Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

And another Christmas gem from the greatest singer-songwriter in Memphis (my opinion, which is nearly infallible).


Read Full Post »

A Few Christmas Gems

(1)  The story of the 1914 ceasefires in the trenches of WWI may say more about humanity’s love for soccer (“football”) than about humanity’s love for each other.  But it says something and it is worth a read.

(2)  My friend Gerald has written a beautiful Christmas poem.


Read Full Post »

Guilty Pleasures

Here’s a quote from an article by Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) called “Outside the Fences” .

“Only in humility can we begin to find the beauty in everything. Do you have the
barefaced wonder to drift outside the lines? If you dare, you could rise up to be
the shameless architect of the unknown, charting new ground that the critics will
never know. For the rest of the crowd, there’s safety in numbers. But for you- you
and your brave soul, there are no guilty pleasures. Just pleasures.”

Jon Foreman

Read Full Post »

America’s Idol

There may be no more famous statue, and there may be no god more widely worshipped by men.

I don’t think it’s well-known that this is an image of the Roman goddess, Libertas.

If “we become what we worship”, as the slogan goes and as Scripture shows (see the recent fine book by Greg Beale bearing that title), then it’s worth asking to what extent we are becoming radically free in an altogether unhealthy way.  We’re not far from Solaris, Asimov’s imaginary planet where thousands of humans live in complete isolation, only relating to one another through technological alternatives to the person-to-person.  We’re terribly far from the biblical view of radical dependence on God and his Messiah, on his teachings, on life with others in radical community, sharing a radical faith.

Read Full Post »


Filed under “sin” not because tats are sinful, but because this illustrates the potent impact of sin on all human faculties…

Read Full Post »

On the heels of my last post, I should probably tell you what I think of Pete’s latest effort, Phil Wickham’s Heaven and Earth.

One could subtitle this album, “the triumph of the keyboard.”  Unlike many musicians I knew in the early and mid-90s, who were stuck on “real instruments” and denigrated keyboards, Pete really believed in keys.

The whole album channels Coldplay’s keys, percussion and guitarwork, a fact acknowledged by the lifting of the lyric “permanent state”.  Equally delightfully and more surprisingly, there’s even a dash of Sigur Rós here and there.  Cielo get going with a spoonful of Sigur, providing some medicine for the soul.

Of course, imitating secular acts is considered cheesy.  But when it’s done well, imitation can be a potent thing.  And imitation is inevitable anyway (again, as in the last post, see Andy Crouch, Culture Making).  Fortunately, there’s plenty of originality on this album as well.

As for the lyrics, the album is a bit more triumphalistic in tone than (say) the average contemporary Reformed worship song, but with more desire and passion than we sometimes pour into tracks.  I hope my Reformed friends will agree that In Your City is great theology; it’s message is certainly worth getting excited about.

Albums committed to a concept (in this case, heaven) can sometimes pay a heavy price in terms of monotony.  Thankfully, that is not the case here.  On a few tunes I would have loved to have seen a a bit less striving for heaven-ish sounds with the keys and the soaring guitars.  But that critical note is almost a stretch, because this album really rocks.

Try sampling Eden; Heaven and Earth; In Your City; and Cielo if you want something quiet.  Safe is getting played on K-Love.  It’s okay, pretty good by K-Love’s standards, but still sounds like a better version of Phillips, Craig, and Dean. 

(Thanks to Memphis’s greatest male vocalist and top tier musician/singer/songwriter Josh Smith for tipping me off to this album.)

Read Full Post »

I’ve been spending time with the family a fair bit, as well as working on nerdy writing projects, so blogging has taken a backseat.  I thought I’d blog on the soundtrack for my most recent work, and lessons learned as a pretty subpar musician.

One of my projects was on heaven.  So Phil Wickham’s new Heaven and Earth, produced by my old friend Peter Kipley, seemed like a good fit.  I haven’t seen Pete in about 15 years.  Given his popularity now, I’m unlikely to see him ever again!  But I can tell that Pete still loves the sounds he loved back then, and it takes no stretch of the imagination to see his goofy grin behind a sound board.

One note on Pete.  He was crazy about music, one of the few people I’ve ever met who loved music more than I did.  He certainly had raw talent, an uncanny feel for what worked, and he was prepared to mine sounds and concepts from the strangest sources.

But more than anything, Pete worked.  He was persistent and invested.  I can’t remember him ever being lazy about a musical challenge, an opportunity, a gig, or a riff.  In his early 20s, Pete was broke and running around DFW saying that he wanted to be a Christian music producer.  Now there are many ways that story could have ended.  This one ended with a Grammy (for Mercy Me’s album).  And it’s not over yet; I predict this album wins another Grammy.

It turns out there’s a secret to Pete’s success, and it’s not that complicated.

Pete leapt to mind when I read Andy Crouch, Culture Making.  You want to do something?  Work hard at it.  Take criticism.  Grow where you need to.  In all likelihood, if you have artistic aspirations, your work ethic is not what it needs to be right now. 

(Sidebar:  If you are an artist, or have any sort of creative aspirations, you must listen to Darren Doane’s excellent audio on this:  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/09/22/christians-in-filmmaking.  Note Justin Taylor’s summary; I’d add that Doane challenges his audience of aspiring filmmakers to go film 100 sunsets, and get back to him.)

What little success (and it was very little) I had in music, I owe a fair bit of it to what Pete taught me about nurturing passion and working hard on a craft.

Fortunately, passion and hard work are transferrable assets.

Read Full Post »

In a previous post, I began a conversation about the relationship between art and faith. One of the most thoughtful voices in this discussion is Makoto Fujimura. His artwork is a fusion of abstract expressionism and the traditional Japanese art of Nihonga. I won’t pretend to know exactly what that means, except to say he paints using a mixture of traditional pigments and minerals like gold and silver, and makes some staggeringly beautiful paintings. But he is not only a great painter, he is a great writer and speaker as well. His essays on art and faith are as penetrating and filled with beauty and light as his paintings. Below are excerpts from a recent post on his blog, Refractions, with his thoughts on the relationship between the artist and the Creator-

When I meet someone on the plane, and tell them I am an artist, I have to go into my “explaining” mode.  What kind of art?  Why do you do it?  Can you make a living?

If I said I was an electrical engineer, explaining would not be necessary.  When I tell Christians that I am an artist,  it seems that you automatically come under all sorts of suspicion; “You don’t paint nudes, do you?”  “I don’t understand art”  “You do that weird stuff,” etc.

When I read the Bible as an artist, though, it really makes sense.  If the Bible is a book about the Creator God, who desires to create through broken, lost creative people of God, then the beginning and the end would have to be otherworldly, humbling and spectacular.  Artists do all sorts of strange things to communicate.  If God were an artist, he would do the same.  Artists create language to describe the indescribable. God, coming from outside of Time and Space, would have to, in order to invade into ours, do things upside down.

He talks about Jesus’ use of story, like the parable of the Lost Son

As Jesus is telling this story, he turns to the religious authorities of his day, insinuating them, and us,  to be that elder brother who do not understand God the Father’s frivolous love for us wayward people.  We are both legalistic and wayward; and Jesus speaks to both sides at the same time.  We are anxious people, who cannot stop to appreciate beauty, or hear music in the spheres of our world.

Who is this Jesus?  What did he come to do? He is a MYSTERY to us, a mystery that is still being revealed.  The best place to start journeying with this mystery, and to know this artist named Jesus, is by creating generatively in response to what he says and to who he is.  You don’t need to be a respectable “Christian” to do so: in fact, it’s best if you are not.  It’s better for you to be able to honestly wrestle with the deeper realities of your journey, confront your brokenness, and let your life’s experience become the materials for your craft, to articulate that deep mystery within you; rather than try to explain it away.

The church needs artists, because their questions are far more important than our answers.  Jesus spoke like an artist; his questions were enigmatic and clear at the same time.  He encouraged but challenged at the same time.  He told his disciples many times what was to come: even though they failed miserably to understand, he still chose to give them authority.  He gave them “author”ity. As authors, to write the story of Jesus, to write through them the mystery of redemption. He made them authors into this new reality; in other words, he made them into artists. 

Jesus can write and paint through us.  The Greatest Artist can create through us little artists. We are all little artists, whether we use a brush, bronze or ride on a garbage truck.  Our stories, infused with the Great Artist, can become the greatest journey, a wide open adventure, inviting shepherds and Magi to take note: a Greatest Story Ever Told.

I’ll confess that while I always find his work beautiful, I don’t always understand it. But that is my shortcoming, not his. I know that both his paintings and his writing always make me think, and they always point me to the Great Artist.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend my daughter Corinne (12) and I went to New York City for a belated spring break getaway. One of the highlights of the weekend for us was seeing “In The Heights”, the Tony-award winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s a story about tight-knit community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, as they struggle with changes in the neighborhood. As the playbill says,”It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.” It  is a celebration of home and community in the tradition of “It’s A Wonderful Life”. In  the song “Alabanza”, the main character, Usnavi, is eulogizing the matriarch of the community, Abuela Claudia, and says this of her (the bread crumbs are for feeding the birds)

I’d like to think she went out in peace
With pieces of bread crumbs in her hand
Abuela Claudia had simple pleasures
She sang the praises of things we ignore
Glass Coke bottles, bread crumbs, a sky full of stars
She cherished these things
She’d say “Alabanza”
Alabanza means to raise this thing to God’s face and to sing
Quite literally “praise to this”
When she was here, the path was clear
And she was just here
She was just here…

It’s a beautiful picture of someone walking through life with God, with eyes that see and ears that hear, and by living this way, pointing others to Him- “when she was here, the path was clear”. 

It’s a description I would like to offer up as the definition of an artist as well. There is much debate of what “Art” is. And just about everybody with a paintbrush, a pen or a microphone claims to be an artist.  I believe an artist is someone who uses their medium to point others to beauty, light and truth- and in doing so, intentionally or not, pointing them to God. Being an artist may begin by learning a skill- singing, telling a story, painting, etc. But what makes it Art is how these skills are used. It is about how the person sees the world and communicates that unique perception to the audience. “In The Heights” did a great job of holding up the beauty of family, community and home to God’s face and saying “praise to this”. I’d like to begin a series of posts about art, like “In The Heights”, that have helped me to see and hear. 

Read Full Post »