Wednesday, May 08, 2013
I may be biased but I don't think I am. Regent College has the best summer course program of any seminary I know. Partly I think it's due to the seminary's original vision to provide educational opportunities to the laity. Partly it's due to a fabulous team that pulls together some of the most interesting people to teach everything from "St. Augustine's Pilgrimage of Grace" to "Christianity and the Political Economy of Capitalism" to "Living Elders in a Dying Church" to "Technology, Wilderness and Creation."
They also of course have planned an impressive line-up of courses addressing the arts. In short:
1. "J.R.R. Tolkien: Writer for Our Time of Terror" by Ralph Wood
2. "Faith, Hope, and Poetry" by Malcolm Guite
3. "Believing in Documentary" by Iwan Russell-Jones
4. "Modern Literature and the Question of Belief" by Roger Lundin
5. "Hollywood Cinema and the Christian Imagination" by William Romanowski
See here for details on all these courses.
And watch these two videos to get a more specific sense of what to expect with two of the courses.
Iwan Russell-Jones: Believing in Documentary from Regent College on Vimeo.
It'll be a fantastic summer of course study that you won't want to miss. Did I mention it's in beautiful British Columbia? Did I say that Vancouver is quite possibly the best city to visit during the summer? Did I already tell you about the tantalizing line-up of Evening Public Lectures? And the ocean, the skiing, the forests, the food? No? Well it is. Trust me. I've tasted and I've seen.
And you might too.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
As I sit down to begin my work today, these are ten theses that orient my thinking on the subject of corporate worship. They're pasted to my office wall. I stare at them and they stare back at me. They stare back at me to remind me of what I ought not to forget. For one moment. Ever. They stare back at me with a persistent refrain: clarity, clarity, clarity.
My interests in the field of worship studies are largely theological, while my current research focuses on the Reformed tradition (broadly regarded). The particular aim of my dissertation is to propose a pneumatological reading of the nature and function of the arts in corporate worship context (i.e. the liturgical arts). I offer these ten theses as a conceptual framework--distilling biblical patterns, listening to the witness of church history, discerning the internal logic of the triune life, and welcoming the cross-cultural insights of Christians across the globe--in the hope that they will encourage (ongoing) good conversation around the topic of Christian worship.
If you're looking closely, you'll be able to detect the sources of influence on my thinking.
If Christian worship in its corporate form is trinitarian, then the following will hold true:
1. That it will be the real encounter of the triune God with his people.
More specifically, worship is chiefly a work by the triune God, about the triune God, to the triune God where structures, words and practices are reflective of the triune God. I argue this over against any tendencies to narrow down worship to a binitarian scheme, where a fulsome role is accorded to the Father and Son but a desiccated one is accorded to the Spirit.
2.That it will be personal and communal because, through the Spirit, Christians across time and space are made actively to participate in the Son’s communion with the Father.
I argue this over against notions that rob worship of Christ’s doxological role in our corporate acts of prayer and praise or that reduce public worship to atonement Christology (among other things).
3. That it will be a sacramentally, symbolically and formatively rich expression of the communal faith of Christians in which they celebrate that encounter.
I argue specifically that worship ought to conform us to the pattern of Christ’s life. Worship is significantly and substantially a work of discipleship that conforms us to the content and quality of Christ’s life, a discipleship that is fulfilled in Christ and in the totus Christus or the body of Christ, and a discipleship that necessarily occurs synchronically and diachronically, that is, in a particular time and through time.
4. That it will be narratival because of the story Christians inhabit.
5. That it will be dramatic because of what Christians enact together.
With these two theses, I argue that worship should conform Christians to the basic narrative-dramatic pattern of revelation and response, refracted through three biblical "images": a "covenantal" image, a "sacrifice" image, and a "table fellowship" image.
6. That it will be aesthetic because of what Christians taste, touch, see, smell, speak, feel and imagine possible because of the work of Christ through his Spirit.
In service to the actions of corporate worship, the liturgical arts serve the liturgy in their own way but not on their own terms.
7. That it will be missional because of how it forms, inspires and compels Christians to live as Christ throughout the rest of their lives.
I argue specifically that worship and mission ought never to be pitted against each other. Their relationship is an inter-animating one, and how each is formed and spurred on by the other is a matter of context.
8. That it will be a culturally contextual celebration both because of God’s love for “all nations” and because of the Spirit’s work to call forth Christ-honoring worship in every particular time and place of creation.
The Holy Spirit, as the animator and particularizer of all things in creation, brings all of Christian worship into conformity to the order of Christ’s life, enabling the church to innovate in ways that are faithful to the catholic and apostolic tradition, with the result that praise and thanksgiving from every tribe, tongue and nation are raised to the Father.
9. That it will be eschatological because of the way it pulls Christians now, through hope, towards the life that awaits us in Christ through the Spirit.
The church’s corporate worship takes place within a cosmic liturgy, at the center of which stands Christ as the chief Leitourgos who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, gathers up all of creation’s praise as an everlasting gift of love and fellowship to his Father.
10. That by the necessities of biblical patterns and the logic of the economy of God, corporate worship will be experienced through a series of binaries: free and en-formed, traditioned and innovative, festal and ascetic, accessible and difficult, useful and excessive, formative and expressive, contemplative and active, individual and communal, local and global, worldly and other-worldly, quotidian and numinous, earthly and heavenly.
In other news ... ever wonder about the Farmer who went out to sow his seeds? I have. So has artist Ai Weiwei, in a manner of speaking.
|Ai Weiwei, "Sunflower Seeds"|
Ever wonder whether all of creation, including bugs, praises God in its own articulate way? Wonder no more.
Ever wonder whether preaching without apology was a good idea? Stanley Hauerwas thinks it is.
Ever think of worship as leaping into the abyss? No, me neither, but this is cool nevertheless.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
|Flight to Egypt (Johann Paul Ludden)|
I'm copying here an excerpt from a letter that showed up on a blog that my good friend Tamara Murphy posted today. It represents part of a letter I wrote her family in July 2011 as they prepared to leave upstate New York and move to a new life that awaited them in Austin, Texas. These are words that Phaedra and I will probably want to remember as we begin to anticipate our departure from North Carolina a year from now.
I offer them here as a practical help to anybody who has recently moved or is preparing to move. You can read the whole letter here.
|Flight to Egypt (Giotto)|
Planning a farewell ritual promotes an emotionally, relationally and spiritually healthy transition.
By ritual I mean the following:
1. Walking or driving down a favorite path/road, alone or with others, while you intentionally thank God for the good things that occurred there.
2. Eating a meal at a memorable restaurant or place, again while you consciously thank God.
3. Writing a letter in which you identify all the things that you're grateful for about this place.
4. Taking a moment with a few others in order to pray out loud and release to God this place that you've come to love (or not, as the case may be) and that you'll now be leaving.
5. Playing a last game of X or singing a song in Y place or going for a swim at Z location and then shouting "That was good!"
6. Touching, tasting, smelling, listening, in short, using all your senses to acknowledge the things that have been significant about this place.
7. Taking a moment with the family where everybody gets to share with the others things that they will miss most about this place and the people here, so that these things can be relished together, thanking God for them and then releasing them to God mindful that all of it has been a gift--and that all that lies ahead will also be gift.The point is to make a ritual which you perform both by yourself and with others--a solitary ritual and a shared ritual. When the ritual involves sensory activity plus a spiritual attentiveness to God, which I recognize both in my own soul and before others who care for me, I have found that it helps healthy closure to take place. It also in that way helps healthy beginnings to occur. Healthy leavings and healthy comings aren't something that our society is that interested in making possible.
[Healthy leavings and comings] can become the grace of God to us and enable our hearts to grieve what needs grieving and to hope for what lies ahead, knowing that our Good Shepherd walks alongside of us....
|Our last day in Austin, Texas (August 2009)|
... Austin, Texas will call out things from you and your identity that would never have been called out in New York.
While you may not grow to love everything about Austin or about Texas (which you have every right not to have to love), it will also provoke, stimulate and awaken new things--new desires, new abilities, new opportunities, new strengths, new dynamics, and that will be a very exciting thing. You'll become a richer person for it, and it will open up a small window into the way God sees you and how he sees the world.
|Our first full day in Durham, North Carolina (August 2009)|
Sunday, April 14, 2013
That's the thought that struck me somewhere around the age of 23.
I recognize that it's probably a grandiose thing to think at that age, though perhaps not. Bonhoeffer earned his second dissertation at 23. Keith Green released his first "Christian" album at 23. Bonnie Parker, the American bank robber, died at 23 (in 1934), killed in a police ambush. River Phoenix (1993), Selena (1995), and Charles IX of France (1574) also died at 23. And who really knows what Jesus was doing at 23. So perhaps 23 is not that young after all to feel such things.
I knew I mattered to God's kingdom. I knew I had a place in it. I knew my friends cherished me and I knew I had an important role to play in the world, whatever it might turn out to be. I knew even then that I was a late-bloomer (and have now realized that I'm a career late-bloomer), and that I had a lot of life left to live.
Yet one Sunday morning, while driving in to church, I felt a sudden conviction that I was not indispensable to the kingdom of God. I hadn't planned on thinking that thought, of course, and the idea that I was dispensable was not immediately welcome, though I suspected it was nearer to the truth than otherwise. I also felt remorse for thinking that I might have been indispensable. Or perhaps I felt embarrassed. No, I definitely felt embarrassed, then I felt remorse, then more embarrassment.
Eventually, though, I felt it as a certainty that made me feel a lot better about myself. It also freed me from a lot of silliness.
This is a good thing to remember, I figure, as I approach my forty-first birthday.
That's my Jesus pose up there.
"Of course it wasn't funny; it was tragic. That's why I had to laugh. I looked at a cageful of monkeys and suddenly I saw all the mean and cruel and utterly unexplainable things I've seen and heard and read about in the time I've been with my own people--and suddenly it hurt so much I found myself laughing."
-- Valentine Michael Smith, a one-time Martian, speaking to Gillian Boardman in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
This past weekend, Church of the Apostles in Raleigh, NC, installed a pair of artworks that Phaedra had made on their behalf. Two 4'X10' banners hang on the wall behind the chancel (the front of the sanctuary), while at the back of the church hang two 2.5'X3.5' encaustic paintings. I've included here a few photos I took along with excerpts from a statement which Phaedra wrote for the congregation. This commissioned work represents the church's maiden venture into the world of liturgical art, and I say God bless them for taking the risk.
ABOUT THESE ARTWORKS
Church of the Apostles commissioned local artist, Phaedra Taylor, to create two paintings and the twin banners that hang to either side of the cross to celebrate the season of Easter 2013. Months prior to their hanging, congregants were asked to write out prayers on gold leaf-shaped paper pieces; these prayers echoed the longings of the church....
All the prayer leaves were embedded in multiple layers of wax along with oil paint and oil pastels in gold, red, and white. Scriptures from the book of Ephesians and the Psalter, which the church leadership has regularly prayed on behalf of the congregation, were also written into both paintings and scraped out or covered up as the layers continued to be applied....
By encasing the over 550 prayer leaves in wax, the hope was to provide an image of how Jesus gathers together the cries of our hearts, lifting them up to His Father, offering prayers for us continually, even as the Spirit himself intercedes us night and day....
Sections of the paintings are covered with additional layers of wax, making them largely opaque.... Only specific parts can be seen in the finished paintings. This is designed to evoke the notion, that whether we see it or consciously know it, the prayers of the pastoral staff are, as it were, alive and at large, just as much as the prayers of Christ and the Holy Spirit are alive and at large, effective even if hidden from our perception.
A small section of the paintings, including three gold squares, was blown up and printed onto fabric which was then made into the banners framing the cross. This image symbolically evokes the Trinity and is intended to remind the church not only of the proper object of Christian worship but also of the Divine Persons who inspire, sustain and complete our corporate worship....
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
|"Station 1: Jesus is Condemned" by Kevin Vandivier (photograph)|
Consider these offerings from the Swiss theologian Karl Barth as an aid to a deeper participation in Holy Week. Consider them in fact as the offerings of a friend, who not only keenly felt but also prayed himself into the tensions of the Paschal Triduum and found himself thereby transformed in them, not despite them. My hope is that you will find these prayers encouraging, whatever the condition of your soul this week.
From Karl Barth, Fifty Prayers. Translated by David Carl Stassen (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008).
Lord our God, when we are afraid, do not permit us to doubt! When we are disappointed, let us not become bitter! When we have fallen, do not leave us lying down! When we have come to the end of our understanding and our powers, do not leave us to die! No, let us then feel your nearness and your love, that you have promised to those whose hearts are humble and broken, and who fear your Word.
From a prayer which Barth prayed at the conclusion of a sermon he preached to prisoners in Basel, Switzerland (ca. 1956-1964).
O Lord, our God! Thou art great, exalted and holy above us and above all men. This is thy glory that thou dost not forget us, not abandon us, not reject us despite all that speaks against us. In thy dear Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, thou hast given us nothing less than thyself and all that is thine.
We praise thee that we are invited as guests at the table of thy mercy throughout our life and beyond. We spread before thee all that troubles us, our mistakes, our errors and our transgressions, our sorrows and cares, also our rebellion and our bitterness – our whole heart, our whole life, better known to thee than it is to ourselves.
We commit all this into the faithful hands which thou hast outstretched in our Savior. Take us as we are; strengthen us when we are weak; grant us, the poor, the bounties of thy blessings. Let thy lovingkindness shine upon our loved ones, upon all prisoners, and those in the pangs of misery, illness or death. Bestow upon the judges the spirit of justice and upon the rulers of this world some measure of thy wisdom, that they may strive for peace on earth. Give a clear and courageous witness to all who are called to preach thy word here and abroad.
Gathering up all concerns we call on thee as our Savior has permitted us and commanded us to do: ‘Our Father…’
From a sermon preached on Good Friday in 1957, based on Luke 23:33, “They crucified him and the two criminals with him, one to the right, one to the left.” In this sermon Barth reorients our understanding of Christian community under the light of the cross.
"The Criminals with him. Do you know what that means? Please be not too surprised when I tell you: this was the first Christian community – the first safe, undissolvable, indestructible Christian community.
Christian community is everywhere where there is a gathering of people who are close to, who are with Jesus – in such a way that his promise, his affirmation, concerns them directly and immediately – in such a way that they can hear it: that everything that He is, He is for them, that everything that He does, He does for them, in such a way that they can live by and from this promise. This is the first Christian community, and the first safe Christian community consisted of these two criminals."
And a final prayer:
None of us is a great Christian; rather, we are all very small Christians. But your grace is sufficient for us. Awaken us to the small joy and thankfulness that we are capable of, the timid faith that we bring, the incomplete obedience that we cannot refuse – to the hope in the greatness, wholeness, and completeness that you have prepared for us in the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ and that you have promised to us in his resurrection from the dead.
|Samantha Wedelich, Lent 2005, Hope Chapel|
Sunday, March 17, 2013
|The Frio River is muy frio.|
Our fifth retreat on record, we had a fantastic time. Here are a few photographic highlights along with three videos from the weekend in which we explored the idea of "Artists as Caretakers of the Imagination." I'll post reflections soon. A heartfelt thanks to everyone who came and who made the retreat a special experience for all involved. (And I do sincerely wish I had a photographic record of everyone who came. Regrettably I couldn't get myself positioned rightly to capture everybody in action. This will have to suffice as a teaser to come next year.)
|The Great Hall.|
|"Sinkin' about eet."|
|I'm imagining really, really hard.|
|Roger Feldman talks about his art installation.|
|The work in progress.|
|Artists think better when they doodle: take 1.|
|Artists think better when they doodle: take 2.|
|Artists think better when they doodle: take 3.|
|Isaac Wardell leads us in excellent congregational song.|
|Karl Digerness and company listen to Isaac.|
|Jamie in action, while his left hand glows, making us suspect that he's an X-Man after all.|
|Linnea Kickasola asks a question.|
|"I'm not sure about this imagination craze."|
|"Up here live the Fiffer-feffer-feffs."|
|Bruce Herman's Virgin Mary receives the word of the angel Gabriel.|
|David Lutes, Craig Harris, Ben B., Wen Reagan and Wendell Kimbrough.|
|The point is behind us.|
|To jump or not to jump.|
|"To jump" by Tim Mills.|
|"To canon ball" by Ben Bowman.|
|I smell trouble.|
|James & Taylor.|
|The good folks of the retreat.|