A Top Ten: Lewis, Siedell, Russian lit, Nietzsche, rockalicious hair et al

(PHOTO: Myself, Malcolm Guite, John Perkins and another dude standing outside the Great Hall at Duke University.)

I'm incapable of writing a coherent blog right now. I'm going to drop a Top Ten instead.

1. CS Lewis' Experiment in Criticism.
I have to say: Lewis is a rockstar. I just finished reading Experiment and find yet again that his writing style is eminently satisfying. I especially appreciate it as I'm about to enter Graduate School Land. It's the land where smart people live. They live and they write books. Thank God for the good people who produce good scholarship. But intelligence, even brilliance, is no guarantee that a man can generate clean, crisp English--or German or any language. We should pass a law that forbids the publication of turgid writing. It's criminal what some scholars get away with. So I thank my lucky stars when I read a sentence like this from Lewis:

"Escape, then, is common to many good and bad kinds of reading. By adding 'ism to it, we suggest, I suppose, a confirmed habit of escaping too often, or for too long, or into the wrong things, or using escape as a substitute for action where action is appropriate, and thus neglecting real opportunities and evading real obligations."

That, my friends, is a dog that will hunt. That is a philosophy of reading that pastors and parents and artists and school principals and anybody who cares about the moral health of the civitas should meditate upon.

Here's another juicy turn of phrase. Speaking of our envy as adults of childhood (the things we should naturally envy, that is), he includes "its well-thatched scalp." A full head of hair performs the job fine. But a well-thatched scalp is vivid and, I'm not sure why, funny.

2. Dan Siedell's God in the Gallery.
I've just finished writing my review of Siedell's book for Books & Culture. I only had 800 words to work with, so now I have reams of pages full of commentary that will go nowhere but around my head and perhaps into this blog. Along the way I wrote down a list of general observations. I noted that Siedell, at bottom, seems to be asking for an overhaul of the way we live and move and have our artistic being as Protestants. Tall task that. The kind of overhaul he has in mind, I believe, would implicate the following general habits:

- our discomfort with unsolved mystery
- our ambivalence about the goodness of the material world
- our aversion to contemplation over against action
- our allergic reaction to the senses vis-a-vis the rational
- our insecurities about the paucity of visual artistry in our history
- our prejudice against the visual, as if it pulled us ineluctably, like a STAR WARS tractor beam, into idolatry
- our assumption that a de-nuded worship space is more holy and therefore pleasing to God than an "ornamented" one. (The fact that God lingers with our primal mother and father in a sensory overloaded garden seems to always be ignored.)

3. "It's not a program, stupid." That's not the politest way to speak but it gets the message across. As I sat in our all-day meeting at Duke Divinity, talking about the future of a theology and arts institute, it struck me that a lot of our comments revolved around programs and activities. There wasn't a stupid person in the room of course. People were offering great suggestion--suggestions I want in on. But a light bulb went off in my head at one point. It's gone off before.

It's a light bulb that made it into the Introduction of my book. If we really want to experience the kind of environmental conditions in which the arts will flourish in a Protestant setting--in the same way that the fruit and flora of God's creation flourish, both in kind and degree--then we don't need programs. The best program money could buy would still not accomplish what we yearn to see. What we need is a different theological and practical ecology. We need a different tradition.

I'm talking about a massive overhaul of a culture. In such a culture every bit of labor, every bit of a program matters. But what a culture has that a program the size of Jupiter doesn't have is positive inertia. That's what we need. We need for the current to be constantly and positively running in the direction of artistic flourishment, not fighting against us half the time.

4. It always makes me happy when I see Phaedra working on her art. She's doing that right now. Poor woman, she's stuck in that miserably hot garage of ours. I'm proud of her, though, the heat and mosquitoes be damned.

5. Our friggin AC is running night and day, world without end. It's hot in Austin, Texas. I'm starting to go batty.

6. Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

7. And from the mind of Gilbert Keith: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Chesterton, that is.

8. I am completely jealous of this man's beard.

9. Russian Literature: Olga Grushin's The Dream Life of Sukhanov. St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church here in town has invited me to come speak to their community about art. We have some good friends who attend there. I'm excited to be going. It'll be great. Father Aidan told me one of the things that they want to talk about is Grushin's novel. I just picked up a copy at Half Price. The New York Times thinks it's a good book. I've only gotten a few pages into it. I'm not crazy about her handling of adjectives, but no worries, I have another 336 pages of story to discover and it's been a while since I read anything by a Russian.

10. Beautiful art. I've had a stimulating exchange of late with Bobette Rose from Madison, Wisconsin. She's created a series of encaustic paintings that I find very beautiful. Here is one I particular love; and with this I wish you a merry June 12.


greg said…
Just came across your site, I like a lot of the stuff up here and need to poke around some more.
But on the topic of this post, specifically #2 and #3: that takes a long time and I think we all want a quick fix...

Greg: pleased to meet you. Nice website. I'd say we're looking at 50-100 years for the Protestant church to experience the kind of ecological/genetic code changes I refer to in #s 2 and 3. That's not to say we won't see a great deal of progress in our own time. It just means that we need to be committed to a project that will outlast our time on earth.

I'm one dude in the mix. I'll do my part, and I know that if others have plowed earth for me (i.e laid down their life for the church), I can plow earth for those who will follow me. So long as there's laughter and good vino in the mix, I'll be ok.
greg said…
Good to meet you, too (or e-meet or whatever) and thanks for visiting my site.
Totally agree with ya, especially the laughter/vino part. And by the way, I'm jealous that you get to study with Jeremy Begbie!

Anonymous said…
Good grief, you're blog has been "This is your life" for me lately. I happened to click on John Perkins name - I went on a couple of high school youth group work trips to the community development ministry in Mendenhall, MS (that Perkins started) when it was under Dolphis Weary. I picked butterbeans on their farm and painted walls in their school. My dad has done consulting for their ministry.
Jay said…
Hey, I'm a first time visitor, and were I at home, you would have recieved a hit from Haiti... but alas I am in Chicago... about to go to Minneapolis for the CIVA conference. Are you going? I am a Regent MCS grad and found you through their bog listing. My wife and I are developing an arts-based ministry to serve orphans and the poor in Port Au Prince Haiti. Check us out at www.apparentproject.org

Keep up the writing, there need to be more blogs like this and people like you before the cultural/traditional shift you long for can happen!

Corrigan Clay
Unknown said…
The "other dude" in the picture is Kel Peterson. :-)
That's so fun!

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