Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Associated Press, Evangelicals, a Church Plant

"I think I'm the only person to leave NPR, go to seminary, then go back to NPR. . . . It was interesting, really, to be the only Christian on staff and be in charge of their arts and humanities department." ~ Ken Myers, executive producer of Mars Hill Audio, speaking at the CIVA conference the evening of June 14th

I spoke with Eric Gorski this afternoon. Eric is the religion correspondent for the Associated Press. He's apparently doing an article about evangelicals and the arts. He said he found a flyer for our "Transforming Culture" symposium; he found it at a coffee shop outside the perimeter of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago. He was curious.
We talked for, I don't know, forty minutes? It was good. It's funny, though, I start hearing echoes in my head during these kinds of conversations. "Have I said these things before? Do I believe them or am I just blah-blah-blahing them? Do I still feel the tension of my early years?" It's strange. I do. I'm planning a wedding, so I'm tired.
I told him we should think of all this evangelical activity as a reformation, not a renaissance. I don't think we're re-newing or re-awakening anything--as evangelicals. We're having to break new ground, re-understand and re-walk our theological and ecclesial identity. I don't know how to get around that. We can't blithely grub through history and pull whatever willy nilly thing we please to justify our actions. That's sloppy and dangerous. It won't help us create anything long-lasting.
I talked with Bill Dyrness at the CIVA conference. He's a Fuller seminary prof., doing theology, culture, art and such, a really great guy; great conversationalist. I just bought his tome, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture (Cambridge Press), can't wait to start reading it.
I asked him, "What do we do with Jean Calvin?" A lot of us, whether we like it or not, conscious of it or not, are cueing off of him. If we're Protestants it's either him or the other big three. We can't pick our genetic influences, they're just there. We deal with them as best we can.
Luther wasn't much help, Zwingli and Menno Simons even worse in re the arts.
"Do we say he got most things right, some things right?" I asked Dyrness, an MK friend of my father's back in the yesteryear of mid-20th century missions. "Do we say he got the art thing wrong? Straight up--what's your opinion?" He said, "Yes, that's what we have to do. He got a few things about the arts right, but he got other things wrong." (That's my paraphrase of his answer.)
It was refreshing. I love Calvin, but I just needed a little permission to say no to the big man. He's a little bit intimidating. You're not infallible, Monsieur. I respect and honor much of what you said and did, but I don't have to accept that you got everything right about Christian doctrine and life. Surely you were reacting just a wee bit to Le Arts?
Back to Gorski, I told him what we, evangelicals (broadly speaking), were doing with the arts was not ex nihilo. We're a part of an historical continuity--threading back through the emergent uprisings of the last ten years, the writings of the Trinitarians in Britain in early '90s, the CCMers in the '80s, the Jesus Movement and hippie movement of the '70s, the charismatic movement of the '60s, the writings of grandpapa Schaeffer, the intellectual restlessness of Carl F. H. Henry and Billy Graham, the arrival of the neo-fundamentalist movement of the '40s (aka evangelicalism), the ruminations of the Dutch Calvinists Dooyewaard and Kuyper . . . and then trailing into a thick fog and landing only God knows where.
This is going to be my latest project: to draw a nice little family tree of evangelicals and the arts, with crayons and arrows and question marks for the disappearing lines of connection.
I told him the symposium was seeking to help us mature. Four domains are critical to this work of artistic maturation: the individual artist, the professional society or para-church org, the church, and the educational institutions (seminaries, Julliards, high school art teachers). We, with the symposium, were coming alongside the church and its workers, the pastors.
What are you liberating people from? For starters, I said, religious pragmatism, theological rationalism and garden variety gnosticism. For starters.
I told him what was happening around Austin. I told him it was complicated and frustrating and slow but worthwhile. I told him a lot of things I've forgotten already. My head is tired.
Meanwhile, we have an arts festival to enjoy.
A church planter in Austin
I had a fine conversation this afternoon with a fine gent, Jonathan Dodson. He's planting a new church in Austin. He asked to meet at Austin Java to talk about the arts in Austin. I get rather self-conscious after a while. I don't know. I see what I see, but I'm not always sure what we're supposed to be doing. I just look at landscapes, I see the patterns, I see different ways that things can be done, I see some successes over here and some failures over there. Our conversation inspired me to think about something that I'd not thought before: "What would you do if you were starting a new church in Austin? How would you go about reaching artists?"
Shoot. Great question.
I got stuck with all the kinds of ways to answer that question. I stumbled for a while, then decided I should just hack my way to an answer. Now, a few hours later, I'm gnawing, impatiently, for a better answer. What would I do?
All I have to say is that after our conversation my admiration for church-planters is eighty storeys high. That's a serious deal, with a lot of courage and endurance and good humor needed. God bless him.
(Photo: Interviewing Charlie Peacock, Arts Festival 2003)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The 8th HopeArts Festival -- at last!

Here is the PSA our lyrical PR man, John Rasco, wrote up today and began sending out. A lot of work and a lot of hands have gone in to making this festival a success. Your team is everything and I've had an excellent one this year. God bless 'em. I'm proud of them. We've got a "zero embarrassment" festival on our hands: embarrassing ourselves neither as Christians nor as artists. Thank God for many years to learn our lessons well. We've needed every single one.


(Community-Wide Festival, July 12-22, 2007)

AUSTIN, TEXAS – Any mention of Austin brings to mind images of creativity and a city which celebrates community through festivals. For many artists, dancers, poets and musicians, public performance is the whole purpose behind years of training and hours of practice—to see the gift of their creativity shared with an appreciative audience. It’s not surprising, then, that Christian artists—the group U2 are Christians who make art, not “Christian art”—have created a uniquely Austin festival, the 8th HopeArts Festival, running from July 12 through July 22, 2007.

From East Austin to Sixth Street to classic Austin neighborhoods, the HopeArts Festival intentionally goes where people are, bringing a unique contribution of passion, excellence, faith, jubilation and community. According to David Taylor, the festival’s founder and the arts pastor of Hope Chapel, many people first experience their spiritual nature in “an esthetic epiphany.” “Whether it’s a provocative film by Alejandro González Iñárritu or listening to a plaintive song by Patty Griffin, the beauty expressed by artists reveals the resonant presence of God, an echo of his own creativity at the dawn of time, in the life of Christ, in the ongoing work of his Spirit” said Taylor. “That’s worth celebrating, and not just annually.”

Schedule of Events

July 12 (Thu): Acoustic Showcase (The Parish Room, $5) 8 pm
July 13 (Fri): Visual Art Opening (Hope Chapel), 7-10 pm,
8 pm – performance art plus gallery talk
July 14 (Sat): Children’s Art Pavilion (Hope Chapel), 10 am-12 noon; Classical Music Concert (810 W. 31st St., $5), 8 pm
July 15 (Sun): Interview with Guest Visual Artist, Pamela Nelson (Hope Chapel), 9 am & 11 am; “5-Minutes Max with Artists,” (Hope Chapel), 3 pm

July 20 (Fri): Spoken Word (Café Mundi), 7 pm
July 21 (Sat): “Creativity Circus” (Hope Chapel), 9 am – 2 pm; “C.S. Lewis on Stage,” (Hope Chapel, $5), 7 pm
July 22 (Sun): Interview w/ Guest Performing Artist, David Payne (Hope Chapel), 9 am & 11 am

Note: Hope Chapel events are at 6701 Arroyo Seco. The venue is just a few blocks north of Koenig Lane, in the Brentwood neighborhood.


Acoustic Showcase (The Parish Room, $5) The 8th Annual HopeArts Festival presents its Acoustic Showcase Thursday, July 13 at The Parish Room, upstairs at 214 East Sixth. This evening of performances by local artists includes singer-songwriters, troubadours, and rockers with unique combinations of passion, excellence and faith. Join us for a one-of-a-kind concert event.

Visual Art Opening (Hope Chapel) This juried show showcases the work of over 30 local and regional artists, including the work of this year’s guest visual artist, Pamela Nelson, from Dallas. The reception, at Hope Chapel on Friday, July 14, opens at 7:00 pm, with performances at 8:00 – modern dance by Annette Christopher and electronic music by David Kline. Guest visual artist’s talk at about 8:20, and the reception closes at 10:00 pm. Notable for her passion for art in public places, Pamela Nelson has an eight year appointment to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, which meets every month to review art and architecture in Washington. She was the design artist for four light-rail stations, a recent commission at DFW Airport.
Classical Music Concert (810 W. 31st St., $5) ‘Classical in the Hood’: This Concert takes place in Central Austin's Heritage Neighborhood at the historic Bellmont-Cogdell House, 810 West 31st Street, July 14, 2007 at 8 pm. Enjoy the home's gardens before the concert. Doors open at 7:30 -- seating is limited, so reserve your space by calling 459-8848 and show up by 7:45!
“5-Minutes Max with Artists,” (Hope Chapel) On Sunday, July 15, at 3 pm, artists selected for the HopeArts exhibition will have the opportunity to discuss their work and answer questions. Each artist will have 5 minutes, so it’s a great opportunity to get inside a wide range of some very creative minds.
Spoken Word (Café Mundi) Come join us for an evening of lyrical beauty as artists recite poems, essays, and reflections under the stars at Cafe Mundi. The cafe is located at 1704 East 5th Street, just a block east of Comal. Bring your outdoor chair, sip a latte, and enjoy some great cafe dining. The Spoken Word is one night only, Friday, July 20. The first artist will go on promptly at 7pm.
“C.S. Lewis on Stage,” (Hope Chapel, $5) Guest performing artist David Payne performs at Hope Chapel, 6701 Arroyo Seco. Inspired by C.S. Lewis' autobiography Surprised by Joy, "An Evening with C.S. Lewis" is an uplifting one man play about the victories and defeats that make a man a legend. With his trademark wit, the world-renowned author, played by David Payne, shares the remarkable events that shaped his life, including his journey into faith and the tragic death of his wife that made him question it all.

About HopeArts
Launched in 1998 as a celebration of visual, poetic and performance art, the HopeArts festival grew out of founder David Taylor’s desire to foster a community of artists committed to producing a kind of art he called “gracious subversive.” As Arts Pastor at Austin’s Hope Chapel, a small church in the middle of a central-city multicultural neighborhood, Taylor has spent the last eleven years shepherding believer artists away from a utilitarian mindset and toward a more holistic and hospitable esthetic. Austin’s eclectic creative landscape has proven the perfect environment for Hope Chapel’s reformative ministry through the arts.
PS: Many thanks to Samantha Wedelich for the festival design/logo. She's a bang-up designer with a mean eye for color. I've always found her artwork imbued with a poignant emotion, like a kind of sad longing; but very beautiful.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Symposium, a Festival, a Book

"I was in a crisis and went looking for a priest . . . . I found Fyodor Dostoeivsky." ~ Eugene Peterson
"Somebody has said that every nation begins with poetry and ends with algebra, and passion has always refused to express itself in algebraical terms." ~ William Butler Yeats
Goodness gravy. This is quite a season we're in.

The Symposium Swims Along
We're getting a stead trickle of registrations; very encouraging that. It feels like we've communicated along the way with a who's who of Christians involved in the arts from high church to emergent, from Corpus Christi, TX, to southern France and the highlands of Scotland. What a curious lot we Christians are.
The first early-Jurassic deadline is close coming to an end. After June 15 the fee jumps from $167 to $189, so if you're interested in a really old dead bird deal, now's your time. You can go here.
We're investigating various guest artist possibilities for the event, from Sufjan Stevens to Scott Derrickson to Anne Rice to Ed Knippers. Shoot, we should see if Mel Gibson wants to fire a few hot potatoes out of his arsenal of unexpected wonders. We're open to suggestions if anybody has any. The invitation would be to give a 10 minute testimony about their life as a vocational artist in the marketplace (not so much the Christian sub-culture) and then take a Q&A during a seminar.
Speaking of workshops, we're very much open to ideas. We have limited time and space, but we want to serve pastors practically. So we're looking for seminars to explore the basic media and their place within the life of the church--the worship, the discipleship and the mission of the church:
- Visual Art
- Theater/Drama
- Dance
- Poetry
- Architecture
- Video/Film
We've had some great suggestions come in thus far:
-- "A Q&A with a panel of non-Christian artists sharing their opinions and impressions with pastors, how they perceive the Church"
-- "Art and those Unwieldy, Pesky Emotions"
-- "A Q&A with the editor of Paste Magazine"
-- "A Who's Who and What's What in the Contemporary Visual Art World"
-- "7 Ways your church can be a patron of the arts, with Erik Lokkesmoe"
-- "The Church NOW, Not Just the Church FUTURE: Nurturing Young Artists in the Church, with David Dark and Sarah Masen-Dark."
Please let us know what you think would work great and who.
The Felix HopeArts Festival
"Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of." ~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
We've received the entries and are now making decisions. Though it will be smaller than previous years, we feel the events will be quite strong. Our special guest artists will be the public art works artist Pamela Nelson and the British actor David Payne who will perform a one-man show on C.S. Lewis.
At our last Arts Festival Council meeting we had a spirited discussion about a painting that was under consideration for entry. It contained a partial nude. Ah, the nude. What a beautiful thing. We've yet to have a boring conversation about nude art, not with paintings, not with sculptures, not with films, not with plays, and we've had them all. One of these days I want to put all these stories and my biblical ramblings to paper. I shall say it again: ah, the nude.
The Book that Made Me a Man
"I am so sorry to have wearied you with so long a letter but I did not have time to write you a short one." ~ Blaise Pascal, writing to a friend
I have a little aphorism that I run around with at Hope Chapel.
"Nothing begets nothing. But something does beget something, even if it's crap. But crap will lead you home."
If I write nothing on paper, nothing will happen. I am 100% guaranteed that. If I write something, then that something will lead to other somethings and eventually to something good. But it's one thing to speak an aphorism with great sagacious eloquence. It's another to practice what you preach.
So these past two weeks I've holed myself up in the Austin Presbyterian seminary (where Richard Niebuhr once gave his famous lectures on Christ & culture). I vowed on pain of death, or at least a nasty self-scolding and the threat of making myself wander naked through my neighborhood till I was sufficiently embarrassed, that I would finish my book proposal for Baker in the month of June.
Progress has been made. This past Thursday I worked eleven hours. Mind you, the last five were blubbery excrement. As I walked out under the cover of dusk I thought, "Well a first draft is a first draft. It's obese and it stanks, but it's done." Here is a sample of something begetting something:
"A Social Darwinist in Church"
It’s not every day that a pastor hears profanity in his own sanctuary. I have heard it three times.
Once I heard it from my own lips. Once a young worship leader who, feeling so distraught over the sin in the world, forgot where he was and prayed into the microphone that God would save us from all this s___. Once I heard it from Peter Nevland, a skinny redheaded poet who once worked as an engineer for Motorola.

It was the summer of 1997. I was in my second internship at Hope Chapel. I’d just returned from seminary in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had taken a day job working as a bus-boy at the locally famous tex-mex restaurant, Chuy’s. The idea for a play about a social Darwinist came to me in the middle of the incessant clearing, wiping, and setting up of tables with a fresh combo of chips and salsa.
It was the tale of a boy who grew up to murder his high school friends. Surrounded as I was by a motley crew of happy heathens, many of whom I really, really liked— margarita-slinging, Kurt Cobain-haired bartenders, sexy-legged cocktail servers, free-spirited, costume-wearing waiters, pot-smokers, atheists, a lesbian here, a Dia De Los Muertos fan there—I thought, What if? What if a true believer social Darwinist put aside his pesky emotions and whacked his childhood friends. For what reason? They embodied the society-soiling seven classical vices. . . .
. . . . The devil belongs outside the sanctuary. That’s for sure. But do drums belong outside, along with the devil, as Lowell Hart contends in Satan’s Music Exposed? Are clichés of the devil? Should we burn them at the stake? . . .

"A Biblical Basis for the Arts"
Because our kind is a People of the Book we must look at what the Bible says. We must also look at what it doesn’t say about the arts or maybe only hints at or creates the possibility for. We must allow the Scriptures to speak freely to us and for us to stand under their authority. We must allow the Bible to be what it is: a book recording the salvific message of God to all humanity. In doing this we release the Bible from being what we might like it to be, for example, a comprehensive encyclopedia explaining everything that there is to know about all actual and potential human experience, including those things that might happen in fairyland.

This is a great relief! We are not lost at sea because the Bible hasn’t told us whether an Apple or PC is more Jesus-like, or what schooling—home, private, public—would please God more, or what banana smoothie is most biblical. We are safe. We are free.

The kicker is this: While the Bible tells us a thousand good things about art it does not tell us everything we need or want to know, nor does it pretend to, yet God frees us to continue exploring new worlds, new forms, new experiences of art as a way of fulfilling his mandate in Genesis to tend the garden of earth—impressionistic painting styles, balletic dancing, new media, utterly unknown to Peter, James and John, such as animated film and synthpop and the iambic pentameter.

How do we know whether our new explorations are good Christianly speaking? That’s where theology comes in. . . .
(PHOTO: John McGaughy playing at Threadgill's at the 2005 HopeArts Festival.)