SONGWRITING CONTEST: 2021 Creation Care and Climate Justice Songwriting Contest, sponsored by The Porter’s Gate: “We are working on new worship resources celebrating God’s creation and His call to care for the created world. Over the next year we’ll be writing new songs on this subject and recording them. As part of this project, we are looking for submissions from anyone who would like to write a song or has already written a song on this subject. If you are a songwriter or composer, or if you know a songwriter who would be interested, click on this link for all the details of the contest. Songwriters are invited to submit worship songs related to caring for God’s creation, and we are offering a $500 cash prize to the winner. We’ll also record the winning piece.” No entry fee. Deadline August 30, 2021.
CINEPOEM: “First Grade Activist” – Poem by Nic Sebastian, video by Marie Craven: This 2014 short by Australian filmmaker Marie Craven takes a poem written and read by Nic Sebastian—one of many poems made freely available for “remixing” through the now-defunct Poetry Storehouse—and sets it to moving images and music. About bullying in schools and transforming perceptions, the poem suggests concrete ways to turn a personal attribute that elicits taunts into one that’s praiseworthy, merely by reframing it. It’s an ode to red hair!
They discuss the role of metaphor in the Bible, the unique powers of different art forms, and the ways our aesthetic choices open up and close down opportunities for formation in worship.
I so appreciate Taylor’s ecumenicism. He’s an Anglican priest in the United States but does not prescribe any one “right” way of using the arts in worship. In all his examples from across Christian traditions and even historical eras, he’s keen on exploring what motivates aesthetic choices and the benefits and drawbacks of any given choice. For instance, he compares the experiences of worshipping in a Gothic cathedral versus in a living room; neither one is inherently better than the other, but each setting will inevitably form worshippers in distinct ways. He also compares two songs centered on the idea of God as rescuer: the Gettys’ “In Christ Alone” and Hillsong’s “Oceans”; both have a similar aim but take very different approaches to reach it, and that’s OK.
Lots of great content here, folks, and a great intro to the themes in Taylor’s book.
I didn’t post an Artful Devotion this week, as I struggled to satisfactorily put together image and song for any of the readings, but I’ve now cycled through all three lectionary years on the blog, which are stored in the archives. For content on Sunday’s lectionary reading from the psalms, Psalm 133, see “When Brothers Dwell in Unity (Artful Devotion)” (featuring a Chicago mural by William Walker and a joyful new psalm setting from the Psalter Project); see also the poem “Aaron’s Beard” by Eugene Peterson.
NEW ALBUM: Quarantine Sessions by Eric Marshall: Eric Marshall is the frontman of and songwriter for the meditative art rock band Young Oceans. During the COVID-19 quarantine he recorded eleven of the band’s old songs acoustically in his home studio—just his voice and guitar—and has released them digitally on Bandcamp. Several music artists have been making lo-fi records during this season, and I’m digging it!
ART COMMENTARIES from ART/S AND THEOLOGY AUSTRALIA
Art/s and Theology Australia is an online publication that aims to provoke public reflection and promote research on conversations between the arts and theology, predominantly in Australian contexts. Here are a few articles from the recent past that I particularly enjoyed.
^^ “Sixteen Earth Bowls” by Penny Dunstan: Soil scientist and visual artist Penny Dunstan has crafted bowls out of topsoil from rehabilitated coal mines in the Hunter Valley in Warkworth, New South Wales, which she exhibits in churches, among other places. “Making earth bowls is a way of thinking about my ethical responses to soil use in a post-mining landscape,” she writes. “It is a way of thinking with my heart and not just my head. As I work with each Hunter Valley topsoil, I come to understand each as an individual, a special part of God’s creation. Each soil behaves according to its own chemical nature and historical past when I fashion it into a bowl shape. . . .
“These soils, full of tiny lives, are responsible for growing our food, making our air and storing atmospheric carbon. Our very lives as humans on the earth depend on them. By fashioning these soils into bowls and placing them in sacred places, I hope to remind us to honour the earth that we stand upon, that earth that speaks to us by pushing back at our feet.” (Note: See also Rod Pattenden’s ArtWay visual meditation on Dunstan’s work.)
^^“The Cross and the Tree of Life” by Rod Pattenden: “One of the pressing questions for the Church is how we see Christology being renewed in the face of climate change and the potential for the quality of life on this planet to decline,” writes art historian Rod Pattenden [previously]. “Who is Jesus for us in the midst of the profound changes that are occurring to the earth, water, and air of our world? . . .
“Andrew Finnie’s image The Body of Christ, The Tree of Life”—a large-scale ecotheological digital collage—“is an attempt to re-imagine the figure of Christ in conversation with the earth and the networks that sustain human life in all its thriving beauty. Here, the traditional figure of the cross has become entwined in the roots of the tree, a tree of life that is giving form to the variety and beauty of the natural world.”
SONG: “Kadosh” by Wally Brath, sung by Nikki Lerner: The Kedushah is part of the Amidah, the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy. Its first verse is taken from the song of the seraphim in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Kadosh means “holy.”) In this original composition for voice, piano, and string quartet, Wally Brath [previously] has combined this Hebrew exclamation from the book of the prophets with an English excerpt from the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:10: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [HT: Multicultural Worship Leaders Network]
The performance captured in this video, featuring Nikki Lerner, took place at Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church in Winona Lake, Indiana, on July 11, 2020. A full list of performers is given in the YouTube description.
CONCERT FILM: Amen! Music of the Black Church: Recorded before a live audience at the Second Baptist Church in Bloomington, Indiana, and airing April 26, this PBS special explores the rich traditions, historical significance, and meaning of black church music. Dr. Raymond Wise leads the Indiana University African American Choral Ensemble in twenty-one spirituals, hymns, and gospel songs, showing how black church music is not monolithic. He demonstrates the stylistic spectrum you can find among black church communities using a song text derived from Psalm 24:7–10 (“Lift up your heads . . .”): one performed with the European aesthetic preferred in more affluent congregations, one a classical-gospel hybrid, and one pure gospel. One thing I learned from the program is that there is a tradition of shape-note singing in the black church! (See, e.g., The Colored Sacred Harp.) [HT: Global Christian Worship]
Here’s the set list:
“We’ve Come This Far by Faith” by Albert Goodson
“Run, Mary, Run”
“What a Happy Time” by J. M. Henson and J. T. Cook
“Amazing Grace” by John Newton
“Ain’t Got Time to Die” by Hall Johnson
“I’ve Been ’Buked”
“Lift Up Your Heads” by Emma Louise Ashford, arr. Lani Smith
“Lift Up Your Heads” by Clinton Hubert Utterbach
“Lift Up Your Heads, All Ye Gates” by Raymond Wise
“Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”
“Jesus on the Mainline”
“I Need Thee Every Hour” by Annie S. Hawks and Robert Lowry
“You Can’t Beat God Giving” by Doris Akers
“Come to Jesus” by E. R. Latta and J. H. Tenney
“We Shall Overcome” by Charles Tindley
“Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” by Eddie Williams
“Lord, Do It for Me” by James Cleveland
“Oh Happy Day” by Edwin Hawkins
“I’ve Got a Robe” by Raymond Wise
“Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, Amen” by Raymond Wise
Below you will find a mix of annotated links to songs, interviews, articles, and art showings of interest: “The Sound of Silence” on classical guitar; an acoustic ecologist whose job is to record nature’s music; giving up books for Lent; two interfaith art exhibitions (Faces of Prayer in Vienna and To Bough and ToBend in Los Angeles); and two new folk music albums (Old Wow by Sam Lee and Civil Dawn by the Pharaoh Sisters).
This is the title track of Karadaglić’s fifth album, Sound of Silence, released last fall. To watch him perform the piece in London’s Air Studios, as filmed by Classic FM in October for Live Music Month 2019, click here.
PODCAST EPISODE: “Silence and the Presence of Everything,”On Being interview with Gordon Hempton: “Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence—not an absence of sound but an absence of noise.”
Such a unique vocation—listening to places, preserving natural soundscapes. “I hear music coming from the land,” Hempton says. “Some of the most sublime symphonies have been hidden away in something as simple as a driftwood log.” Among his other favorite “musics” are “grass wind” (“the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of . . . the blade of grass”) and sounds from “the most musical beach in the world,” Rialto Beach.
Earth is a solar-powered jukebox. . . . We can go to the equator, listen to the Amazon, where we have maximum sunlight, maximum solar energy. The solar panels, the leaves, are harvesting that and cycling it into the bioacoustic system. And, to my ears, that’s a little too intense. That’s a little bit too much action.
Then we can jump up into Central America, and we can still feel and hear the intense solar energy, but it’s beginning to wane.
And we notice a really big difference when we start getting into the temperate latitudes, of which I particularly enjoy recording in because it’s not just about the sound, but it’s about something that I call the “poetics” of space. . . .
“Silence is really wonderful, isn’t it?” he beams. “Even when we just let it exist, it feeds our soul.”
ESSAY: Last year Leah Slawson gave up books for Lent. When I first read that headline, I balked. Books are so life-giving to me! But as I read on, I came to understand Slawson’s reasoning (with which I can identify), and, while I’m not fasting from reading, I admire her choice. “I put a high value on reading, but I am keenly aware that I can use it as an escape from thinking my own thoughts or from noticing my feelings. . . . Reading, for me, is a distraction from the hard work of writing, and since it is so worthy of an activity, I feel justified and redeemed. I even read and study as a way to fool myself into thinking I am practicing faith; when really, I am just reading about someone else’s spiritual practice.” [HT: Rachel A. Dawson]
Faces in Prayer: Photography by Katharina Heigl, Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna, December 5, 2019–March 24, 2020: A series of thirty-one intimate black-and-white photographs showing people of different faiths in prayer. To capture these shots, photographer Katharina Heigl visited churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship in Austria and Israel, but, important to the display, there are no labels to tell you who is praying to which god(s). That’s because Heigl wishes to emphasize the universality of the human impulse to communicate with the Divine. There are signs, however, that reproduce quotes from anonymous sources, printed in German, English, Hebrew, and Arabic, such as “Prayer is like an oasis of calm inside me. Like a tree giving me shade.” [HT: ArtWay]
To Bough and To Bend, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, March 11–April 25, 2020: Officially launched last October, Bridge Projects is an LA exhibition space with public programs connecting art history, spirituality, living religious traditions, and contemporary art practices. Their second exhibition, To Bough and To Bend, opens Wednesday, with thirty-two participating artists.
“The Tree of Life is found in both the beginning of the Jewish Tanakh and in the last book of the Christian Scriptures. The Bodhi Tree is said to be the site of Siddhārtha Gautama’s awakening as the Buddha. Ancient Chinook prayers address God as the ‘Maker of Trees.’ As the novelist Richard Powers said, trees are rightly called ‘architecture of imagination.’ Their shade and branches have been sites of contemplation, suffering, and imagining our renewal.
“Today, trees still speak: blunt stumps communicate deforestation and charred limbs speak of Los Angeles fires started by our own hands—or our negligence. New discoveries of communicating root systems speak to a tangled web of connections just below the surface of the visible world, just as LA’s iconic—and imported—palms evoke a colonial past. In To Bough and To Bend, artists explore these ecological issues and look to both religious and contemporary art practices that help us listen to these old friends, so that we might relearn to ‘walk slowly and bow often’ and find our way back into the living world we share.”
The opening celebration on March 14 will consist of a communal poetry reading followed by a Tu B’Shevat (New Year of the Trees) ritual presentation by community organizer Michal David. Other events are: “Called to Shine: Trees in Myth, Symbol, and Art”; a live interview with artist Lucas Reiner on his Trees as Stations of the Crossproject; a talk on indigenous trees of Southern California, given by a member of the Tongva tribe; a discussion of art’s role in nature preservation; a lecture by Dr. Kimberly Ball on Yggdrasil, the tree of life in Norse mythology; “Paradise and Agony in the Garden: Sacred Trees in Italian Renaissance Art”; Dr. Duncan Ryūken Williams on the intersections of Buddhism and ecology; a bonsai demonstration; and a poetry reading and song performance by Iranian-born writer Sholeh Wolpé.
NEW ALBUMS: Both these were released in January.
Old Wow by Sam Lee: An avid collector and reinterpreter of traditional songs, Britfolk artist Sam Lee is acclaimed for “breaking the boundaries between folk and contemporary music and the assumed place and way folksong is heard . . . not only inviting in a new listenership but also interrogating what the messages in these old songs hold for us today.” He studied under the Scottish storyteller and ballad singer Stanley Robertson (1940–2009) and, in addition to singing, plays the Jew’s harp and the Indian shruti box. Other instruments in his unique fusion include the klezmeresque cello, tabla, Japanese koto, ukulele, violins, and percussion.
Below are two music videos from his latest album, Old Wow. The first is “Lay This Body Down,” a song about death; in the choreographed video, Lee is tugged and caressed by a gaggle of deceased souls, who at the end enfold him in the ground. “The Moon Shines Bright,” on the other hand, which features Elizabeth Fraser, is about life: its call (fitting for Lent) is to “Rise, arise, wake thee, arise / Life, she is calling thee / For it might be the mothering of your sweet soul / If you open your eyes and see.” I’ve heard many different iterations of this song, which usually appears on Advent/Christmas albums with verses about the Nativity, Crucifixion, etc., but this adaptation was gifted to Lee by an elderly Gypsy woman named Freda Black and is absent of overt Christological references.
Civil Dawn by the Pharaoh Sisters: The Pharaoh Sisters is a folk outfit from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, whose debut album has arrived! Influenced by the mountain, old-time, and gospel traditions, the band consists of Austin Pfeiffer on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Jared Meyer on acoustic guitar and backing vocals, Kevin Beck on lap steel guitar, and John Daniel Ray on upright bass. “Their music blends the cowboy sensibilities of Western-native frontman and lyricist Austin Pfeiffer with the Appalachian traditions of dark imagery and poignant guitars from their current home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.”
The biblical narrative is deeply embedded in the album, with many sideways references to specific scriptures. Topography is used symbolically throughout—fissures, canyons, mountains—and helps establish the central metaphor of Jesus as a pioneer, opening up a new frontier for us, leading us through the wilderness into the land of promise.
The album’s title, Civil Dawn, is a scientific term referring to when the center of the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon in the morning—in other words, the moment before the sun rises. The first song, which muses on the paradoxical character of Jesus, ends with a yearning for “Healing wings / Righteous sun,” a subtle nod to Malachi 4:2. That leads into “Awake, my soul, to the sun,” a prayer that we would incline ourselves toward the Light that’s already shining. As the journey continues, there’s darkness, dryness, a feeling of lostness and thirst. But we are not abandoned by our co-traveler, who is our light, our rest and refreshment, our way-maker. The last song, “Homecoming,” celebrates the “pioneer man with sun-scorched hands” who “guides on a trail he’s blazed”—an evocative image, which makes me think of Christ’s glorious wounds (in many traditional religious paintings, the nail prints emit light), but also, in light of the whole record, Isaiah 58:11: “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
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.