Friday, April 24, 2009

Michael Jordan Prayed for Me

We had a fan-ta-stic time out at the Laity Lodge retreat. For three full days we shared space--a beautiful, quiet, restorative space--with men and women from around the country: 6 New Yorkers, 6 Georgians, 6 Coloradians (Colorados?), 5 Washingtonians, two Canadians, plus folks from North and South Carolina, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Florida, Indiana, Iowa and a scad from around Texas, all of whom feel called in one form or another to shepherd artists.

Phaedra and I drove home on Thursday with great joy. We were ready to open a commune so we could hang with these dear people forever.

It was great to hang out with Mako, sweet, gentle-souled Mako. Mako and Matson Duncan went fishing. Kenyon Adams, who heads up music and theater activities (under Luann Jennings' fearless leadership) at Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC, went swimming. Shannon Newby, an Atlantian with a mean handling of encaustic painting and a heart for missions (along with her husband Erik) in Germany, made art down in the studios. Lance Mancefield, a producer along with Michael Card with the By/For project, strategized with impunity. I went for a walk with young monsignor of emergent village, Troy Bronsink. Others napped, rested, slept, hung in hammocks, chatted, and napped again, climbed bluffs, fed raccoons, read, or did nothing.

We worshiped, being lovingly led by Brian Moss. We heard me speak. And Mako too. And Steven Purcell three. We put on a 5 Minutes Max. We prayed together. We watched Stephanie Moss dance. She rocked. We laughed. And some wept from being overly exhausted and crushed under the weight of the unreasonable expectations placed on those in full-time ministry.

But mostly, I think, we had a blast. And we ate like olympian gods.

I feel very, very encouraged about the church's work with artists; and by church I don't mean simply a local church, I mean the church universal, the church in the thick of things. God is faithfully raising up a generation of pastors and ministers to artists. As our children and our children's children continue to pour into art programs in greater numbers, God is preparing a tribe of men and women who will care for their spiritual, relational and artistic well-being. It is a good thing. It is beautiful in my eyes.

Here are a few pictures from the retreat. (I wish I had more but I didn't have a chance to take as many as I usually am able.) I'm now praying that God will allow us to do it again next year. I'll take every excuse to retreat with these dear people, and to invite all those who couldn't make it this time around. Next year, my friends.

(Troy Bronsink, Jeffrey Guy [amazing painter guy], and Todd Damotte.)

(A panel of six practitioners: Geinene Carson with Operation Mobilisation's Arts Link, Roz Dimon, the most spunky, funny person on site, who serves as Director of Communications at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in NYC, Luann Jennings of Redeemer Pres in NYC (with whom I had the most lovely connection), Dal Schindell, director of Publications at Regent College and dry, dry humorous guy, and Lance Mansfield.)

(Steven and Amy Purcell, Mako, Phaedra and myself.)

(Mako and Brian Moss thinking deep thoughts.)

(Matt and Geinene Carson and us.)

(And last but not least in the photo reel: Michael Jordan himself. Michael serves as Pastor of Music and Creative Arts at Greenwood Community Church in Castle Rock, CO. I asked if he would be willing to pray for folks on our last morning. He kindly said yes. Then over lunch, along with a few of our new BFF's, he prayed a sweet prayer over me and Phaedra and the work God has for us. I can always tell my children: "Kids, Michael Jordan prayed for me and it was a good prayer.")

Here is an excerpt from my first talk at the retreat, "The Preparation of the Pastor to Artists":

As you and I learn to become at home with our brokenness and to see it as the arena for God’s work in and through us, as St. Paul believed, we will be able to help artists face their own brokenness and to invite God into it and to see God saving them in and through and out of their brokenness so that they too can give hope to a world that is afraid.

We can remind artists that some of the greatest work produced in history has come out of a context of woundedness: Beethoven deaf when he wrote the 9th symphony, John Milton blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, Van Gogh mentally broken down at the end of his life, dying at only 37 years of age, Byron with a clubfoot, Demosthenes a terrible stutterer. As Madeleine L’Engle reminds us: “The great artists have gained their wholeness through their wounds, their epilepsies, tuberculoses, periods of madness.”

(PHOTO AT TOP: this is a picture I took while driving 89 mph in the hill country of Texas of a truck carrying three intimately related instruments: a four-wheeler, a helicopter, and, in the back of the pickup truck, shotguns. These guys are what you might call serious hunters.)


Friday, April 17, 2009

A Birthday Year in Pictures

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. For the Lord upholdeth him with his hand."
Psalm 37:23-24

Today I am 37. Last birthday, April 17, I wrote a mildly doleful note about turning 36. I needed it at the time. But in all humility I can say that I'm a better golfer today than on that windy day at the Hancock course, and hopefully a better man too. Today there will be no dole, in the Latin sense of dolus, or grief. Today there will be joy with Phaedra and going on a camping trip with the men of Christ Church. Huzzah!

I read my birthday psalm (Psalm 37, that is) this morning over a tasty cup of PG Tips tea and it's such a wonderful psalm.

Here then is a photographic description of my life since my last birthday.

Oh, one more thing. Like I mentioned on Facebook wall, since I am lord of this day I have ordered rain for all of Austin, not just for my own backyard. And I have to say it was the loveliest feeling to wake up to a dark brooding sky, dousing our house with sheets of rain. God bless us, we've needed it.

April 25, 2008 -- The Imago Dei Church Artists Retreat, Portland, OR

(Our friends Dave and Anneli Anderson.)

(A very red door.)

June 1, 2008 -- I resign as arts pastor at Hope Chapel

(My friend Michele Trepagnier gives me a "Last mile care package," and it's got chocolate!)

(The window pane on my office door at Hope Chapel: art, art jokes, and a prayer of St. Francis in Italian.)

(Bookshelves in my office.)

July 16, 2008 -- Laity Lodge retreat with Dr. Packer
(The J.I. himself.)

August 14, 2008 -- Nashvegas!
(Pic with some very musicale people--Stephen Mason on my left, Sarah Masen two doors down, and Scott Hawley, physics-professor-qua-singer-songwriter on the end.)

(Standing under the Man in Black.)

(Enjoying the coolness of the Smoky Mountains.)

September 23, 2008 -- Visit to John Michael Talbot's place in northwest Arkansas
(Phaedra walking with the monk. A dog named Benedict strolls ahead.)

(The monk performing a dog trick. Or is that dog levitation?)

October 2, 2008 -- Laity artists retreat
(Nathan Marion, he of the Freemont Abbey arts center.)

October 17, 2008 -- Union Center Christian Church, Endicott, New York
(Red tree.)

(Very cool bridge with dreamy barn in the background.)

October 22, 2008 -- Auspicious visit to Duke Divinity School

(A door that will become very familiar to me in a few months' time.)

(It's beautiful in Durham, North Carolina. Ahh.)

October 28, 2008 -- Leave for Thailand

(Our preferred mode of transportation.)

(And the arts pastor shall lie down with the tiger.)

(Rajendran and Pramila. He's the director of the Indian Mission Association. And she is a completely lovely woman.)

December 25, 2008 -- Christmas Day

(Hanging out in my parent's backyard.)

December 31, 2008 -- "First Night" in downtown Austin (under the lights of Zilker Park)

January 20, 2009 -- Our 1 year wedding anniversary, Five 'n Dime Shop, Fredericksburg, TX

(We're wearing everything we need to conquer the world.)

January 28, 2009 -- AMIA conference in Greensboro, NC
(My bishop, Philip Jones.)

(The Christ Church staff: me, Bryan Brown, Jodi Wicker (nee Heatly), Cliff Warner, Christine Warner (my sis), and Rusty St. Cyr. Isn't that an awesome last name?)

March 10, 2009 -- Consulting trip to Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge PA

(Here taking a break for lunch, shoving a massive pizza "wedge" into my mouth, Travis Hines behind camera.)

March 15, 2009 -- Fantabulous times with the nephews and nieces

(Aunt Phaedra showing Brendan and Cormac how to wield a propane torch to take beeswax off of an old art piece. They badly want to hold that torch.)

March 22, 2009 -- Our nephew Sohren's B-day -- the fam (Four generations of men: my granddad, my nephew Speight, Scranton his father, my padre holding Sohren.)

March 28, 2009 -- Golf with the boys

April 1, 2009 -- I say yes to Duke's invitation to join the basketball team, er, doctoral program.

(I'm angry, man.)

April 12, 2009 -- Easter dinner at the Younger Taylor household

(Phaedra puts the Martha Stewart touch on our dining room.)

(And here we are feasting it up and glad to be drinking our coffee, tea, and wine and eating our cheese cakes and chocolate tortes and pastel-colored malt balls.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Art of Lament

There is no true love save in suffering,
and in this world we have to choose either love,
which is suffering, or happiness....
Man is the more man—
that is, the more divine—
the greater his capacity for suffering, or rather, for anguish.

--Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936), Spanish philosophical writer

The Lutheran theologian Dorothee Sölle once said in a public lecture, "We must view with suspicion all theology that is pre-pain." By this I presume she means that a theology, or any speech or writing about God, that ignores the practical and omnipresent reality of pain in people's lives is not a theology worth having. This makes me think, tangentially, of Barth's comment about Paul Tillich's theology. Barth said it was bad theology because you couldn't pray it.

The danger of getting lost in the world-within-world of ideas is an occupational hazzard for theologians, or again, for any Christian. You can get lost in the world of activities. You can get lost in the world of feelings. The point is, every one of us faces the constant temptation to escape--to escape life, to escape suffering, to escape it all. Sölle urges us not to escape.

The playwright Samuel Beckett says we have only two options in this world: suffering or boredom. We get to choose which. As he puts it:

"The pendulum oscillates between these two terms:
Suffering—that opens a window on the real
and is the main condition of the artistic experience—
and Boredom."

But it's amazing how attractive boredom looks on the days when our suffering feels unbearable. Give me boredom. Give me distractions, wasteful hours, duties, people, noise, internet, or never-ending things to do and accomplish, but please don't make me suffer any more.

I'm thinking about these things not only because it's Lent, and thank God near the end of a difficult Lent in the younger Taylor household, but also because I'm beginning to do research for a seminar I'm teaching at Duke Divinity's summer institute this coming June. My aim is to help participants understand how art teaches us not only about lament but how to lament.

So my question to you, dear reader, is: what art has been helpful to you in a time of sadness? What art has helped you process grief? A song? A painting? Is there a movie that has deepened your lament? Is there a novel that has made it more bearable?

Alternatively, what artworks in popular or high art do you think have helped the masses grieve well? Again, I'm looking for examples all across the arts.

One famous example of a painting that aided an entire community to process suffering is Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim's Altarpiece. Grünewald painted it for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim. The monks took care of people who suffered from skin diseases, and it is believed that Grünewald depicted common physical symptoms of the diseases on Jesus' body.

I think also of Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," Verdi's Requiem, Tony Kushner's play "Angels in America," Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran Memorial sculpture, Percey Shelley's "Adonaïs," the electrifying lament of I believe Juliet's mother in Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet." And then of course there's the entire elegy of Job.

I want to hear what art has been meaningful to you in times of grief. And I'd love to hear your opinion on what art, from TV to the Tate Modern, has helped people process loss and death.

I end with a statement I wrote for the Stations of the Cross exhibit we hosted at Hope Chapel in 2003.

Suffering is a privilege, a sign of grace, a reminder of God.
Suffering is a fierce, purifying thing, commonplace,
welcomed with holy terror . . .
If it comes in fits and starts,
that is only so as to leave the sufferer more
receptive to the love of God,
to the awful mystery of severe purgation
when one relives the last dose of grace and waits for the next.

(ARTWORK: Phaedra's submission to Hope Chapel's 2005 Lent exhibit, "Loneliness, Departing, Frailty.")

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

We're going to Duke!

We're going to the National Autonomous University of Mexico!

We're going to the University of Alaska!

We're going to Tobacco Country!

It's April 1 today and I feel lame for not coming up with something more clever than the simple truth. Phaedra and I finally decided. I'm going to Duke Divinity School and will study with Jeremy Begbie. We'll move to Durham, North Carolina, at the first of August.

This has been such a windy road. When I graduated from Regent College in 2000, I thought I'd land at St. Andrews University that fall. I'd be joining good friends in the cross-Atlantic trek: Matt and Julie Canlis, Poul Guttesen, Ivan Khovacs. By the end of that summer I realized I was exhausted. I'd been plowing through school for ten years straight, five undergrad, five grad. My brain was tired and I felt knowledge fat. I wanted to work out the ideas in practice. So I took up Hope Chapel on their offer of a full-time arts pastor position.

St. Andrews' Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts always beckoned to me. In my mind I had settled on a five year commitment to Hope Chapel. By summer of 2006 I'd board the next banana boat for the shores of King George.

Fall of 2005 rolled on and I felt a knot in my soul. I didn't feel right about leaving. I knew God wasn't finished with the work he was doing in my heart; not my head, not my skills set, but my heart. So much of my tenure at Hope Chapel was about connecting my head and my heart. I know Dr. Houston would be pleased to hear those words.

I gathered a few friends and family to pray. By the time we'd gathered I knew I needed to stay another couple of years at Hope Chapel.

Between then and June of 2008, I dated, got engaged and married Phaedra. I planned the Transforming Culture symposium. I transitioned the arts ministry at Hope. And I punted my departure date one more year so I could put to writing the things that I'd experienced as a pastor.

I prayed many, many years ago that God would not let me do my doctoral studies single. I didn't think it would take till 2009 for that prayer to come to pass. Strange the ways of God.

The brain, I figure, is like a complex of muscles and the work of graduate study employs specific mental muscles. I'm afraid mine have gotten soft. I read here and there. I study for sermons. I try to keep an alert mind. But I haven't been able to keep the disciplines of scholarship over these years of pastoring.

So I've put myself on a regimen this spring. The months of February and March I read my Greek Bible every morning. April and May I switch to my Hebrew Bible. I take my German Bible to church on Sundays. And when I drive around the city I listen to a tape series that Phaedra gave me as a gift: the Bible in Spanish with some very trilly Spanish guitar in the background. Yes, it's on tape. I'm hopelessly old school in my car.

Am I nervous about what lies ahead? Yes. Sure. There are a lot of unknowns. I don't know what will happen to us in four years' time. I'm afraid. I'm afraid of all the things I can't control. All I can do, really, is trust that God will continue to be our Good Shepherd. He's taken care of us thus far, empirical data notwithstanding at times, He'll take care of me and Phaedra through this next season. I take comfort in one of the verses we've been memorizing during Lent:

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

In the meantime, I'm down at the neighborhood basketball courts working on my killer hook shot. A friend of mine suggested I audition for a spot on Duke's perennially nationally ranked basketball team. I told him it was a great idea. I'd be the 36-year old, red-wild-bearded, white guy walk-on. I can totally see myself as a power forward with a sweet three-point shot. The photo (thanks to Taylor Martyn's prophetic photoshop powers) proves it incontrovertibly: I've got that Christian Laettner aggressive instinct. Now all I need is an agent. Maybe Jeremy Begbie could be that. I bet he's a English basketball fiend waiting to explode on the court.

Phaedra is totally psyched about loamy soil. And four seasons.

Blue Devils, here we come.
(Just received April 7: an amended photo much to my relief. The Tar Heels won last night. Come autumn, I will promptly acquire a deep-seated antipathy for UNC b-ball. Till then, I say kudos for the win.)