The Relationship Between Art & Church

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Today over at Christ and Pop Culture, I took a look at the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the tricky relationship between art and evangelical Christianity. There is serious historical baggage that has led to current views of art within the church that are unhealthy. Beholding great art is often simply not attempted because of fear, bad theology, and/or historic anti-intellectualism.

In the words of Dr. Richard Lovelace ,

Evangelicalism has its roots in Puritan and Pietistic traditions which has fused the ascetic piety of the early church fathers with Protestant doctrine and which has also overreacted against the luxurious expression of Christian faith in symbolic liturgy graphic art, music and architecture. As a result of these forces, the evangelical stream moved away from the sacramental vision of life in Catholic tradition, in which the created world is not only celebrated as good but recognized as a constant symbolic message about spiritual reality. Evangelical moved in a Manichaean direction, toward a frame of mind in which the objects of sense and sigh could drag us away from what was “spiritual”.

Read the entire article over at Christ and Pop Culture on what can be done to mend the strained relationship between art & the church.

Dostoyevsky on Passion 2013

Today at Christ and Pop Culture, I took on, in brevity, the issue of youthful zeal without commitment in young evangelicals today. The Passion conference seems to be a spiritual jump starter for thousands of young evangelicals, which is not always a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I have personally seen Passion and those influenced by Passion do wonderfully good works with good, godly motive. But that doesn’t change the fact that this theologically sound conference can play to both the best and the worst of youthful vigor.

The quote I pull is from Dostoyevsky’s great work The Brothers Karamazov, where Dostoyevsky describes at length the flaws of the contemporary (1870’s) Russian youth in regards to Fyodor Karamazov’s young, pious son, Alyosha. This passage, and the mindset of youth, is truly culturally transcendent.

“These young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in may cases, the easiest of all sacrifices. They fail to understand that to sacrifice five or six years of their seething youth to hard and tedious study, if only to multiply ten-fold their powers of serving the truth and the cause they have set before them as their foal, is utterly beyond the strength of many of them.” (The Brothers Karamazov, Book I, Chapter V)

For more anecdotal exposition on this passage, read and discuss the full article over at Christ and Pop Culture.  I hope others (you) will join in the conversation.

Top 10 of 2012 (That aren’t from 2012 at all)

 

Okay, with all of these ‘year-end-best-of lists’ blogging us down (get it?), I kind of feel left out. Sure, I write for a blog that deals almost exclusively with popular (new) culture and I (in theory) run a blog about contemporary culture and timeless theology but lets get real: it’s hard to keep up. I don’t discover new stuff like I used to. These days, I discover old stuff. Heck I bought plenty of albums this year but only THREE of them were released in 2012.

 

So for this year-end list, forget about the trends that are here today, gone tomorrow. Here is a list of stuff that I found to be timeless, or at least proved me to be a cultural laggard.

 

Justin Townes Earle, Harlem River Blues (2011)

Forget about his new 2012 album (it’s good too, but still), Steve Earle’s possibly more talented son put out what may be my favorite Americana album of the last decade in early 2011. The title track, a well-written piece on ending it all in the Harlem River with the soul of a church choir and a jiving refrain, has been stuck in my head for the better part of a month. And the rest of the album doesn’t get much worse. With some of the best songwriting I have heard since Dock Boggs, and speaking of Boggs his track ‘Working for the MTA’ is New York City’s answer to ‘I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground’. Get this album, even if you won’t score any ‘relevant’ points. It’s stunning

Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music (1952)

This six CD (6 record when it was released) anthology of the best and most authentic of America’s musical history is truly one of the greatest things I have ever heard. Harry Smith, the crazy dude who went around and half-legally bootlegged all of this music in the late forties and early fifties, found music from every corner and crevice of this country. With banjo tunes written by coal miners, and entire CD of church music and original Carter Family recordings, this anthology is somewhere easy to get lost in for 6 to 8 months, as I did. It has changed my understanding for American musical history and given me a deeper respect for the music that shapes the culture. Get this…it’s on Spotify.

Wool Ties (the 1950’s)

Remember those old school wool ties? Not the knit ones, but the ties that look like normal ties that are actually made from thick wool? They are kind of grandpa-esque but I love them to death. I found a few in a thrift store so now if I am wearing a tie to anything other than maybe a job interview, I bust out my old wool ties.

He’s an awful man, but he has good taste in tie

Good man, good tie

Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace (1978)

buy this book

Of everything I read this year, this book was hands-down the most spiritual formative and personally helpful. The book, a historical and theological analysis of spiritual revival within Evangelicalism serves as an excellent base for understanding the work of God throughout church history. The theological connections made between revivalism, justification and sanctification by grace alone and obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit are so well stated that it seems almost to be common sense. The way Lovelace (PhD., Princeton) expounds on the historical issues within different church movements and puts together a well-rounded, theologically robust, ecumenical plea for the church unification and revival that is paradigm shifting. I plan to be referring back to this 35 year-old book for the next 35 years.

 

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shrier (1960)

This year, I read the longest book that I have ever tackled cover-to-cover, 1243 pages to be exact. Shriers as-close-as-you-can-get-to comprehensive history of Nazi Germany has given me such a richer understanding of modern history and sparked an interest in European history that annoys my wife to death. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend this masterpiece.

 

Spoiler alert: Nazis lose. It all goes down a lot like ‘Inglorious Basterds’

Run Lola Run (1998)

I saw a lot of great films this year and almost all of them were not released in 2012. What a shame to rob them of their continued influence (I mean, really… who will remember The Avengers in ten years?). This German film about a couple in some hot water with a local gangster and twenty minutes to resolve it, to the tune of one million dollars, is one of a kind. It is a wild ride through alternate realities, bizarre characters and a few scenes that make you never want to drive a car again. If you get the chance, see this film (before you see The Master, which is simply depressing)

 

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

I am ashamed of this one. It took me until 2012 to see this Coen Brothers masterpiece and I consider myself a Coen Brothers aficionado. But now I can say that I have seen ‘em all (and I can quote most of them in full). And outside of O Brother Where Art Thou and The Big Lebowski, of course, this may be my 3rd favorite. The fast-as-lightning dialogue, literally unpredictable plot and a touch Bruce Campbell make this one of the most memorable films I watch this year.

“You JUST saw this?”

Burn Notice (2007-2012)

Great show, cheesy marketing (HIRE ME, USA)

Okay, so this one is still ongoing, but that doesn’t change the fact that my wife and I spent most of the year watching old seasons of what may be cable’s most underrated show. Focusing on a CIA operative who gets blacklisted and stranded in Miami with a ragtag group of pseudo-friends, the writing on this show makes it shine. Working for the better part of 5 seasons within a somewhat typical 70’s TV show outline (big, overarching plot advanced steadily with a less significant storyline created and resolved in one episode), the dialogue and story never got boring or trite. The acting is exceptional and the characters are developed with the utmost of care. It is a show that is easy to get lost in when watched in bulk via Netflix or pick up after months of not watching. And although there was a season this year, I was less impressed by it than I was by the older seasons. And I cannot stand to watch it on TV, the promos for Burn Notice almost make the show worse, they are the cheesiest things ever. EVER.

Spotify (2010)

Did you know that you can listen to music online FOR FREE? What is our world coming to? I thought I could hold out and still buy all of the music I listen to in CD form…but alas, Spotify caught me up this year.

I’m still not convinced it’s legal

My Wife (1985)

I got married this year! It really was an awesome life event to an awesome woman and whenever I think of 2012 I will think of marrying my wonderful wife Jenna. However, she was not born in 2012, in fact she was born in 1985. Making her unqualified to be on a year-end list. Technicalities, I know. While the event was amazing, the marriage is even more amazing, difficult, beautiful and life changing.  I love you honey!

Aw, would you look at that?

Aw, would you look at that?

 

 

Morning After Blues: Sobering Up After The False Promises of The Election

After billions of dollars of campaign money, months of savage punditry and enough rhetoric to embitter most of the population, it’s all over. Twitter talk has died down while evangelical voters post tweets about the lordship of Jesus that they snarked at in the heat of the election and Obama voters gloat, as if the world will all of a sudden shed it’s brokenness.

 

But I understand it all, very well. Because my heart is inclined towards the same reaction. While I may not play that game with voting in particular, I do it with jobs, writing opportunities, relationships and life events that offer me something that I think will reverse the effects of sin and cure the world around me. When these things fall through, I am shocked out of my delusion and soberly reminded of the truth: that life is outside of my sovereignty.

 

Since the idol of democracy has failed many Christians (who, realistically, should have realized that then the GOP choose a guy like Romney), maybe today can be the start of a turning point in the church where Christians put as much effort and action into loving each other, loving their neighbors, caring for the poor and giving sacrificially for the glory of God. You know, things that might actually satisfy.

And also, let’s bow out of divisive rhetoric that tears down and alienates. We will be mocked and insulted by those outside of the church regardless, so let’s be mocked and attacked for truly glorifying God through bold proclamation of truth and radical displays of love, even in the political realm.

I usually don’t like using this blog as a call to social action and pure, outright repentance, but it seems that possibly the hearts of many Christians may be a bit more tender today than they were yesterday. And as we enter another four years with a president who, realistically wont destroy the world and realistically won’t save the world, let’s follow the words of the apostle Peter: “

“Honor every one. Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17)

Seven Websites That Will Enrich Your Life

In the sea of the internet, it is easy to drown. But if you learn the ropes and travel wisely, it can be a dear friend. These are my go-to websites for helpful information, spiritual nourishment and cultural relevance. If instead of wasting hours and hours of time on facebook, we diversified our online portfolio we could use the ubiquity of the internet to actually enrich our lives instead of destroying it!

7. Paste.com

This is where I go for all of my immediate music/arts needs. With quality reviews, features and tons and tons of cool lists, you can’t go to paste and not learn something awesome. At least, it will help you keep up with the endless stream of new music & movies.

6. Christ and Pop Culture

Okay, I am a bit biased here (I write for them…), but even if I didn’t, I would still read the content regularly. CaPC is an online-magazine style blog with a quality staff of diverse and talented writers (I don’t know why they let me hang around!). They avoid a common pitfall of most Christian sites of being too focused on a certain niche or subculture. The broadness and clarity of CaPC set them apart in the blogosphere. And they just switched platforms, moving all of their content to Patheos.com, which is giving CaPC some much needed exposure!

5. The Doghouse Diaries

If you are unfamiliar with this glorious timewaster, give yourself an hour and click the link above. It is the funniest website that I go to. Simply a thrice-weekly cartoon website with silly commentaries on life, relationships and everything in between. The graphs are my personal favorite. So maybe this wont change your life, but it lots and lots of fun!

4. Beer Advocate

Maybe you aren’t a drinker, fair enough… But if you are, this is how you become a *good* drinker. Beer advocate is a comprehensive beer education website, with rankings for just about every beer on earth and tutorials for pouring, purchasing, homebrewing and everything else in beer-world. And if you have a smartphone, it is a good way to avoid buying a dud at the grocery store or a restaurant. So stop drinking Michelob Ultra and get over to BA.

 

3. The Atlantic

One of, if not the best place to get news, current events, etc. The articles are carefully thought out social commentaries by excellent writers with diverse points of view. Some of the best articles that I have ever read (period) were on the Atlantic. And they treat Christian issues with dignity and respect, unlike many mainstream news publications. An article a day may keep ignorance away.

 

2. The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition is like the reformed theology Wal-Mart (minus the brutal business tactics and sad employees), one stop shopping. Not only are some of the best blogs online located at the Gospel Coalition, but the posts, reviews and cultural critiques are usually top notch. Every now and then there will be a post that borders on legalism or enculturation, but for the most part it is just a well stocked fridge of gospel resources.

 

1. Twitter

This one may seem obvious/ like a timewaster, but twitter (if done right) is one of the best resource gathering tools available today. If you choose your followers carefully (never feel ashamed to ‘unfollow’… your time is valuable) and limit your intake, twitter can be life enriching. Without it, I would be hopelessly behind on the blogs that I read regularly and have no idea when my favorite musicians were releasing new albums. Also, twitter functions as a platform for some of the wisest and godliest men to teach to a mass audience (I’m specifically thinking of: @RickWarren, @NickKristof, @ScottyWardSmith).

 

 

 

 

Stephen Prothero | The American Bible

“To be an American is not to subscribe to a common creed. It is to engage in a common conversation”.

I would not consider myself much involved in politics or patriotism to any degree of intensity beyond casual, but this conversation cannot be ignored. Traditionally, America’s greatest strength was it’s free range of ideas, ideologies and thoughts. But today it seems as if nobody is willing to discuss politics or religion out of some strange cultural more masquerading as politeness. Or if we do, it is on Fox New or MSNBC hurling insults and outlandish claims of Nazism at the “other guys”. Just look at your Facebook wall: everybody has that one Facebook friend who reposts borderline hateful political posts every few hours. We are in all-out ideological war (or trying to make hasty, unwise peace like Neville Chamberlain at Munich) and our reputation, liberties and intellectual dignity are in grave danger.

Enter Stephen Prothero. Prothero is a New York Times bestselling author (read Religious Literacy, seriously), professor of Religious Studies at Boston University and writes for CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. He is a voice crying in the wilderness when it comes to issues of dialogue, religion and literacy. And The American Bible is Prothero’s most ambitious and most important project so far.

I have never, ever seen a book like this. The American Bible is a tour through the “canon of American texts” and responses to them.

The book features the very best of the American canon, from the overlooked to the overused.

The book contains some of the most important theological and ideological texts that have sparks some of the most heated and defining arguments of our national identity. The list of texts is impressive and vast. Spanning from Noah Webster to Malcolm X to Dwight Eisenhower (and a pleasant surprise visit from Woody Guthrie, a personal hero). For many texts, it displays them in their fullness or the book offers a relatively comprehensive description of the artifact and then lets the culture wars rage. Prothero has gathered responses, articles and sound bites from people all over the theological and political spectrum weighing in on some of the most important artifacts in American history.

In The American Bible, Prothero has captured the spirit of the culture wars without saying much at all. Like a photojournalist, Prothero doesn’t need to say much at all to make his point clear. His point being, we need to talk to each other again. This volume is a call to civil discourse. If anything, that we could learn about those on the other side of important issue and not demonize them but dialogue with those who hold to different beliefs. Prothero is asking that we put off our airs of superficial politeness and put down our weapons of cultural trench warfare in favor of conversation. Few texts have done this as well as The American Bible.  It is not like the book inspires you to go sentimentally hug a fellow American as much as is prompts you to tackle the tough stuff within our cultural identity, particularly our relation to the Divine God. Unlike many well-meaning Evangelicals, Prothero does not insist on crusading our way back to a “Christian nation” nor does he suggest we throw away Christian theology or morality like many liberals. He simply presents undeniable realities of faith, disagreement and the American way of life.

Now, I would certainly not say this is a perfect book (outside of the Bible, is there such a thing?), the structure was a bit choppy trying to read all the way through and sometimes I felt  as if he represented Christians a bit too politically with his choices of contributors and commentators. But overall, it is one of the best things that I have read in a while and kindled quite an aesthetic nostalgia for the rich Americana stories that so mystify me. It also gave me hope that the gospel can be a part of the American discussion. Not just in a “keep ‘Christ’ in Christmas” sort of way, but in a truly radical and appealing way. I plan on keeping this book as my coffee table book and returning to it somewhat frequently for reference. Very rarely do I come across something as unique and important as The American Bible.