Friday, May 30, 2008

T Minus 3: July 30, 1996

This is the first letter that I wrote to Hope Chapel's congregation about a possible arts ministry. It's funny. I was 24 when I wrote it, which in some societies is old, in others still young. I'm struck by a tone of earnestness. I was. Very. I had no idea what I was doing or what I supposed to be doing.
And I hate to say it but I'm consistently embarrassed by a streak of melodrama I detect in things I wrote during my 20s. I was a very passionate guy. Too much unharnassed passion flying all over the place; metaphors blundering through sentences. I remember feeling desperate for mentors. I needed help. But where was I supposed to look? Who else had built an arts ministry from mostly zero? Mind you, this is still the era of early Internethood usage. So it's not like I hung out in googleland, surfing for the kindred. I got pamphlets in the mail, that's what I got. And "phone trees."
I guess I did the best I could with what I had, which was to cobble together a plan from disparate sources: theology, biblical studies, writings by artists such as L'Engle and Wolterstorff, organizational management (woefully underprepared there), spiritual theology, and a smattering of philosophy: in short, all the courses I took my first year at Regent College.
Oh well. I had to begin somewhere, and let my younger self be young.

At least I had one thing right: to begin with prayer.
This is what resulted.
July 30, 1996

Dear so-and-so,

What we are attempting to do here at Hope Chapel, i.e. develop a viable, long-term arts program, is, I believe, one of those things that Jesus said would not come about except by prayer and fasting. The challenges we face are formidable and our Enemy would rather see us founder upon the rocks of selfishness and frustration than achieve any progress towards the integration of the arts into our community life. But on our knees in humility before God, the Spirit of God is freed to effect the work he has already begun in our midst.
With this in mind, we want to dedicate the month of August to a purposeful period of prayer and fasting for the arts at Hope. These are four NEEDS that confront us in the immediate future:

1) Need for a Vision: to guide and inspire. Where there is no vision, the people perish. But with a vision, the people prosper. We have direction, we have clarity, and we have purpose.

2) Need for Community: in harmony and unity. Creativity is fully realized only in community--with the Trinity, with others, and with nature. Indeed, we were created to be in community. God calls us into community to serve and to love it and to bless it with the works of art we make with our hands, minds, voices and bodies. We cannot do it alone. We need each other.

3) Need for a Model: as infrastructure and integrating mechanism. The model must fit Hope Chapel, its larger vision and purpose. Like Goldilocks, it can’t be too big nor too small but just right. It needs to be an infrastructure that could best facilitate the integration of the arts into Hope Chapel. Without a model, we remain haphazard and rudderless. With it, we gain focus and stability.

4) Need for a Team of Shepherds: to shepherd the arts and artists of Hope Chapel. We need a group of men and women who are wise, discerning and good at listening--to both God and fellow artist. A team that would serve a mediating function between the leadership at Hope and the community of artists within Hope. Shepherds that would tend the arts and care for the needs of the artists. Shepherds with a heart to serve.

To this end, please set apart a significant portion of your month to intercede and fast on behalf of the arts and artists at Hope: for wisdom, clarity and insight, and for an obedient spirit to join the larger movement of God in our city, nation and world.


David Taylor

Thursday, May 29, 2008

T Minus 4: May 21, 1996

I'm not sure how I'm going to introduce myself after Sunday. I honestly feel a little queasy about it, a little melancholy. It took me two years to get used to people calling me "pastor." So strange. Am I still an arts pastor on Monday? Am I a pastor? A writer? A guy? I haven't made art in three years.

I'm four days away from the end of my time at Hope Chapel and the reminiscing is starting to take over. Here is a journal entry I wrote during the fifth HopeArts Festival, on July 13, 2002, nearly six years ago. Near the bottom I recall the lunch I shared with Ron Parrish and Jack Dorman in which they officially invited me to be a church intern. That lunch took place on May 21, 1996. Goodness gracious, so much has happened since then.

July 13, 2002
w. david o. taylor
A Diary of an Arts Pastor
The Ragamuffin Film Fest

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. ~Ps. 37:4

The Confession
I made my first confession to Jeff Fish while standing a couple of feet away from the guacamole. “I don’t believe it,” I told him. A glass of Gingerale fizzled in my hand. I looked at my watch. It was 11:43 pm. My head hurt. The post-film fest party swirled around us, throbbing with high-pitched voices, bodies wound-up, sweating, swirling. “The Psalmist,” I said, “I don’t think I ever have believed that verse.” Jeff looked at me funny; his forehead wrinkled. “Who cares if it’s in the Bible.” I raised my voice.

“I still don’t believe it. I know life. It’s complicated. The bad guys win. They do. The good guys get ignored, or shot in the head, or told to wait for their reward when they die. It’s not a formula!” I ranted like a man without sleep for three days. “You can’t put two coins of Delight into the machine and get out a can of Desire. It doesn’t work. Never has!” Jeff nodded at me patiently.

The Passion
I cannot possibly tell you what an exciting adventure it was, day after day, attacking that rentable machine, shoving in dimes, pounding away like a crazed chimp, rushing upstairs to fetch more dimes, running in and out of the stacks, pulling books, scanning pages, breathing the finest pollen in the world, book dust, with which to develop literary allergies. Then racing back down blushing with love, having found some quote here, another there to shove or tuck into my burgeoning myth.

I was, like Melville’s hero, madness maddened. I had no way to stop. I did not write Farenheit 451—it wrote me. There was a cycling of energy off the page, into my eyeballs, and around down through my nervous system and out through my hands. The typewriter and I were Siamese twins, joined at the fingertips.

[Ray Bradbury, describing the process of writing Farenheit 451 in 1951.]

The Interview
Marc Savlov, principal film editor for The Chronicle, asks me, “Who are you? Where do you guys come from?” Perelandra, I say. “We’ve been around.” I tell him that had Jesus visited us today in America, he would have been hired by AdBusters. Marc says he probably would have been put in jail too. We laugh through the phone. That Jesus. So subversive. At the end of the interview Marc asks me, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” Sure, Would the Chronicle like to hire Jesus?

The Big Screen
A bald-headed Mitch, manager for the night at the Alamo Drafthouse, looks at me and says, “You guys are doing a good job.” His tone is phlegmatic. Months earlier we’d asked the Alamo for Friday and Saturday night. They gave us Saturday night only. Mr. Sinus Theater, they informed us, would not be transgressed. It was their cash cow. We were Christians. So we asked for Sat night 7 and 9 pm: primetime movie time. They gave us instead 7 and 4:30: swimming pool time. We asked to split ticket sales 50%-50%; they asked for 60%-40%. We asked for food service; they almost forgot. We asked for a projectionist; they said, “Get one yourself.”

Finally it was Showtime. I asked how many tickets we’d sold for the 7 pm show. They said we’d oversold. Our cow was bulging at the shanks. Chairs would have to be added to the aisles. Drinks were bought and drunk and re-bought. 20% tips flew into waiters’ pockets. Money poured out of unexpected udders. Mitch and the assistant manager shake my hand and grin. If you’re a filmmaker in Austin, you want two people on your side: The Chronicle and the Alamo movie theaters. And sometimes the mountains really do get laid low and paths are made straight.

The Question
May 21, 1996, a corner table in a Chinese restaurant. I can’t quite remember which, somewhere off Far West Boulevard. They all smell the same to me, white man raised in Central America. I sit across from a senior pastor named Ron Parrish. I barely know Ron and Jack Dorman who though huggable like a bear, I find suspicious like all Assembly of God-raised worship leaders. Gnawing on my greasy egg role I recall the famous words of the third-century church father Tertullian: “What does Pentecostalism have to do with Theological Graduate School?”

Ron leans over the table and smiles. “So David, what would you like to do?” I take a sip of my lemon water, wipe my lips with my starchy cloth napkin. The question. This is the question they’ve been waiting to ask me. Jack picks disinterestedly at his too-fried rice. What do I want to do—as an intern at Hope Chapel, my first ever church internship? I swore to myself in college that I would never end up in a job where I was stuck inside the four walls of a church office building. I couldn’t imagine something more boring than that. What do church interns do?

I wonder what my non-Christian Chuy’s friends will think. My chicken and cashews grow cold with waiting. “I’d like to teach a class on world religions and I’d like to muck around with art.” Ron chews on his broccoli-soaked beef strips, switching from the left side of his mouth to his right, back and forth, and back again. Jack stares at me through his beady eyes. Is that a verb, I think to myself? To muck. Possibly. It’s sufficiently ambiguous to trick us all into thinking that I know what I’m talking about. “Sure,” Ron says, after rinsing his mouth with iced tea. He looks over to Jack for agreement. “Sure,” Jack repeats.

Sure. That’s it. Just sure. I can’t figure if we’re all really na├»ve or if I’m sitting in front of two amazingly trustworthy people. Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourselves into?

Six years later I’m sitting in a densely packed Alamo Drafthouse, voted “Best Theater in Austin,” with a copy of Marc’s article in my back pocket and the words of the Psalmist floating through the back door of my head. I still don’t believe in formulas. Or Desire Machines. I do believe however in a God whose imagination is greater than mine.

I never would have imagined this—this Ragamuffin Film Festival—sitting at that corner table in that nameless Chinese restaurant back in the spring of 1996.

Sure you can muck around with art.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Balthasar, Barzun, and the British hams on art

The two quotes below come from my reading of Edward T. Oakes' essay, "The Apologetics of Beauty," in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts. The video clip comes courtesy of a group of British thespians who play the most wondermous jest on unsuspecting travelers at Stansted Airport, London.

Balthasar's comments, though arriving from a mid-20th century German Catholic, ought give us evangelicals great pause, and beyond that, Americans in general. Barzun nails one of the worst habits in the contemporary art world. The thespians make me jealous that a) I didn't think of it first, and b) they didn't invite me to join in!

Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics (Ignatius, 1982, p. 152).

"For the moment the essential thing is to realize that, without aesthetic knowledge, neither theoretical nor practical reason can attain to their total completion. If the verum lacks the splendor which for Thomas is the distinctive mark of the beautiful, then the knowledge of truth remains both pragmatic and formalistic. The only concern of such knowledge will then merely be the verification of correct facts and laws, whether the latter are laws of being or laws of thought, categories and ideas.

"But if the bonum lacks the voluptas, which for Augustine is the mark of its beauty, then the relationship to the good remains both utilitarian and hedonistic: in this case the good will involve merely the satisfaction of a need by means of some value or object, whether it is founded objectively on the thing itself giving satisfaction or subjectively on the person seeking it."

The key words to pay attention to are: pragmatic and formalistic, utilitarian and hedonistic. That's what he claims our lived and taught gospel will become if it is devoid of Beauty, its apperception, appreciation and application.

In short: not a good thing. Nor true.

Jacques Barzun, The Use and Abuse of Art (Princeton Press, 1974, 17):

"Nowadays anything put up for seeing or hearing is only meant to be taken in casually. If it holds your eye and focuses your wits for even a minute, it justifies itself and there's an end of it. . . .

"The Interesting has replaced the Beautiful, the Profound, and the Moving. [But] if modern man's most sophisticated relation to art is to be casual and humorous, [if it] is to resemble the attitude of the vacationer at the fair grounds, then the conception of Art as an all-important institution, as a supreme activity of man, is quite destroyed. One cannot have it both ways--art as a sense-tickler and a joke is not the same art that geniuses and critics have asked us to cherish and support. Nor is it the same art that revolutionists call for in aid of the Revolution."

And now for the British hams at the Stansted airport. . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

And now for something a little different...

It's 98 degrees in Austin, TX. Winds are SSW running at 1 MPH. Summer is saying hi today, loudly.

It's T-minus 12 days to June 1, my last day on the job as arts pastor.

I have poison ivy. I hate poison ivy, hate it with a maniacal passion. Seven years ago I climbed a tree spun like a scarf with "leaves of three" and I came away with a virulent reaction that left my arms, legs and stomach looking like a boil-infested wasteland. And it wasn't so much the burning, itching, pussing, physical irritation that left me messed up. It broke me emotionally. The boils kept breaking out. I was paranoid. My right leg swelled to twice its size. I leaked pus all through the night for two weeks straight.

Poison ivy freaks me out. And now I have it again and I've no idea where the toxic oils still are. Are they on the door of my car? On my golf bag? On my baseball cap? On my shoelaces? It's life inside an M. Night Shyamalan movie: they could be anywhere.

My sermon this last Sunday was "A Disciple of Jesus is thankful and contented." My text: Colossians. Not a few people pointed out the irony--the providence?--of the timing. I called it "method" preaching. I declared in my opening statement:
"For those who plunge into Jesus' cruciform, resurrected life, there is the sure knowledge that we live under the provision of God’s bountiful hand, extended always in grace towards us. Because of this we are able to live deeply grateful, deeply contented, whether in plenty or in want, in suffering or in strength, abased or abounding."
Poison ivy has abased me. My photographer friend Erin Farmer photographed my episode seven years ago and put it in the Lenten art exhibit.

Art redeems all things.
Phaedra and I went to the ballet last Friday evening. Gorsky's "Don Quixote" was playing. We're suckers for the classical pomp of ballet, and Austin Ballet did a fantastic job, even if it only faintly resembled Cervantes' voluminous masterpiece.
We're about to finish season of three of our latest addiction, Project Runway.

A childhood friend from my Austrian school days has tracked me down through my blog: Rodolfo "Chofo" Caceres. We-ird. I haven't spoken to him in over 18 years. He and I used to ride the same school bus home, 45 minutes long. We'd trade belts and shoes and shirts and see if our mothers noticed. We wore uniforms. It was a private school. I spent an entire week on vacation with his extended family. That's the way things worked in Guatemalan culture. Families did stuff together.
I'm headed to Nashville the second weekend of August. I'll be speaking at the conference sponsored by Artists in Christian Testimony. It'll be great to connect with the artist community in Nashville. Dolly Parton, here we come.
We saw Prince Caspian on Sunday night. It was entertaining but far from enchanting--woefully unenchanting. Phaedra and I feel the Harry Potter movies do such a better job of provoking magical wonder; the good kind of magic of course, the kind that Tolkien and Lewis rattled on about and which surely Adam and Eve felt daily wandering around the first Eden. What a shame. I feel like these movies are being squandered.

Jeffrey Overstreet has performed us a huge favor by summarizing the discussion amongst believer film critics: here. That boy is a machine of a blogger.

The greatest crime of the Narnia movies so far: They don't make me want to live in Narnia, and Narnia is where it's happening; the country of Narnia is what will hold the cinematic series together. Andrew Adamson has completely missed not just the boat but the entire ocean on that one. Let's ask IHOP to intercede night and day for Michael Apted.
And check out this wacky piece of Keith Green nostalgia: a boy wonder at age 11.

The latest book delivery courtesy of Amazon Books to the mailbox ye ole arts pastor:

1. The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, edited by Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands and Roger Lundin
2. The Arts of the Beautiful, by Etienne Gilson
3. Theology and the Arts: Encountering God through Music, Art and Rhetoric, by Richard Viladesau
4. Religious Aesthetics: A Theological Study of Making and Meaning, by Frank Burch Brown

My latest favoritest word: dumb. I'm saying it eight or nine times per day. A lot of traffic lights around Austin are dumb. The Fantastic Four movie was very dumb. Buying lots of books and never reading them is dumb; my occupational hazzard. I'm not afraid of calling myself dumb. Poison ivy is dumb.

Phaedra and I have had so much fun hanging out the last two days. We're laughing often and it's really quite nice.

Andy Crouch has graciously invited me to contribute an essay to The Christian Vision project. This year's question is: "Is our gospel too small?" I'm really looking forward to working on this. I think I have a good idea of what my answer will be. Now it's a matter of finding the right words.

Speaking of wacky, every once and a while a spirit of absurdity comes over me. I get a voice in my head. I feel it in my mouth, forming into a persona, and I start talking in that voice over and over as I walk around the house folding my laundered clothes, eating a snack out of the pantry, sitting down in my window chair to stare out at the squirrels digging up our garden, talking to no one in particular, savoring the sounds in my ear.
This time it was a German university student from the mid 1980s; likely the University of Tubingen. He's just discovered the novels of David Maine. His English is broken. But no matter, he has teutonic, if also odd-duck because he's been stuck in a library too long, conviction. He has new wave hair. He's wearing my glasses circa 1987.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

TCS Audio Sales: Part 1

Folks, it's been a dog to get these CD recordings in place for sale; more specifically, it's been a dog to get both CD and MP3s ready for sale simultaneously. I sincerely apologize for the delay. Our webmistress is moving inter-state and packing up her computer, web files and all. Our initial efforts to get things into motion have been derailed by the weirdest obstacles.

So here we are. This will be an official announcement that if you wish to purchase a CD of any of the main talks you may currently do so by writing the TCS at the following address:

P.O. Box 1664 Austin, TX 78767-1664

This will be the "quick and dirty" means to get copies of the CD. Soon--and very soon--we'll have swifter ways to get these to you. But if you wish to hold the recordings in your hands and re-live all the glory of Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson, John Witvliet, David Taylor, Barbara "Habanero Spice Girl" Nicolosi, and Jeremy Begbie, please keep reading.

All sales need to be paid for by check. Please make check out to "Hill Country Institute." Each CD is $6.00. Please add $1.00 shipping per CD. For individual orders of 12 or more CDs, we will waive shipping.

Orders will be processed upon receipt of a check.

Please include in your note to us the address you wish us to send the CDs to, how many of which talks, and contact info in case we need to get ahold of you. Email us with any question at: info(AT)transformingculture(DOT).org.

This, at the very least, will get things rolling for those of you who wish to own a very excellent collection of talks on CD. Hopefully very, very soon we will have the capacity for people to download MP3s. They'll be $4.99 each.

About the DVDs, we had an awful technical snafu and none of the audio recorded onto the video. We are going to have go through the laborious process of dubbing the separate audio recordings onto the video files. But that'll take time. There's hope. All is not lost. We shall not be overcome. But this will take some gracious perseverance to accomplish.

And we thank you in advance for your patience, interest and prayers.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Prayer for the Artists

This is a prayer we used as a collect at the end of each worship session during TC symposium. It was something Bryan Brown, our fearless worship leader, adapted from Herbert Whittaker's "Prayer for the Artists" (1987).

For those of you who've inquired into audio copies of the main talks I so appreciate your patience. God-willing we will have something ready to go by the end of this week. Please pray for us that all will go well.


Lord, remember your artists.
Have mercy upon them and remember with compassion all those that reflect the good, the ill, the strengths and the weaknesses of the human spirit.
Remember those who raise their voices in unending song,
those who pour their souls into music loud and soft.
Remember those who put pigment to surface,
carve wood and stone and marble,
who work base metals into beauty,
those building upwards from the earth toward heaven.
Remember those who put thought to paper by computer and by pen;
the poets who delve,
the playwrights who analyze and proclaim,
the dreamers-up of narrative,
all those who work with the light and shadows of film.
Remember the actors moved by Spirit and dancers moving through space.

Remember all these artists whom you have placed among us, for are they not, O Lord, the fellows of your inspiration?
Do they not, Lord God, bring to your people great proof of your divinity and our part in it?
Remember your artists and show them mercy and compassion that they may do the same and so uplift all your people.
That they may cry forth your praises, as we do here.
Amen! Amen! Amen!

(PHOTO: Worshiping together and Bryan Brown standing next to Luci Shaw while we speak this very collect.)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Portland and Imago Dei: A Top Ten

Brief prologue to actual entry:
Phaedra and I have sent out our support letter today. We're 1 month to RD: Resignation Day, June 1. Hoo-ha. I met with David Cassidy for lunch today. He's top dog over at Redeemer Presbyterian here in town. Good guy, he. Great lunch. I talked over the phone yesterday with the boys over in Talhahassee who are working on the The Door Post Film Project. Nice opening vid, boys. Nice. I also hung out with Melinda Carter and her Fireseed Anthology girls. And I may be headed to Nashvillian Landia (i.e. Nashville: Home of Music from Ear to Shining Ear) the second week of August.

Ok, back to our regularly scheduled program. Portland. Imago Dei. Artists retreat this past weekend. It rocked. They rocked. Big green coniferous trees rock.

Phaedra and I had a fantastic time with the artists from Imago Dei Community Church. Here is a Top Ten reasons to retreat with imago-dei-licious artists from Portland.

10. You get to see magical mushrooms (non-hallucinogenic) and funky flowers--like this:

9. You meet ancient of days people like Anneli nee Holmgren. Anneli had written me back on April 13, 2003. This is an excerpt from her email. . .

Hi David -- My name is Anneli Holmgren... I live here in Portland... and well, I was perusing the internet recently looking up all the sights on arts ministries. . . I am a graphic designer/artist and my church here, Imago Dei Community Church, has asked me to be director of the arts ministry. We are just getting going, in fact just this afternoon, I was sitting with a friend writing out our own values, vision, and goals.... So why am I emailing you? hmmm... I guess I have a ton of questions about directing such a ministry, just starting out, and open to any advice about leading a group of artists to do anything! :) My church is full of all sorts of highly creative people who are anxious to be unified as a community. And the leadership is fully supportive of incorporating the arts into worship and such. It is an exciting place to be... and a bit overwhelming too.

It was such a sweet thing to get to meet her in person, five years after the fact. And what a great work God has done in their community. How He weaves his wacky-wondrous web, connecting us in the strangest, most delightful ways. Her husband is pretty swanky too.

8. We jammed out with the mongolian-irish-japanese-grunge-bluegrass-electronic poetry minstrels. I really have no other idea how to adequately describe one of the most satisfying spoken word-music experiences of the past decade.

Here is a sound clip. Dude in dreadlocks was a latter day Dick Van Dyke. They called him Ben. He slew that banjo into submission.

7. We sowed.

We inked. We made postcards. We ate food artistically. I did yoga with Jesus.

6. We took pictures up against very cool red barn walls.

5. I had a great time speaking to about hundred artists coming principally from Imago, but a few traveling further distances from Oregon, Washington and even British Columbia.
(No seriously, people, I get the whhh-ii-llii-ees when I sit down to make art.)
What a great group of artists. Phaedra and I were very impressed with their desire to grow spiritually and artistically and communally. We love you guys!

4. Josh "the Butler" and Jan "the Jan" were two awesome pastors to artists.
Josh, a local, Jan, an import from Ireland, impressed us thoroughly. Their mission? To help believer artists become mature in all aspects of their life. What a great mission. Their arts website is comprehensive and their reading list excellent. Read away, my friends, read away. Josh and Jan treated us royally and we now feel we have dear friends on the oregonian coast.

3. We stayed the night in an elementary school. We slept in the counting room. We drew our names on our own personal chalkboard. They call it The McMenamins Kennedy School: a school converted into a hotel. To-tally cool. The "hotel" not only has the (not so) usual restaurant and bar, it has a movie theater, a soaking pool and a working brewery. And if you care, you can enjoy a whiskey and a cigar in the "detention" room. Not your grandpa's grammar school.

2. Did we mention the beautiful woods? Yep, we loved them. We wanted to eat them and put them in our suitcases. Sigh.

(I am lord of this path. I am. For this picture. I wave my stick at insects. Shoo, insects.)

1. The toilets. We think Austin is progressive. Nope. The Portland airport's toilet's provide you with environmentally friendly flushing experiences. See for yourself:

All in all we had a very rich, very encouraging time. At the end on Sunday the artists gathered around Phaedra and me and prayed for us. They sent us out, west coast-style, into this new season of our life. We loved it, what a gift. And we can't wait to see what God will be doing in and through this blessed community to transform the artistic highways and biways of Portland.