Saturday, September 29, 2007

Bad Taste, Luci Shaw, Artistic Doubt


"People always say, 'Why don't you play more sets in Texas?'" says the 33-year-old father of four, "and I say, 'Dude, why don't you come babysit?'" ~ Sam Beam, Iron & Wine, "Hill Country Patriarch"

This morning I head up to Dallas to sit on a panel at the Southwest Region Conference on Christianity & Literature. Adam Langley will ride up with me, thankfully. It'll be an up-and-back, one day, seven hours of driving. I was invited by the director to join in as a "minister" type.

Happily, sitting with me on the panel will be none other than one of my favorite theological aestheticians, Frank Burch Brown of Good Taste, Bad Taste, Christian Taste fame. I've corresponded with him over the past two years, now I get to say hello in person. Good times.

Luci Shaw sent me a link to a beautiful eulogy she wrote on behalf of Madeleine L'Engle for Christianity Today. Here's a funny, sweet excerpt.

"Then there were the Ping-Pong games at Laity Lodge in Texas. Madeleine won by intimidation, bearing down on any helpless opponent like a ship under full sail. Star-filled nights in the hill country. I wanted to title our book on friendship The Table of Friendship, celebrating Madeleine's dinner table, the Lord's table, the editorial desk, and the Pong table. Madeleine thought that sounded too much like the multiplication table, to which we were both averse. So it ended up as Friends for the Journey."
This past Sunday we held at Hope Chapel a meeting to talk about the transition year for HopeArts. Many good questions were asked, hard questions too, but it was honest and feisty and I think people got the idea that we care and we're not going to sit on our duffs in this transition to the Second Epoch of the arts ministry.

Finally, I'm including here a sweet exchange I had with Tamara Murphy. Tamara lives in upstate New York and is a the Creative Arts Director at her church, Union Center Christian Church. I asked her permission, she said yes. The exchange here reminded me of the terrible feelings of insecurity I had when I first started out (and I guess still have on occasion). Three hip-hip-hoorays for Tamara's courage to let herself be seen in all her vulnerable glory.
The letters start off with me responding to a question she asked about what guidelines we follow in writing up our art exhibit prospectuses.
September 4, 2007

Tamara, I forgot to mention a few thoughts I had about your proposal, the original reason for writing. Four thoughts about good proposals/prospectuses:

1. Keep it clear: Do people understand clearly what you're saying and what you're asking/inviting them into?
2. Keep it simple: Less really is more. People get inundated with written material, especially from the internet, and the shorter we can say things, the sweeter. I have been known to commit sins of wordiness and I'm trying to repent as quick as possible.
3. Keep it helpful: Do people understand what's involved practically? Also, is there an opportunity to educate and inform your audience by what and how you say things.
4. Inspire: Do people catch a sense of your own excitement for the project/event? Do they see the vision? Are their hearts stirred?

And that's that. It's an unscientific series of thoughts off the top of my head, but they've generally worked for us.

Bless you.

david

David,
Thanks for this epilogue!

I realized we hadn’t discussed this when I went out to the kitchen to meet my family for dinner and my husband said, “So? What’d he say?” Oh, yeah…the prospectus. : )

These are helpful guidelines that should be intrinsically understood. Should being the key word. I realized that I had really missed the mark as I watched people pick up the FOUR PAGE photocopied prospectus and after barely glancing at my precious words asking, “So when is the entry form due?” And , “What if we don’t want to make a mosaic?” Even with two proofreaders…we all missed it.

Lesson learned.

Thanks for putting the guidelines in writing for me.
You may or may not be interested in the thoughts that are keeping me awake this evening (well, it’s wee morning now), but I’ve attached it just in case. Since our discussion I’ve been interested in reading some of your older blog posts hoping to fill in what your journey as an arts pastor has looked like. After reading “Utilitarian Art in the Church: Part V” from around December 2004 I realized that my biggest struggle has been trying to decide if all of this really matters. It’s not feeding starving children in Africa, it’s not reconciling broken marriages, it’s not restoring the homosexual to his family, etc., etc. Just because I care so deeply about it doesn’t prove that it really matters. This fear has kept me from knowing what to do next. The post states in more detail what you said in answer to my final question on the phone today. “Should my church care about art?” It already does.
Thank you once more for your investment of time, energy and care.

Warmly,
Tamara

[TAMARA’S JOURNAL ENTRY]
1:40 am –sitting in front of computer screen, small desk lamp lit in dark house, drinking a Mich lite, listening to William Ackerman on acoustic guitar

I can not sleep.
Brian asked me what it was I was feeling.
The only word I could think of –
“Daunted.”

Poor guy had almost gotten to sleep, too.

“This whole – what’s the right word? – issue seems so daunting. It’s huge. It’s way too big for me. I can’t play at this like it’s a game, but the reality we’re living in every day ministry . . . . is so opposite of the thoughts and ideas and conversations I’ve been having and reading and hearing that the tension between the two (ideal and reality) seems overwhelming. I know I have to live in reality…I can’t play at this like it’s a game, but I feel like I’m all alone. No one else seems to care nearly as much as I do about this – what’s the word? – concept.”

My back story:
*I grew up a preacher’s kid – oldest of six kids – poor. Parents spent all they had to send us to Christian school where we got a lousy education – especially in the arts. Most exposure we received there (other than the choir and Christmas program) was the annual play put on by Bob Jones University. ‘nuff said.
*I married my high school sweetheart 2 years into my college career. We planned for me to complete my degree in journalism/public relations, and did not plan for our first child to be born nine months (almost to the day) following our wedding.
*I do not have a degree; I am not even what you could call an amateur artist.
*I am a part-time employee with a $3,000 annual budget for creative arts and my major task each week is to make sure the services happen in 75 minutes or less and that the pastor and the worship team know what each other is doing during that 75 minutes
*I love the arts; I love people – especially the church; I cannot stop caring about the arts in the church (the artists in the church?)

I am realizing that so much of my energy in this – what’s the word? – arena has been motivated by a profound grief over the lack of classical training I received growing up. No great literature. Only the briefest, perfunctory explorations of the historical eras. Not even meaningful lessons in theology. The feeling that “Wait a minute! I’ve been robbed.” has driven me the past 5 years. I’m beginning to think that God wants me to be motivated in a more proactive energy now, but can’t decide what to call that. What’s the word? Calling?

Yikes.

[MY RESPONSE TO HER NOTE]
Tamara, thank you for sending me your journal entry. It was very beautiful. I want you to know, you're not alone. There are so many folks who share the exact same feelings. We're with you; I'm with you. For what it's worth I've received no formal training as an artist.

I don't want to make an unfair comparison because our life paths have been different, but I do want to encourage you to hang in there and keep learning. 80% of what I've learned about the arts and about the integration of art and Christian faith I've learned "off line," on my own, as my avocation. I have felt the same feelings of uselessness and naivete and "I don't know what I'm doing!"

But keep going. What you're doing is important. Keep your eyes on Jesus and keep reminding yourself of the vision He's given you for your life and the place of art in it.

And . . . here's a wild thought. How would you feel about letting me post your journal entry (edited if you wish, but still in its raw state) and then my response here. I say this not in a self-indulgent way but to say that I think a lot of people out there in blogland might be really encouraged, sympathetically, empathetically. Feel completely free to say no. Not a worry. It just strikes me that others might receive comfort from your brief self-disclosure.

Let me know.

blessings,

david

Again I say, Yikes.

Yes, absolutely, you are welcome to use anything you’d like. It would be important to me that it was clear this was a journal entry and represents just my plain old, tired-out feelings. I know, though, how very encouraged I am from this exchange and would be happy to multiply that encouragement.

Some of this journey feels kind of like Elijah going through the cave experience and wailing that he was all alone and then God revealing to him (through quite a variety of creative display, ironically) that he was, in fact, not alone. In the past as I’ve dug into that biblical account I have felt that God’s main agenda was to test Elijah’s true desires, asking him pointedly before and after the impressive, earth-shaking cave episode, “What is it that you want?” I imagine Elijah was duly impressed with all the natural wonders, but he did not budge one bit, “I want HELP! I don’t want to be alone!” . . .

God has been very kind to me this week. Thanks for being part of that.

Tamara



(PHOTO: Sam Beam and David Beam)

3 comments:

Jim Janknegt said...

Twin sons of different mothers!!??

w. david o. taylor said...

Ah yes, my long lost brother. . . . Sigh.

livingpalm said...

Once again, David, thank you for your kindness. I wanted to thank HopeArts for, perhaps unknowingly, blazing a trail for us here at Union Center Christian Church. We just completed our second annual art show and have been astounded at what God has brought to the surface in our church family and community. Something very, very good is brewing here and we feel like we are learning just barely fast enough to keep up with it all. The work you all have done in Austin has served as a template for us. Please pass along the deep gratitude of your brothers and sisters in upstate NY!