Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1 Year Anniversary of the Book


When I say "the" book I mean For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. Yep. On March 2010 it saw the light of day. Twelve months, a couple score reviews and a handful of very entertaining radio interviews later, I remain grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing people along the way.

The critically good
Most of the feedback, thankfully, has been constructive. Some of the critical feedback has had a prodding but generous quality about it.  For example, Greg Scheer wrote me this note yesterday, with reference to my chapter:

"In the 'contextually relative' section, I wish you hadn't used children as an example. Kids are cute and young, so nobody's going to complain about their lack of skill. But what about the adult choir, artists or dancers at a 200 member local church? They rarely compare to trained professionals, but within their limitations and context they work hard and achieve good results. It always bugs me that some of my church's sophisticated parishioners will pay $50 for symphony tickets on Saturday and then speak disparagingly of our music on Sunday morning. 

Or the guy I was talking to who compared Sufjan Stevens ("what worship should be") to worship in the local church. The context of the touring/recording musician is completely unlike the level of music you can make from a pool of 100 or 1000."

I appreciate this concern and I'm glad Greg brought it to my attention. This is the kind of stuff that can make or break a music director's/pastor's day.

The critically cranky
I've had a few crabby reviews. It's not that I mind a thorough laundering of bad ideas or poor construction that the book might exhibit. Trust me. I know where the book gets it wrong. Like many of you I wish I had Hermione's time turner, so I could revise. Sometimes, though, you can't do much with a criticism.  Sometimes you get the feeling that a person has read the book a wee (carelessly) fast.

One lady at Goodreads chided it for celebrating "the beauty of a United States, mostly White Church." Well, whaddya say. Fair enough? Or maybe not or, well, ok, so what then?  If I were cheeky I'd respond by telling her that she had massively underestimated my sin of omission. Not only did I fail to use more Baptist women of color, I also neglected to include a single Brazilian, Native American Indian, green architect or Mennonite church elder. The list goes on.

To criticize a multi-author book for not including the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church--and to wit, saying nothing more--is like criticizing my favorite restaurant (Chuy's for the record) for excluding shark fillets and durian fruit. It sure does. But a restaurant can't be "all things to all men," unless you count Denny's as a brave but foolhardy effort in that direction.

While the concern she raises points to a serious issue, in practice two things have to be considered. One, I worked with people I knew. I built the symposium on the basis of relationship, not simply name- or talent-picking. The relational method mattered to me. Two, publishing houses won't likely publish an 89-author-volume, whose goal is to give voice to every conceivable constituency.

If I get another crack at planning a conference, trust me, I'll do my best to include other voices. It's one symposium, one book so far. Hopefully we'll have more to come. (That's me on a horse saying: "I'm on it.")

The critically friendly
The most friendly review I've received this past year was from Hearts and Minds Bookstore. I couldn't ask for a more happy estimation of my book than this. May the good people at H&MB prosper and live long (see review below).

A few thank yous
For all of you who have bought the book: thank you. For all of you who have read the book: thank you. For all of you who have shared the book with an artist or pastor or friend of any sort: thank you. To all of who have taken the time to write a review: thank you. To all the good people at Baker: thank you. To the other seven authors: I was a lucky guy to get to do this with you. To Phaedra for bearing with me through the whole process: I owe you a hot date at our favorite Indian restaurant.

(The photo at the bottom represents the last days of editing on the book. Good times.)

From Hearts and Minds Books:
"From the forward by poet Luci Shaw to the final chapter ("My Hopes and Prayer" by Taylor himself) this is a truly splendid collection. The pieces are relatively short, not overly demanding, yet thoughtful and rich and varied. Makoto Fujimura notes that it is "pragmatic and theologically astute at the same time" and he is correct. There is foundational, thoughtful, and inspiring theology and perspective here, and there are practical pieces, clear-headed proposals and positive suggestions. It is encouraging, if honest, and a wonderful example of how a wide variety of authors can contribute to a single, over-arching vision.

Unlike, say, our very favorite anthology of this sort, edited by Ned Bustard, It was Good: Making Art for the Glory of God (Square Halo Press), this collection is not necessarily by and for artists. Here we have John Witvliet on worship, Lauren Winner teaching us about art patronage, Eugene Peterson on the role of the pastor to encourage artists. (If you are an artist whose pastor does not encourage you, perhaps you could give this to him or her. Or, read this chapter for yourself, allowing Peterson to mentor you through his good words.)

Barbara Nicolosi, a fabulous Roman Catholic leader in the film industry offers an insightful chapter about the inclinations of the artistic types (and how to shepherd them.) There is a chapter for practitioners and a wise essay on the dangers of art-making in the local church. Jeremy Begbie's last chapter is a call for further scholarship and practice, offering good hope for the recent renaissance in Christians working in the arts.

Of course it has long been our position that artists----like bankers or teachers or counselors or engineers---don't have to do their work in the church, or in service of the gathered community in worship. Yet, there can be a vibrant relationship between artists and the local church, and this book has catapulted that conversation a light year ahead in the right direction.

What a fun array of authors, an excellent array of ideas, a good array of suggestions. Get this book, give it away, keep the conversation going."

6 comments:

Barbara D. Crone said...

I just recently found you and would love to read this book. I'm a 59 year old artist who has never received much artistic support from the church. They honestly never seemed to know what to do with me. I recall a church-worker gathering I attended in my 20's where the emphasis was on using your gifts for God. I raised a nervous hand and asked what I, as an artist, could do. After a brief silence it was suggested that I could decorate bulletin boards. That was it. Bulletin boards. Of course, I'd already been doing bulletin boards. It was depressing. And really, not much has changed since then.

w. david o. taylor said...

Barbara: nice to meet you and thanks for sharing your experience here. I'm so sorry to hear about that incident from your 20s. It's all too common, I'm afraid. But I do want you to know that you have a considerably large family of fellow artists who see/hear/taste/smell/touch and know the world in ways that I imagine are familiar to you and that God is doing a gracious work of pulling many of these artists together, not just towards each other but into the life of the church.

So hang in here. You're not alone. And I hope my book, and all the good people who contributed to it, encourages you.

Tamara @ Living Palm said...

Happy Anniversary, For the Beauty! It's been so good to know you this past year.

Bryce said...

Gregg has a point but unfortunately so do his sophisticated church goers, I believe that the book addresses this topic more than once. I believe the reason Sufjan is not leading worship at our local church is because the church has treated him and many other artists like Barbara, asking her to fix bulletin boards, or a talented musician to play with the bell choir. So Gregg, read the book again, Barbara read the book and then give it to your pastor to read, I believe the whole church should read this book, thank you David for taking the time to take it on and address the vision.
peace,

w. david o. taylor said...

Bryce, thanks for the vigorous support.

Joshua Banner said...

Re: Bryce's response to Greg's criticism. I think we can appreciate both sentiments at the same time and chalk it up to the awkwardness of making music in the local church. In the same vein I feel for the local preachers who are being compared to the circuit, celebrity preachers/teachers. The issue of proficiency, artistic excellence or integrity is a HUGE topic. David, I understand you posted Greg's thoughts as a gloss of the various reactions. This blog post seems similar to those emails NPR reads at the end of the week that contain both praise, correction and criticism. Seems healthy. FWIW the distance between Greg's thoughts and Bryce's reaction is real and a matter I wrestle with regularly and hope to talk with more people about in the future.