Tuesday, October 30, 2007

from the journey of a blind woman: a discussion on Hallelujah (part 3)

"Your ordinary self is exactly where God wants to work extraordinary
miracles. The inconspicuous nobody who shivers when it's cold and sweats when it's hot, who wakes up so many days feeling not-at-all-ready to face the world, who can barely get dressed and show up on time and at the right place, who has to read the paragraph three times to understand it, who feels lonely and hopeless, isolated, crowded, horny, left out, and taken in all at once -- YOU are the one God loves! Deal with it." (Brennan Manning)

"IN MY MIND THE NEW ALBUM IS ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF GOD, HOW IT REALLY DOES EXIST, AND IS AS REAL AS YOUR CAR OR YOUR KRISPY KREME DONUT, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR PROBLEMS. IF WE CAN FIGURE IT OUT, GOD HAS INVITED US TO LIVE in His kingdom in the midst of our regular existence. It is not a place of isolation and perfection, it is not far away where we cannot reach it. It happens at all the places where we intersect with each other..." (SARA GROVES)

Question #2 restated, is it possible to mix the sacred and the secular, the pure and the profane, without one diminishing the other?

This question came from the excellent comments regarding the original lyrics of the song by Leonard Cohen and its various rewrites by other performers. But the importance of this question is crucial beyond this tiny discussion of one song and one song-writer. One of the very interesting issues regarding Cohen's lyrics is that he includes both biblical and sexual references, but the two are not separated. They are, in fact, inseperable -- David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and all that.

We must guard against the deception that our lives are compartmentalized into these categories of sacred and secular. This concept does not exist in the Bible (see: David and Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah, and pretty much the rest of the entire biblical narrative). It does exist in reference to some of the heretical teaching of groups like the Gnostics who taught a dualism that the physical realm was evil and the spiritual realm was good; therefore, the man Jesus who lived the crude life of a carpenter and suffered the cruel death on a cross could not be the Christ who was the transcendant Savior.

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul shut down the heresy, "We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body." (Colossians 1:15-18)

Dallas Willard addresses the mindset this way, "There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created. And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and the cause of Christ. "In other words, it is not the act itself that is defined as sacred or secular, pure or profane, but our own sinful stupidity that muddies the waters. In the next post, we'll talk more about the artist's intentions behind the lyrics, and there is some analysis to be done on his interpretations of these gifts of love and sex and relationship and art that have been created by and gifted by our good Father.

But I believe, before we can even have an intelligent conversation about the artist's intentions, we need to be crystal clear about our own. For myself, I find a reflex of fear kick in whenever a piece of art even puts its toes into the waters of life outside of the pre-approved Christian feelings, thoughts and behavior . So in this line of thinking, references to, say lust, are taboo while references to Krispy Kreme donuts or Foghorn Leghorn cartoons are perfectly acceptable. I am not willing to live and think and feel this way any longer. I do not want to cooperate with the "incalcuable damage" this mentality does to my own life and the "cause of Christ."

If we become students of the Truth found in God's Word as well as the work of His Spirit being worked out all around us in our Christ-community, it is obvious that God does not categorize between sacred and secular. Together and alone, we experience the delights and agonies of living as spiritual beings in a physical world. We cry together over the death of a friend, we laugh at Steve Carrell, we eat pumpkin cake with cream-cheese frosting, we wrestle with the temptation to violate each other, we sing without tiring yet another Lincoln Brewster worship song.

Let's listen to L'Engle again, "To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all. I don't mean to water down my Christianity into a vague kind of universalism, with Buddha and Mohammed all being more or less equal to Jesus - not at all! But neither do I want to tell God (or my friends) where he can and cannot be seen. We human beings far too often tend to codify God, to feel that we know where he is and where he is not, and this arrogance leads to such things as the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem witch burnings and has the result of further fragmenting an already broken Christendom." (Walking on Water, p. 35)

While I would not compare much of the legalism I witnessed in my upbringing to the Spanish Inquisition, I do have a collection of stories that smacked somewhat of persecution. Early on, under the influence of my pious grandmother, battles were waged against pants on women and playing cards...these were debateable, but were extremely suspect. However, there was no debate regarding movie theatres and alcoholic beverages; these were completely illegal. In high school with the advent of contemporary Christian music, our parents had to make tough decisions about new dilemmas such as rock music at the roller rink and drums in church music. (one of my friend's parents settled the decision by allowing her to listen to Amy Grant any day of the week BUT Sundays).

These examples of separating sacred and secular may seem ridiculous, but I am not that old and the discussions were real in my lifetime. This serves as proof that it is not the specific holiness-earning regulations being debated but the mentality behind the debate that creates all the problems. When we view God in categories instead of as a Person with whom we are invited into relationship, then we will continue these dumb-ass conversations ad nauseum. (speaking of which, consider how OK God was with entrusting his own sacred words to Balaam's dumb ass in the Old Testament story!)

When it comes to art, wouldn't it be exciting if the church would begin to consider more important how a subject was being treated instead of what subject was being treated? If God thought the same way about us as we think about art, we would all be living in ivy-covered Kinkade houses, eating Testamints, listening to Christian radio, watching Gospel TV, borrowing money from Christian debt services, reading Chicken Soup for the Soul, networking on GodTube and plastering yet one more Christian slogan on our car bumper. We'd never have to experience sorrow, never have to ask forgiveness from sin and never have to interact with anything that might give us sin "cooties" (to borrow a term from Pastor Craig).

What if, instead, we began to critique art based on the Truth, Goodness and Beauty it reflects. And, by this mean, I mean more than the rosy light of a Kinkade painting. You have seen, as well as I, photographs of horrific tragedies that demonstrate a respect for beauty. You have watched documentaries covering topics of evil that demonstrate a commitment to investigating truth -- even truth that is hard to swallow. You have read novels, listened to lyrics, rented movies, that celebrate even the smallest acts of goodness which bring redemption to cruel circumstances. After all, the story of the Incarnation (which we are about to celebrate in full-out frenzy!) demonstrates once and for all God's commitment to breaking all barriers between sacred and secular when he sent His very own self through the muck of embryonic fluid into a setting of cobwebby cow stalls and sheep dung. No ivy-covered walls here. No scented candles with a Bible verse plastered on them to cover the stench of the barn. No contemporary Christian muzak to make the envirnoment more spiritual. Nope. No such thing for our Savior.

We've got to rip out of this bubble, friends. It's killing us -- turning us into illiterate, dumbed-down, plastic-wrapped people.

I loved .love's comment, "I honestly worry more about music that is labeled 'worship' but lacks effort and creativity."

She's in good company. Here's what Dr. Hans Rookmaaker had to say, "In a way there is no specifically Christian art. One can distinguish only good and bad art, art which is sound and good from art which is false...A work of art is not good when we know that the artist was a Christian: it is good when we perceive it to be good. Nor is a work bad if we know that the artist was a hater of God." (Modern Art and the Death of a Culture)Imagine if Christ-followers who create art placed more importance on the godly traits of discipline, creativity and imagination than they did on the latest consumer demands from the Christian-bubble subculture. Imagine that! I imagine it would look a lot like the kingdom here on earth.

I officially clamber down from my soapbox, clear my throat and whisper, "Thanks for listening. What do you think?"

Monday, October 29, 2007

from the journey of a blind woman: a discussion on Hallelujah (part 2)

Recently I was reading a post from The Diary of An Arts Pastor and realized that part of the reason I haven't been blogging lately is the overall lack of discipline in my life.

The other reason I haven't been blogging lately is an overall lack of discipline in my writing.

I realize that if I don't see myself as a writer -- or even a 'blogger' -- I can't be undisciplined. Either way, I know that, at the very least, I need to finish this discussion I started about Hallelujah and I've been procrastinating. Like crazy.

Hmmmm, let me think about this a moment....
Lack of discipline causes procrastination.
Fear of failure causes procrastination.
Laziness causes procrastination.
I'm three-for-three.

So, read the rest if you like, but know that the person I'm most writing this for is me. I need to do it as a part of my quest to not just consume information and not just talk about information, but to analyze, discern and apply information with wisdom.
Before going any further, I should state my bias. I do not believe that, in general, most of us in the church have a well-formed education when it comes to the intersections of faith and art and culture. I believe that almost all of us have been taught from one side of the fence or the other a sort of separation of church and art and culture. That is why I believe this conversation is so important. We need a healthy self-assessment about our understanding -- or lack thereof. It is crucial.

Here we go...
Question 1a re-stated, can we worship Father, Son and Spirit through works of art that were not created by artists who intend their work to bring reverence or awe to Him?

First of all, God is Lord of all whether or not we recognize Him as such. In other words, it is not the spiritual intentions of the artist that initiate recognition of God. As humans , we do not create ex nihilo -- from nothing -- we create as reflections of our Divine Creator. This is true whether your name is Jon Bon Jovi or Johann Sebastian Bach.
James 1:17 (CEV) Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.

Colossians 1:16 (CEV)
Everything was created by him, everything in heaven and on earth, everything seen and unseen, including all forces and powers, and all rulers and authorities. All things were created by God's Son, and everything was made for him.

"Beauty stirs our hidden nostalgia for God." -- Pope John Paul II
"All truth is God's truth" -- Aristotle
I would extrapolate these statements to say All goodness is God's goodness and All beauty is God's beauty. (I realize the issue of beauty opens doors to personal preference...that's another topic for another post.)

God creates Goodness and Beauty and Truth. Scratch that. God
is Goodness, Beauty and Truth.
He initiates; we respond. Worship happens when we choose to look outside our own tiny self-absorbed existence and recognize the goodness and beauty and truth of God and His gifts and respond in love and obedience toward Him.

Consider this statement by Madeleine L'Engle, a well-formed artist and God-responder,
"...we call the work of such artists un-Christian or non-Christian at our own peril. Christ has always worked in ways which have seemed peculiar to many men, even his closest followers. Frequently, the disciples have failed to understand him. So we need not feel that we have to understand how he works through artists who do not consciously recognize him. Neither should our lack of understanding cause us to assume that he cannot be present in their work." (Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, p.33)

And this essay from David Taylor, arts pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, (I apologize that I lost the title of the actual post I took this from. You should read all his stuff anyway...it's pretty great!)

"Can unregenerate sinners make good fruit? Yes. Yes, because God enables them to do so. Yes, because they have not completely forgotten what goodness tastes like; they've not completely forgotten the garden. The image of God in them is not dead, it is simply sick unto death. If it were completely dead, we would only have pure evil, and there is only one kind of creature that is purely evil and that is the demonic creature. Humans, on the other hand, however dimly, still recognize goodness when they see it; they even desire it. Theologians call this common grace, i.e., a grace common to all humankind. The non-Christian cannot accomplish in his own power the regeneration of his heart, only God can do that. But he can do good things - disburse potable water, heart surgery equipment, Fiddler on the Roof musicals - many good things indeed that remind him that it is good to be alive: that life is better than death. Granted, he often makes a miserable mess of his life because his heart is terminally ill, but oddly enough his works of art often betray his love for the Good ("Man of La Mancha"), the True ("In the Heat of the Night"), and the Beautiful ("The Nutcracker"). He can't quite seem to shake that mysterious lust for eternity in his heart."
This leads us to part b of question 1. Essentially, it asks, can someone respond to God's Truth, Goodness and Beauty through a work of art (say a song like Hallelujah) without the intention to recognize Him as the Creator?
I think this question is asking more than I bargained for, and it was in response to my initial claim that I felt like Bon Jovi was recognizing his Creator on that now infamous
Unplugged episode. Truly the larger question is Are my eyes and ears open to recognizing God everywhere I go? If so, I can worship anywhere and anytime.

I can not truly know this man's heart. He could just be a great performer. He could just be worshipping the idea of God or spirituality and not God Himself. At the same time, I think it is entirely possible that Bon Jovi was transported through the truth and beauty of the music he was performing and the truth of the lyric "Hallelujah" (
praise ye the Lord) to admit for even a moment that there is Someone larger than himself.

Consider many of the pagan kings in the Old Testament who were forced to recognize God as the true God after witnessing his mighty acts. Consider that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. That those who did not make that vital choice in this life will show reverence to the true God in eternity.

At the risk of taxing those of you kind enough to read this far, I will post the rest of this conversation in the next two days. At least I'm hoping I'll choose the disipline to do that.
In the meantime, what is your response to what I've posted so far? What do you think I've missed? Anyone disagree? Anyone agree? Why?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

back in the saddle again

I've been pretty hit and miss with my blog writing of late.
It has been a busy, busy season in our household -- life, work, children, illness, school, ministry. All these things have piled in layer upon layer -- like old coats of paint.
And, somewhere along the way, I've lost the heart to write. Or read. Or rest. Or relax.
Not a healthy way to live.
So, I'm taking small steps this week to get back to a healthy place -- including back to my habit of writing new posts.

for starters a couple of book reviews. next, catching up on old business.

Night by Elie Wiesel
This book has been on my reading list for a while now. Then my 10th grade son told me he was reading it in school this year. Then I read this blog post and realized I didn't want to wait any longer. (thanks lola for letting me borrow your book...my reading budget is tapped right now!)
As promised, this was a powerful read. I thought I'd been exposed to most of the awful details of the Holocaust (read several memoirs from the era as well as The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler's List and Band of Brothers, etc.) but I was wrong. There were, in fact, more agonizing details to consider. More horrific stories.
The author states that if he had only one book to write in his lifetime, this would be the one. It is his attempt at making sure the story has been told. It seems he sees his role to be much like the role of the character Moishe the Beadle who survived execution by the S.S. and chose to return to the town to warn the Jews to leave before it was too late.
In his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Wiesel states:
"...if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices...how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must -- at that moment -- become the center of the universe."

Annie Dillard
Another author on my reading list for three of her titles, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood and The Writing Life. What a fun surprise when my mother handed me a compilation book of all three titles! She had found it at the library and was not ready to read it yet...it felt like Christmas morning!
To call this woman a gifted writer would be akin to labeling Matthew McConaughey attractive. It's a major understatement. In fact, there was a part of my brain that felt like it had never even really read a book before Dillard's work.
I also quickly realized that I am spending way too much time on auto-pilot -- not noticing, not observing, not paying attention. If Dillard could spend entire pages on the sensation of running down the sidewalk as a young girl, what in heaven's name is occupying my thoughts most of the time? Sample the following excerpts as you would a wine-tasting -- sip, swish, swallow (or spit, if you're really serious about it and not trying to just get as much free wine as you can).

from Pilgrim on Tinker Creek
"The woods were as restless as birds. I stood under tulips and ashes, maples, sourwood, sassafras, locusts, catalpas, and oaks. I let my eyes spread and unfix, screening out all that was not vertical motion, and I saw only leaves in the air -- or rather, since my mind was also unfixed, vertical trails of yellow color-patches falling from nowhere to nowhere. Mysterious streamers of color unrolled silently all about me, distant and near. Some color chips made the descent violently; they wrenched from side to side in a series of diminishing swings, as if willfully fighting the fall with all the tricks of keel and glide they could muster. Others spun straight down in tight, suicidal circles.
Tulips had cast their leaves on my path, flat and bright as doubloons. I passed under a sugar maple that stunned me by its elegant unself-consciousness: it was as if a man on fire were to continue calmly sipping tea."

"Thomas Merton wrote, 'There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.' There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
(i apologize, but I find myself unable to stop with this excerpt...it's just way too delicious!)
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have 'not gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and the latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clifts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock -- more than a maple -- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."

And from American Childhood
"Ah, the boys. How little I understood them! How little I even glimpsed who they were. How little any of us did, if I may extrapolate. How completely I condescended to them when we were ten and they were in many ways my betters. And when we were fifteen, how little I understood them still, or again. I still thought they were all alike, for all practical purposes, no longer comical beasts now but walking gods who conferred divine power with their least glances. ...

They moved in violent jerks from which we hung back, impressed and appalled, as if from horses slamming the slats of their stalls. This and, as we would have put it, their messy eyelashes. In our heartless, condescending, ignorant way we loved their eyelashes, the fascinating and dreadful way the black hairs curled and tangled. That's the kind of vitality they had, the boys, that's the kind of novelty and attraction: their very eyelashes came out amok, and unthinkably original. That we loved, that and their cloddishness, their broad, vaudevillian reactions. They were always doing slow takes. Their breathtaking lack of subtlety in every particular, we thought -- and then sometimes a gleam of consciousness in their eyes, as surprising as if you'd caught a complicit wink from a brick."

Absolutely brilliant! For a writer to be able to not only remind me in a general sense of something so minute as the look of boys' eyelashes, but to do it in a way that I can literally recall each microscopic hair and also the rowdy faces behind those eyelashes. Truly brilliant.

as for the old business
Remember that discussion on Hallelujah? If it's the last thing I ever write, I will complete my thoughts on this. But not today. I've got to watch U2's Vertigo Tour on DVD with my 16-year-old son. Right now, he is giving me a weird look because I asked him if I could study his eyelashes!

Friday, October 19, 2007

bravo, God!

(*pastel by Matt Kellman; Art Show on Main 2007)

It's been two weeks since the event and I'm finally getting back to a sort of 'normalcy'. As a summary, I share my journal entry from the Monday morning, October 8, less than 12 hours after the completion of Art Show on Main 2007.

"Good morning, sweet Abba.
How ironic that my flesh tendency is to rush forward from this weekend into a worry list of "Where do we go from here?" ; "What do I do about [name of guilty party removed!]?"; "How should we evaluate this?", etc., etc., etc.
Please God, (I seem to be in continual need from you!) (is that a good thing as in 'APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING') (i like to use parantheses a lot in my journal) now I'm asking for help to be grateful and restful.

Here's a bullet list of fond memories from this full weekend of Binghamton's First Friday, Art Show on Main and CenterStage Christmas auditions: (in no particular order)

  • we're going to have a small orchestra pit band for Christmas!
  • the cameo role of Zechariah for the Christmas play, God With Us
  • Florrie Barnett and Earl Barnett's gallery opening at the Bundy Museum
  • InsideOut's debut during Cubestock 2007 at the Night Eagle they brought the house down!
  • our new friends, the Kinney family, joining us for the two days of the Art Show
  • Craig and Andrea's friends joining us for the Art Show
  • DOT RAMA!!
  • Pastor John's "art & the church" talk on Sunday evening
  • my friend Lisa Hoteling's open house for her dream "Harmony Hills Ranch"
  • lunch on Sunday with my new friend Jean who is just getting to know Christ
  • that we got to show my new favorite short film "Most" during the Art Show
  • the beautiful autumnal decorations and yummy cookies for the art show reception
  • watching the art show guests working together on our mosaic...it's gorgeous!
  • watching Lateefah Covington teach children how to make oragami birds like the ones in her mobile on display
  • reading all the title ideas for Mike Krause's sculpture
  • the story behind the church stained glass pieces from the 1700's that artist Andy Palmer is restoring and had on display
  • the lush, lush vocals and instrumentals of the classical music during the performing arts show
  • watching Pastor John fight back tears during the performing arts show and the closing concert
  • the leadership team: Wendy, Margaret, Nancy, Debbie and all the volunteers who worked so hard on the weekend
  • my friend Lori singing her guts out on "Shine" during the closing concert
  • the guitar trio Sunday night -- I could have listened a lot longer
  • all the original works artists -- visual and performing -- who took the giant risk of sharing their heart and vision with us
  • the variety of visual arts in Main Street (loved that GIRAFFE!)
  • Barb Transue and Richard and Carol Caforio listening to my sons' very, very loud band and later affirming them - talk about a legacy to the next generation!
  • watching my daughters create their own mosaics on Sunday afternoon
and i could go on and on and on and on and on an on....
Can't wait to see where we're headed next.

God, you continue to smile on us. I am amazed and ever grateful.

your daughter, Tamara

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Art Show on Main 2007

It's here...the big weekend.
It's a big, big show.
You won't want to miss it.

We've got visual art -- paintings, pastels, photography, mosaics.

We've got children's art.

We've got interactive art.

We've got performing art.

We've got free concerts.

We've got a short film.

We've got live harp music.
We've got good food.
We've got caffeine-laden concoctions.
It's just your well-rounded arts weekend.

Don't miss it!
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