Sunday, November 29, 2009

The First Sunday of Advent

My sweet friend Anneli Anderson sent me a copy of a new Bible, Mosaic. She had contributed artwork to this Tyndale-published edition of the New Living Translation. I've ruffled through a few pages and it looks wonderful. The first third of the Bible follows the full liturgical calendar. Each week includes Scripture readings, an opening meditation, a sampling of quotations from saints through the ages, a longer meditation by a contemporary writer and, lastly, a work of art. Some of the art is famously classical, other is contemporary. My friend Anneli produced art for the second week of Easter. It's a delightful piece.

I was thrilled to get in the mail and I happily recommend it to you. You can find it here online.

In this vein, our church in Durham, All Saints Anglican, produced an Advent Reader. Both Phaedra and I contributed reflections. Phaedra actually contributed both a reflection and an original work of art (she'll blog about it soon). Our rector, Father Steve, wrote the first reflection for November 29. I asked him if I could reproduce here, because I really like the way he framed the season. He kindly said yes. I share it with you as an aid to your pilgrimage through Advent (see below).

One of the things that Phaedra and I want to do is lean out our lives from here to Christmas. We're not sure what we'll do yet. Mostly we want to create more space for listening to God. Maybe we'll give up something altogether--trying to accomplish four and five things in the evening or eating foods that may not be the healthiest for us. Maybe we'll just trim something--less emailing, less internet surfing, less Facebook. We are, after all, in the "little Lent."

It probably doesn't matter what we choose exactly. What will make the difference is choosing something and sticking with it--always the hardest part. In the time that is opened for us we might achieve a herculean accomplishment like, gasp, praying together or reading out loud big chunks of Scripture--which you'd think would come far easier than it does. It doesn't.

I want to attend to God. I don't want to take Him for granted, especially now that I'm back in school studying theology. I want not to assume that merely cruising into Christmas will result in anything spiritually transformative. I want to be present to the terrible and joyful reality that in the Incarnation God changed the metaphysical status of creation and nothing has been the same since.

Well there you go. We'll see what happens. But if no one has wished you this yet, I wish you, at the beginning of the Church calendar, a Happy New Year!

Advent Devotional #1, November 29, 2009

By Father Steve Breedlove

Over the years, it has become clear to me that I am in the minority: I really like winter. I am glad we live in a place where we actually have four seasons, not just winter with one month of “sorta summer”, but I do miss a little dose of the fierce bluster and hard-cracking winter we experienced in Canada.

I like winter for several reasons: the cessation of hard yard work; the beauty of trees, stripped of leaves and exposed against clean skies; the forced quietness of lengthened darkness; evenings inside when I actually can tend my soul a little more earnestly with a book or a great piece of music; the anticipation of new life to be reborn in a few short months.

Advent is the annual winter of our Christian lives, when everything winter-lovers-love-about-winter becomes a spiritual possibility.

Hard work can be dialed back. Obviously that takes choices, for our world will not let up for a minute. But for a few short weeks, we have permission to say “no” to non-stop work, to not open our computers and check emails after supper, to relax with a friend for a low-agenda evening or to read for our souls, not for our jobs. Maybe it’s just as simple as buying less, shopping less, cooking more simply. Advent is a time when we have permission to lay down hoe and rake, harrow and scythe, and sit quietly for an evening or two.

Advent is a time to let our leaves be stripped away, which I find is what God is eager to do if I will offer him one simple gift: silence actively directed toward him. If I sit in silence for just five minutes (five!), I can begin to make out his voice. Inevitably the Lord begins to gently strip away “leaves.” He asks me to let go of my self-importance, to drop my obsession with accomplishment, to let down my guard of anger and suspicion, to release my wounds to his care. My soul literally aches to be unclothed of its accumulated weights and cares and to be placed in the hands of God. Advent calls me to be quiet enough to let him take me down to the wood.

Advent is a time for lengthened darkness. It is a time to rest in unfinished business with God and to remember that he has all eternity to bring things to conclusion or clarity. It is a time to trust that “because he never slumbers or sleeps,” I can. I can stop worrying about whether or not it will all work out: I already know the answer to that, and I can wait in the darkness of unfinished business.

Advent is a time for nurturing the soul for long-term health. As anyone who has come to our house knows, I am a gardener. I am a firm believer in organic fertilizers – the kind that are made from real substances found in nature, processed and reconstituted in concentrated form, not created from chemicals. They are expensive, and they do not produce visible results – for the first three years of application. But about year four, something happens: there is a healthy, rich, deep beauty that begins to emerge. Fertilizing with the real stuff is not a quick fix, but it produces a lifetime of strength and beauty. During Advent, read, or listen to, or watch, or talk about something that goes deep in and rests quietly until it begins to work deep life into your spirit.

Because of fallowness, and quietness, and deep investment in my soul, Advent is finally a time when I can look forward to new life. Just as surely as winter will be replaced with the glory of spring, my soul will burst back into new life. Spring is coming, and with it, newness and glory that will take my breath away.

I love winter; I love Advent. I need both.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Official Notice @ Retreat for Ministers to Artists! (March 4-7, 2010)

I'm getting very excited about our retreat plans. I am certainly grateful to all of Steven Purcell's hard work to get the word out and the right folks connected. This past year's retreat went so well, it filled up in fact, that the Laity Lodge staff has graciously allowed us to do it again. Here's my description of last year's, and here's my report in the aftermath (with the title "Michael Jordan Prayed For Me").

In this entry I'm including basic information about the retreat. As always we appreciate you getting the word out to folks who might want or need to come.

DATE: March 4-7, 2010 (Thursday to Sunday)

SPEAKERS: Luci Shaw, David Taylor (yep, that's me), Steven Purcell, and probably other folk TBA.

SPECIAL MUSICIANS: We're particularly excited to welcome Vito and Monique Aiuto, also known as The Welcome Wagon. Vito is the pastor of Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NYC. Along with his wife and under the production genius of Sufjan Stevens, they produced an album of hymns, pop covers and folksy originals. Do click the link to read a full description of their work. It'll be super to have them at the retreat.

LOCATION: the Laity Lodge, just outside Kerrville, Texas. It's a gorgeous place, just ask anybody who's attended. If you want to see the middle of almost nowhere in Texas, then you'll definitely want to come.

THEME: the spiritual and artistic formation of artists.

FOR WHOM IS THIS RETREAT: for anyone who senses a call to shepherd artists. In the church. In the marketplace. In educational settings. In coffeeshops. In official and un-official capacities. This retreat is for anybody who feels a yearning to love artists and to help them grow strong and whole and holy.

WHO ATTENDED LAST TIME: Mako Fujimura (director of IAM), Brian Moss (Prayer Book Project), Duffy Lott Gibb (coordinator of arts at Regent College), Luann Jennings (director of arts at Redeemer Presbyterian, NYC), Matt Guilford (with Campus Crusade), Terri Fisher (a mom living in San Antonio who feels called to pray for artists), Troy Bronsink (senior editor, Generate magazine), Matt and Geinene Carson (directors of OM Arts Link), Adam Langley (seminarian, Baylor Truett Seminary), Lance Mansfield (brains behind the ByFor Project), Roz Dimon (Director of Communications at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in NYC), Jack King (a 78-year old retired law professor), Travetta Johnson (music and arts minister at All Souls Church in Knoxville, TN) and Michael Jordan (Pastor of Music and Creative Arts at Greenwood Community Church in Castle Rock, CO). And that's only a smidgen of great people who came. We had folks from Georgia to Washington state, Iowa to California. It was a great group.

REGISTER: if you wish to join us next March, please register here.

TALKS: as of now Luci and I will give one talk each. We'll probably plan a panel like last year. We want to create as much space as possible for small group conversation, personal reflection and ample meal-time exchanges.

A. David Taylor's talk (as of today):

"Art and the Church:
Lessons from the 16th-century for the 21st-century"

In my talk we’ll look at how one leader in the 16th-century navigated the tricky waters of “church art.” In the course of his pastoral and theological observations, Richard Hooker, an Anglican divine, concluded four things:

1) Our external life ought to be an expression of invisible realities.
2) The wisdom of the ancients should hold heavier sway over the innovations of the youth.
3) When we do innovate—and the church has always had occasion to amend old forms and to introduce new ones—we should allow the authority of the church to decide these matters, chiefly because wisdom operates best in communal form.
4) The church should not enforce its guidelines too rigidly but rather allow for a degree of latitude in their application to the different circumstances of local churches.

Together we will explore what this looked like in his time—regarding music, architecture, poetry, clothing, images. We’ll also consider what it might mean for us in our time and in our different circumstances. We’ll discover, I think, that there’s very little new under the sun. The old ones, however, can certainly teach us a few things.

B. Luci Shaw's talk:

"Thumbprints: On the Art of Paying Attention"

Just as a crime scene investigator hunts for fingerprints to identify a perpetrator—or just as we examine impressions on a clay mug for clues to the skill of the artisan, so we watch for the fingerprints of God visible throughout Creation.

Such imprints are there for those with eyes to see, not only in the environment of objects and events around us, but in us, made as we all are in the imago dei. How else can we account for our human attraction to the beautiful, or for the form and pattern and significance evident in every civilization? How else understand our own human impulses to create and experiment and originate?

All of art is an imprint, a demonstration of what our imaginations glimpse and harvest and craft into a form. As artists we tell the world, “Here’s what I’ve been given to give away! Take a look! Take a listen!” We will discuss together how to encourage authentic responses in ourselves and each other so that our art may be evidence that we are open to the glory of God. We’ll search for their meanings by learning to pay attention, examining ways for our art to become incarnational, that is, to embody and en-flesh our vision of God, tracing his prints in the transcendent as well as the earthy and ordinary.

IN THE END: We invite you to join your kindred for four days of talking, playing, eating, resting, and praying on behalf of our artist brothers and sisters who are serving the church and the world. As leaders we will be committing to pray for everybody who needs to be at the retreat. We will pray for God's provision for you. And we'll pray that God's will be done in and through artists and those who minister to them. Please don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Von Balthasar and the Legend of Speedo Guy

All I'll say is two things. One, I love the way Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss theologian and priest of the mid-20th century, captures the dynamic of Christian faith in the statement below. His use of theater as a metaphor isn't original. Others have made fine use of it--N. T. Wright, Sam Wells, Kevin Vanhoozer, even John Calvin with his notion of creation as the theater of God's glory. But von Balthasar, like all great statements, articulates the best of theology in the best of poetry.

Two, while I'll always remain loyal to the University of Texas Longhorns (may they win the national championship), I'm digging the school spirit, er, fanaticism, of Duke. The video I've included here expresses some of that enthusiasm. It's a moment of history that few of the Blue Devil faithful will forget.

Oh, one more thing. I have to say I profoundly admire what the Speedo Guy did. I'm also envious. I would have done it if I could. Maybe I will--though coach K's injunction prevents the likelihood, which, of course, my wife will find to be a great relief. But c'mon, the guy's current occupation just makes the, uh, theatricality (to the glory of God?), all the sweeter.

PS: Happy Birthday, dad!

Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Play within the Play

"The good which God does to us can only be experienced as the truth if we share in performing it (Jn. 7:17; 8:31f); we must "do the truth in love"... not only to perceive the truth of the good but, equally, to embody it increasingly in the world, thus leading the ambiguities of world theater beyond themselves to a singleness of meaning that can come only from God. This is possible because it is already a reality for God and through God, because he has already taken the drama of existence which plays on the world stage and inserted it into his own quite different 'play' which, nonetheless, he wishes to play on our stage. It is a case of the play within the play: our play 'plays' in his play."

The Legend of Speedo Guy