Posts tagged with: art

“God somehow demands of us so much more than this transactional nature. It is really about the gift that we’ve been given, and the only response we can give back is with extravagance, with gratuitous beauty.” –Makoto Fujimura (Episode 6, For the Life of the World)

sara-feature-305x305We live in a society that has grown increasingly transactional in its way of thinking. Everything we spend or steward — time, money, relationships — must secure a personal reward or return. Even when we give things up for “useless” activities, it is framed in terms of self-indulgence or personal release. We are making “me time,” “emptying our busy brains,” or “rewarding ourselves.” Even our wasteful moments are in the service of balancing some imaginary busyness ledger.

But countering our transactional nature will require far more than surface-level tweaks such as these.

In For the Life of the World, Evan Koons discovers that we must learn to appreciate the value of God’s creation in and of itself. If we hope to unlock the Economy of Wonder, we must realize that everything need not be tied to or offered up for some sort of pragmatic use. God wants us to be gift-givers who focus not on scarcity but divine abundance.

In a new video blog, musical artist Sara Groves touches on these same themes, inspired by artist Makoto Fujimura, who also makes an appearance in FLOW. “Pragmatism and utility have infected every area of life,” she says. “…It’s the artist’s role to push back against pragmatism and utility.” (more…)

onward-russell-moore-culture-gospelOne of the long-running mistakes of the church has been its various confinements of cultural engagement to particular spheres (e.g. churchplace ministry) or selective “uses” (e.g. evangelistic conversion).

But even if we manage to broaden the scope of our stewardship — recognizing that God has called us to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty across all spheres of creation — our imaginations will still require a strong injection of the transformative power of Jesus.

When we seek God first and neighbor second, we no longer proceed from the base assumptions of earthbound goods — the “love of man” what-have-you. Yes, our goals and actions will occasionally find overlap with those of the world, but eventually, the upside-down economics of the Gospel will set us apart. We will do certain things and make certain sacrifices that are foreign and incomprehensible to those around us.

This has implications for all areas, but much of it boils down to our basic views about the human person: his and her dignity and destiny as an image-bearer of an almighty God. Once our hearts are transformed according to his designs and our views about our neighbors are aligned to God’s story about his children, our cultural engagement will manifest in unpredictable and mysterious ways. This is, after all, what it means to be strangers in a strange land, as Episode 1 of For the Life of the World artfully explains.

In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore offers some valuable reflections along these lines, noting that we can’t possibly stand as witnesses of God’s love if our cultural comings and goings fail to respond through the lens of Christ’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God changes the culture of the church by showing us a longer view of who’s important and who’s in charge,” he writes.

What cultural engagement really requires, then, is a careful destruction of that basic lie the enemy continues to spread and embed across societies and civilizations: that the love of man and the worship of his goals is, indeed, enough. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Wednesday, September 2, 2015

creativity-capitalism-money-crashCapitalism is routinely castigated as an enemy of the arts, with much of the finger-pointing bent toward monsters of profit and efficiency. Other critiques take aim at more systemic features, fearing that the type of industrialization that markets sometimes tend toward will inevitably detach artists from healthy social contexts, sucking dry any potential for flourishing as a result.

But what if the opposite is true? I offer the argument over at The Federalist.

Free economies introduce their own unique challenges for artists and consumers alike. We are justified in cringing at the array of bottom-dollar record-company execs and merchandising-obsessed Hollywood crackpots (though I will always prefer their ilk to your run-of-the-mill Commissar of the Arts). But the increases in economic empowerment that have led to these many marketing machines have also led to plenty of artistic empowerment in turn.

In an article for New York Times Magazine, Steven Johnson reinforces this very point, observing that the many apocalyptic prophecies about arts in the digital age have not quite manifested. “In the digital economy, it was supposed to be impossible to make money by making art,” he writes. “Instead, creative careers are thriving — but in complicated and unexpected ways.” (more…)


Detail from Pamela Alderman’s “The Scarlet Cord”

Those of you who are regular readers here at the Acton PowerBlog are very familiar with Elise Graveline Hilton’s extensive research and work on the subject of human trafficking, both here on the blog and also through her recently published monograph, A Vulnerable World. (For those of you who don’t have a copy, you can pick up a paperback version at the Acton Bookshop; a Kindle version is available as well.) As Elise was doing the hard work of writing her book, Pamela Alderman was exploring the world of human trafficking through her artistic talents, producing an installation called “The Scarlet Cord.” Her powerful work was created for ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and went on to be displayed at the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona. It is currently on display at the Acton Institute’s Prince-Broekhuizen Gallery.

In conjuction with Acton’s exhibition of “The Scarlet Cord,” we hosted an evening event featuring talks from both Hilton and Alderman. If you weren’t able to join us for the event, we encourage you to take the time to watch the video of the event, and to share it with your family and friends. Learn to look for the telltale signs of trafficking in your day to day life, and join the effort to stamp out this inhuman practice.

In his review of the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, Andy Crouch noted its artistic merits, observing how well it conveyed “deeply Christian themes in widely accessible ways.”

“I can only hope that many of us will indeed watch and learn,” he writes, “and that we will then give ourselves away, as skillfully, promptly, and sincerely as these filmmakers have done, for the life of the world.”

Now, in response to the series, other artists are joining in on that endeavor. Inspired by each episode, Kayla Waldron, artist and founder and creator of PennyHouse Creative, has created some beautiful chalk art to capture the major themes of the series. Both individually and taken together, the pieces aptly illustrate the grand design and beauty of God’s economy of all things.

She’s been sharing them on her Instagram and Facebook feeds, and I’ve re-posted them below for your enjoyment.

Episode 1: Exile


Episode 2: The Economy of Love (more…)

unknown artist from Japanese internment camp

unknown artist from Japanese internment camp

It is a disturbing part of American history: the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese who were legally living in the U.S. during World War II. About 120,000 people were placed in internment camps in the western part of the U.S.

Life in the camps was harsh. The only furnishings were beds. There was no privacy. Many people lived in metal huts, which provided no protection from heat or cold. However, many of those interned were resourceful, and determined to make the very best of their situation.

Prisoners were denied any belongings coming in, and the barracks were furnished only with beds. There were no luxuries like tools, tables, chairs, or curtains for privacy. Later, they could order modest items by mail. But their ethic was of tremendous resourcefulness. Nothing was wasted. Onion sacks were unraveled and woven into baskets and cigarette cases. Tiny shells on the ground were collected for brooches for special occasions like weddings and funerals. Toothbrush handles were cut off and repurposed. An ugly stub of iron sewer pipe was incised with a bird and blooming plum branches to fashion a vase. A ring was made from a peach pit.


“This is useless. This is gratuitous. This is wonder.” –Evan Koons

When we consider the full realm of Christian stewardship, our minds immediately turn to areas like business, finance, ministry, the arts, education, and so on — the places where we “get things done.”

But while each of these is indeed an important area of focus, for the Christian, stewardship also involves creating the space to stop and simply behold our God. Yes, we are called to be active and diligent and fruitful in acts of service and discipleship, but at the core, what is driving the work of our hands? Do we take the time to simply delight in our God, to behold the beauty of his creation, to reflect on his goodness, to fear him deeply and profoundly, to open our hearts and eyes and ears to the whispers of the Holy Spirit?

In For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, they call this space the Economy of Wonder, and over at the FLOW blog, Evan Koons has been leaning on heavyweights like Peter Kreeft and Hans Urs von Balthasar to remind us of its importance. In a society where everything is weighed and rewarded and justified according to its pragmatic use, how do we relish in God’s divine mystery? (more…)