Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chris Cox Photography

Chris Cox is a Junior at Hope College and a friend. He did design and layout for the last two years of our worship CDs. Please check out his site. He took a series of pics of our family at home and also a few for Susanna. I recommend his work highly.

Below are pics of us from Jacob Bullard's CD release party (Sus and I opened for Soil & the Sun who opened for Jacob and his band), Susanna (most likely will be promo for her new book due out next Fall), the fam and Casper. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Couple Blog Responses: Nudity? Arts Ministry?

Here are a few responses to some blogs. Both have to do with David Taylor. Do I not believe that David can speak for himself? Of course! David is not a man of few words! LOVE you DT! He is astute, working on his PhD, and has several more books in him I'm sure. So, why do I bother? I love these conversations and can't resist. I believe that I'm going to learn some things by these interactions. Also, I've been emboldened by James K.A. Smith's review of the recently published, Hipster Christianity. He's pretty rough on the author Brett McCracken. I think that if Brett and I had an acquaintance, we could be good friends, yet Jamie's spanking of him is somewhat justified. Brett spends so much time pointing the finger that he seems ignorant that "the smeller's the feller," or "it takes one to know one." I'm letting myself be emboldened because the stakes are high with these discussions on faith and culture. These things matter.

I'll note that I don't presume to have the training or credentials to be brash in Jamie Smith's manner. Any of you are welcome to hold me accountable to writing/thinking/speaking as a brother coming alongside others. Let me know if my tone becomes patronizing. There is much to be learned about healthy internet discourse.

Two responses below: first on the question of nudity in film, the second in defense of the mission of 'art ministry." Both flow out of responses from other people to videos posted by The Gospel Coalition of DT presenting at a church planting conference.

In this video David is offering pastors a few recommendations on novels and films they might benefit from. David put the video it on his blog and a few people had trouble with his recommendation of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia especially because of the nudity (very brief yet graphic).  I'm looking forward to David's response.

My response:
This is truly a David Taylor kind of forum discussion! Love it.
My (unsolicited) 2 cents:
* I'd warn against any black and white on the topic of nudity. The Bible gives us wisdom but it will lead us each to various convictions. Insert here Paul's dictum used in 1 Corinthians, "all things are lawful but not all things are profitable." This is a scary thing for Christian brothers and sisters to accept, that what I am called to you may not be called to.
*I'd also caution against an overuse of the Incarnation to defend this issue or the arts in general willy nilly. I'm not saying the Incarnation doesn't have bearing here. Yet we have to be careful in how quick we ascribe something true about God (becoming human) to what we believe to be true about humanity. We have to maintain a distinction between us and God. See J. Begbie edited collection of essays, Beholding the Glory: Incarnation and the Arts.
*We also need to be careful in our viewing/reading/art imbibing habits. While some of us might find merit in a movie like Magnolia, I don't think it should be part of our regular 'diet.' Yes, I believe God can speak through such things, but he can speak much more plainly through the Scriptures.
*While Magnolia is a favorite of mine, I don't recommend it to people unless I know them well. In the video David is recommending the film for pastors and lay leaders who are wanting to broaden their understanding of culture and art. For a film like this to be 'profitable,' the viewer needs the maturity and training to discern the film carefully. Such a film requires not just the discernment of one person or pastor, but a good dialogue like the one here on this blog between all you good people.
*I'd also suggest that the issue of the body is much more of a poignant issue in dance than in film. Those of us working to discern such things need a theology of our bodies. Film is too close and loaded for most of us. A theology 'through the art' of dance would freshen and better frame and therefore inform questions about the body as depicted in film.
*Personally, I am more concerned about our lack of discernment in the area of violence in film. For example, why don't more Christians show concern about Peter Jackson's embellishments of war in his adaptations of the Tolkien books? My review of Showtime's Dexter is here:
*I watch most films with my wife. She is pretty good at helping me in the moment discern what parts of the body I shouldn't see...with her hand over my eyes!
In this other video David is talking about arts ministry at large. Here on The Gospel Coalition's site several people expressed grave skepticism about the purpose and merit of ministering to artists. These comments cut deep, yet in my response I'm truly attempting to build bridges. We'll see.

My response:
I’m an arts pastor involved in campus ministry. I’m also a contributor to David Taylor’s collection of essays. I’ve read through the comments here and want to attempt a response because we so much want to have these conversations with those of you in the church at large. After all, the book was written out of love for the body of Christ (tile: For the Beauty of the Church) and a desire to see the Kingdom of God advanced. We are not trying to put artists on a pedestal or to pit art over and above the Gospel.
First, there are many quick judgments here. I can’t help but think that you are not reacting to David so much as connecting him to other trends in the church that you’ve become confused or alarmed by. There has been lots of talk about the arts. In my estimation, the arts have become awkwardly trendy for Evangelicals. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the book was put together–to develop a more robust conversation about the arts that might serve the faithful, Gospel work of the local church pastor (David and I both come from precious work in the local church).
I encourage you to read the book. Many of your reactions here are in response to a five minute video. I don’t think many of you would like your ministries to be judged based on a five minute visit to your church. Give the book a chance. David assembled a very astute group of authors of which I am the least.
Second, I’m confused by the dualism inherent in most of these posts. The underlying assumption is that ‘culture-making’ is an optional project. We don’t have a choice whether we make culture or not. All of us daily produce culture; we practice the ordering of creation. The question is not if we are engaged in art and culture as the church, the question is how and to what extent we bring our art/culture engagement under the Lordship of Christ and how brightly his love, truth, beauty, justice shine through us.
Why the emphasis on arts ministry in the local church? Because we are trying to compensate for this kind of dualism that separates how the kingdom of God is established on earth “as it is in heaven.” If we evangelicals had a more developed theology of culture, we would not need ‘arts pastors.’ I’ll add that not all of us involved in arts ministry are naive ‘transformationalists.’ While I have hope for these things, I also understand the ultimate work of transformation is God’s alone. I teach a nuanced approach, cautious yet hopeful, “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” because we are “sheep among wolves.”
Finally, my emphasis on the arts is precisely out of concern for discipleship. If we don’t practice cultural discernment and champion good Christians in the arts, then we will be handing our people over to “the wolves,” to blindly to imbibe and co-opt cultural forms that compromise the Gospel. For example, contrary to your assumptions, many of us are involved in arts ministry because we are very concerned about aesthetic values of ‘the cool’ and ‘the sexy’ and want to steer the church away from hipster attempts to compete with popular culture.
grace and peace of Christ to you!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Monsoon Malabar

Susanna and I have been reading a lot lately. We finished Tim Winton’s The Shallows finally and then busted through Edgar Sawtell and are two thirds through Cold Mountain. There has been a few mentions of characters drinking coffee—descriptions of making coffee, holding the hot cups—that I’ve been wondering about how to find that same powerful, nostalgic moment in my days.

One morning this past week I made the perfect cup of Monsoon Malabar with the Clever Coffee gizmo. I realized how good it was as I was driving down College Ave to school. I was rushed in getting there and had to suck away quickly. I missed the kind of calm, solitary, watchful coffee drinking I’d been reading about. Cold morning. Wrapped up in warm clothes. Gripping the mug. But I kept thinking about the amazing balance of that brew. Hot. Strong. But not so strong that I couldn’t appreciate the roast of the bean.

Yesterday morning—Saturday—I went to church at 9:30AM to rehearse my role as narrator for this year’s Christmas play. My consolation of giving up my Saturday morning was going to be a thermal mug with another brew of Monsoon Malabar. Well, I used the larger coffee filter and added too much water and what came out didn't taste much better than the coffee they serve at church. That isn’t a knock on the church; it's a admission of the snobbery that many of us have taken to with our fancy pants, boutique roasted beans. I was probably 10 the last time I was in a Christmas play. Anyone know Psalty’s Christmas Calamity? Part of me wanted to do this because I want to experience who/what I am with all the kids, as an adult, as a father now (Casper is baby Jesus this year) and potentially as a pastor of a small church like Crossroads some day. There’s that model of a pastor I wonder if I could be, the children’s sermons, the warmth as a family man, the ‘let the children come to me’ picture of Jesus, multi-ethnic kids climbing all over his lap, birds flitting in the air around his shoulders. Apparently the rehearsal went well. That is what Celaine said at least, but I was still bumming on the poor coffee I’d made.

We slept and read most of yesterday afternoon. I woke up earlier this morning. I have an even better cup of coffee next to me right now. Robed with a blanket across my feet. The gas stove is on. It looks disgustingly cold outside especially because I know it rained yesterday and that snow is crusted ice now.

What do I do with this moment? I blog it. Judson sent me a link to Justin Vernon’s twitter account. As I clicked through it, I experienced the world of an aesthete. We saw him in concert a few years ago and yes, his performance evoked a sensual, emotional expiation. I’ve been experiencing many things deeply in this season. The dANCEpROJECt performance a month ago was at the beginning of much of it. Or was it really Capser’s birth back in May? I haven’t been writing much because this has been a season of seeing and doing, taking in, gathering, receiving. I never knew I’d be so moved by modern dance. Even the more lyrical movements of Sacred Dance last Wednesday grabbed hold of me. Cold Mountain is so visceral, Charles Frazier’s prose so evocative that I’ve been reaching for books of poetry (eg. Franz Wright) to keep me going. Two records I just picked up have been good food satisfying different appetites: Jose Gonzalez’ band, Junip and finally the Black Keys’, Brothers. Thursday night I was able to record six different student performances. Ben came in and helped me facilitate short 10-15 minute sessions with each. Then there was the team Christmas party Friday night. For the White Elephant exchange, Lauren turned a bobble head into something that evoked a strong resemblance of Larry playing the piano and I wanted it...bad. Jacob stole it. Leo made a certificate, a voucher for a date with Josh Banner. Scott Kuyper stole that. We talked about going skeet shooting because I had picked his gift, a box containing two clay pigeons. Mike gave me a Christmas ornament. He’d taken a picture of me holding Casper and pasted his own face over the baby's. Our prayer time was giddy and sweet.

In the midst of so much seeming division in our nation, I’m fighting despair by resuscitating my engagements with ‘things.’ Rilke wrote that we should ‘be near things.’ It is our public discourse, our feeding on technological trinkets. It’s as if so many are experiencing a collective heaviness, a depression. And there's death too. One friend’s father went last week. Lori’s father is in hospice. John’s dad and Susanna’s uncle are about to enter. Why are the holidays often riddled with such ‘when it rains it pours’ pain? Despite it all, in the face of it, I’m alive and kicking. And that is baffling because I’d expect at this point, the end of the semester, that I’d be numb, cold and aloof.

It’s having a family. Susanna said it last night. Having a baby changes everything. Suddenly everything matters more. Even coffee. We were made to experience the world with and through others.