MUSIC & POP CULTURE
I hope you saw the book list I did on music and popular culture (inspired by the fabulous Calvin College Festival of Faith and Music in Grand Rapids which Beth and I attended a week or so ago.) I love some of these books and could have suggested others; from books about faith-based approaches to video games (like Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games by Kevin Schut [Baker; $17.99]) to our section on media ecology, from books on film to books on theater, we love sharing these sorts of resources. And especially books about good old rock and roll. Do you know the 33 1/3 books, for instance, published by Bloomsbury, each which examine a particularly interesting and often quite important rock album? We stock a lot of them and think they’re pretty cool.
Studying books about pop culture does at least three two things, or so it seems to me. Firstly, it helps us “practice the presence of God.” We can find God everywhere more easily when we don’t just look for inspiration, or emotional/spiritual highs, or Holy Spirited shivers throughout the day, but find signals of grace and divine goodness in the ordinary, in our actual encounter with the stuff of life. This is easier for some of us to imagine in nature, finding God in the out of doors, but it is equally true that God is found in the spheres of entertainment and pop culture. So this is a spiritual discipline, in many ways, learning to attend to Holy Things in our common lives, including listening to rock songs or going to movies with, as Romanowki’s book puts it, “eyes wide open.”
Secondly, intentionally attending to the possibility of common grace in popular culture also trains us in discernment. That is, we can use movies and music as case studies on how to observe not only the good and true, but the odd and disconcerting. Idols and ideologies bring distortion and danger and we must keep our antennae up to be sure we are not being hoodwinked, ever so subtly, by the stories and values which we take in. I think it is a tad simplistic to say we are like computers –“garbage in/garbage out” –but there is something to this notion. We are shaped and formed by the stuff we engage in. Read Jamie Smith’s essential Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker; $21.99) to be reminded of this in quite sophisticated terms; see Walt Mueller’s How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices over at CPYU for an easy to apply process for talking about this with teens in pretty simple terms. Although it is not just on the popular arts, I love Walt’s important book Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews and Christian Truth published by IVP; $18.00) which certainly is relevant here.
And, thirdly, it just makes things more interesting. Maybe this makes it more demanding — yup, we have to faithfully think about stuff, all of this stuff — but, I’d say, and I bet you agree, that this also makes life’s adventure much more fun. We can enjoy music and dancing and playing and watching movies when we understand the art form a bit and have eyes to see all that is going on in terms of style and content and vision.
ALSO, THE VISUAL ARTS
The process and approach of engaging this side of life is a bit different when considering visual art or literature, but our basic point is the same: we glorify God when we take seriously our human calling to steward the gifts of Earth, which includes culture and culture-making. Music and film and paintings all matter. We can appreciate and make art for God’s sake, as acts of devotion and love of neighbor.
So here are some new books on the heels of our music and pop culture list that are about the arts more generally and about creativity in the life of faith.
We have much bigger lists on the arts, aesthetics and more, for instance, here. Here are some that focus more on enhancing or deepening our own creative lives.
Not just for artists, you know.
Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers Troy Bronsink (Paraclete) $16.99 Troy is a Presbyterian pastor, indie musician, street activist and faith-based organizer and he has here given us a tremendously cool book, full of substance and verve, theology and vision, hope and healing. If you are an artist, patron, fan, or simply a person wanting to learn how to be more imaginative, this guide is hard to beat. What a great title (and cover, too, eh?) Love it.
Sally Morgenthaler (who calls it “one of the finest books on art, creativity and the nature of God to date” says it is a manifesto. Indeed. It is a call to live a creative life as a follower of Jesus, inviting us into God’s own creative work and “redemptive rhythms” in the world. It is serious, thoughtful, very interesting and highly recommended.
Art + Faith: Reclaiming the Artistic Essence of the Church Jon Bowles (House Studio) book $12.99; DVD $36.99 This is a small, nifty book that could be read on its own, but I suppose is designed to go with the DVD curriculum of the same name. It is not a “participants guide” or simplistic workbook, though, but a real book that certainly invites great imagination. Informed by the narrative of the Beggars Table,a community that meets in a gallery in Kansas City’s art district. This is not about “arts programming” but, not unlike the Bronsink book above, it really is more about helping all of us appreciate the arts, engage in meaning-making by being formed in disciplines of seeing. This is a story, they say, of “how art has shaped the imagination of one church toward the Kingdom. This could be a story about your church, too.” I like this study of mystery (and our “mystery deprived world) and beauty and awe, and the necessary relationship of faith, religion, art and wonder.
The Art + Faith DVD includes six session and PDF transcripts, discussion guides and other bonus material. The package includes the DVD and one book.
Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room Matt Appling (Moody Press) $13.99 I am excited about this new imprint of books published by the stalwart evangelical house called Moody Collective. This tremendous book is a great new kind of book for Moody, it seems, young, creative, fresh, interesting for those who need something other than standard basic Christian growth or self-help books, or mere theology (as helpful as all that can be.) This book invites us to realize that we are creative people, we make things (for better or worse) so we might as well, as Appling says, do it on purpose. He wonders how we lost our confidence to create, crumbling under the pressure of the so-called “real, grown-up world.” Appling is an art teacher, having worked with pre-K through high school, in fact. This is a hopeful book, fun and a bit challenging. Has something been lost along the way, for you? This will help you get it back!
Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice Christine Valters Paintner (Sorin Books) $15.95 We have carried the previous books by Ms Paintner which includeThe Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom (Sorin; $14.95) and a fabulous book about being attentive to God’s goodness revealed in creation called Water, Wind, Earth and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements (Sorin; $14.95.) I really love this new one on photography and recommend it to any number of those who like to take pictures with their iPhones, who are learning to pay greater attention to daily life as they hone the skills of “seeing” by way of their cameras. Valtgers Paintner is the on-line “Abby of the Arts” and here she helps us with “viso divina” (she is a Benedictine oblate, after all) and cites great contemplative and monastic sources, as well has helpful technical suggestions about lighting, composition, framing, printing, equipment. This is a lovely, good, book which many will enjoy and by which many will be blessed.
Awake My Soul: A Contemplative Art Journal Aletheia Schmidt $25.99 Aletheia is a Lancaster, PA-based artist who has created this wonderful, full-color book which shows her abstract work with plenty of nice spaces for you to journal, reflect, or draw along. She is a vibrant, kind, and talented young woman and she sees these paintings as prayers. She believes “the arts, imagination, and creativity offer life.”
You can check out her website to get a sense of her sense of things. You can even buy her cards and prints. But this book, which we are thrilled to carry, is a wonder. The reflection questions are not simplistic or one-dimensional, and I would think that it would be a beautiful thing to do together, even if it is more likely to be used individually. There are 52 paintings, so you use it for a long while. Congrats to this new friend, a fine artist who has offered her playing and painting and praying to us.
Qu4rtets artwork by Mako Fujimura, Bruce Herman, and Christopher Theofanidis, and others; inspired by T. S. Eliot $35.00 You might want to revisit my previous review of this splendid, remarkable book — superlatives elude me to tell you how good this is. Two stellar, respected, deeply Christian painters (Fujimura and Herman), and a classical musical composer (Theofanidis), collaborated to do these works, collated in this marvelous coffee-table paperback book, inspired by the famous poem Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot.
This is a lovely book, handsome, intriguing, illuminating. The combination of visual arts, a music score, and the historic, important poetry is so very interesting and fruitful. The great introduction by Image journal editor, Gregory Wolfe, sets it up perfectly.
As I explain in my earlier description of Qu4tets, there are included three very significant essays (also enhanced with lovely type and smaller art pieces throughout) by Matthew Milliner, James McCullough,and Jeremy Begbie. These critical reflections add gravitas to the project (as if it needed more) and are themselves very well done. Highly recommended. — perhaps as a graduation gift?
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