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, https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/118/resisting-demon.html.
·      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, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10542591/Could-this-be-the-year-we-make-contact-with-aliens.html.
·      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, http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html.
·      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, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2048299,00.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." 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What makes Hillsong's "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" so popular?


Recently, Kate Shellnutt, editor at Christianity Today, sent me an email asking what I thought about Hillsong's "Oceans" and what I felt accounted for its longstanding popularity. She sent this same question to several people, and the result of that query is this online article: "'Oceans' Keeps Rising: Why the Hillsong hit still tops the charts." Here is how her article begins:

"The worship music powerhouse out of Hillsong Church in Sydney has created some of evangelicals’ favorite worship songs of the past decade: “Mighty to Save,” “Desert Song,” “The Stand,” and many more. But “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United has blown them all out of the water with its commercial staying power. 

It's been on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs list longer than any other Christian single. Though it came out more than two years ago, “Oceans” ranked No. 1 as recently as last month, based on radio airplay, sales, and digital streaming. (It’s currently No. 2.) From Zion, Hillsong United's quickest and best-selling album, the now-platinum “Oceans” first swelled to the top of the chart in December 2013, where it stayed for 50 consecutive weeks—another record. 

On YouTube, the 9-minute-long lyric video for “Oceans” has 35 million views, more than any posted by Hillsong, and a performance in Relevant Magazine’s studios also continues to be hugely popular, with 17.5 million."

At this point, following a few more general observations, she includes comments from Tanya Riches, Wen Reagan, Hillary Jane, Ellie Holcomb and myself. Since she was only able to include a part of my answer, I thought I would include my full answer here, which I sent in an email.



Dear Kate,

It bears mentioning that I claim no expertise on Hillsong music. Others have actual scholarly insights, like Wen Reagan or Monique Ingalls or Joshua Busman. Lester Ruth might also have plenty to say on this account. What I offer here, I offer tentatively. That being said, there are two comments that I might make, one at a textual, the other at a musical level.

TEXTUALLY: the song combines typical elements of a charismatic-pentecostal sensibility. If you will, it is the perfect charismatic-pentecostal song. (See here for the complete lyrics.)

First, in the language of "my faith will stand," you have the element of a resilient faith, a faith that is able to overcome all odds. Whatever else a charismatic Christian may believe, he or she believes that God really gives a faith that moves mountains and a faith that stands, precisely because Christ stands with us, come hell or high water.

Second, you have the theme of intimacy. For a charismatic Christian, this is central to the faith: the approachable, personable, intimate quality of God. For the charismatic Christian, God is always near. Hence the language of "You've never failed and You won't start now." Hence also the language of "My soul will rest in your embrace/ For I am Yours and You are mine." This language is the same sort of language you'll find in Catholic mystical writings: a deeply sensory, erotic connection to God (and by "erotic," I mean the technical sense of eros love, as C. S. Lewis might describe it). The concluding phrase, "In the presence of my Savior/Oh, Jesus, you're my God!" functions like a massive punch line to the song: as a kind of christological and liturgical climax for charismatic faith.

Third, you have the theme of a God of uncontainable power. The language of "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders/Let me walk upon the waters" captures this sense that God is able and willing to do the impossible in our lives, including through signs and wonders. The phrase, "trust without borders," is especially evocative. It's a $64,000 metaphor: a metaphor that is richly allusive, and I can imagine that those who sing this phrase might find themselves thinking of Jesus and contemporary immigration politics. 

Fourth, you have the perfectly elastic but also eminently biblically friendly term "mystery." For a charismatic Christian, there is the glad acceptance that not all things in this life are quantifiable. The mystery of the Christian faith is to be inhabited, not figured out; it is to be entered into more deeply, in contemplative prayer and song, rather than to be mastered through rational discourse. "Mystery" and "oceans deep" are metaphorically linked, the latter image concretizing the former and investing the idea of mystery with a physical reality that enables a charismatic Christian, as one scholar puts it, to generate a performative 'materialization' of the invisible God. With these two terms, "mystery" and "oceans deep," a poetic resonance is created that has, to my mind, a nearly endlessly satisfying effect on the singer.

MUSICALLY: the song, as an instance of rock and roll, has a cinematic and operatic quality to it. It goes quiet, loud, quiet, loud: suddenly swelling in sound, then just as suddenly receding. This arrangement packs quite a physiological punch. The song also bears resemblance to the EDM phenomenon of the "drop": where the music builds and builds and builds, till the tension is almost too much to bear, and then the music suddenly plunges into a place where, as one Hillsong writer might put it, "it just gets huge."

When you take the text and the music and add it to the video iterations of the song, along with the opus of Hillsong music, with a pinch of hipster fashion, you get a worship song that rewards, at least for the charismatic, pentecostal Christian, if not for plenty of others, repeated hearing--and, of course, singing.

Those are my thoughts, which I offer with care. I hope they're helpful in some way.

Blessings,

David


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Between Two Worlds: A conversation between the church and contemporary art


Three weeks from now I will join a group of visual artists, art historians, art critics, philosophers and theologians, patrons, teachers, administrators, pastors, arts ministry leaders and thoughtful lay folk at the biennial conference for Christians in the Visual Arts. I am very excited about this conference and am grateful for the opportunity to serve as co-director.

It is an understatement to say that the church and the contemporary art world find themselves in an uneasy relationship. On one hand, the leaders of local congregations, seminaries, and other Christian networks often do not know what to make of works by artists like Banksy and Chris Ofili, or Marina Abramovich and Barbara Kruger. Not only are such artist mostly unknown to church leaders, they and their work cause them to regard the world of contemporary art with quizzical indifference, frustration, and even disdain. On the other hand, many artists lack any meaningful experience with the contemporary church and are mostly ignorant of her mission. Not infrequently, these artists regard religion as irrelevant to their art practice, they are disinclined to trust the church and its leaders, and they have experienced personal rejection from these communities. Clearly, misunderstanding and mistrust abound.

CIVA’s 2015 Biennial Conference at Calvin College will host a conversation between these two worlds. During our four days together, we will explore the misperceptions that we have about each other, create hospitable space to talk and listen, and imagine the possibility of a renewed and mutually fruitful relationship. With these lofty goals before us, this conference will provide a range of case studies that exemplify the kinds of programs, partnership, and patronage that might serve the greater good. Meanwhile, where the difference between these two worlds is too great to overcome, this conference seeks to build a bridge that facilitates understanding and mutual respect. In other words, we seek to find common ground for the common good since we — Christians at work in the visual arts — believe this is what God, in Christ, would have us to do.

This conference will take place June 11-14, 2015, at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, MIThe following are a few highlights and I encourage you to register here, if you haven't already.

Who is speaking at this conference? A magnificent collection of people. See the names listed on this poster for a few of the folks that have thrown their lot in with this event. See this provisional list of bio notes, too. You can also see this blog post which I wrote originally on the conference theme.



For whom is this conference? This conference is for anyone in the art world and anyone in the church world.

Who is leading our devotional reflections and offering the homily on Sunday morning? None other than the lovely, immensely talented, artistically prolific and spiritually wise Luci Shaw.



What is the schedule for the conference? See here for a description of the plenary program, the tracks and seminar sessions, and the extracurricular activities.

What sorts of seminars and tracks will the conference offer? See here for a list of these.

Will there be any day-ahead programs? Most certainly. See here for a list of those events, including a conversation with Makoto Fujimura, a figure drawing workshop with Steve Prince, a tour of the Fred Meijer Sculpture Garden, and a tour one of Grand Rapids' most famous furniture design enterprises, Steelcase.

Doesn't the church have good reason to be suspicious of the contemporary art world, and vice versa? Yes they do. I talk about this, along with CIVA Executive Director Cam Anderson, in a podcast with Brian Moss.

What is one thing that I am most excited about? That's a hard question to answer, because there are so many things that I am excited about, but if I had to choose, I would choose the "First Generation" panel which will take place on the first night of the conference, on Thursday, June 11. This will panel will bring together five individuals who played a critical role in the pre-CIVA days in the world of modern art of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. This includes the following people: Calvin Seerveld, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Sandra Bowden and Ted Prescott.


Last question: is there financial help to get pastors, church and ministry leaders to the conference? Yes, there is. See this poster for details.



To register for this great conference, please go here.