Sunday, August 28, 2011

3 IVP art books

These are three books that I've read or that I look forward to reading. Thanks to the good people at IVPress for sending advanced copies. (Descriptions are taken from the IVP website.)

1. Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer by Juliet Benner.

"While working as a docent in an art gallery, Juliet Benner began showing people how to meditate on Christian art treasures that are rooted in a passage of Scripture. She taught a way of encountering the Word behind both the words of Scripture and the artist's meditation on Scripture. This became a way of seeing art as an aid to contemplative prayer. In each chapter you'll encounter a passage of Scripture and a corresponding piece of art. In the process you'll find yourself entering into a new experience of prayer and meditation in God's presence."

This is a great book for those who are looking for a marriage between lectio divina and the visual arts (or as it's often called, visio divina). It'd be suitable for personal devotion as well as for small groups. It includes artworks like Jean-François Millet's "The Angelus" and He Qi's "The Visitation," but I think Caravaggio's "The Supper at Emmaus" arrested my attention the longest.

2. The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vinita Hampton Wright.

"Creative work is soul work, and soul work is always creative work. Feeding one while neglecting the other will leave you restless and unsatisfied. Nurturing them both will lead you to new places of self-discovery and God-discovery. 'I believe that spirituality and creativity are intricately connected, yet they are rarely nurtured and talked about that way,' contends Vinita Hampton Wright. In these pages she leads you through the process and practice of integrating the worlds of Christian spirituality and creativity."

Some of the interesting chapter titles include "The Heart-Stopping Act of Saying Yes," "How to Craft but Not Control While Using Both Sides of the Brain" and "How to Thrive as a Creative in the Real World."  I've yet to read this book but I have a hunch it'll do me a measure of good.

3. Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination by Brian Godawa.

"In his refreshing and challenging book, Godawa helps you break free from the spiritual suffocation of heady faith. Without negating the importance of reason and doctrine, Godawa challenges you to move from understanding the Bible 'literally' to 'literarily' by exploring the poetry, parables and metaphors found in God's Word. Weaving historical insight, pop culture and personal narrative throughout, Godawa reveals the importance God places on imagination and creativity in the Scriptures, and provides a biblical foundation for Christians to pursue image, beauty, wonder and mystery in their faith."

The two quotes that start the book off are by G. K. Chesterton and Jane Austen.

"Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers, but creative artists very seldom. I am not in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination." -- Chesterton, Orthodoxy

"It would surely be much more rational if conversation rather than dancing made the order of the day...."
"Much more rational ... I daresay; but it would not be near so much like a ball." -- Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Friday, August 19, 2011

Liturgical Formation & Shakespearean Impersonation

"We could attend our neighborhood church to be soothed in the knowledge that all was well as our tour guide slipped into leotards to dance, yet again, an interpretation of the Twenty-third Psalm." -- A.K., monk of the Archabbey of St. Meinrad 

I've been reading, and relishing, Aidan Kavanagh's On Liturgical Theology. Not only is it a masterful work of theological erudition, it is also beautifully and wittily written. One certainly wishes more books like this were written. Then again that would be to wish that we were all extraordinarily gifted. We're not, though there is something to be said for giving it a try.

(See video below for an extraordinary sample of thespian skill.)

A passage I read this morning from Kavanagh reminds me of something Jennifer Herdt said in her book, Putting on Virtue. Arguing against an "inspirationalist" view of discipleship, which believes we become Christ's disciples by waiting for the right inspiration or experience to cross our paths, Herdt encourages us to pay attention to the practices of an actor.

The goal of the Christian, she writes, as with the actor too, is not to be original but to be rightly imitative. Sam Wells, arguing a similar line in his slim but punchy volume, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, says our job as disciples of Jesus is to be less original than obvious. As he puts it: "Free from the paralysis of being original, the pressure to be clever, the fear of the unconscious, and the demand to be solemn," Christians, under the tutelage of Scripture, can learn how "to take the right things for granted" (69).

The reason we play the role of Christ, whether in corporate worship or in our life at large, then, is so that we might play ourselves into the role of Christ. The reason we engage in regular practices that cultivate the life of Christ is a way for us to recognize that divine grace is mediated through “ordinary” means, not despite them. And the reason we “put on” exempla--whether St. Paul or Amy Carmichael or St. Francis or Jim Elliot or Dorothy Day--is because we believe that, as with Saint Genesius (3rd century AD), when we "put on" virtuous saints, there is a good chance that by the Spirit we might also become a virtuous saint.

In Herdt's words:

“In that ultimate sense virtue is imitative rather than original, while nevertheless being reflective of the distinctiveness of each individual character and each particular social and historical context—at the same time mimetic and authentic” (344).

Kavanagh comes along and says: pay attention to what you do in corporate worship. Everything that takes place in our public liturgies, from beginning to end, from front to back, from top to bottom, should be in the business of forming us into the trinitarian image of God.

Of all the juicy fruit he drops along this vein, here is one of my favorite:

"The liturgy does not analyze, explain, propound propositions, or polemicize. It does not attempt to educate in a didactic manner or to be commended in a public relations manner. It supports, forms, and nurtures by engaging people in communal acts within which the whole of rite as I have described it comes into motion. The liturgy cracks open radical values, invites without coercing people into them, and celebrates their living presence deep within these same values.... Thus the liturgy does not merely talk about God, but manifests the assembly's graced union with Father, through Son, in Spirit" (115).

It goes without saying that this is a description of the liturgy at its best (at our best too). He continues:

"When the liturgy moves or is moved from being of God to being about God, that is, when it shifts toward being some form of education done in a doxological context for ideological ends, then significant mutations begin to occur. Concepts become more precise, the assembly more passive, ministries more learned, sermons more erudite, and pews fixed. Texts proliferate, the sonic arts of liturgical oratory and the kinetic arts of ceremony fade, and people find themselves in church to receive a message rather than to do, somehow, the World according to divine pleasure.... 

Christianity becomes one telegram of consolation among others rather than a sustained experience of the presence of the living God, an experience which is itself the corporate message a liberated People proclaim in a world snared in thickets of its own making" (116).

In honor of this idea that, in corporate worship, we put on the whole of Christ with the whole of our person in the whole context of the people of God, I share with you this clever video. Here is a man who knows how to put it on. I watched it three times in a row just to savor the little moments of brilliance. (Thanks to Father Steve Breedlove for passing it along.)

(Image above: St. Genesius, patron saint of actors, attorneys, barristers, clowns, comedians, comediennes, comics, converts, dancers, epileptics, lawyers, musicians, printers, stenographers, and torture victims. He's a busy saint. Quote is taken from Kavanagh's book, pg. 68.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

10 questions for artists

The following is a list of questions that I've drafted for the arts conference this weekend. I trust that the artists will have a chance to make something of them during small group discussions. I offer them here in the hope that they might prove helpful to other artists too, wherever they might gather. The intent of the questions is to provoke thought and to uncover deeper desires and concerns.

For what it's worth, I think a good facilitator would be helpful to negotiate the discussion as it unfolds (in, as the case may be, unpredictable ways).

Questions For Artists:

1. Who are one or two people who have been most significant to you in your development as an artist?

2. How would you describe the role that your family (of origin or presently) has played in your development as an artist?

3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you gauge your level of ambition as an artist?

4. What are one or two factors that, when they’re in place, enable you to really flourish artistically?

5. What are one or two factors that make it more difficult for you to flourish?

6. What are one or two primary areas of fear for you as an artist?

7. Ideally speaking, with reference to your life and work as an artist, where would you like to be in five years?

8. In what one or two things would you like to grow stronger in your relationship with God at the moment?

9. As you think of the factors that would enable you to flourish as an artist, rate the following list on a scale of 1 to 10: from most desirous to least desirous. (And you can’t put two in a tie; you have to rate them in order of priority. The idea is that, in forcing you to choose an order of priority, you'll discover what you really care about right now.) Then share with the group the reasons for your particular order.

1) Money.
2) Training/education.
3) Talent.
4) Mentors.
5) The right city to live in.
6) A small group of peer artists (to help you refine your work and push you to excel)
7) A small community of supportive friends.
8) A different personality than the one you have.
9) Greater discipline.
10) Time.

10. What are one or two ways we can be praying for you at the moment?

(Photo credits: above, Michèle M. Waite; below, French photographer "JR".)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Vancouver: A photographic record

Beautiful British Columbia

Phaedra and I had a fantastic time during our visit to Vancouver in early May. The staff and faculty at Regent College welcomed us warmly, while the Pastors Conference brought me into conversation with very dear people. The weather remained friendly to our walkabouts around town. Friends, old and new, kept us company throughout--Bill Reimer, Rick Smith, Rikk Watts, Gordon Smith, Ahna Phillips, Brian Moss, Rosie Perera, Jo and Derek White, Laurel Gasque, Rod Wilson, Ross Hastings, Don Lewis.

I have only fond memories of my years at Regent (and a few embarrassing ones too--God help us for the dramatic sketches that I inflicted on the seminary during our Tuesday chapels).  I'm grateful for the generous service that that "green little bunsen burner" has offered for many years. I'm impressed with their commitment to the arts--herehereherehere--and I'm glad to see the large number of international students on campus.

I'm hopeful for the school and its role in shaping both laity and clergy, both future scholars and present professionals. And I'm always challenged by the humility I encounter in the faculty. Is there any better incentive to study hard? Is there any other way to inspire students to love the church and to serve their neighbors? I can't think of one.

Here, then, is a small photographic record of our time in Beautiful British Columbia.


This way.


Sounds of the homeland.

Weird performance artist with bullwhip.

Sushi (shared with good people).

In good company.

Regent College chapel--singing fulsomely.

Ross Hastings, Rod Wilson, myself and Paul Williams.

A sample of the Regent College library's gorgeous art collection.

Beautiful and Useful: "True North Wind Tower."

Anchor for Queen of Nanaimo Ferry.


After sun.


Tasty adult beverage.

Galiano Island.


View from the breakfast table at A Rocha BC.


Leah Kostamo and her beautiful girls.

Gobble, gobble.

Horse tails.
Markku (director of A Rocha Canada) and Leah.

Pike Place Market, Seattle.
"Would you like some olive oil with your gluten free pasta?"

Piano man.

Man's best friend: 1.

Man's best friend: 2.

Man's best friend: 3.

Man's best friend: 4.

Man's best friend: The end.

Driving back to one of the most beautiful airports in el mundo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

An Interview with the Trinity Artists Blog

In preparation for my visit to Atlanta and the arts conference that Trinity Anglican Church will be sponsoring, I gave a little interview for their blog. Below are sample questions I answered. The rest you can find here. Info about the conference can be found here. Photo above is from our trip into the Blue Ridge Mountains (Lustre Pearl is this kickin' place in Austin). Photo below is from our brief stop at the (very curious) On The Edge Saloon, which did in fact sit perched on a mountain ledge.

Q: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

DT: That’s easy: a wolf.

Q: How do you stay motivated and disciplined as an artist in our distracting society?

DT: Ritualized practices make a world of a difference. And I make sure that somebody knows and cares what I’m working on and has permission to ask me how I’m coming along. That person can ask me at any time why I’m allowing myself to remain distracted and can pull out the BS meter whenever I start making repeated excuses.