Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The vocation of artists: a class syllabus

The following is syllabus material for the course that I'm presently teaching on the vocation of artists. The only thing I'll mention here, of a critical nature, is that a syllabus always involves the unenviable fact of choice: what to include and what to exclude. So many other resources could have been included here, and perhaps should have been included. But since this is a first venture, I've allowed myself a pinch of grace to get it better next time around, trusting that this year's students will provide me the kind of feedback that will enable the course to become even more helpful to future students. Otherwise, I'm having the time of my life.


Course Description: 
This course introduces the student to biblical, theological, historical and contemporary models for the vocation of an artist and offers a vocational model that seeks to encompass a broad range of professions, stations of life and cultural contexts. With this broad perspective in mind, students will explore examples within the arts where artists have articulated their sense of calling; the virtues, practices and spiritual disciplines (both individual and communal) of an artistic vocation; the biblical, theological and spiritual contours of a mature human life; the aesthetic dimension of an artist’s calling; the practical conditions of a flourishing artist; and the mission of a believer artist in light of God’s mission in the world.

Learning Outcomes:
The basic aim of this course is for students to discern the shape of a flourishing artist. Upon completion of this course, students will: (1) have a working knowledge of biblical, theological and historical models of an artist’s vocation; (2) be able to articulate contemporary understandings of the vocation of an artist as well as “read” works of art in which ideas about the vocation of an artist are expressed; 3) be able to articulate one’s own convictions about an artist’s vocation; and (4) be able to discern the basic shape of ministry to artists.

Course Assignments:
In addition to 1,350 pages of required reading, lectures, class and online discussion, students are being asked 1) to write an essay, in conversation with Madeleine L’Engle, in which they examine the ways in which family, church and society, past and present, have shaped their ideas about the vocation of an artist; 2) to write a review of the Wainwright and Begbie readings; 3) to read a novel or biography/autobiography of an artist and to write a critical reflection on it; 4) to write up an interview that they conduct with an artist; and 5) in conversation with the work completed in previous assignments, students are to advance an argument on the vocation of an artist, appealing to specific historical, biblical, theological and contemporary perspectives.

Luz ascendente ("Amen of creation")

Topics covered:
1. Defining our terms (art, vocation, Christian, faithful) + setting the scene for our course.

2. Theological perspectives on the vocation of artists (trinitarian theology, Christ as vocational exemplar of humanity, creation in Christ, the logic of the physical world).

3. Biblical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how the Bible presents ideas about vocation, art, and artists, and how we "read" the Bible in turn).

4. Historical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how Christians in particular and others in general have thought about the vocation of artists in the pre-modern and modern era).

5. Historical perspectives on the vocation of artists (how Christians in particular and others in general have thought about the vocation of artists in the contemporary era).

6. How biographies about/autobiographies by artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists.

7. How novels about artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists. Plus: “How to read a novel.”

8. How movies about artists give evidence to a range of ideas (and, in turn, reinforce those ideas in contemporary practice and discourse) about the vocation of artists. Plus: “How to read a movie.”

9. The virtues, practices and spiritual disciplines (both individual and communal) of a faithful artist.

10. The practical conditions of a flourishing artist + the mission of a believer artist in light of God’s mission in the world.

Required Reading (BOOKS):
1. Bayles David and Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. Eugene, OR: Continuum, 1993.

2. Currey, Mason. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. New York: Knopf, 2013.

3. L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Waterbrook Press, 2001.

4. Taylor, W. David O., ed., For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

5. Wainwright, Geoffrey. For Our Salvation: Two Approaches to the Work of Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Required Reading (ESSAYS):
1. Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise, “Christ, Creation and Creativity”
2. Calvin Seerveld, Rainbows for a Fallen World, Intro. and ch. 1
3. Andy Crouch, Culture Making, chs. 6-11
4. Deborah Haynes, The Vocation of the Artist, chs. 5-7
5. Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of Artists, Introduction
6. Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise, “Artistry in Christ”
7. Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, Theological Aesthetics: A Reader, “Patristic theologians on the Divine Artist”
8. Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer”
9. Chad Walsh, “The Advantages of the Christian Faith for a Writer”
10. Walker Percy, “On Being a Catholic Novelist”
11. Jeanne Murray Walker, “On Poets and Poetry”
12. Ted Prescott, “Identity”
13. Mako Fujimura, “Our Calling in the Starry Night”
14. Christopher Zara, Tortured Artists, Introduction
15. William Deresiewicz, “The Death of the Artist—and the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur”
16. Priscilla Frank, “What Experts Got Wrong about the Relationship between Suffering and Art”
17. Pope John Paul II, “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”
18. Choose one biography/autobiography from the suggested list.
19. Choose one novel from this list: Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev; Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay; Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven; Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: A Novel; Ron Hansen, Exiles; or TBD.
20. Selections from Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak About Their Writing and Their Faith; The Muse that Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process; Playwrights on Playwriting: From Ibsen to Ionesco; Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith; Written In My Soul: Rock’s Great Songwriters Talk About Creating Their Music.
21. Selections from "conversations" with artists on Image Journal (
22. Emily Browne, “10 things about being an artist that art teachers don’t tell you.”

Planetary gears ("Amen of the ringed planet")

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On the birth narratives and the arts: an appendix to my WaPo essay

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "Massacre of the Innocents" (1565-7)

Having written the essay that posted with The Washington Post a couple of weeks before it posted officially on December 24, Christmas Eve ("Biblical birth narratives are weird and incredible. We can stop sanitizing them"), I've since had a chance to chew on some of the things that were unfortunately left unsaid. 

Here are a few of them: 

First, I feel 100% compassion for preachers who preach sermons on Sundays and then again on special feast days such as Christmas Eve, which land during the middle of the week. For pastors, it is always challenging to find the time to write a good sermon, what with all the ordinary and extraordinary demands of the pastoral life; it's doubly challenging on a week like this. My comments, then, about the kinds of sermons we might find in churches during the Advent and Christmas holidays are in no way to place yet another burden on pastors nor to ignore the many, many good sermons by preachers all across the ecclesial spectrum. 

Second, while I feel less than excited that Christmas pageants are often reduced to the cutesyness of children, I will also say that I LOVE LAUGHING with parents at the silly, crazy, funny things that kids do in pageants. Kids are simply the best. 

Also: a super kudos to the staff and volunteers in our churches who pull off pageants with their sanity intact. 

Third, that being said, I still feel compelled to ask two questions: Don't we think our kids are capable of also handling substantial gospel material in a substantial way? Don't we think our kids are also capable of serious and substantial engagements with art? I would hope the answer could be yes. 

Fourth, I ask a series of "what if" questions in this essay, about the kinds of art I'd love to see our communities and artists take on. Let it also be said, that there are many, many excellent works of art by artists who are already taking the birth narratives seriously and bringing us face to face with the decidedly troubling, incredible, fantastical, weird and wonderful facets of these twin stories in Matthew and Luke. 

"Rest on The Flight into Egypt" by Orazio Gentileschi (1628)

Fifth, I mention only some of the difficult themes of the birth narratives. These are not meant to be comprehensive. They are meant instead to open up the sorts of categories that each of us feels deeply and personally, and often painfully. 

Sixth, a sincere thanks are due to my students this past term who provided the original context in which to explore these ideas. This was the task that I had given them during our class discussion, on December 2:

"Choose one medium of art and identify a specific use of that medium by which you might make a 
particular aspect of the birth narrative of Christ become fresh with insight or sharp with tension for your home congregation. Following this, suggest a way in which this experience of liturgical art forms your congregation’s sense of worship, of God, of community, of what it means to be human, and of the world at large."

I identified for my students particular aspects of the birth narratives, from both Matthew and Luke (listed below), and bolded a few noteworthy or unusual elements. I asked them to complete this exercise on their own, then share it with a partner, and finally share it with the whole group. I was so very encouraged by the art projects that my students imagined on behalf of the church at this time of year.

Lastly, let me state the obvious: It is hard to be a human being, and it is hard to be a faithful Christian. So although my essay bemoans some of the things that I find discouraging or problematic about our society, I don't wish to leave readers with a total bummer feeling about life and faith. 

If we're hanging in there, doing our best to choose to love the folks closest to us, rather than closing ourselves off to them, to cling to hope rather than give in to despair, or to receive the gift of Jesus' joy (as my good wife rightly puts it) rather than to let ourselves devolve to the worst version of ourselves in light of the pain and sadness that at times feels impossible, well, then, I figure we're doing something right and we have an occasion to join in the feast of the Incarnation, with clear eyes and full hearts, along with others who can bear our burdens with us, even as Jesus himself continues to bear us all, at all times and in all places. 

(A warm thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and to Bruce Herman, David J. P. Hooker, Jim Janknegt, and Phaedra Taylor for letting me use their beautiful artwork in the WaPo essay.)

"Guatemalan Annunciation" by Fr. John B. Giuliani

Making Fresh the Strange Narrative of Christ’s birth: Matthew 

1. A child is conceived out of wedlock: 1:18
2. Joseph’s intention is to divorce Mary quietly: 1:19.
3. An angel communicates with Joseph through a dream (not a vision or in person, as with Mary and Zechariah): 1:20.
4. Jesus is given his name: 1:21.
5. Fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies: 1:22-23.
6. Social stigma/shame in Joseph taking Mary to be his wife while she was pregnant: 1:24.
7. A miraculous conception: 1:25.
8. Astrologers qua astronomers see a “star/comet” and decide to visit Bethlehem in order to visit the child kind: 2:1.
9. The “magi” worship the child Jesus with bizarre gifts: 2:11.
10. An angel warns the “magi” in a dream to not return to Herod: 2:12.
11. An angel appears again to Joseph in a dream to warn him: 2:13.
12. A refugee family moves away from family at the most inopportune time of the child’s life in order to live amongst strangers in Egypt: 2:14-15.
13. The massacre/genocide of children, as a fulfillment of God’s prophetic word: 2:16-18.
14. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, for the third time, to tell him to return to Israel: 3:19.
15. An angel appears to Joseph in a dream, for the fourth time, to tell him to go to Nazareth in Galilee specifically: 2:22-23.

"The Flight into Egypt" by Joachim Beuckelaer (second half of 16th century)

Making Fresh the Strange Narrative of Christ’s birth: Luke 

1. Infertility: occurring to the two people you’d least expect would be infertile, on account of the fact that they are descried as “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly; cf. Deut. 28:4, 18; John 9:2-3).
2. Elizabeth’s shame or disgrace caused by her infertility: 1:24-25.
3. The elderly: and their socio-religious status in Israel: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Anna and Simeon: 1:7; 2:25-36.
4. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in person: 1:11.
5. A child is conceived in at an impossibly old age: 1:23
6. John is given his name by the angel, a name that did not have any connection to any family member: 1:13, 60-63.
7. John is tagged with a Nazarite’s vow before his birth in preparation for his calling as the latter-day Elijah: 1:15.
8. Doubt in Zechariah’s interrogation of the angel: 1:18.
9. Judgment: in Gabriel’s word to Zechariah: 1:20.
10. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary in person: 1:26-27.
11. Jesus is given his name by the angel: 1:31.
12. Mary is not judged by the angel for asking virtually the same question that Zechariah asks: 1:34.
13. The Holy Spirit impregnates Mary with a divine zygote: 1:35.
14. The fetus leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when she encounters Mary: 1:41.
15. Mary bursts out into spontaneous song: 1:46ff. The song is not a “sweet” song.
16. Zechariah bursts out into spontaneous song: 1:67ff. It, too, is not a “sweet” song.
17. John lived in the desert during his childhood, presumably because his parents had died when he was young: 1:80.
18. Jesus is born in a cave or in an overcrowded Palestinian peasant home, in the part that included the stable for animals: 2:7.
19. The shepherds, as perhaps the garbage truck workers or funeral undertakers or homeless of first century Palestine, were the first to receive the news of Jesus’ birth: 2:8.
20. An angel appears to the shepherds: 2:9.
21. Simeon utters a prophetic word: 2:29ff.
22. Simeon offers a decidedly “indelicate” comment to the young mother Mary: 2:35.
23. Anna is a prophetess: 2:36.
24. Anna is a widow: 2:37.

"The Nativity" by Gary Melchers (1891)

Nicholas Mynheer, "Saint Nicholas and Saint Edward" (2011)

Steve Prince, "Familia"

"Joseph's Dream" by Fr. John B. Giuliani

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Life's Interruptions as a Means of Grace: an Advent meditation by Ron Rolheiser

Illustration by Richard J. Watson from Ruth Bell Graham's book, One Wintry Night

(It has been a while since I've posted two blog posts in one week. But I've just read another lovely Advent meditation and wanted to share it as an additional resource for folks like myself, who are trying to make the best of this often harried, less than holy peaceful season. Ron Rolheiser is a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. He is the author of, among other books, Spirituality for a Restless Culture; The Holy Longing; Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist; Secularity and the Gospel: Being Missionary to our own Children; Prayer: Our Deepest Longing; and Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. In the essay below, Rolheiser offers a brief reflection on the way in which life's interruptions, along with the host of domestic chores that characterize our lives, can become a means of grace for us, rather than an obstacle to grace. It's a timely reminder for me, as someone who is frequently bent out of shape by the interruption of my carefully planned schedules. I'm grateful to my friend Steven Purcell for introducing me to Rolheiser, who at times feels like the Catholic Richard Foster.)

Ron Rolheiser, Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas, "Life's Interruptions"

In a biography of C.S. Lewis, A. N. Wilson describes how Lewis’ life was, during virtually all of his productive years interrupted by the demands of his adoptive mother who made him do all the shopping in the household, laments this fact in his diaries and suggests that Lewis could have been much more prolific had he not been forced to spend countless hours doing domestic chores. Lewis himself, however, gives a different assessment.

Far from being resentful about these interruptions, he’s grateful and suggests that it was precisely these domestic demands that kept him in touch with life in a way that other Oxford dons were not. Wilson agrees. He suggests that it was precisely because of these interruptions which kept Lewis’ feet squarely on the ground, that Lewis was able to have such empathic insights into the everyday human condition.

We, too, must look for the hand of God in our interruptions. These often appear as a conspiracy of accidents but through them God guides and tutors us. If we were totally in control of our own agendas, if we could simply plan and execute our lives according to our own dreams with no unwanted demands I fear that many of us would slowly and subtly become selfish.

C. S. Lewis once said that we’ll spend most of eternity thanking God for those prayers he didn’t answer. I suspect we’ll also spend a good part of eternity thanking God for those interruptions that derailed our plans.

José y Maria," by Everett Patterson

Flight into Egypt 2 (Jim Janknegt)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Intimacy and Revolution: an Advent meditation on "Our Father" by N. T. Wright

"Shepherds" (Jim Janknegt)

(I was quite encouraged by my reading this morning from N. T. Wright’s book, The Lord and His Prayer. As an academic, I spend my days with words and I am drowned by words on the Internet, as I rummage around for suitable classroom illustrations and as I sometimes lose myself in endlessly interesting but often trivial rabbit trails, which I justify to myself as moments of "consequential discovery." What I crave, in light of this rush and clang of words, is the discovery of one good word, one good phrase that says what needs to be said, that says what my heart is trying to tell my poor head but which my head is incapable of hearing because it is clogged up for all sorts of reasons. In this excerpt from Wright's reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, he offers me that one good phrase, which I thought might be worth sharing with others, too. The fact that it connects to our current season of Advent is not coincidental. I would certainly encourage you to get a copy of the book yourself. It’s quintessential Wright, and quite good.)

N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (pp. 8-10), "Our Father in Heaven"

We live between Advent and Advent; between the first great Advent, the coming of the Son into the world, and the second Advent, when he shall come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. That’s why Advent is sometimes quite confusing, preparing for the birth of Jesus and at the same time preparing for the time when God makes all things new, when the whole cosmos has its exodus from slavery.

That apparent confusing, that overlap of the first and second Advents, is actually what Christianity is all about: celebrating the decisive victory of God, in Jesus Christ, over Pharaoh and the Red Sea, over sin and death—and looking for, and working for, and loving for, and praying for, the full implementation of that decisive victory. Every Eucharist catches exactly this tension. ‘As often as you break the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim, you announce, the death of the Lord—until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

We come for our daily, and heavenly, bread; we come for our daily, and final, forgiveness; we come for our daily, and ultimate, deliverance; we come to celebrate God’s kingdom now, and to pray for it soon. That is what we mean when we call God “Father.”

And as we do this, as we pray this prayer in this setting, we begin to discover the true pattern of Christian spirituality, of the Christian way of penetrating into the mystery, of daring to enter the cloud of unknowing.

When we call God “Father,” we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray.

But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed.

And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos—then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.

This, then, I dare say, is the pattern of Christian spirituality. It is not the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement. It is not the flight of the alone to the alone. It is neither simply shouting into a void, nor simply getting in touch with our own deepest feelings, though sometimes it may feel like one or other of these.

It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world; of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God “Father.”

"The Night Visitors" (Janet McKenzie)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Psalms for the Common Life

(Ernst Haeckel, illustration)

Here are a few psalms that I read this morning in preparation for my course on worship and the arts. Each in their own peculiar way does what every good psalm must do: make the strange, familiar, and the familiar, strange. Each is written by somebody we might least suspect would ever have any interest in penning a "psalm." With each, I am invited, like the biblical psalmist, to perceive the grace of God in the common places of our lives where we might, desperately in fact, wish to find it. (I've placed in brackets the biblical psalm likely evoked by the poem.)

Psalm III, by Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997)
[Psalm 27:1]

To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.

Taste and See, by Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
[Psalm 34:8]

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Te Deum, by Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) 
[Psalm 98:1]

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

"The Sleep," by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
[Psalm 127:2]

Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward into souls afar,
Along the Psalmist’s music deep,
Now tell me if that any is
For gift or grace surpassing this—
“He giveth His beloved, sleep”?

What would we give to our beloved?
The hero’s heart to be unmoved,
The poet’s star-tun’d harp to sweep,
The patriot’s voice to teach and rouse,
The monarch’s crown to light the brows?—
He giveth His beloved, sleep.

What do we give to our beloved?
A little faith all undisproved,
A little dust to overweep,
And bitter memories to make
The whole earth blasted for our sake:
He giveth His beloved, sleep.

“Sleep soft, beloved!” we sometimes say
Who have no tune to charm away
Sad dreams that through the eyelids creep:
But never doleful dream again
Shall break the happy slumber when
He giveth His beloved, sleep.

O earth, so full of dreary noises!
O men, with wailing in your voices!
O delved gold, the wailers heap!
O strife, O curse, that o’er it fall!
God strikes a silence through you all,
And giveth His beloved, sleep.

His dews drop mutely on the hill,
His cloud above it saileth still,
Though on its slope men sow and reap:
More softly than the dew is shed,
Or cloud is floated overhead,
He giveth His beloved, sleep.

Ay, men may wonder while they scan
A living, thinking, feeling man
Confirm’d in such a rest to keep;
But angels say, and through the word
I think their happy smile is heard—
“He giveth His beloved, sleep.”

For me, my heart that erst did go
Most like a tired child at a show,
That sees through tears the mummers leap,
Would now its wearied vision close,
Would childlike on His love repose
Who giveth His beloved, sleep.

And friends, dear friends, when it shall be
That this low breath is gone from me,
And round my bier ye come to weep,
Let One, most loving of you all,
Say, “Not a tear must o’er her fall!
He giveth His beloved, sleep.”

Henry Peach Robinson "When the Day's Work is Done" (1877)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Worship and the Arts: 12 Questions for a Liturgical Artist

In the course I am teaching this fall, I have asked students to interview a liturgical artist. By this term, "liturgical artist," I simply mean an artist who has made, shown, or performed art in the context of corporate worship. I mean the same thing by the term "liturgical art." On this understanding, every church, no matter the tradition or denomination, has liturgical art, whether explicitly or implicitly, whether extravagantly or modestly. My hope is that this assignment will expose us as a class to a wide range of thinking on and practice in the arts in worship. My guess is that students will discover distinctive thought patterns, preferred vocabulary, key exemplars, and strong convictions in their conversations with artists. Here are the details to their assignment.

Details on Interview with Liturgical Artist assignment: 

Contact a liturgical artist of your choice. You are also free to interview a group of artists who have worked together in a liturgical context. It is preferable if you contact an artist who has created liturgical art frequently rather than only rarely. This way they’ll be able to offer you a range of perspective, rather than an idiosyncratic one.

(For the sake of common understanding, please let your interviewee know that the language of “liturgical art” is interchangeable with “art made in a corporate worship context.”)

The following is the basic information you should provide about the artist(s): 

1. Name.
2. City/town of residence.
3. Home church (if any).
4. Art medium (or media).
5. Church context(s) in which they have worked.

The following is a list of questions that I would like for you to ask them. You need not ask them all these questions, but do try to use as many of them as possible.

1. What are 1-2 things that have been most satisfying for you in making artwork for a liturgical context?

2. What are 1-2 things that have been most challenging for you in making artwork for a liturgical context?

3. How do you think about the difference between making/performing/showing your art in a worship context versus making/performing/showing your art outside of the context of worship?

4. How would you describe your role in making artwork for a corporate worship context?

5. How closely do you work with the pastor/priest/clergy in the art-making process? What are the challenges, and what do you enjoy, when collaborating with pastor(s) to create art for a given congregation?

6. To what extent is the artist responsible to offer people something that is both difficult and delightful, both familiar and foreign, both accessible and stretching, for that given congregation?

7. What does your medium of art offer uniquely to people in a worship context? Is there something distinctive that your medium of art is able to illumine or provoke or instruct or draw out from people in their experience of that art in worship?

8. What sort of education of the congregation needs to happen in order for people to be able to enter fully, fruitfully and faithfully into the experience of this liturgical art?

9. On what terms would you say that a work of liturgical art was excellent?

10. What is one thing that you would want to tell a room-full of pastors and worship leaders?

11. What is one thing that you would want to tell a room-full of artists who make/show/perform work in a liturgical context?

12. What's one way that you think artists can show love to congregations they are working with? What's one thing you wish congregations would do to show love when working with artists?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Worship and the Arts: a course syllabus

Pluscarden Abbey, Elgin, Scotland

The following is an abridged syllabus of the course that I will be teaching this fall at Fuller Seminary. I'm looking forward to exploring the material with students, which will hopefully turn into a book some day soon. Should be great fun.


This course is an introduction to Christian reflection on and the practice of the arts in worship. By lectures, discussions, and conversations with artists, students will discover ways in which the different media of art open up and close down liturgical, communal, theological, formative and missional possibilities for a given congregation in corporate worship.

Upon completion of this course, students will (1) have a greater understanding of the biblical, historical, theological and contextual perspectives of art in worship; (2) gain a careful appreciation for the logic and formative power of the different media of art in corporate worship; (3) be exposed to various experiences of the arts in worship; and (4) be given an opportunity to deepen their own practices of liturgical art.


1. Brown, Frank B. Inclusive Yet Discerning: Navigating Worship Artfully. Eerdmans, 2009. [75 pp.]

2. Cherry, Constance M. The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services. Baker Academic, 2010. [90 pp.]

3. Crowley, Eileen D. Liturgical Art for a Media Culture. Liturgical Press, 2007.  [90 pp]

4. Dyrness, William. Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue. Baker, 2001. [145 pp.].

5. Gagne, Ronald, Thomas Kane and Robert VerEecke. Introducing Dance in Christian Worship. The Pastoral Press, 1984. [100 pp.]

6. Taylor, W. David O., ed., For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts. Baker, 2010.  [125 pp.]

 7. Torgerson, Mark. An Architecture of Immanence: Architecture For Worship and Ministry Today. Eerdmans, 2007.  [75 pp.]

8. Torrance, James B. Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace. IVP Academic: 1996.  [50 pp.]

9. Additional readings: 500 pages.


1. Bauer, Michael J. Arts Ministry: Nurturing the Creative Life of God’s People. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.

2. Savidge, Dale and Todd Johnson. Performing the Sacred: Theology and Theatre in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

3. Torgerson, Mark A. Greening Spaces for Worship and Ministry: Congregations, Their Buildings, and Creation Care. Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2012.

4. Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.


1. 1,250 pages of reading.

2. A 1,250-word participant-observation report of an experience of liturgical art.

3. A 1,000-word report of a conversation with a liturgical artist.

4. Four 500-750-word online responses to readings. 

5. Signature assignment: write a 2,500-3,000-word research paper in which you choose a particular activity of worship (e.g., gathering, praying, confessing, singing, reading, preaching, communing, sending, etc.) and suggest ways in which a specific use of art might open up and close down liturgical, communal, theological, formative and missional possibilities for a given congregational context in their practice of that activity of worship.


1. Introduction: questions, contexts, definitions, and assumptions.

2. Biblical and theological perspectives on the art and worship.

3. Historical perspectives on art and worship.

4. Worship and the sonic arts (music et al).

5. Worship and the plastic arts (2D, 3D and architecture).

6. Worship and the kinetic and oratorical arts (dance and drama and spoken word).

7. Worship and the literary arts (literature and poetry).

8. Worship and the “emerging” arts (film, video, graphic arts, etc).

9. Worship and the care and formation of liturgical artists.

10. The missional implication of art and worship: “mother tongues” & “adjectival tongues” as witness to the triune God.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Brehm Texas website is live

For those of you have wondered what Brehm Texas is on about, this will provide the beginning of an answer. More to come, especially on the PROJECTS page. A hearty thanks to Elijah Davidson for helping get the website in good shape. Excited to see how it all unfolds.

PS: there is still time to register for our inaugural event on Saturday, August 29, at the Lanier Chapel. See here for details. Go here to register.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Brehm Texas Inaugural Event: Two Artists: Lupe Mendez & Kareem Goode

On August 29 we will hold the inaugural event for Brehm Texas, the newest initiative of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary, which I have been tasked to lead. Based out of the Fuller Texas campus, the vision of Brehm Texas is to revitalize the church through the arts for the common good. Our mission is to gather church leaders, artists, academics and creatives for the purpose of exploring the varied role of the arts in the life of the church and, in light of those gatherings, to produce resources that serve the church in a global context.

This event will take place at the Lanier Chapel, pictured above.

In addition to a lecture by Jeremy S. Begbie, professor of theology at Duke Divinity School and a professionally trained musician, on "What Good the Arts Offer a Multi-Ethnic City," we'll have the privilege of enjoying the work of two Houston-based artists, Lupe Mendez (a poet) and Kareem Goode (a cellist). I've included their biographical information below. I've also included the basic info for the event here.

We'd love for you to join us. All are welcome (though please register here so we know you'll be coming). Do pass this along, if you would, to any friends who might be interested in this topic.

What: A public lecture followed by catered reception.
When: August 29, 2015, 7:00–9:00 pm.
WhereThe Lanier Theological Library Chapel
WhoJeremy Begbie, the Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School, gives a lecture: "What Good Can the Arts Offer to a Multi-Ethnic City?"
Who else: Performances by Lupe Mendez and Kareem Goode.
To register: go here. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited (225), so it's first come, first serve.

Originally from Galveston, Texas, Lupe Mendez works with "Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say," the Word Around Poetry Tour and the Brazilian Arts Foundation to promote poetry events, advocate for literacy/literature and organize creative writing workshops that are open to the public. Mendez has opened up for such notable writers as Dagoberto Gilb, Oscar Casarez, Esmeralda Santiago and the late Raul Salinas. Lupe has served as a keynote speaker at colleges and universities such as Sam Houston State University, the University of Houston, Lone Star College, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Lee College in Baytown, TX.

Lupe is an internationally published poet, in book and online formats, including Norton's Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories From The United States and Latin America, The Bayou Review (University of Houston-Downtown), Flash (University of Chester, England), the international forum for flash fiction, Huizache, the magazine of Latino literature, Luna Luna Magazine, La Noria, Glassworks and Revista Síncope (D.F., México). In 2012 Lupe was honored as one "Houston Press' Creative 100s," a annual spotlight on the Houston Press blog site where 100 artists & arts supporters are featured throughout the year. Lupe's work reflects not only his roots in Texas and the Mexican state of Jalisco (specifically, Atotonilco El Alto, San Jose del Valle, San Juan de los Lagos, Guadalajara, Los Cuates, La Pareja), it is also a comment on commonplace issues, struggles, moments and relevant ideas and images he is humbled to witness.

Kareem Goode is a music educator, freelance cellist, and is currently the Director of the Spring Forest Middle School Orchestra program. As a protégé of Anthony Elliott and graduate of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Mr. Goode received both his Bachelor of Music degree in Cello Performance and Teacher Certification for grades K-12. While at the University of Michigan, Mr. Goode was a member of the cello section during the performance and recording of William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience under conductor Leonard Slatkin. The recording was awarded four Grammy awards including Best Classical Album. Mr. Goode has also been a member of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra in Detroit, University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, the Texas Music Festival Summer Music Conservatory and has served as an intern/instructor with the American Festival of the Arts Summer Music Conservatory. Mr. Goode teaches in Spring Branch I.S.D. and maintains a private studio of cello students in the Houston area.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A handbook for church galleries: visual arts and the flourishing of a congregational life

If you have ever wondered how the visual arts might play a vital role in your congregational life, I cannot more highly recommend this handbook for church galleries, produced by CIVA and authored by Sandra Bowden and Marianne Lettieri. If something like this existed when I first began exploring the place of art in the church, in the summer of 1996, it might have saved me years of trial and error. This handbook is not only comprehensive in scope, it also includes an extraordinary amount of detail to account for all sorts of contexts (say, from large to small), constraints (say, from wealthy to modest) and purposes (say, from worship to witness).

It answers questions like:

1. How do you define a gallery program?

2. What kinds of gallery models are out there?

3. How do you design a gallery space?

4. How do you fund a gallery?

5. How do you manage the business administration of a gallery?

6. How do you plan an exhibit well?

7. What sorts of exhibits might a church mount?

8. How do you organize a juried show?

9. How do you handle artwork carefully?

10. How do you install an exhibit?

11. How can you thoughtfully engage viewers from many backgrounds and with many diverse expectations?

12. How do you promote and publicize an exhibit?

The handbook begins with a foreword that I wrote as well as with an extended introduction by Robert Colvo. It ends with a list of useful resources, such as books, websites, art organizations, tutorials, and blogs, for further inquiry.

Whether your church is a longstanding patron of the visual arts or you are newly beginning, this handbook will serve as an invaluable resource for insight and wisdom, both practical and theoretical. You can purchase it here.

During my years as a pastor at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, I oversaw approximately 45 distinct art exhibits. I am grateful that God surrounded me with exceptionally skilled visual artists to teach me how to curate the art within the various contexts of Hope Chapel's congregational life. We grew together, and to the extent that we made mistakes together, we learned to trust each other. At different times, the visual art served the worship, the community, the discipleship, the mission and the public service of the church. We explored many wonderful things with the visual arts and I am deeply grateful for the years that I shared with them. At the same time, I would not have minded if this handbook had been around then, too.

Hope Chapel art exhibit (detail from Shaun Fox painting)

The 8th HopeArts Festival, Hope Chapel, Austin, TX, July 2007