Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Appendix to my CT article on visual art and worship

Laura Jennings, "Rubble #1"

"Living inside God's imagination means construing the world according to the figural splendor that creation embodies, and appreciating the beauty toward which the Spirit moves it. Surely Christians are not the only ones to recognize the splendor of the sunset or the wonder of great art, but if the church does not stimulate an appreciation of these things [particularly in the context of corporate worship], it is not the church of Christ the creator." -- Bill Dyrness, Poetic Theology, p. 246

[Note to readers from CT's online version of the article: thank you for stopping by. I hope this note helps fill out aspects of the magazine article that I couldn't fully address. Please go here to see examples of the images I included in the magazine version, and go here to see another great resource on the visual arts and worship.]

Hope Chapel, Easter 2005
This is a follow up note to the article I've written for Christianity Today (in the "April 2012" issue): "Discipling the Eyes." Since only so much can be said in 2,000 words and perhaps more questions would be raised than could be reasonably or sufficiently answered, I thought I'd write an appendix of sorts. If you've read the CT article, thank you. I sincerely hope it has been helpful.

If it clarifies your thinking, confirms intuitions, justifies concerns or inspires or provokes you (in a constructive fashion, I guess), then it will have done a measure of good. If it made you mad, I guess that's ok too, though I hope you won't stay mad at me too long.

Here then are a few things that might prove of further assistance.

Where can I find more images of Laura Jennings' artwork?
Great question. We were only able to include one image from the work that hung at Hope Chapel and I've interspersed a few more here. Check out LJ's blog to see what she's laboring on these days.

My appetite is whetted to read more. Where can I go?
Here is a list of 14 books that I've found helpful. Some are highly accessible, others a bit more demanding, but I think they'll all be worth your time. In one way or another they all reflect on the visual arts, whether 2D or 3D or architectural or public art, from a Christian perspective.

1. Halstead, Elizabeth Steele, et al., eds.,  Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word (Eerdmans, 2010)

2. Kaai, Anneke & Peterson, Eugene, The Psalms: An Artist’s Impression (InterVarsity Press, 1999)

3. St. John’s Bible, all six volumes! (Liturgical Press, 2005)

4. Nouwen, Henri J.M.,  The Return of the Prodigal Son (Eerdmans, 1998)

5. Schaeffer, Francis A.,  Art and the Bible (InterVarsity Press, 1973)

6. Dryness, William A., Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue (Baker, 2001)

7. Jensen, Robin M., The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith and the Christian Community
(Eerdmans, 2004)

8. Bustard, Ned, ed., It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2006)

9. Torgerson, Mark A., An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture for Worship and Ministry Today (Eerdmans, 2007)

10. Halstead, Elizabeth Steele., Visuals for Worship (Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2006). CD included.

11. Ryken, Leland, ed., Dictionary of Biblical Images: An encyclopedic exploration of the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, figures of speech and literary patters of the Bible (IVP, 1998)

12. McNamara, Denis. R., How to Read Churches: A crash course in ecclesiastical architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 2011).

13. Bess, Philip, Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred (Delaware: ISI Books, 2006).

14. de Gruchy, John W., Christianity, Art and Transformation: Theological Aesthetics in the Struggle for Justice (Cambridge: CUP, 2001).

Is there an organization devoted to the advancement of the visual arts from a Christian ethos?
Glad you asked. I happen to be on the board of an organization that I love: Christians In the Visual Arts (or CIVA for short). Brian Moss and I recently joined the board with the mandate to expand CIVA's efforts with respect to the church and to church leaders. Check the site out for some exciting new developments.

If you could recommend only one book on the church's relationship to the arts, which one would it be?
In 2010 I had the privilege of editing a book called For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts (Baker Books). After working twelve years in a church with responsibilities for an arts ministry, this is the book I wished I'd had on my shelves when I started out in 1996. It includes contributions by Eugene Peterson, Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, John Witvliet, Barbara Nicolosi, Jeremy Begbie, Joshua Banner and myself. The book's aim is to offer a comprehensive perspective on the place of the arts in the life of the church, from worship to mission, from community to marketplace. If you don't own a copy yet, check it out. I think you'll like it. And it has eight fabulous works of visual art accompanying each chapter.

Have you said anything else on art and formative worship?
Yes. I recently gave a talk at the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Summit. The title of my talk was "The Formative Power of Artful Worship." You can listen to it here (click on audio, I'm six names down). A young man came up to me afterwards and, ebulliently, declared, "That was great! It was like Jamie Smith's Desiring the Kingdom for dummies." I vacillated in my response but ended up taking it as a fine compliment. I've also blogged on contemporary worship music (here, here, here and here) and I wrote a piece for CT on a worship conference that the inimitable David Crowder pulled together in fall of 2010

Do we have a movement on our hands towards a formative view of corporate worship?
Yup. A recent spate of books and activities has given momentum to this way of viewing art in worship. Books such as James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom (and his forthcoming, Imagining the Kingdom), N. T. Wright’s After You Believe, William Dyrness’ A Primer on Christian Worship and Poetic Theology (in particular chapter 8, "The Aesthetics of Church"), Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells & Bells, Sam Wells’ God’s Companions, Frank Brown's Inclusive Yet Discerning: Navigating Worship Artfullyand a great collection of essays in Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology (especially chapter 13 by Jeremy Begbie, "Faithful Feelings: Music and Emotion in Worship") helpfully unpack the idea of “worship as formation.”

A recent conference titled “Liturgy, Music & Space,” hosted by BiFrost Arts, explored ways in which the worship arts form dispositions in us. Worship leaders such as Greg Scheer, Bruce Benedict (plus this), Brian Moss, Zac Hicks, and Josh Banner are among the many who are bringing a more holistic approach to the practices of art in worship. While much hard work remains ahead, this activity represents the kind of maturity about the worship arts that should, I believe, encourage Protestants. (For what it's worth, I think Matt Redman's latest music is fantastic--theologically rich and musically very creative.)

Anything else?
Sure. Check out what these good people are doing with the visual arts and their churches: Michael Winters at Sojourn Church's visual arts ministry, Jessie Nilo at VineArts in Boise, Jeff Guy at Trinity Anglican in Atlanta, Greg Holmes at Chase Oaks Bible Church (in Dallas), Lawan Glasscock and Pete Deison at Park Cities Presbyterian (Dallas), Maria Fee and Kenyon Adams at Redeemer Pres in NYC, Mat and Geinene Carson with OM ArtsLink, Laura Tabbut at Church of the Rez in Wheaton, Chris Brewer at Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. And I've run out time. There are so many more.

I heartily recommend you get on the email list of Art Way. Based in the Netherlands, they send out a weekly devotional reflection based on a work of visual art. I always get excited to see what will show up in my inbox on Sunday when the email arrives.

Oh, and do check out all the wonderful things that the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is doing.

Ok, I hope this helps you know where to begin looking for stuff. By no means do I assume these issues are uncomplicated. The question of the place of visual art in corporate worship has a difficult history, fraught with theological, ethical, pastoral, societal, ecclesial and practical issues. I am encouraged, though, by the humble and thoughtful approaches to the question that are in evidence all across the globe.

For what it's worth, I'll be speaking at an event jointly sponsored by Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Seminary and CIVA this September and at a separate event hosted by Fuller Seminary's Brehm Center, both of which will dive headlong into this question. Much more is happening even still! Do stay tuned. And if you know of other people, groups or activities that are doing good work in the intersection between visual art and worship, please let me know.

In the meanwhile, God grant you grace and wisdom as you venture forward in the work that he has entrusted to you, whether that involves life in a local congregation or enterprises in the public square.

Phaedra Taylor, "Annunciation," watercolor, 5'X3'

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fives and Threes

At our Laity Lodge retreat I gave each of the speakers the same assignment:

What are FIVE things you wish you had been told when you first started off as an artist and what are THREE practices that keep you healthy and sane as an artist?

Here is how two of our speakers, Sandra Organ-Soliz and Charlie Peacock, answered this double question. I'll post Ginger Geyer's answers in a subsequent post.


Five things I wish I had been told when I first started out as a ballet dancer:

1. That I would be misunderstood by both black and white communities.

2. That hard work will not always be rewarded; and concomitantly that diplomacy and cooperation are essential, that being a team player is non-negotiable.

3. That it would be incredibly important to learn how to take correction well.

4. That I should be prepared to reassess my artistic life and try other things along the way.

5. That losing dancers in your company (to other companies or other opportunities or "greener pastures") would be heartbreaking, that it would be wounding.

Three practices that have kept my healthy and sane along the way:

1. Prayer and small group life (I've been in one for thirty years non-stop).

2. Taking a sabbath--daily ones, weekly ones, monthly ones.

3. Exposing myself to other pursuits and interests outside of my artistic work.

Finally, Sandra involved specific "movements" with each of her five points and at the end invited us to move with her. Here is a small video of that experiment and I'll be surprised if I'm not sued or de-friended on Facebook by the people who show up in this video. But hey. It was an experiment. You guys look awesome. And there's something to be said for dancing like there's no tomorrow. And, yes, the dance makes better sense in its original context.



Five things I wish I had been told when I first started out as a musician:

1. That all of life is grace. That there is nothing that I could do to make God love me more. To the extent that I have not appreciated grace, any instance of it becomes creativity and imagination killers.

2. That your senses, mind, imagination and body need to always be learning, absorbing, taking in.

3. That the word "Christian" would someday be associated in the entertainment industry more with a genre than with the person of Christ.

4. That there are many ways of knowing and being known.

5. That even among the best of people ... financial success, awards, consistent presence in the media, and work with recognizable brands and names means more than a quiet faithful life. Even the best of people, that is, give in to the temptation to desire the former over the latter.

Three practices that have kept my healthy and sane along the way:

1. God: having a conversational relationship with God.

2. People: hearing my wife regularly say to me when I'm in the thick of a music project, "You need to remember that there are more people in the world than just you and your artistic making."

3. Place: learning, accepting and even embracing the way in which the places of my life have shaped me and continue to shape me rather than wishing to escape them.

Last question Charlie asks himself consistently: Who am I becoming while I'm doing all this making?

Finally, here are two videos from Charlie's performance on the Friday evening of our retreat: one that includes music from his forthcoming album and one that involves an improv collaboration with Kenyon Adams on Charlie's more famous song.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Our Laity Lodge retreat: in images

A cellist's shoes

I feel like a broken record every time I write up a report of our time at Laity Lodge. It usually involves three recurring adjectives: beautiful, wonderful and how-soon-can-we-go-back? Our retreat was rich. I come away again grateful for the generous hospitality of the staff and leadership of LL.

I'll be posting a few entries in which I include summaries of things that were said and done. Charlie Peacock, Sandra Organ-Solis and Ginger Geyer each tackled my assignment to share with us their "Fives and Threes." What were five things they wish they had been told when they first started off as artists and what are three practices that keep them sane and healthy as they go along. In addition to sharing the fact that they've been making art for over three decades, all three of them gave voice to longings that many of us as artists know acutely, even painfully well.

For now, though, let me leave you with a few salient images and videos from our experience over the past four days.

To start off with: a fantastic improvisation between Charlie Peacock, Elizabeth Larson and Steuart Pincombe (parts two and three of the redoubtable musical group Credo).

Untitled from David Taylor on Vimeo.

Our fearless leader, Steven Purcell.


I led a panel on Friday night that was really fun.

Panelists Jeff Guy and Jessie Nilo

Panelists Jay Walker and Maria Fee

Andi Ashworth reads a psalm.

Paul Ranheim leads us in worship.

We sent upon the Frio River a "regatta" of bark-and-leaf boats made by Robert Feuge.

Launching near.

Launching far.

Adrift on the river.

Kenyon Adams, Tre Cool.

Steuart Pincombe on a baroque cello (circa 1727).

Elizabeth Ann Larson on violin.


(We got to listen to music that ranged from the baroque era to the contemporary. So fine. More to come later.)

We ate, oh, did we eat.

A mind-bogglingly tasty dish; sorta made me think of something from Titus Andronicus but more ethical and much better tasting.

Karl Digerness leading us in worship Sunday morning.

The merry band of retreatants.

... and then there was this tasty bit of improvised music.