Un Petite summary of the symposium: First course

My friend the globe-trotting Rosie Perera has written a very fine summary of the symposium, sent originally to the chefs at Regent College. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. For those of you attended, this will be a reminder of things said and done. For those who couldn't join us, this will become hopefully an amuse-bouche, a pleasant bite to whet your appetite for the main course: all the forthcoming audio recordings.
This is part one of her summary.
Regent Alumni Enjoy a Great Banquet at the Transforming Culture Symposium in Austin by Rosie Perera (MCS '04)

Perhaps it was the lure of seeing and hearing Eugene Peterson and Jeremy Begbie again, or the desire to support our fellow alum David Taylor (ThM '00) whose brainchild this conference was, or simply the need to get away from the unusually long winter of 2008 in Vancouver. Whatever the reason, 25 Regent alumni and current faculty/staff/students congregated in Austin, Texas, making up about 4% of the 600+ attending the Transforming Culture Symposium from April 1-3, 2008.

The conference -- aimed at pastors, church leaders, and artists, and led by David and his collaborator Larry Linenschmidt -- put forth a "vision of a relationship between the church and the arts that is theologically informed, biblically grounded, liturgically sensitive, artistically alive, and missionally shrewd."

It sought to address six key themes and questions: 1. THE GOSPEL: In what way is art a gift, a calling, and an obedience? 2. THE PASTOR: How is the pastor an artist and the artist, a pastor? 3. THE WORSHIP: How can our actions and spaces be artfully shaped? 4. THE ARTIST: What is an artist and how do we shepherd these strange creatures? 5. THE DANGERS: What are the dangers of artistic activity? 6. THE FUTURE: What is a vision of the evangelical Church in the year 2058?
Food metaphors were in plentiful supply.

We were treated to a tasty smorgasbord of talks on these questions by the six plenary speakers:
Andy Crouch (author, editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today), Eugene Peterson (author, pastor, Regent professor emeritus), John Witvliet (director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, former Regent Summer School professor), Barbara Nicolosi (screen-writer, consultant, film critic), David Taylor (writer, arts pastor extraordinaire), and Jeremy Begbie (musician-theologian, founder of Theology Through the Arts, former Regent Summer School professor).

talked about art as those aspects of culture that cannot be reduced to utility. Art is a free response to grace; it is play. Like play, pain is also useless. They both must come together in art. Play that doesn't acknowledge pain can become escapism. Pain without play and grace can lead to sadism. Only in Christ can we make art with full awareness of the pain that exists. Andy also pointed out that art cannot be done alone; it requires community.

Eugene was quintessentially Eugene. He told us stories. Stories of three artists who had shaped his pastoral identity by teaching him the difference between a vocation and a job description. There was Willy, the painter, who made a prophetic portrait of Eugene looking gaunt and grim, as he might look in 20 years if he insisted on being a pastor; Willy said "the church will suck the soul out of you" (Eugene didn't take his advice, but kept the portrait as a cautious reminder).
There was Gerard, the architect who came and worshiped for a year with the newly forming church community in Eugene's basement, so that he could listen to who they were and what they needed in a new church building (simple, honest, beautiful).

There was Judith, the weaver, who felt "lucky" to hear the story of King David preached for the first time in her life (she had a "beginner's mind, a child mind" as the Buddhists say). She would weave Eugene tapestries of things she'd heard him say. She eventually became a Christian, but none of her artist friends could understand what she saw in it.

With many beautiful projected images, John introduced us to three spiritually nourishing and culturally crucial constraints on art for use in public worship assemblies. 1. It must be corporate, resisting isolation and elitism. 2. It must help people pray, resisting both sentimentality and the temptation to make the art an end in itself. 3. It must aid in perceiving the glory and beauty of the triune God, resisting idolatry.

Barbara, the only Catholic on the panel, and by all accounts the "spiciest" (she had us in stitches with her hilarious and sometimes irreverent quips), spoke first of some of the functions of beauty: its wholeness brings rest, its harmony brings joy, and its radiance brings fulfillment. The beautiful makes us feel small and humble.

We have a responsibility as the church to provide art so that people can get in touch with their creatureliness and be okay with it. Barbara told us how to recognize real artists: their artistic talent shows up early; their work has emotional power; they connect personally to the audience/viewers; their work has a freshness, a prophetic voice; and they are obsessed with details of form. She countered the common misperceptions that artists are crazy or lazy.
Finally, she outlined the "crosses" artists have to bear: loneliness, rejection, instability, entrepreneurism, having to collaborate with people, and the burden of success.


duskangel said…
"...its wholeness brings rest, its harmony brings joy, and its radiance brings fulfillment. The beautiful makes us feel small and humble. We have a responsibility as the church to provide art so that people can get in touch with their creatureliness and be okay with it."

I loved this part of your blog! Thankyou for all that you are doing. Will you come view my art and tell me what you think? It's in a slideshow on my page. I hope it loads. :-)

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