Art

Art As An Act of Faith

Photo illustration, © Elena Ray / Shutterstock.com

Photo illustration, © Elena Ray / Shutterstock.com

Almost two years ago, I took a titanic risk. If you look at things from an earthbound perspective, what I did is: I took my livelihood, and my children's provision, in my hands alone. I quit my job at The News & Observer, a major, Pulitzer-prize-winning newspaper where I earned a decent salary and reached 150,000 to 200,000 readers on any given day. 

The decision was a long time coming — my whole adult life, really. Before I ever started my first newspaper job in 2000, I’d wanted to help people explore deeper things than just tax policy, or crime, or environmental regulation. These just skim the surface of who we are as humans: why we share or hoard, why we hurt or protect one another, what we owe to Mother Earth.

What I found as a newspaper reporter was that I had no choice but to skim the surface of things. There’s not enough space to go deeper, but, more importantly, deeper takes you into hypothesis, not fact — and hypothesis is a leap of faith. What you find when you go deeper depends a lot on the gear you’re wearing when you dive. I’m cloaked in Bible stories and Christian tradition, and therefore I live in hope that there’s a Creator and that this God is working quietly to heal the world.

I read recently in Psalm 27: 

“The Lord is my light and my salvation —
 whom shall I fear?
 The Lord is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?”

The Naked Artist: Narcissism or Self-Giving Love?

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john / Shutterstock.com

How is it possible that the creative life can feel simultaneously self-giving and narcissistic? On the one hand, the artist, or musician, or writer has a gift that not everyone has. And because paintings and songs and books give other people great joy – and might even change their lives — those gifts must be shared. But that means the artist herself must be shared, and that’s the problem.

For the artist, self-expression is unavoidable – it is part of the job description. As a songwriter, my raw material is the world as I observe it. That’s all I’ve got. The most realistic painter or sculptor still has to rely on his own vision. Even as a journalist, I have to draw upon my five senses, my own mind and my own experiences. Even as I tell someone else’s story, it is in part my story. I can’t tell your story without filtering it through my story; it’s how we make sense of new information. I’m only human, after all.

Art in Life

Photo:  IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd. / Getty Images

Photo: IMAGEMORE Co, Ltd. / Getty Images

We were walking up the beach, on the sand as the tide moved out toward the ocean. I was holding Zeke's hand, talking with him about sea things. "I didn't know jellyfish swam this close to the shore during the spring," he said in 5-year-old wonderment. "I bet that drift wood is as old as The Old Man and the Sea. I think a horseshoe crab's blood can be used to treat cancer."

"Look," I said.

"What is it, Dad?" he asked.

I picked up a shell out of the deep, hot sand and held it in my open hand.

Episcopal Priest Under Scrutiny for Nude Photos

RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain

Michelangelo's painting titled 'Last Judgment.' RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain

In the middle of the 16th century, Catholic bishops and theologians met sporadically in the city of Trento in northern Italy to discuss the church's response to the Reformation. Over the course of 18 years, the Council of Trent produced documents correcting abuses like indulgences and other corruption.

In 1564, the council ordered that some naked figures in Michelangelo's massive "Last Judgment" fresco in the Sistine Chapel be covered up as a result of the council's dictate that "all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."

It will be difficult for critics to compare Michelangelo's nudes with the ones photographed by the Rev. John Blair. Just after the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri launched an investigation of the St. Louis priest, many of his photos of nude models were removed from the Internet.

And yet the diocese's disciplinary board, whose members will decide if Blair's photography constitutes sexual misconduct, will try to answer the same question as Trent's participants 450 years ago: How does the church recognize the beauty of art that depicts God's creation — the human form — without seeming to condone "a beauty exciting to lust"?

Concerts and Controversial Opera Bring Faiths Together in St. Louis

RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Members of the Islamic Foundation of St. Louis perform in honor of Sept 11. RNS photo by Sid Hastings/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Timothy O'Leary sat in an audience of 2,000 New Yorkers listening to the Brooklyn Philharmonic perform a concert about terrorism — the 1985 murder of an American tourist by members of the Palestine Liberation Front on a Mediterranean cruise ship. It was one of the most powerful moments he'd ever had in a theater.

Terrorism stories are rarely happy stories, and yet the path O'Leary has taken — from bringing the controversial opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" to St. Louis last year to a Sept. 11 memorial concert on Sept. 9 — ends with a hopeful, permanent pairing of faith and the arts in St. Louis.

Wild Goose West: Wild Spirit, Wonderful New Friends

Michael Gungor performs at Wild Goose West. Photo by Bill Dahl for Wild Goose.

Michael Gungor performs at Wild Goose West. Photo by Bill Dahl for Wild Goose.

Hello fellow Sojourners!

This is a brief missive for your enjoyment. I just returned from the Wild Goose Festival in Corvallis, Ore.

Yes, Oregon and not North Carolina. You see, in a fit of wisdom, the good people of Wild Goose found a west coast location. I hope it worked well for them because I'm sold on the place.

I wish you could have been there. It was amazing. To tantalize you into attending next year, here (in no particular order) are Nine Good Reasons to Attend The Wild Goose Festival.

1. There are no bugs.

None. Well, some flies, but this is Oregon and not North Carolina and though the nights are chilly and the mornings moreso (I awoke the last morning to see my breath in the air), the sun arose and everything warmed up to make for some of the most beautiful weather you'll ever experience.

2. All the notables are there.

Rachel, Richard (and Richard), Brian, Nadia, Gareth, Bruce, Christian, Amy, Yvette, Hilary, Greg, Steve...So many people to meet and to know.

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: August 15, 2012

National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest selects 11 winners out of 12,000+ entries --- Kirby Ferguson's TED talk on originality, creativity, and remixing --- billboards play on Shell's slogan, stick it to the corporate oil giant --- world's first all-female Street Art conference kicks off --- pickin' tunes from the Milk Carton Kids. See these and more in today's Links of Awesomeness...

The Lower Lights — "A Hymn Revival Vol. II"

Break out the tambourines and rise up singing! A hymn revival is happening … again.

This month, The Lower Lights continue to shine as they release a second stand-out collection of hymns, aptly titled, “A Hymn Revival II.” And this time around, the group of 20+ musicians expands their repertoire outside of the “American Protestant” catalog, and into the wider collection of folk music, including country classics like Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” and “Calling You,” the African-American spiritual “Go Down Moses,” and the familiar Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision.”  

Each of the 16 tracks on “A Hymn Revival Vol. II,” glow with intention. Whether it’s the soft but steady pulse of the song “Nearer My God to Thee,” or the call-and-response elicited from snappy chorus of “In the Sweet By and By,” The Lower Lights’ sophomore album presents another authentic look at the joy of the Christian life found in community and comradery, all propelled by the sacred art of making music.

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