Roundup: Spirituality of food docuseries; a psalm and a jazz band walk into a bar; and more

DOCUMENTARY SERIES: Taste and See, dir. Andrew Brumme:Taste and See is a documentary series exploring the spirituality of food with farmers, chefs, bakers, and winemakers engaging with food as a profound gift from God. Their stories serve as a meditation on the beauty, mystery, and wonder to be found in every meal shared at the table.” The Rabbit Room, who is partnering with them for a virtual cinema event (see below), says, “If, in some blessed alternate universe, Robert Farrar Capon had decided to make a documentary with Terrence Malick, guided by the foundational wisdom of Wendell Berry, then they would have made something like the pilot of Taste and See.” Each film is about an hour long.

Some of the people you see in the series trailer are Shamu Sadeh, cofounder of Adamah Farm and Fellowship in Connecticut, which integrates organic farming, Jewish learning, sustainable living, and contemplative spiritual practice (Adamah is the focus of the first film); The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God author Gisela Kreglinger, who grew up on a winery that has been in her family for generations and who leads wine pilgrimages in Burgundy and Franconia (“a spiritual, cultural, and sensory exploration of wine”); Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke who teaches and publishes at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies (see, e.g., his Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating); Kendall Vanderslice, a North Carolina baker, author, and founder of Edible Theology, which offers “curriculum, community, and communications that connect the Communion table to the kitchen table”; and Joel Salatin, who raises livestock on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

You can buy tickets to a virtual screening of the first film, which is happening twice daily from June 3 to June 19 and includes exclusive access to a panel discussion with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, theologian Norman Wirzba, and director Andrew Brumme. Revenue from ticket sales will fund the production of future films, some of which are already in the works. “The funding raised will determine how far we can go and which stories we can pursue,” Brumme tells me. “We’re hopeful the virtual event will bring together enough of a supportive base of people who want to see this series made.” There’s also an option on the website to donate.

To hear more from the director, especially about the inspiration behind the series, check out the interview Drew Miller conducted with him.

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DISCUSSION PANEL: “Art Between the Sacred and the Secular,” June 6, 2022, Akademie der Künste, Berlin: Moderated by the Rev. Professor Ben Quash, this free public event (reserve tickets here) puts in conversation artist Alicja Kwade; Dr. María López-Fanjul y Díez del Corral, senior curator of the Bode Museum and the Gemäldegalerie; and Dr. Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum and the National Gallery, London. The questions they’ll address (see below) sound really intriguing!

Kwade, Alicja_Causal Emergence
Alicja Kwade (Polish, 1979–), Causal Emergence (December 2020), 2019. Watch hands on cardboard, framed, 175 × 175 cm.

“The abiding power of Christian motifs, ideas and styles in a host of modern and contemporary works that superficially look un- or anti-Christian indicates that visual art and Christian tradition have not become complete strangers. This invites analysis and understanding.

“How have Christian artworks and artistic traditions found new articulations, caused new departures, or provoked new subversions in the last 100 to 150 years? What forms of engagement between theology and modern and contemporary art do such developments in the relationship between art and Christianity invite and reward?

“How do viewers (Christian and non-Christian) interact with historical Christian art today, and how do modern sensibilities affect our viewing of earlier Christian artworks and artistic traditions?

“Is contemporary art an alternative to religion or can it sometimes be an ally? How do contemporary art and religion each respond to human experiences of the absurd or the tragic? What do contemporary art and the spaces in which we encounter it, tell us about the histories of both Western Christianity and Western secularisation?”

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FUNDRAISER: New Ordinary Time Album: The indie folk trio Ordinary Time is one of my favorite musical groups—I heard them in concert at a church here in Baltimore a few years ago!—so I’m really excited to see that they’re working on their sixth full-length album, their first since 2016. It will be produced by the esteemed Isaac Wardell, founder of Bifrost Arts and the Porter’s Gate. Per usual, it will comprise a mix of original and classic sacred songs, including the new “I Will Trust,” demoed in the second video below. Help fund their production costs through this Indiegogo campaign, which ends June 15. A donation of just $25 will get you an early download of the album.

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SONG: “Oh Give Thanks (Psalm 107)” by Wendell Kimbrough: Wendell Kimbrough is among today’s foremost singer-songwriters engaging with the Psalms. His adaptation of Psalm 107 [previously] is one of his most popular songs, ever since the original studio recording released in 2016. Now he’s recorded a live version with a New Orleans jazz band! It is available on most streaming and purchase platforms.

The music video was shot in February at a bar in Daphne, Alabama, with some eighty of Kimbrough’s friends and supporters, and it premiered May 13. It was his way of saying farewell to his Church of the Apostles community in Fairhope, Alabama, where he served as worship leader and artist-in-residence for eight years. He left this spring to take a new job as uptown artist-in-residence at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.

“From the time I wrote ‘Oh Give Thanks,’ I always pictured it as a bar tune, specifically set in New Orleans,” Kimbrough says. “The image Psalm 107 conjures for me is a group of friends sitting together swapping stories of God’s deliverance and raising their glasses to celebrate his goodness.” He has noted that some people are uneasy about singing the line “We cried like drunken sailors” in church, but he points out that it’s there in the Old Testament psalm! (Recounting how God rescued a group of men from a storm at sea, the psalmist says that as the waves rose, “they reeled and staggered like drunkards / and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, / and he brought them out from their distress,” vv. 27–28).

To learn how to play the song on guitar, see Kimbrough’s video tutorial. You may also want to check out the songs of thanksgiving I compiled on Spotify.

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CHURCH ARCHITECTURE: Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy: In 2013 architect Mario Cucinella won a competition held by Italy’s assembly of Catholic bishops to create the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti in the hilltop town of Mormanno in Calabria. Because a third of the funds had to be raised locally, the project wasn’t completed until last year. Cucinella says that gave him time to win over its most important constituency: the elderly women who go to Mass every day, and who at first “were suspicious of its modernism.” [HT: My Modern Met]

Cucinella designed an elegantly minimalist concrete building with sinuous surfaces that form the shape of a four-leaf clover, a reinterpretation, Cucinella says, of the shape of Baroque churches. The enclosure has only a few openings. “On its north side, two walls part to create an entrance—while also contributing edges to a cross cut into the curves and lit by LEDs at night. On its south side, a small window is positioned to focus afternoon sunlight on a crucifix on July 6,” Maria Goretti’s birthday.

Santa Maria Goretti Church
Santa Maria Goretti Church, Mormanno, Italy, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, completed 2021. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Photo: Duccio Malagamba

Maraniello, Giuseppe_Baptismal font
Baptismal font by Giuseppe Maraniello. Photo: Duccio Malagamba.

Inside, the walls are hand-finished in plaster mixed with hemp fibers and lime, which give them a mottled, earth-toned look. The most dominant feature of the interior is the twelve-foot-deep scrim that falls from the ceiling in swirls, filtering in sunlight. Artist Giuseppe Maraniello (b. 1945) was commissioned to create the lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font, and figure of the Virgin Mary, while the simple steel and wood seating is by Mario Cucinella Design. Click on any of the three photos above to view more.

The church’s namesake, one of the youngest saints to be canonized, was stabbed to death in 1902 at age eleven while resisting a rape. She is the patron saint of purity, young women, and victims of sexual assault.

Roundup: Psalms and the arts, Ukrainian Easter Choir, and more

BLOG POST: “An open letter to pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)” by Amy Young: There’s disagreement among church leaders on whether civic holidays, such as Mother’s Day, should be recognized during a worship service, and if so, how. Having mothers stand (while women who are not mothers in the conventional sense remain seated) can be very othering and bring up feelings of sadness or shame. It’s also a day when people are thinking about their own mothers, which can evoke a complex range of emotions.

Amy Young believes there is a way to honor mothers in church without alienating others, as well as to acknowledge the breadth of experiences associated with mothering. She has drafted a pastoral address that I find so wise and compassionate. Some women are estranged from their children. Some have experienced miscarriage or abortion. Some have had failed adoptions, or failed IVF treatments. Some gave up a child for adoption. Some have been surrogate mothers. Some are foster mothers, or are the primary guardian of a relative’s child. Some are spiritual moms. Some women want to be mothers but have no partner or have had trouble conceiving. Some were abused by their mothers. Some have lost mothers. Some never met their mother. Young puts her arms around all these people who are potentially in the pews on Mother’s Day, making room for the complexity of the day—which does include celebration!

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VIDEO: “United with Beauty: The Psalms, the Arts, and the Human Experience” by Mallory Johnson: Mallory Johnson graduated last weekend with a B.M. in Music and Worship (concentration: voice) from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. (In the fall she will be starting an MDiv program at Beeson Divinity School.) All the seniors in the Samford School of the Arts are required to complete a capstone project tailored to their individual interests and career goals. As Johnson’s interests center on theology, history, and the arts, she created a twenty-minute video rooted in the Psalms that integrates music, poetry, short excerpts of fiction, visual art, and quotes from van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Goethe, Luther, and others, resulting in a contemplative multimedia experience.

I resonate so much with Johnson’s approach of bringing together works from different artistic disciplines to interpret one another and to invite the viewer into worship. Her curation is stellar! To cite just one example, the contemporary choral work Stars by Ēriks Ešenvalds plays as we see, among other images, an Aboriginal dot painting of the constellations Orion and Canis and a nighttime landscape by realist painter Józef Chełmoński. Another: John Adams’s double piano composition “Hallelujah Junction” is brought into conversation with Psalm 150 and a painting by Jewish artist Richard Bee of David dancing before the ark.

Józef Chełmoński (Polish, 1849–1914), Starry Night, 1888. Oil on canvas, 22 13/16 × 28 3/4 in. (58 × 73 cm). National Museum in Kraków, Poland.

The video opens with the theme of awe and wonder—expanses of sky and sea and field; the beauty and vastness of God mirrored in the natural world—and then moves to lament—of the prospering of the wicked; of exhaustion, anxiety, and other forms of mental or spiritual anguish and their causes; of personal sin—and finally ends with an assurance of grace and with exultation. Johnson shows how the longings of modern people overlap with those of the biblical psalmists. Here’s her description:

In his famous work titled Confessions, St. Augustine writes this: “Yet to praise you, God, is the desire of every human.” Is this true? What does this look like?

During my time at Samford, I have felt my heart and mind overflow with love for the arts. As a Christian, they have played a devotional role in my life. I find such joy in seeing connections between music, art, and literature that may seem unrelated on the surface. I believe that all humans have a longing for the goodness of God and we find “echoes” of Him everywhere, and most beautifully in artistic expression.

I wanted to show others how I understand the world as a Christian artist. This project is a journey through the Psalms, using art to reinforce the idea that the Psalms capture the full universal human experience. Across time and space, we have all felt the same things and we have all had the same deep longing for “something higher.”

I hope you can allow this project to wash over you. Make time to watch it alone or with someone you love, distraction-free. Turn the lights out, light a candle, watch it on a big screen with the volume up loud. Be cozy under a blanket with a cup of coffee, or grab a journal and write down anything that sticks out to you! It is my earnest desire that you will be moved by the artistic expression of humanity, and that you may realize that God has always been the goodness you most deeply desire.

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SONGS:

>> “Broken Healers” by Elise Massa: Singer-songwriter Elise Massa is the assistant director of music and worship arts at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh. A meditation on Christ as Wounded Healer, this song from her 2014 album of demos, We Are All Rough Drafts, was inspired by an Eastertide sermon.

Here’s the final stanza (the full lyrics are at the Bandcamp link):

Broken healers are we all
In a living world, decayed
With broken speech we stutter, “Glory”
As broken fingers mend what’s frayed
Holy Spirit, come, anoint us
As you anointed Christ the King
Who wore the crown of the oppressed
Who bears the scars of suffering

>> “Agnus Dei” by Michael W. Smith, performed by the Ukrainian Easter Choir: This is one of the few CCM songs I listened to as a young teen (Third Day’s version from a WOW CD!) that I’m still really fond of. In this video that premiered April 17, an eighty-person choir conducted by Sergiy Yakobchuk was assembled from multiple churches in Ukraine to perform for an Easter service in Lviv organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” is one of three songs they sang, in both English and Ukrainian. The name of the soloist is not given. Many of the vocalists in the choir have been displaced from their homes by the current war with Russia. One of them says, “With the war, celebrating the Resurrection means for us now life above death, good above evil.”

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PRAYER EXERCISE: “Visio Divina: A 20-Minute Guided Prayer Reflection for the Crisis in Ukraine”: Visio divina, Latin for “divine seeing,” is a spiritual practice of engaging prayerfully with an image, usually an artwork—allowing the visual to invite you into communion with God. On March 17 Vivianne David led a virtual visio divina exercise with Natalya Rusetska’s Crucifixion, hosted by Renovaré. I caught up with the video afterward and found it a very meaningful experience. As the painting is by a Ukrainian artist and represents Christ’s passion, the war in Ukraine is a natural connection point.

I appreciate David’s wise guidance, which includes these reminders:

  • Stay with the image, regardless of whether or not you ​“feel” something happening right away. There is something beautiful about faithfully waiting with that space, having dedicated it to God as a time of prayer.
  • Notice what draws your attention, what invites you into the image—let that become a space for conversation with Christ.
  • Notice what sort of emotions arise as you stay with the image. How does it awaken desire? Let these emotions lead you back to continued dialogue with God.

This kind of quiet, focused looking with an openness to encounter is something I encourage on the blog. Any of David’s three tips above I would also suggest for any art image I post—a corrective to hasty scrolling habits. Stick around for the last four minutes of the video to see dozens and dozens of impressions from participants, which may reveal new aspects of the painting to you.

Lent, Day 40 (In the Grave)

I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength:

Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand.

Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.

Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves. Selah.

Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.

. . .

Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah.

Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?

Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

—Psalm 88:4–8, 10–12 (KJV)

LOOK: Playa Studies by Craig Goodworth (HT)

Goodworth, Craig_Playa Studies
Craig Goodworth (American, 1977–), Playa Studies, 2017. Site-specific land-based artwork, Great Basin Desert, Oregon. Photograph by the artist.

Craig Goodworth’s practice encompasses installation, poetry, drawing, research, teaching, and farm labor. He holds master’s degrees in fine art, sustainable communities, and divinity, and his interests include land, place, religion, mysticism, and folk traditions.

During a four-week residency in the Great Basin Desert in Oregon, he made a series of land-based artworks called Playa Studies, which he documented through photographs. (A playa is an area of flat, dried-up land.) The shape of this one evokes a grave.

LISTEN: “Aestimatus sum” (I am counted . . .) by Tomás Luis de Victoria, 1585 | Performed by Ars Nova Copenhagen, dir. Paul Hillier, 2017

Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum,
factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.
    Versus: Posuerunt me in lacu inferiori, in tenebrosis et in umbra mortis.
Factus sum sicut homo sine adjutorio, inter mortuos liber.

English translation:

I am counted with them that go down into the pit:
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.
    Verse: They have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
I am as a man that hath no strength: free among the dead.

This is the eighth responsory for Holy Saturday. Tomás Luis de Victoria [previously] of Spain, one of the principal composers of the late Renaissance, set it to music in 1585. It’s the penultimate motet (a multivoiced musical composition sung without instrumental accompaniment) in a set of eighteen by Victoria, titled Tenebrae Responsories.

The text is taken from Psalm 87:5–7 of the Latin Vulgate (Psalm 88:4–6 in the King James Version and most modern translations). The most depressing psalm in the Psalter, Psalm 88 ends not on a note of hope but with the lament that “darkness has become my only companion.” (Hello darkness, my old friend.)

While the psalmist spoke in metaphors of death, Jesus went there literally. After suffering much affliction, he descended “into the pit” of the earth—his grave. He knew emotional and spiritual darkness, and now he was surrounded by the physical reality. The Light had gone out. The Word was made silent.

Imagine what Jesus’s followers must have felt the day after the Crucifixion. Grief, devastation, loneliness, bewilderment, hopelessness. They were left bereft of their Lord’s presence.

On Holy Saturday, we sit in the pocket of that grief, that loss.

N. T. Wright says, “We cannot be Easter people if we are not first Good Friday people and then Holy Saturday people. Don’t expect even a still, small voice. Stay still yourself, and let the quietness and darkness of the day be your only companions.”

Roundup: Georges Rouault, “The Exultant Leper,” and more

LECTURE: “Georges Rouault and the Art of Sacred Engagement” by Fr. Terrence Dempsey, SJ: “From his earliest works, Georges Rouault [1871–1958] selected subjects that combined a strong religious conviction together with a concern for suffering humanity. This lecture by MOCRA Director Terrence Dempsey, S.J., offers an overview of Rouault’s work, including his paintings, prints, and stained glass. Dempsey presents Rouault as an artist who, from his early work through his mature work, remained concerned about the disadvantaged, the outsiders, and the victims of war, and who linked all of these people to the suffering of Christ. In this way, Rouault’s engagement with the world was not so much political (although one can find political tones in his work) as it was sacred. It involved the totality of who we are—corporeal and spiritual.”

Rouault is a favorite artist of mine. I got to see his entire Miserere et Guerre (“Have mercy,” a quotation from Psalm 51, and “War”) series of etchings in person a few years ago, and it’s phenomenal. Every Christian needs to know this series. I recommend a copy of This Anguished World of Shadows: George Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre for all bookshelves.

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ART VIDEO: “The Story About the Painting Called The Exultant Leper: Wilder Adkins shared this video with me of his uncle Les Smith interpreting a painting he owns before his congregation last summer at Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He commissioned it from artist Brian Whelan, to depict the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers from Luke 17:11–19. Sadly, Smith passed away last month.

Whelan, Brian_The Exultant Leper
Brian Whelan (Irish, 1957–), The Exultant Leper, 2021. Mixed media on canvas. Private collection.

Smith said he requested the title “The Exultant Leper” and asked that it appear on the painting itself. “I am the exultant leper,” he says, pointing to the figure at the bottom right. “I am the guy who better always be at the feet of Jesus giving thanks.”

While I have certainly seen and shared plenty of academic presentations on art (such as the one on Rouault above), there is something so special about hearing ordinary folks (that is, nonspecialists) share with others art that is personally meaningful to them—and more than that, in this case, that they helped bring to fruition. Smith’s enthusiasm was such that even his neighborhood trash collectors have been invited into his home to enjoy the piece! I love that he took the step of supporting a living artist by commissioning an original artwork, and that he integrated that art into his home life, displaying it above his mantle, where he would see it daily and be reminded of his own story of transformation through Christ.

(P.S. Last fall on Instagram and Facebook I shared a standout painting of Whelan’s from the 8th Catholic Arts Biennial at the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVS6tlagy8s/; https://www.facebook.com/artandtheology/posts/1582166995476777.)

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CROSS-DISCIPLINARY VIDEO PRESENTATION: “Psalms in Dialogue: (Be)Holding the Broken Pieces”: I shared Duke’s first “Psalms in Dialogue” in October 2020. Here’s their second offering in the same vein. “In this online presentation [which premiered October 2, 2021], Duke University Chapel and the Duke Chapel Choir will welcome visual artist Makoto Fujimura, theologian Dr. Ellen Davis, Tap Legacy Foundation co-founder Andrew Nemr, Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet, and dancer Paiter van Yperen for an evening of creativity and conversation inspired by the biblical Psalms. In the program, artists, musicians, theologians, singers, and dancers will present performances and works inspired by five Psalms: 46, 88, 90, 91, and 92.” I particularly enjoyed the teen ballet number choreographed by Elisa Schroth to Karl Jenkins’s “Healing Light: A Celtic Prayer” at 52:18 (lyrics below).

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you

Amen

Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you

Amen

Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world, to you
Deep peace of Christ to you
Deep peace of Christ, the light of the world, to you

Amen

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SONGS:

>> “Fill My Cup” by Thad Cockrell, feat. The New Respects: This song appears on Cockrell’s album If in Case You Feel the Same (2020); an older version is on Alone Together (2016) under the title “Walking to a City.”

>> “Victory of Christ” by Cory Dauber: Cory Dauber is a member of the Deeper Well Gospel Collective, a group of musicians and songwriters in the Portland, Oregon, area who are connected to Door of Hope church. Last year Dauber released his second full-length album, May All Times Go to You. This song appears on his debut album, Turn into a Mountain (2016).

Roundup: Alternative Advent, Fuller Studio videos, Desmond Tutu and Jeff Chu interviews, Psalm 121 in Arabic

“Lift Up Your Eyes” (Advent 2021): Kezia M’Clelland’s annual “Alternative Advent” video is here—a compilation of news photos from the year, from various photojournalists, matched with promises/declarations from scripture and a song. (I’ve described this project in years past; see here.) Migrant caravans, refugee camps, hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients, a protest against a military coup, wildfires, volcanic aftermath . . . the global suffering we hear about in headlines and statistics is made personal in these intimate photographs of people who are experiencing it firsthand. M’Clelland bears tender witness to this suffering, but she also takes care to include signs of hope. Alongside images of devastation and misery are images of love, joy, and fortitude. The overall tone is one of somberness but not despair. As I do with each year’s “Alternative Advent,” I spent an afternoon interceding with God for each person in the photos and for others enduring the same harrowing journeys or disasters. I realize how my privilege as a white, middle-class US American insulates me from a lot of these realities, and I know that prayer must be accompanied by action.

Find out more context for the photos and their sources on Instagram @alternative_advent.

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VIDEO ROUNDUP FROM FULLER STUDIO: The Arts for the Life of the Church: In these six, five-minute videos shot by Fuller Studio, artists and creatives (most of them participants in the Brehm Residency) reflect on the diverse ways that the arts enliven, shape, and define their faith, their theology, and their work. Here’s one from the series, in which interdisciplinary artist Dea Jenkins discusses the ways the Spirit’s leading can be intertwined with the process of art-making, and how art has the capacity to be both prophetic and healing.

The other videos feature . . .

  • Young-Ly Hong Chandra on how she sees her creative work participating in God’s work of creation
  • Michelle Lang-Raymond on how theater and the arts can create opportunities for us to safely yet deeply engage with today’s polarizing issues
  • Rachel Morris on how incorporating the arts into worship services and pastoral care can contribute to the church’s healing work in the lives of its members
  • Jin Cho on the holistic, social, and communal dimensions of preaching and the liturgy
  • John Van Deusen on the significance of creating art in community and on the ways we are shaped by inviting both God and others into our creative processes

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ON BEING INTERVIEWS:

>> “Remembering Desmond Tutu”: The South African Anglican bishop, theologian, and human rights activist Desmond Tutu died December 26, 2021, and the On Being podcast re-released this 2010 interview Krista Tippett conducted with him. It’s a great introduction to his story, which includes especially his faith. He discusses the Bible as “dynamite,” our identity as “God-carriers,” the interfaith makeup of the anti-apartheid movement, God’s sense of humor, reconciliation as a process, his experience voting for the first time at age sixty-three (after decades of disenfranchisement), how entrenched racism had become in his own thinking, the beating heart of love at the center of existence, and more. And oh, his laughter is so sweet!

>> “A Life of Holy Curiosity: In Friendship with Rachel Held Evans” with Jeff Chu: Jeff Chu is a journalist, preacher, and co-leader of the Evolving Faith community. When his friend Rachel Held Evans, the famous Christian writer, died unexpectedly in 2019, he took it upon himself to bring to fruition the unfinished book she was working on, Wholehearted Faith (HarperOne, 2021). I enjoyed learning more about Evans through this conversation, and about Chu. They read several excerpts from the book and discuss Chu’s Chinese Baptist upbringing, the recent phenomenon of “religious-but-in-exile,” the enormity of God’s love, the Incarnation, the Psalms, doubt, grief, and the lesson of the compost pile.

(As a side note: I recently came across Evans’s other posthumously published book, for children, titled What Is God Like?, in Target and bought it on a whim. It’s fabulous.)

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SONG: “I Lift My Eyes” by Christopher Tin: A setting of Psalm 121 in Arabic, performed by Abeer Nehme with Christopher Tin and the Angel City Chorale. Nehme is a Lebanese singer and musicologist, one of whose specializations is sacred music from the Syriac Maronite, Syriac Orthodox, and Byzantine traditions. [HT: Joy Clarkson]

Advent, Day 1

LOOK: At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight) by Childe Hassam

Hassam, Childe_At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight)
Childe Hassam (American, 1859–1935), At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight), 1885–86. Oil on canvas, 42 × 60 in. (106.9 × 152.4 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

LISTEN: “Psalm 25” by Poor Bishop Hooper, 2020 [free download]

Nobody who waits for you will see disgrace
Teach me all your righteous paths
Make known your ways to me, Lord

Lead me by your truth, my God
And teach me now
I’ll wait for you the whole day long
You are the God of my salvation

You’ve shown your love from ages past
It existed from antiquity through history
Forgotten of my sinful youth
For your goodness, God
My eyes are always on you

Psalm 25 is not a common Advent text, but it is one of the readings assigned for today by the Revised Common Lectionary. Advent is a season of waiting, penitence, and promise—themes reflected in this psalm of David’s.

Jesse and Leah Roberts, whose musical alias is Poor Bishop Hooper, adapted Psalm 25:3–7, 15 last year as part of their EveryPsalm project, an initiative to release one original psalm-based song every Wednesday. They are currently up to Psalm 100.

I’ve paired the song with a painting by turn-of-the-century American Impressionist Childe Hassam, of a rosy dusk on the outskirts of the central park in downtown Boston. The sun is descending behind the elm trees, the gaslights have been lit, and the ground is blanketed in snow. On Tremont Street on the left, trolley cars and carriages wheel busily past, while on the adjacent walkway a mother and her two young daughters have stopped to feed the birds.

Moodwise, the painting and song complement each other, the twinkling of Roberts’s piano corresponding to the play of pink light on Hassam’s canvas—and both bespeaking God’s goodness. I present the image here as an invitation to, like this family, find moments of quiet enjoyment and reflection amid the bustle of December.

The scene evokes warm memories for me, as my husband and I, then newlyweds, walked this path every Sunday to church for the five years we lived in Boston. Ten minutes from Park Street Station to the hotel where our congregation met, crunching through the snow in our insulated boots in wintertime, the natural sights and sounds of the Common preparing us for worship.

Thanksgiving Playlist

I’ve compiled a playlist of songs of thanks to God for life, beauty, family, salvation, fruitful harvests, and countless other blessings, and for God’s very self. To make a list on this theme is difficult, as every praise song, of which there are millions, is essentially a song of thanksgiving. So many songs and other musical pieces, including those from outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, testify to experiences of goodness. Perhaps I’m being too literal, but I focus (though not exclusively) on songs that explicitly say “Thanks.” I also want to make clear that God deserves thanks not just for what he’s done but for who he is.

To save the playlist to your Spotify account, click the ellipsis and select “Add to Your Library.”

The list is bookended by the seventeenth-century Trinitarian doxology written by Thomas Ken (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . .”), which many churches sing weekly to the tune of OLD 100TH. While the first on the list is in English, the last is in Hawaiian.

Several of the songs are settings of the biblical psalms. The Abayudaya community of Jews in Eastern Uganda, for example, sings the call-and-response Psalm 136 in Luganda; led by J. J. Keki, the congregation responds after each line with “His steadfast love endures forever!” Banjoist Béla Fleck [previously] and mandolinist Chris Thile use this melody from Abayudaya as the basis of their “Psalm 136” duet, which appears on Fleck’s new album, Bluegrass Heart.

There’s also Psalm 92 (“It is good to give thanks to the Lord . . .”) from Poor Bishop Hooper’s EveryPsalm project, Wendell Kimbrough’s Psalm 107, and a classical guitar rendition of Jewish singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman’s “Hodu” [previously], a setting of Psalm 118:1–4. Rebekah Osborn also sets Psalm 118, in English.

“We Thank You” is by Broken Walls, a musical group comprising followers of the Jesus Way who seek to build bridges between the church and the First Nations people of North America. Founded by Jonathan Maracle, a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Territory in Ontario, Canada, the band uses indigenous instruments and sounds to share the Creator’s love.

Across the Atlantic, the monks of Keur Moussa Abbey [previously] in Senegal sing “Nous Te Louons, Père Invisible” (“We Praise You, Invisible Father”), accompanied by balafon (a gourd-resonated xylophone). The French lyrics translate as follows:

Lord of immortality
We praise you, invisible Father
You are the source of life
We praise you, invisible Father
The source of all light
We praise you, invisible Father
You are the source of grace
We praise you, invisible Father
Friend of mankind, friend of the poor, you draw everything unto yourself through the coming of your beloved Son!
We praise you, invisible Father

I’ve also included a dedicatory instrumental piece played on kora and oboe for the inauguration and consecration of the abbey.

Praise be to God, too, for natural wonders large and small. You’ll want to be sure to check out Alanna Boudreau’s setting of “Pied Beauty” by the poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. (For you Hopkins lovers, Boudreau also set “My own heart let me more have pity on” and “God’s Grandeur,” the latter appearing on Spotify as “Wb / Bw.”) There are also classics like “This Is My Father’s World” and, retuned and retitled by Ben Thomas, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” [previously].

“For the Beauty of the Earth,” which opens with gratitude for creation and then expands into other areas of thanks, is one of my all-time favorite hymns. Andrew Laparra’s straightforward rendition is so lovely, even though it does omit two of the verses—on the wonders of the human body (“. . . the mystic harmony linking sense and sound to sight”) and “the joy of human love . . .”

For the provision of food, there’s a delightful little song that Kim Gannon and Walter Kent wrote for the 1948 Disney short The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, the American nurseryman, conservationist, and folk hero. The song became popular in primary schools and children’s camps and at grace before meals, and in 2003 Mary Thienes Schünemann included an adaptation in the songbook and accompanying album This Is the Way We Wash-a-Day, which is what I’ve put on the list.

For another prayer appropriate for mealtime, see “Multilingual Grace” by Jaewoo Kim, Grace Funderburgh, Abraham Deng, and Josh Davis of Proskuneo Ministries [previously]. “Here in our community, we eat together a lot . . . and that means Koreans, Latinos, Americans, Burmese, and Sudanese and more coming together around the table,” Davis writes on the Proskuneo blog. “We wanted something we could sing to thank God together. And so we wrote this.” The chorus says “Thank you” in Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and Swahili:

Shukran
Gam-sa-hae
Gracias
Asante

(See the full lyrics.)

Relishing simply being alive is a common theme that comes across especially in songs like “So Glad I’m Here” by Bessie Jones, covered by Dan Zanes [previously] and Elizabeth Mitchell [previously], and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” by the Mister Rogers(!), charmingly jazzified by Holly Yarbrough.

Michael and Lisa Gungor sing of the gift of their second daughter, Lucette, in their song “Light.” Lucie, as they call her, whose name means “light,” was born in 2014 with Down syndrome and heart complications. Seven years and multiple heart surgeries later, she continues to fill the Gungors’ lives, and others’, with brightness.

Gratitude in all circumstances is another theme that comes up, in such songs as “Hallelujah” by the Sons of Rainer, “Sing” by Jon Batiste, and the traditional hymn “How Can I Keep from Singing.” And India Arie’s gorgeous “Give Thanks,” which expresses an attitude of welcome and embrace for all that life brings. In the refrain “Give thanks for all that is,” “Give thanks” is substituted in repeats with the words “Selah” (an untranslatable Hebrew word from the Psalms that probably indicates a reflective pause in the music), “Hallelujah” (Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”), “Namaste” (Sanskrit for “I bow to you”), and “Ashé” (a multivalent concept in Yoruba religion that carries the meaning, in one sense, of “So be it,” similar to “Amen” in Christianity).

Recited daily upon waking up, “Modeh Ani” by Nefesh Mountain is a Jewish prayer of thanks that translates to “I give thanks before you, King living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is Your faithfulness!” It’s based on the belief that every morning, God renews every person as a new creation.

There are also gospel songs aplenty by artists including Shirley Ann Lee, Mahalia Jackson, Beyoncé [previously], Regina Belle, Roberta Martin, Janice Gaines (covering Andraé Crouch), and others from the Black church tradition.

Bob Marley’s “Thank You, Lord” from 1967 isn’t on Spotify, but an admirable cover by his fellow Jamaican reggae artist Max Romeo is. Sam Cooke’s recording of “I Thank God” by Jack Hoffman, Elliott Lewis, and Bebe Blake is also missing from the streaming service, but I love what the Avett Brothers do with the song, so I’ve featured them instead.

Our gratitude for God’s love and hospitality should overflow into our relationships with other people, animals, and the earth, and our trust in God’s goodness means we should receive with openness what comes from his hand, even if it’s not what we asked for. In the playlist’s penultimate song, “The Welcome,” David Benjamin Blower sings, “Just as Love has welcomed you, my friends / Welcome one another and all things.”

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This blog site and the thematic playlists that accompany it take an enormous amount of time to put together. If you have been blessed by either this year, please consider making a financial contribution to support me so that I can continue doing this work. And thank you, all, for engaging with and sharing the content!

Roundup: Online convos with artists Marc Padeu (from Cameroon) and Emmanuel Garibay (from the Philippines), and more

NEW PLAYLIST: October 2021 (Art & Theology): This month’s playlist includes a benediction from the book of Jude; a percussion-driven setting of Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun” by the Camaldolese monk Cyprian Consiglio; an Exodus-inspired song in Yorta Yorta, an indigenous Australian language, from the feature film The Sapphires; “Prodigal Son,” a little-known hymn by John Newton, from The Sacred Harp; a sixties gospel song by Shirley Ann Lee (famously covered by Liz Vice on her debut album); and closing out, in anticipation of All Saints’ Day on November 1, the jazz standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.” To save the playlist to your Spotify account, click the ellipsis and select “Add to Your Library.”

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IN-PERSON LECTURE: “The Works of Art in the Work of the Church” by John Skillen, October 16, 2021, Crownsville, MD: The Eliot Society, an organization I work for, is hosting our first event in over a year and a half! It’s an art talk by Dr. John Skillen [previously], director of the Studio for Art, Faith & History in Orvieto, Italy. It will be at the home of two of our board members, so if you’re in the Washington–Baltimore metropolitan area two weekends from now, consider coming by! The event starts with hors d’oeuvres at 6:30 p.m., and an RSVP is requested.

The Works of Art in the Work of the Church

In recent decades, a growing number of Christians—even those from church traditions formerly suspicious of the arts—are warming up to the idea that artworks can serve in the various practices of the life of faith, and not only in iconographic form as images of Jesus in worship. Scripturally sound and aesthetically sophisticated works of art can guide our prayer, help catechize our children, and shape the environments of our missional work. Many of us will welcome some pointers for putting art back in its place in the settings where we live and work.

To help us imagine possibilities, John Skillen will offer examples from a long period of Christian history when the arts were put to work in the collective life of the church in more places and in more ways than most of us nowadays can imagine. Not only churches but also hospitals, orphanages, the meeting rooms of parachurch organizations, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and cloisters in monasteries, town halls and civic fountains and public squares—all were places of serious decoration and design expected to be compatible with Christian faith.

No sphere of religious and civic life was off-limits for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire emotion and action—the three functions of art most commonly cited during the Middle Ages to defend its value.

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UPCOMING ONLINE CONVERSATIONS:

Padeu, Marc_Le souper a Penja
Marc Padeu (Cameroonian, 1990–), Le souper a Penja, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 82 7/10 × 106 3/10 in. (210 × 270 cm).

>> “Caravaggio in Cameroon: Marc Padeu and Jennifer Sliwka in Conversation,” October 14, 2021, 11 a.m. EST (4 p.m. BST): I spoke about Padeu’s Le souper a Penja at a recent seminar on “Picturing Jesus,” so I’m looking forward to hearing the artist himself discuss it along with the larger body of work it’s a part of. Hosted by the National Gallery in London.

Artist Marc Padeu lives and works in Cameroon. Intriguingly, his monumental paintings – exploring tender and complex relationships between family, friends, lovers and working communities – often draw on Italian Baroque compositions and especially those of Caravaggio.

Marc Padeu joins Dr Jennifer Sliwka, specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. Her research explores how 17th-century painters developed innovative approaches to religious painting, imbuing their works with an immediacy, power, and dynamism.

Together, the speakers will take Padeu’s Le Souper a Penja and its relationship to Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus as a jumping-off point for conversation, exploring Padeu’s wider interest and understanding of historical works, his adoption and adaptation of the visual language of the Baroque and how these inform his evocations of contemporary life in Cameroon.

>> “In the Studio with Emmanuel Garibay,” November 11, 2021, 8:30 a.m. EST: The Overseas Ministries Study Center at Princeton Theological Seminary is hosting a conversation with Filipino artist Emmanuel “Manny” Garibay, a social realist painter who served as the 2010–2011 OMSC artist in residence. “It is the richness of the poor that I am drawn to and which I am a part of, that I want to impart,” he says. His paintings often portray Jesus among the marginalized and dispossessed and critique the church’s “compliance with greed, corruption, and social inequality.” Garibay’s children Alee, Nina, and Bam, who are also accomplished artists, will be present for the conversation as well. For more on Garibay, see this Q&A from the OMSC and the Image journal essay “Recognizing the Stranger: The Art of Emmanuel Garibay” by Rod Pattenden.

Garibay, Emmanuel_Kaganapan
Emmanuel Garibay (Filipino, 1962–), Kaganapan, 2006. Oil on canvas, 48 × 48 in. (122 × 122 cm).

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NEW SONGS:

>> “Keep Watch (Noelle’s Lullaby)” by Liturgical Folk, a setting of a Compline prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, on the new family album Matins & Vespers:

>> “Psalm 91” by Poor Bishop Hooper, released as part of the EveryPsalm project, through which the duo offers original weekly Psalm-based songs for free download:

Lent, Day 2

To you, silence is praise, O God . . .

—Psalm 65:1*

LOOK: Valérie Hadida (French, 1965–), Nuage (Cloud), 2013. Hadida is a contemporary figurative sculptor from France who works mainly in bronze and clay. Many of her “petites bonnes femmes” (little women) sculptures are available for sale through websites like Artsper and Artsy. View process photos on the artist’s Facebook page.

Hadida, Valérie_Nuage

LISTEN: “Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, on Our Roots Are in You: Short, Quiet Psalms (2013), feat. Trish Bruxvoort Colligan

Dumiyah
Tibi silens laus

English Translation:
Silence
For you, silence is praise

Dumiyyah (alternatively transliterated as dumiyah, dumiyya, or dûmîyâ) is one of several Hebrew words for “silence.” It’s used four times in the Psalms, most famously in Psalm 62:1—“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation”—but also in Psalm 65:1. In addition to its straightforward sense, the word implies waiting or repose.

(Related post: “The savasana of Lent”)

The song above is a contemplative setting of the opening phrase of Psalm 65 in two languages. It layers the Hebrew dumiyyah with the Latin Vulgate translation of Leka dumiyyah tehillah.

In “Mystery of the Missing Silence,” Christian spirituality writer Carl McColman ponders why so many English translations of Psalm 65:1 eliminate or obscure the word dumiyyah that’s in the original text. The few well-established ones (in Christian circles) that retain it are:

  • The Darby Bible (DBY): “Praise waiteth for thee in silence, O God, in Zion . . .”
  • The New American Standard Bible (NASB): “There will be silence before You, and praise in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The GOD’S WORD Translation (GW): “You are praised with silence in Zion, O God . . .”
  • The English Standard Version (ESV) has “Praise is due you,” but a footnote provides the alternate translation “Praise waits for you in silence.”

McColman’s word study led him to reach out to Jewish friends with a familiarity of Hebrew, including one in rabbinical school, who pointed him to the Stone Edition Tanach from ArtScroll. First published in 1996, this translation by an international team of Torah scholars renders Psalm 65:1a as “To you, silence is praise, O God in Zion.” (Other modern Jewish translations, like Rabbi A.J. Rosenberg’s, have something similar.) A footnote in the Stone Edition cites commentary from the medieval rabbinic scholar Rashi (1040–1105), who said, “The praises of infinite God can never be exhausted. Silence is his most eloquent praise, since elaboration must leave glaring omissions.”

“Dumiyah” by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan is featured on the Art & Theology Lent Playlist on Spotify.

* Note: In most modern Jewish translations, which tend to count the original headings in the Psalms as verses, this is Psalm 65:2. In the Vulgate and in Eastern Orthodox Bibles, which follow the Septuagint numbering system instead of the Hebrew (Masoretic) one, it is Psalm 64:2. However, for consistency, I refer to it throughout this post as Psalm 65:1, following the numbering in Protestant Bibles.

Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

The mission of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is to “promote the scholarly study of the theology, history, and practice of Christian worship and the renewal of worship in worshiping communities across North America and beyond.” Their programming centers on resources, grants, and events—the biggest of which is the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship, held in January at Calvin University. This year this enormous gathering of pastors, worship leaders and planners, artists, musicians, scholars, students, and others has moved online—and it’s all free! Click here to register and to gain access to a bevy of wonderful content.

Online Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021 opened January 6 and is running through January 26, and much of the content will be archived for future on-demand viewing. With more than ninety contributors, it comprises twenty livestreamed worship services from around the world, twenty livestreamed sessions (some interactive), audio and video talks and interviews, panel discussions, chapter downloads, a compilation of Psalms-based music and art, and expert-guided discussion boards on technology for worshipping communities, Christian history, and pastoral and self-care lessons from 2020.

Calvin Symposium on Worship 2021

I’ve only just dipped my toes in so far, and have a lot more to explore. A few items I’m looking at are Catherine Gunsalus González, Justo González, and David Rylaarsdam on “Learning about Worship from the Ancient Church”; Katharine Hayhoe on how worship practices can help heal our broken relationship with the more-than-human creation; and Mary Hulst, Glenn Packiam, and Joni Sancken on preaching and singing the resurrection (Jesus’s and our own) with care, including at funerals.

I’m also looking at the symposium’s many offerings on multiculturalism and racial justice, such as “Leadership for a Multicultural Age” with Juana Bordas, “Celebrating Christianity’s Global Identity” with Vince Bantu, “Faithful Anti-Racism and the Christian Life” with Christina Edmondson, “What Is the Color of Compromise?” with Jemar Tisby, racial justice and reconciliation work in Richmond, Virginia (documentary and Q&A), Justo González on how Saint Augustine’s mestizo identity (his mother was African, his father Roman) influenced his life and theology, and minister and youth advocate Khristi Lauren Adams on her new book, Parable of the Brown Girl: The Sacred Lives of Girls of Color.

I’ve really been enjoying the worship services, which are hosted by churches and institutions not just throughout the US but also in Buenos Aires, Dublin, Beirut, Cairo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and several cities in Brazil.

A bilingual service led by Constanza Bongarrá and Marcelo Villanueva, Worship with Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista in Buenos Aires [previously] premiered January 11. The six songs, performed by a small group of supertalented musicians, represent different styles/genres originating in or developed in Argentina—tango, cueca, huayno. A full list of participants and music credits is available at the link.

  • 4:56: “Veni, Emanuel” (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
  • 8:06: “Hemos venido” (We’ve Come)
  • 17:58: “Este es el día” (This Is the Day)
  • 21:01: “Tenemos esperanza” (We Have Hope) [previously]
  • 26:56: “Vencerá el amor” (Love Shall Overcome)
  • 29:33: “El cielo canta alegría” (Heaven Is Singing for Joy)

The Rev. Rob Jones from Ireland preaches on Romans 12 in Worship at Holy Trinity Rathmines Church, Dublin, and Discovery Gospel Choir performs three songs.

  • 5:32: “O Nzambi” (O Lord) (from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kongo)
  • 36:00: “Uthando Luka Baba” (The Love of the Father) (from Zimbabwe/South Africa, in Ndebele/Xhosa)
  • 48:18: “Alleluia” (from Mauritius, in Creole)

What a joy to be introduced to Ireland’s leading multicultural choir! Discovery Gospel Choir was formed in 2004 by the Church of Ireland to reflect the country’s (and the church’s) ethnic and linguistic diversity. Its motto is taken from Romans 12:17b (MSG): “Discover beauty in everyone.” The songs here, and more, can be found on the choir’s 2015 album, Look Up. I especially loved “Uthando Luka Baba” (that solo!).

There’s also a lot of music (and some visual art and dance) in the “Global Psalm Gallery,” made up of submissions from the public.

Josh Rodriguez [previously] submitted an original cello composition that’s just gorgeous. It’s movement 1 (“Oh Lord, Our Lord”) from his “Meditations on Psalm VIII,” based on a tune by Louis Bourgeois from the Genevan Psalter (1542) and performed here by Robert Nicholson. The boldface link includes a score, a reflection by Rodriguez on how the piece interprets Psalm 8, and liturgical suggestions.

Another standout in the gallery is “Psalm 150” for unaccompanied flute, by Delvyn Case, which “explores the mystical connection between breath, life, music, and praise as described in the psalm.” Wow!

Not all the submissions are instrumental art music; there’s also congregational songs, choral pieces, etc.

Again, here’s the sign-up link to the symposium: https://worship.calvin.edu/symposium/. And in addition to this year’s new content, the CICW has an enormous archive of resources from past years that is definitely worth checking out, especially if you are a church leader, of worship or otherwise.