Monday, February 25, 2008

Z' Nasty, Ghastly, Dark, Disturbing Dangers of Art

This entry includes nothing of the sort, I'm afraid. It's just a nod to the Oscars last night, No Country for Old Men and the rest of the bloody gang. But I am beginning my research for my talk at the symposium. My given title is: What are the dangers of artistic activity? See here for the longer version of the question.

And I would covet your opinions and perspectives. Here are a few areas for exploration.

1. Think of your personal experience. What experiences of art for you have been negative or destructive or debilitating or stifling or confusing?

2. Think of your church setting. What are dangers in high church settings and in the low church settings? High art practicies and pop art practices?

3. Think of sins of commission and ommission. In what ways are dangers things done or things left undone? In what ways is a danger a "too much" or a "too little"?

4. Think of cultural and societal patterns. In the advance and proliferation of media technologies, how are the arts being enlisted to serve ends that do not contribute to the well-being of humans or communities or cities?

5. Think of the artist and the audience. What are dangers peculiar to the artist, separate from the work? What are dangers peculiar to an audience--from a mass audience to a select audience?

Think whatever you want. All I care is to hear what you think are dangers--past dangers, present dangers, future dangers, actual dangers, potential dangers, fantasy dangers, small and big, yours and theirs.

Lastly, for fun, in addition to any of your observed dangers, tell me a way in which you might become the one to produce something dangerous; and by dangerous I don't mean daring, prophetic, "people just aren't ready for me yet" kind of dangerous art, I mean good old fashioned, "produced by a fallen creature" dangerous art.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

$150 Student Rate + new Day Rate for TCS

It's going to hail tonight, big honking Texas-sized hail. Last night I watched Nightly News on ABC for the first time in seven years. (Who is that host?) I picked up my granddad's copy of TIME and found three amazing articles: 1) "Downsizing Style: Why kids are the latest consumers of pricey designer clothing and accessories," 2) "The Science of Romance" which explores our evolutionary need for "love," and 3) "Your Own Personal Paparazzi: Want to feel like a celebrity? Just hire people to follow and photograph you for a night," which, good gosh, featured a friend of mine who used to attend Hope Chapel. Your own personal paparazzi. Nice.

Yesterday I drove seven hours back and forth to Dallas in a thick fog for a luncheon to promote the Transforming Culture Symposium. Today I re-arranged my living room with Phaedra, now our living room, and it's throwing me off emotionally. I sent off the contract for the Symposium book. I've got three and a half months left in my job as arts pastor at Hope. I'm behind on my application to St. Andrews. I've got a pile of bills and receipts from the wedding that are overwhelming me.

I'm married and my life is changing at an accelerated pace. 35-plus years of singlehood life don't get shook off easily. My life is weird but not bad weird, just weird weird.

Anyhoo, this entry is a Symposium-only entry.

We'd like to offer a limited discount for students for the Transforming Culture symposium, at a registration price of $150. The fee will provide the same benefits as full price registration. To take advantage of this special rate, please fill out the online registration form and in the comments section at the end of the form, please note you are a student and you will pay by check. Please mail your $150 check, made out to Hill Country Institute, to P.O. Box 1664, Austin, Texas 78767-1664.

Please tell as many students as you know and to any faculty who could make this information known to their students. We sure hope this helps as we really do want as many students involved as possible.

As of yesterday we are offering a day-rate:

$85 for regular registration
$50 for students

But take advantage of it now because it'll go up closer to the time of the symposium. And now it sounds like I'm a commercial on the radio. Oh well. So be it.

We're super excited about the folks who are coming down for the symposium. It's going to be a great experience.

I'm listening to the R&B and Hip-Hop station, my wife is making a smoothie for us, half our living room looks like a wreck, I stink from my workout at the gym, tomorrow I meet with our artist leadership team at Hope. It's Saturday night in Austin, TX.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Joy (Jewish style)

(click picture to enlarge)

In college I read a lot about Jewish-Christian relations. My formal area of study was International Relations and so it was my job to read a lot of accounts of relations, mostly from the Gringo side of things: US-Latin American relations (not so swell), US-Russian relations (cold), US-French relations (a very weird love-hate deal), US-Middle Eastern relations (well, I'm running out of adjectives to describe the same, general relation the US of A has had to other parts of the world throughout the 20th century). Suffice to say, the Brits are pretty much the only semi-constant pals to the Yanks. We're admired around the globe, frequently envied, but not always exactly liked.
But the Jewish people of Israel are a different story. I won't belabor a poli-sci lesson, which others could perform with greater skill than I, but I will say that I was fascinated. Sitting in the architecture library at the University of Texas I rummaged through the Old Testament and the Talmud and stacks of The Economist and the Foreign Affairs journal for information on Jewish life and thought. I devoured Leon Uris' novels, Exodus and Mila 18. My friend Craig Ackermann took me to synagogue once. I shared passover with a rabbi and his family while living in Canada. Chaim Potok changed my life. I was in love with things Jewish.
Somewhere along the way I acquired a fantasy life about Jewish weddings. Mostly it was vague notions, things I probably got from movies and novels. But it exercised a powerful influence on my imagination.
I liked the stepping on a glass that grooms got to do. I told Pheadra while we were in honeymoonland that when we returned to our home in Austin I wanted to smash a plate or something. "Why?" she asked. "I don't know," I said, "I just think it would be cool." In some Jewish traditions this custom is said to be a reminder of the broken fragments of creation and our need to engage in the spiritual reparation of all that God made.
I liked the multi-day festival involved in Middle Eastern weddings, usually requiring a village of bartered labor to pull it off. I liked their betrothal ceremonies (which we ourselves imitated back on St. Patrick's Day last March 2007). I liked their chuppahs. These were the canopies that would be carried by the attendants down streets, singing along the way, to the location of the ceremony and which symbolized the home that the couple would build together--under the open skies, open to God.
I totally liked this photograph I once found. In the picture was a room full of Orthodox Jewish men, all with cascading black and brown and red beards, their yarmulkes perched in place. Their black gowns swam in the air as if under water. They all were grinning and sweating. And they danced around in a circle while a few of them, set in the center of the circle, twirled upside-down on their heads, feet flopped over, around and around. "That's what I want to do when I grow up," I told myself. That's awesome!
I think what I was looking for back then was color and ceremony. I wanted a wedding that said something. I wanted a ceremony that pulled me into something greater than myself. I didn't want just signs of my vows, I wanted symbols. I wanted a multi-sensory drama that said everything I'm doing here matters and none of it fully captures what this is all about but you at least try with every sense available.
And that, to my great astonishment, is what we got on January 20, 2008. After two and a half years of dating, lots of fighting, an awful, miserable break-up, marathonic pre-marital counseling sessions, a Medieval Masquerade Betrothal party, fear, uncertainty, excitement, fickle emotions, intense desire, spats with our own love-affairs with independence, playing superhero dress-up, eating non-stop Chuy's, and a willingness to do God's will no matter what, we finally arrived at our wedding day--and again to our great astonishment--found that all the hard work had ended up making a really, really, really tasty wine of color and ceremony and shared friendship and unquenchable joy.
Towards the end of the long, blessed night, my brother-in-law Clifton David Sims Warner, co-officiant, whiteboy amateur breakdancer and erstwhile national junior racquetball champion, rallies the men of our wedding party, and before I know it I'm being shoved down into a chair and then heaved into the air and bounced up and down, up and down--just like in the Jewish novels!
And then, lo, there is Phaedra, raised high, half by women, half by men who rescue her from sliding off with her satiny champagne-colored dress. She is bouncing in the air alongside me. We start laughing and laughing and laughing.
Then I stop and can only manage to smile, a smile that stretches from one ear to the other and more if it could. The joy is too big. Laughter cannot contain the joy. It is too much. It is much too much. We are fully alive as St. Irenaeus said we would be when thickly placed in the glory of God. We are fully alive.
Our wedding day was like a beautiful, joyful, not so simple feast, or perhaps Jewish-like festival, made out of the finest dark chocolate: we ate and our mouths were filled with laughter.
We ate and our mouths were filled with laughter.