Junk Food and Cowardice re-post

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RE-POSTED FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIKE TO CLICK THROUGH:

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JUNK FOOD AND COWARDICE
I was told the other day my fiction was the literary equivalent of fast food: cheap, suspect, and eminently forgettable. In this person’s mind, too much fiction – especially genre fiction – is impractical. Unhealthy.

Fact is, it’s true in many ways: my novels won’t ever make the “Great Books of the Western World” list. (http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/40) I’m not in a snit over it. Espionage thrillers about futuristic mercenaries, clones and killer drones aren’t going to change the world. I’m OK with that. As a writer, I’m pecking at the keyboard to exercise my imagination, to spin a yarn, hopefully entertain someone. Maybe even make a couple extra bucks before my time is up. I just hope I’m more like Panera than Mcdonalds.

now I want onion rings…

I’m aiming for that lofty goal because as a writer and artist who is also a Christian, I’d like to inject some substance, trace-elements of spiritual qualities in my work. After all, it is a product of my time and labor, an extension of my person, if you will, and I’d hate to think my soul is vapid and shallow. But that’s the fear, the accusation, isn’t it?

Which is what brought me to the charge of cowardice.

I finished Flannery O’Connor’s “The Violent Bear it Away” recently. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Violent-Bear-Away-ebook/dp/B009LRWWN6/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1375299985&sr=1-1) I read it decades ago for some Eng Lit course, and didn’t get it at all. I was stunned this time around though. The following passage in particular hit me.

“Tarwater clenched his fists. He stood like one condemned, waiting at the spot of execution. Then the revelation came, silent, implacable, direct as a bullet. He did not look into the eyes of any fiery beast or see a burning bush. He only knew, with a certainty sunk in despair, that he was expected to baptize the child he saw and begin the life his great-uncle had prepared him for. He knew that he was called to be a prophet and that the ways of his prophecy would not be remarkable. His black pupils, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus, until at last he received his reward, a broken fish, a multiplied loaf. The Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire all to baptize one idiot child that He need not have created in the first place and to cry out a gospel just as foolish. He tried to shout, “NO!” but it was like trying to shout in his sleep. The sound was saturated in silence, lost.”
Excerpt From: O’Connor, Flannery. “The Violent Bear It Away.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Your mileage may vary, but what stunned me wasn’t merely the prose, the theme, the characters; it’s classic American literature for a reason. But I had the sudden intimate realization I lacked both the skill and the courage to write something that messy, that audacious. There’s an anger, a certain mad daring, not to mention profound bravery needed to grapple with the enormity of free will, Man’s primal defiance and the mystery of God’s grace without imposing clichéd answers. I was numbed, humbled.

I confess that with rare exception, I find most of the contemporary Christian artistic offerings as insipid as they are sincere. My opinion is that as flawed as we believers are and will be down here, the reality of God deserves better than the modern evangelical status quo. The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters and brought the entire universe into being at the divine fiat. That is the spirit reportedly indwelling us.

As an artist, a writer, I agree with Akira Kurosawa that “The role of the artist is to not look away.” I understand what Steven Pressfield means when he says “The artist is seeking the real by means of the artificial.” It’s just that I flatter myself if I think that simply waving around the live-wire of some controversy, spilling some fictitious blood or allowing my non-Christian characters to drop an F-bomb or three, I’ve struck a blow against saccharine mediocrity. It might be bold to some, blasphemy to others. It might make me a shark in the koi pond, a vandal in the Precious Moments Temple, but sizzle ain’t steak. None of that is inherently more gritty or authentic. Like the song says, ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’

O’Connor’s novel reminded me once again true skill doesn’t rely on gimmicks, that gratuitous detail isn’t realism, and that my work will never really ring true unless I’m willing to leave the cloistered certainty of comfortable answers. As a Christian, an artist, a writer, as a human being, I have to venture out into the mystery that is God, the madness that is love, and the scandal that is grace, then have the courage, the humility to get out of the way and let them be what they are.

Glass-related

Client asked me to reproduce the Frank Lloyd Wright Saguaro panel, modified and shrunk (from it’s original 12 foot height) to fit in her bathroom window. Went to it’s new home this morning. I’m used to large-scale projects and intricate work, but this took much longer than anticipated.

Funny how I keep trying to apply the methodical, plot and plan approach I use with glass to writing fiction. It translates in some aspects but remains obstinate, elusive and organic in others. Imagining is like collecting smoke, writing like packing springs.

Now back to Somaliland and Drop City…

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Swiped from Crosswalk

An article on Christians, Art and Culture. Nice safe summary of what I believe in this regard. Crosswalk is a decent site with good articles and perspectives. Worth bookmarking.

ARTICLE ON CROSSWALK

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‘Joy’ by Makoto Fujimura

Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College and a former pastor, knows that artists who are Christians often feel like fish out of water. Ryken says, “Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community — almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church.”

This is more than a tragedy. It’s a lost opportunity. Ryken notes that “Christians called to paint, draw, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to witness to the grace, beauty and truth of the gospel. … The arts are the leading edge of culture,” he says.

So with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Ryken asked some of his artist friends what churches do to discourage them from their dual calling as artists and Christians.

First, they said, treat the arts as window dressing for the truth rather than the window into reality it’s intended to be. Second, embrace bad art just because it’s “Christian.” Third, value artists only for their artistic gifts, but not for the other contributions they can make as thinkers and servants with a unique perspective. Fourth, demand that artists only give answers in their work, but never raise questions. Fifth, never pay artists for their work — take advantage of them in ways we would never do with plumbers or accountants. And finally, only validate art that has a direct salvation application.

Unfortunately, too often these are exactly the kinds of things that churches do. But if we want to impact our beauty and truth-starved culture with Christ-honoring art, we have to do better! Come to our website and I’ll direct you to Ryken’s whole list. It’s an eye-opener.

But there’s another side to the coin. Many Christian artists expect to be taken seriously while having bought into the dominant cultural idea that art is all about self-expression. But presenting the obscure and confusing in a trendy way does not a Christian artist make. So, we have to ask, “What, then, is art?”

Artist Makoto Fujimura argues that for the Christian, art must be more than self-expression. It must be communication, because as Christians we deal with objective reality. As one of my mentors once said, art’s job is primarily to “paraphrase reality.” I like that. We can present beauty without being trivial, evil without being gratuitous, and redemption without being hokey.

And the Christian artist is a communicator also because God created through communication — through His spoken word. The creative individual made in the image of the ultimate communicator must be one who communicates as well. Not just what we feel, but what is true and real. Art’s job is to paraphrase Reality.

Now this doesn’t mean Christian art must be preachy or obvious, but it should make us think more deeply and better about life and the world.

For example, Fujimura’s paintings are abstract. Yet because he believes his responsibility is to communicate, he explains his art in writing. He knows that art is not really about the artist — little “a.” It’s about the big Artist — capital “A.”

And we’re not just communicating about God; we’re actually participating with Him. In his book For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, David Taylor says, “Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all matter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.”

Two other great books on the Christian view of art are Francis Schaeffer’s classic Art and the Bible and Philip Ryken’s Art for God’s Sake. We have them for you at the BreakPoint online bookstore.

And, let’s commit together to encouraging, not discouraging, Christians in the high calling of art.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: June 6, 2013

Finally! (Stained Glass Related)

Pictures of the large panel I constructed for the new dorm at St. Mark’s Prep. Measures approx six feet wide by five feet tall, set in a custom mahogany frame. Seeing the panel installed, back-lit, in context with the space always makes for better pictures.

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