'This Is My Iran'

A middle-aged Iranian man sat down next to me at Shirin Neshat’s new retrospective, "Facing History," in Washington, D.C. He looked at me, smiling and bewildered, and said, “All of this, this whole museum, just for her?”

He wasn’t the only one surprised. In Neshat’s opening comments to a packed house at a meet-the-artist presentation, she said, “It’s an honor as a woman and as a Middle Easterner to hold this much space.”

And she didn’t just take up space. She filled it — covered the entire second floor of the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art with Muslim women, Iranian history, Persian music, and creative commentary on the role of gender and politics on the life of a woman in exile.


New & Noteworthy

In 2011, Raul Guerrero provided 100 Kodak disposable cameras and taught basic photography skills to nine young students in the Newlands area of Moshi, Tanzania. The Disposable Project book brings together their images of their community, with text by Guerrero.

“Migration has been, for centuries, not only a source of controversy but a source of blessing,” Deirdre Cornell writes in Jesus Was a Migrant. Inspired by ministering among immigrants in different settings, this is a beautifully written set of deeply humanizing reflections on the immigrant experience and Christian spirituality. Orbis Books

The New Black is a documentary film on how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights. Focusing on the campaign for marriage equality in Maryland, it shows activists, families, and clergy on both sides of the campaign, with special attention to the role played by the black church.

Some Christians happily become “non-goers” to official churches. In How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community, Kelly Bean explores the reasons and the channels some have found (or founded) for service, pastoral care, and discipleship. Baker Books

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A Celebrity Photographer's Faith-Driven Cause

 Jeremy Cowart via RNS
A Help-Portrait photo illustrates a first portrait of a mother and daughter. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Cowart via RNS

Portraits may seem like a staple in every home, but for many families, a professional photo is beyond reach.

Each year, the nonprofit Help-Portrait pulls together professional photographers to spend one Saturday taking free portraits of people who normally can’t afford it.

Help-Portrait founder Jeremy Cowart is a celebrity photographer who has shot famous names such as Taylor Swift, Tim Tebow and the Kardashians and has been published in publications such as Rolling Stone, People magazine and The New York Times.

Like a number of Christians driven by their faith to set up humanitarian nonprofits, Cowart is motivated to do good.

New and Noteworthy

Simple Truths
The Live Simply series, a set of four booklets based on the values of St. Francis of Assisi, is packed with practical, portable advice about ethical eating, holistic health, creation care, and sensible shopping. Ideal for anyone seeking a life of simplicity and satisfaction in a world of consumption. Franciscan Media

Lost and Found?
A decomposing body is found in the Sonoran Desert, with a tattoo, “Dayani Cristal.” The documentary Who is Dayani Cristal? shows the efforts to find out who this mysterious migrant was and the journey he likely followed. A haunting look at the people affected by the politics of immigration.

Seeing Holiness
Inspired by meditation and mysticism, author Christine Valters Painter makes visual prayers come to life through the camera lens in Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. Each chapter includes a spiritual practice, reflection questions, and stunning black-and-white or full-color photography. Sorin Books

Chronic Love
In Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk, recovering alcoholic Heather Kopp details how she hit rock bottom—only to discover that God’s grace knows no limit. A bluntly honest must-read for people of faith struggling with addiction or a loved one’s substance abuse. Jericho Books

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Beyond 'Ruin Porn'

UNTIL RECENTLY, a company in New York City offered “a ride through a real New York City ‘ghetto’”—a $45 bus tour of the Bronx, reportedly patronized mainly by European and Australian tourists. One news report described the tour guide sharing lurid stories of crime and arson from the ’70s and ’80s, making insensitive comments about everything from local architectural landmarks to people waiting in line at a food pantry, and warning about the “pickpockets” in wait in a certain park. After an outcry from residents and officials, angry that the place they call home would be reduced to out-of-touch stereotypes, the tour company shut down in May.

That someone would even think of fleecing misguided tourists this way hints at the complicated, sometimes contradictory, role that cities play in our culture: In our collective imagination they represent both civilization’s pinnacle (arts, style, technology, intellectualism, innovation, industry, finance) and depravity’s depths (crime, corruption, exploitation, decadence, filth). For much of the 20th century, many people of means fled cities for the pastoral promise of the suburbs, while many a farm girl or boy dreamed of escaping to a city and tasting the bustle and thrill: “Until I saw your city lights, honey I was blind.”

And yet cities are not only symbols, but real and intricate places. Whether booming or busting, they shape and are shaped by the people in them. Both the built structures and the people of a city have stories to tell. But a fleeting tour-bus view with distorted narration can lead us down an alley with no exit.

Here are some different takes on the bright lights of the big city.

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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"?

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: Feb. 7, 2012

Ferris Bueller's Super Bowl ad compared side by side with the movie, North Korea goes polka via Norway with A-Ha's "Take on Me,"Jimmy Kimmel encourages viewers to pull more pranks, timelapse photography from Yosemite National Park, guess who said it: Dwight Schrute or Newt Gingrich? And an in-depth Interview Magazine chat with Grammy nominated Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. See this and more in today's links.