Monday, May 21, 2007

Austin Jesus-Thumping Filmmakers Unite!

It's been a good weekend for believer filmmakers in Austin. It's almost cool to be a Christian AND a filmmaker. My hommies with the CHALK movie--Mike Akel, Chris Mass, Angie Alvarez, Graham Davidson, Jeff Guerrero, Ryan Greene and David Gonzales, all Hope Chapelites--opened their national run in LA a week ago. It was Austin this week. Yet to come:
May 25 Dallas, TX -- The Magnolia
May 25 Chicago, IL -- Century Centre Theatre
May 25 Philadelphia, PA -- The Ritz
Jun 1 St. Louis, MO -- Tivoli Theatre
Jun 1 San Diego, CA - Ken Theater
Jun 15 NY, NY -- Sunshine Cinema
Jun 15 Atlanta, GA -- Midtown Art Cinema

They got a shout-out from Morgan Spurlock of SUPERSIZE ME fame on Conan O'Brien. The Chronicle, Austin's arts and entertainment weekly, wrote a phat piece. Virginia Todd Burton, another member of the hopearts community and a recent grad from UT's MFA program, penned it. The Statesman punched it in with super review.
Momentum is everything.
They're all doing really great. I'm so proud of them. I'm especially impressed at the way they're conducting themselves relationally; staying humble, hearts clean.

Then Jeffrey Travis and his compadres debuted their version of Flatland at the Arbor theater and it was amazing! I thought, This puppy is a Triple AAA Pixar flick (baseball metaphor there). The visuals were outstanding, the soundtrack like something out of a Hans Zimmer klavier machine, the talent top-notch. The kids loved it, big people too.

Jeffrey's got a new website up, Burning Myth Productions, and he's finally entered the lovely world of blogdom. He's beginning the process of moving into full-time filmmaking, starting with MARSHALL HOLLENZER IS DRIVING, based on the book by Owen Egerton: stellar man, recently published author (How Best to Avoid Dying), local comedic hero in Austin as well as good friend of ours. We attended his public reading at Book People this past Thursday and loved it. The Statesman wrote a generous piece. Here are a couple of memorable excerpts:

"I do like to go into darker and deeper thoughts," says Egerton, sipping on a Guinness during a Friday evening happy hour at the Hole in the Wall. "And I think humor is a great way of approaching those thoughts. And for me, it's the most successful way — to kind of laugh my way into those thoughts."
"Flannery O'Connor talked about our culture as a Christ-haunted culture. And I think my life is a Christ-haunted life," says Egerton, who worked for the Young Life camps for three years after graduating from the University of Texas in 1995. "Jesus keeps popping up in my stories. If I sit down and write, sooner or later, he walks onto the page. It's like: 'You! You're here again.' "

My Reflections:
1. It takes a village to raise an artist. And not in any figurative sense. Nothing good artistically can happen, of any real substantial worth, if an artist sets out to prove himself autonomously. El es loco, mi amigo. Foolishness. Theologically it doesn't work. The Trinity won't allow it.
Neither Mike nor Jeffrey nor Chris nor Rick nor Christopher Fitzgerald nor anybody else in our community who has succeeded could ever say "I did it on my own." They'd be liars. And you know what happens to liars in Dante's inferno. They get licked.
2. It takes time. Mike and Chris Mass have been working on CHALK for close to four years. Jeffrey has labored for 2-3 years. Owen started writing his collection three years ago. Good art doesn't happen overnight. Good art needs to simmer. Even if they'd been able to work on their projects full-time they still would have needed to tend, nurse, prune, listen, kill, wait, and drive that plow forward till they found the right "tone" for the work, its "fittingness," it's right place in the world.
3. The death and resurrection of encouragement. We've lost how many times we've said these words: "You can do it, bro. Keep going. Don't give up. I'm sorry things are hard. You've got what it takes. Keep at it. Are you doing what you said you would do? Are you writing? Are you praying? Are you whithering from procrastination? Hang in there. You rock. You're a rockstar! Go, go, go!"
I've said this before: A third of my job as arts pastor is taken up with encouraging my brethren and sistren. We need it. I need it. Fear threatens us 24/7. We need courage. We need people around us who believe in us. We don't need inflated praise. We don't need fair-weather friends. We don't need quid pro quo favors. We need friends who know how crappy of an artist we are, yet who see what we have and what we could become by God's grace.
Artists give up without encouragement. But like plants with daily doses of water, sun and good soil, artists thrive in an environment of genuine, self-sacrificing, generous love. It's our daily bread, from the Holy Spirit, from people. It's what'll keep us real human beings.
4. If one of us wins we all win. That's my little friendly motto, mi amigos, my anti-jealousy drum. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Shoot the green monster in the head. He's lurking around these parts. A few of our own are succeeding, famous locally, in places nationally. My housemate Ed played a fanstastic brass concert Sunday night. Mike and Chris and Jeffrey were on TV. Book People sold almost all of Owen's books. It's hard to watch people succeed when you have pittance going on for yourself.
But if one of us wins we all win. That's the economy of the Kingdom. It's the aerodynamics of the Body of Christ: the slipstream of success pulling us all along. We rejoice with those who rejoice and lo, magically we all end up better for the rejoicing. In the original creation God lavishes the world with superabundant generosity. We don't get two possible flavors on the tongue, we get a near infinite combination of flavors. Why? Because the Divine Nature is infinitely generous.
So if I succeed, then it is the nature of Christ in me compelling me to do everything I can to disburse blessing--practical, verbal, financial, spiritual--to those around me. If I succeed, how can I not use my success to help everyone around me enjoy the fruits of my success? A community of artists that practices this kind of virtue is a community against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail.
In Other Departments
I received in the mail two books: An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture For Worship and Ministry Today (by Mark Torgerson) and Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred (by Philip Bess). John Wilson has asked me to submit a book review of these for Books & Culture. Wedding planning marches along. This weekend I head to Laity Lodge with Phaedra for a weekend retreat in the quiet, very quiet, very non-technologically saturated Hill Country.
The HopeArts festival lumbers forward. June 1 is d-day for all entries. July 12-22 is happy days. I'm prepping a couple of morning devotionals for the CIVA conference in mid-June. We have 14 people signed up for the symposium in April '08. (I've never signed up for anything that far in advance.)
My sleep is rotten. I took my first swim of the season this past Friday in the neighborhood pool. It rained today. I need to fertilize my back yard. My sweet grandmother in Dallas is dying rapidly. I asked God six, seven years ago to keep her alive till I got married. I don't know if my prayer will be answered.
I bought a copy of Jane because the heading on the cover read: "Our generation is spoiled." A picture of beatific Kirsten Dunst and Bryce Dallas Howard looks out at us. I thought, "I must buy this magazine." My generation and the one bellow us is ridiculously spoiled. And so the silver screen princesses have confirmed it. Such great smiles.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Walkable Quotes

Here are a few things that have caused me to stop, drop and roll in my reading of late.

Dallas Willard's Conspiracy Against Shallow Christianity
(from The Divine Conspiracy)

"The truly powerful ideas are precisely the ones that never have to justify themselves."

And then quoting John Maynard Keynes, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back."

(This is the stuff that gets my blood chugging on spin cycle. The ideas embedded in popular and fine works of art slowly but surely re-program, de-program, mal-program Joe and Jane in our pews. How do we as pastors expect our people to actually hear what we're saying when we have six days of pop culture ideology and academic intellectual crime competing against us?)

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
"'An artist is identical with an anarchist', [Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchist poet] cried. 'You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who thorws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only'."

(And forty pages later our protagonist Gabriel Syme speaks with a curious policeman, unlike any he had ever come across. Finally the strange policeman reveals himself.)

"'The work of the philosophical policeman,' replied the man in blue, 'is at once bolder and more subtle than that of the ordinary detective. The ordinary detective goes to pot-houses to arrest thieves; we go to artistic tea-parties to detect pessimists. The ordinary detective discovers from a ledger or a diary that a crime has been committed. We discover from a book of sonnets that a crime will be committed."

(I looooove that last line: We discover that a crime shall be committed in the future. We need to keep thinking in 30 to 40-year chunks. What we're dealing with now is the "farming of ideas" in the '60s. What we're wanting to see happen in the Church will not come to fruition till the year 2037. Patience, my young paduan, patience.)

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

(Lord Henry speaking to Basil the artist.)

"It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer than Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-crac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value. . . .

Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

(Once again the disquieting thing about this comment is that it was written on June 20, 1890. That's a smooth 120 years ago. Goodness gravy, almost incredible. Poets as seers, humans as self-recycling their issues from one century to another.)

Henri Nouwen on Loneliness
(in The Wounded Healer)

"We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds. The growing competition and rivalry which pervade our lives from birth have created in us an acute awareness of our isolation. This awareness has in turn left many with a heightened anxiety and an intense search for the experience of unity and community."

(I am again struck by the prescience of his observation. Nouwen wrote these words in 1979, but they feel as if they could have been written today. It is so fantastical, or fantastically demented, how our society blithely marches forward into greater and greater loneliness, with more self-pleasing, self-enclosing technological gadgets that promise to keep us connected. But it seems to me that the more time we "connect" via phones and computers and text-messages and myspaces [Get it? "my"-space], and instant-messaging [for instant intimacy] and movie-watching and videogame tournaments--in short, via spectating, re-routed activity--the more our human relationships turn into information exchanges, not the exchange of souls and deep, hard-won love. The more we suck face with our technology, the more we become remade into the image of machines. We're forgetting what a human relationship actually is. We're forgetting how hard it is and how satisfying it is. So we're settling for "catching up" and "power-lunching" and "firing off a quick email to stay in touch," which makes me think of the artificial and marginless life.)

Walt Disney the happiest lonely man of the 20th century
(from Books & Culture, Mar/Apr 2007, Bill McKibben, "The Cheerful Solipsist," in a review of Neal Gabler's book Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination)

"'It was what one might have called the "tragedy of perfection", with all that was human driven out . . . It was the consummate act of wish fulfillment....

"It was a perfect corporate world: 'Disneyland had no ambiguity, no contradictions, and no dissonace'. The very opposite, that is, of a real town, a real community. . . :

'At Disneyland the guests were part of the overall atmosphere of happiness, and they reveled in their own manipulation because it was so well executed, because it was so comfortable and reassuring....'

"He died, in Gabler's words, 'quite possibly the most famouse man in America' but all 'among the loneliest'. With neither the consolations of religion or close friendship, he bowed out ten days past his 65th birthday, so terrified of death that he hadn't even left instructions for his burial."

(from Dante's Inferno, Canto 3)




(Sheesh. Thank God Dante had a trilogy in mind. That's some seriously Oprah unfriendly stuff.)

A People Without Margin
(from R. Swenson's Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives)

"Our relationships are being starved to death by velocity. No one has the time to listen, let alone love."

"We are addicted, and progress knows it."

"Long-term friendships are increasingly rare."

"The driven live on the edge and wouldn't have it any other way. They eat, breathe, and sleep adrenaline. Productivity is the goal, not living."

"We are a tired society . . . In an attempt to squeeze more things in, we try to do two or three at the same time. Activity overload takes away the pleasure of anticipation and the delight of reminiscience . . . We take on too many relationships and too many responsibilities. We enroll in too many courses, hold down too many jobs, volunteer for too many tasks, make too many appointments, serve on too many committees, have too many friends. We are trying to be all things to all men all at once all by ourselves."

"It is God the Creator who made limits, and it is the same God who placed them within us for our protection. We exceed them at our peril."

(What's funny and demonic about all this is that I know the truth, I just don't do it. I know the good but I don't believe it. God help me. I have an early morning guys group that's reading through this book and we're trying to resist. We desperately want simple and quiet so we can experience contentment and fullness. But goodness gracious you'd think we were trying to find the double helix; or that damned elusive Pimpernel.)