I have developed a certain tendency to use the phrases “changing the world” or “taking over the world” when speaking with creative friends. I usually leave this without any particular explanation, a seeming little absurdity thrown into a comment or conversation, but I actually mean what I say. I fully intend a lifelong conspiracy with these friends. You see, these friends understand and create beauty, and beauty changes the world. Continue reading
I’m beginning to think that if I don’t have an identity crisis at least once a month, I’m simply not taking in enough good art. A few weeks ago, I watched a piece of theater that has become a bit of a local staple here in Louisville: Actors Theatre’s production of Dracula. It is really one of the very few pieces of theater I have seen in recent years, but with the performance came a flood of emotions, the degree of which I wasn’t quite expecting. It threw me into a serious identity crisis that, if I were to be quite honest, I’m not entirely over. In fact, I intend not to be. Continue reading
A few days ago a received a package containing the Blu-Ray box set of the Universal Classic Monsters films of the 1930s through 1950s, specifically the eight films considered essential to film audiences. The entire series excited me, being digitally remastered and rendered in high-definition for the first time, however what excited me most was that Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein have had brand-new, painstaking restorations to their picture and sound. As soon as I got the package, I opened the set and placed the Dracula disc into the Blu-Ray player. The next thing that happened was a bit overwhelming. Continue reading
(Cross-posted at Image of Truth)
On Monday, Jesus, after cursing a fig tree for not producing fruit (thus establishing his authority over the created world) re-enters Jerusalem and raises quite the ruckus in the temple.
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them,“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city. (Mark 11:15-19 NLT)
Some interpreters have turned this passage into a diatribe against capitalism, particularly in some artistic portrayals. Modernized Passion plays have portrayed the temple courts as everything from a flea market to Wall Street. However, capitalism itself is not what Jesus is rebuking. Those selling in the temple courts were taking advantage of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. They would change out Roman currency for temple currency at exorbitant exchange rates, then sell clean animals to be offered as sacrifices by those who had not brought their own animals. The temple merchants were taking advantage of people… and in the very temple of God. The courts had become a cesspool of dishonesty and greed, and Jesus would have none of it. Those who portray Jesus as a mere docile, nonabrasive figure must ignore this passage, where his righteous anger overflows into violence.
(Illustration: Rembrandt, Christ Drives the Money Changers Out of the Temple, 1626)
We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the Christmas season. This is in many ways a misnomer, however. Ecclesiastically, the time known as Christmas begins Christmas Day and lasts the next twelve days. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming, his first coming in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago, as well as his second coming (though this one tends to slip into the background). However the period leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday prior and ending Christmas Eve, is called Advent. Advent anticipates Christmas, it commemorates the fact that God’s people were longingly awaiting their coming Messiah in spiritual darkness. We also await our Messiah… we await his return, whereupon he will expel the darkness (sin, death, and Satan) from this world once and for all. Continue reading
“Today, as yesterday, musicians, composers, liturgical chapel cantors, church organists and instrumentalists must feel the necessity of serious and rigorous professional training. They should be especially conscious of the fact that each of their creations or interpretations cannot escape the requirement of being a work that is inspired, appropriate and attentive to aesthetic dignity, transformed into a prayer of worship when, in the course of the liturgy, it expresses the mystery of faith in sound.” Continue reading
He is risen! (He is risen indeed!)
The resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate today, is the integral focal point of all redemption history. Christ, who had died for the sins of the world on Friday, is on Sunday brought back to life in his glorified body. The New Creation has broken into the present, and Christ inaugurates this world of new life, for “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (1 Cor. 15:20-21). Indeed, if we are Christians, then the present reality that the New Creation has broken into the present creation through Christ”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Cor. 5:17)
Dr. N.T. Wright has a wonderful reflection particularly fitting for today in his book Surprised by Hope:
The resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced by Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation….
We could cope – the world could cope – with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples; minds and heart. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one.
(Illustration The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Carravagio)
IVP’s Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by literary scholar Leland Ryken, Christian education expert James Wilhoit, and biblical theologian Tremper Longman III, is one of my top resources in my own personal study of the Scriptures. The lengthy, almost three-page article on beauty is fantastic and is a credit to this volume, which I would recommend for every serious Christian’s bookshelf. Here is a concluding excerpt:
The imagery of beauty is extensive in the Bible, ranging from the paradise in which God planted every tree that is pleasant, to the sight of the resplendent heavenly Jerusalem that dazzles our sight in the closing passage of the Bible. We can infer from the biblical images of beauty that the longing for beauty, along with an ability to recognize and experience it, exists within every human being. Although the Bible does not state it explicitly, it is a fair inference that experiences of earthly beauty awaken a longing for a beauty that is more permanent and transcendent than anything this life can give – a longing for the beauty of God. Certainly the beauty of the holy city (and its forerunner, the Zion of the temple) is from the glory of God, who is himself its source, its temple and its light. In heaven all God’s servants will see his face as David inseperable longed to do: “There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev 22:3-4 RSV). And in seeing God they will se beauty in its pure form fo the first time.
“Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”
- Vincent Van Gogh
(Illustration: Vincent Van Gogh, Pieta)
(This posts was originally written for my personal blog, The Sojourner’s Journal, in November, 2008. It served as one of my first expressions of my discontent with the church’s modern relationship with art and the desire to engage that relationship and motivate greater art from the Christian community. Thus, it is the forerunner of this site and, as this site prepares for a soon-to-come redevelopment in its existence, I thought it would be fitting to post a personal moment of catalyst from which it was eventually formed.)
An Artistic Challenge to the Church (or, Why Does Christian Art Usually Suck?) [part 1 of many]
The modern day Evangelical Church has largely (almost completely) failed in creative endeavors such as visual art (drawing, painting, etc.), music, literature, and film. Failed might be an understatement. The church has produced very little that exceeds above a pile refuse (in the Pauline sense of that word) in any of these categories, and this is most troubling indeed. Continue reading