From time to time, when I have time, I try to post articles and thoughts related to religion and the arts, and specifically Christian theology and the arts.
Here are a few articles that I've recently run into:
Lucifer, Patron of the Arts
This is an interesting article on the recent movement by the Catholic Church to venture directly into the art world. As the author implies, as a means to "lure" (my nice word choice given the title) lapsed Catholics back to the church via their interest in arts. What I found most interesting in the article was her Protestant utilitarian sentiment stating, "The archdiocese plays art patron on the downtown scene while parishes are shrinking, schools and churches closing". She takes up that old chestnut of Protestant critique against the excesses of the Catholic church suggesting that it should be used for missions etc. And perhaps it should. However, my artistic sensibilities are excited about the idea. Sure, approaching the wealthy lapsed Catholics through art patronage might be well down the slippery slope, but I still find it exciting to see the church catholic engaging the arts in a new way.
5 Ways the Church Can Make Great Art Again
Overall, this is a pretty nice little article put out by Relevant Magazine. While #1 falls prey to the typical Modern romantic notion of the artist, the rest are certainly on track to address some of the surface issues. There are deeper issues of cultural education, sacramentality, consumerism, and entertainment at work in this discussion not mentioned.
Can We Enjoy Good Art from Morally Questionable Artists?
This is another old question from my Evangelical background and obviously it is still alive and well in cultural consumption. Do we, in viewing films, art and listening to music give consent to the actions of the performers, artists, directors etc? Perhaps we do well to reduce this question to the absurd...Do you give consent to the actions of your mechanic or checker at the grocery store when you shop there? The article raises the same question about Yoder's theology (and while not mentioned you could add Paul Tillich to this list) because of his questionable actions toward women. Do these actions discount their brilliant work? Do the actions highlight the distinction between the ideal and the actual in their life? Certainly, we all, whether Christian or not, should be sensitive in their media consumption, but my fear is that we as Christians are too fricken reactionary from our perceived moral high ground. Thoughtfully engage the work...always.
What Can Artists Teach the Church?
Alyssa Wilkinson reflects on her MFA in Writing experience and offers 3 ways artists might help the church. What is interesting here is that she focuses not on the artistic product but the process. Artists are masters of failing well. We all write, paint, play failures and this process of getting back up and trying again is an important spiritual virtue for the church. She also thoughtfully explores the ideas of Practice as Formation and Bodily Knowing.
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.
I wouldnt call it writers block...
I wouldnt call it procrastination...
I am not sure what this feeling is but it is one that I recognize often. Two weeks from tomorrow I leave for the College Theology Society and National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion's joint annual meetings in San Antonio. At which, I will be presenting a paper entitled "Jesus Gave Me This: Deciphering the Overlap of Spiritual Language in the Creative Process. So, for the past week I have been plugging away at my paper. I try to write for at least a few hours a day and have spent up to 6-7 hours reading and writing a day. Today though, I feel as if I have hit a wall. I am close to being done...but everything....and I mean everything is more interesting than this paper right now. I recognize a similar problem when reading. Often, I will thoughtfully engage a book for 200+ pages or whatever, but so often I cannot force myself to concentrate enough on the last chapter or conclusion. I am so close why can I not finish either well. It seems there is something in an anxiety of getting done that keeps me from focussing on the end.
I suspect that I need some time off. Sadly, my only time out of the apartment yesterday was to bring the trash away and to go grocery shopping. My computer sits right next to a window and while it looks out over the apartments parking lot, it is a beautiful day again, the trees are leafing out, the lawn is growing. Summer has come to Grand Forks.
Please join me in my prayer today for focus, clarity and
One of my all-time favorite movies is Empire Records. The film depicts the efforts of several high school teens fighting to keep their beloved record store and jobs while the owner sells out to the “man.” Anyway, one of my favorite lines in this favorite movie comes from the character AJ when in trouble with the manager says, “Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.”
AJ’s comments describe a feeling often associated with the creative impulse and the difficulty in defining the creative process. Sometimes ideas just appear…or seem like they do.
Sometimes I am simply amazed at the human mind and its creative ability. So perhaps it is ironic that I am working on a conference paper on the source of the creative idea when this realization comes around again. Yesterday I was at an impasse on my paper. I was stuck and could not figure out how to order and transition between various pieces of the paper. By midday I had largely put the impasse out of mind with the intent of returning when I was mentally ready to tackle the issue. I went to bed like normal. But I awoke (was I asleep or someplace in between?) and knew how to make order the disparate pieces of the paper. How does that happen? This is not the first time this has happened either. There are nights when I have wrestled in a fitful sleep with words and ideas all night…over and over I turn the problem. I awake with little rest and no solutions. And yet, in seminary when working day and night on my thesis, it happened several times when I was stuck on a transition point that the words and sentences came. But where do these ideas and solutions come from? What is it about sleep or the relaxation of the brain into dreaming, that allows for the creative mind to keep working?
I’m not sure…but I am thankful when it does.
It is funny to my how thoughts often run in seasons. I will meditate on particular ideas for days, weeks, months...some even years. Some come to some form of resolution...others do no not. Sometimes, that previous resolution comes undone again later in the course of encountering new ideas that unravel old ones. But lately I have been thinking, once again, about the artist and the creative idea.
These questions were what originally brought me to seminary. I can remember exactly where I was when the question first came to mind. I was sitting at a friends house one night engaged in good discussion. He had been a dual major in art and religion and subsequently went on to earn an MDiv. But he describe his frustrations at time as an artist. He talked about how at times he had a great idea, but could not render it. At other times, the work seemed to emerge without much "work". I too had experienced similar events and frustrations. Neither of us could adequately explain the disparity of these experiences but he began ponder if the Holy Spirit might somehow be involved in the act of artistic creation. I was intrigued. Actually I was overcome by the thought.
I liked the idea so much because it seemed to make sense of my experiences. I headed off to seminary, cultivated my course work as much as possible to explore art related ideas, and set into my thesis work to make more sense of his questions that night. It really was a remarkable time of growth for me. I had not taken well to the biblical and theological curriculum in college, but now I had a purpose and a tangible question. As a result, theology came alive.
While my thesis deals more with an overlap of language of "inspiration" and "revelation" my work gradually shifted from wanting to argue for pneumatological presence within artistic creativity, I found myself actually arguing against it. Funny how things work out sometimes. But as I said at the outset, its funny how thoughts come in periods. The question has come up recently again as I began to notice a growth of books on Amazon that seem to be tying both Vocation and the Spirit to the creative process. I've also run into it on a number of blogs recently too. So, perhaps the Spirit is trying to tell me something...or I am just created a curious person who seldom is satisfied with other my own or others answers, but it seems like it is time to pick up these ideas again. I've ordered a number of the books and will begin to slowly pick my way through them.