Monday, October 31, 2011

CIVA and something Steve Jobs' sister said

"Miriam, Virgin Mother," by Bruce Herman, CIVA board member

John Witvliet prophesied that, once baby came, I'd be blogging less. John is a true prophet. He's right.  I'm going to be blogging less for the foreseeable future, and John deserves a fine robe and a staff that makes miraculous things happen. Oh, wait, he already does that: he's the director of CICW.

This past week I've spent an inordinate amount of time away from my wife and infant child. Good grief. Who knew a man's heart could constantly and perhaps uncontrollably expand, and nearly break, for love of his daughter. I'm ready to be home. At the moment I'm taking advantage of Toronto International Airport's way cool free wi-fi to jot down a few notes about my visit to NYC. Next I'll share notes from the lectures I gave at Tyndale College in Toronto.

CIVA has an exciting future ahead.
If you're a believer visual artist, I'm here to tell you: CIVA is for you. If you're a professional contemporary visual artist: CIVA is for you. If you're a gallery director or curator: CIVA is for you. If you're a teacher or critic or collector: CIVA is for you.

And, yes, if you're a church leader of any sort whatsoever: CIVA is for you.

You can get a precis of CIVA's history here, but suffice to say, CIVA is an organization that's serious about art and serious about faith. Having spent the past weekend in meetings with the board, roaming around New York City from MOBIA to All Angels Church, from Jersey City to Queens, I have a great sense of hope about the organization's future.

To the two groups that have every good reason to be nervous about CIVA--professional artists and church leaders--and, yes, you should be nervous--I am here to tell you, Hermes-like: "Stay alert. Don't give up on CIVA. Watch what is about to come down the pipeline. CIVA's best days are ahead. Better yet: join us and help us take the organization into a vibrant, muscly, fruitful place." (What CIVA has accomplished thus far, over the past three decades or so, is outstanding. Full stop. But according to the testimony of folks who've been with the organization from the beginning, CIVA is entering into a new, and very exciting, season as a non-profit organization.)

The 2013 biennial conference will take place in Chicago, home to some of the most arresting architecture in America, a vibrant group of churches, outstanding museums and Batman. It'll be killer.

At some point in the near future, God-willing, a conference devoted exclusively to the question of the church's relation to the visual arts will take place. By "church" I mean the church in its worship, community, discipleship, service and mission to the world in the broadest and most concrete sense of these terms. By "visual arts" I mean anything you could ever imagine falling under that medium. Stay tuned.

If you want to join a growing community of visual artists, check this out.

If you're a church who has wanted to exhibit really beautiful visual artwork, check this out.

If you're wondering whether CIVA's board is comprised of sharp, humble, servant-hearted, energetic, far-sighted, well-connected men and women, the answer is: yes. Most definitely yes. See their bios here. The organization is in the hands of good leaders, if I may be so bold.

Am I indulging in a bit of hyperbole in this blog entry?

Not really. Not if I'm honest.

My only regret about my trip to NYC is that I didn't take enough photos. This subway-riding mug of me and Brian Moss is as good as it gets.

Something Steve Jobs' sister said is sticking with me all day
"I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

 Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother."

-- Mona Simpson, "A Sister's Eulogy for Steve Jobs"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Advice to Advent Devotional writers

Phaedra Jean Taylor, "Annunciation"
At the moment I'm working with my good friend Tanner Capps to co-edit our church's Advent Devotional, and it's been great to partner with him. I submitted a piece to last year's Devotional and I've contributed an essay to the devotional that Regent College put out a few years back, and it's nice to be able to serve our church, All Saints Anglican, in this capacity.

I'm copying here a note (slightly abridged) that I sent to our writers. I share it for two reasons.

One, I hope it encourages you to consider trying something similar in your own church. It's a great way to "build up the church," especially in an intensively particular fashion. I also believe it's an excellent way to get the arts involved. While it appeals primarily to the written and the visual arts, I could envision the other arts being brought in after the fact--an Advent hymn that responds to a given reflection, a dance that evokes the theme of the week, a Scripture-telling that enlivens the biblical text of the day.

Two, writing these reflections is actually hard work. You'd think it'd be easy. 300-500 words on the idea of waiting? We do it all the time--how hard could it be to write it up? Quite hard, I say.

If you care about the quality of the writing, and if you're willing to put in more than a few editing hours, then you'll ask your writers to bring their best. First drafts won't due. These essays are for public service. We owe it to our congregations to offer them a fourth and fifth draft, if not a ninth one. It goes without saying that the season of Advent merits a long rumination. Off-the-cuff reflections exhibit a lack of respect for readers and fail ipso facto to penetrate Advent's mystery.

Before I copy the note, here are the four themes that Tanner and I chose. We wanted something to create a coherent feel to the Devotional and we felt that these would be broad enough but also concrete enough.

1. Light and Darkness – November 27 – December 3
2. Waiting and Journeying – December 4 – December 10
3. Joy and Sorrow – December 11 – December 17
4. Arriving and Hoping – December 18 – December 24

We're excited to see the final product. We're praying as we go along of course--praying for the writers, praying for the process of preparation, for the design and printing, and for folks who will be reading it throughout Advent.

Oskar Kokoschka, "Annunciation"
It might be too late to get something like this started in your own congregation. Perhaps not. Advent arrives on November 27. But I'd encourage you to consider giving it a try next year. And make sure you start the process around June! Starting in the fall makes for a stressful process. Trust me, we know. As my good friend Kate Van Dyke reminds me often: "You can only get two out of three: good, cheap or fast." We'll certainly do everything to make this Devotional good and trust that the Spirit will guide us throughout and take responsibility for whatever fruit is born from it.


As you begin ruminating on your essay, I want to share with you a few thoughts.  I don't underestimate how difficult it is to write a good reflection, so please know that we are committed to praying for you and to encouraging you in this process.

Some of these thoughts may be familiar to you, others perhaps not.

1. The first thing to aim for is concrete writing. Make your reflection as concrete as possible. Avoid abstractions, as tempting as they might be.

For example, "I hate waiting at stop lights" is concrete.

"The Christian life is about waiting" is abstract.

If you're looking for some inspiration, check out Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It's an excellent model for a devotional.

2. Related to this, look for robust, particular imagery rather than general one.

This is particular: "Sitting in my office at school, I am completely cut off from any sense of whether it is day or night outside. I have two lights that I can manipulate: a fluorescent light and an incandescent lamp. If I turn them off, it's creepy dark. On certain days it's unnerving, other days it's depressing, and I wonder if it is disrupting certain biological rhythms that God intended to keep me healthy."

This is a general statement of the same reality: "Light and dark are themes in Scripture and they're really important."

True, but, nyeah, uninspiring; and, worst of all, completely forgettable.

The more particular you allow your reflection to be, the more universal it will become for the rest of us. Use vivid stories. Play with strong metaphors. Keep it "earthy." Let it all arise out of the text and out of your response to the text.

3. In that light, allow your essay to be a personal, affective wrestling with the theme. Try to move away from a cognitive exercise exclusively. Instead of standing outside of text, stand inside of it, feeling its tensions, asking questions of it that perhaps you've yet to ask, probing, sensing, following it down into its mystery. Understand the text well, yes.

Understand the theme biblically, for certain. But don't spend too much time re-telling the Scriptural text in your essay. We've likely read it already or will read it in light of the lectionary readings for the day. Instead engage the story as a kind of dialogue or, better, trialogue between yourself, the Scripture and the triune God.

4. Lastly, try to avoid "preachy" language--the shoulds and oughts and the invisible, sneaky "three points." Our reflections aren't intended to result in a sermon. They're intended to be an invitation for readers to explore the complex mystery of Christ's incarnation. Allow your study or exegesis of the texts to form the backdrop instead of foreground of your reflection.

5. And do give yourself permission not to have to resolve any tension or question by the end of your reflection. It's ok for us as readers to be prodded to think and feel deeper. It's good for our personal and spiritual health to wrestle more deeply with the implications of Advent in our own lives. We'll be better for it--and we'll also probably remember it long after we've read your piece.

That's it for now. We have every confidence that the final product, because of the Spirit's help, will result "in the glorification of God and the sanctification of his people," to quote to Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Word count limit is 300-500. 

The deadline is October 28.

We'll send a few friendly reminder emails along the way.
If you're not able to get us the reflection by the 28th, we'll have to move on without it. We're working with tight deadlines and we need time to edit, lay out the design, send to the printers and place it in the narthex on the first Sunday of Advent.

If we think your piece might need a little gentle editing, we'll let you know straightaway. 

We trust that the Spirit of Christ will aid and illumine you in this task. As you listen to his voice, jot impressions down, scribble down the phrases the pop to mind, prayerfully discern what it is that Christ would have you say to his people. And do enjoy the process as much as possible.

Praise God for your faithful service to his church.


David for Tanner and the Advent Devotional Team

Jim Janknegt, "Joyful Mystery #1: Annunciation"

Friday, October 07, 2011

More Good Words on "Anglican Worship" conference + Why? + Why again? + 2 vids

Crunching Jesus
John 6: 53-58

The communion bread is laid on my tongue 
so gently. But I am ravenous; I want to gnaw 
the whole loaf. 

Already we know we are his body, 
but taking in this crumb of the earth’s flesh, this sip 
of its given blood, presses Incarnation into my flesh. 

As imagination takes in the symbol 
and the substance, we become more acutely 
vessels filled with Christ. 

Even as we step away from the altar 
and out the church door, we keep living the liturgy 
and the urge to Eat and Drink. 

The wine burns still in my throat. 
I have a pasty shred of bread stuck in my teeth. Oh, 
how to feed the hunger and thirst of the world? 

--Luci Shaw

Words from Artists and Worship Leaders
In this post I include words of commendation from artists and worship leaders on behalf of our November conference: "Anglican Worship: A Conversation on Liturgy, Formation, Worship and Art."  They're very fine words by the way. (See other good words here. See two videos below.)

What (problematic) questions occasion this conference? They are these.

1. Is it missional to practice the "full" Anglican liturgy?

2. In what way exactly is it "contextual" to process the cross at the start of the service, genuflect, wear vestments, carry the gospel to the center of the congregation, confess sins, sing the psalms or the Alleluia or Gloria, preach the lectionary texts, recite the Creed or cross oneself?

3. How does the fullness of the liturgy--its words, actions and spaces--form a congregation?

4. How can church leaders facilitate this formation? What mistakes should they avoid?

5. How does it form us in counter-cultural ways: counter to the culture at large or counter to the culture of the congregation itself?

6. How do these musical forms form us: congregational singing, service music, cantor-led music, choral song, instrumental music and even "singing in the Spirit"?

7. How do they form us in distinct ways and contribute together to the "participation" of the people in worship?

8. How does the arrangement of the space and the art on the walls or the visual data of the chancel or the aesthetic aspect of the narthex and the external spaces of the church form us--and our neighbors too?

9. How can artists serve the church's worship?

10. And how again is all this missional?

These are the questions that God-willing we'll explore together on November 8-10 in Durham, North Carolina.

Who should come?
Not just pastors, church leaders and church planters, but also artists of all media, liturgists and lay people who love to worship. If you know anybody who might be interested in joining this conversation, encourage them to send an email to katieb (AT) anglican1000 (dot) org.

To register go here (regular price at $99, for students, artists and church planters at $49).

To find all info go here and here.


“As a congregant but also a poet and worship leader in the Episcopal Church, I have found Anglican liturgy to be profoundly incarnational, involving body, mind and spirit. Everything about it--the music, the antiphonal prayers and chants, the vestments, the body movements of kneeling, standing, reverencing--leads us into Christ’s presence until the ultimate, the crunch of wafer and the taste of wine in our mouths, unites us with him in a more than merely physical way. Such worship is both personal and communal, demonstrating what is meant by ‘the body of Christ’.”

 --Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination & Spirit, Writer in Residence, Regent College

 “Art has been present in all cultures throughout all time and cannot be seen as a luxury but rather as something that fulfills a deeply human need. Likewise, liturgy is not a luxury or a ritualistic add-on. Liturgy is the metaphoric and aesthetic embodiment of corporate worship itself. Closely examining these deeply intertwined aspects of our humanity is essential for our time. The renewal of our liturgy is the renewal of the church. We would be wise to join in on this conversation.”

 -- Albert Pedulla, Visual Artist and board member for CIVA, Jersey City, NJ

 “Some of the greatest artistic achievements in history have been produced out of a worshipful response to the richness and depth of God's word and His creation. For those of us who are artists and worship leaders, the opportunity to contemplate worship in its fullness will undoubtedly serve to spark new creative inspiration that can impact our own crafts as well as the communities around us.”

-- Dr. David E. Berry, DMA, The Juilliard School; Director of Music and Worship Arts, All Angels' Episcopal Church, NYC

 “As a violinist from a non-liturgical background, I was used to giving "special numbers" that didn’t feel integrated into the service. My present experiences in liturgical settings have caused me to see how the liturgy helps us to meaningfully integrate artistic forms into the rhythm of the service. As a worship leader in an Anglican church plant, I am experiencing first hand how the liturgical narratives provide with me a foundation for artistic freedom that results in transforming moments for worshippers. This conference is an excellent chance to talk these things out.”

-- Rebecca Engstrom, violinist and Worship Arts Leader, Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin 

 “I am thrilled about this upcoming conference. I've been an evangelical song leader for a couple of decades and am fairly new to the Anglican Liturgy. The liturgy has opened up a whole new world for me as a church musician. I strongly encourage musicians and song leaders from all backgrounds to attend this conference.”

-- Fernando Ortega, musician and worship leader, Christ the King Anglican Church launched in Albuquerque, New Mexico 

 “At this pivotal time in the American Anglican church, it is vital that churches begin to think more deeply (and creatively) about the role of liturgy in corporate worship. Too often liturgy is either performed unthinkingly or completely discarded. I highly recommend this conference to anyone who worships in a liturgical tradition—or would like to!”

-- Anna Swynford, Assistant Director of Worship, The Falls Church, Virginia

And here are two kinds of Anglican music that I fully endorse.

Monday, October 03, 2011

My strategy for Comps

Typing a kleine Tag und Nachtmusik of ideas
After recently sharing a few thoughts with Josh Leim, a fellow ThDer in NT, I figured I'd go ahead and post a longer version here. If they're helpful to others, great.  For those unfamiliar with doctoral programs, comprehensive exams follow the period of course work (usually two years, sometimes three) and must be passed before you can proceed to the writing of the dissertation.

I realize everyone's situation will be particular--with respect to institutional arrangements, the expectation of supervisors and committee, personal disposition and station of life, for starters. This is what seems to be working for me thus far (even as I type this entire section with my left hand while I hold a sleepy-fussy Blythe in my right, sitting in my pajamas in the early hours of Sunday morning).

1. First, I made sure I read the material posted on the ThD page. Once I understood this, I then sent an email to our director.

2. In the email I asked a question for clarification. Would the exams be testing knowledge we'd acquired through course work and anticipating material we'd need to know for our dissertation, or would it primarily focus on material we'd learned in our courses? The answer was the latter. That was helpful because it provided me with one of the essential items I would be looking for throughout this experience: good boundary lines.

3. In consultation with my primary supervisor, Jeremy Begbie, I determined the categories for which I'd be examined. Corresponding to my primary, secondary and dissertation areas, they would be: "Theological Aesthetics," "Pneumatology" and "Liturgical Theology."

4. I then drafted a list of books and articles for each category. Knowing that I would eventually land somewhere between 50 and 75, I began with an excess of material, somewhere around 100. These constituted the material I felt I needed to know and wanted to know.

5. After sending this list to Jeremy and then also to Lester Ruth, my secondary supervisor, requesting their editorial eye, I trimmed the list to around 70ish, give or take a journal article. This is the material I would wrestle with, know, memorize and then argue pro or con in the exams.

6. While some students know their questions in advance (and that doesn't actually make the exam easier), Jeremy informed me that I would encounter my questions on the day of the exam. I would have 14 days within which to take all three exams.

7. Here then the first strategy. The exercises which this preparation involves are several. The first exercise involves knowing the material well. To that end I read the book or article, then summarize the material in the following fashion:

- The book's/article's thesis
- Key issues or ideas that the material raises
- Key critiques on my part (both pro and con)
- Key quotes

I write a summary for every book or article I read.

8. The second strategy moves beyond knowing the material to being able to put the material in my own words and to determine where I agree or disagree with it, and to discern how I might state or build the argument differently.

9. This second strategy leads logically to a third one: determining a large-scale thesis for each category. What do I think about theology and the arts? How do I think they ought to be related to each other? Which thinkers have done the best job in this task? What are the critical issues with respect to the data of Scripture, the data of creation and culture, the data of significant figures in church history (Irenaeus, St. Gregory, Aquinas, Calvin, Von Balthasar, Wolterstorff, etc) and how they have been played off each other, constructively, critically or otherwise? What methods have been employed, assumptions made, terms defined and audiences factored in explicitly or implicitly with regard to the arguments?

Those are the kinds of questions that matter, to my mind.

10. Instead of leaving these answers scattered across a ream of sheets and post-it notes and the back of my hand, I've decided to organize them in a way that profits me short term and long term. For each category I will write a "10 Theses" document.

11. For example, I've written a "10 Thesis on Liturgical Theology." Doing this provides two benefits. One, it forces me to decided what I believe with conviction and what I believe light-handedly.  Two, it gives me a good sense of what I'll teach when the day comes. How do I see liturgical theology in particular, the corporate worship of the church in general? The document begins, "If Christian worship in its corporate, public form is trinitarian, then the following will hold true." Then I go on to make ten statements which I believe hold true, and I write two versions of it: an abridged and an unabridged version.

12. The abridged version I memorize by heart. If you wish, stop me at some point and make me recite my ten theses about corporate worship. It'll take me 4 minutes flat.

13. The unabridged version relates to my short- and long-term goals. In this version I follow each thesis with a "pro" and a "con" section. With each, I provide supporting material to justify my claims. I also identify which thinkers/writers play a significant role in clarifying my thinking on an issue. For instance, thesis #5 goes like this (assuming that corporate worship will be trinitarian):

"That it will be personal and communal because, through the Spirit, Christians are made actively to participate in the Son's communion with the Father."

Some of you will know exactly whose language I've confiscated here--James Torrance's in his masterful book, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. Plus there's a dash of Simon Chan, an echo of Robert Taft and a nod to the methodological approaches of Wainwright and Witvliet. Anything less than this, I argue, makes it too easy for our worship, both theoretically and practically, to slip into binitarian or unitarian modes.

14. In short, the unabridged version of my "10 Theses" becomes the cheat sheet for the exam. While I don't know what I'll be asked, I do know what I think and believe about the subject and I have a reasonable sense of how my arguments will resonate with or part ways with my primary interlocuters.

15. All extracurricular activities this term have to serve the larger purposes of preparing for comps. I give three talks at Tyndale College (Toronto) in October, I give one talk at the Anglican Worship conference in November, and I may be traveling to NYC in early December for an Orthodox conference on beauty. All talks will dovetail with material related to my exams. It isn't an option otherwise.

While my original date for exams was late November, I've decided to shift them to early January. With the arrival of the lovely Ruby Blythe Marie, things have needed to shift. As always, family and the well-being of my soul take precedence in this enterprise. I commit to praying while I study and I ask friends to pray for me during this time of preparation. I try to stay focused. I give myself daily tasks as well as weekly goals. I write to-do lists. I trust God to guide me well.

And I take Stanley Hauerwas' advice to heart: put one brick on top of another, one brick per day, and you'll eventually have a house built.

Oh, and my office walls are plastered with summary notes and theses statements, along with St. Augustine and the Doctor Angelicus, bearing daily witness to me about my current vocation.