Friday, October 29, 2010

The old horror movies

For fun, and because I'm fascinated by the twin holidays of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day, I'm re-posting here an essay I wrote for CT on horror movies. If after reading the essay, you'd like to recommend movies that capture the horror genre well, please do so. I'll mention a few later in the day, after I've had a chance to put time into the books, but three that come to mind right now are THE OTHERS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and CORALINE.

Lastly, I do say prayers here and there for a small band of filmmakers to take on the horror genre. I pray for highly skilled filmmakers, well-read in both the literary and artistic history of horror, theologically savvy (i.e. familiar with and informed by the rich theological repository of writing about creation, theodicy, moral anthropology, soteriology, etc), smart enough to hire top-notch screenwriters if they themselves are not excellent writers, and finally financially resourced. That's what I pray for, among other things.

I believe in demons.

Fra Angelico, "All Saints Day"
I believe in angels. I believe in witchdoctors, voices and the Canaanite god Moloch. I believe in the Scientific Method. I believe in Satan. I believe in total depravity. I believe in common sense and the power of prayer. I believe this because I am a Christian. I believe this because as a child raised in the shadows of volcanoes tilting over Guatemala City, in a culture that syncretized Catholic saints to the Mayan gods, I had no reason to believe otherwise.

I believe in "supernatural" horror as much as I believe in the reliability of my Merrell shoes.

But what I believe is not the same thing as what I like or do not like.

RVD: "The sweet baby satan"
What I do not like is watching horror films at night—or the day—or pretty much at any other time. Not Se7en. Not The Ring. Not Poltergeist. I just can't. I tried watching Halloween in high school and I almost died of fright. I couldn't handle the images; I took them too literally. How could I not? People I knew as a child had been harassed by, well, honest-to-God demons. Of two things I was certain in my youth: that I did not like horror movies and that Christians did not watch horror movies, not for stylistic reasons but for the theological conviction that we should not. It was verboten.

Migrating to the suburbs of Chicago as a thirteen-year old, I discovered a culture of teenagers who watched and loved horror movies. I couldn't understand. What was the fascination? What need did these movies satisfy? A good laugh? A good scare? Did they not know that these scary things really did exist on the other side of the veil along with Wormwood and Lucifer?

(For the rest of the essay, see here. See here for Scott Derrickson's thoughts on horror movies.)
Pieter Bruegel, "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent" (1559)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our NYC trip in photos

What's not to like about subways?
When I take trips like the one we just did recently to New York City, they are not without consequences. Usually I return home to an impossible pile of school work. I sweat and swear my way through the late nights required to catch up. I don't think I've had to study as hard as I do in this program at Duke. I genuinely love the research and writing and I am not unaware of the privilege that it is to spend my days studying. But I do get spanked when I'm gone too long.

One unfortunate consequence of my trips outside of Durham is that I become somewhat un-social in Durham. I wish it were different; at times I do feel genuinely bad. And I don't agree to these trips without long conversations with Phaedra and a few earnest prayers. But the reason I take these trips is that in visiting with artists and churches around the country I am reminded why I'm at school. I am reminded afresh for whom I study, and that honestly makes all the difference. It makes the late-night and long-weekend catch-up sessions worth it. So long as my marriage is healthy and my spiritual life is in tact, I'm ok. (Well, to be frank they also occasionally help pay the bills.)

That said, I have no mental energy to write up my thoughts from our time in NYC. I'll do that shortly. In the meanwhile I'll leave you with a few photographic highlights. Both Phaedra and I really did love our time in New York. What a great city, what great people, and what ridiculously good food, of all sorts, from all countries, at all times of the night and some of which is, thank God, gluten free. We can't wait to go back.

Street cart hot dogs always taste better. Lots of grease? Yes, please.

That's right. You feelin' the danger, buddy?

A fine collection of Regent College alumni

My Italian mother would love this picture. 

Chinese hot pot. Yum yum. Hot hot.

Phaedra beholding the glory: a gluten-free bakery.

St. John the Divine: a small church in New York City.

What happens if you sit for too long in St. John's.  The ghost of me.

What? There's something big and nasty behind me? 

Flying with the lady who is practically perfect in every way.

The museum where Phaedra wept for love of so much beauty.

Hey! Why's the guy behind me imitating me?

St. Michael's Church where I spoke. Here pictured: me, Gordon Fee, Maria Fee and Kenyon Adams. Gorrr-geous art and architecture.

Goofing with some of the CIVA board members. Who's that guy with the scrappy hair?

All Angels Church folk: David Berry (PhD candidate at Julliard), Russ Wedelich (music engineer genius), Marco Steuernagle (PhD candidate at NYU in theater). Artists. Love 'em.

Kindred spirits. Twinkle, twinkle.

Kindred spirits in Central Park.

A beautifully useless bug in the subway station.

Very fine hosts: Brian and Maria Fee.

Big ol' E-Harmony in Times Square.

Two generations of relational harmony. Very happy.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Redeemer Presbyterian NYC Arts Talk

New York City in yellow
This coming Friday I will have the privilege of speaking at a Redeemer Presbyterian Church InterArts Fellowship event. The event will take place at St. Michael's Church (that would be New York City's St. Michael's), starting at 7:00 pm. I will have the distinct honor of sharing the stage with Gordon Fee. Dr. Fee, a New Testament scholar, was one of my favorite professors at Regent College. It'll be great fun to partner with him. The event is open to the public. See here for details of the event.

The title of my talk is "Art, the Spirit, Fig Trees and the Problem of Abundance." My general aim will be to persuade my listeners that the distinctive excesses which we experience in the arts function as a sign of the Spirit’s work in the world. I will explore a pattern in Scripture, I will unpack briefly how the arts generate "excesses," and I will suggest a way in which this idea of excess might foster a virtuous mission in the world.  All in 40 minutes!

A practical aim will be to wonder out loud whether the arts, rightly practiced, might not disciple us to become people marked by God’s economy of abundance precisely because they bring us into a participation of Christ’s “grace piled on top of grace” (John 1:16).

I would certainly hope that we might catch a glimpse of the way the experience of art could become a welcome antidote to the peculiar ailments that beset many Americans: whether an exhaustion generated by a grinding drivenness or a sense of alienation that many feel in their relationships.

A pastoral aim will be to encourage artists in the specific calling which God has entrusted to them.

If you're in the area, please feel free to drop in.

I've copied here three statements that have been particularly helpful as I prepare my talk. I follow them with a video that says: Yes, David wishes he were a hip hop guy. (Thank you, Bruce.) Pics are from my visit in 2003.

New York City in grey

Reinhard Hütter on creation as overflow: “Creation is the overflow of God’s abundant love as reflected in the inner life of the triune God” (164, citation from “Creation ex Nihilo: Promise of the Gift,” Currents in Theology and Mission 19.2 (1992): 92).

Stanley Hauerwas on learning how to see: “Both love and great art show us our world with a clarity which startles us because we are not used to looking at the real world at all” (“The Significance of Vision: Toward an Aesthetic Ethic,” 39).

Sam Wells' summary of the history of the world: “It is a story of enough becoming not enough becoming too much” (God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics, 19).

Friday, October 08, 2010

My Christianity Today write-up of the Crowder conference

Lots of lite brites

My write-up of Crowder's Fantastical Church Music Conference is up at CT, "Like A Sloppy Wet Kiss."

"You know you are at a worship conference sponsored by David Crowder when a fog machine kicks in and gobo lights wash the stage in color while the Welcome Wagon sings an exquisitely spare version of "Hail to the Lord's Anointed." It makes you wonder what the Moravian James Montgomery (1771-1854), author of the hymn, would have thought...."

For more, see here.

As with all such write-ups, I was not able to say everything I might wish to say. A few of those things include the following. 

One, I was honored to share the panel session with Bob Kauflin. What a great guy. I really wish I'd had more time with him. (See here his thoughts on the conference.)

Two, I use the term contemporary worship music in a restrictive sense. I use it largely to describe pop-rock and folk music coming out of evangelical circles. The fact is, Dan Schutte (Catholic), Brian Wren (mainline Protestant) and James MacMillan (Scottish classical composer) all create contemporary worship music, if by that we mean music written today in service of the church's worship. For that matter, so are Laila Constantine of Lebanon, who authored a haunting version of the Lord's Prayer, and Munkherdene Banzrageh of Mongolia, who penned "Holy Gift of Love" (see here for details).

Three, my impression is that the biggest percentage of church denomination represented at the conference was the non-denom churches. Very interesting.

Four, all quotes are paraphrases or near-verbatim citations. I tried to get statements as accurately as possible. Apologies if I didn't and I'd be happy to be corrected.

Five, here's a great quote from Matt Redman, whom I discovered to be a considerably funny man.

"Matt Maher is like a Rachmaninov and I’m like a musical ape. Matt, well, it's like he ate the Pope. He’s got so much inside of him to work with."

Six, I couldn't post a lot of photo and video material, so I'm going to do that here. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, I am grateful for Crowder's invitation and all the stimulating conversations with participating musicians, and I had a ball leading a workshop on the Psalter and CWM. I look forward to seeing what comes of it all. Click on pics if you want a larger version. Apologies for the blurry video on some; I had an itsy bitsy camera to work with.

Oh, one more thing, David Crowder is tall.

Francis Chan (aka the Hulk)
Paper Route: rockers extraordinaire
Josh Banner, Derek Webb, me and David Crowder

Panel peeps: Peacock, Dark, Haseltine, Kauflin, Redman and Crowder

Hillsong London
Mister BiFrost Arts himself

Mike Crawford: a brite light

The man

Gungor music

Paper Route music

Panel "music"

Israel Houghton music

Hillsong London music

The David Crowder Band music

BiFrost Arts music

John Mark McMillan's non-sloppy wet kiss music

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Facebook and my New Favorite Biblically Epic Worship Song

I wanted to mention here that while I post once or twice a week on the blog, I post almost daily on Facebook. With this Crowder conference, it means I posted several times a day. I posted pics, videos and quotes. Friend me if you wish. Good times.

When it comes to Mike Crawford and his Secret Siblings (or see here), I realize I'm coming late to the game. I heard them yesterday at Crowder's deal. (Stay tuned for a report I'm writing for Christianity Today.) I'd had a chance to chat several times with their drummer, Isaac Anderson. I was impressed. Then I spoke with other band members and I knew that I'd stumbled upon a really special group of people. Most of them attend Jacob's Well in Kansas City, MO. One of the songs they played Saturday morning is titled "Words to Build a Life on." I was very moved by it.

I've decided that it will become my official new favorite biblically epic worship song for the month of October. Here are the words. I've posted a video clip from the conference as well as a couple of pics.

These are words to build a life on
These are Your words how can they be mine
These are words to build a life on
These are Your words I want them to be mine

Blessed are the poor
Blessed are the weak
Blessed are the ones
Who can barely speak

Blessed in your hurt
Blessed in your pain
Blessed when your teardrops
Are falling down like rain

Blessed when you’re broken
Blessed when you’re blind
Blessed when you’re fragile
When you have lost your mind

Blessed when you’re desperate
Blessed when you’re scared
Blessed when you’re lonely
Blessed when you’ve failed

Blessed when you’re beat up
Blessed when you’re bruised
Blessed when you’re tore down
Blessed when you’re used

These are words to build a life on
These are Your words how can they be mine
These are words to build a life on
These are Your words I want them to be mine

Blessed when you’re heartbroke
Blessed when you’re fired
Blessed when you’re choked up
Blessed when you’re tired

Blessed when the plans
That you so carefully laid
End up in the junkyard
With all the trash you made

Blessed when you feel like
Giving up the ghost
Blessed when your loved ones
Are the ones who hurt you most

Blessed when you lose your
Own identity
Then blessed when you find it
And it has been redeemed

Blessed when you see what
Your friends can never be
Blessed with your eyes closed
Then blessed you see Me

These are words to build a life on
These are Your words how can they be mine
These are words to build a life on
These are Your words I want them to be mine

Blessed when you’re hungry
Blessed when you thirst
Cause that’s when you will eat of
The bread that matters most

Blessed when you’re put down
Because of me you’re dissed
Because of me you’re kicked out
They take you off their list

You know you’re on the mark
You know you’ve got it right
You are to be my salt
You are to be my light

So bring out all the flavor
In the feast of this My world
And light up all the colors
Let the banner be unfurled

Shout it from the rooftops
Let the trumpets ring
Sing your freaking lungs out
Jesus Christ is King!

Jesus is my Savior
Jesus is divine
Jesus is my answer
Jesus is my life

These are words to build a life on
These are Your words how can they be mine
These are words to build a life on
These are Your words I want them to be mine

Give us ears that we may hear them
voice that we may sing them
life that we may live them
hope that we may give them
hearts that we can feel them
eyes that we can see them
thoughts that we may think them
tongues that we may speak Your words

DC, DT and the MC Secret Siblings