Thursday, May 21, 2015
Three weeks from now I will join a group of visual artists, art historians, art critics, philosophers and theologians, patrons, teachers, administrators, pastors, arts ministry leaders and thoughtful lay folk at the biennial conference for Christians in the Visual Arts. I am very excited about this conference and am grateful for the opportunity to serve as co-director.
It is an understatement to say that the church and the contemporary art world find themselves in an uneasy relationship. On one hand, the leaders of local congregations, seminaries, and other Christian networks often do not know what to make of works by artists like Banksy and Chris Ofili, or Marina Abramovich and Barbara Kruger. Not only are such artist mostly unknown to church leaders, they and their work cause them to regard the world of contemporary art with quizzical indifference, frustration, and even disdain. On the other hand, many artists lack any meaningful experience with the contemporary church and are mostly ignorant of her mission. Not infrequently, these artists regard religion as irrelevant to their art practice, they are disinclined to trust the church and its leaders, and they have experienced personal rejection from these communities. Clearly, misunderstanding and mistrust abound.
CIVA’s 2015 Biennial Conference at Calvin College will host a conversation between these two worlds. During our four days together, we will explore the misperceptions that we have about each other, create hospitable space to talk and listen, and imagine the possibility of a renewed and mutually fruitful relationship. With these lofty goals before us, this conference will provide a range of case studies that exemplify the kinds of programs, partnership, and patronage that might serve the greater good. Meanwhile, where the difference between these two worlds is too great to overcome, this conference seeks to build a bridge that facilitates understanding and mutual respect. In other words, we seek to find common ground for the common good since we — Christians at work in the visual arts — believe this is what God, in Christ, would have us to do.
This conference will take place June 11-14, 2015, at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, MI. The following are a few highlights and I encourage you to register here, if you haven't already.
Who is speaking at this conference? A magnificent collection of people. See the names listed on this poster for a few of the folks that have thrown their lot in with this event. See this provisional list of bio notes, too. You can also see this blog post which I wrote originally on the conference theme.
For whom is this conference? This conference is for anyone in the art world and anyone in the church world.
Who is leading our devotional reflections and offering the homily on Sunday morning? None other than the lovely, immensely talented, artistically prolific and spiritually wise Luci Shaw.
What is the schedule for the conference? See here for a description of the plenary program, the tracks and seminar sessions, and the extracurricular activities.
What sorts of seminars and tracks will the conference offer? See here for a list of these.
Will there be any day-ahead programs? Most certainly. See here for a list of those events, including a conversation with Makoto Fujimura, a figure drawing workshop with Steve Prince, a tour of the Fred Meijer Sculpture Garden, and a tour one of Grand Rapids' most famous furniture design enterprises, Steelcase.
Doesn't the church have good reason to be suspicious of the contemporary art world, and vice versa? Yes they do. I talk about this, along with CIVA Executive Director Cam Anderson, in a podcast with Brian Moss.
What is one thing that I am most excited about? That's a hard question to answer, because there are so many things that I am excited about, but if I had to choose, I would choose the "First Generation" panel which will take place on the first night of the conference, on Thursday, June 11. This will panel will bring together five individuals who played a critical role in the pre-CIVA days in the world of modern art of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. This includes the following people: Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Sandra Bowden and Ted Prescott.
Last question: is there financial help to get pastors, church and ministry leaders to the conference? Yes, there is. See this poster for details.
To register for this great conference, please go here.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
“When read only occasionally, these prayers are too overwhelming in design and power and tend to turn us back to more palatable fare. But whoever has begun to pray the Psalter seriously and regularly will soon give a vacation to other little devotional prayers and say: ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which I find in the Psalter. It tastes too cold and too hard’ (Luther).”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible
“Left to ourselves, we are never more selfish than when we pray. With God as the Great Sympathizer, the Great Giver, the Great Promiser we go to our knees and indulge every impulse for gratification. But the Psalms that teach us to pray never leave us to ourselves; they embed all our prayers in liturgy. Liturgy defends us against the commonest diseases of prayer: the tyranny of our emotions, the isolationism of our pride.”
-- Eugene Peterson, Answering God
"That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting at God--'My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?' I hear echoes of this holy row when un-holy bluesman Robert Johnson howls 'There's a hellhound on my trail' or Van Morrison sings 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child'."
--Bono, in preface to the Pocket Book Psalms
This quarter I am teaching a course which is titled, "The Practice of Prayer and Worship." The purpose of the course is to explore practices oriented toward the formation of God’s people through personal and corporate prayer and worship. This exploration is done in light of the Bible, history, theology, cross-cultural studies and ritual studies. The first two weeks of class I sought to make the case that the Lord's Prayer, the Collect Prayer and the Psalms, all three together, constitute the fundamental grammar of distinctly Christian prayer.
You get these right--you get these deeply embedded in your psyche and your muscle memory--and you get pointed in the right direction for the rest of your life.
Last week I had my class do an exercise with the psalms. The aim of the exercise was to get them to pay close attention to the details and patterns of a particular set of psalms. It was a fun exercise to watch my students do; so much fun that we've had to carry it over to this week. I preceded this exercise with a brief lecture on the habits of reading that are necessary to reading the psalms well. We never merely read, I argued. We either read with rich understanding or with poor understanding. We are either profoundly or minimally transformed in our reading of the psalms.
What sorts of habits might be important to our practice of prayer and worship? I suggested eight for starters.
1. Pay attention to whole of a psalm, not just to the parts of a psalm.
2. Read the psalms consistently, rather than occasionally and sporadically.
3. Pay attention to the internal coherence of a psalm or a section of psalms, rather than allowing them to remain fragmented parts, reflective of our immediate and self-absorbed interest.
4. Read the psalms out loud, not just silently.
5. Read and sing and pray the psalms together, not just alone.
6. Pay attention the Psalter’s “hospitable ‘I’” and its “intimate communal” sense, rather than allowing the individual expressions to devolve to individualism and the communal expressions to devolve to an impersonal communalism.
7. Immerse yourself in the metaphors that the psalmist employs, rather than remaining distant and detached from them.
8. Pay attention to the placement and role of the psalms in the biblical canon, rather than viewing them as isolated and idiosyncratic.
With these habits of reading in mind, and the formational implications for us personally and communally, I invited them to get in groups of four and five in order to practice these habits in a concentrated exercise. Here is what that exercised looked like.
Small Group Exercise
1. In your groups of four or five, take two psalms each.
a. Group 1: Pss. 1-8
b. Group 2: Pss. 82-87
c. Group 3: Pss. 90-97
d. Group 4: Pss. 120-134
e. Group 5: Pss. 141-150
2. For 10 minutes work individually. Make two columns. Under one column write all the verbs that relate to human action. Under the other column write all the verbs that relate to God’s action.
3. In your small groups collate your results: note the number of repetitions, note the patterns of speech, note the key metaphors, note the movement of expression and ideas. Have one person collate these observations in a Word doc. Take 20 minutes to do this task.
4. After you’ve done this, take a moment individually to draw 1-2 conclusions from these observations for the practice of either worship or prayer. How might what you’ve observed shape or re-orient how you worship (personally or corporately) and pray (personally or corporately)?
5. Following this, we will conclude our time in a large group discussion, to hear what each of us has discovered and concluded.
“The Psalms…are infused with and surrounded by a genetic, cultural, worshiping, and believing heritage. This canonical condition means that in the life of faith we don’t make up original prayers that suit our private spiritual genius. Prayer is not an original language, but a received language.”
-- Eugene Peterson, Answering God
Monday, March 16, 2015
Two years ago I told myself that once I had read 200 science fiction novels, I would teach a seminar on the relation between science fiction and theology. I figured that once I had read 200 novels, I'd have a fair idea of what was going on. At the moment I have read approximately 180: not as many as most SF fans, but plenty enough under the circumstances of a PhD student. Now that I've been hired by Fuller Theological Seminary, I am happy to announce that I've been given a green light to go forward with this course proposal. The target date is fall 2016.
My principle theological interests in SF include 1) the nature of mediation in human relationships, 2) time travel and the meaning of history, 3) post-apocalyptic novels as insight into both protology and eschatology, 4) the strange, alien creatures in the cosmos as images of the biblical "leviathan," 5) an instinct for resurrection in the (misguided) transhumanist instinct for bodiless humanity, 6) the rise of the humanoids or Artificial Intelligence as alternate humanities, 7) ecclesiology in the encounter of like and unlike species, and 8) the ways in which new technology provides a frame of reference that humans immediately and unquestionably take for granted as meaningful.
In 2014 my reading habits took me to a variety of SF corners: from Thomas Disch' The Genocides to James Tiptree Jr.'s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever to Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World to Chang-rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea. I also read a few awful ones. This included books like Zolan Istvan's The Transhumanist, which after twenty pages, I couldn't bear to read another word. I watched "The Machine" one night (low budget but compelling). I watched a double-header on another night: “Under the Skin” (horrifically good) and “Her” (sweet and sad). I thought "Snowpiercer" was stunning. And I watched halfway through television shows like “Almost Human” and “Extant.”
It was a good year for me and I am happy to share my top ten, which, like previous years, actually involves a pair of novels in each slot. Dave Eggers, The Circle, is my top sci-fi novel of 2014. I I heartily recommend to anybody who uses the internet.
1. Dave Eggers, The Circle + Will McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty
Like “Hamlet,” you know how The Circle will turn out: badly. You dread the end and you keep
reviewer at Tor.com: “The required account balance will be maintained by the fees of rich men who can set up expensive “dates”: you’ll briefly be thawed to be interviewed and inspected, and if you pass muster, you’re revived and returned to life. Colloquially, the (often involuntary) participants in this program are referred to as “bridesicles.” Like I said: creepy good, totally wrong, and absolutely believable.
2. Andy Weir, The Martian + John Scalzi, Redshirts
These two novels belong to the genre called riotously funny science fiction.
Then they bend history. Then they meet their non-fictional counterparts who play the fictional versions on a television show in a parallel universe. As a Forbes magazine review puts it, if you want to “read it as a surreal meditation on character and genre like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, this is your book." Redshirts was the winner of the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and rightfully so.
The Martian is the novel where two things happened repeatedly while lying in bed late at night with Phaedra: 1) I laugh out loud every five minutes and 2) I say things like, “Phaedra, I’ve got to read you this part.” The Martian is Robinson Crusoe meets credible astrophysics meets suspenseful drama. Written by the son of a particle physicist, with a background in computer science and the skill to write an original software program in order to determine a particular astrophysical and dramatic plot feature, Weir’s novel evokes the happy sense of adventure that you experienced when you read Bradbury’s short stories, along with the sense of awe that you felt about deep space in the work of Carl Sagan and that feeling of eerie solitude that characterizes many of Arthur C. Clarke’s principal figures. Andy Weir not only studied orbital mechanics, astronomy and the history of manned spaceflight, he also figured out how to make a single character survive 1,412 days till the next Mars expedition could come to rescue one NASA astronaut Mark Watney in a way that was both hilarious and riveting.
(Part 2 coming soon.)
Friday, February 27, 2015
My good wife just had an interview posted with Mary Lee Kitchen about her gardening, making, cooking, eating and healthy food-sharing habits. While I am happily married to her and the immediate recipient of her natural and organic meal-making powers, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the interview and discovering new things about my wife. So proud of her. Check out the whole interview here. I've copied two excerpts below to whet your appetite to read the rest.
(Also, because of my wife's healthy food habits, I am confident that I will now live till I am 153 years old and that I will share the joy of being great-great-great-great-great grandparents with Phaedra in the 22nd century.)
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Key ideas on the arts from Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson, John Witvliet, Barbara Nicolosi, David Taylor and Jeremy Begbie
That long-winded title is a way of saying this: the video for the talks which took place at the 2008 Transforming Culture conference are available to view.
It is hard to believe that it has been almost seven years since that extraordinary and extraordinarily satisfying gathering in Austin, Texas, took place. So many good people helped make it happen. And so much has happened since. A book was published. Deep friendships were forged. Ministries and networks have been launched. One of us finally earned a Ph.D.
My hope is that the work that I'll be doing with Brehm Texas will have a chance to continue these efforts, to trace out particular ideas and to track down certain possibilities for the church's engagement with the arts, at local, institutional and associational levels (possibly also extend the conversations which occurred during the conference seminars).
If you want to see the printed and in many cases revised version of these talks, which often went in different directions from their original assignments, along with two additional essays by Lauren Winner and Joshua Banner, please go here, to find a copy of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books: 2010).
Here below, then, are the video recordings, hosted by the Hill Country Institute. Each presentation was thoughtful, winsome, witty, in some cases provocative, in other cases rather funny, and in all cases wonderfully idiosyncratic, while everyone shared a common love for the church.
1. THE GOSPEL: In What Way is Art a Gift, a Calling and an Obedience? -- Andy Crouch
2. THE PASTOR: How is the Pastor an Artist and the Artist, a Pastor? -- Eugene Peterson
3. THE WORSHIP: How Can Our Actions and Spaces be Artfully Shaped? -- John Witvliet
4. THE ARTIST: What is an Artist and How do we Shepherd These Strange Creatures? -- Barbara Nicolosi
5. THE DANGERS: What Are the Dangers of Artistic Activity? -- David Taylor
6. THE FUTURE: What is the [Artistic] Vision of the Church in 2058? -- Jeremy Begbie
Thursday, January 29, 2015
|Damien Hirst - Cock and Bull, 2012|
A few months ago I emailed some of the smartest visual artists I know and asked them the question: How do you define contemporary art? Their answers and the exchanges which ensued were extraordinarily spirited, wide-ranging and far from unanimous. They were very insightful, though, as well as practically helpful to me as I have taken on the role of program director for CIVA's 2015 biennial conference. Of course, if a similar question were addressed to pastors, theologians, ministry and organizational leaders, namely "How do you define the church?", I imagine I would receive equally spirited and disparate answers.
Therein, I suppose, lies both the challenge and the opportunity of this unique conference: "Between Two Worlds: Contemporary Art and the Church," which takes place on June 11-14 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Calvin College. To register, please go here. Here are a few things I'm particularly excited about.
The three plenary talks:
1. Wayne Roosa: Friday morning, June 12: "A Conversation Between Contemporary Art and the Church"
2. Ben Quash: Friday evening, June 12: "A Conversation Between Contemporary Art and Trinitarian Theology"
3. Katie Kresser: Saturday morning, June 13: "Conversation Between Contemporary Art and Corporate Worship"
|Marina Abramović - The Artist is Present, 2010|
The three panels:
1. A "First Generation" panel: including Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Sandra Bowden, Ted Prescott, and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker.
2. A "Contemporary Artists in the Public Square" panel: TBA.
3. A "Contemporary Artists in the Church" panel: TBA.
|TAKASHI MURAKAMI - Self-Portrait of the Manifold Worries of a Manifoldly Distressed Artist, 2012|
A "Theology and Visual Arts" track (for details click here):
1. Critical Responses: Reviews and critiques of conference plenary speaker Ben Quash’s recent volume Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit (Bloomsbury, 2013).
2. Theology for the Visual Arts: Constructive proposals from the various theological disciplines aimed at opening up new vistas of creativity and exploration in the visual arts.
3. Theology from the Visual Arts: Generative reflections on the theological meaning or value of particular bodies of art, art movements, and/or art experiences.
|Jeff Koons - Acrobat, 2003|
The day-ahead events and the various exhibits which will take place during the time of the course of conference.
The devotionals and worship service which will be led by Luci Shaw.
All the amazingly interesting folks who will come to this gathering and, well, so much more. Please do join us if you can.
Below is a basic write-up for the conference.
|Gerhard Richter - Abstraktes Bild, 2001|
|Wayne Roosa - Ideas of Order: I|
|Richard Serra - Inside Out, 2013|
Friday, January 16, 2015
|Phaedra Taylor's studio: preparing the table|
I've been collecting prayers for artists and from artists for years. I thought I'd go ahead and put a number of them in the same place. There are plenty more, of course (such as here or here or here). But perhaps one of these may be of use to you or to artists in your community, perhaps even become a prayer that settles into the heart and turns into a source of daily rumination. As Richard Foster has said, to pray is to become a different kind of person. "All who have walked with God," he writes, "have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives." It is a beautiful and powerful thing when prayer becomes the deliberate, ongoing, chewing and chawing, mumbling here and there, even unconscious business of an artist's life.
|Phaedra Taylor, "Bound and Waiting" (detail)|
A Prayer for Artists
(Bryan Brown, worship pastor at Christ Church in Austin and the worship leader of the Transforming Culture symposium in 2008, adapted from Herbert Whittaker's "Prayer for the Artists" (1987).)
Lord, remember your artists. Have mercy upon them and remember with compassion all those that reflect the good, the ill, the strengths and the weaknesses of the human spirit.
Remember those who raise their voices in unending song, those who pour their souls into music loud and soft.
Remember those who put pigment to surface, carve wood and stone and marble, who work base metals into beauty, those building upwards from the earth toward heaven.
Remember those who put thought to paper by computer and by pen; the poets who delve, the playwrights who analyze and proclaim, the dreamers-up of narrative, all those who work with the light and shadows of film.
Remember the actors moved by Spirit and dancers moving through space.
Remember all these artists whom you have placed among us, for are they not, O Lord, the fellows of your inspiration? Do they not, Lord God, bring to your people great proof of your divinity and our part in it?
Remember your artists and show them mercy and compassion that they may do the same and so uplift all your people. That they may cry forth your praises, as we do here.
Amen! Amen! Amen!
From The Book of Common Prayer
(17. For Church Musicians and Artists)
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for Artists
(From "Prayers of Our Heart" by Vienna Cobb Andersen)
Bless the creators, O God of creation, who by their gifts make the world a more joyful and beautiful realm. Through their labors they teach us to see more clearly the truth around us. In their inspiration they call forth wonder and awe in our own living. In their hope and vision they remind us that life is holy. Bless all who create in your image, O God of creation. Pour your Spirit upon them that their hearts may sing and their works be fulfilling. Amen.
Prayer for Vocation in Daily Work (in the arts or any vocation)
(From Venite by Robert Benson)
Deliver us from the service of self alone, that we may do the work You have given us to do, in truth and beauty and for the common good, for the sake of the One who comes among us as One who serves. Amen.
Two Prayers by Flannery O'Connor
(A journal kept by the twenty-one-year-old Flannery O'Connor, whilst studying at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1946, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, titled A Prayer Journal. The New Yorker published a few excerpts of her prayers, one of which I include here. It is so very much her, yet we can hear our own voices in it too.)
"Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted. That is so far from what I deserve, of course, that I am naturally struck with the nerve of it.... All boils down to grace, I suppose"
"Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and myself is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.
I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. I have prayed to You about this with my mind and my nerves on it and strung my nerves into a tension over it and said, 'oh God, please', and 'I must', and 'please, please'. I have not asked You, I feel, in the right way. Let me henceforth ask You with resignation--that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind, realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust. I do not with to presume. I want to love.
Oh God, please make my mind clear.
Please make it clean.
I ask You for a greater love for my holy Mother and I ask her for a greater love for You.
Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.
I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be."
A Prayer of an Artist
(Over the course of my years as a pastor in Austin, I put to paper the sorts of things I prayed for the artists under my care and for myself as well. This is the result of that effort.)
Father God, Creator of all things, seen and unseen, we praise you for the works of your hand. We declare that you are sovereign over our lives, and that you are the originator of all good things. We humbly ask that you would grant us new ideas, even now. Bless our labours. Fulfill your creative purposes in us today.
Jesus Christ, Word of God, Icon of God, we praise you for sanctifying the earth in your incarnation, confirming the goodness of the physical world of stone, wood, metal, wind and fire and flesh. We ask that you would rule our imaginations with wisdom and love. Deliver us from fear and pride. Great Carpenter: teach us, guide us, aid us in our work today.
Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, Power and Fire, we praise you for sustaining all things in being, energizing them with vitality, and ushering them to their future and final state of glory. Purify our souls; scour our hearts; re-order our minds; strengthen our bodies. Free us to be playful today.
Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Three in One, we worship you, we acclaim you, we love you. We praise you for the extravagant love that you demonstrate in the creation of this world. We bless you, and we ask that you would form in us a community of artists that reflect the Divine Community, marked by self-giving love, infectious joy and the desire to honor and glorify the name of God; for Christ’s sake and for the sake of this world. Amen.
An Iconographer's Prayer
Help me at the beginning of the work when I am the weakest. Help me in the middle of the work when my attention must be sustained. And especially fill all the emptiness of my work with Your Presence. Lord, in all the work of my hands, bestow Your Grace so that it can speak to others and my mistake can speak to me alone. Keep me in the hope of perfection, without which I would lose heart, yet keep me from achieving perfection, for surely I would be lost in arrogance.
Purify my sight when I am doing poorly, for one is never sure that the work will turn out badly; Yet when I am doing well, one is never sure that the work will turn out well. Lord, let me never forget that all knowledge is in vain unless there is work. And all work is empty unless there is love. And all love is hollow unless it binds me both to others and to You.
Lord, teach me to pray with my hands, my arms, and all my strength. Remind me that the work of my hands belongs to You and that it is fitting to return this gift to You. Yet, if I work for the pleasure of others, like a flowering plant in the evening I will wither. But if I work for the love of goodness, I will remain in goodness. And the time to work for goodness and for Your Glory is now.
|Phaedra Taylor, "Bound and Waiting"|