Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two days to go

It's hard to believe we're only two days away. I've been thinking about this symposium since the summer of 2000 when I pulled Laurel Gasque over in the hallways at Regent College and said, "Laurel, I've got this idea for a conference that would bring together artists, pastors, educators and theologians." That was the original idea. She said, "Great. I hope you do it."
And here we are, I'm doing it, and it's so much harder than anything I ever imagined back then. We're ooching toward the 600 mark when we start including the day-rate goers in the mix. It's frightening, really. But it's happening.
It's the eeriest feeling. I was standing outside Hope Chapel this morning, during the service, talking to Melinda Peinado. Off to the side was a cluster of three older women. They kept looking at me. Then one of them walked over to me and said, "Hi, I'm Kevin Delahunty's mother." "Oh my! It's so nice to meet you. I knew Kevin back in the mid '90s. I was just getting started with this whole arts pastor business." "Yes," she said, "and I'm here for your symposium." Oh wow. This funny feeling started wobbling around in my heart.
"Do you know what it means that you're standing in front of me?" I asked her. "No," she said with a bemused look. "It means I really have to do this symposium thing after all. Oh shoot!"
Folks at this moment are driving from Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado and around Texas. Barbara Nicolosi flew in this afternoon. The rest of the gang and hundreds of others descend upon Austin tomorrow.
It's 72 degrees in Austin tonight, 81% humidity. The skies are clear. I'm not done writing my talk on the dangers of artistic activity in the church. I'm beat.
And I've never done anything like this before.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

YouTube: "art in the church" in Austin, TX

My good friend Taylor Martyn walked around the streets of Austin during South by Southwest asking people what they thought about art, church, religion, and other stuff. Very interesting responses. I love that man-on-the-street stuff.
The short version is: here.
The longer, more interesting version is: here.
Many thanks for getting this together, Mister Taylor.
Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Phaedra and I completely, utterly forgot about it until we walked into Hyde Park Gym and muy suave, Jason-with-the-cool-yellow-jeep, reminded us. Then we felt like idiots because we realized one year ago, March 17, 2007, we got engaged at the old medieval masquerade party. Oh man. We were two tired punks.
We're adding an evening rate for the Transforming Culture sympo-ference. It's $25 bucks.
Very exciting, encouraging discovery: that we have, thus far, 51 churches from around Austin sending at least one person to the symposium. That thrills my heart. And it ranges from high Catholic to fervent Pentecostal to Lutheran to emergent to Baptist to Anglican to house church to five-point Presbyterian.
My totally rad gardner-wife built a compost pile heap-of-a-structure in the back yard. That was cool to come home to yesterday.
Went to see STEP UP 2 THE STREETS last night. Oh man, we totally missed our callings. We were so born in the wrong hood; way too tighty whitey. We left the theater thinking: "Baby, we are destined to hip-hop dance." The dancing was so awesome we couldn't stand it.
Today was a beast of a day, by the way, getting the program booklet to the printers. Hoochimama, I had emails rushing in like a viral Resident Evil sequel.
My little sister Stephanie is days, if not seconds, away from giving birth to her second boy child. She is a beautiful-looking woman. She came by yesterday with boy #1, William Speight. Sir William Speight, whom we affectionately call "dooties," is 1.5 years old. I gave him a stick and taught him how to beat the earth as hard as he could. We also demonstrated to the ladies the evolution of field hockey. That's me and Sir William Speight in the picture above. It's his younger days.
Hung out with the Wedgwood Circle guys last week. Met some neat people. Filmmaker David Cunningham (son of Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM) who helmed "To End All Wars" and "The Seeker" and who is one grounded, right-on, humble dude. Also Josh Jackson, editor of PASTE magazine. Erwin McManus, the lead pastor at Mosaic, LA. The right-hand honcho to Philip Anschutz, all-around magnate and lord of Walden Media. Charlie Peacock, whom we had as guest artist at the 2003 HopeArts Festival. Santino from the NOOMA videos. Bobby Bailey from the "Invisible Children" project. And my old mate, the Great Gatsby himself, all-round rabble rouser Gordon Pennington.
I also talked with the folks from Culture House in Kansas City. That was good because Phaedra and I are headed in the direction of a similar arts center for Austin.
One of these days Phaedra and I are going to get around to blogging about our honeymoon. She turned to me the other day and said, "David, do you know what this symposium is?" I said, "What?" She said, "You're planning another wedding." She's dog right.
From a sopping wet, weird weather Austin, Texas, this is Drillbit Taylor.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Donuts, P.T. Anderson, and my conversation with Dwight Lyman Moody

I'm pretty stinking tired these days. This symposium--which people keep wanting to call a conference and I'm of a mind to give in, the Greeks be damned--is chewing my head off; and my sleep. Conference organization is not for the weak of heart. We get a steady stream of encouraging notes, and for those we're grateful, but we also get a steady stream of wacky and angry notes. One fellow is pretty perturbed that we quoted Plato on the front page. Apparently, Christians of good conscience should not quote pagan philosophers--should have no need to quote.
I'll make sure to tell St. Paul that when I see him in paradise.
The book contract for the symposium went through with Baker Books. That was good. As we used to say back in the late '80s, I'm pretty psyched. I'm playing editor to the man (Eugene Peterson) who wrote the Bible (The Message). "No, Eugene, that is a very poor use of a semi-colon. Very poor. You should know better. And you really need to work on your poetic meter. It's a little, how shall we put it, funky?"
No, it'll be fun. This past November I asked N.T. Wright if he would consider writing the forward and he gave me a funny look. It's the same funny look that J.I. Packer and Eugene Peterson give when they're asked that question for the gabillionth time. Bishop Tom said he was positively inclined. We'll see.
In another bit of happy news my book review for Books & Culture just came out. It was especially felicitous that I shared the issue with Herr Jeremy Begbie. My review isn't online yet, but Begbie's is (here). And I can't say I didn't literally sweat my forehead off reading Os Guinness' review of Frank Schaeffer's book, Crazy for God, tied in with Schaeffer's response and Guinness' counter-response. I felt a little like a kid walking through the living room while two grown men, famous in evangelicalism (though Schaeffer long ago shook off the dust of his feet carried by evangelical Christianity in exchange for life in Eastern Orthodoxy), fought loudly, profusely, even caustically over the kitchen table. I found myself wanting to plug my ears. But there you go.
Speaking of violent exchanges: I think the movie "There Will Be Blood," as a story, stunk. Film critics fawned and fainted over it. Even Christian film critics (whom I admire) wrote floridly about Paul Thomas Anderson's script. For the record: I love PT Anderson's work. I'd vote him to my fantasy dinner party for eight any day. But I really think he blew it, at a story level, with TWBB.
Positively: the acting, the music, the cinematography, the costumes, the pace, the set design, the pretty much everything else about the movie was kickingly, awesomely rad. At moments I found myself spellbound by the sound and sight of a particular scene.
But the script and the characterization? I gave it a big, fat, bowel-churning groan. C'mon, people, it was one continental-sized chunk of cheese. Rapacious, greedy capitalist oil man? Booooooooooooooooooorrring. We've seen it a million times. Quacked-out, greedy abusive man of the cloth? Boooooooooooooooooooooooorrring. We've seen it a million times. They were caricatures! Anderson robbed them clean of all humanity. The reason we eventually felt pity for Darth Vader is that we got to see his real face. Behind the black mask (which we're all tempted to wear) there was a fleshy, pulpy, pathetic sad face, a face ruined by evil but not evil itself.
With Daniel Day Lewis' character there was only variations on the theme of un-original evil. The mean bastard we meet at the beginning only becomes more of a mean bastard at the end. Anderson gives us crumbs to feel any compassion for him. At the end of the movie he's simply a quacked-out monster of a man with a lot more money than he started out with. Paul Dano's character ends up un-interestingly whiny and small.
It killed me. I had such high hopes for Anderson's latest output. I really wanted it to be good. But Jeffrey Travis and I just sat there on the couch dumbfounded. That was it? The end? I gave him an F-plus for characterization and a D-minus for story. For spectacle: he gets an A. The movie was spectacular but tedious. It preached to the choir and therefore lost every opportunity to effect genuine transformation in the viewer. So be it.
Speaking grades, I stunk up my radio interview with Moody Bible Institute's "Prime Time America" show. PTA (hm, another PTA) is Moody's version of "All Thing's Considered." The reporters collect interviews then distill them down to a 5-minute story. Phil Fleischman interviewed me for about an hour. That's a lot of material. But did I take advantage of the opportunity to say transforming culture this, transforming culture that, transforming culture this coming April--every 45 seconds? Nooooooooooooooooooo. I just talked about art; which isn't a bad thing, but c'mon folks, I've got a conference--a symposium!--to organize, and increased registrations means I make my budget.
Oh well. I can't get their station anywhere in Texas so I haven't had a chance to listen to it. But, lo, here it is, for March 7, 2008: online. Hm. I wonder how it turned out. I hope I didn't sound like a dork. . . . and Phaedra and I just listened to it. Hm. Interesting. Good times.
And now to my thing with donuts.
Every Good Friday at Hope Chapel we host a service where seven people, seven rather "ordinary" people--that is, non-staff, non-pastor people--from the congregation each give a 5-7 minute reflection on one of the seven last words of Jesus that he spoke on the cross. Hands down, it's my favorite service of the year. It also happens to come under my pastoral purview.
In writing a note of instruction to this year's seven people I ended up drafting an illustration to explain my meaning. I only meant to write two sentences about the donuts but the donut illustration just kept going. Here are the two pieces of counsel I gave them as they set out to write their reflections. And with this I end my feisty entry for the day.
Number 1: Vulnerable, vulnerable, vulnerable.
The stories that have been the most powerful in the past are those that have come from people being vulnerable. It's awful, mind you, but it's sooooo good for your soul and ours. I will pray that God give you the strength and grace you'll need to honestly self-examine your life, to put your thoughts and feelings to paper, and then to speak them to the rest of us.
Remember, it's not a performance, it's not exhibitionism. It's a simple, honest, personal, humble testimony. You are testifying. You are bearing witness. You are bringing us into your life--and that's frightening business. But it's also deeply good. It's good for your brothers and sisters to be reminded of the purifying power of an honest confession: Here I am, here is my life, here is my brokenness, here even is my broken faith, but I'm still standing here: at the cross, with you, not alone, never alone.
Number 2: Seek to be very specific and concrete in your story-telling.
Try to avoid generalities and abstractions. For example, if someone says, "I've struggled all my life with gluttony," that's a general statement. It's true but pretty un-engaging. A specific statement would sound like this: "Every time I pass Krispy Kreme donuts I crave them; and I mean, I really crave them. I crave them because as a child donuts were the way I medicated my feelings after watching my parents fight. Donuts with sprinkles on top numbed the pain. Chocolate-cream-filled donuts put me in La-La Fantasy Land.
"So now as an adult I crave donuts every time something hard happens which is pretty much every morning at 7 AM when I look in the mirror and wonder what has happened to this person. I even keep a stash hidden from everybody else in my house. I know I shouldn't say this out loud, but I just did. I'm addicted to donuts. I don't know how to stop. I'm stuck and I hate it.
"What's worse, I find myself not wanting to invite Jesus in to this place. I don't want him. I want my donuts. And I guess that's just another way of saying I trust my donuts more than I trust Jesus. Butter, sugar, eggs, flour and lots of boiling hot oil vs. the Second Person of the Trinity. Sigh. But you watch your parents fight night after night after bludgeony night without any intervention from the Almighty, then tell me donuts don't save. They do. Sorta. Not really. And so I hear Jesus say, "It is finished," and I think "What's finished!? . . ."
That's specific, concrete and vivid. It's also made up.
But it's probably true for somebody. . . . .

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Dead to Self

A powerful, fruitful, influential artist is one who is dead to self.

This truth isn't peculiar to the artist of course, but it's no less so for me an artist than for the litigation lawyer, urban developer, therapist or space shuttle interior decorator. The only way to be truly humanly alive is to be alive to God, and for that to happen we need to be "dead to self."

In continuation of my series on the marks of a mature believer artist I offer an excerpt from Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart. The chapter heading is, "Radical Goodness Restored to the Soul." It was part of my reading this morning. The great saints of Christendom have written amply on this subject and I heartily recommend a weekly dose of it for a wonder-working experience on the soul. But for today we have Dr. Willard.

Let me introduce the excerpt by making the following assertion, as a kind of companion assertion to my opening statement: The powerful, fruitful, influential community of artists is that which, together and each in his or her way, commits itself to the radical way of humility. Such a commitment becomes for the community both its common vocabulary and its common habit of being. It is what holds them together, through thick and thin, and what rocket-boosts them into unstoppable, earth-renewing, joy-abounding productivity. This is the kind of community for which I earnestly pray here in Austin.

So then: Willard. Stick with him through the first part of this excerpt because he arrives at some potent juicy stuff in the second.

DEAD TO SELF (pgs. 71-72)

In the clear and forceful vision of Jesus and his kingdom, as our personality becomes progressively more reorganized around God and his eternal life, self-denial moves beyond more or less frequent acts to settled disposition and character.

At the first we must very self-consciously deny ourselves--reject the preeminence of what we want, when and as we want it--and we must look to quite specific motions of God's grace in and around us to guide and strengthen us in our occasions of self-denial. We will also need a wise and constant use of disciplines for the spiritual life. This is because, from where we start, the substance of our selves, formed in a world against God, is ready to act otherwise in all of its dimensions, especially in the social and the bodily. Our very habits of thinking, feeling, and willing are wrongly poised. . . .

But there will come a time in the experience of the apprentice of Jesus where it is appropriate to speak of our being dead to self. There is no one way this comes to us, I think, and the language here must be handled carefully. It has been the source of much misunderstanding and harm in the past. But the fact that it represents is a fundamental, indispensable element in the renovation of the heart, soul, and life.

Being dead to self is the condition where the mere fact that I do not get what I want does not surprise or offend me and has no control over me [emphasis added]. Faithful servants of God know the secret, and many have left their testimony. George Mueller of Bristol, England, said,

"There was a day when I died: died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame even of my brethren or friends, and since then, I have studied only to show myself 'approved unto God'."

Small wonder that one said of Mueller that he "had the twenty-third psalm written in his face."

We often speak of those who sleep soundly as being "dead to the world." By that we mean that what is happening around them does not disturb them, that they are unconscious of it and are doing nothing with reference to it. There is an important lesson here, though not a precise parallel.

The one who is dead to self will certainly not even notice some things that others would--for example, things such as social slights, verbal put-downs and innuendos, or physical discomforts. But many other rebuffs to "the dear self," as the philosopher Immanuel Kant called it, will be noticed still, often quite clearly. However, if we are dead to self to any significant degree, these rebuffs will not take control of us, not even to the point of disturbing our feelings or peace of mind. We will, as St. Francis of Assisi said, "wear the world like a loose garment, which touches us in a few places and there lightly."

Does this mean that the person who is dead to self is without feeling? Does Christ commend the famous "apathy" of the Stoic or the Buddhist elimination of desire? Far from it. The issue is not just feeling or desire, but right feeling or desire, or being controlled by feeling or desire [emphasis added]. Apprentices of Jesus will be deeply disturbed about many things and will passionately desire many things, but they will be largely indifferent to the fulfillment of their own desires as such. Merely getting their way has no significance for them, does not disturb them.

They know that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). They do not have to look out for themselves because God--and not they--is in charge of their life. They appropriately look after things that concern them, but they do not worry about outcomes that merely affect adversely their own desires and feelings.

They are free to focus their efforts on the service of God and others and the furthering of good generally, and to be as passionate about such things as may be appropriate to such efforts. . . .

What we surely can say is that those who are dead to self are not controlled in thought, feeling, or action by self-exaltation or by the will to have their own way, but are easily controlled by love of God and neighbor [emphasis added]. They still have some sensitivity to self-will, no doubt, and are never totally beyond the possibility of falling under subjugation to it. Only a proper discipline and grace will prevent this from actually happening. But they no longer are locked in a struggle with it.

Choose evermore rather to have less than more.
Seek ever the lower place and to be under all.
Desire ever to pray that the will of God be all and wholly done.
So, such a one enters the land of peace and quiet.

--Thomas a Kempis