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

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

What good are the arts to a multi-ethnic city?

What good are the arts to a multi-ethnic city?

How might the arts enable multi-ethnic communities to live well together? Can the arts help us to imagine the "like and unlike" in harmonious, instead of homogenous or contentious, common life (like this perhaps)? Does Christian theology have something distinct to contribute to the artistic imagination, particularly as it relates to the challenges and opportunities of a city like Houston, Texas, which, according to a joint report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, is the most ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the nation?

Can the arts not only mend but inspire a racially mixed city with a vision of a flourishing public life?

These are the sorts of questions which we hope to explore at the inaugural event for Brehm Texas. This event will take place on August 29, 2015, at 7:00 pm, at the Stone Chapel, a reconstruction of a 500 A.D. Byzantine church in Tomarza, Cappadocia (Turkey), pictured below.

What is Brehm Texas? It is the newest initiative of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is an initiative that 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.

Here are the basic details about the inaugural event:

What: A public lecture followed by catered reception.
When: August 29, 2015, 7:00–9:00 pm.
Where: The Lanier Theological Library Chapel
Who: Jeremy 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 two Houston artists: Lupe Mendez (poet) and Kareem Goode (cellist).
To register: go here. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so it's first come, first serve.

I'm super excited about this event and cordially invite you to come. Anybody and everybody is welcome.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Theology & Science Fiction: A Syllabus

"In the image of God he created them, male and female."

The following is a syllabus that I have written for an independent study that I am doing with a student at Fuller Seminary this summer. It may also be right to say that it is a working document for a proper course that I would like to teach a year from now. 

A few things bear mentioning here. One, it is almost impossible to narrow down the list of novels to two per topic. After spending the last four years nearly exclusively reading SF, there were too many good candidates to choose from. I intentionally chose to take the interests of the student in the selection of these specific novels. And while the student is only required to read two novels per topic, I included a third possible novel if he was keen to read further. Two, the list of theological readings represents a tradition (JBG excepted) that I familiar with and which offers a kind of through-line for the student as he engages his own theological and literary investigations of the principal texts (pushing back against this tradition will be expected and welcomed). Three, for the eventual course, I will supplement these theological readings with essays drawing from different theological traditions. Four, the technology/science readings are provisional and idiosyncratic, but they offer sufficient fodder for a conversation on the formative power of both technology and science on Christian faith and on life in the contemporary world.

I'm excited for the opportunity to give this course a beta run. I've been day-dreaming about it for years. The topic of science fiction and religion/philosophy/theology is a sprawling, far-ranging landscape. One course can never presume to cover it adequately. But it's a beginning. And I'm grateful that I get to do it with a very sharp student, who has already taken two courses on science fiction during his undergraduate years at Stanford.

A shorter history of Artificial Intelligence.

The church of Trek. 

Syllabus for “Theology and Science Fiction” independent study

A.    Course Objectives

1.    This course will explore theological themes that emerge in science fiction literature. It does so believing that science fiction opens up theological categories of interest to both the church and the culture at large.

2.    To engage a careful study of science fiction texts in their socio-historical context, with the aim of discerning the meaning-making logic of science fiction as an artistic and imaginative medium.

3.    To practice the discipline of inter-disciplinary study—in this case, theology and science fiction—in careful, methodologically sound ways.

B.    Course Assignments

1.    Complete all course readings.  

2.    Write four essays, 2,000-3,000 words, in response to each session’s readings.  

3.    Write a fifth essay, 5,000 words, as a re-write of the first essay, with the aim of seeking publication.

4.    Plan five, one-hour conversations over the phone to discussion readings and essays.

C.    Course Readings:

1.     Novels

a.     Anthropology: genetic and technological modification, the plasticity of (physical, sexual, gendered) humanity, and the boundary lines of a faithful human life.

1)    Charles Stross, Glasshouse
2)    Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
3)     [Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon]

b.     Doctrine of creation: strange creatures as tokens of God’s strange creation.

1)    Robert Charles Wilson, Bios
2)    Michel Faber, The Book of Strange New Things
3)    [Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves + Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead]

c.     Ecclesiology: uniting the “like and unlike” and the nature of mediation in human relationships.

1)    Dave Eggers, The Circle
2)    M. D. Russell, The Sparrow
3)    [Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood]

d.     Eschatology: life in the aftermath of the end.

1)    Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
2)    Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz
3)    [Cormac McCarthy, The Road]

e.     Soteriology: an instinct for resurrection in the transhumanist instinct for artificial intelligence and cyborg or augmented humanity.

1)     Daniel H. Wilson, Amped
2)     Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games
3)     [P.K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep]

2.     Theology texts

a.     Anthropology: Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).

b.    Doctrine of creation: Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. III, “The Doctrine of Creation,” §41.2, “Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant.”

c.     Ecclesiology: Colin Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: CUP, 1993).

d.    Eschatology: Paul S. Fiddes, The Promised End: Eschatology in Theology and Literature (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

e.    Soteriology: Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1992).

3.     Science and Technology texts

a.     Anthropology:

·      “Resisting the Demon: A History of A.I. in Nine Parts,” AdBusters, 2/23/2015,
·      Jane McGonigal, “The Benefits of Alternate Realities,” in Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin: 2011).

b.    Doctrine of creation:

·      Michael Hanlon, “Could This Be the Year We Make Contact with Aliens?”, The Telegraph, 12/31/2013,
·      Malcolm Jeeves, “Does my Brain Have a ‘God Spot’?”, in Minds, Brains, Souls and Gods: A Conversation on Faith, Psychology and Neuroscience (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2013).

c.     Ecclesiology:

·      Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2013).
·      Nicholas Carr, “The Church of Google,” in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (New York: Norton, 2010)

d.    Eschatology:

·      Bill Joy, “Why the future doesn’t need us,” Wired,
·      Christina Bieber Lake, “Learning to Love in a Posthuman World,” in Prophets of the Posthuman: American Fiction, Biotechnology, and the Ethics of Personhood (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press: 2013)

e.    Soteriology:

·      Lev Grossman, “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal,” Time, 2/10/2011,,9171,2048299,00.html.
·      John Dyer, “Virtualization,” in From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011).

Jedi Pantocrator.

"And he put the Human in the garden to work it and to care for it."