500 pages, the film under two hours. The pacing of the film is all off because they've had to abbreviate and quicken so much of the story. John Malkovich's talent is wasted in his role as the emperor -- his stage direction seems to have been "stand there -- now clench your jaw and try to shout". Similarly, most of the villanous characters seem cut out of cardboard. The hero Eragon is charming -- and the computer graphics dragon is outstanding -- some of the best graphics work I've seen. Jeremy Irons puts in a fine performance as Brom, the wise mentor. All told, this is an average work -- not too bad, but not great either.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
I've been in my hometown of Columbia, SC enjoying catching up with family and friends. Posting will still be kind of sparse for the next couple of days, but I wanted to remind you all to cheer for Wake Forest (my alma mater) in the Orange Bowl tomorrow.
And did any of you see Boise State's performance against Oklahoma? Glorious --easily the most exciting game I've seen this year.
See you soon.