Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sayers wit, O'Connor discipline, 3 Movies and Righteous Architecture

Dorothy Sayers
I've begun reading Sayer's Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World. Edited marvelously by Roderick Jellema, they represent some of Sayer's best essays, everything from her satirical "The Pantheon Papers" to "Towards a Christian Aesthetic," the latter of which might be one of her best known in art circles. Sayers was a writer of detective novels, the translator of Dante for Penguin Classics, a lay theologian and apologist in the vein of Chesterton, a fan of motorcycles, a playwright, and a member of the Inklings group.

One of the paragraph's I read today in Jellema's introduction bears quoting in full.

"The theological nitty-gritty is what she is after. A character in one of her novels demands to know why a benevolent God 'put such a lot of bones in kippers'. That is the level at which Dorothy Sayers likes to work with things. Her theological talk has always the concreteness of art. The Incarnation, for example, is that part of the exciting story of the world's history in which 'God takes his own medicine'."

With titles like "The Dogma is the Drama," "Strong Meat," "The Other Six Deadly Sins" and "The Faust Legend and the Idea of the Devil," Christian Letters will be the perfect Saturday morning reading throughout the fall.

Flannery O'Connor My good man James Chapman sent me a link to a CNN interview with the author of the latest Flannery O'Connor biography. I was especially struck by a couple of the comments Brad Gooch made about O'Connor. One reminded me yet again how fundamental finding and keeping a discipline is to success as an artist. Without a habit of discipline I can't see how any of us can expect to grow, discover, change, deepen or flourish artistically.

The second comment made me think of Dallas Willard. With Willard, it's all about heart renovation. A heart that's not renovated cannot produce good fruit. Origen and Augustine said much the same but in Greek and Latin and a long time ago. Of course, it's more complicated than a simple aphorism. What do we mean by renovated? When do we know when we're more renovated than not? What are the signs of good fruit?

Still, the point remains: Good trees will usually bear good fruit, and sick trees will usually break down and make far less art than they ever imagined they would, and thus shame will compound failure to squash all bravery and joy from their hearts. Or they will make all kinds of public fruit at the expense of--or in denial of--a profoundly wounded heart, while the rest of us may never know or care because we enjoy vicariously the public ornaments of their success. And again, it's more complicated than that. The point is simply that our character plays a considerable role in our development and flourishing as artists.

Back to O'Connor. Here is Mr. Gooch's remark, responding to the interviewer's observation, "It's amazing that she had a literary career at all, given how debilitating her illness was." Gooch says:

"What became inspiring to me, unexpectedly, writing this book [was how she dealt] with her illness, and that she finally was nobody's victim.... Everything we think of as a Flannery O'Connor story came after she had been diagnosed as having lupus and settled in to life in the South. You get the sense that this was almost a magical thinking, where she thought that writing these stories was keeping her alive."

3 Movies We Thoroughly Enjoyed Watching in the Past Couple of Weeks

1. "The Tale of Despereaux": I remember reading that many critics felt this movie didn't do justice to the source material by Kate DiCamillo's Newberry Medal-winning book. I haven't read the book so I can't comment on that point. But the film was gorgeously rendered. In fact, the directors explained that they implemented three distinct art historical styles into the visual palette of the movie: Vermeer, Hieronymus Bosch, and Pieter Bruegel. We also found the voice talent very finely done. All in all: delightful and visually tasty.

2. "Coraline": Think a cross between Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe, and you'll get a good sense of what this Gothic animated story is like. It's not for children per se, but goodness me, Phaedra and I were kept enchanted till the very end of the movie. We kept saying ", wow, wow" afterwards. This is one of the few movies where I found myself on the edge of the couch, continually wondering, "What's going to happen next?"

3. "Becket": In this 1964 movie, Richard Burton as Saint Thomas Becket squares off against a manic Peter O'Toole who turns in a masterful performance as King Henry II. We couldn't remember the last time we'd seen a two and a half-hour movie that included so much time devoted to priests singing, priests saying Mass, priests being consecrated as archbishops, priests praying and reading and talking to God in the most human way. It was perfectly divine. After having just read Eamon Duffy's Stripping the Altars, I felt keenly the terrible religious drama that England had endured in the centuries around the Reformation. "Becket" the movie only won one Oscar, though it was nominated for a thousand. It won for best screenplay, and I have to say, O'Toole's lines are some of the most 'licious, sassy lines I've heard on the silver screen.

Righteous Architecture
I picked up the latest copy of FAITH & FORM in the library this past week. On the cover was an image by the photographer Thomas Schiff. Again: gorrrrrrr-geous work. See here for a 360 virtual tour of architect Gaudi's Colonia Guell Church. See here for more images of Gaudi's Temple Expiatori La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. And at bottom is my grandmother's gingerbread house.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

DT at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Symposium

The good people at CICW have invited me to present a seminar at their upcoming symposium.  January 28-30, 2010.  I'm excited to be there.  I've known of the symposium for years and I have the greatest respect for John Witvliet, its head honcho.  (Sidenote: my two areas of concentrate at Duke are theological aesthetics and liturgical theology.  Witvliet's PhD from Notre Dame was in liturgical studies and theology.  It's no wonder I like the man so much.)  

My seminar will ask "What is a successful artist?" and will consider ways that pastors and artists can collaborate in this work of helping artists integrate and flourish.  Other speakers on the slate include Marva Dawn, Richard Mouw, Cornelius Plantinga and his kin Neal Plantinga, Jeremy Begbie, and other fine folk with Dutch-sounding last names.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Great Artists Retreat in October

In Purgatorio Dante sees himself
afloat on the Arno, his body wide-flung
for buoyancy on the flooding river,
making of himself a cross like the cross
on his chest. The strangeness of crisis,
that sometimes allows a body to repeat
a familiar image of calamity met and
overcome. Fasting prayer for the hungry.
Nakedness for the destitute. The poet
asks the poet in me, How I can be a Christ
in human skin, a bearer of some part
of the world’s burdens as we all drift
downstream together without boats?

~ poem by Luci Shaw

It looks like it's going to be a slow blogging season this fall. Grad school has me reading more than usual. I certianly have plenty of material for the blog, I just don't have as much free time as I once did. I may also be handicapped by the fact that we don't yet have internet at home. Verizon has to be the sorriest company in the customer service department--ever.

Anyhoo, Steven Purcell and the Laity Lodge are once again hosting a bang-up artists retreat this fall (see here for details). I wish I could go. But you may be able to, and I highly encourage you to invest the time and money on this October 22-25 retreat. If you're looking for good community with other artists, a brief respite from the madding crowd, the calming powers of nature, great food, intellectual nourishment, access to two fully equipped studios (2D and 3D), then you can hardly say no, can you?

Here is the note Steven sent out this past week. The line-up of speakers and special guest artists is bang-on.

PS: I'm happy to inform you that Laity Lodge has officially agreed to host another retreat for "pastors" to artists, as per this last April. Details will be forthcoming. But I'm very excited about it.


Dear Friends,

Greetings from Laity Lodge, where in less than two months the Third Annual Laity Lodge Arts Retreat will begin. This letter is going to a small, but growing, list of friends whom we’ve met over the past three years who have expressed an interest in the relationship between art and faith.

We’re very excited to give you first peak at this year’s confirmed program. Next week, we will advertise the following information through our normal communication channels, but given our limited space, we wanted you to be among the first to know. People you should know about:

David Dark is a writer, teacher, student, culture maven, and friend of Laity Lodge. His latest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, is entertaining and challenging, with not a hint of pettiness or cynicism. You can expect the same from his talks.

David Wilcox is one of the great singer-songwriters of our time. He’s a brilliant musician whose lyrics invite you to a place of honesty about life that is truly rare. We’re especially glad to welcome David on his first visit to Laity Lodge.

Melissa Hawkins was born in France but raised and educated in the U.S. Her award-winning performance of Juliet, by Romanian playwright Andras Visky, has been performed in Europe and the U.S. and will be featured at the retreat. It is Melissa’s first visit to Laity Lodge.

Jozef Luptak is a cellist from Bratislava, Slovakia, who tours widely, and records and directs a musical festival in Slovakia. First hearing Jozef perform, people inevitably ask, “How does he do that?” Every experience thereafter is pure delight.Our goal for the retreat is to provide an environment of encouragement and support for people of faith who take seriously the call to a creative life. With this goal in mind, we offer great food, thoughtful presentations, inspired performances, recreational activities, and ample opportunities for conversation or solitude. The retreat will take place October 22-25 (Thurs-Sun).

...We anticipate a full retreat this year, so if you hope to attend we encourage you to register soon....

We look forward to seeing you soon.