Sunday, February 28, 2010

3 Art Events Worth Noting

1. Waxing Poetic: Painting the Psalms -- a workshop at the Grunewald Guild in central Washington State.

Shannon Newby and Phaedra will be co-leading this workshop that makes use both of beeswax and the Psalter. As Phaedra puts it in her blog entry:

"There are only eight spots available and I know it has already started filling up. I think it is going to be a really rich few days. The Grunewald Guild is a retreat center located just outside of beautiful Leavenworth, Washington. The Wenatchee River Valley holds some of the most glorious landscape in the country. The setting alone is incredibly inspiring."

See here for full description of workshop. See for here registration at the Grunewald Guild.

2. FLATLAND the movie at Azusa Pacific University.

My good friend Jeffrey Travis will be presenting his film FLATLAND at Azusa Pacific's conference, "Cling To What is Good."

Other guest speakers include Dallas Willard and folks like Dean Batali (creator/writer of "That 70s Show"). It's a one-day event happening on March 3.

The event is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. And it's in southern California, where the weather is perpetually fine.

3. Duke Divinity's Center for Reconciliation: Art & Reconciliation.

Once again Chris Rice and company are putting together a marvelous week-long event for people interested in a conversation between the church and racial reconciliation. This summer the title of the event is "The Ministry of Reconciliation in a Divided World.” The date is May 31 – June 5, 2010. One of the cohort groups will focus on the arts and reconciliation. It will be led by the fabulously charming poet, theologian and Englishman Malcolm Guite. Here is the info for his cohort:

"The Shaping Spirit of Imagination: the Arts and Reconciliation"

"‘Where there is no vision the people perish’ (Prov.29:18). How can we restore the biblical vision of wholeness when we are still in the midst of our divisions? This seminar will explore how the arts can embody a vision that sustains hope and how artistic intuition can sometimes show us the only way out of dilemmas that, rationally, seem blocked and hopeless. Four artists who will be especially helpful to us include Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, Marc Chagall, and Bob Dylan. We will explore not only how the inspired imagination of these three artists can change our vision and renew our hope, but also share with each other the different arts and artists that have been transformative for us."

See here for more info.

This a pic from last year: Malcolm's the other bushy-looking guy, John Perkins stands to his right; the other guy is a pal of Malcolm's.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

T-minus 2: Book: Lauren Winner -- On Patronage

I first met Lauren ten years ago. We were sitting in the back row of a hotel ballroom during a worship service. We'd joined a couple hundred other twenty- and thirty-something folk in Washington State for a conference called The Vine. The Vine (back yeeeeears ago when the term "Gen-X" was still in currency) brought together Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox to do one thing: to expose us to the vast range of Christian activity in the world. It was quite inspiring.

Three years later Lauren would publish her first book, Girl Meets God, to considerable acclaim. Our paths crossed six years later in 2006, at the Grand Rapids airport, as we made our way to Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing. Then in May of 2008 I wrote her a note. In it I invited her to contribute a chapter to my book, For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. Long story short she said yes, and here we are two years later with a tremendous essay on patronage. Or rather it is an essay on the culturally and emotionally complicated but theologically necessary practice of patronage. I'm including an excerpt from the opening of her terrific chapter.

One practical note: to write "T-minus 2" is a little fudgy of me. The book is actually out. All week long I've been saying "Woohoo!" and "Is that book on my desk really my book?" It is, thanks be to God. You can pre-order it pretty much anywhere, but Baker Books or Amazon will work just fine, I imagine.

The painting above is by Baker Galloway. It accompanies Lauren's chapter in the book. Its title is "Just Trying to Get By," and I love how it plays, very sneakily, with Lauren's essay.

THE ART PATRON: Someone Who Can't Draw a Straight Line Tries to Defend her Art-Buying Habit

Five years ago, I was asked a question about art I have not been able to shake. The setting: a lecture hall at a small Christian school in the northeast. I had been asked to give a lecture about memoir. The talk went pretty well, and many people in the audience had read Girl Meets God, the memoir that recounts a year shortly after my conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Afterwards, one of the audience members approached me. She said that she had enjoyed my book and had learned a lot about Judaism from it. But she was very disturbed by one passage, which she flipped to in her copy of the book. It was marked by a big black “X” in the margin, and an even bigger black question mark.

The passage in question was my discussion of the first time I ever spent money on art, which was a papercutting of Ruth 1:21 by a contemporary Jewish artist named Diane Paley. I purchased this papercutting at a very particular moment: a season in which I was trying to understand what kind of relationship (if any) I could still have with Judaism; a time during which, in ways not always easy to articulate, I deeply mourned my own rejection of the Judaism in which I had grown up. . . .

That was the passage from Girl Meets God my interlocutor found troubling—my description of buying the papercutting. She said she was disturbed by my willingness to spend that much money on a piece of art. I think that she felt I was too glib and flippant in narrating that purchase, that I hadn’t demonstrated any awareness of the privilege entailed in dropping the equivalent of two months’ rent on a piece of art. “How, in terms of Christian ethics,” she asked, “can you justify spending that money on art when there are poor people to be fed?”

I have pondered her question many, many times. The woman’s concern . . . is a variation of a long-standing trope that tacitly criticizes the excesses of European cathedrals. Money for stained glass windows? Gold altars? Elaborate stone carvings? When there are starving children around the corner? Scandalous! This is just one of the themes that has given many in the world—and many in the church—the impression that Christians, or at least Protestants, are hostile to “the arts.”

I tried for a two-pronged response: on one hand, to take my interlocutor seriously as a messenger speaking on behalf the God who became poor himself and, on the other, to undertake my obligations to that God and to the poor people in my neighborhood in the frame of what we might call a Eucharistic ethics of abundance. The God who impoverished himself is also the God of abundance, and somehow, perhaps at times nonsensically, Christians are called to live out of an ethic not of scarcity but of abundance—an abundance that extends both to the homeless neighbor and to the artist neighbor. . . .

I feel uncomfortable even writing about this. It’s embarrassing to talk about money, embarrassing to talk about having the money to buy a painting or a papercutting. It’s one thing to talk in an abstract or even theological way about “supporting the arts.” It’s quite another to talk about actually having written a check for a piece of sculpture or a tapestry or a nineteenth-century silhouette. This is a very concrete, practical piece of what it means for the church to support the arts. . . .

(“Used by permission of Baker Books DIVISION, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 20__. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.”)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Article: On Architecture & the Church

I published an article recently on Richard Hooker and church architecture. Hooker is the 16th-century divine who bequeathed to Anglicanism the possibility of a via media. Navigating between "Rome" and "Geneva," he posited a liturgy that was both catholic and biblical (and, yes, those terms are anything but self-evident). But as the modern literature scholar Charles Sisson writes, “In the long and crowded roll of great English men of letters there is no figure of greater significance to the instructed mind as Hooker." His ideas, that is, are worth paying attention to.

My article appeared in the publication, The Living Church. Regrettably the piece is not retrievable online. You'd have to buy the magazine. But it's a good mag; solid folks behind it, including my friend Douglas Leblanc. Their tagline is: "An Independent Weekly Supporting Catholic Anglicanism."

The above photo is page 10 of their February 7 -- "Church Architecture & Restoration Issue." That's where my article begins.

I am pasting an excerpt from the piece (which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed writing), with the hope that you will consider purchasing the magazine itself.

Hooker understood that decisions about the Church’s liturgical order could not be made casually. He offered therefore four general principles which, he believed, could be reasonably granted about the outward form of true religion. These four principles function in Hooker’s argument in axiomatic fashion, in need not of evidence but only of lively commendation. They are presuppositions which, if respected, he believed would yield a form of worship that might glorify God. They are, in summary form:

1. Our external life ought to be an expression of internal and invisible realities.

2. The wisdom of the ancients ought to 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 ought to allow the authority of “Mother Church” to decide these matters chiefly because wisdom operates most truly in communal form.

4. The Church should not enforce its polity in rigid manner, but rather allow for a degree of latitude in the application of that polity to the different circumstances of parishes.

Behind the first principle lies a sacramental vision of the world. For Hooker the Church was mystically the Body of Christ in the world. This view becomes most evident in his treatment of the doctrine of the Incarnation. As he asserts: “The Church is to us that very mother of our new birth in whose bowels we are all bred, at whose breasts we receive nourishment. … God made Eve of the rib of Adam. And his Church he frameth out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of man.” Thus for Hooker signs on earth can and, indeed, must resemble as closely as possible the things they signify -- the Church visible resembling the Church that “in heaven is beautified.”

Behind the second principle is a question: Which are the best kinds of decisions? Hooker’s answer: the wise ones. Wisdom should be held in the highest regard in our search for right order. Wisdom also is to be seen largely as the property of elders — and in the case of the historical Church, the ancients — so it is to them that we must defer.

The third principle concedes that the Church will have need to reform its liturgy. When occasion arises, Christians should accept that “in the counsel of many, there is much wisdom” (Prov. 12:15). Hooker asks (over against his accusers): If a man thinks he has been given a special message from God, will not God confirm it to others? The presumed answer is yes. Where innovation occurs, then, it ought to be done under the guidance of the Church’s sanctioned authority, not on the “bare and naked” conceit of any one person.

Hooker’s fourth proposition testifies to a refreshingly practical spirit that marks the whole of his writing. He believed no general law, especially pertaining to adiaphora (things indifferent), could be universally applied in an inflexible manner to all persons in all times and places. That would be to misunderstand the nature of law. Our goal rather should be “to practice general laws according to their right meaning.” Laws may be just, but they are rarely perfect. Individual equity will not be against the law, but it may sometimes lie beyond it. In some cases or for the common good, therefore, “certain profitable ordinances” will sometimes need to be released, rather than all people always be strictly required to observe them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


It snowed last week in Durham, NC. This is our tale.

(Note: I don't know why these videos show a blank screen, but they do work, so go ahead, click and watch the magic happen.)

1. Purpose Driven Running.


2. Reporting live from Durham, NC.


3. New Winter Olympic Sport


4. Up.


Friday, February 05, 2010

T-minus 3: Book: Joshua Banner -- Nurturing Artists in your Local Church

My friend Joshua Banner lives in Holland, Michigan. As you can imagine, the town of Holland, with its modest nod to all things Dutch, is a cold place. It's especially chilly in winter. Josh finds himself there because he is the Minister of Music and Art at Hope College. To say that he is a "Minister" at this liberal arts college (alma mater, to wit, of Sufjan Stevens) is another way of saying that he is a genius with students. His weekly responsibility involves, among other things, leading chapel services for two thousand kids at a time. I have to say I am impressed. Anybody who can lead four worship services a week--week after week--is überstark.

I met Josh through his music. It's beautiful, by the way. We liked it so much at Hope Chapel that we invited him to be our co-guest artist, along with Charlie Peacock, at our 2003 arts festival in Austin. With our shared interest in art, church, theology, beards and cooking, Josh and I immediately hit it off. Susanna (née) Childress, I have to admit, hit it off better. She earned her PhD in poetry and then married the boy. But I've always appreciated Josh's heart. I've known him to be a man, as the Psalmist puts it, "tamim" of heart: a man of integrity.

A number of years ago, Josh was the arts pastor at a church in Oklahoma City. Before that he studied literature and philosophy at Wheaton College. Before that he worked with his father and grandfather in the cornfields of central Illinois. That makes him supremely qualified, in my mind, to write a chapter on the similarities between farming and pastoring. "A good farmer," he writes in his opening statement, "loves the land." In the same way, a pastor of artists must first and foremost learn how to love, nurture, attend to and exercise a great deal of humble patience in the care of artists. I love Josh's chapter in our book, For the Beauty of the Church. It is so wonderfully written. It is wise. It is hopeful. And--perhaps best of all in a book full of ideas--it is supremely practical.

I offer you an excerpt as a foretaste of what is to come.

The Importance of Intentionally Pursuing People

As a pastor, I understand that the initiative to bridge the distance is my responsibility. Artists can be shy and self-effacing, or brusque and unresponsive. More significantly, many have not imagined what a relationship with a church might mean. The arts and the church seemingly exist in different conceptual worlds. In order to break into the world of an artist, all I need is sincere curiosity and interest in sharing in the artist’s world.

Rachel was something of a loner. She was acutely independent with a strong personality. I remember watching her stomp to the beat of the worship music in her hiking boots, dreadlocks flying. She enjoyed participating in our worship services, but came only when she felt like it. I met her after leading a Bible study at an apartment near the University of Oklahoma. Something I’d said betrayed my interest in the arts, so she approached me afterwards to say hello. Our first conversation began something like this:

What is your medium?

Printmaking? Oh yeah? What kind?

How long have you been making prints?

What subjects interest you?

Which artists are your influences?

What inspires you?

And the most important question: When do I get to see your work?

I invited myself into her studio space. We met with some of her friends for lunch and then she took me to the art building. She pulled her work out of a locker and let me spend an hour looking over them. Fascinated by her sense of color, I asked to borrow a few pieces. The next time I saw her, she called me her new best friend. In time Rachel became one of my most regularly featured artists.

If an artist doesn’t have a concert scheduled soon or a gallery opening, I invite myself into their studio space. Songwriters often have a couple recorded songs they will give me on a disc. Sometimes I invite them to sit down with a guitar to show me a new song in person. With visual artists, I especially like to visit their creative space and see works in progress. Writers email me drafts of this and that. We don’t need to be experts in each artist’s medium. We simply need to be curious and demonstrate that we believe what artists are doing is important—to call their creative risks “good” just as the Creator blessed his own handiwork in the first seven days—and to bless that work by giving it our attention and sharing in it. If Christians should excel at anything, it is sharing with each other deeply.

Pastoring, I suggest, should be understood as synonymous with nurturing. All Christians are called to nurture and care for others. Yet those in leadership, whether pastors or lay leaders, should be distinguished largely because they are capable of extending care to others. A nurturer possesses the initiative necessary to penetrate the outer shell, the crusted topsoil, of a person’s life. A nurturer is able to till the soil. A nurturer moves past layers of presumption and self-reliance in order to earn a person’s trust so that she will receive love. Each of us will have particular types of artists that we are drawn to and who are drawn to us. The question is: How do we earn their trust?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Testimony: One Person's Experience of Last Year's Retreat for Ministers to Artists

I have a report I want to write on my time at Calvin College's worship symposium. It will have to wait, though, till later in the week. I need to catch up on schoolwork. In the meantime I want to post a testimony by Terri Fisher. Terri is a good friend who attended last year's "Ministers to Artists" retreat. I asked her to write up her reflections, and this is her lovingly rendered essay. I'm very grateful to her. I do hope this will help any folks who are still trying to decide whether to come to the retreat--especially those who doubt whether they properly fit the "pastor" category.

We're shy of one month away. March 4 is just around the corner. There is still space to sign up, however, but not that much, so if in doubt, do come because the very worst that could happen to you is that you'd experience a very restful weekend in a refreshing setting of physical beauty.


I love an open freeway with the scenery of southwest Texas flying past, as I drive into the setting sun. In October of 2008 I was headed west on I-10. My destination was the tranquil place known as Laity Lodge, just a little past Kerrville, Texas. Alone in the car I asked myself what in the world I was doing! I barely knew David Taylor and I felt completely unqualified to be attending a retreat for artists. How would I explain my existence to anyone who might ask? I was, after all, just a middle-aged woman praying for direction after my busy nest of motherhood had emptied. For an hour and a half, the scenery flew by and I concentrated on praying away my traveling companions: Fear and Doubt.

Arriving at the Laity Lodge entrance, I tentatively guided my car down the steep canyon road, around sharp bends, and finally to a dead end at the river bed. Really? I knew the directions said to turn left onto the riverbed... but really? As I signaled a left hand turn (to alert the fish of my entrance into their world, I guess) it felt like a baptism. The riverbed, out of sight but rock solid, was waiting. I rolled the windows down and listened to the flowing water lap and splash around the tires. For a half a mile, my anxiety was being carried away in the opposite direction my car was headed. That was only a foretaste.

Grace best describes my first retreat at Laity Lodge. Rather than feeling like I didn’t belong, the artists welcomed me. Rather than feeling an outsider, I felt embraced. When someone would ask me what I did, I replied tentatively that I prayed for artists. Their gratitude and excitement gave me the courage to speak those words with more and more confidence in the coming months. My life has been enriched, expanded, and transformed at both the retreats I’ve attended at Laity Lodge. (And it goes way beyond the delicious food they serve you everyday, the welcoming staff, the comfortable accommodations, and the absolute serenity of the place!)

In April 2009 I once more crossed the threshold of the Frio riverbed (again, signaling the fish before my turn) to join a wonderful group of people who had accepted the call to shepherd artists. Our bodies were nourished, our hearts encouraged, and our souls enriched through worship, discussion, prayer, and opportunity to be still before the Lord. Our pastoral tool boxes were filled with excellent teaching given by Mako Fujimura and David Taylor—both artists, both shepherds. I can’t speak for every single person, but I left the serene setting of Laity Lodge better equipped for my calling to shepherd artists. And it’s a good thing, because the Lord has blessed my heart’s desire to serve artists in lay ministry. I could not have done it without the teaching and encouragement I’ve received from the ministry of Laity Lodge.

In March there will be another retreat specifically targeting shepherds of artists. If you find yourself with a heart longing to pray for the artists in your life, but like me, feel hesitant about what your role might be, banish the companions of Fear and Doubt and join me in attending the upcoming retreat, March 4th-7th. The teaching will be nourishing to your soul and the fellowship unforgettable.