Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wired Ecclesia

This another in the Axis Mundi series exploring the sacred at the center of peoples lives. Here we see the electrical wires stretching towards the other in near connection. The church, not just a specific building, but the people of God or the body of Christ for many become a sacred space especially when gathered to perform its memory.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Man With the Movie Camera

The Man With The Movie Camera was produced in 1928 by Dziga Vertov. Vertov was employed by the Moscow State film studio’s until his films, which were often political manifesto’s about the nature and possibilities of film, fell out of favor with Stalinist Russia. Only under Kruschev in the early 60’s did his films re-emerge.

One of Vertov’s tasks was to cultivate a new cinematic language and thus rejecting traditional cinema, particularly Western narrative cinema that drew heavily upon literature and staged acting. He wanted to show the beauty of the actual without the artificiality of stages and actors which function on the presupposition of filmed reality. Vertov attempted to film life as it was or life caught unaware because people act differently on camera than when not in front of the eye. Often considered a formalist, Vertov emphasized the artistic process of filmmaking itself through editing, special effects, camera angle and position in order to capture reality but also suggest an ideal reality.

Viewing THWTMC provides an excellent opportunity to gain visual literacy. Vertov utilized the montage, or “two film pieces of any kind, placed together, inevitably combine into a new concept, a new quality, arising out of that juxtaposition.” Vertov is a master at this. Not only as viewers are we forced to contend with the composition and structure of each shot, we must interpret the purposeful sequences of images that may build upon, interpret, or juxtapose past or future images.

Vertov is working on a great number of conceptual ideas in this film. We would do well to keep our eyes out for a few key ideas.

The film, in one sense, is a statement about film…what it should be and what it should not be. Vertov’s a film is both art and art theory.

THWTMC attempts to show an interconnectedness between humanity and machine. Vertov shows the joys of work, the similarity of rhythms between humanity and the city. The city, the machines, and humanity are merged into one larger machine. It is a celebration of the Soviet workers state.

Vertov is also attempting to show the that the filmmaker is a key part in this workers world performing similar duties to factory workers that were needed to keep this larger national machine running.

Vertov works symbolically through special effects and editing. Watch for the juxtaposition of shots and what they symbolize.

Vertov was intrigued with Einstein’s theory of relativity and thus tries to show the relativity of time, space, size, etc.

1) How did Vertov convey the interconnectedness of the city and humanity?
2) How did Vertov show the importance of his own role in society?
3) Which editing sequences did you find most interesting?
4) Do you see this as a narrative piece or non-narrative documentary style film?
5) What similarities does Vertov’s film share with Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi?
6) What are the two filmmakers perspectives on technology?
7) What relevance does Vertov’s work have for us today?

View The Man With the Movie Camera online.

Another fascinating site is www.dziga.perrybard.net/, an updating of TMWTMC. By inviting others to contribute similar scenes from their own video collections, the film is recreated and run along side of each other.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

art needs no justification

“Art needs no justification” or so claimed H.R. Rookmaaker1 in his book with the same title. Yet our Western Culture, more specifically our American Evangelical culture, has inherited and continues to place a much depreciated value on the arts. Historically, the church was the primary proprietor of the arts, but this has through a number of developments, devolved into a tacit tolerance of the arts outside of the church. Rookmaaker’s and others claims2 that “art needs no justification” is theologically sound, but the statement swims up a 400 year old stream of thought. This declaration, may even find implicit approval within clergy and congregations, but is often ignored as superfluous within our liturgies. Apparently, by the deficient state of the arts in Evangelical society, some justification needs to be made.

While some churches are slowly awakening to the necessity of artistic integration, few are doing it, and even fewer are doing it well. It seems that if we might judge a movement by the availability of books, forums, conferences and the like on a given topic, there is a young growth toward the Church’s re-investment, or at least a dialogue and partnership in and with the arts. It seems this growth of interest may have begun in the mid to late 1960’s through various groups and theologians. Within the last century, but before the 60’s, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, and a group of Dutch Neo-Calvinist’s including Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck are the most well-known theologians who wrestled implicitly and explicitly with the arts, beauty, and culture on semi-frequent to continual basis. In the late 60’s, Roger Hazelton published several works on the necessity of addressing the arts. Following, into the 1970’s another group of Reformed theologians rose to prominence: Calvin Seerveld, H.R. Rookmaaker, and Francis Schaeffer. In the 1980’s LeLand Ryken and especially Nicholas Wolterstorff became known for their works in the field. Spanning 70’s, 80’s and into the 90’s John and Jane Dillenberger worked and published often on the topic: John from largely a historical and theological perspective, while his wife Jane worked as a art historian addressing the spiritual potential and content in secular works. Contemporary theologians such as Jeremy Begbie and William Dyrness seem to be leading the way in a Trinitarian theology in and through the arts. Other discussions on Theological Aesthetics are being raised by Frank Burch Brown, Trevor Hart, Richard Viladesau, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar (through written across 3 decades his work now is gaining a great reputation as the master work in the field). Many others are also working in theologies and philosophies of culture and theologies of cultural forms (especially popular culture of film, music, and television). This apparent re-vitalized interest in culture and the arts seems to be spreading, not only across denominational lines, but also as a constituent member in the contemporary, as current, worship movement.

Should we see this as a Spirit revealed deficiency in our Liturgy and Worship and/or a reflection of our visually dominated and driven culture…among perhaps another 100 other reasons. Regardless of the value judgments we place on these interpretations and their implementation into our Liturgy, the visual nature of secular society coupled with the growth of worship and the experience driven post-modern culture forces us as the Church to address these discussions with openness and theological integrity.

1 H.R. Rookmaaker, Art Needs No Justification, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP 1978).

2 Others that make the same statement include Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, (Downers Grove IL: IVP 1973); Franky Schaefer, Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts, (Wheaton IL: Crossway Books, 1981).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio America

This is another piece in the Axis Mundi Series that seeks to explore the sacred, or at least what we hold to be sacred, in our daily life. The flag itself is a powerful symbol of all that some hold dear in the United States...freedom, rights, liberty, pursuit of happiness...etc. Patriotism is an interesting phenomenon especially from the perspective of religion. Nationalism in many ways becomes its own religion and challenges all others into submission and service to its ideaology.

The antaena is from a home in Saskatchewan and the flag photo is of my parents backyard.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Johnston Text Responses

Don't worry about answering all of them. Just look at a few that catch your eye. Be sure to answer the questions in the 2nd posting as well on Tillich & Romanowski.

Also, another issue...you do not have to create a blogger/gmail account. Just add your name at the beginning of your posted reply and post with the annonymous option.

1) Do you agree with Johnston’s assessment of Christians and their movie watching skills (p. 22)? How have you seen Christians react appropriately and inappropriately toward film?

2) Why do most Christians watch film? What do they watch?

3) On page 26 Johnston says, “[Movies] remain in the twenty-first century our primary storytelling medium, interpreting reality for us and acting as a type of cultural glue.”
What does he mean by this?
How is this lived out?

4) Johnston breaks down Christian engagements with film into 5 simplified approaches:

Avoidance – Caution – Dialogue – Appropriation – Divine Encounter
Where do you see yourself fitting in?
Has your perspective changed?
When? How? Why?

5) On page 61 Johnston discusses using “discrimination” in our film viewing.
How do you decide what to see or not to see?
What do you and do you not recommend to others?

6) Johnston says he uses all 5 approaches at certain times (79).
Is this necessary or wishy-washy?

7) Johnston consistently emphasizes the artistic priority of the film if it is to be viewed ethically (100-101).
Do you agree?
Is this how you practice film watching?
Is this a skill?
How did you learn it?

Theological Lenses: Tillich & Romanowski

Paul Tillich
How do you see Tillich's "method of correlation" and "ultimate concern" fitting into film studies?

Are there films that come to mind that exhibit his concepts of "conversion"?

Following Tillich's definition of faith (that which concerns us ultimately) what do you think he classifies as religious art?

William Romanowski's Cultural Typology
Using Romanowski's typology (Cultural Communication, Cultural Criticism, Social Unity, Collective Memory) share a list of films that you think fit under these headings and why. All typologies are artificial constructs, thus some films may easily fall under multiple headings.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Stanley Hauerwas & Reflections on Lenten Practices

This past fall I had the opportunity to read The Peaceable Kingdom and Prayers Plainly Spoken by Stanley Hauerwas. This was my first real engagement with his works but it was wonderfully productive. I was struck, once again, by his claims that we need to recognize the depths of our sinfulness. Thus it is a fitting time to explore these thoughts at the beginning of Lent. This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday.

The service from the Book of Common Prayer reminds us,
“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”

This practice and prayer reminds us of our sinfulness and our punishment:
“Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Hauerwas states, “We must be trained to see ourselves as sinners, for it is not self-evident. Indeed, our sin is so fundamental that we must be taught to recognize it; we cannot perceive its radical nature so long as we remain formed by it…[we are sinful] because we deceive ourselves about the nature of reality” (PK, 30-31).

For Hauerwas, sin is primarily an “overreach[ing] of our powers. It is the attempt to live…as if we are or can be the authors of our own stories (this is also primary emphasis of the modern individual). Our sin is a challenge to God’s authorship and that we are characters in the drama of the kingdom (PK, 31). In turn, we use force and violence over others to ensure this illusion of control and self-authorship.

We can only learn what our sin is by discovering our true identity by locating the self in God’s life as revealed in the life, death and resurrection. Only when we are aware of our sinfulness, can we claim the forgiveness and peace with God that is offered through Jesus.

Thus the awareness of sin is a primary theme in Hauerwas’ collected prayers. Prayers, such as these, become a practice of doing something about our sin…it is a means of self-examination in community and confession. Here are a few excerpts.

One prayer begins, “Dear God, we often ask you to invade our lives, to plumb the secrets of our hearts, unknown to ourselves. But in fact we do not desire that. What we really want to scream, if only to ourselves, is “Do not reveal to us who we are.” We think we are better people if you leave us to our illusions” (PPS, 39).

A line from another prayer suggests, “We want you to like us, and so we try to hide who we are” (PPS, 66).

Hauerwas states, “For without such a narrative the fact and nature of my sin cannot help but remain hidden in self-deception. Only a narrative that helps me place myself as a creature of a gracious God can provide the skills to help me locate my sin” (PK, 31). Only in a community committed to studying this particular set of stories and displaying them can we rightly recognize our sin.

In another he speaks, “Gracious God, forgive us our presumptions to confess our sin. Only your favor makes it possible for us to know and acknowledge our sins” (PPS, 67).

Hauerwas suggests that unless we learn to relinquish our perceived powers of self authorship, we are not capable of the peace of God’s kingdom. Peace is movement of God’s people who have put themselves under God’s story and authorship rather than be driven by an assumption that we control history. Once we accept our emplacement in God’s ongoing story we no longer need to manipulate the world around us to promote our own story.

Hauerwas prays, “You have called us to your peaceable people. We do not like it, but help us live it and in the living learn to love you” (PPS, 65). This peace does not just exist between God and us, within ourselves, or even with others, but also creation…there is an ecological component. One prayer in particular caught my attention. “Help us to live at peace with those creatures not like us-that is, dogs, pigs and even, God help us, chickens. And help us to live in peace with ourselves.” (PPS, 57).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Cold War and Religion in The War of the Worlds

Thursday night Karina and I watched the 1953 version of H.G. Wells classic The War of the Worlds. The story, for those who may not know or have seen the more recent Steven Spielberg production, tells of a technologically advanced alien race with intents on destroying the earth.

I found several things remarkable in the film. First at the time it was made the United States, which is where 99% of the film takes place, with only a few references to the landings around the world and the valiant efforts of the British, was embroiled in the height of the Cold War. The fear of the other as alien is obvious, but the film capitalizes on the time periods fear of the Russians. American’s fears of greater weapons residing with their opponents, their weapons being useless, being infiltrated, their efforts for peace ignored are all present as a subtext to the alien invasion.

Religion also plays a prominent role in the older version. Pastor Dr. Matthew Collins played by Lewis Martin before approaching the alien craft suggests, “I think we should try to make them understand we mean no harm.” He goes on to say that “they too are living creatures.” His reasoning is that if they are more advanced creatures than humanity then they must be nearer to the Creator. And since no attempt had been made to communicate with them, he approaches reciting the 23rd Psalm, and subsequently is killed by the alien. I cannot help but to view this through that cold war lens. Is this a scene depicting the religiosity of the West and the Godlessness of the East? Pastor Matthew takes the high road, and acts with compassion trying to understand the creatures and his advances are met with contempt and heat rays. Another key scene is set inside a Los Angeles cathedral where many are gathered for safety and prayer. Not even this sacred spot was safe from the violent creatures.

But I also wonder if religion is portrayed all that positively. Could it be that the priest is actually the fool for attempting peaceful relations with the other? Many prayed for a miracle that the creatures could be stopped, but the explanation was biological rather than theological. Are we seeing the triumph of science over religion as well. Is this another subtext for an American audience?

If communism is the primary underlying fear behind the portrayal of the aliens, their utter destruction of all that is sacred in the American way of life would imply the same is to be expected from a Russian invasion. Not only is this a riveting science fiction tale, if the cold war is an accurate subtext it would seem to be another piece of American cold war propaganda.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

an ode to iowa

I grew up as a farm kid - well, I lived on the farm, played in the barns and grove - yet generally tried to stay away from the dangerous stuff of pigs, and power take-off shafts. Yet, even this novice could, and can still on occasion, tell time from the lighting, color of sky and shadow peculiar to that of Iowa. I also can recognize qualitative differences in soil. My favorites were the piles that collected on the fenders of my father’s orange Case tractor and at the foot of the giant diesel tank on the yard. It was more silt than soil. A fine powder mingled with oil. It felt like silk in my hands.

That soil, airborne during disking and harvest, tints our skies, blankets all cars, seeps into our homes. This rural land of dirt and dust rising into the atmosphere, through the suns’ last glancing blows of the day, turns harvest skies brilliant hues of reds to match the autumn leaves. It surrounds us, clings to the sweat on our arms and legs, gets under our fingernails, collects in our nostrils and becomes grit in our teeth. This dirt becomes one with its residents. This land which we till, plant, cultivate, and harvest from is also the formative lands in which mid-western society and humanity grows from alongside the beans and corn. We too are planted, sending roots down, to draw upon the deeper reserves of nutrients of past communities. We are nurtured in the stories of family and ancestors. As wine and coffee both bear out the flavors from the surrounding environment our fruit too bears witness to our roots…our history…the ground in which we were raised. It is inescapable. Daily life forms us.

Perhaps Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams was right to ask, “Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.” The cynics and residents of the surrounding states take pleasure in their interpretation that if Iowa is not heaven, then it must be hell. Yet for those who love Iowa, the rolling farmland of my native northwest Iowa contain both the meaning of and means of general revelation. Its disclosures are gentle and constant. There are no cavernous depths or fluttering heights, torrential rivers occur rarely. Life processes through a land of climatic extremes. Farmers mark time by their crops and we are all made into people of prayer on their behalf. Seasons can pass almost imperceptibly into the next, or with the ever present wind, blow in over night. Communities are cultivated to understand protection and preservation, guidance and adaptability; as well as the disparity between needs and wants, safety and carelessness, frugality and lavishness.

Moderation is the geo-proverbial motto of the Midwest. This worn temperance comes from the solidity of the land itself. Time and seasons pass as a four step dance where fashions follow suit, yet the land steadily holds giving life its truest visible reality.

In northwest Iowa, the bright threads of John Calvin and Reformed theology are among the most tightly woven into the fabric of this society. Faith may not always accompany the religiosity and morality the area promotes, and legalism is often chosen over grace. Yet this area and its traditions, despite all its hypocrisy and stark walled churches; have been my home and community. From the annual celebration of our Dutch heritage, which marks the transition from spring to summer, families live into the lives and work of their American and European ancestors so that they too will be passed on to future generations. It is a profound rehearsal of our collective and living memory.

Yet this idealized ritual has significant impact upon Sioux County culture in how it remembers, how it lives its daily life, and what its hopes for the future. The festival expresses something intimately important about the meaning of their lives.
These “practices of commitments” [1] or “living traditions” that Robert Bellah and Alister MacIntyre suggest are ways of living that are “historically extended, socially embodied argument[s]…about the goods which constitute our lives and tradition[s].[2] These are not only community practices, but also maintained within individuals themselves uniting their own stories to the larger communal story. Or at least, that is the hope.

My eccentric friend John has told me that I will always be an

“Iowa farm boy.” Early on in our friendship I was unsettled by this. To be completely honest, I resented it. I prized the moments in college, two miles from the farm on which I had grown up, when I would surprise my friends by revealing my Iowa roots rather than someplace far more exotic like Chicago or California. I found myself captivated by Thoreau and Whitman’s narcissistic Modern individual who eschews community for oneself, authority and tradition for self-reliance and self-expression, and this place for placelessness.
One need not be a farm kid to know that cutting a plant off from the root, death inevitably sets in for the plant. The irony is that I am a farm kid who knows about planting, cultivation and harvest. And yet, I spent my early twenties trying to evade and distance myself from the place that I was firmly planted in.

I have come to realize that these placed events recorded in my photographs are not just geography, but creative or interpretive experiences. Places are not mere backdrops to life. We orient ourselves within the geography of places and spaces, but memory cultivates a new form of orientation. As individuals and communities of memory nurture places, the meanings of their lives are enacted, the geographical spaces of community become laden with epistemological experiences which are inseparable from that place. As geographical landmarks give directions on a journey, epistemological places; such as experiences and events, relationships and things, memory and ritual become our means of orientation in the world. Walter Brueggemann has said that “there are no meanings apart from roots.”[3] And without these epistemological spatial roots, the stage of enacted meaning and bearing of our lives, we simply become disoriented.

[1]Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 154.
[2] Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 207.
[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002, 4.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

2 of 3 people found the following review to be helpful...and humorous

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
False Advertising, August 9, 2007
John H. Taylor - See all my reviews
This review is from: The 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Leather Bound (Burgundy) (Leather Bound) The description says leatherbound; the edition, of which I purchased two for newly baptized in our church, is bound in imitation leather. Please review the rite for the reconciliation of a penitent (p. 447) and contact me to arrange an appointment! Fr. John

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Koyaanisqatsi is a non-narrative 86 minute film from 1982. As the title rises so does the murmur of the Koyaanisqatsi chant which means "life out of balance." The film begins and ends with human figures painted long ago on cave walls and transitions to pristine southwest landscapes and then to clouds and water. Over time, we begin to be introduced to the contemporary fingerprint of humanity upon the earth, as contrasted with the non-invasive cave paintings. We see beautiful forms and destruction, humanity in general and in the particular, escalators, assembly lines, and the machines of modern production. From the heights above the cities we witness large cycles of life: day to night and back to day and work to home to play to work. many of the shots are just breathtaking other sequences have an ironic tone as we see Twinkies and hotdogs shooting out of processors we see humanity being spit out of escalators. Adding to the stark dichotomy between nature and contemporary human society is the increasing pace. The shots of the southwest are long and slow while a majority of the shots that picture the cityscapes are sped up. As the film leaves creation scenes for human society the speed of editing and the Philip Glass score increase to a frenetic pace.

While the film is powerful, it is perhaps about 30 minutes too long especially for today's viewer.

Some of our most interesting dialogue about the film last night in class was about Godfrey Reggio's artist statement on the Koyaanisqatsi website. He states,

That being said, my intention in-other-words, let me describe the bigger picture. KOYAANISQATSI is not so much about something, nor does it have a specific meaning or value. KOYAANISQATSI is, after all, an animated object, an object in moving time, the meaning of which is up to the viewer. Arthas no intrinsic meaning. This is its power, its mystery, and hence, its attraction. Art is free. It stimulates the viewer to insert their own meaning, their own value. So while I might have this or that intention in creating this film, I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder. The film's role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer. This is the highest value of any work of art, not predetermined meaning, but meaning gleaned from theexperience of the encounter. The encounter is my interest, not the meaning. If meaning is the point, then propaganda and advertising is the form. So in the sense of art, the meaning of KOYAANISQATSI is whatever you wish to make of it.
This is its power.

We generally agreed that we all have our own interpretive lenses that color our insights into the film, and yet it seems that Reggio has overstated his statement...too grandiose one student suggested. If no communication of intent is made, that it seems like the piece would been stillborn. And contrary to Reggio's statement and apparent fear of becoming propaganda, many feel that he has done exactly that. Reggio has created a thought provoking piece dealing with time and the effects of contemporary human consumption.

The following are a few of the questions we discussed and a few other passages that came to my mind as I watched the film.

1) What is Reggio’s intention or purpose with the film?
2) How does the film’s construction and editing convey his intention?
3) What scenes/juxtapositions stand out to you?
4) How does the musical score aid your interpretations?
5) Would you consider this a modern or post-modern film? How do you know?
6) What is considered as the “good”?
7) What theological questions are raised by the film?
8) Any irony at play?
9) Is the film dated or still relevant to our current situation? How? Why?
10) Would you watch the other 2 films in the Qatsi trilogy?

“The ineffable inhabits the magnificent and the common, the grandiose and the tiny facts of reality alike. Some people sense this quality at distant intervals in extraordinary events; others sense it in the ordinary events, in every fold, in every nook; day after day, hour after hour. To them things are bereft of triteness; to them being does not mate with non-sense. They hear the stillness that crowds the world in spite of our noise, in spite of our greed. Slight and simple as things may be—a piece of paper, a morself of bread, a word, a sigh—they hide and guard a never-ending secret: A glimpse of God? Kinship with the sprit of being? An eternal flash of will?
Part company with preconceived notions, suppress your leaning to reiterate and to know in advance of your seeing, try to see the world for the first time with eyes not dimmed by memory or volition, and you will detect that you and the things that surround you—trees, birds, chairs—are like parallel lines that run close and never meet. Your pretense of being acquainted with the world is quickly abandoned.”
-from Man Is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion – Abraham Heschel

Ecclesiastes 1.1-11
1 The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3 What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has already been, in the ages before us. 11 The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

Psalm 19.1-6
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

Genesis 1.27-28
27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

Romans 8.19-23
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

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 and 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 and with ah! bright wings.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, February 3, 2008

axis mundi composites

Series Introduction: Mircea Eliade, the late renowned religious historian, spoke of the axis mundi as the sacred cosmic center connecting heaven and earth as distinct from the secular world. Often the axis mundi has been reflected in religion and mythology as a tower, pole or tree around which life is oriented. This is an adaptation of this idea as a means to explore the variety of sacred places in our lives.

Over the next while I will be posting more of these pieces.

These images are from a growing collection of all things vertical. The left image is from an abandoned farm yard near Springside Saskatchewan. The middle top are the field lights at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville Iowa. The lower middle is a shot of the power lines that run along 33rd here in Sioux Falls. And the image on the right is a tree at the Japanese Gardens in Terrace Park in Sioux Falls.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

i remember me...

In Tim O'Brien's powerful work The Things They Carried he says, "It's now 1990. I'm forty-three years old, which would've seemed impossible to a fourth grader, and yet when I look at photographs of myself as I was in 1956, I realize that in the important ways I haven't changed at all. I was Timmy then, now I'm Tim. But the essence remains the same. I'm not fooled by the baggy pants or the crewcut or the happy smile-I know my own eyes-and there is no doubt that the Timmy smiling at the camera is the Tim I am now. Inside the body, or beyond the body, there is something absolute and unchanging. The human life is all one thing, like a blade tracing loops on ice: a little kid, a twenty-three-year-old infantry sergeant, a middle-aged writer knowing guilt and sorrow" (264-5).

As I noted in my last post I've been working on a narrative theology lecture (I think I've finally finished it today). O'Brien's passage reminds me of the power of our own stories and the truth of them. We may have what George Stroup considers incoherence between who we say we are and what our history says we are, but I suspect that deep down we all know our hypocrisy.

The above composite ties 3 self-portraits from my childhood (probably 5-8th grade). It was an attempt to reclaim the stories of my youth. It came from the realization that I cannot live sui generis. Our culture tells us that we may re-create (or more accurately purchase) a new story and identity on a whim. This has contributed to a social state of amnesia. We have literally bought a Romanticist conception of ourselves that says we are truly human only when we strike out on our own to make ourselves free from the constraints and traditions of society. We imagine ourselves a fresh creation unbounded by others. And yet, we have only traded one tradition for another; a tradition of no tradition. And as Robert Bellah suggests, in this perceived glorious freedom and independence, we become the most susceptible to coercion by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the radical isolation of our private selves.