This article contains a synopsis of sorts, which means there are some mild “spoilers.” Page numbers are from the Picador Modern Classics edition, published in 2015.
A masterpiece of twentieth-century literature, Jesus’ Son (1992) by Denis Johnson is a semiautobiographical collection of loosely linked short stories narrated by a twenty-something male drug addict named F***head (“FH” for short). The book, set in the early 1970s, has nothing to do with a holy bloodline; its title refers to two lines from the Lou Reed song “Heroin,” which are given as the epigraph:
When I’m rushing on my run
And I feel just like Jesus’ Son . . .
FH’s drug-induced escapades constitute the main narrative, which meanders through vignettes that are by turns mundane, repulsive, darkly comic, or just pathetic. Some of the events, like Georgie’s acts of life-saving heroism, are likely hallucinated (FH’s narration is unreliable). But over all the depravity, boredom, and pain that feature prominently in the book, a subtle through line of redemption winds haphazardly, as FH searches for spiritual purpose and connection, for someone “who knew my real name” (111).
Part of this search involves his struggle to overcome the emotional numbness that prevents him from feeling both happiness and pain. In the opening story, “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” a married couple traveling with their infant picks up FH on the side of the road and soon after collides with an oncoming car. At the hospital, FH twistedly muses on how “wonderful” and radiant the newly widowed woman’s wail is:
Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn’t know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That’s what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere. (12)
FH feels completely detached from the woman’s grief and yet envious of it—a grief so raw, so real. He wishes he could feel as deeply as her.
This desire to feel something, anything, is what attracts him to the passionate Michelle, who so often sweeps him up into her passion, whether it be angry or romantic. Their relationship is volatile:
When we were arguing on my twenty-fourth birthday, she left the kitchen, came back with a pistol, and fired it at me five times from right across the table. But she missed. It wasn’t my life she was after. It was more. She wanted to eat my heart and be lost in the desert with what she’d done, she wanted to fall on her knees and give birth from it, she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother. (116)
FH’s desperate pursuit of aliveness leads him to drugs, under whose influence he receives visions—a naked woman parasailing (embodying pure freedom), a mysterious man on the subway whose “chest was like Christ’s” (“I decided to follow him,” 108), and a Jacob’s ladder:
We bumped softly down a hill toward an open field that seemed to be a military graveyard, filled with rows and rows of austere identical markers over soldiers’ graves. I’d never before come across this cemetery. On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity. The sight of them cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and if there’d been anything in my bowels I would have messed my pants from fear.
Georgie opened his arms and cried out, “It’s the drive-in, man!”
“The drive-in . . .” I wasn’t sure what these words meant.
“They’re showing movies in a f***ing blizzard!” Georgie screamed.
“I see. I thought it was something else,” I said. (91–92)
If you live in the Baltimore-Washington area, I hope I’ll see you at one or all of the Eliot Society events this fall! For “Heaven in a Nightclub” on October 26, we’re bringing in jazz pianist Bill Edgar from Philly to give a combo concert-lecture highlighting the spiritual roots of African American music. “The Art of Feasting” will kick off our Living Room Series on November 8, as Heidi Stevens, who teaches art at a local K-12 classical Christian school, will guide us in looking most especially at food table still life paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. On December 13, we’ll gather together again for more food and drinks and to collectively read Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in character. Reserve your spots at https://eliotsociety.org/!
CONFERENCE: The 2019 Madeleine L’Engle Conference: Walking on Water: I just caught wind of this great opportunity taking place November 15–16 at All Angels’ Church in New York City, where L’Engle was a member. “In celebration of Madeleine L’Engle’s centenary year, this inaugural conference brings together a diverse group of artists and seekers to explore, challenge, and deepen our creative lives. . . . The conference has a combination of keynote addresses, panel discussions, and workshops that will be of interest to people across faith traditions who are interested how faith and art inform each other. There will also be sessions on the works and influence of Madeleine L’Engle, and opportunities for alumni of her workshops to reunite and share stories.”
LECTURE: “Defining the New” by Roger Lowther: In this sixteen-minute talk from the Community Arts Tokyo International Arts Festival in June [previously], Roger Lowther draws out the festival’s theme of “All Things New” through piano music—namely, Bach’s Prelude in C Major and Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude. Both start out prettily, move through a section of dissonance, and then find a new and richer beginning on the other side. “In this world full of sadness,” says Lowther, “we can find a new beginning.” He tells the story of a church piano in Kamaishi City that took on water in the March 11, 2011, tsunami. Rather than throw it out as beyond repair, the church spent much time, effort, and money fixing it up, even though it would have been much easier to just buy a new one. In doing so, they demonstrated the gospel hope of “all things made new.”
Lowther and his wife, Abi, are the directors of the MAKE Collective, “a network of artists [under Mission to the World] who, like Bezalel, have been called by name, by God, and have been filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and all kinds of craftsmanship (Exodus 31:2-3). They have embraced their gifts and accepted their unique opportunity and responsibility that the holistic, prophetic, and pastoral expression of those gifts affords in their participation in the evangelical/cultural mandate—God’s reconciliation of all things to Himself, in the context of global church planting movements.” Their values include listening, questioning, experimenting, challenging, generosity, transparency, inclusion, and excellence.
I had lunch with the founder of MAKE, Berenice Rarig [previously], last year and am always encouraged by the thoughtful content of the organization’s bimonthly e-newsletter—some of which can be viewed on their new website, https://themakecollective.org/. Their September newsletter pointed me to a new video of five missionary artists, including the Lowthers, discussing art as community building, as storytelling, and as therapy, as well as beauty in brokenness:
PLAYLIST: Philip Majorins of Liturgy Letter curated an excellent playlist of various settings and performances of the Lord’s Prayer by artists ranging from jazz greats Duke Ellington and Vince Guaraldi to gospelers Aretha Franklin and the Staples Singers to contemporary folk rockers Sandra McCracken and Gungor to Serbian Orthodox singer Divna Ljubojević and even the Byzantine darkwave band Anastasis. And more!
Readers often ask me what podcasts I listen to, so today I want to share one of them with you, which comes out of my home state of North Carolina: Makers & Mystics.
Hosted by Stephen Roach, Makers & Mystics is a biweekly podcast that aims to “develop a greater cultural understanding of why creativity abides at the core of our spirituality and why artists are called to be ‘architects of hope’ for our cities.” It is run by The Breath & the Clay, an organization based in Winston-Salem, which, in addition to producing regular online audio content, also hosts an annual conference and artist retreats. (Their 2019 conference already passed—you can purchase audio of all the presentations here—but two retreats are still being offered this year, in June and October; I just added them to my recent roundup, but you can also just go directly here for all the info.)
I love to find out about the various creative endeavors that the people of God are engaged in, and Makers & Mystics is one of my primary avenues for doing that. I’m impressed by the wide variety of disciplines and styles that Roach has curated in his selection of interview subjects, and I appreciate the mix of fine and folk art (some people reject this distinction, but you know what I mean). Though there are recurring themes in some of the interviews—things like the importance of honesty and integrity, and how to live a life awake to wonder—I find each episode so unique. It’s fun to hear different people’s stories and creative processes.
If this is the first time you’re encountering Makers & Mystics, you might want to start with one of the foundational episodes, which do not follow an interview format:
The very first things we learn about God in Genesis, Roach says, is that he’s a creative being, and that he takes immense joy in the creative process. So when we’re told in Genesis 1:26 that humans are created in God’s image, Roach continues, our only concept of God up to this point is that he’s a creator who delights in creating. That’s why creativity is not ornamental but, rather, is in our blood; it’s our birthright as human beings.
“Lawgivers don’t shape culture,” says Ray Hughes. “Artists do. They’re the ones that tell us who we are. That’s why I say, songwriters: hey, you’re not writing next year’s most popular chorus; you’re writing the next generation’s language for accessing God.”
Here is a list of upcoming arts conferences and retreats. I will be attending the CIVA conference next month as well as the DITA conference in September—if you’ll be at either, please let me know; I’d love to meet you!
All Things New (International Arts Festival) Date: June 15, 2019 Location: Waterras Common Hall 3F, Tokyo, Japan Cost: ￥2500 (about $22) Presenters: Joshua Messick, Gerda Liebmann, Christopher Elmerick, Roger Lowther, and more Organizer:Community Arts Tokyo (with additional sponsorship by Grace City Church Tokyo) Description: “How can people in a city experience personal, social, and economic flourishing? What is the role of artists in making this world a better place? How can faith, work, and the arts come together for a holistic view of peace for the good of mankind? At this conference, we will hear from artists in the business world, the media world, and the plight of refugees from other countries. Their stories will give us a vision for how the arts point a way to new beginnings and bring goodness and hope into a broken world. Join us as we enter this world through speaker presentations, music performances, a short film, gallery exhibits, small group discussions, and more!” (Note: Presentations in Japanese will have simultaneous English translation over the wireless earphone system.)
The festival will include presentations/workshops/performances by
hammered dulcimer player Joshua Messick, who contributed to the soundtrack of the Japanese animated fantasy film Mary and the Witch’s Flower
visual artist Gerda Liebmann, on how art can foster relationship and connection
Christopher Elmerick, who founded and runs a cultural center in Berlin that promotes the free exchange of ideas through shared work- and performance spaces and more
Megumi Project, a group of women artisans who upcycle vintage kimonos into shawls, scarves, bags, journals, and other accessories
the Charis Chamber Players
organist Roger Lowther, on the physics of music
Roger Lowther is, with his wife Abi, the founder and director of Community Arts Tokyo, “a team of artists, professionals, and Japanese nationals assisting church planting through outreach, discipleship, worship, and disaster relief.” Their work is supported through Mission to the World, the international missions arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Are We There Yet? Date: June 13–16, 2019 Location: Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Cost: $350 for nonmembers; $300 for members Presenters: Sedrick Huckaby, Letitia Huckaby, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Chris Larson, Rico Gatson, Nate Young, Linnéa Spransy, Cara Megan Lewis, Rev. Babette Chatman, Jamie Bennett, Joanna Taft, Kelly Chatman, Joyce Lee, Caroline Kent, Lyz Wendland, Betsy Carpenter, Amanda Hamilton, Catherine Prescott, Vito Aiuto, and others Organizer:Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Description: “If you’re anything like us, working in an age of high anxiety and disruption has been trying. At the same time, the art world has never seen more diversity, wealth, interconnection, and popular appreciation. Some experience our current creative conditions as a ‘joyful noise,’ others a ‘resounding gong.’ This makes art difficult yet at the same time crucial. With our hope rooted in the Lord, we can rejoice in the unfinished state of our work. There is still so much to be made!
“Are We There Yet invites us to inhabit questions together: What are our shared pursuits? What practices and commitments can guide us in our work and collaboration? What would radical generosity do to the global art market? And how might we be participants in making ‘impossible things possible,’ as described by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist? With a commitment to hospitality, we will ask these questions and many more.”
The conference will consist of plenary talks, panel discussions, and breakout sessions and will include a juried art show, late-night artist show & tells, optional day-ahead tours (art museums, city architecture, or sculpture garden) or workshops (printmaking or photography), a Liz Vice concert, and an ecumenical worship service.
Visual Arts Retreat Date: June 21–23, 2019 Location: Apple Hill Lodge, Moravian Falls, North Carolina, USA Cost: $450 (includes lodging, food, and class materials) Presenters: Allison Luce, Corey Frey, Ty Nathan Clark (via satellite), Stephen Roach, Thomas Torrey, Lauren Olinger Organizer:The Breath & the Clay Description: “Come get away for a weekend designed to inspire and deepen your understanding of visual art both as a spiritual practice and as an art form.”
Vocation, Motherhood, and Artmaking Date: July 25–28, 2019 Location: Laity Lodge, Leakey, Texas, USA Cost: $495 (scholarships available) Presenters: Andi Ashworth, W. David O. Taylor, Letitia Huckaby, Phaedra Taylor, Sandra McCracken, Ashley Cleveland Organizer:Laity Lodge Description: “This retreat is an invitation to explore the opportunities and challenges that are involved in the twin calling to motherhood and artmaking. It is open to mothers in all stations and circumstances of life, whether at the beginning of motherhood or in the fullest years of grandmothering, and to artists of all media, disciplines and contexts.” (Read more from David Taylor.)
Kingdom Creatives Con Date: August 3, 2019 Location: National Union Building, Washington, DC Cost: $99 Presenters: Noah Elias, Othello Banaci, Rachel Petrillo, Anifa Mvuemba, John David Harris, Ryan Han, Andrew Hochradel Organizer: Bemnet Yemesgen Description: A conference “aimed at igniting inspiration, learning, and networking in the Christian creative community. . . . Attendees will enjoy workshops and talks by creatives from diverse backgrounds and industries. The conference is specifically tailored towards creatives who love Jesus Christ . . . graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, developers, animators, copywriters,” etc.
New York City Arts Weekend Date: August 9–10, 2019 Location: Various venues, New York, USA Cost: $295 CAN Presenters:Makoto Fujimura, Iwan Russell-Jones Organizer:Regent College (host: Jeff Greenman) Description: “Makoto Fujimura and Iwan Russell-Jones lead this exploration of Christian faith and the visual arts in New York City. Enjoy a fascinating tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and participate in shared meals, stimulating presentations, and challenging conversations. Develop a deeper understanding of how creativity finds its place in the new creation.”
Creation and New Creation: Discerning the Future of Theology and the Arts Date: September 5–8, 2019 Location: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA Cost: $175 (student discounts available) Presenters: Jeremy Begbie, Malcolm Guite, Christian Wiman, N. T. Wright, Natalie Carnes, Jennifer Craft, Carlos Colón, Steve Prince, Bruce Herman, Judith Wolfe, and others Organizer:Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) Description: “At DITA10, we will celebrate past scholarship, reflect on today’s landscape, and imagine with tomorrow’s leaders.” The colloquium will include keynote lectures; workshops for church leaders and artists addressing the challenges of theology and the arts in the church and in our daily lives; panel discussions with artists and theologians; a concert by the New Caritas Orchestra; and a corporate worship service.
The Future of the Catholic Literary Tradition (Catholic Imagination Conference) Date: September 19–21, 2019 Location: Loyola University Chicago, USA Cost: $150 Presenters: Tobias Wolff, Alice McDermott, Paul Schrader, Dana Gioia, Paul Mariani, Richard Rodriguez, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, and others Organizer:Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage Description: “This international biennial conference, sponsored by Loyola’s Hank Center, features over 60 writers, poets, filmmakers, playwrights, journalists, editors, publishers, students, and critics who will explore a variety of questions surrounding the Catholic imagination in literature and the arts. What is the future of the Catholic literary tradition? What is the state of discourses in faith and Christian humanism in a world increasingly described as ‘Post’—postmodern, post-human, post-Christian, post-religious? How is Catholic thought and practice (or the absence of it) represented in literature, poetry, and cinema? If, as David Tracy observes, religion’s ‘closest cousin is not rigid logic, but art,’ what might literary art be trying to communicate to its ‘cousin’—and to us all—as we travel along the first decades of the 21st century?”
The call for papers is still open, until June 15. Also check out some of the special events being offered, which will include a theatrical performance of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge and an evening of poetry readings, live music, and a Chicago blues panel.
Writer’s Retreat Date: October 25–27, 2019 Location: Apple Hill Lodge, Moravian Falls, North Carolina, USA Cost: $450 (includes lodging and food) Presenters: TBA Organizer:The Breath & the Clay Description: “Come get away for a weekend designed to develop your writing both as a spiritual practice and as an art form.”
The Art of the Lost: Destruction, Reconstruction, and Change Date: November 27–29, 2019 Location: Canterbury Cathedral, England Cost: £175 for full conference (single-day tickets also available) Presenters: Sandy Nairne, Simon Cane, James Clark, Ascensión Hernández Martínez, Emma J. Wells, and others Organizer:Canterbury Cathedral Description: “This conference will explore and appraise current and developing studies of how art changes, is reused or repurposed, disappears or is rediscovered. It will look at how and why art is defaced, destroyed or is lost within architectural settings, with a particular focus on art within the context of cathedrals, churches or other places of worship. It will consider changing ideologies, iconoclasm, war, fashion and symbolism. It will cover art from the 6th century to the modern day.”
I love the curatorial approach of these two current exhibitions, which bring art from the Middle Ages or Renaissance into conversation with contemporary art. Rather than doing this to prove a disjunction sparked by modernity, the curators stress continuity between the artists of yesterday and today.
“Make It New: Conversations with Medieval Art,” Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France), Paris, November 5, 2018–February 10, 2019: Curated by Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, “Make It New” explores the relationship between works of contemporary art and the medieval art of Raban Maur (Hrabanus Maurus), a ninth-century monk from Fulda, Germany, and a major figure of the Carolingian renaissance. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Raban Maur’s De laudibus sanctae crucis (In Praise of the Holy Cross), a Latin manuscript comprising twenty-eight highly sophisticated poems whose letters are arranged in simple grids over colorful, geometric cross patterns. At the BnF, these compositions are placed in dialogue with thirty-plus works by some of today’s minimalist, conceptual, and land artists, including Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, François Morellet, Niele Toroni, and Franz E. Walther, stressing similarities in form, color, proportion, and perspective. [press release (English)] [compilation of Maur images]
The original figure poem cycle was produced around 810 at the scriptorium in Fulda, and Raban Maur had a hand in making at least five other copies during his lifetime (of which France’s National Library owns two: Lat. 2423 and Lat. 2422); seventy-four additional copies from the Middle Ages are extant. The Burgerbibliothek Bern in Switzerland has digitized its early eleventh-century copy (Cod. 9), and it’s really fascinating! Full-resolution downloads are enabled. According to the Benedictine abbot Odilo of Cluny, “no work more precious to see, more pleasing to read, sweeter to remember, or more laborious to write can or could ever be found.” I don’t know Latin, but visually, I can really appreciate these fine pages. I was hoping to find more information about the work but could really only find a single French lecture given back in 2007 by Denis Hüe, a professor of medieval and Renaissance language and literature at the Université Rennes 2 Haute-Bretagne.
“Bill Viola / Michelangelo: Life, Death, Rebirth,”Royal Academy of Arts, London, January 26–March 31, 2019: When pioneering video artist Bill Viola saw a collection of Michelangelo’s exquisite drawings at Windsor Castle in 2006, he was astonished by the Renaissance master’s expressive use of the body to convey emotional and spiritual states. Here the two artists are exhibited side by side, showing their common grappling with life’s fundamental questions, albeit in vastly different mediums. “Both artists harness the symbolic power of sacred art, and both show us physical extremes and moments of transcendence.” Among the twelve major installations from Viola, spanning his career, is Tristan’s Ascension(The Sound of a Mountain Under a Waterfall), a sixteen-foot-high projection depicting the ascent of the soul after death.
For February 16, the Royal Academy has organized a full day of events keyed to the exhibition, including poetry readings, a documentary screening, and a panel discussion with cultural historian Marina Warner, theologian Ben Quash, and artist Mariko Mori, titled “Art as fulfilment: the use of religion and spirituality in contemporary art.” Questions for the day include: Does art connect us? Can art be transformative or transcendental? Can art influence society—that is, change opinions or human behavior? Other offerings in addition to this program are a curator’s introduction on February 1, a short course on figure drawing, and a talk on the limitations and opportunities of digital art. Plus, the London Art Salon is hosting a talk on the exhibition by art historian Marie-Anne Mancio.
NEW COMIC BOOK PUBLISHER: Cave Pictures Publishing, founded in fall 2018 by Mark Rodgers, is committed to the telling of “modern myths” that “speak to the soul” through comic books in the genres of action-adventure, sci-fi, historical fiction, and fantasy. Pitched for the spiritually inclined, the stories they publish “seek to make sense of our world . . . draw us toward the source of goodness . . . uncover what we worship.” Says Rodgers in a Hollywood Reporter interview: “Just as cave paintings were humanity’s initial attempt to process through the tough ultimate questions of human existence, we look at our stories as ‘sherpas of the soul,’ to contribute to the individual and collective human journey towards meaning and a greater reality,” the One True Myth. Read more about the company’s influences and aspirations in this Convivium essay. See also the interview in Sojourners.
One of their five inaugural series is The Light Princess, an adaptation of one of George MacDonald’s best-loved fairy tales, about a princess who is cursed with weightlessness and is only brought down to earth by a true, sacrificial love. MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet (e.g., here, here, and here), and Christian minister who deeply influenced C. S. Lewis and J R. R. Tolkien. Speaking of Tolkien, I’m really digging this quote of his on Cave Pictures’ website, which affirms the value of story: “Legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth,’ and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode. . . . Long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.”
Congrats to the three winners of the Wounded in Spirit book giveaway. Thank you all for entering. I will be giving away another free book, from Eerdmans, sometime in the next month or two, so stay tuned!
ADVENT ART VIDEO:The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks: This year I was invited to make a guest contribution to art historian James Romaine’s annual Art for Advent video series on YouTube. For 2018, he is spotlighting paintings from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, my neck of the woods. I chose to write about The Peaceable Kingdomby the nineteenth-century Quaker preacher-artist Edward Hicks, which visualizes the prophecy of Isaiah 11 about predators and prey lying down together in friendship, and a little child leading them. But Hicks’s image of “peace on earth” is not as simplistic as it may seem at first; there is tension. See the video below, and be sure to check back on the Seeing Art History YouTube channel next week for subsequent videos. For more on Hicks and this favorite subject of his, see this post of mine from 2016. Thank you to Rain for Roots for letting me use their wonderfully playful musical rendition of Isaiah 11 from their family Advent album Waiting Songs.
PODCAST EPISODE: “Mary Poppins,”Technicolor Jesus, episode 49: “If you want a movie that really shows the foolishness of the gospel next to what the world thinks is wise and is turned on its head . . . if you want a movie about the great reversals that are present in the kingdom of God, you don’t need to look any further than MaryPoppins,” says Pastor Becca Messman. The oppressive orderliness booming over people’s lives “is contrasted with something unpredictable and joyful—the wind, dancing chimney sweeps, and this beautiful bird woman giving her crumbs away.” The movie is about what happens when both adults and kids relax into joy.
It’s also about charity. Last year Niles Reddick wrote an article about Mary Poppins as the first female Christ figure in American film, and “Feed the Birds” as a “song-parable” that serves as the linchpin of the movie. While the world would have us pile up our coins in a bank vault, Jesus calls us, against the world’s wisdom, to give them away.
I love this movie. My mom says that from a young age she would play it for me, and I would sit mesmerized for the entire 139 minutes. I remember trying to soothe my baby brother many a time by singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Once we were elementary school–age, we would eagerly await the “Step in Time” scene, at which point we would rush to grab brooms from the garage, using them as props as we danced along with Dick Van Dyke—which sometimes ended in injury . . . Now as an adult, I can appreciate some of the movie’s deeper themes, and pick up on its resonances with the upside-down nature of Christ’s kingdom. Can’t wait to see the new Mary Poppins Returns next month!
WRITING CONTEST FOR UK TEENS:“Write on Art”: In an effort to get teenagers learning and writing about art, Art UK and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art are co-sponsoring “Write on Art” for the second year in a row. Any kid between the ages of 15 and 18 who is enrolled in a UK school (Years 10–13) is eligible to enter to win up to £500 by submitting a short personal write-up (400–600 words) on any artwork in the UK’s national collection. “With a disturbing decline in the teaching of art and art history in schools, our Write on Art competition . . . is designed to highlight the importance of art as an academic discipline.” The website includes tips on how to write about art, including where to find relevant vocabulary and other resources. All entries must be submitted by January 31, 2019.
BOOK REVIEW:On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior, reviewed by Nick Roark: In September, Brazos Press released Prior’s latest book on reading widely and well, which received a starred review and a Best Book of 2018 in Religion from Publishers Weekly. I’m a big fan of her previous Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, so I’m really looking forward to this one. “Covering authors from Henry Fielding to Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen to George Saunders, and Flannery O’Connor to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prior explores some of the most compelling universal themes found in the pages of classic books, helping readers learn to love life, literature, and God through their encounters with great writing. In examining works by these authors and more, Prior shows why virtues such as prudence, temperance, humility, and patience are still necessary for human flourishing and civil society.”
Purchase the book between now and Christmas, and receive a piece of free downloadable art by Ned Bustard. Instructions are on her website, https://karenswallowprior.com/.
NEW ADVENT/CHRISTMAS ALBUMS
Watches of the Night by Matt Searles: “Christian believers are like watchmen, longing to see the first rays of dawn. We long for the darkness of this world to be finally taken away, and the light of Christ to rise in all its splendour. This album is intended to help us as we wait; to lament the brokenness of this world, but to look to the riches of that which is to come. It is an album of longing, but also of profound hope. Light has dawned. Christ has been raised. But we await the full revelation of him in glory. We are still watchmen. Still waiting.
“This is not a loud album. It is one I hope you might be able to listen to if you lie awake unable to sleep, as I so often find the case. I pray it is an album that might help you – like David in Ps 63:6 – to meditate on God in the watches of the night. An album that will orient you to the future, and help you increasingly be someone whose mind is set on the city that is to come. Songs to help you fix your eyes on Christ, and long above all else for his return when we see him face to face.”
After the Longest Night: Songs for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphanyby Steve Thorngate: These fourteen songs are a mix of originals, including settings of the Lukan Canticles (the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon), and traditionals: “Creator of the Stars of Night,” “What Child Is This,” “Bright Morning Stars,” and “Let the Light of Your Lighthouse Shine on Me.” Best $7 I’ve spent in a while! (Purchase even includes lead sheets.)
Advent begins December 2, and Christian resource providers have already started releasing content for the season so that you can start adapting and programming it into your church services or family devotional practices, if desired. Here are three sets plus a Kickstarter campaign that caught my eye.
from SALT PROJECT
SALT Project is a faith-based media company dedicated to creating beautiful visual content, especially video, for churches and other clients. Below are three of the five videos they’ve put together for Advent, which can be purchased and customized for church use. The videos feature a few products, like illustrated Advent calendar notecards (with daily tasks like “Deliver sweets to a neighbor” or “Write a thank-you letter to God”) and coloring pages and posters inspired by Mary’s Magnificat, available for download from SALT’s online shop.
I love their aesthetic! (These videos make me really excited for Advent.) I also appreciate how the devotional activities can be done either as an individual, a family, or a congregation. Click here to see a roundup of all five videos, and be sure to also check out Advent in Full Color, a devotional booklet that features poetry by Mary Oliver and Howard Thurman, daily practices, scripture texts, meditations on the season’s key theological themes, and coloring pages.
The cover story of the September 2018 issue of Reformed Worship magazine is “Advent in Narnia: An Invitation to Biblical Explorations Beyond the Wardrobe” by Cindy de Jong, which chronicles how seven different churches, including the author’s, used The Chronicles of Narnia last year to draw out some of the themes of Advent. In most cases this involved a six-week sermon series, or a service of lessons and carols, that integrated references to C. S. Lewis’s classic tale. At first I was skeptical of keying sermon series to a work of fiction, allegorical though it may be, but it turns out the worship service plans (reproduced in the article) were intelligently done, letting scripture drive and Narnia serve as a supplement to amplify God’s truth. One contributor even mentioned the need to be careful to not let Narnia be the focus; it can provide structural support but should not constitute the core of the sermon nor the worship service.
“The whole of Advent is this,” de Jong writes: “awaiting the birth of the Christ child in the same way we wait for the return of Christ’s kingdom. The whole of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe covers the same: waiting for Aslan and waiting for the triumph of Narnia.” Service plans, including songs, sermon titles and notes, Narnia references, and confessions, are included in the article with varying specificity. Though all drawing on the same text, there is a surprising diversity of approaches. Also included are ideas for how to decorate the sanctuary, how to engage children, and how to introduce the book and the sermon series to the congregation. Two additional books that are recommended are Advent in Narnia: Reflections for the Season by Heidi Haverkamp and The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia by Rowan Williams.
Besides this eleven-page article, this month’s issue also includes an Advent reading for three voices by Joyce Borger, titled “What If . . . ?,” that reflects on the Flight to Egypt in light of today’s immigration debates, as well as an Advent worship service series that includes calls to worship, Advent readings, scripture texts, sermon themes and outlines, and song suggestions for five weeks’ worth of Sundays.
from ADAM FARBIARZ via KICKSTARTER
Designed for daily use during December, One Night: An Advent Calendar is a large foldout storybook that reimagines Luke’s nativity narrative through the eyes of a shepherd. Printed on heavyweight paper wrapped around millboard, the product takes the form of a freestanding triptych with twenty-four numbered doors that open to reveal snippets of story. I’ve seen the mock-up, and it looks like a really quality endeavor, something for the whole family to enjoy (it’s pitched to adults but accessible to children). Help the creative team fund printing costs by contributing to their Kickstarter campaign in exchange for your own calendar in the mail by the end of November. Text and direction by Adam Farbiarz, illustrations by Rachael Clarke Hendel, hand lettering by Rachel Farbiarz, and design by Lizzie Stone.
from THE HOMELY HOURS
These resources were published over the last few years, but I just found out about them this summer. Run by churchwomen from Christ the King Anglican Church in Dayton, Ohio, The Homely Hours is a website created out of a desire to encourage a deeper integration of the life of the church into the life of the home. It’s treated not so much as a blog (it’s not continually updated) as it is a repository, so search through the tabs and archives for creative ideas to celebrate the liturgical seasons in the domestic sphere.
I had every intention of completing an essay for publication yesterday on the fatherhood of Joseph as expressed in the visual arts, but as I got into the thick of research, the field of discovery proved much vaster than I had anticipated. So that I can do the topic justice (and so that I can continue trying to track down artist, dating, and location info for particular paintings), I will be postponing the essay until a later date. In the meantime, here’s a charming little neo-Coptic icon I found of Joseph holding the Christ child; the narrative scenes in the corners are the Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, Joseph’s Dream, and the Flight to Egypt. For more on Coptic (Egyptian) iconography, read an interview with the artist from Orthodox Arts Journal.
OBITUARY: RIP Clarence Fountain, founder and lead singer of the Blind Boys of Alabama: Clarence Fountain of the five-time Grammy Award–winning gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama died June 3 at age eighty-eight. Fountain formed the group in the mid-1940s along with five friends from the Alabama School for the Negro Blind in Talladega, and the group, though it has gone through iterations in membership, has been touring continuously ever since. (Fountain retired from touring in 2007.) Ray Allen, a folklorist and music historian, said that over the years the Blind Boys’ sound evolved from the more staid style known as jubilee gospel into one that is distinguished by “a prominent lead singer shouting and preaching and backed by a rhythm-and-blues band.” Below you can hear Fountain sing “Look Where He Brought Me From” and the group’s signature song, “Amazing Grace” (to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”):
ART EXHIBITION: “The Morality Theatre Project: The Art of Barry Krammes,”Green Art Gallery, Biola University, La Mirada, California, April 25–June 29, 2018: Only two weeks left! For this exhibition, the culmination of seventeen years of studio work, Barry Krammes has assembled nineteen open-ended narrative scenes—reminiscent of miniature theater sets—using objects and figures gathered from flea markets and dumpsters, estate sales and antique shops. Although the exhibition title references a genre of medieval drama intended to inspire Christian virtue, the artworks do not preach or provide straightforward moral lessons; rather, they stand as little worlds of mystery that invite association and contemplation. If you’re not able to see the exhibition in person, stay tuned for the forthcoming catalog: I’ve been informed that one is in the works, to be published later this year.
The occasion of the exhibition is Krammes’s retirement in May after serving for thirty-five years as an art professor at Biola University (he now bears the title Professor Emeritus). He has been instrumental in making Biola’s art department one of the top ten among Christian colleges and universities, and moreover, he helped to foster art appreciation campus-wide, designing and directing “Arts in Worship” chapels and organizing a yearly Arts Emphasis Week, which developed into the Biola Arts Symposium. He has also been active beyond the walls of Biola, especially as a founding member of the national organization Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). To learn more about his art, see “Interceding in the Theatre of Struggle: A reflection on the assemblage work of Barry Krammes” by Betty Spackman, published Sunday at ArtWay, and, from about ten years ago, the Image journal essay “Barry Krammes: Shepherd of the Wasteland” by Christina Valentine.
VIDEO ART INSTALLATION: Three Women (2008) by Bill Viola, St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Edinburgh, May 1–September 20, 2018: Bill Viola, a pioneer of new media art, has said that his works “function both as aesthetic objects of contemporary art and as practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”—which is one reason they are so well suited to display in churches. In Three Women, a work from his Transfiguration series on temporary view at a Victorian church in Scotland, a mother and her two daughters pass from black and white through a threshold of water, entering a realm of color and light. The work speaks to me of the experience of illumination, of being drawn into a new and glorious understanding of divine truth. Watch an excerpt of the video at the New York Times.
(Update: Sign up for the free HeartEdge church and culture seminar “Bill Viola and the Art of Contemplation,” September 20, 2–5:30 p.m. Various individuals will speak on Viola’s church-located installations, approaches to curating exhibitions in churches, and art as contemplative practice.)
NEW IN THEATERS: First Reformed, written and directed by Paul Schrader: I’ve been hearing great things about this movie, which follows Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), the pastor of a small Dutch Reformed congregation in upstate New York, as he grapples with mounting despair. Schrader is the writer who brought us Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and the folks from Fuller Studio recently sat down with him to discuss his Christian upbringing and how the unique language of film—especially the transcendental style—helps him explore religious questions.
FICTION RECOMMENDATIONS: “Ten Novels Every Pastor Should Read”(+ part 2): Kolby Kerr of LeaderWorks is an exceptional literary guide, whose “ten poets” list I commended in a previous roundup. Here he switches gears to novels. But first he opens by addressing the utilitarian inclination of pastors to nonfiction, which they believe will give them a bigger return on their investment. When it comes to novels, Kerr says, instead of asking What will these books do for me?, we should be asking, What will these books do to me? We should read not only to be informed but to be formed. And once again, what a great list! It’s divided into the categories “saints who sin,” “lost and found” “the dark side,” and “let’s get (meta)physical,” and it concludes with practical advice on how to form and maintain good reading habits.
The Breath and the Clay Artists (speakers/workshop leaders/Q&A panel members): John Mark McMillan, Stephen Roach, Jason Upton, Cageless Birds, Joel McKerrow, Josh Riebock, Stephen Roach, Mykell Wilson, Ray Hughes, Gemma Bender, Taylor Johnson, Eastlyn and Joshua, Vesper Stamper, Turtledoves, Avril Ward Date: March 22–25, 2018 Location: Awake Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Cost: $100 (but see pricing details for other options; some events free to public) Description: “The Breath & the Clay is a creative arts gathering exploring the intersections of faith, art & culture. The weekend event includes times of worship, keynote speakers, performances, and a curated art gallery hosted by CIVA. Hands-on workshops [poetry, choreography, songwriting, painting, photography], a private luncheon and an after-party are available for additional purchase.” If you’re not able to attend, you should at least check out their Makers & Mystics podcast, which is in its third season.
Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship (PAID) Application deadline: April 15, 2018 Dates of internship: June 3–July 30, 2018 Location: East End Fellowship, Richmond, Virginia Description: “The Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship is an intensive eight-week leadership development program offered in partnership by Arrabon and East End Fellowship. Interns participate in a learning experience of the following subjects: (1) biblical theology and exposition (2) worship studies with a focus on multicultural worship (3) race, class and culture (4) songwriting and (5) community engagement. Interns will spend the remainder of their time writing songs, rehearsing music, and planning worship for a congregation in the urban context.”
“Telling Stories: A Conference of Faith and Art” Speakers: Natalie Diaz, Barbara Brown Taylor, Esra Akin-Kivanç, Arthur Skinner, Alex Harris, Herbert Murphy, Peter Meinke Date: April 19–22, 2018 Organizers: Eckerd College, Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, NEXT Church, Image journal Location: Eckerd College, Saint Petersburg, Florida Cost: Free Description: “With the theme of ‘Telling Stories’ as guide, this conference will employ discussions, poetry readings, presentations, visual arts, and theater to examine art’s power to confront current narratives, allow people to tell their own stories, and explore new ways of talking about God, faith, and social responsibility. . . . Designed for anyone interested in the imaginative and prophetic intersection of faith and arts.”
Call for Creation-Care Worship Materials Submission deadline: April 30, 2018 Sponsor: Christian Reformed Church Description: The Climate Witness Project and other CRC ministries are partnering to crowdsource creative worship resources that “celebrate and honor God’s creation while addressing creation-care challenges, such as climate change, facing the world.” Songs, prayers, images, videos, sermon notes, litanies, and other elements are all invited for submission and will be collated and published online in fall 2018. By submitting your work, you agree to the terms of a CC BY-NC license.
Call for Papers on US Immigration and the Arts Submission deadline: May 1, 2018 (abstract) Organization:Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies Description: SARTS “seeks presentations by scholars, teachers, pastors, or artists that explore creative/artistic engagements with and/or responses to the reality of immigration in the United States. Topics include but are not limited to the perspectives of the various groups of people on the move, crossing and policing borders, religious landscapes of immigration, immigration and the imagination, place making, political advocacy, and activism. All forms of artistic expression are welcome.”
Hymn Society Songwriting Contest Submission deadline: May 15, 2018 Sponsor: The Hymn Society Prize: $500 Description: As part of the Hymn Society’s ongoing commitment to the enrichment of congregational song, the executive committee has announced a search for a new short-form song suitable for congregational singing. (Both text and tune must be original.) In addition to receiving prize money, the winning entry will premiere July 15–19, 2018, at the society’s conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and be published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Hymn.
“Afterlives of Biblical Women in Art, Literature, and Culture”(summer course) Instructor: Amanda Russell-Jones Date: July 2–13, 2018 Institution: Regent College, Vancouver Cost: Starting at Can$700 Description: The arts have profoundly shaped our interpretation of biblical characters, whether we realize it or not. In this graduate-level course, one of the learning objectives is to be able to “discuss the significance of a variety of biblical women, differentiating between the content of the biblical text and the ways later additions and interpretations changed how the woman was viewed.” How has the mirror held up to women like Eve, Bathsheba, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, etc., made the biblical texts clearer, and how has it distorted them? You do not have to be a currently enrolled college student to register.
Glen Workshop Faculty: Chigozie Obioma, Scott Cairns, Lauren Winner, Marianne Lettieri, Gina Franco, Lee Isaac Chung, Over the Rhine, Ned Bustard, Malcolm Guite Date: July 29–August 5, 2018 Location: St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico Organizer: Image Cost: Starting at $1,150 (scholarships available) Description: “Situated in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Glen Workshop is equal parts creative workshop, arts festival, and spiritual retreat. The Glen’s arresting natural environment is contrasted by its casual and inviting crowd of artists, writers, musicians, art appreciators, and spiritual wayfarers of all stripes.” Workshops are offered on spiritual writing, songwriting, fiction writing, poetry writing, poetry reading, mixed-media art, relief printing, and filmmaking. The faculty lineup is phenomenal! And I appreciate the all-inclusive package option.
There are many people and organizations committed to integrating faith and the arts, and they often organize opportunities for public participation. Here are some such opportunities being offered this spring and summer, organized by date. The last one, a weeklong course taught by David Taylor, looks especially appealing to me and my context, and I’m considering registering.
A few early-bird registration/application deadlines are coming up very soon, on March 31, so give these a gander sooner than later. Click on the links for information on schedules/syllabi, speakers, accommodations, and fee breakdowns. Room and board are not included in the cost quotes I’ve listed unless specifically noted.
If you’re reading this post sometime after spring 2017, or the application deadlines are too tight for you, you’ll be pleased to know that some of these events occur yearly, and if not, you’re sure to find similar ones. Check out the websites of the organizing bodies to see what they have going on.
Title:“Art and Theology” (course) Dates: March 26–29, 2017 Location: Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, England Organizer:Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) Cost: £225 (~ $280 US) (includes room and board) Instructors: Christopher Irvine; Alison Milbank; Sophie Hacker; Stephen Stavrou; Laura Moffatt Description: “This short course is designed to give participants the opportunity to both engage with Christian art and to reflect through class presentations and discussion how art is perceived. Each day will balance theoretical input with visits to see art in churches, galleries, and chapels in Oxford. We will examine the contexts in which Christian art is viewed, suggest ways of how we may reflect theologically on contemporary art, and look at the place of art in churches within its architectural and liturgical context.” (I’m intrigued by the lecture title “Museums and Galleries as a Theological Resource”!)
Title:“Lux Ecclesiae: The Light of the Church” (lecture series) Dates: April 25–29, 2017 Location: Paraclete Retreat House, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, USA Organizer:Community of Jesus Speakers: Msgr. Timothy Verdon; Filippo Rossi Cost: $1,000 (includes room and board; single-lecture options available) Description: “Practically from the beginning of its history, the Church has used architecture and the visual arts to express its life, investing thought, creative energies and resources. The reasons for this choice are theological and pastoral, but also anthropological: human beings want to ‘see’, are frustrated if they cannot see, define ‘seeing’ as understanding (as when, grasping a point, we say, ‘I see’), and desire above all things to see the God who, invisible in himself, became visible in Jesus Christ.” Monsignor Timothy Verdon, academic director of the Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy, will develop these themes in a series of seven lectures, and sacred artist Filippo Rossi will give a talk as well.
Title:Movies and Meaning Festival Dates: April 27–30, 2017 Location: KiMo Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA Organizer:The Porch Cost: $189 Speakers: Alice Walker; Mona Haydar; Gareth Higgins; Brian McLaren; Malidoma Somé Description: The third annual Movies and Meaning Festival, an interfaith initiative, is centered on the theme “Hope in the Dark.” Over one weekend, participants will be inspired and challenged on this theme by artists and activists who work at the intersection of creativity, peace, spirituality, and social change. Films will serve as touchstones throughout the event; screenings include Pete’s Dragon; The Red Balloon; Mary andMax; Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth; Embrace of the Serpent; Reds; I Am Belfast; The ColorPurple; and more. Participants will walk away with a renewed spirit for social justice and tools for community healing. Continue reading “Upcoming courses, workshops, conferences”→