Monday, July 28, 2008

Transforming Culture Symposium #2: THE PASTOR

Transforming Culture: The Pastor
Plenary#2: Eugene Peterson

note: this is my first attempt to share notes from the plenary sessions of the Transforming Culture Symposium I attended in Austin back in April. I did my best to make pronouns and all other various grammar siblings cooperate, but I know I've missed a lot of stuff. Everything written should be assumed as the speaker's material, except where specifically noted as my own opinion. Also, even if you don't typically read this long of a post, you should know that the notes from this symposium represent thoughts and ideas and concepts and truths that have been boring their way deep into my soul and just plain old messing with my head. So, if you are someone who is either a Christian, or an artist, or just my friend, I'd love to share that with you. And, because I'm not above bribery, I'll select one person randomly from each post in this series to get something fun and nifty and super-cool for free from me!
Back to the notes...

The Question:
How is the pastor an artist and the artist, a pastor?
How can a pastor see himself as an artist? How can he learn to think artistically, or live artfully, or grow in the art of the shepherding of words and people which is also the art of love? On the other hand, how can the artist see him or herself as a shepherd? How can artists see themselves as uniquely anointed shepherds of the imagination, of emotions, of ideas, of physical matter, of beauty?

The Goal:
Pastors and artists are both in the business of shepherding. Both are called to live their lives artfully. The work of pastoring is both a science and an art. The work of art-making is both a provocation and a caretaking. Our desire here is to help the pastor and the artist grow in their understanding and appreciation of their kindred work: of shepherding, of art-making.

The Speaker:
Plenary #2: Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, poet)
*Tami's note: I find it somewhat comical, but clearly typical, that the program listed only this short and generic list in reference to the accomplished Peterson. David Taylor introduced this speaker with a story of his days in Dr. Peterson's Biblical Spirituality class at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. Every week in class, Peterson had his students sing the same song, St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Taylor said, "I didn’t understand why he kept having us sing this song. It wasn’t till the end that I understood what he was trying to do with us. He really wanted us to do the work of sung theology. Our souls were better off for it. He is the kind of man who leads us down these strange pathways, but there is something good for us in that walk."

I'll add further personal observations of this man at the bottom of the post. I will say here that my first surprise, having never heard Peterson speak before, is that he was so soft-spoken, unassuming, almost bashful. He is an excellent storyteller (this did not surprise me) and it almost feels wrong to put his talk in outline form. It may actually be impossible.
Let's see what happens....

The Talk (in summary):
1. Job Descriptions vs. Vocation
I’m a pastor. The term pastor in our culture is not a vocation that carries with it a clear job description, which is probably right. Jobs have job descriptions. A job is an assignment to do a work that can be quantified and qualified, evaluated. It’s pretty easy to decide whether a job has been completed or not, done well or done badly.
I’m a pastor who has been trying for 50 years now to be a pastor in a culture that doesn’t know the difference between a vocation and a job. The people who have helped me most in discerning the difference and embodying this difference in my life as a pastor have been artists. My seminary professors had no idea what a pastor was or did. Most of my pastor friends and colleagues since my ordination have embraced the secularized job identity for a pastor that is pervasive through American culture. They’ve been less than helpful.

I grew up in small town in Montana and had never seen an artist. The sectarian church where I grew up was too serious about keeping me separate from worldly contamination to waste time on artists. Beginning when I was 22 years old, artists started entering my life in a profoundly shaping way -- shaping who I was becoming as a pastor in an American culture that had very little sense of pastoral vocation.

2. Three artists who became my allies in developing a distinct, Biblically-rooted and church-oriented pastoral identity
Willie Ossa: When I was a seminary student in NYC in 1955, I was assigned to do field work at West Park Presbyterian Church on West 86th St. One of my responsibilities was to meet with a group of young adults on Friday night. They were all serious artists who had somehow found each other and joined this group. Most were dancers and singers. Two were poets. There was one sculptor. All worked menial jobs (taxi, shoe sales, waiters, etc). I don’t know about their skill, but I soon realized that none of them were defined by their jobs. They were artists. Whether anyone would ever see them as artists or pay them as artists, they were artists. Artist was not a job, it was a way of life.

Willie was not one of the group, but he was there every night. Willie was the church janitor. But janitor was not who he was. Willie was a painter – on canvas with oils. Something unspoken drew us together and w/in a month or two we became friends. Willie was German, about 27 years old. He’d married a daughter of an officer from the occupying American army in post-war Germany. He and his wife Mary had come to NY a couple of years earlier. They lived in a third floor walk-up apartment six blocks from the church with an infant daughter. The job was ideal because it let him work at night leaving the daytime with its good light for painting. It wasn’t long before they were inviting me for supper on Fridays before singles group.

Then one Friday Willie asked to paint my portrait. Before the portrait painting started I learned that Willie hated the church. He lived through the Nazi period, experienced the capitulation of the German church to Hitler. His pastor had become a fervent Nazi. He had never heard of Deitrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Niemöller or the Karl Barth of the Barmen confession. All he knew was the Church hated Jews and embraced Hitler as a prophet. He could not understand why I would even consider being a pastor in a church. He told me that all churches reduced pastors to functionaries in a bureaucracy. He liked me; he didn’t want his friend destroyed.

And then he began painting my portrait. He said he wanted to work in a form that was new to him, but he never let me see what he was paiting. Every Friday I would sit in the afternoon sun, mostly in silence, while he painted and Mary prepared a simple supper. Then we would walk the six blocks to church. One Friday Mary came into the room, looked at the by-now near finished portrait and spoke in German, “Sick!” Willie responded, in German, “He’s not sick now, but that’s the way he will look when the compassion is gone and the mercy gets squeezed out of him.”

[Note: the conclusion of this story and the remainder of Eugene Peterson's talk as well as his prayerful conclusion will be available in the book being edited by David Taylor and published by Baker Books.]

Tamara's Thoughts:
What can I say? The art of storytelling, especially this finely crafted, leaves little left to add. Of course, you did not get the privilege to hear and see this story being told, only the opportunity to read my best attempts at translating the message. (get it? THE MESSAGE?)

I continue to be surprised when I hear people that I know to be wise make statements like "It has been the artists in my life, not exclusively but more often than any of the others, who keep the sharp distinction between vocation and job description." Honestly, something deep within me keeps waiting to hear that all of this is just silly-talk. That all this discussion about the value of art and those who make it is just another frivolous conversation that will soon fade into the church basement files along with the Y2K rapture booklets and Ray Boltz music videos.

And, I do hope that much of the talk -- possibly more accurately defined as hype -- about art and artists in church will subside to a deep, long-lasting and maturing integrity. Peterson addressed this difference during the Q&A following his talk, "You are hearing lectures here that are stunning. We’ve got people in our midst who are really trying to say it right and not just giving pep talks to make art important." I've heard the pep-talks and if you've spent any time reading or listening to church buzz, you have too.

But, slowly, I am becoming convinced that, rather than frivoulous propaganda to make ourselves feel important, there is an ancient and dazzling truth that has been buried beneath....beneath.... Well, beneath what? What became of Bezalel's descendents? When did this discipline that crafts visible beauty for the invisible empty space of worship become unimportant? Why is it that these three artists whom Peterson chose to highlight from his fifty years as a pastor all come from outside the church?

I'm not asking this rhetorically. I really want to know what you think. Why?

(I'll add a few more surprising anecdotes about Eugene Peterson in a follow-up post. You know the one where I announce who won the super-cool and nifty giveaway for one randomly selected commenter. You know, someone who reads this post and leaves a comment. Ahem.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

And the winner is......

I kid you not. I logged in last night with every intention of giving myself a great gift and there it was. A Comment. I think I even heard an angel choir singing background to the soft glow of my laptop. It was a beautiful moment.
Honestly, I was a little envious of the guy who just got my $5 Starbucks gift card. But mostly I am grateful. Make sure you read Earl's comment as he makes some excellent points and asks me a really important question. And, if you can stand more of my thoughts, make sure you read my comment back.
While you're at it, go over to his site. His latest post on The Dark Knight is the first I've read from that perspective. Good stuff. (and maybe with all this link love I could just keep the gift card and call it a day).

I'm getting ready to post notes and thoughts from the next session. You won't want to miss Eugene Peterson's talk. I went to Austin feeling a deep respect for the man and that respect was confirmed, but in the most surprising of ways.

coming soon...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Transforming Culture Symposium #1: THE GOSPEL

*note: this is my first attempt to share notes from the plenary sessions of the Transforming Culture Symposium I attended in Austin back in April. I did my best to make pronouns and all other various grammar siblings cooperate, but I know I've missed a lot of stuff. Everything written should be assumed as the speaker's material, except where specifically noted as my own opinion. Also, even if you don't typically read this long of a post, you should know that the notes from this symposium represent thoughts and ideas and concepts and truths that have been boring their way deep into my soul and just plain old messing with my head. So, if you are someone who is either a Christian, or an artist, or just my friend, I'd love to share that with you. And, because I'm not above bribery, I'll select one person randomly from each post in this series to get something fun and nifty and super-cool for free from me!
Here we go...

Transforming Culture: The Gospel
Plenary #1: Andy Crouch

(Twin Rivers of Tamagawa, Makoto Fujimura)

The Question:
In what way is art a gift, a calling, and an obedience?
In what way, that is, does art tell us about the nature of God (that everything is gift), the nature of human beings (that we are made in the image of a Gift-giver), and the nature of earth-tilling and Gospel-living (that we are responsible servants who have been commissioned to make artistic culture in the context of a fallen world)?

The Goal:
Our desire here is to help pastors understand the relation of art to God, to ourselves as humans, and to our calling as culture-makers, filling the earth with artistic goodness one square inch at a time. This talk is foundational in nature and will be presupposed by the later talks.

The Speaker:Plenary #1: Andy Crouch (editorial director, “The Christian Vision Project,” columnist, author, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling)
(above text from symposium program)

The Scripture: Genesis 2: 4-17 -
When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground- 7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

The Talk (in summary) :
1. A Defintion of Culture:
“Culture is what we make of the world in both senses.” (from Christian cultural critic Ken Meyers and summarized by Crouch)
  • the making of material
  • the making of meaning
What does that mean?

It is the stuff we make of the world. The things we make out of the raw material of nature.
In another sense, it is the sense we make of the world. It is the human project to try to understand the meaning as well as try to create the material.

We make stuff.

We make new.

Culture is meaning-making.

Culture is always a material, rather than immaterial (eg. The realm of values and ideas). 
Sensory, tactile, tangible.

2. Four Observations About Culture from Genesis 2 :

Observation #1:
Lord God Himself is a culture maker in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, He created ex nihilo (from nothing), but in Genesis 2, He creatio ex creatis - created from creation.

The Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the earth. The Lord God planted a garden. A garden is not just nature. A garden is nature plus culture. It is nature cultivated. The first gardener is not Adam. The first gardener is God.

Culture is God’s gift to Adam. Without culture (a garden) how could Adam have survived in the wildness of even this good world? God begins the work of culture before he gives the work to Adam. Culture is as much God’s gift as nature.

Everything Adam does begins with what God did.

Culture is God’s idea.

Observation #2:
“Out of the Garden, the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food

This garden is not just utilitarian source of nourishment. It is also a place of beauty. The trees are not just good for something. They are good for beholding. They are beautiful.

“River…where there is gold and the gold of that land is good….”Why does the author include this? Is it a treasure map? What is the point of the list of precious natural resources? The text does not tell us about primarily useful minerals. The text does not say the river has good iron, granite and boxite. The only value of these resources is their beauty. Of additional note, the minerals named in the text are only available when they are discovered and cultivated. Crouch credited Makoto Fujimura with the observation that these substances are hidden, latent, lying below the surface of the good world.

The world is even better than it appears.

[Note: the remaining points from Andy Crouch's talk as well as his concluding call to action will be available in the book being edited by David Taylor and published by Baker Books.]

Tamara's Thoughts :
It is not my intent to critique the presentation of this content, but to just respond to it from my limited understanding and experience. It's actually quite humbling to even add anything of my own.

I had never, ever heard the creatio ex creatis as modelled in Genesis 2. I guess, in the few amounts of minutes that I've ever dedicated to even analyzing the source of culture, I was of the opinion that culture, itself, was man's choice. The same kind of choice as man made to eat the forbidden fruit. I had never, ever understood culture as part of God's creation gift. Mostly, though, I had just not spent much time thinking about it at all. Shame on me.

For sure, mixed in with that mental laziness was a belief I had picked up along the way in my journey that culture = "them that give us cooties if we get too close". If, instead, culture is part of God's creative gift it is also part of His creative directive. He desires, even commands, that we make stuff and meaning out of the raw material He has given us. I knew this, but I didn't. Know what I mean?

As someone who participates in the weekly planning of church services, I think we could probably spend a whole year of Sundays just telling God how sorry we are for holding this gift with so much contempt and laziness and apathy. We should not take his abundance of mercy toward us as a sign of his approval. The very fact that an increasing number of Christians are doing the hard work of their craft and drawing our attention to that which is beautiful again is a sign of God's sheer mercy.

In no way do I make that last statement out of a sense of condemnation (which would not be from God), but out of a true, overwhelming grief. In some ways I think we are generations and generations behind those who have taken the reigns we dropped and have takent on the responsibility of forming culture(there's a whole conversation I'd love to have here about chasing trends and wonder if the Church gave up art and beauty to chase the tail of Reason...did it really need to be an all or nothing?). In many ways, it is my opinion that we need to humble ourselves enough to learn from them. Instead, it seems that much of the Christian subculture creates out of a sense of superiority. That somehow we "own" the Spirit and therefore do not have to work at our craft, to play and to learn from deep bouts of pain. And here's a clue in case you hadn't noticed - it shows. Our work, as a whole, is not pleasing to the eye, not beautiful.

I remember having a very clear thought about this last fall. I was standing behind a table in our main hallway at church promoting an art show. The goal was to discover artists in our church family who may be hiding their talent or just unaware that we cared about their talent. I had made a pretty passionate announcement during a service and was hoping for at least a small line of people at the table. Next to our table was the sign-up table for an event called Secret-Keeper Girls. It's a great event that promotes modesty and an understanding of true beauty for our daughters. That table was swamped.

Now I'm not knocking that event or that organization. My daughters and I attended it one year and have had amazing conversations as a result. But the sheer contrast of numbers -- the hundreds of people who signed up for that event versus the small handful who signed up for the art show made me wonder if we would even need to teach basic principles of beauty to our children if we had never stopped promoting and creating and enjoying it in our painting and writing and composing.

(and for a real hand grenade that I almost don't want to mention for fear that this minor point will overshadow the rest....I wonder, just wonder, how the culture's rampant addiction to pornography might be different had we not gotten so prude about the beautiful nude forms found in ancient painting and sculpture??)

I know there is so much more to say about this, and I hope some of it will show up in the next posts in this series. I look forward to hearing your responses.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the reading pile

Maybe just the act of putting my true emotional state in this forum kick-started me right out of the Swamp of Inertia that seems to be sucking at my knee caps these days. Or, maybe it's just the gallons of caffeine I've been drinking tonight while the rest of my family takes in the midnight showing of The Dark Knight. Either way, I've mustered up enough energy to put something together for this blog.

Book Review - All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg

Over our recent two-week vacation, we got the paper everyday. It became a kind of short-lived tradition. Each morning, while I slept in, Brian would walk the dog down to the corner paper stand carrying fifty cents in one pocket and a wad of wal-marty-plastic bags in his other pocket (for Dutchy's sidewalk deposits). Once he returned he would put the coffee pot on and move to the front porch. Eventually, I would stumble downstairs and there he'd be --rocking away in our wal-marty-white rocking chairs doing the daily crossword puzzle. This is new territory for us as a married couple; this porch-sitting, rocking-chair sitting, crossword puzzle-doing, coffee-sipping life. While Brian scribbled away on his puzzle with his dull #2 pencil, I would skim the paper.

It was on one of these mornings before the kids needed us -- or, rather, before they needed the chauffeur service we represent -- that I was reminded how much I love reading the obituary page of the paper. I always thought it was kind of strange that my Grandma so faithfully read this page, but here I was morning after morning looking it up, folding back the innards of the Press and creasing it just so. Then, it dawned on me that I wasn't reading for the usual reason - the gruesome who, what, when and where of someone's final day on earth. I was reading it for the story of a person.
I am fascinated by the story, written as so many concise lines in black and white Times New Roman. Even better are the stories with pictures. And then there's the line after line after line of names - family, friends, beloved pets. The jobs and awards and education and causes represented by this life. This particular fascination always leaves me heavy; and not for the death reason again. It's the story. Someone's whole story as we could hear it and know it and recite it is being rolled like some kind of final credits on the obit page.

I feel weighed down with the story of the family around me. My grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles have these ridiculously complex and beautiful and hilarious and redemptive stories. And knowing this almost kills me.
All of this to say that when my mother loaned me this book toward the end of my vacation, I was excited to see that it was a memoir. I spent the day home in bed nursing off a sinus infection and found this to be the perfect day to dig into the life of Rick Bragg and his momma, Margaret, who raised him in the cotton fields of the Apalaching foothills in Alabama. Rick ends up becoming a highly acclaimed journalist covering heart-breaking, life-and-death stories in places like Miami, Birmingham and Haiti and eventually is awarded the Pulitzer Prize while working for the New York Times. But his growing up in poverty and fatherlessness is the true heart of this story; that and his momma's selfless, back-breaking, gospel-driven determination to care for her three sons.

Bragg is, in fact, a very good writer. He mixes sentimentality and cynicism equally into an easy-to-read book. I only wish that he could have translated his deep gratitude toward his mother and his amazement at what he calls a lucky life into a recognition of his true Father. Not only would it change his life, but I think that relationship would even improve his writing which at times slipped into a sloppy sentimentality.

Who knows? Maybe he still will.

how i am feeling these days

Monday, July 14, 2008

where I'm living these days

It's good to be home again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

to mission control


TECHNICIAN- Apollo 13, you are go for pyro arm and docking. All systems are
nominal and on the line.
JIM, KEN and FRED are in the CM simulator working on theLM docking
FRED HAISE- Okay. S-IVB is stable. SLA panels are drifting
free. The drogue is clear. The docking target is clear.
KEN MATTINGLY- Okay, I'm coming up on that now. Two, one, mark.
FRED HAISE- Seventy-five feet. We're coming up on docking.
Out at the sim console technicians are providing some problems for the crew
to work.
TECHNICIAN- Let's shut down some thruster on 'em.
TECHNICIAN 2- Let's see what he does with this one.
Back inside the CM simulator KEN notices something is wrong.
KEN MATTINGLY- Whoa. Wait a minute. I lost something here. I can't
translate up.
FRED HAISE- Houston. We are drifting down and away.
TECHNICIAN- Roger that.
JIM LOVELL- Wanna just back off and make another run at this.
KEN MATTINGLY- No. I got it. I got it. Let me... I'm just trying to get it
stable here.
FRED HAISE- Houston. I'm gonna reset the high gain.
KEN MATTINGLY- I've got the target back in the reticle. Okay. We're stable.
Go ahead and recycle the valves.
FRED HAISE- Forty feet...
JIM LOVELL- They're all gray.
FRED HAISE- ... Twenty...
FRED HAISE- Ten feet...

Ever feel this way with your life? Just trying to dock the ship on target. You can't see outside this tiny pinhole of a lens and any slight change in the environment acts as a hairtrigger on the controls sending you off target?
This is how I feel about my life right now. So many millions of things are going right, well and good, yet I feel that I'm "drifting down and away and am unable to translate up."
Know what I'm saying?

My truest heart's desire is to capture the target my Creator has set for me.
My truest heart's desire is to be captured by the target my Creator has set for me.
Houston, I have a problem.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

in the meantime....

I'm working on a series of posts that (finally!) summarize my trip to the Transforming Culture Symposium in Austin this past spring.
In the meantime, check out this'll be glad you did!

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.
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