Friday, July 07, 2006

The Silmarillion and Writing Fantasy

I posted some of this on my own blog, mystery cycles, but I felt it was pertinent enough to this blog to repost it here. Besides, nothing else is going on around here...

I started reading The Silmarillion, and in so doing I’ve been reminded of the singular vision of Tolkien. The introduction to the book, written by Christopher Tolkien, includes a letter J.R.R. wrote to his publisher in which he summarizes the content of The Silmarillion and goes into a little detail about his philosophy behind the crafting of it. As he says, he detests allegory, but his work is wholly Christian in spirit. His is a myth which springs from not only his love of the mythologies of Teutonic and Nordic cultures, but also and primarily from his love of “the True Myth”, the Biblical account of Creation and its Creator. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and I look forward to those opportunities when I can sit down and spend more time with it. Most of the time, I tend away from writing fantasy because I have a hard time escaping the notion that It’s All Been Done - Tolkien and Lewis did it best, in my opinion, and there are other big names that I enjoy (Lieber, Howard, Beagle, Le Guin, Alexander, King, Gaiman, and Smith), but when it comes to putting pen to paper and creating something of my own, I can’t help but feel derivative. I daresay the bulk of printed fantasy out there is either trying to emulate Tolkien (some more obviously and openly than others) or is trying to recreate historical Europe with modern-day sensibilities. Facing the former, well, Tolkien already did it; why try to create something that, at best, would only be remembered as a shadow of a greater work? Facing the latter, why manufacture something that could never be as varied, colorful, intriguing, internally consistent and accessible as real history, or the historical world? I originally chose to focus on historical fiction and historical fantasy because I was already quite interested in history, and I came to that latter conclusion: why write a story set in the Kingdom of Pretendia and try to make readers feel the impact and importance of that when I could write about Camelot, and everyone would already know what I’m talking about, at least to enough of a degree to make an emotional impact. I also feel as though I do creative work better when I have a foundation to build upon, a framework around which to construct my story. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of playing roleplaying games for most of my life or if it’s something I was already predisposed to do, but I suspect I have a better time of it when I’m creating characters and situations that take place in a setting that’s already been described to me than I do when trying to create a setting out of whole cloth. Either this means that I have a future of writing historical fiction, or of writing game fiction (which I think I fear more for the stigma of it and the poor quality I’ve seen in some of it), or of writing other people’s comics (which may be what I do for a career after all, if I happen to get a job with DC), or it may mean that I simply need to find a way to think outside of this box.

One of the things that started me upon this train of thought was something that Tolkien said in his letter. He was explaining that he wanted to create a myth for his own people, the English; something that wasn’t a product of one of the many cultures which invaded the British Isles over its history, but something which it could truly call of its own native culture:

“There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save improvised chap-book stuff. Of course there was and is all the Arthurian world, but powerful as it is, it is imperfectly naturalized, associated with the soil of Britain but not with English; and does not replace what I felt to be missing. For one thing, its ‘faerie’ is too lavish, and fantastical, incoherent and repetitive. [Here’s the part that really got my attention:] For another and more important thing, it is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion. For reasons which I will not elaborate, that seems to me fatal. Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world. (I am speaking, of course, of our present situation, not of ancient pagan, pre-Christian days. And I will not repeat what I tried to say in my essay, which you read). [Referring, I think, to his essay “On Fairy-Stories”]”

Anyway, he goes on to describe some of this reflection, how his tales reflect the themes of the Fall, Mortality, and what he calls The Machine, the use of ability and innate talent with the corruptive motive of domination.

These thoughts, then, have started me thinking afresh on the writing of fantasy. I can’t deny that it’s long been a desire of mine, and I certainly love to read good fantasy. When I think of the stories that have moved me the most, they tend to be of the fantasy genre; the Romantic blood that runs through them has a strong effect on me. After reading Tolkien’s thoughts on creating Middle-Earth (and thus being reminded of Lewis’s thoughts on writing Narnia and the Space Trilogy), I think I’ve felt a reawakening of that old desire, especially given the importance that they both placed on fantasy; I don’t think it would be a misappropriation of their statements to say that they stressed society’s need for fantasy. Not to mention, as I’ve said to Michael Slusser in our discussions on this topic, it’s not as though no one else is writing (and selling) fantasy. Even if we don’t do it, other people will.

I guess that leaves the next obvious question: how do I write good fantasy?

Continue reading "The Silmarillion and Writing Fantasy"

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Movie Review - The End of the Spear

In an effort to bring film into the arts discussion, this is a review of the above-referenced film, Every Tribe Entertainment's The End of the Spear. As the latest big-budget movie with an expressly Christian audience in mind, it seemed a good fit.

(By the way, this is a repost of an entry from my blog, The Sojourner Chronicle, so you may have already read it over there. If so, read it again. C'mon--you know you want to.)

The basic story is as follows: In 1956, a group of five missionaries penetrated the Ecuadorian jungles to bring the gospel to the reclusive Waodoni tribe. The Waodoni were feared by the Ecuadoran government and other natives because of their reputation for fierceness and violence--and, indeed, their culture was defined by a warrior ethos and a constant cycle of revenge killings. The missionaries (Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully) made contact, but were killed by the Waodoni. Through some extraodinary examples of forgiveness and surrender, several of the wives of the missionaries went to live among the Waodoni, and through their efforts much of the tribe was eventually converted to Christianity. Nate Saint's son, Steve, was eventually to return to the tribe as an adult and confront his father's killer, giving us yet another remarkable example of forgiveness.

A few words are in order before I go into the film itself. I am in a strange position regarding this film, because my sister works for the organization that the missionaries were part of: Mission Aviation Fellowship, an organization that supplies transportation, supplies, learning resources, and a host of other services, spreading the gospel and humanitarian aid throughout the world. I was familiar with the story before going in both from my sister (the plane the missionaries flew in has been rebuilt and sits in the MAF lobby) and from the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor, which is a much fuller treatment of the events. So I do have some attachments to the subject matter and am not fully objective. Just thought you ought to know.

So, did I like it? Yes. Is it a great film? Probably not as great as it could have been, but it is quite good.

I'll get the bad news out of the way first (and I feel bad even typing that, like I'm letting down the team or I'm going to make Kathie sad--sorry, sis). The film is worlds above most direct-to-DVD Christian releases, with good production values and better acting. My major complaint was that large swaths of the story were missing. I know that such a tale has to be edited for length, but some jump cuts were far too quick. It appeared that only a day or two after the slaughter of the men, their wives were ready to move their families into the tribe of their killers. The initial contact, tentative first communications, friendly meetings and attack based on misunderstanding all flew by incredibly quickly; had I not seen the documentary, I would have been somewhat lost. I could have done with far fewer shots of well-oiled tribesmen running endlessly through lush tropical rainforests (beautiful as the scenery was) and a bit more on the story.

The acting is universally just okay. No one really stood out, apart from Louie Leonardo as Mincayani, Nate Saint's killer, who is generally good. Chad Allen, playing both Nate and the adult Steve, tries his best, but he's just not given much script at all to work with--few characters are, and some (like the other missionaries) barely register. Most scenes are set like those in Hallmark specials, with stirring music and broad emoting meant to choke us up rather than relay depth and complexity. Kathie was worried I'd dislike the "emotional manipulation," and I did. The culmination of Steve learning the truth about Mincayani and his reaction slip by in a matter of minutes at the end of the film.

Now the good news: the movie gets better as it progresses and gives the characters some time to come into their own. Interestingly, this is definitely the Waodoni's movie--though the narrator and the missionaries are white Westerners, the conflict among the tribespeople as they are torn both by their own continued violence against one another and the utter confusion the missionaries' sacrificial deaths sows among them is the centerpiece. The tension between the traditional values the warriors (with Mincayani as their leader) hold to, and Kimo, the warrior who begins to adhere to the women's talk of the new message from Waegongi (the Waodoni word for the "Creator god") and refuses to lift a spear against his enemies, is the real conflict of this film.

And manipulative as the film may sometimes be, there's no denying the real power of the story it tells. The elements are mythic: five men laying down their lives for the gospel (one nice quote, from Nate Saint trying to tell his son why they will not defend themselves if the Waodnoi attack: "They're not ready for heaven. We are."). The wives going to live among their husbands' murderers. A people torn apart by a few men refusing to offer them violence. A son confronting his father's killer. It's heady stuff, and the sacrificial heart shown by so many, and the amazing changes their sacrifices wrought is a story you would reject as being too incredible if it were not true.

It was also interesting on at least a couple of sociological levels, neither of which I have the time to get into fully here. But the first thing I thought of was the entire fiction of anthropological relativism, the idea (decried to me by Dan, who knows of what he speaks) that native cultures are sacrosanct, never to be tampered with--unless, of course, they're doing something bad. The modern world criticizes Christianity for destroying native cultures, but saving girls from genital mutilation in Africa, or decrying the mistreatment of women in Middle Eastern cultures is okay. The Waodoni were trapped in a cycle of violence which was decimating them--they are now a thriving community thanks to the missionaries who showed them another way. Not to mention the innovations they've seen in modern medicine, education and--oh, yeah. Salvation. Yes, missionaries (past and present) have been too cavalier about their actions and have stomped over native cultural traditions that perhaps should have been afforded more respect in many cases--but the idea that ever introducing change in a culture as promoted by the modern secular mind is cruel--and hypocritical to boot.

The second thing that struck me was simply the presentation of a non-violence as such a transformative power. In this age of militant Christianity and a sense of "we have to fight to defend our own," the amazing effects produced by those who lay down their lives willingly is amazing. Not that all are called to this, or that defense is never an option, but no other action but self-sacrifice is likely to have gotten through to the Waodoni; after all, Christ's initial sacrifice without resistance changed the world...

So, should you go see The End of the Spear? Most definitely. Go find Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and you'll be further rewarded (in fact, if you can only see one, see Gates). It's just a good film, but it's an amazing story.

Continue reading "Movie Review - The End of the Spear"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Book Review - A Skeleton in God's Closet

When I was in college, one of my required classes was "Critical Thinking", a class dealing with logic and logical fallacies. The teacher liked to use belief in God, and at often Christianity as examples of a thought process full of logical fallacies. I can remember one case, the fallacy of Ignorance I believe, where he said that Theism is a classic case of this, because how can you prove that God does not exist?

I took the question to Jeff, a friend whose opinion I trusted. His reply was very simple and I've never forgotten it. He said, "Sure you could disprove it to a Christian. Produce the body of Jesus Christ".

I just finished a book, recommended to me by my local librarian, that deals with this very topic. Its a few years old, but it was interesting enough that I thought it worth reviewing here. The book is called A Skeleton in God's Closet, by Paul. L. Maier.

As you may have guessed by my introduction, and the title of the book, its a story about an archaeologist who is working at a dig at Rama, near Jerusalem, and finds a skeleton that all evidence points to as being that of Jesus. The book follows this man (a Christian, and the son of a pastor) as he works through the process of verifying the authenticity of his find, hoping each step of the way to find something to convince him - as a scientist - that it is false, and struggling to sort through how he should respond - as a believer - if it turns out to be true.

It also follows the response of the world, and the various Christian communities as word of the find is leaked. There is the full range of response, from liberal theologians who say "See? We always said that it was figurative!", to ultra-fundamentalists who think that the protagonist is the Antichrist himself. Somewhere in the middle is his father, struggling to help his local church deal with it all, and unsure of how to respond to his son.

As a book, the writing is pretty ordinary - nothing special. The story line is somewhat compelling in terms of the character and his journey, but made more compelling by the fact that its such an interesting subject. He does a great job of building the evidence and drawing in the reader, so that I found myself often thinking over what my response would be to such a discovery.

That's the real power of this book, I think - and what made me want to review it here. It not only tells a story, and entertains, but at the same time it makes a Christian reading it work through a certain aspect of their belief system. That, it seems to me, is an important part of "Christian Arts" - to do more than just entertain, but to challenge.

The truth is, that if we're going to prove my "Critical Thinking" teacher wrong, we must be willing to say that there are certain facts, that if proved would force us to abandon our faith. If not, then our beliefs aren't true belief, simply the way we want things to be. If someone did, in fact, ever find the physical remains of Jesus Christ and could prove them authentic, it would be our responsibility - as thinking believers - to change our beliefs.

The good news is that no one has, and I believe they never will. I don't want to give away the end of the book, so I'll leave it at that. Maybe you'll be tempted to pick it up and find out for yourself how it unfolds (or possibly just glance at the last chapter).

Continue reading "Book Review - A Skeleton in God's Closet "

Thursday, December 15, 2005


As I delve deeper into the world of iPod (and all things thereto/thereof) I am exposed to more and better content of the 'blog' world. In general I"m referring to podcasting. Let me say this before I move any further along. You don't need an iPod to subscribe to/listen to a podcast. Don't fall under the same misunderestimation that I did. I am sure that there are several ways that you can listen to podcasting, iTunes being the best. Okay, back to the post. The majority of podcasts are basically just audio blogs. Just people who feel like they've got something to say, and wanting to be heard rather than read. And I must admit, I'm guilty of that as well on some of my podcasts. Ok, I feel the pressure of moving on to the actual ChristianArts related post. I'm getting to it.

So I was digging through the iTunes podcast directory and I was able to find an interview with Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band, U2. (Yea, right, like he needs an introduction) The guy who did the interview was the head dude (that's an official professional term) of Rolling Stone magazine, Jann S. Wenner. I was really quite impressed by the entire interview. It is a five part series, and is close to three hours in total. But it was pretty amazing.

I find it quite rare to be able to sit there and have a very interesting man talking about subjects that I care about, and have him basically whispering in my ear (wearing my headphones). As Bono mentions, as he reminisces about listening to Bob Dylan in his headphones, it's quite intimate. You feel like you are actually getting to know that person. There were so many subjects covered in that several hour long interview that it makes it quite difficult for me to try to comment upon all of it. So, I suppose that I'll try to limit it to just a couple of things.

The first thing that I was taken by is the accent. I love the Irish accent. There is something intelligent, yet getting-stabbed-in-the-back-of-an-alley toughness about it. He is very engaging simply by his voice. Hence the name, Bono Vox.
The second thing that I have marveled at for quite some time, is the ability to profess your Christianity, while in the very same breath, spouting $h!@$%^ curses. Bono does a good job of taming his tongue (but Jann could care less what kind of trash comes out of his mouth), but I know that a certain portion of the cursing is somewhat of a cultural thing. When I was over in Dublin I discovered that the majority of Dubliners used the F-word as an adjective. It's not that they were necessarily trying to curse, more along the lines of adding color to the language. (Okay, so Bono's Irish. So Skaggs, what's your excuse? ha ha ;-)

The third and final thing that I will comment upon (I'll let you listen to the rest) is his deep care and compassion toward the hurt and dying in Africa. It is obvious that his heart breaks for those people. So much so that he had to re-visit Congress TEN TIMES in his initial stab at shaking money out of the American tree. He has created an organization called D.A.T.A. which stands for debt AIDS trade Africa. He's met with President George W. Bush, and has done work with former president Bill Clinton. He is a champion for people suffering in Africa. As an interesting side-note, one of the reasons that he really loves going to Africa is that he is completely unknown there.

This is a bit of a different twist to the kind of posts that are typically on here. More of a 'spread the word about the Bono podcast' than anything else. I really think that it is worth it to check it out when you have some time to kill. I always like to have the box of my American Christianity opened up by hearing others points-of-view on life.
God Bless and enjoy!

P.s. Blatant self-plug follows.

P.p.s. If you would like to get involved in the world of podcasting (as a spectator that is) then simply click on the button below to subscribe to my podcast. It's not the greatest, but it gets better with every passing day. I have learned some really great things lately, and I hope that it shows. Just click on the podcast icon below to subscribe.

Continue reading "Bono"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Good Things Come in Small Packages.

Hey everyone,
This isn't very long, but it's definitely worth posting...and on point!

"We do not need more people writing Christian books, what we need is more Christians writing good books."
- C.S. Lewis

With the recent Lewis craze, I thought it appropriate. With the subject matter of this blog, I thought it applicable. With the content of the quote, I thought it accurate.

Continue reading "Good Things Come in Small Packages."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Art of Space

I was pointed to this site by an engineering friend. I was stunned and delighted by the idea presented.

(Make sure to view the photos to get the full impact of the project.)

My question is this: can a green, growing space within an urban fortress of concrete be considered "art"?

My answer would be "yes."

Consider this quote by the composer Haydn, when he felt he was too tired to continue his work:

A secret feeling within me whispered, "There are so few happy and contented people here below, sorrow and anxiety pursue them everywhere; perhaps your work may, some day, become a spring from which the careworn may draw a few moments' rest and refreshment."

If that doesn't describe the PARK(ing) project, I don't know what does.

If art is meant to arrest the attention, make people see life in a new way, and challenge their perceptions, this does that, too. And if art at its best is a reflection of God's creation, then bringing pieces of God's creation to places where they have been obscured fits that bill as well.

Interestingly, it's clear that the creators did not think of this as "art," but as an urban revitalization project, if a temporary one.

So does this qualify as Art? Does art have boundaries of materials or intention? Is this just a fun way to spend a couple of hours?

Continue reading "The Art of Space"

Monday, December 05, 2005

Review of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord

I want to be honest from the start and tell you that when I first saw an article about this book, I was skeptical. Anne Rice is a fairly young Christian, coming out of years of studying and writing about very dark things. There has been a lot of hype about this book and how the former queen of all things dark is now attempting to write a first person narrative of the early years of Christ. Also noted in the articles I've read has been the fact that she relied on many extrabiblical sources, such as the apocryphal gospels. So yes, I was skeptical.

Nonetheless, I picked up the book, and was - I admit - quickly hooked. She's a great writer, and this is a really good story. Now the very first chapter contains a story that I immediately recognized from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas, where Jesus causes the death of another child, using his divine power, and then raises the same child from the dead. For those not familiar with this gospel, let me just quote Wikipedia a site which attempts to present a balanced view of most things:

The text describes the life of the child Jesus, with fanciful supernatural events. One of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life, an act also attributed to Jesus in the Qur'an, thus indicating the text may have had substantial influence on Arabic tradition by the 7th century. In another episode, a child disperses water that Jesus has collected, so Jesus makes the child's body wither into a corpse, and another child is killed by Jesus when he accidentally bumps into him.

When Joseph and Mary's neighbor's complain, they are miraculously struck blind by Jesus. Jesus then starts receiving lessons, but arrogantly tries to teach the teacher instead, upsetting the teacher who suspects supernatural origins. Jesus is amused by this suspicion, which he confirms, and revokes all his earlier cruelty. Subsequently he heals a friend who is killed when he falls from a roof, and another who cuts his foot with an axe.

Note that Rice also uses the story of the clay birds. Here is what Rice has to say about her use of this source in her "Author's Note" to the book:

Then there were the legends -- The Apocrypha -- including the tantalizing tales in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas describing a boy Jesus who could strike a child dead, bring another to life, turn clay birds in to living creatures, and perform other miracles. I'd stumbled on them very early in my research, in multiple editions, and never forgot them. And neither had the world. They were fanciful, some of them humorous, extreme to be sure, but they had lived on into the Middle Ages, and beyond. I couldn't get these legends out of my mind.

Ultimately, I chose to embrace this material, to enclose it within the canonical framework as best I could. I felt there was a deep truth in it, and I wanted to preserve that truth as it spoke to me. Of course, that is an assumption. But I made it. And perhaps in assuming that Jesus did manifest supernatural powers at an early age I am somehow being true to the declaration of the Council of Chalcedon, that Jesus was God and Man at all times.

For those interested, here is a link describing that Council. I would agree with the dual nature of Christ - that is basic theology. But I don't think her explanation gives adequate validation to her use of a non-Biblical source that so clearly contains false assertions about Jesus.

At this point some may think that I am being too dogmatic in my approach to this book. Perhaps so. I will say that I did not find fault with Rice's reliance on certain Catholic beliefs about Mary - for example her perpetual virginity. Rice takes the traditional Catholic view that James was a son of Joseph from a previous marriage and that although he took Mary as his wife, they did not have relations. That's not how I read the scripture, but its also not all that important. I was willing to go along with her on that issue, because I don't think it reflects one way or another on the character or nature of Christ.

I did take issue, however with a variance that Rice seems to have taken from scripture. The climax of her book takes place when Jesus is eight years old and returns to the the Temple with his family. She works in the account (from Luke 2:41-52) of Jesus getting left behind at the temple for three days. This works nicely into the arc of her story. However, a close reading of Luke will reveal that this in fact happened when Christ was twelve years old, not eight. Not hugely important I suppose, but it does reveal a willingness in Rice to ignore scripture in order to make her story work.

For those who still think I'm taking these details too seriously, let me say this. I am familiar with two other fictionalized accounts of biblical stories. There are more, I'm sure, but the two that I am most familiar with are Paul by Walter Wangerin Jr. and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I read the first of the two (my wife read the second) and while I don't recall finding any discrepancies between the ideas in Paul and the Biblical account, I didn't pay as much attention. Why? Because it doesn't matter that much who Paul was. Was he tall or short? Nice or mean? Doesn't really matter.

But it does matter who Jesus was. Every detail matters. Why? Because this was God incarnate. So any detail of who he was, reflects directly on the nature of God. That's no small thing - but it seems to me that Rice is treating it as a small thing. Yes, its a fictional account, but let's be honest - even a fictional account is an attempt to affect how the reader views the details of the non-fiction event. For Rice to pull in material from such clearly false sources as the Infancy Gospel seems inexcusable.

I would love to be able to recommend this book. It is enjoyable, and I think there's some good aspects to it, but I think that all of it is outweighed by Rice's treading too carelessly on sacred ground. Worse, I get the impression that she has plans to continue the series, and delve further into the early life of Christ. I hope that if she does so, she'll do it with more care.

Let me conclude by saying that I do think some good will come of this book. Rice has a huge following, and I hope and pray that many who are far from Christ will read this book and become intrigued - perhaps even come to saving faith. But overall, I think that she has overstepped herself - putting too much trust in her own research and the praises she has heard from years of success, and not enough trust in the years of diligent study and prayer by the rest of the body of Christ.

Continue reading "Review of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord"

Friday, December 02, 2005

Discussion Topic 2 - Gerard Manley Hopkins

Alright folks, time for another discussion topic. Let's talk about Gerard Manley Hopkins. Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on him. The short story is that he was a well educated man who decided to become a Jesuit priest. He continued to write some amazing poetry, such as the following:

God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge & shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast & with ah! bright wings.

According to the Wikipedia entry, he struggled with feeling that his love of poetry prevented him from being fully devoted to his religion - which is interesting since his poems are, and have been, so effective at moving others to worship God. Some of his work was accepted, but not published by a Jesuit journal, which he took as a rejection.

You could take a lot of directions with this, and I'll leave it open, but here's some interesting questions.

  • Where are the Christians creating this level of art in our day?
  • How does the rejection of his poetry by the Jesuit order in his day mirror our expectations of priests/pastors in our day?

A reminder - don't respond in comments to this post, but go ahead and make a complete post, preceding the title with "DT2" so that its clear you're talking on this subject.

Continue reading "Discussion Topic 2 - Gerard Manley Hopkins"

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Christian Celebrity

My pastor did and said something the other day that really made me think. I said that my next post would be on Christian celebrity, so here it is.

There have been some amazing contributions to my local community here lately through certain individuals, that has had a positive effect on the poor. The purpose wasn't to bring glory to man, it was to fulfill the second great commandment, and to bring glory to God. However, on Sunday morning, my pastor went out of his way to take time and recognize these benevolent individuals. The thing that He said was that the purpose of the kindness was to bring glory to God. And that those giving souls will receive their reward in heaven, but that they should also receive recognition here on earth. Showing the work that God has done in their lives.

I'd never thought of it from that perspective before. As I wrote before, we are beings that were created to worship. And we have a propensity to worship the things that we feel like worshipping. We worship the things that impress us.

If for no other reason than geography, there are a lot of "public" people who attend my church. One of them won a Grammy last year, another won several Dove awards and a Grammy last year as well. One of them is the leading receiver for the Tennessee Titans this year. It would be natural for most people to put those individuals on a pedestal. As a matter of fact, most people have to fight the temptation to do that, to realize that they are just people too. People whom God has called, and that their calling is of a more public nature than yours or mine.

I have always intentionally not been impressed by those people or the things that they do, for the simple fact that no other thing besides God deserves my worship. But, I think that my tune has been changed. Changed by the actions of my pastor on Sunday.

No, I will not elevate people to a higher level than they ought to be, but maybe it's not such a bad thing to recognize them and their accomplishments. Because the public recognition of their accomplishments just goes to show that they have submitted their will to God's will, and that they are allowing the Lord to work through them in their gifts (in a perfect world

So here it is...

Should we worship the dancer? The dance? NO!

We need to recognize and worship the Lord of the dance.

Continue reading "Christian Celebrity"

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I got an email from Jesse over at PixelZion saying that he had found our site and enjoyed reading some of the articles. Turns out they are working on a similar focus as we are (with a different approach). Go check them out...

Thanks for stopping by Jesse!

Continue reading "PixelZion"

Friday, November 18, 2005

DT1: Thomas Kinkade- A Reflection of Modern Christian Culture?

Anyone who has ever spoken with me about Thomas Kinkade’s art knows that I don’t care for it; it just doesn’t move me. I’ve always thought of this, though, as a matter of personal taste, and nothing more. In his assessment at The Evangelical Outpost, Joe Carter seems to have come to much stronger conclusions about Kinkade’s art. I was intrigued by his thoughtful commentary.

To begin with, I enjoyed Carter’s critique of the two paintings of the water tower in Chicago. I don’t know much about art, and my opinions about it are often uninformed. For example, at a classical music concert, The Redland’s Symphony performed three pieces. All three were enjoyable, but the one by Beethoven impressed me the most. I couldn’t say why though. The same was true with the water tower paintings; I could tell you I liked the first one more, but not why. So I enjoyed hearing what a knowledgeable person said made these pieces “good” and “bad.” I was surprised to find out that the first painting was also done by Kinkade. In fact, I really like the early Thomas Kinkade pictures that are posted throughout the article, and it has me wondering why he decided to change his style. My guess is that, in an attempt to have his work recognized, he struggled to come up with something original. For some reason, this sort of glowing, comfy-art caught on. This sparks a couple thoughts:

First, I wonder if Thomas Kinkade is viewed by some artists as a sort of sell-out. Do people think he’s compromising his talent in order to sell art? Of course, if he were accused of such a thing, he’d have plenty of company. Many musicians, for example, who were underground little-knowns and whose art was thought to be “real” and “original” were later accused of being “commercial” sell-outs when they finally made it big. Maybe some of them were. Who can blame them?

The most striking and thought-provoking statements are those made at the end of the article—those in which the critics blast this sort of art for being soft and superficial. This seems especially interesting when one considers that art is a reflection of the thoughts, practices, and beliefs of the culture from which it emerges. If this is the sort of art that has come from, and caught on among Christians, then what does that say about the Christian community at large?

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Discussion Topics

A clarification is in order. When there is a discussion topic, contributors are invited to put up actual posts in response--that way, there are a number of full entires on the same topic. Those who aren't current contributors can either respond in comments or request to be made contributors by submitting their potential post to me. This should make our discussions that much more visible.

To that end, if you are responding to a discussion topic, if you can title your post beginning with "DT(x):" where (x) is the number of the topic. So, for instance, for the first topic you might title your post "DT1: Kinkade Is a Genius Artiste of Thrilling Illumination" or "DT1: Thomas Kinkade Makes the Angels Weep" and so on.

Sorry I hadn't made that clear earlier. Any who made comments to the opening topic are encouraged to turn them into full posts for the site.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Discussion Topic 1: Realism vs. Kinkade

So here is the first official discussion topic launched on the CAB (my fond acronym for the Christian Arts Blog). Ideally, anyone with hankering will post their thoughts on the topic at hand, thereby focusing our efforts, thoughts, and discussions to one point, allowing us, laser-like, to dissect it and probe its secrets.

So to start off, first pop over to the Gallery at the Evangelical Outpost by clicking here, then scroll down past the article on Picasso (interesting as it is) and peruse the essay titled "Kinkade's Cottage Fantasy: The Despiriting Art of Thomas Kinkade."

Our first topic is reaction to this article. Do you agree with Joe Carter's assessment? Is it valid? Is it fair? Is it important? How should we react to work in the vein of Kinkade?

I have some thoughts, but I'll have to mull them over a bit, and I don't want to unduly influence responses. So jump in, all, and let's have a bit of a palaver over American Protestantism's most famous poster-making boy. And if you aren't an official contributor, feel free to contact me or Chris with your prospective post and we'll see if we can't bring you onboard.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

The American (Christian) Idol

I just heard the new song by Carrie Underwood - yes, the American Idol. The song is called "Jesus Take the Wheel", and they're playing it on the local country station. Its a decent song, typical of a country song behind a great vocalist. The music is not really meant to be anything special - just standard country backup to highlight her singing. The lyrics, while not overly creative, are very clearly "Christian".

The song is about a woman, driving with her daughter in the backseat who hits a patch of black ice, starts spinning, lets go of the wheel and prays "Jesus, take the wheel". They wind up safe, and it gets her thinking about her life in relation to God. She's been living a life far from God, and goes on to pray the same thing about her life - that He would take the wheel.

Now anyone who watched American Idol probably suspected that Carrie (and Bo for that matter) was a Christian. Now she's a recording artist. But she's not a "Christian Music" artist. She's a "Country Music" artist. Country music is interesting in that a good number of the artists seem to be Christians. Many others, of course, are redneck hedonists...

So here is a place where artists are recording under a genre that is not overtly Christian, but it gives them a forum to speak Christian truth. I would imagine its a lot easier on them, since if they want to sing a plain old love song, they can do that too. I think its great that there's room for overtly Christian artists in the genre, but I don't necessarily think its how all Christians should be.

I think this ties in with the posts by Matt and Marilyn but I'm not sure what the conclusion is. Any thoughts from the rest of the crew?

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Spiritually Reflective Musician - Who Knew?

So, Devin and Matt had some interesting things to say about music and the Christian music industry (“CMI”) in particular. Far be it from me to think I could possibly add to the conversation (*wink*) but I happen to have two cents in my pocket and I think I would like to add them now.

Which brings me to a point I don’t think I’ve ever really settled. Can you be a Christian and have a music, or any artistic type, career apart from the Church? I mean why do we set apart certain careers or industries as specifically “Christian?” If I were a doctor would I group myself with other Christian doctors and have nothing to do with medical discoveries observed by secular doctors? Would I treat only Christian patients or patients interested in becoming Christians? What about a mechanic or an accountant? I think that, as Devin said in a way, most musicians are trying to do the same thing, play what’s inside them. They’re trying to do the most basic thing any artist, or any human, tries to do—to reflect the truth they know. But a Christian who is a musician seems to be different. Why should a Christian set themselves apart, in any field, from nonChristians? Is it merely a matter of business or economics that makes setting oneself up as a Christian artist rather than just an artist more logical?

I can’t differentiate between a Christian who is a musician and a Christian musician. If I had to guess I would say that to me the biggest difference between the “Christian” artist and the “Secular” artist is audience. If an artist mostly wants their music heard by Christians they sell under a Christian label. If they would rather have a wider audience listen they go secular. I suppose there might be a matter of reputation. I can see how some church folk would wrongly judge someone working in the secular field. I might guess that most Christian musicians make their choice based on what they think the purpose of their work is. If they think it is merely their career of choice perhaps they choose secular, if they think they are performing acts of ministry when they perform then perhaps they choose the CMI. Of course, I would guess, for a Christian it is nice to be surrounded by people you can assume are other Christians working from the same set of values and what not in your chosen profession. But most people don’t have that luxury. Sometimes I get the impression that stating that one is a Christian [fill in the blank, artist, musician, writer, etc.] is supposed to be instant validation on one’s work. When people act that way it annoys me. It reminds me of “word of faith” people who think that tacking the phrase “in Jesus’ name” on the end of a statement is like waving a magic God wand that makes all your dreams come true. Matt brought up an interesting point that could bear on choosing between the CMI and the secular industry, which is music’s purpose. I have to say my opinion seems to be a bit broader than his.

Matt stated that, “the purpose of music is worship,” and well… I’m not sure that I agree entirely. Surely, music is a part of worship but to say that music’s sole purpose is worship makes me wrinkle up my nose and purse my lips to the side as I bite my tongue. I guess it would depend on how you define worship. Is worship strictly a group of Christians standing together and singing toward God? If that’s the definition then the role of music is severely confined, almost austere if you will. However, if you would define worship as actively living a life that is pleasing to God, to try to please Him and fulfill His will in all that you do, then music’s role is boundless really. I guess I see music more as a tool. A tool we use not only to worship but also to communicate to others and even ourselves, to reflect truth. We use it to explore emotions, those wells of feelings we don’t have the language to describe. To be dramatic, sound speaks the language of feelings. (The science geek in me wants to make some comment regarding mathematics being the universal language and how music is really very mathematical so it makes sense that it seems to be universal as well…oh I need to get out more.) I do have to agree with Matt in that music really does connect with our souls. Mmmmm…souls….*drool*… Oh, sorry I had a Homer moment. Anyway, I do consider praise and worship music a genre all it’s own; and, perhaps this is the only music that could truly label itself “Christian” and really mean music with Christ at it’s center.

In thinking about writing this post I started to wonder if anyone has ever written anything on the history of the Christian music industry. I went to the first source I could think of, Wikipedia, and shockingly enough they did have a page on what they term Contemporary Christian Music (“CCM”) which I thought was very interesting. In their article they outline the four basic “positions” people seem to have regarding CCM. Take a look and see if you fit in any of their categories. I’m somewhere between the purist and the spiritually reflective position, though more spiritually reflective. I think what I found most interesting werethe links to Jesus Music (perhaps a better history of the start of the industry itself) and the hippie Jesus Movement whom they cite Keith Green as being a leader of. Who knew?

Well, that’s my two cents. I hope it was worth it.

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