Sunday, May 31, 2009

21,052 Visitors in One Year + Duke + Theo & Arts

So I know I'm not CNN or The New York Times, or even Tila Tequila. But I've completed one year of keeping track of blog visits. 21,052 ain't too shabby. It doesn't matter of course; it's mostly silly numbers. And you never know, I might have visited myself half that time. But as I look at the list of countries in the MapClusters counter, I can proudly say that I mimic a (very, very unusual) summer Olympics medal count:

USA: 17,266 visits
Canada: 829 visits
United Kingdom in a close second but coming in at an honorable third: 811
Germany at a steep drop: 150 visits
Australia barely missing fourth at: 148 visits
India the next world superpower muscling in at: 119 visits

And on the list goes. I love the bottom of the list.

CUT: Ack! I'm now writing one day later (Monday, June 1) and MapClusters has just recycled my list to zero. I've lost all record of countries visited. Crap. Apparently today is DAY 1: A NEW BEGINNING.

United States (US) 34
Canada (CA) 5
Turkey (TR) 5
Algeria (DZ) 2
Poland (PL) 1
Norway (NO) 1
United Kingdom (GB) 1
Germany (DE) 1
Australia (AU) 1

I'm as popular in Algeria as I am in Norway.

Anyhoo, the point of all this is to say thank you for visiting me here. I've kept this blog chiefly as a writing discipline. Secondarily it's allowed me to work out some of my thinking about art and the church, culture and Christian faith. It's been a pleasure to interact with you in the comments section and I appreciate many of your honest, sometimes challenging thoughts. Keep the challenges coming. I do apologize that I wasn't the most prompt in my replies. But I'm excited about the next year of blogging. I've had this blog since November 2004 and by November 2009 I'll be blogging about life at Duke University.

Phaedra and I have had a great time so far (we arrived this past Friday, we depart this coming Saturday). We enjoyed a lovely Saturday repast with Steve and Sally Breedlove as well as Tim and Skylar. Steve's the rector at All Saints Anglican. Sally's a spiritual director. Tim just graduated from Duke Divinity and Skylar's an artist and quite the baker (bakeress?). Sunday we worshiped at All Saints, then joined their community for a wonderful picnic afterwards. Sunday evening, the Center for Reconciliation's summer institute began in earnest.

Last night and all day today I've had the privilege of participating in an exploratory meeting on behalf of a Duke Divinity School initiative with theology and the arts. The hope is that it will soon become an institute. Some sharp people gathered in the alumni room. We imagined efforts related to teaching, research and art events. We explored possible directions that involved both the official school year as well as summer programs for a general audience. It's an exciting future to be sure. I'm honored and grateful to be able to play a small part in its development.

It's bee-yew-tiful in Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro/Hillsborough/Pittsboro. Green, lush, tall trees, pleasant weather. Delish. We both feel a quiet peace in our hearts about moving here. We're meeting many new friends and we're asking God to help us find a good home. One day at a time.

Go Blue.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pentecostal Protestantism Wins American Idol!

As some know, Kris Allen, winner of season 8 of American Idol last night, is a worship leader at New Life Church in Maumelle, AR. He also attends the campus ministry Chi Alpha at UCA. It's funny because my sister Christine and her husband, Cliff, went to Chi Alpha while they were at the University of Texas in the early '90s. I visited a few times and liked it. But soon after I lost my faith and wandered the far country for a couple of years, though not without the love of many in that group, one of whom I worship with today at my Anglican church in Austin.

What's curious about Kris is not only that he represents a long line of Christians winning American Idol (see here for Huffington Post commentary). It's that he's specifically a Pentecostal Christian. More curious, Danny Gokey, #3 singer to be voted off, is also Pentecostal. And he too leads worship, at a church in Milwaukee, WI, Faith Builders International Ministries to be exact.

I looked up both church's websites and yes, they're essentially, or quintessentially, Pentecostal. As I think about arts in the church (in the Protestant church) and our role in the culture at large, I was reminded last night that, in a sense, tradition is everything. Traditions, like biological ecologies, breed certain kinds of persons and practices. Pentecostalism breeds musicians.

Whether it's John Wimber, the godfather of the Vineyard Church and a keyboardist for the Righteous Brothers, or Hillsong Church in Australia with Darlene Zschech bequeathing to the world--yes, world--the song "Shout to the Lord," the Pentecostal tradition creates an ideal environment for musicians to grow and excel at their craft. That craft may be limited to certain types of music. Sure. But it's a music that they're quite good at.

I was surprised Kris won last night. Phaedra and I don't have a television so we had to go to the gym and climb the treadmills so we could watch the marathon of music showbiz. We watched and ran. And ran and ran and ran. Eventually we slowed the treadmills down to a very mosey pace. Our muscles were this close from a massive cramp. Two hours of KISS, QUEEN, ROD STEWART, QUEEN LATIFAH, KEITH URBAN, CINDY LAUPER, LIONEL RICHIE, BLACK EYED PEAS and the gang of variety-style pop musicians was enough to wear us down. The never-ending commercials didn't help either.

We thought Adam Lambert was a shoe-in. The boy's got the chops.

But he didn't. Kris won. Kris the mousy, deferent, aw-shucks, Chi Alpha, worship-leading, tenor-singing, short-term missions trip-going, hot-as-a-sex-idol Kris. Humble Kris. Child of a pentecostal musical ecology Kris.

Well done, Kris. With nearly 100 million Americans voting, Phaedra and I were surprised you took the prize. But we're happy for you. And I said a prayer of thanks for the good that the church has done to foster a love for music.

Now all we need is for the church to develop an equally vibrant tradition for visual art-making, filmmaking, poetry-making, theater-making, dance-making, architecture-making. Then we'll be rocking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Published Article: On the Art of Encouragement

I'll write soon about our fantastic time in Endicott, New York, leading a retreat for artists at Union Center Christian Church. What a great bunch of people. Brian and Tamara Murphy, for the record, are officially our favorite people in all of upstate NY, possibly the entire state.

For now I'm posting a link to an article I wrote for Q WORDS: A Digital Magazine About Faith and Culture. The magazine is a production of the Fermi Project and the fearless leadership of Gabe Lyons, Norton Herbst, Rob McCloskey and other sharp-as-a-tack folk.

With each "issue," they include an essay and two video talks given at previous Q conferences. In my issue they adjoin Makoto Fujimura, "Beauty in Culture," and Jamie Tworkowski, founder of "To Write Love on Her Arms."

I was very pleased when they chose to use Phaedra's artwork as the masthead image for the issue. I've included the whole painting here.

I geared my essay principally to those in leadership. My aim was to inspire and inform leaders of the crucial importance of encouragement in the life of an artist. But really, all of us are in the business of needing encouragement as well as of needing to offer encouragement to fellow artists. So I hope you find this a helpful essay to share with those around you, over you, and under your care.

The magazine is by subscription only. Thankfully, it's only $40. Once you pay that you get access to all the other issues. That includes thoughts by Alister McGrath, Andy Crouch, Bethany Hoang, Shane Hipps, Josh Jackson, Ruth Padilla Deborst, Eric Metaxas, Catherine Rohr, Francis Collins, Os Guiness, Susan Grant, Charles Colson, Cathleen Falsani, Donald Miller et al.

Here is an excerpt from my essay:

...I believe Shackleton’s note should be posted on the front cover of every art book, every art school brochure, every announcement of every art summer camp, every art magazine, every artist residency, and every website of every organization dedicated to the preparation of artists. I would amend it this way:

Warning: Hazardous material inside. Might cost you your sanity. All children aspiring to be artists, like children born of a communist state, must memorize the following memorandum. Herein lies your future life: small wages, bitter rejections, long months of enduring drafts of work that are complete drivel. Constant danger from people around you, especially the church-going and blood-related, who will tell you (or forcefully hint) that you are crazy and weird and wasting your time. Safe return to the end of your life doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success, but likely not financial. So hold on to the honor part because that is probably all you will get.

It is difficult to be an artist. Over the last thirteen years working as a pastor in Austin, Texas, I have seen hundreds of professional and amateur artists—filmmakers and modern dancers, poets and actors, singer-songwriters, designers, painters, architects, even a clown artist—come and go through the doors of Hope Chapel.

I have seen many artists succeed and plenty fail. Most fight for every inch of progress. All artists I’ve known have had to look the Minotaur in the face: “Do I quit or do I keep going?”

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The CDC and 2 Dancing Dudes

CDC Warning: "Do not do this."

This swine, er, fine, pic is courtesy of Phaedra's dad.

I've got plenty to report from my visit to the Q conference last week, and a blessing ceremony for a newly minted arts pastor down in San Antonio, and our forthcoming trip to upstate New York to lead a retreat for artists and creatives. But my cabeza is tired at the moment, so I'm depositing lighter fare for now. To use Terri Fisher's phrase, Phaedra and I are learning to "abandon ourselves to hope" in a season when things don't always go according to plan, and sometimes you just need a little bit of silly laughter to keep going.

The two dancing dudes below don't have much in common, at least not in what we witness in these videos. But they do share one characteristic: courage. You may or may not like what they do artistically. Both, however, exhibit a great deal of courage in their respective performances. Without courage you can't make your best art; indeed you won't make your best art. But as sure as the sun rises, your best art lives on the other side of many, many acts of courage.

So go for it, my artist friends.

(That sounds, I know, like something Stephen Covey would say. Still, it's true. And I bet David Bayles and Ted Ortland would agree.)

1. Dancing Dude #1

2. Dancing Dude #2
[YouTube has disabled the embedding function. You'll have to go here to see it. Oh me. It's so bizarrely funny. If you're in a bummer mood, do yourself a favor and click on the link. It's never to late, my friends, never too late.]

And one bonus video with Dom Deluise.

Ok, I can't help myself, this one is hilarious.