With the NABPR and CTS conference in the books it is time to transition to my project for the CIVA Just Art conference at Wheaton. In just over a week I will be heading out to join other scholars, artists, ministry professionals to explore the roles of faith, justice and the arts. It looks to be a great conference with exhibitions, quality presenters and presentations.
As I often do, I tend to bite off more than I can realistically chew. I love conferences in theory (and in actuality as well once my responsibilities for it are over). I hate passing up opportunities to present my research so when the call for papers came I waited until the last moment to throw my proposal out there. With the exhibition last week and Maymester the two previous weeks, the paper has sat dormant for some time. Thankfully I did have some time to work on it at the CTS conference while I was attending to the gallery.
My paper will explore the thought of Johann Baptist Metz, a German Catholic political theologian and use his thoughts to engage the work of recent Guggenheim recipient Daniel Heyman. The papers (for good and ill) are only 15 minutes...which actually makes it quite a bit harder to layout Metz' project and make coherent connections to Heyman. But it is exciting to actually be writing this paper that came to mind last year at the CTS conference in San Antonio. In the coming days, I will post briefly about my progress and overall thoughts on their work. Stay tuned...
Formation Matters takes its name from a simple, but evocative play on words. If taken literally, the phrase suggests the relevant topics or concerns relating to formation. Rhetorically however, the phrase implies the overall importance of formation. In a third turn of the phrase, it also hints at the substance or physicality of the artists’ creations through which viewers engage the initial two turns of the phrase.*
This plurality of meaning allows for the same in the directions of work chosen for the exhibit. While all the artwork in some way deals with memory and tradition, it also embodies a variety of conceptual approaches. Both Donovan Widmer and Patrick Luber investigate the dynamic and formative relationships between religion and culture. Whereas Katelyn Reiter and Mary Kocal explore the power of family narratives within their own lives. My own work, and that of Cherith Lundin, raises questions about the ambiguities and possible loss of traditions. Micah Bloom’s recent work on the 2011 Minot flood haunts the space between these two positions as a metaphor by regarding his childhood formation and the passing of the paper book. Additionally, while all artists work from particular traditions and influences, be it media or school, John Kaericher’s work often makes explicit visual ties to his mentors.
In these ways, the exhibit offers another voice into the conference conversations. Building around the theme of Teaching Theology and Handing on the Faith, the exhibition is rooted in the belief that the visual arts can be remarkable catalysts within these conversations, as well as profound symbols and mediations of the Divine. While the church has historically drawn upon the devotional and didactic potential of art, the engagement and contemplation of contemporary art allows divergent points of affirmation and provocation of its traditions.*The beginning is a modification of Liz Well's introduction to her wonderful text, Land Matters
A theology of fashion? Why bother with such a trivial subject you ask?
Perhaps its not all that trivial.
Perhaps, if your response is similar to the one above, we do well to consider why it is seen as trivial.
During my trip down to Iowa in October to speak at Dordt's Christian Evasion of Popular Culture conference, I bumped into Bob Covolo
who is doing work at Fuller Seminary on the topic of fashion. Unfortunately I was so exhausted after my paper I did not have an opportunity to hear his paper. After reading an article someone posted on the new black dandies in higher education
, I decided to look Bob up on the interwebs and found this great article on Cardus.
Bob's article surveys a variety of approaches toward fashion and encourages the church to engage in thicker readings and engagements with fashion.
Fashion has always been a sort of guilty pleasure for me. As an artist, clothing has always been another form of expression for me, but has always been subverted by the typical sorts of critiques that Bob alludes to coming from the church. I suspect that fashion, like the visuals arts, are often seen as trivial, and utilitarian in nature (one for covering the body, the other for Evangelism).
I think Bob is on track with the breadth of questions that fashion raises for church. But, I keep coming back to...what seems to me is a avoidance and escapist sense of materiality (including the human body itself). Perhaps its just remnants of my own Dordt paper coming out, but the whole Gnostic escapism thing really could resonate with why the church devalues things like fashion and the arts....they are fleeting, of this world, and distract us from our spiritual duties, until we can leave this place behind. If we dont take bodies seriously, how much less of an emphasis do we place on those things we put on our bodies and around us in our homes and such? But that being said, there are resonances (at least in my mind) between our fields. However, I suspect that Bob is up against even tougher critics that rely upon biblical prooftexting
Waiting. It seems this time of year is filled with it. We wait in longer than normal lines at stores, at stoplights, gas pumps, and movie theatres. Some wait to hear about jobs, other about tests (both academic and medical). We anxiously await seeing friends and family over the holidays. Children and adults wait, patiently and some impatiently for their presents.
But we are also entering Advent; the first season of the liturgical year. A season designed specifically for waiting and anticipation. We wait for the comings of God. Yes…plural “comings.” We are certainly well acquainted with celebrating the historical birth of Jesus. And rightly so, but the biblical readings of Advent, point us beyond the historical story, toward the future return of our Savior as well. As the first week’s reading from Luke 21 reminds us, “the day of redemption is drawing near.” Our longing and waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ needs also be the hope filled celebration of a promised particular future. In the meantime of anxiousness and waiting, we pray, “Come Lord Jesus.”
Read Story here
I hate stories like this. As someone who is deeply concerned about place, its role in peoples lives and beliefs, regardless of religion, this makes me deeply distressed. I suspect because I see these places not only in their religious and cultural sense, but also in an artistic, architectural, aesthetic sense as well. I simply do not understand the desire to destroy a work of art or religious site...regardless of religion. I do not know much about these sites, or how strictly they follow the legends, but their destruction will cause disorientation and confusion in their belief system...I suppose that is what Al-Qaida is after. Sad.
Take a look at this article and images
I am not sure how I feel about this. This photo is one of a number of religious statues remade into the forms of superheroes. I look at this with mixed emotions of humor and enjoyment, and then I turn and feel as if someone has stolen and defaced our sacred symbols. This fickleness in my heart and mind comes from my dual vocation as an artist and theologian. I appreciate the wit, I appreciate the humor. I appreciate the conceptual aspects. But there is something within me that still bothers me. But again I am suprised by the some of the thoughtful comments on the page drawing the ties between superheroes and religious figures.
This causes me to ask, where do we draw the line in what is blasphemous? I recently picked up Brent Plate's Blasphemy: Art that Offends
. Like most of my amazing book collection, I have not had time to pick it up and work through it. But I hope that when I do, it will help me work through these ideas in an articulate way.
Last week I had the priveledge to attend the joint meetings of the College Theology Society and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. I believe this was my 5th meeting that I have attended. One week ago today I was skimming through my paper in preparation to present it at 9:30. This was also my first real trip to Texas (clipping the corner en route to New Mexico in 8th grade didn't count). It was somewhere in the low 40's in ND when I left at 7am but was around 90 when I got to San Antonio at noon. I will say that I doubt Texas will ever be for me. Between the rattlesnakes and the heat, and other crawling things, it makes me thankful to be a resident of the upper midwest where the winter prohibits much of those forms of life.
That aside, it was a nice visit and a great conference. Between AAR and CTS meetings, I have now attended enough conferences to be at the point where I no longer feel guilty about skipping sessions. I have sat through enough sessions that were either or both outside of my knowledge range or just over my head that it really was a waste of my time. I now take advantage of naps.
I was thankful that my paper was given the first session slot, because I could sit back and enjoy the rest of the conference. I have been on the last Sunday session and not only is attendence usually down as people are already heading home but the anxiety of pushes me to noodle my paper right up until I present. My paper was entitled "Jesus Gave Me This: Deciphering the Overlap of Spiritual Language in the Creative Process" The paper largely grew out of my experiences with a Christian artist group who's members would speak about the source of their creative idea with theological language suggesting both personal revelation and inspiration. They used these terms in a variety of ways from meaning a general urge to create but also that God spoke to them and gave them the creative idea and even created the work through them. The paper then goes on to explore a variety of issues such claims make for both theology and the arts. Since I have returned I have been working on edits to the paper so it can be submitted for consideration in the conferences annual volume. While it is nice to be asked to submit the paper, the quality of papers suggests that it is not likely to be accepted. Oh well...the struggles of editing are always good practice for developing ones writing.
My experiences of conferences are usually a mixed bag. I am often inspired by the work that is going on and how it relates to mine. But I often feel so intellectually inadequate among so many well educated people. Of course many of them are well along in their careers and have books and PhD's. It is about this time when I go back to my room to take a nap which usually rights the world again. The book publishers tables are always a highlight as are the socials and the meals out with friends that I get to see only at this conference. Some conferences can be stuffy and stiff, but this conference is always warm and welcoming. It is a great place to try out new stuff because people are affirming and encouraging, particularly for graduate students. If you looking for a conference, particularly if you are interested in either Baptist or Catholic theology or ecumenism, then CTS
is a perfect conference to check out. And a plug for next year...its at Creighton in Omaha Nebraska.
Once in a while I am reminded that I am a bit of an anomaly among my fellow artists in that I love writing and presenting papers at conferences. I certainly don't have the empty space in my calendar to take papers on, but I do anyway. They are another form of creative challenge to me.
I've just completed a proposal for a conference at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa called, The Christian Evasion of Popular Culture
. The deadline is May 1st so if you are interested, you better get going.
Also, this morning I received an email from the Transposition blog about a conference at Trinity Western University in Langely BC on Art and Ethics
. The deadline for this one is June 15th so you've got a little more time with that one.
Several years ago I became enamored with the theology and ritual of Holy Saturday. I later led the liturgy for our old church community on Holy Saturday with this short homily. I hope you it provokes you to new thoughts and a deeper awareness.
We who are sitting here today have both the benefit of knowing history and the outcomes of this story:Good Friday brings Easter Sunday. And yet, because we know the story, we can never experience it again for the first time. But let me invite you to part company with your preconceived notions. Suppress your tendency to know what will happen. Try to hear the story with virgin ears not dimmed by your memory. And perhaps then we may glimpse a new reality of this dark day.Readings:
Old Testament Job 14.1-4
Psalm Psalm 130
Epistle 1 Peter 4.1-8
Gospel Matthew 27.57-66, John 19.38-42 (Blended)
Remembering our Journey Thus Far
We are here appropriately scattered and silent. We have come this far in this Holy Week to sit here in silent wonder…confusion…sadness…profound tension of life and death. We have journeyed with Jesus into Jerusalem where crowds have thrown their cloaks and branches as he passed by in triumph on a donkey. We have witnessed intimate moments among friends. We have dined with Christ and the apostles in the Last Supper. We have watched helplessly as Judas betrayed his friend. We have been witnesses at the trial. We have seen injustice. We have suffered the horror of seeing God incarnate hung on the cross.
And now, our Christ lies dead behind a great and immovable stone.And we wait in this the longest of days.
Themes Amidst the Void
Today is a day of tensions.
Our historical vantage point allows us to know of what comes tomorrow. But today we are in between…caught in the middle of sorrow and hope. Today is lived in the tension between the crucifixion and the resurrection…between despair and joy…between presence and absence…between the darkness of Friday and the light of Sunday…between the defeat of life and the victory over death…the end and a new beginning.
Today is a day of silence.
Today we sit in a no-mans land of scripture. With only few words of history. Our scriptures say little of this day. Only Matthew (26.62ff) shares that the priests and Pharisees visit Pilate on the morning of the Shabbat, asking to secure the grave. As scripture is silent on this day, we become silent. In this sparse day of words, we are left to contemplate and re-live the disorientation of the original followers.Scattered, they observed the Sabbath in utter confusion… weariness… and hopelessness. As Christ lays silent, dead in the tomb we sit in silence to consider our own impending death.
Today is a day to consider our mortality.
We live in a death denying culture. Even in death, the mortician tries to beautify the body. We go to the doctor, take vitamins and medication, eat right and exercise not just to be healthy, but to prolong life and delay death. We all dedicate significant mental and physical energy to postponing that final breath. But the truth is we are dying from the moment we are born. Death is not one final act but the final moment of a long process of dying. Today we are reminded of our finitude that we may, as the Epistle has told us to live the remainder of your days “not by human desires, but by the will of God.”
Today is a day of mourning.
It was for the faithful of that time a day of profound loss. Not just of a friend and rabbi, but failure of a communities Messianic dreams.Their hope for salvation crushed, hung out to dry on a cross, and now dead in a tomb. Regardless of how these men and women understood salvation and Jesus as the Messiah, those hopes had literally been killed. This is a day of mourning of the loss of a friend and shared dreams. Today the alter remains bare. Today there is no celebration of the Eucharist, for Christ is not present here.
Today is a day of rest.
The tendency of today is to rush in preparation for tomorrow.Groceries to buy. Meals to prepare. Homes to clean for family gatherings. Miles to travel. And yet, the heart of this day is the Jewish Sabbath. A day of rest. Today we are to see the connection to the first Sabbath…the Sabbath of creation. On the seventh day of creation God ordained a day of rest from the work of creation.Today, God incarnate rests in a tomb from the work of redemption.
Today is a day of waiting.
Again because we are caught in this tension of historical knowledge that this Jesus will rise, we must wait in this tension. I suspect that we are prone to jump all too quickly through this dark day. We don’t like to dwell too long on such topics. But to forget about this day in between the extremes of death and the resurrection is to miss a significant part of the original experience. What we transverse in a few moments of reading was played out historically over a good number of hours. In the course of only a few verses we move from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. To make our journey complete, we must not rush through this day. We cannot speed up the hours no matter how uncomfortable they may be. We must wait and pray like the disciples horribly suspended between Friday and Sunday.
Today is a day of hope.
As God rested from the work of first creation on the first Sabbath preparing for the for the eight day of creation and the first week; we are to see God Incarnate resting in the tomb from the work of redemption because tomorrow begins the first week of new creation…a new covenant. In the work of the cross we are to see an image of original creation.
Tomorrow, what was lost, will be reclaimed.
Tomorrow, the old will be made new.
Tomorrow, what was broken will be restored.
Tomorrow, those in exile will be welcomed home.
Yesterday’s end brings tomorrow’s new beginning.
And those amidst death, as we are, can hope for new life and resurrection because tomorrow we will see the death of death itself.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and so begins Lent. Growing up, I was quite unaware of Lenten exercises save that of the Catholics giving up meat on Friday's in exchange of fish. This made no sense to me and was simply explained as "something Catholics did."
This was not a satisfactory answer for my young mind. I continued to wonder why they did this. In my spiritual immaturity (have a become mature even know?) it seemed like a silly thing to do. Though I now see this was likely also colored heavily by my Protestant/Evangelical upbringing. In addition to fish, some gave up Coke, others ice cream, and so on with a list of dietary options. What I failed to understand then, as I wonder today if many still do, is that the practice of giving something up, is that you may fill your life with something else, focussed on the things of God. So, say trading TV between 7-9 pm for reading theology, scripture, praying, journalling etc. The Lenten exercises are to focus not exclusively on subtraction but upon addition (look at that...math talk from an artist!).
This year, as I have a number of times in the past, my Lenten addition is praying the hours as found in Phyllis Tickle's Eastertide
. The hours include 4 prayers each day (morning, noon, early evening, and before bed). Tickle infuses the prayers with standard collects from the liturgy, lots of Psalms and Gospel readings. It is a good place to begin with prayer of the hours. These prayers are extracted from the larger 4 volume set that runs according to the seasons. I would highly recommend them all.