“To create, meditate and really share life”

“I think I want to be an artist monk — with a wife,” I announced to the WordLily at lunch today.

“Nice save,” she replied.

“I don’t necessarily mean I want to move to a monastery.”

“So you mean you want to create, meditate and really share life.”

“Yeah, exactly,” I said. Her elaboration was spot on.

Recently I’ve begun to explore distributism (thanks to Timothy Jones harping on it over at Old World Swine), which as an economic theory is referred to as a “third way,” neither capitalism or socialism. G.K. Chesterton was a fan of the idea — among others such as Dorothy Day and Hilaire Belloc — which was in some ways a Catholic response to the industrial revolution (according to Wikipedia). A few quotes from Wikipedia:

Distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life.”

Under such a system, most people would be able to earn a living without having to rely on the use of the property of others to do so.

Pope Pius XI . . . provided the classical statement of the principle: “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”

I don’t know why the Pope considered taking from individuals what they can accomplish on their own a “great evil,” but I can understand why he would call it a “disturbance of right order.” I love the idea of subordinating economic activity to the rest of human life as a whole. The way we harp on economics in our culture just doesn’t resonate with me. It seems out of place. Shouldn’t economics be an incidental byproduct of our human activity, instead of something we plan for and around?

Distributism is also interested in promoting crafts and culture.

Distributism promotes a society of artisans and culture. This is influenced by an emphasis on small business, promotion of local culture, and favoring of small production over capitalistic mass production. A society of artisans promotes the distributist ideal of the unification of capital, ownership, and production rather than what distributism sees as an alienation of man from work. This does not, however, suggest that Distributism favors a technological regression to a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle, but a more local ownership of factories and other industrial centers. Products such as food and clothing would be preferably returned to local producers and artisans instead of being mass produced overseas.

Returning production to the local level reminds me of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Part of me wonders if distributism would fly in our interconnected internet age. If the producer of a particular item in Indiana was doing a superior job to those in California, wouldn’t people just order from the person in the Midwest who had set up an online store?

Regardless, I need to give a little more consideration to idea. From what I’ve read so far, I like it; it sounds as though it might create a lifestyle a little bit more conducive to creating, meditating and really sharing life.


Does church life stifle your creativity?

An encouraging word from a recent post on Donald Miller’s blog titled Is Church Life Stifling Your Creativity?

There is a difference between what “the church” wants you to do and what God wants you to do. Do what God wants you to do. Go and create, even as you were made to create.

In the brief entry he looks at how David’s Song of Solomon, a beautiful poetic work, would be viewed by Evangelicals today. The criticisms Miller imagines are all too realistic. Read his short entry via this link.

Christmas III

A CNN story via InternetMonk, a commercialized Christmas is bringing Christ to China:

It is even Christmas in China these days. And while we continue to complain here in the West about the commercialization of the season, it is exactly this commercial aspect of Christmas that is allowing missionaries and others to explain the real meaning of the holiday. An interesting turn of events, don’t you think?

Sculpture from lead pencil studio, Non-sign ii, via Design-Realized

Glædelig Jul!

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree lyrics in a 1897 republication of 1797 printing

One of my favorite Christmas carols of late isn’t exactly a Christmas carol but is traditionally sung on Christmas Eve. Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, an 18th century English hymn, was commonly sung [wassailed] at Apple orchards on Christmas eve in hopes of bestowing health on the trees. I’m very fond of the choral arrangements such as the one below.

Another recent favorite — I always have more than one — is Riu, Riu Chiu, a song I first heard on Sixpence None The Richer’s Christmas album titled Dawn of Grace.


You wanted proof, instead of mystery . . .

I saw Mako Fujimura post his Letter to Churches of North America back in October, but didn’t read it through at the time. It seems as though I can’t avoid it as its posted again and again by fellow artists around the web.

So I went back to it in full today. Originally I figured it wouldn’t have much new to say to me, and while that was true it was still worth taking the time to read.

You began to believe in the late 18th century that we needed rational categories, to try to protect “faith” from “reason.” Reason began to win the battle in this false dichotomy. As a consequence, you began to suspect the mystery of our being and the miraculous presence of God behind the visible. What you call “Secularism” is your own offspring*, given articulation by the division and fragmentation within the church. As a result of this dichotomy, you began to exile artists whose existence, up to that point, helped to fuse the invisible reality with concrete reality. An artist knows that what you can see and observe is only the beginning of our journey to discover the world. But you wanted proof, instead of mystery . . .

You should read it all the way through as well via this link.

Show, don’t tell: Tolkein versus LaHaye/Jenkins

One of these stories is not like the other. One shows, one tells.

A link via Opus to a SkyeBox blog entry that responds to a recent Relevant article asking why Christian movies are so bad. The SkyeBox author believes — and I with him — the Relevant writer missed a crucial point.

He believes that our modernist Evangelical theology prevents us from non-literal thinking, from using our imagination and accepting the reality of mystery.

American evangelicalism, for the most part, has rejected a sacramental understanding of creation. Unlike Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some other high-church traditions, evangelicalism is rooted in modernity and a literalist vision of the world. The bread is just bread. The wine is just wine (sorry, grape juice) . . . Our brand of theology tends not to feed or cultivate the imagination.

A sacramental theology, on the other hand, requires one to see on multiple layers at once. A thing may carry multiple meanings simultaneously. Symbols dominate space and teaching. Mystery is embraced, and the imagination encouraged . . .

Is it possible that creative story-telling, like the kind necessary to produce great films, is particularly difficult for evangelicals because our instinct is to come directly at a something? . . . Rather than create a fantasy world like Middle-Earth to speak about the dangers of industrialization, a task that requires imagination and comfort with ambiguity, we’d rather just create a film about the dangers of industrialization.

The Left Behind books/films are an example of this direct communication style. Clearly LeHaye and Jankins [sic] created the series to teach their particular end times theology.

The SkyeBox writer goes on to describe a Van Gogh work painted in response to pieces by his friends Gauguin and Bernard. He thought his friends’ depictions of Christ in the Garden of Olives were too literal and responded with his own painting of Christ in the Garden where there was no visual depiction of Jesus.

I’ve been wondering if my own work has been too literal recently, although I understand that part of the reason for that has been an attempt to further my craft. In some ways it’s all a moot point though: I just haven’t had the time or a consistent enough schedule to properly iterate in my sculpture.

I’m eager to get to a point where my imagination becomes a greater part of my current sculptural work, where my ideas shine through my craft in a way that communicates with depth. I am moving in that direction, just not as quickly as I’d like.

Intentional Observation: Delight yourself in YHWH

Delight yourself in YHWH and He will give you the desires of your heart. — Psalm 37:4

One of the categories in the sidebar of this blog is “entitlement.” I haven’t posted about this idea (or reality) for a few years now, but was reminded of it this morning when a friend on Facebook decried a Christian radio program for saying “Something that you want can be considered a need if it is part of your lifestyle.”

Apparently, according to this friend’s report, “The dj’s were asking people what they needed to buy or spend money on but just haven’t yet. They wanted to know what it was and why they haven’t bought it yet? What a conversation to get us thinking about our own self-absorbed lives!” Health and wealth gospel, anyone?

Summers during my high school years I worked at Maranatha Bible camp. It was common for a few Canadians to be on staff, as well as a few people from other places around the world. One summer in particular there was a Latino student helping out around camp. His name was Pedro, or was it Pablo. Anyway, he played the piano quite well, and his mantra that summer was “Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart; Pamela Anderson.”

I get the sense that we [Americans] often, or pretty much always, forget the first half of that Psalmic invitation. “Delight yourselves in YWHW.

Do we remotely know what does that looks like? Via Biblios.com, “‘To delight’ is most frequently expressed by chaphets, which means originally ‘to bend’ . . . hence, ‘to incline to,’ ‘take pleasure in.'” How often can we honestly say that we take pleasure in God? I know I can’t say that very often with honesty. Admittedly, I’m too self-absorbed. The to-do list whirling about in my head keeps me from delighting in much of anything, actually. Even when I get to spend time sculpting in my studio, of late, all I can think of is how little time I have to actually spend there and how I need to get as much done as I possibly can. Presently I have to find work to pay the bills, which can be an enormous distraction at times.

Email — and I really don’t get that much of it anymore — is always calling, as are the blog stats (even though they never really change, and I know in my head that I don’t really care that much). Apparently there is some interesting psychology behind our relationship to social media and technology according to a Fresh Air interview from August. Useless distractions abound in our culture, super-saturated with media of all kinds, and keep me from delighting in God.

What would happen if we actually did delight in YHWH, even in our partial understanding of Psalm 37’s invitation? I’d like to think that the desires of our hearts would change. We would be less self-absorbed, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We would worry corporate America and its quest for ever more cavernous coffers because the next best digital gadget just wouldn’t mean all that much to us. I believe we’d find more joy in every aspect of our lives.

In short, the desires of our heart, whether you want to call them needs or wants or whatevers, would change. They’d look more like the goodness of God, more like His desires for us, for creation.

So how can I do better at delighting in YHWH (regardless of my intentions, my desires, which do not include Pamela Anderson)? I need focus. I think a lot of us need focus. It’s much to easy in the U.S. to go in ten thousand and one different directions, to have 10 hobbies or passions or interests and not be really proficient in any one of them. Additional options play out ever before us thanks to advertising in newspapers, on websites, on television or along our commute to the office. We see what the Joneses just bought or where they vacationed and think we’d enjoy that too.

And we might, actually, but the more directions I’m going in the less — in general — joy I have There just isn’t time for all of them. I must realize what’s most important to me (and what presently allows me to delight in YHWH) with respect to my faith, my God-given talents, my family etc. and adjust accordingly. Subsequently I have to realize that, even in light of similar faith or family values, my direction will often look very different than other peoples.

Intentional Observation: Aroma of the prairie

Morning virga over the north side of Hall County Park

I love the slightly bitter, slightly citrus, dry green scent of prairie flora. I breathed it in deeply while cycling south of Grand Island this morning.

Within that aroma I find something that hearkens to how we were created, as creations meant to inhabit this physical realm. And, somehow, it increases my faith in God. How or why I don’t know I at the moment, but that’s beside the point. “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man,” G.K. Chesterton rightly said.

Sounds of the wooded South during summer nights might have done something similar, but not quite as overtly.

On pricing art, art as a hobby, art in the church . . .

Another great article from Comment to highlight today that talks about pricing art and art as job vs. art as hobby. A few quotes to highlight and respond to, and then a link to point you to the writing in its entirety.

I had a professor in my first year of college tell us fresh-faced art majors that if there was anything in the entire world that we could imagine doing besides art, we should do that other thing, because art was just too difficult to pursue without an unwavering dedication. He was right, and those of us that stuck with it knew we had been duly warned about what we were getting into. In a sense, the moment we decided not to change majors, we relinquished our right to whine about being underappreciated or undercompensated. What we did receive, however, was a new responsibility regarding stewardship of the discipline into which we had been adopted.

We talked about pricing a couple of times, but I wasn’t blessed with this kind of accurate bluntness at the beginning of my art schooling. (Does this mean I still get to whine about being underappreciated or undercompensated?) Of course, I sort of eased into my studio art major through pre-architecture, and then graphic design.

On more about doing that other thing besides art, read this post.

The one conversation I really remember on pricing was Eddie Dominguez telling us why his dinnerware was priced as high as it was. Paraphrased as I remember it: “I’d rather sell one platter at $10,000 and have nine to give away than sell ten platters for $1,000.”

Crafting images and objects can legitimately operate as both a form of recreation and a means of cultural reorganization and critique. Making things in order to enjoyably pass a Sunday afternoon, and making things in order to operate as lenses for interpreting the meaning of the world, are both justified endeavours—but they are not the same endeavour. The problem is that distinguishing between the two is complicated by an insidiously ordinary similarity in material and posture. If we imagine two people standing before two blank canvasses with brushes and paints at the ready, how are we to know which one is trying to unwind after a long week, and which one is trying to change the world?

Castleman, the author, describes the difference between art-as-vocation vs. art-as-hobby better than anyone I’ve seen so far, and tactfully too. I’d been thinking about this distinction more and more recently, and his writing on the topic puts my mind at ease.

This article may serve as a personal manifesto of sorts for me. Most of Castleman’s thoughts aren’t necessarily new to me, but they are organized in such a way that the piece is very enlightening. I could end up reposting it in its entirety if I keep going with excerpts and brief responses. That said, go read it for yourself: Will Paint for Food

Intentional Observation: Love the place you’re in

Damaris over at the Internet Monk posted a wonderful little entry earlier this week about place after realizing that the monastic vows of Saint Benedict included not just poverty, chastity, and obedience, but also stability.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times here before, this kind of stability is something we Americans mostly don’t understand. In the past century or so we’ve been given the opportunity to be geographically mobile and a lot of us jump on that every chance we get. A few excerpts from Damaris’ post:

There is a virtue to staying where you are. There is a virtue to being where you are. Too many of us are never where we are. We live with our windows closed, shades drawn, televisions on. Our feet never feel the ground, and our skin never feels the air. While our bodies occupy a vague, in-between world, our minds are editing the past or worrying about the future . . .

This place where we are now is the only place we can meet God. God will never be in the imaginary places, the greener grass springing from our discontent, and neither will we.

The author then implores us to take a hard look at the place we’re in now. Be it high or low, noble or ignoble, and find beauty in it. There is beauty in it. “This place where we are now is the only place we can meet God. God will never be in the imaginary places, the greener grass springing from our discontent, and neither will we.”

Read the brief entry and contribute to the conversation via this link.