Posts tagged with: art

carolers2Over the last century, Christianity has declined in social influence across much of the Western world, leading many to believe it has little place or purpose in public life.

In response, Christian reactions have varied, with the more typical approaches being fortification (“hide!”), domination (“fight!”), or accommodation (“blend in!”). In each case, the response takes the shape of heavy-handed strategery or top-down mobilization, whether to or from the hills.

And yet the cultural witness of the church ought to flow (or overflow) a bit differently. For Greg Forster, it has less to do with “cultural lever-pulling,” and a whole lot more to do with joy.

“Christianity is losing its influence in contemporary America because people outside the church just don’t encounter the joy of God as much as they used to,” Forster writes in his latest book, Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. “…The joy of God can do what cultural lever-pulling can’t do.”

As we experience the joy of God in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, our attitudes and activities are transformed. As Christians, our primary task is not to take that transformation and funnel it toward end-game tactics, but to faithfully embody it across culture: blessing our neighbors and cultivating civilization, whether in the family, our work and the economy, or citizenship and community (Forster’s three main categories). (more…)

carolerAs Christians living in a secular age, there’s a temptation to use Christmas as a wedge to wage epic new battles to restore Christendom.

But despite the flurry of hackneyed “War on Christmas” tropes, there is, alas, something rather amiss. Though the battlefront may not be a petty replacement of “Merry Christmas” with “happy holidays,” society is obviously devoid of a true understanding of the season, diluting a celebration about the invasion of heaven to a shallow idolatry of tradition for tradition’s sake.

Yet, as Andrew Ferguson reminds us, despite its best efforts, culture cannot, and indeed, doesn’t want to escape the “true meaning of Christmas” after all. In many ways, Ferguson writes, alluding to G.K. Chesterton’s famous words, it’s impossible to live in a post-Christian age.

Some things can’t be undone, and chief among them is the Light that was lit the first Christmas morning, while choirs of angels sang above,” Ferguson writes. “It can be ridiculed and parodied, satirized and scoffed at, obscured and sentimentalized, but it won’t be extinguished. So even a secular age continues to go through the motions, singing the same songs, sometimes the old songs, without quite knowing why.

And those songs — they bring such revelation and power, wherever they find a welcome set of lungs. (Yes, wherever.)

It is with Christmas music, Ferguson argues, that we see the Christian witness endure at its finest, not via an antagonism of tacky cultural kitsch, but through an elevation of the true and serious joy of Christ:

A good carol, said the great musicologist Percy Deamer, “was witness to the spirit of a more spontaneous and undoubting faith.” The effusions were organic, growing from the bottom up, and like the Gospels themselves, filled with metaphors taken from field and hearth…

…To take life”—and hence Christmas—”with real seriousness is to take it joyfully,” Deamer went on. “For seriousness is only sad when it is superficial: the carol is thus nearer to the truth because it is jolly.” The opposite isn’t necessarily true, by the way. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” [by Mariah Carey] might be described as jolly; no one would describe it as serious. “Joy to the World,” on the other hand, is both. A Christmas carol is meant to liberate us from phony seriousness and phony good cheer.

In the past that lesson has often been lost, at times even more thoroughly than in our own day—a reminder that should cheer us up, if you’ll forgive the expression. The serious joy, or the joyful seriousness, of Christmas is offensive to the grim Christian.

Carols offer a profound example of cultural engagement done right, shining a blinding light that, by virtue of its truth, goodness, and beauty, welcomes a lost world even as it wages war against hell.

Thus, as we worship and magnify Jesus this Christmas season, let us avoid petty battles against petty gods, whether of blind consumerism or nostalgic knick-knackery. Instead, let us exude and share the serious joy that comes from being a child of the living God. Let us simply sing, and sing of Jesus.

And let earth receive her King.

“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
By

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…)

redcord_header

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-1---Everything-Is-a-Gift

Episode 2: The Economy of Love (more…)