Cacophony and Symphony

Arts and TheologyThe previous posts were about a metaphor of jazz standards and the task of Christians in the church. Towards its end I was calling on the church to create compelling “standards”, creating a culture that is both new and familiar, enabling humanity to be all that it was created to be. This task is for those in and outside the church. There is somewhat of a problem here, however.

These standards will sometimes be played with wrong notes and will be out of time. Sometimes these notes will clash with each other in the worst ways. Sometimes it will sound like my first attempt to play the saxophone in the 4th grade: garish, fumbling, and squeaky. Hopefully we will ask forgiveness for these errors.

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Copy and Paste: the work of fear

Arts and TheologyOften the church tries to copy and paste from previous performances (unimaginatively reflecting their favorite decade/century), even trying its best to remove individuality all together. Our created uniqueness is not some enemy of truth, it is just another part of the truth we believe and hold to.

My previous post was a call to re-imagine the familiar. Specifically, for the church to continually mine out the new realities of ancient truths. If something is truly universal, it will always have an aspect of the new in it. Universal truth will always be able to be contextualized into the present time.

But this can be risky. We can (and will) easily mess up and make mistakes. In the church this is really frowned upon. Sometimes the unwritten rule of being a member of a church is just that: don’t mess up. But that’s not what we’re really called to.

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Standards New and Familiar

Arts and TheologyIn the world of jazz, it is common to perform and record songs written by other jazz artists. Some songs are classics, or in jazz parlance, standards. These standards are (or should be) always different and new from one another, with each artist or band baking their individual flavors into it. At the same time, there is a sense of familiarity to them, because they are standards. How can something be new and familiar at the same time? Continue reading

Lennon and the Revelator (2 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on This is the second of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation. Read the first one here.

Last week we looked at John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation, examining the differences in these two works that image the end of history as we know it. This week we move on to where our two Johns overlap.


Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos

The Grotto of the Apocalypse at Patmos, surrounding the entrance to the cave where John is believed to have received the visions of Revelation.

Before we just merely use Lennon as a foil for Scripture (which is really just the easy way out) we need to ask what kind of similarities exist between the two. Both are highly religious and theological: Imagine by not naming God, Revelation by naming Him. Though one is a secular utopia and the other is the new heavens and earth, both have in mind a perfect society and they both have a hope for humanity. Both are honest with the present world not fulfilling all our needs, affirming that the world as it is now is lacking something. Both have a teleological thrust: there is an end goal to this thing called life, some kind of movement forward.
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Lennon and the Revelator (1 of 2)

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on This is the first of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation.

At first glance one wouldn’t think John Lennon and John the Apostle would have very much in common. One, a self-proclaimed atheist and pop star, the other, one of the twelve disciples and author of more than a few New Testament documents. Though there are obvious differences, there exist some similarities. We’re going to quickly look at John Lennon’s Imagine and the John the Apostle’s Revelation and see what there is to be gained from both.

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

John Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech Republic

Okay, it’s obvious, but let’s state it. There are wild differences between these people and their work. This is the easy part to see and understand and doesn’t require much from us. Imagine puts forth the possibility of a utopia on earth through erasing the things that so often divide us as humans: religion, nations, class differences, etc.:
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The Empty Spaces of Our Lives

Arts and TheologyThis was originally posted on

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God…”

We believe that empty spaces are wastes of spaces. Like all good Americans we place a high value on efficiency, and how can a vacant moment be accomplishing anything? This is why we have such a hard time with waiting. And this is also why we create all sorts of diversions to make sure we never feel the weight of an ounce of boredom. But things do happen when nothing happens. In fact, the silence of a moment is often when we are confronted with ourselves and with God. And that’s why we want to run away from it. Continue reading

Intro to Worship Class

Arts and TheologyFor the past 10 weeks I’ve been teaching an introduction to a theology of worship class at my church, Orlando Grace Church. I’ve cleverly named the class Introduction to a Theology of Worship. The whole class is available online, through my resources page.

I wanted to teach on worship by using as many art forms as I could: dance, painting, installation, music, etc. I also wanted to use as many instances of contemporary art as possible, hopefully creating an awareness of contemporary art that I think the church, in general, has lost (much to the detriment of the church’s mission, not to mention richness in devotional or everyday life, but that’s another topic).
Some of the artists whose work I used as metaphors and parables: John Tavener, James Turell, Soweto Gospel Choir, Bill Monroe, Makoto Fujimura, Georges Rouault, John Cage, Philip Glass, Wendell Berry, Gregory King, Mark Rothko, Lauren Shea Little, J.S. Bach, Thomas Tallis, James MacMillan, Olivier Messiaen, and some of my stuff. For a full list of the artists and their work, see the art referenced page.

The class attempted to follow a certain order: starting with God, talking about the Trinity, God’s transcendence and immanence. Immanence led to a week on creation, which led to speaking about humanity. Because we can’t understand humanity apart from God, that led us to the topic of the Incarnation, which lends itself to the cross. From there, we talked about the resurrection’s meaning on the Christian life: sanctification. We then took a step back to consider our context: our tradition, our church history, the importance of creeds and confessions, as well as looking at how to interact with those around us now. We ended the class with a discussion on eschatology, the in-breaking of the future into our present.

I’ve made available my notes, slides, reading list, and art referenced. It’s broken down week by week, or you can download it all in one shot. For those of you who care to look at it, I hope it’s helpful!

The Trinity through Tallis and Tavener

Arts and TheologyLast week in my Sunday School class I’m teaching, we took a look at the Trinity. We spent some time on how the Bible teaches that there is one God, and that there are three Persons. How can God be one and three at the same time? At first glance, it seems to be a paradox. This has been an age-old debate (and definitely not one we’re going to find a sufficient “answer” to) that is not limited to the realm of religion or theology, but is an area of interest for philosophy as well: the one and many. Is the essence of being, or the essence of the world singular or multiple?

First off, we should not expect to be able to define and understand and categorize everything about God. If he is God, then there will be aspects of him that are above us. If we could completely understand him, he would not be God, he would be something lesser. There is a grace in ignorance. But just because parts of God are unsearchable doesn’t mean we throw our hands up in the air and give up: though He is transcendent, He is knowable. There are parts of Himself that God has given us the grace of knowledge, the faculty of knowing. Too easily we fall into one side or the other: God is knowable but not completely knowable.

With that said we attempt to look at the Trinity. Because our own experience does not come close to the truths that are found within the Godhead, we resort to analogies. And though analogies always break down, some are more helpful than others. The analogies we most often use are physical or sight based: the Trinity is like 3 states of matter: water, ice, vapor or the Trinity is like an egg: yolk, shell, the white stuff (whatever that’s called). There are many more out there, I’m sure. The problem with physical analogies is that only one thing can occupy one space at one point in time. If a pen is on the table, 2 more pens cannot be in the same exact place at the same exact time. Yet thinking about the Trinity requires more than one thing to occupy the space.

This is where using our ears can be more helpful than using our eyes. For a sound environment, multiple sounds can occupy the same space simultaneously. If 3 violins are playing, one can hear all three violins at the same time, and they take up the same space of sound. Going further, one can focus on the overall sound and understand the one-ness, or one can listen for the individual parts and understand the three-ness. And this happens in the same space and the same time. The apparent paradox presented in the physical world makes more sense when looked at in the aural world.
By the way, this was a corporate collaboration on the Sunday of a capella hymns.

Two great examples of the one and many come from John Tavener and Thomas Tallis. These are both choral works. Tavener, who is still alive and composing, is influenced highly by his Eastern Orthodox faith, and puts a high priority (at least musically) on the purity of one-ness. Here’s one of his most famous pieces, The Lamb.

Tallis, on the other hand, was a medieval composer, and embraced polyphony: he liked the idea of the many. Here’s one of his more famous pieces, Spem in Alium.

Between listening to both of these pieces, we get an idea of how the Trinity can be one and many at the same time.

An Introduction to a Theology of Worship

Arts and TheologyFrom September to the end of November, I’ll be teaching a class at Orlando Grace: An Introduction to a Theology of Worship. My goal is to teach about the history of redemption using mainly systematic categories, and using many different forms of art to teach or illuminate the material. My hope in doing so will lead to a greater appreciation of God’s manifold grace and our response (worship), understanding that this grace comes in more forms than letters on a page or sermons on a Sunday. I’m not discounting those two forms (we would all be lost without them), but just trying to shed some light in an area where Protestants fear to tread: the arts. Especially the visual arts and most especially the contemporary visual arts.

Stained Glass Window with ChristThe overall scope of the 12 week class will hopefully look something like this: starting with God, the Trinity and its transcendence and immanence, moving to creation. Then looking at man, his dignity and his depravity, then moving to the Incarnation of Christ, then to the cross, then to sanctification, or the life of the believer. After that, we’ll look at more environmental aspects: our history (from the early church to the reformation to now), creeds and confessions, and maybe do some clean-up on contemporary issues. We’ll then (hopefully) finish up on the future of worship, aspects of eschatology in our daily lives.

As I go, I’ll be making all my information available to whoever wants it: my Keynote slides, notes, a recommended reading list, and a list of artists mentioned along with their work and links to further information.

It will be listed under the ‘Resources‘ tab up top or by visiting here.

More on Artists and Terrorists

Arts and TheologyIn my previous post, I wrote this:

We all create, sometimes for life, sometimes for death. We are a mix of artist and terrorist.

I was reading Mark 14:1-11 and came across this idea of artist/terrorist.  This event takes place before the Lord’s Supper.  A woman anoints Jesus with some costly perfume, in preparation for His burial.  The disciples scold her for “wasting” such a precious and costly commodity, it could have been useful. Jesus receives her gift and defends her actions to the clueless disciples.  Mark then places an interesting two verses: Judas apparently leaves the scene in his plot to betray Jesus.

There are a few interesting things going on here at first glance.  We find an artist, a terrorist and some pragmatists.  The artist is the woman who created something our Savior deemed “beautiful.”  She sacrificed and created a beautiful moment.  The disciples, not really getting it, only see the pragmatic side of things- the money would have been better off for a more “useful” purpose.  Like giving to the poor, or something that really helps other people.  Their false assumption is that something beautiful, even if it be ephemeral, is worthy of our time and energy and money.

The woman was basking in the presence of the Lord, and the Lord affirmed her.

The woman is contrasted with Judas, the man who would try to betray Jesus.  He was not basking in Jesus’ presence, he wanted to remove His presence.  Both chose to create.  One chose to create life, the other death. And this is the war within ourselves- all have the power to create, and with that comes the responsibility to create life.  Taking cues from Chuck DeGroat, part of us wants to create life and part of us wants to create war.  Part of us is an artist, part of us is a terrorist.

There will always be people who don’t get it, like the disciples.  “Art is a waste of time.” “Shouldn’t you evangelize the lost instead?” Though good questions will arise, artists will always have to defend themselves for spending time creating.  But there is a real truth that many who don’t define themselves as creative types often miss: we are all artists.  We are always creating, like a language or a culture, it’s just part of being human, being made in the image of God.  And, as artists, we look up to see Jesus looking down on our attempts at creating beauty in our lives, and he says “You have done a beautiful thing for me.”