Thursday, June 25, 2009

NEW STUFF & And June Update


Check out some posts I just added:
Open Letter to Sam & Andy
My First Published Film Review! "Eastwood's End of Violence"
An excerpt from an essay to be published next Spring (2010), "Nurturing Artists in the Local Church"

It has been a while. I've been surprisingly busy this first half of the summer. For instance:

Lovely. I know, I know. So lovely you can't stand it. I'm not sure if it's because I broke my nose freshman year of college, or if I was born with it. I've got (had) a deviated septum, meaning that I could barely breathe through my right nostril. So, a month ago I had a surgery where they broke my nose, scraped out some of the cartilage and made it so I can fully breathe through both nostrils. Why? Well that is a long story.

In a nutshell: allergies + sleep apnea + deviated septum = a fatigued Josh Banner.

Now: flonase + CPAP + broken nose surgery = a finely tuned machine Josh Banner.

I was in bed for a week. I watched the first two seasons of the Sopranos and read most of a book on hymnody in America. Thanks to Larry and Jonny for taking the dogs out for me. Susanna was away for part of the time at a fiction writing workshop.

We just returned early Tuesday morning from Oklahoma City. I had three days of recording (two with Dustin Ragland and one with Justin Rice). We stayed at four different friends homes, had four different dinner parties with different groups of friends, took pictures of everybody's kids, played a concert, led worship and also led a discussion on the artist and the local church. Such times were so very sweet, but we were so very exhausted by it all. It's taking me most of this week to gather myself back together.

We leave for Vancouver, B.C. on the 11th of July and return August 1st. I'll be taking my final two classes to complete my MCS from Regent College. Here's some pics of our time in OKC.

Oh! And we also had a great time at the Banner Family reunion. I finally got to meet my new niece, Kesiah. It was especially nice to see my sister Annie, her husband and Kesiah's three big sisters.

Below are some favorite pictures from the last two weeks.

Bo Walker. He was an infant when I saw him last.

Silas Bottomly with Coen trying to do hand stands

Mia is to my left in this picture. Addison is next and Bethany is doing the funny show.

Pastor Promote and Produce

Below is an excerpt of the introduction of an essay that will be published in its entirety in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts ed. David Taylor by Baker Books Spring 2010.

"Nurturing Artists in the Local Church"

I’ve spent much of my life working beside my father and grandfather in corn and soybean fields of Central Illinois. We had two John Deer tractors, model 4020, that were used to do the bulk of the field work. I sat on the wheel cover next to the square lunchbox of a radio mounted to the right of the driver, one hand gripping the radio to keep my balance. I was ten when my grandfather first told me to slide over and take the enormous wheel. We swerved, bounced and jostled over the clods of dirt. Grandpa said I was over-steering. Slowly, with his hand placed on mine, I began to understand the subtle, patient nudges the steering wheel needed to keep the tractor headed in a straight line. In keeping with the antiquated idea of husbandry, it was through lessons like this that my gradndfather showed me that a good farmer is essentially a nurturer, a lover.

Wendell Berry, the poet-farmer, once said: “The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care.” The nurturer is concerned with giving to the land so that it can sustain production. The exploiter is interested in short-term gain and taking from the land. Berry acknowledges that both of these impulses are within us. Each of us is both nurturer and exploiter.

There have not been many examples for me to follow as a pastor to artists, so the carefulness and patience of a farmer have become a point of reference for me. Many of us, I recognize, are forced to learn by experimentation. In my first ten years of ministry, I often found myself straining myself, bucking against restraints. The example of a farmer has challenged me to slow down. I need to learn how to take the long view and to keep in mind that the way in which I perceive the ultimate purpose of the arts will affect the way I approach artists, whether I nurture their gifts or exploit them.

Behind the sanctuary at Bridgeway, a church in Oklahoma City where I began as an intern in 1998, there is a long, ridiculous cave of a room where kids chased each other in games of tag after the service or groups gathered for planning sessions. Over time we slowly transformed this room into “The Backroom”: with track lighting, hand-made paper lanterns, eclectic cast-off sofas and chairs, and a sprawling painting of a tree adding its metaphorical gravitas to the stage. The room became host to art exhibits, music concerts, poetry readings. It became a kind of garden where, willing but unwitting, I became not just an intern but a Pastor of Worship and Art. In this Backroom I did a lot of pastoring of creative people.

Had you wandered into The Backroom at that time, you would have found artists like Justin, or Shelly, or Michael.

Three artists
I met Justin in a church basement, leading Cordelia’s Rebellion, his scream-rock band while he was still in high school. Justin, always spiritually hungry, was part of our church for several years. When he returned from rehab, his music took a different turn. Today, almost ten years later, his current band is well known in Oklahoma City. Never quite securing a record deal but still making music that is painfully beautiful, his vocals are urgent, raw and simple. He is enamored with Alvin Plantinga and continental philosophy. He hopes a teaching job one day might help him support his wife and daughter.

Shelly grew up in a conservative Church of Christ home. She is soft-spoken and quite modest. During my first summer in Oklahoma, Shelly and I traveled with several others on a month-long missions trip to Honduras. The whole trip I had no idea she was an art student. That fall I began the small gallery in the Backroom and I discovered Shelly’s paintings. It didn’t take much prodding for her to continue to submit her work throughout college. Some of her classmates came and went from the Backroom, but Shelly remained steady. She finished a degree in Advertising Design. Now she uses ceramic tile to assemble mosaic installations and mixed media wall pieces, each with vibrant, modeled embellishments of nature.

Michael was the first college student to ask me to mentor him. Our friendship developed quickly, with many late night ramblings about novels and poetry. Michael became one of our best writers. He stood out among the many other student leaders of our campus fellowship groups. During his senior year, old memories of childhood trauma resurfaced and he dropped out of leadership. He stopped going to church and gave up writing poetry for a long season. We continued to share an affection for Thomas Merton. Today, while completing a master’s degree in poetry, he navigates between agnosticism and Buddhist mediation techniques. He remains fascinated with Jesus.

The pastor as nurturing, loving farmer
These relationships have been messy and, at times, unpleasant. I’ve struggled with patience, expected too much, pushed too far, and overstretched my own small spool of energies. But the use of a gentle, consistent hand is, despite my stumbling, effective. Why? Because the arts are made by people for people; each as intricate and organic as the corn my grandfather raised. In this very human endeavor, I have to continually remind myself that the arts are not buttons we push to enhance a sermon. They’re not levers we switch to intensify an evangelistic tactic. Art has to do with people we love, and this love bears witness to Christ.

What has unfolded for me in my arts ministry will be different than what you discover in yours. But I believe there is something universal about the connections between what I define here as pastoring, promoting and producing the arts. As farmer-pastors, we are lovers. We tenderly work the soil of our culture by identifying artistic gifts with discernment (to pastor). Then our joyful response to discovering the artists is to push their gifts outward in order to share their creativity with others (to promote). Finally, we prune the gifts and coach the artists to mature so that their fruit will be sustainable and long lasting (to produce). We are all learning as we press onward. I pray that what I share here of my journey opens up possibilities for the flourishing of artistic creativity in your community.

Eastwood's End of Violence

I had my first film review published by Cresset Review. It is an award winning publication that covers the arts and faith. You can read it here.

Open Letter to Sam and Andy

“We must play. But our merriment must be that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

-from C.S. Lewis' "The Weight of Glory"

It is that time of the year when I need to start thinking about new recruits for next year and how to position leaders to take over for you and the graduating seniors. This is all quite an enormous shift for me at this point after spending the first half of the semester preparing for and then pulling together all the pieces of our chapel recording. I wear many hats. Head coach, big brother, shepherd, intercessor. I get busy, fatigued. I grow reclusive, the classic introvert who needs to hide from everyone in order to gather myself back together. No matter, I continue to think about you two—how you are and who you are and who you are becoming.

Don’t be surprised by who you are becoming, but prepare yourself for surprise. You have no idea where you will be in five years. The setting, the major and minor characters, the details of the plot and the themes will morph, fold and expand, twist, turn and ripen; but the thread of your being, the essence of who you are will remain. That essential being is the goodness of you that has and will always remain in Christ.

In the musical Man From La Mancha, Dulcinea is Don Quixote’s beatific vision. Her real name is Aldonza, a destitute, failing lady of the night. As Don Quixote continues to romance her with a new and beautiful name, she begins to re-imagine herself through his eyes as a princess, something more splendid than she could have imagined herself before.

I’ve wanted to be Don Quixote in some way for you. I’ve wanted you to be Don Quixote for each other. I’ve wanted your time at Hope College to be an experience of looking and seeing each other, this ministry, this campus, your text books, exams and papers, the music, the instruments, the art, the world—all—“back to grace.”

Indeed, where will you be in ten years? Who will be your people? What will you be doing with your hands? What name will you answer to? True one? Hopeful one? Blessed one? Promised one? Healing one? The seeds of your tree, your roots and trunk are here before me, and what I see is tov, very good.

Both of you are sequoias and I pray you will plant sequoias too. Mind your time. Resist panic. Restlessness is like the night. Your morning will come. It will come on its own without your straining.

Beware of what is quixotic, but don’t believe for one minute that this is not a fairy tale. Once you’ve found Buddah, kill him, and so it should be with Don Quixote. If you try to live in a fairy tale, you’ll most likely end up having yourself a tragedy. You must yield and after surrendering you’ll look back and realize that all is well, all is well and all manner of things are well.

Much of what I’m trying to say comes down to music. Remember that music is not only an ethereal form. It’s arguably the most physical. It is both beat and melody, dirt and wind, and so are you. Make sure you do not neglect the record store. This is not a logical fallacy: once you start downloading music, it’ll all start evaporating. I wish I had the nerve to get into vinyl. It makes sense. I played that Stan Getz record before I bought it for Tryg. The stereo had a single speaker hanging crooked by a single nail. What an event! I was at a store that let me pull out a record and drop the needle. No one worried that my hand might slip. The store allowed me to freely take in that which a record can give. We need to touch music, to feel the static from the record raise the hair on the back of our arms. We need to turn the album around, to read the liner notes and study the artwork. We need to smell the cardboard, judge the balance of the needle arm and to feel it slide into the record’s grooves. We’ve lost the imprint of a record. We’ve lost the oscillating hiss and we’ve lost a world.

Buy used CDs unless of course it is a favorite that you can’t wait for. Buying used CDs not only saves money, but it helps you avoid the illusion that only the newest is the best. Try to collect all of the CDs put out by a few bands. Buy even the discs that don’t get critical praise. Listen to those CDs at least three or four times. Try to imagine why that music excited that artist and how it connects to their later work.

Buy your books used too. Take good care of your CD cases and liner notes, but get coffee stains, Gatorade, grease, dirt and even blood on your books. You’ve got to find a few books that you will read at least three times in the next four or five years. Let them be a security blanket that you pull apart to the nubbins both literally and figuratively. They should be capable of helping you fend off the loneliness and angst of being in your twenties. They will help you realize that restlessness is universal and it is overrated.

Please continue to make things with your hands: picture frames, bookcases, cards, lanterns, sushi, matzo balls. If you run out of time and energy to do things with your hands, you are most likely too busy. Learn how to say “no” to even the best of people and events otherwise you’ll find yourself sitting down with a friend at a coffee shop and you will not be able to taste him or her and you won’t be able to taste the coffee either. Everything will become a nuisance. All beer will be skunky. All wine corked. The necessary patience will require you to trust yourself and others. Trust that not only will they invite you again, but especially trust that you are worth being invited again.

That being said, there will be a few seasons to burn at both ends. Count the cost and make sure you are done burning like this by the time you are in your thirties. Your restlessness can inspire a kind of hard work that you may never again duplicate. These seasons will give you a sufficient bump forward and will provide you with much to reflect on during your thirties. Make sure that you know how to hit the eject button during these seasons otherwise you will become your busyness, your self-importance, your self-power and you will miss the Sabbath and an opportunity let your story be narrated by the greatest, most cosmic story teller.

Most relationships will take much longer to develop than you could possibly imagine. You can be intentional about meeting people, but you have very little control over who will love you. And you can’t hold a grudge against those who don’t love you the way you’d like them to. You have to forgive them. If you can’t forgive those who don’t love you, then it will also be hard for you to forgive those who actually do love you. Everything is an opportunity for grace and a reminder that beggars can’t be choosers; and we are all beggars.

Keep risking on the local church. Keep at it. Believe in both the reality and the idea of the church. Go. Be the church to others and be a church yourself. Accept the loneliness of the notion that you are a church already and hope that many will come and find their place in your communion, birds nesting in the expanse of your branches. It will happen as sure as the snow will thaw here in West Michigan. It’s that kind of wintertime longing, and it will never go away this side of heaven.

I like our habit of toasting everything. Teach it to the others you love along the way. The toast is a thankfulness that gives weight to communion. At the least it is ceremony. And if it is true that we Westerners are adrift, our lack of ceremony and etiquette is surely a sign. Discover, recover, or even create rituals that will make our being together more regular and more accessible. Showing up is the start of all discipline. Show up then “dwell in the land. Do good and cultivate faithfulness,” and if you find that you must leave, “never leave any place easily.”