Dropping in on NYC: Parte Dos (also the Final Part)
A TOP TEN OF MY BLUSTERY VISIT TO NYC
10. The Theme of our Lives
The theme of IAM's conference was: Artists as Reconcilers. Here's how they (i.e. the International Arts Movement) describe it:
"IAM believes artists to be articulators of hope and integration in our broken culture. And yet we know today artists are known mostly for their rebellion, alienation, addiction and apathy. We aim to catalyze a movement of artists to be agents of cultural “Shalom” . . . . [thereby fostering a] Reconciliation of artists to themselves, Reconciliation of artists with the Church, Reconciliation of artists with God.
With our vision, we desire to present artists as catalysts for creative peacemaking, responsible stewardship of nature, and inspiration for collaboration. . . ."
Mako Fujimura's pre-conference essay can be found here. You will not regret having read it.
9. A Quotable Qonference
This was definitely the gathering of quotable people. Here are a few I managed to capture in real time. Some of these are like the New Living Bible: mostly word for word.
W. H. Auden via Dana Gioia, NEA kahuna: "You must love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart."
Nietzsche: "The poets lie too much."
Ian Cron on St. Francis: "The only animal St. Francis didn't like were the ants. He loved them, but he endured them mainly. Why? Because they worked too hard."
Ian Cron, author of Chasing Francis: "When the front door of the intellect is closed, often the back door of the imagination is open."
Betty Spackman, author of the definitive work on kitsch, A Profound Weakness: "If someone clings to a kitschy nightlight of Jesus, I'm not going to criticize them. I haven't given them an alternative to look at." This is a comment made about our too quick tendency to ridicule or criticize the consumption of kitsch, when we, the so-called sophisticated artists, haven't extended ourselves to them--humbly, not proudly--by offering them richer experiences of art.
8. The Twenty-Minute Evangelization of my Muslim Taxi Driver
There' s one thing you cannot deny about my new pal the Great Gatsby: he's bold. We jumped into a taxi in Upper West Manhattan and drove the length of the city south to Greenwhich Village. Our driver's name was Adel, Adel the Muslim taxi guy (cf. "25th Hour").
"Good morning, Adel, how are you doing?" the Gatsby says brightly. "Oh, good, yes, thank you." And statement #2 goes like this: "Well, Adel, it's a good morning because God has made it and we rejoice in it because we are followers of Jesus. Do you know Jesus, Adel?"
I confess I am dumbfounded. I haven't done cold turkey evangelism since my Moody Bible Institute days back in 1990. But the Great Gatsby treats it not like an exercise in Evangelism Explosion but as the most natural thing in the world, as if he'd said, "Have you had a good bagel lately!"
My friend isn't naive. He's got more books stacked in his apartment than most small-town libraries. His memory is colossal. He quotes me a philosopher one moment, a marketing analyst the next and an obscure 19th-century writer the next. He's genius.
And yet here he is talking to Adel the-cartoon-disgruntled-Muslim about Jesus. We talked about other things along the way, but the last thing out of my friends mouth as we are stepping out of the taxi--literally, one foot in, one foot out--was, "So Adel, I just want to encourage you to consider Jesus. If you are in a bad way, pray to him. He will listen to you."
And with that we whooshed out of the taxi and dove into the nearest Starbucks.
7. Ripping Pants, Stankin' Armpits
Sitting in an Indian restaurant with Ian Cron, I went to adjust my pants and the next thing I know they rip right across my right knee. I have only one pair of pants and they're my absolute favorite. I now look thoroughly UN-NewYorkCity-hip. My mother would not be pleased.
Instead of traveling back to the Upper West, I decide to stay two nights with a friend in Greenwhich. It is a traveling convenience but a hygenic inconvenience. I walk, I run, I sit, I stand indoors and out and I sleep in the same clothing three days in a row and boy I stank. It was a good thing the weather was 22F. It's what I call "saved by the European deodorant."
6. A Quote That Deserves Its Own Number
Paul Claudel: "If salt has lost its flavour, wherewith shall it be salted? With sugar!"
5. Exponential Growth
I've been paying attention to this churchy arts ministry stuff since the mid-nineties and I can say this: things are speeding up. There is more stuff happening in more places at faster rates. I met so many people who are doing things with the arts in their churches or perhaps just about to. Even in the two years since I last visited NYC--for the express purpose of finding artsy churches--things have accelerated. It's all rather dizzyingly interesting.
4. Rob Mathes and SNL and David Letterman and Other Famous People
Rob is a Charlie Peacock: more known for the people he helps than for his own music. But dude, the man is talented. He gave us a 45 min. concert Friday night that featured two trumpets, two sax, two trombones, an electric guitar, a bass guitar (played by a guy who plays on the Letterman show), a pianist, and a drummer (who plays with the SNL band). Rob has orchestrated music for a number of stars including recent records by Rod Stewart, Lou Reed, George Michael, Celine Dion, Vanessa Carlton, Tim McGraw, Michael Bolton, Elton John, R Kelly, Natalie Cole, and Marc Anthony. His songs have been recorded by folks from Bonnie Raitt to Aaron Neville, Wynonna Judd to Alabama.
He's blah blah blah famous. And he leads worship for Ian's church in Greenwich, CT. Not a bad life. You can check him out here.
3. It's not about money!
Dana Gioia, Chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts, and a man who sees lots of poor artists, rich artists, famous artists, nobody artists, said this:
"It's not about money. Do it even if they try to stop it. If it's a good idea, it will find money. All great things started with passion and imagination."
Hearing that was a shot of encouragement.
2. Two thoughts
One: an insight into my work as a pastor. A good pastor is not that different from a good parent: we seek to provide freedom within structure, a vast permission to experiment as far as the imagination allows yet also inviting into obedience, and a playfulness that never dies but always reaches for a growing maturity.
Two: a Croation teaching theology at Yale, Miroslav Volf: Postmodernity, or Modernity Phase 2, is a reaction against all boundaries. It is a freedom to be whoever I want to be, to shape myself however I wish without constraints. It is thus an essentialist transgressiveness. To be, the regnant art world tells us, is to transgress. To be an "important" artist, that is, is one who is always transgressing the boundaries. Such a person knows how to tear down but he doesn't know how to build up, he does not know how to create a positive vision of life.
But you have to have boundaries--good boundaries, healthy boundaries--to have a world, and to be a full person. Many artists do not have a holistic vision of the good that can hold together all the parts of their lives, and if there is one thing that human soul hates is fragmentation.
1. What is kitsch?
According to Betty Spackman: "Faith in drag."
But to be fair, she also said this (loosely translated): Making expensive art that lasts only a week is like making an expensive dinner for friends. What matters greatly is the process that takes place over the course of the meal. What matters more than anything is the converation that did take place because of the event, the meal, the art.