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

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.”

Reflections From My Root Canal

Earlier this week I had what is called “root canal therapy.” Basically, they drill/file/demolish all the bad parts of a tooth, then drill/file some more, then fill the formerly-bad-but-now-open space with some kind of filling material. It sounds a little nutty because it is. It’s a process that took 2 hours for me (and is still not done yet). So while the dentist was removing pieces of my tooth and the assistant was using that air-sucker thing, I had a good amount of time to think.

There’s a crazy sensation when a doctor takes a drill to a piece of bone in your body. For me, it was fascinating. My whole head responded in reverberations to the swirling drill, and, because the resonation was coming from the bones in my head, it felt like my brain was creating the sound- though I knew the doctor and the assistant both heard the sound, though it might have been slightly different.

So my thinking kept going to how our bodies are created for resonation. It would have been impossible for the dentist to drill into a tooth and not get sound. And I wasn’t even using my vocal cords, it was just a part of how I am made- how we are all made. We are all finely tuned instruments, all with different depths of sounds and timbres. Our Creator has crafted us like a fine handmade guitar, each piece of wood and binding and glue made to exact specifications for creating a rich and unique sound.

So much time has been taken with our instruments, our bodies, and we often overlook it. Especially for myself (being a musician!) it took a visit to the dentist for me to appreciate the depth of how I am created.

So is it weird that I’m thinking of a theology of music and creation while a dentist cranks away at pieces of my tooth? Yeah, probably. But I hope the next time you get root canal therapy or hit yourself on the head or sing or play drums on your chest, you’ll realize that The Maker has created you into a work of art, one that is made to resonate beautiful sounds back to Him.

Beauty Breaking in to Normal Life

Arts and TheologyThe other day, Christina and I were able to visit the Morse Museum in Winter Park, the “world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany,” the artist whose main medium was working with glass. I confess I originally was not very excited about Tiffany’s work. Whenever I saw something Tiffany-related, I just put it in a 40s-60s-kind-a-vibe category of mere ornamentation. But then I interacted more with the artist and his purpose, and I was reallTiffanyy moved.

Tiffany’s work was designed for those who owned his art to interact with beauty on an everyday basis. Be it doors to a garden, or a window to a yard, his purpose was a necessary interface between the beautiful and the mundane.

TiffanyAfter thinking about this while perusing the space, I felt a kind of sadness. His work was now housed in a museum, where someone has to go out of their normal life to view. Tiffany’s aim was not in line with this. I know the necessity of preserving the art, but if some of the purpose is lost, can the art really be preserved? Or maybe a work of art’s meaning is supposed to change with time and place?

TiffanyAll the more it pointed to the fact that art is not made in a vacuum. It must interact with its surrounding, or maybe its community? And we are a part of that community. Especially with Tiffany, our working with the art is part of the meaning of the piece itself. Sometimes these lines get fuzzy.

TiffanyTiffany’s work really illuminates the idea of the transcendent breaking in to normal mundane life, pointing to the fact that the transcendent is all around us. And not in some pantheistic god is everything kind of deal. But the God is always speaking to us, His word is a constant echo in the ears of humanity. And bringing in that transcendent nature that comes with beauty, when put in front of your nose everyday, as a Tiffany piece should have been- be it lamp or window or something else, would probably change your view of the world and how we ought to live. Now beauty becomes something needed, not just a rich person’s commodity. Art becomes something to work hard for- in the sense of buying and placing in your own home’s space, or the sense of working hard to “get it.” There is more out there, and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s vision is an excellent reference.

Everybody Hates Twitter.

Since I heard about Twitter around 2 years ago, it has been steadily gaining popularity.  These past few weeks there have been a few posts going around, mostly defending Twitter and its challenge to make something out of 140 characters. Twitter is a real easy thing to harass and hate on.  Sure there can be downsides (I mean, who cares about when I’m standing in line or buying groceries?), but there’s a downside to nearly everything.  When radio first came out (or any other new type of communication), I’m sure there were people having these same conversations.  The trick is to recognize the medium and use it to its advantage.  We don’t want to pretend that the medium doesn’t affect the message, and therefore, I don’t think we can say that Twitter is “just like having a conversation” because it’s not.  But there are advantages that Twitter has that our conversations won’t, such as searchability, or hyperlinks, or the strange interconnectedness the web offers.

Let’s skip over all those boring conversations where we try and convince ourselves that using Twitter is like any other type of conversation and see where it’s different.  That’s where the advantages are.

So how am I using Twitter’s medium to its advantage? Every day I come across music, articles, blogs, etc., that I think are important to this whole arts and theology thing, and that I enjoy partking of. Here are a couple recent examples:

1. Storied – site by Corbis that gives the stories behind interesting and important photographs.
2. Re:Sound – The Resurgence’s music stuff is underway, download the MP3 Sampler and chord charts.
3. Cucumber Riot – Download Gasoline Heart’s new album for free, via Paste Magazine.
4. Images of Faith CD – 100 images from many different artists used for illumination’s sake (not illustration) for corporate worship.  Also includes essays on the works and biographies of the artists.
5. Here’s an article from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship on the difference between illumination and illustration; and illumination’s importance in our lives and our worship.
6. Small’s Jazz Club Audio Archive – lots and lots of full sets from their impressive list of musicians, all free.

Now I don’t have the time or the will power to write a post for each of these things, but I enjoy sharing them.  So most of my Twitter use will be in the same vein as this site: the arts, theology, the arts and theology, with a little of my personal life thrown in every now and again.  This is pretty close to making a linkblog, something I’ve thought about doing since this site’s revision.

So how can you take advantage of this awesomeness? Glad you asked:

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me.

If you’re not on Twitter, but use a feed reader, here’s the feed and now there’s a subscription button up on the sidebar.

If you’re not on Twitter and don’t use a feed reader, that’s OK too, you can always just go to my Twitter page.  Plus, I plan on putting out a weekly post on what I’ve found over the past week.

Woodworking and the Fall of Man

unfinished heelblocks

unfinished heelblocks

Arts and TheologyOver the Christmas break I was able to finish making an ashtray I started a while ago. It actually started as a guitar when I was a junior at UF. Myself and Steve, my roommate, were planning on making a guitar. I had access to the College of Art’s wood shop, so we had all sorts of cool tools at our disposal. Then we found out that making a guitar is really hard. And it takes a lot of time. So that ended up on the back burner for a bunch of years, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the fine pieces of wood that we bought in anticipation of our guitar masterpiece. One of those pieces that I’ve been carting around was a mahogany heel block, like the one in the pic. It’s basically a block of wood that you would finish and attach where the neck joins the body. It was a beautiful piece of wood, so I had to use it to do something. Not being a master wood worker and only having access to a Dremel tool, I chose something simple and functional: a cigar ashtray.

the finished ashtray

the finished ashtray

I routed out the tray (which took forever with a Dremel) and made a few spots to hold some stogies, sanded the beast and sealed it. The finished product doesn’t look too bad.

There was one thing that kept hitting me, though. I was always having to struggle with the material to get it to do what I wanted to do. This is a similar idea found in a book edited by Jeremy Begbie, Beholding the Glory: Incarnation through the Arts. The chapter on the use of sculpture is written by Lynn Aldrich, a sculptor living in L.A. (here’s some of her work). My material was just a block of wood and it was using every ounce of inertia to stay that block of wood. I feel like the process really spoke to me about the universal idea of struggle or frustration. I had an end in sight and it took hours of struggle to see that end. This is not what life was meant to be. Life was never meant to be a series of struggles where in the end everyone dies anyway. But I have become so accustomed to struggle and frustration that I don’t often give it a second thought.

…cursed is the ground because of you;

Begbie's book is a great introduction, looking at many areas of art and the incarnation.

Begbie’s book is a great introduction, looking at many areas of art and the incarnation.

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face

you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken;

for you are dust,

and to dust you shall return.”

(Gen 3:17b-19)

Maybe we should all get more frustrated or annoyed at the curse of the fall. We probably just accept it more often than not, and that might be a simple coping mechanism so that we don’t all end up in despair. But despair can be a good thing at times. It points to the great divide of where we are and where we want to be. A despairing person is definitely not alright with the way things are.

But we aren’t just left with despair, we do have a hope, a light that shines ever so faintly at the end of our dark tunnel. This is faith- believing that light does exist beyond our current circumstance.

Can a person be in despair and hope at the same time? I guess that’s kind of the Christian walk, figuring out how to live in both of those worlds.