Art In Action (Part IV): Loving Offensively

IAM’s next Encounter will take place February 26-28, 2009, in lower Manhattan, and the theme of the Encounter will be “Art in Action.” When asked about the genesis of the next Encounter’s theme, Makoto Fujimura points to the 1982 book by Nicholas Wolterstorff of the same title. “Art in Action” has remained a staple on the bookshelf of artists and creative catalysts throughout the world who seek to dig deeper into the meaning and purpose for art.

Following is Part Four of Christy Tennant’s recent interview with Makoto Fujimura about the theme of the next IAM Encounter:

CT: If art is supposed to be a means of repairing and rehumanizing the culture around us, what is the artist’s responsibility to that end? Does Nicholas Wolterstoff place the responsibility on artists themselves?
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Poetry Friday: Donald Hall

An amusing - and possibly thought-provoking - image.

 We Bring Democracy To The Fish

It is unacceptable that fish prey on each other.
For their comfort and safety, we will liberate them
into fishfarms with secure, durable boundaries
that exclude predators. Our care will provide
for their liberty, health, happiness, and nutrition.
Of course all creatures need to feel useful.
At maturity the fish will discover their purposes.

Tags | Writing

THE DARK KNIGHT: Instant Classic

The Dark Knight is the most ambitious and satisfying comic book movie ever, an instant classic.   It thrills and chills, combining massive spectacle with timeless questions regarding our humanity.  In exploring our disturbing depths, director Christopher Nolan attains unparalleled cinematic heights.   It is a feast for the eyes and a challenge to the brain.   While Batman battles the Joker for the soul of Gotham City, Nolan pulls audiences into the rarest of responses to a Hollywood blockbuster:  genuine introspection.  It is a soulful adventure.   The Dark Knight explores the cost of combating evil.   How many rules are we willing to break to maintain order?   How many freedoms will we sacrifice to reign in chaos?   The Dark Knight calls us to give an account.

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Tags | Film

Poetry Friday: Roger Mitchell

I'll be honest and say that I chose this solely for the amazing imagery of "God's unshaven face".

The Stones at Callinish, Isle of Lewis

A boarded-up hotel beside
a fishing pier, a pub. Above them both,
a church crouched on a hill. Whoever brought
Christ to this desolate coast did it
with sword and fire, and it's not clear today
whether it took, or whether the slow seep
of centuries, the long winter nights,
would ever let anything be that wasn't
as sullen as the hill. The village
is that way, too. When you step outside,
there it is, the universe, all of it,
the glare of it pure, God's unshaven face
so close your skin rasps. Whoever raised
the stones did a good job of vanishing, too,
though the longer I stand here, the more
it seems it was deeper into the genes
they went, not just into the air.
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The Lost Hip Hop Generation?

As I sit here compiling and analyzing research for a new book I’m writing,[1] I am quickly realizing that there is a large gap between the connection with the Hip Hop generation and the church (emergent, traditional, or whatever you wanna call it). Most Hip Hop youth (between the ages of 12-18) see the church as oppressive, judgmental, harsh, and out of touch. They also recognize the double standards that are set forth as well. Double standards like “Do as I say not as I do.” Moreover, there is a vast amount of young urban Hip Hoppers seeking connections with other religions. One young guy I interviewed stated, “Yeah, I grew up in the Black Church, but Sh** they outdated now man, I mean…umm, they just don’t get me and I just can’t get with a punk Jesus they keep portraying to me…Rastafarianism is doing a way better job of meeting me at my level, Sh** I’m tired of being judged, I love God, but…whew…I don’t even know about the Christian church man.”

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Tags | Music

Art In Action (Part III)

IAM’s next Encounter will take place February 26-28, 2009,in lower Manhattan, and the theme of the Encounter will be “Art inAction.”  When asked about the genesis of the next Encounter’s theme, Makoto Fujimura points to the 1982 bookby Nicholas Wolterstorff of the same title.  “Art in Action” has remained a staple on the bookshelf ofartists and creative catalysts throughout the world who seek to dig deeper into the meaning and purpose for art. 

Following is Part Three of Christy Tennant’s recent interview with Makoto Fujimura about the theme of the next IAM Encounter:

CT:  You mentioned that Art in Action is a philosophical approach to the arts, especially for artists who are Christians.   What is one ofthe philosophical insights you gleaned from Art in Action?

MF:  I am deeply concerned with the issue ofjustice, and this book partly addresses the fact that Art and Beauty flow fromconcern for justice and the brokenness and how unjust the world is.  Art is a medium for mediating that conversation. 

We don’t usually think of art that way.  Often, art is divorced from society – Art egotistical, and Society is common.  But for Nick, art is based on this idea of justice within society.  For him, art is a means for rehumanizing the world. 

Nick doesn’t talk about “excellence” the way we so often do. Instead, he talks about art’s “fittingness.”  One of his criteria for beauty is Does this expression properly fit this broken reality?  Something beautiful and lofty might not be good if it doesn’t fit.  Should we have an absolute standard of excellence for beauty that does not take into account the circumstances of the broken world?  How does that fit?

The Greek philosophers tried to define happiness and goodness by sets of ideals determined by your status and the accomplishments you work toward.  Their conclusions were that beauty and happiness could be achieved if all of the circumstances were in place to make one happy and beautiful.  But Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christian philosophers to say no, it’s not like that, because God doesn’t work that way. God wants us to be aware of brokenness, as a precondition of “loving our neighbor.”  It is only possible to have godly happiness if you are aware of sorrow and brokenness.  The Christian definition of love requires an identifying with suffering, rather than divorcing yourself from suffering.

So art divorced from love is like the Greeks ignoring the plights of the broken and obtaining a form of happiness that is removed from cruelty. Plato would have an absolute standard but on a practical level didn’t want to be connected to reality, while Augustine connected reality and brokenness.  Love is the object – this is what Christ has shown to be immovable.

Nick’s new book on Justice (Justice: Rights and Wrongs, published 2007) is much clearer about this article and deals with it in more depth.

For the artist, Artin Action speaks on many levels, and poses both Christians and non-Christians with conceptual issues and questions that people would not normally ask in art school. It gives post-modernist philosophers language to not just divide, but connect.  If we believe in a standard of love, everything changes.

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From the backdrop of Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting of Lady Liberty leading the people to their Les Miserables-style, “Storm the Bastille” clothes, Coldplay’s tour shouts “Vive le Revolucion!”  But on the opening night of their tour at the Forum in Inglewood, it was not clear what freedom was being celebrated beyond the sheer joy of musical release.   Occasionally, the songs approximated a European soccer match—boisterous sing alongs where all were temporarily united as one.    It was nice in an era of concert calculation to feel the arrangements being tested in front of us.  

Earnestness remains key to the Coldplay oeuvre.   They are a post-ironic band (which naturally begets a critical backlash).   Singer Chris Martin expressed genuine appreciation throughout the concert, concluding, “This is gonna be a good one” after thefirst song.   It is easy to imagine these four lads sipping coffee, reading the newspaper and playing withtheir kids.   No drug overdoses for such studied musical pros.

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Tags | Music

Poetry Friday: Wendell Berry (again)

Wendell Berry wrote my favorite poem; he also wrote this one.

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything

Forgiving the Franklins (and apologizing to the gay community)

A major event in my life came full circle last month. I had coffee with Jay Floyd, director of Forgiving the Franklins. This bawdy, subversive satire premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2006. The premise of this homemade, low-budget film intrigued me. This religious sex comedy has just been released on DVD (rated R for “strong sexual content including a scene of abherrant intimacy, graphic nudity, frank dialogue, and some language”–you’ve been forewarned!)

A devout Christian family has a car accident enroute to a church potluck. They are whisked away to a heavenly place where Jesus is chopping down a cross. He has grown tired of seeing the worst moment of his life paraded around people’s necks. Jesus greets the Franklin family and reaches into the back of their heads. He removes a bloody apple and sends them back to earth to continue their lives. The Franklins have been given a new lease on life, free of guilt and shame. Jesus removed their original sin.

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Tags | Film

Poetry Friday: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and a poet. His poetry, a precursor to free verse, has been set to music on several occasions, and books have been written about his life, most recently Exiles, by Ron Hansen. Here's one of his more famous poems - Eugene Peterson has named one of his books after the third-to-last stanza.

By the way, Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans! I'm celebrating in the nation's capital today. 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's

Tags | Writing
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