The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture
Monday, December 30, 2002
Fantasy as a Human Right
I found this 1974 article written by John Timmerman on Tolkien while I was checking the link to the Ellul article in my last post. The opening of this paragraph is especially ironic:
"Fantasy is immensely difficult to achieve, but narrative is the best means of
access to it. Drama, argues Tolkien, is hostile to fantasy, since it sets before
us a physical reality that limits the mental reality we construct around it. (No
doubt we shall soon see hobbits on a cinematic screen, and one can only
guess at the pain this would have caused Tolkien.)"
Timmerman continues his analysis of Tolkien's view on fantasy:
But the "Elvish craft" of fantasy, properly practiced, produces enchantment,
and enchantment ‘produces a Secondary World into which both designer and
spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside;
but in’ its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose". Through enchantment,
the product of fantasy, we adults begin to retrieve the childlike wonder we had
deposited in the litter basket of our mental past. Fantasy, argues Tolkien,
"remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode,
because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and
likeness of a Maker". Through enchantment we regain, as Tolkien says, "a
clear view" -- we recover the optics of insight into the human spirit and
rediscover childlike wonder at the glory of being."
Doesn't this sound like Aristotle in Poetics? Just replace "catharsis" with "enchantment" and you're ready to roll.
Thursday, December 26, 2002
Can We Be Too Word Centered?
If so, how? J.I. Packer argues that we can - and that we have - in the midst of a thoughtful essay on the church published by Touchstone Magazine.
"Factor two is evangelical word-centeredness. No one should fault evangelicals for valuing Scripture and doctrine and preaching in the way that they do—or, at least, used to do, for catechism, adult Bible schools, and serious learning of the historic faith are currently in eclipse among us, to our own great loss. But our stress on text and talking has marginalized and dumbed down the sacraments, so that their message about the crucified and living Lord as the life of the church is muffled, and the Eucharist becomes an extra, tacked on to a preaching service, rather than the congregation’s chief act of worship, as Calvin and Luther and Cranmer thought it should be. The word-sacrament antithesis, most certainly, is also false, but evangelicals’ disproportionate word-centeredness is a fact, and is a further facet of a stunted churchliness." (emphasis in the original)
One the other side of the debate is Jacques Ellul, who argues that word centeredness is vital. You can read his entire book The Humiliation of the Word online here. Neil Postman makes a similar arguement is Amusing Ourselves to Death.
I tend to favor the approach taken by Postman and Ellul. But we must not abandon the image entirely. Jesus is both "the word become flesh" and "the express image of the Father." Both are vitally important.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
The Reason for the Season
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.
Jesus came to make True culture possible again.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Architecture and Ideology
An arresting essay byconservative critic Roger Kimball on the architectural worldviews of Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier. Yale U is having an exhibition on these two architects. Could any two architects be more different? But as Kimball demonstrates, they have more in common than what you might think.
The concensus on the recently published designs for the WTC replacement is that it shouldn't be taken all that seriously, since the ideas will never be built. Let's see, there's articles from the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Toronto Globe & Mail and Slate.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Mirslav Volf on "Church" and "Sect"
This is from a paper Volf delivered at North Park College, where he interacts with Troeltsch, Niebuhr and Weber. Here is an excerpt:
"Weber's distinction between church and sect was supposed to be a strictly sociological distinction that provided models of how religious groups relate to the larger world. Going beyond Weber, Troeltsch made the simple but astute observation that one cannot separate theology from sociology. The church, which wishes to embrace all its sons and daughters, will invariably proclaim "grace"; the sect, to which only an elite number belong, will stress "law." The church will affirm the "world"; the sect will deny the "world" by retreating from it or occasionally attacking it. The church will seek power in the world, and to achieve it, make the necessary compromises; the sect will insist on undiluted purity and remain on the margins. The church will stress sacraments and education; the sect will value conversion and commitment."
I must say that Volf (who I have heard interviewed on Mars Hill) approaches the question of culture in a very different way than I do. I Have his book on on work, which I still do not understand. It seemed hyper-theoretical to me.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Look and Vote
For your favorite version of World Trade Center replacement over at CNN. Then let us know what you think. (Sorry Gideon, no Krier.)
Steve Camp Gets Cranky
There's some really good stuff over at musician Steve Camp's site. He out-does Luther with 107 Theses railing against CCM, which is truly a fine, well thought out document. And you can read his open letter to the CCM Industry railing against Mr. Goodwrench's sponsorship of "Worship".
Monday, December 16, 2002
Some Musings on Christmas and Culture
1. Saturday I visited the Portland Art Museum again. I went primarily to see the PaineWebber contemporary art collection show (a terrific survey of recent developments, amazingly devoid of pornography or elephant dung) although I also got to run through the dreary Keinholtz exhibit as well (more on this another day). As I walked into the main entry space I was met with the sound of of singing. Just like at a shopping mall, there was a quartet dressed in tails, top hats, mufflers, etc. singing holiday songs including carols. (They actually were very good singers.) The juxtoposition of the beautiful Christian carols with the large, inert art works filling the entry gallery space was pretty hard to take. Maybe the music was provided for the small crowd of people scurrying to see the quaint Grandma Moses stuff. Talk about a variety of art on display.
2. Christmas is open season on the Second Commandment. Pictures of cute baby Jesus and creches pop up everywhere. We even have a live nativity at one of the church's in our home town of Dallas, Oregon. Even some reformed people are into it. But not John Murray.
3. The sad state of cultural affairs in the contemporary Evangelical church in the US is brutally revealed by the Christmas cards on display at our local Christian bookstore/coffee place. Besides the poor production and craftmanship, the messages (most) and schmaltzy/cutesy images tell a sad tale about where the church is at at the beginning of the 21th century. Ironically (but not surprisingly), the cards at the art museum giftshop were tasteful and truly beautiful, even if they were secular in tone (which isn't such a bad thing, imho). To paraphrase Larry Norman, "Why should the devil get all the good Christmas cards?"
Thursday, December 12, 2002
What Kind of Cultural Christian Are You?
Take this little quiz to find out.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
A Return to Stable Thinking
The Bible doesn't exactly say that there were animals present at Christ's birth, but given that in God's perfect plan Jesus was born is stable, it seems likely that that would have been the case. And if so, this would have been highly significant, since Our Savior came to reconcile all of creation - not just a people - for Himself.
This brings me a book that just came to my attention by conservative author Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. It should be interesting to see what Scully's arguments are like. So much of the discussion of "animal rights" is of the bleeding heart variety - even from Christians. And there have been scathing critiques of Christianity as the primary cause of most animal suffering and evironmental degredation, such at the seminal article by Lynn White. Yet we must not shrink away from what the Bible unamibigously asserts: that the human race is rule over creation including the animals (Genesis 1:27ff; Psalm 8). But the Bible also teaches that rule implies the protection of those ruled. Mercy to animals in ecapsulated in the Fourth Commandment and is assumed other places in scripture.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Looks Like No Happy Returns this Holiday Season
More on ancient statues. There has been a great deal of contoversy over art works like the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon which were removed from location hundreds of years ago and placed in museums in Western Europe and America. The countries from where these artifacts were taken want them back, and have been pressuring the host governments for their return for years. The BBC reports that a group of museum directors have struck back with a declaration, claiming that, as "universal museums", they know best how to preserve these priceless artifacts. Is this really necessary for the preservation of our cultural heritage, or is it just another case of international paternalism?
Monday, December 09, 2002
Who Really Carved the Elgin Marbles?
You know, those sculptures allegedly from Parthenon now displayed in the British Museum. According to the Belgian newspaper De Morgen, it was really the work of an Englishman! The Guardian is on it as well.
My wife and I went on a culture date in beautiful downtown Newberg last Friday evening. We began our evening at the Coffee Cottage listening to a brass sextet. Then off to an opening at the Blue Trout Gallery I talked about a couple of blogs ago. I saw Gary Buhler's up close for the first time. He is a powerful technician and was willing to talk pretty freely about his working methods and what he is trying to accomplish visually. I sure hope I get to talk to him some more. Then we went back to the Cottage and heard a folk/jazz group. A pretty wonderful evening.
Friday, December 06, 2002
My 11-year-old son Cornelius had the following observation/question about the latest Highlights magazine over dinner. (We have a gift subscription.) "How come they have articles on Chanukah and Muslims and other religions, but not on Christianity?" This led to a discussion on bias and alleged tolerance and the hatred many have toward the God of the Bible. Highlights has a definite agenda to promote. Maybe someone should try to send them an article on Martin Luther for next years Halloween issue.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
TKV Pipe Dreams (Two Kingdom Critique - Part V)
The Center for Cultural Leadership site curiously posted an article by Chloe Diekema on art which argues that "There is no such thing as a Christian plumber." This sounds like Two-Kindgom-View-of-culture speak to me. (What was Andrew Sandlin, a leading proponant of Christian culture, thinking when he posted this article?) Cloe, an eighth grader, is not alone in this kind of thinking. TKV proponants talk this way repeatedly. (Cloe appears to have gotten this idea from Steve Turners book Imagine.)
So is there really a Christian way to do plumbing? I would argue that there is! When a plumber is installing or repairing pipes and fixtures correctly, he is performing his task in a Christian (i.e. faithful) manner, even if he is not a believer. In order to do the job effectively (and this applies to any endeavor, not just plumbing) a plumber must work with Christian presuppositions, such as the uniformity and predictability of God's created order, the actual existence of pipes, solder, faucets, etc., standards of what constitutes a task well-done and a correct view of ethics which governs how the job is to be done. Plumbers who don't operate by these presuppositions won't be effective plumbers. Thus, a consistent Hindu or philosophical skeptic will be a lousy plumber. But God in his common grace makes many non-Christians inconsistent in the way they approach fixing pipes, so that they submit to the norms of creation even though in their hearts they rebel against them and the God who established them. Conversly, many Christians are also sadly inconsistent in this regard; they are unfaithful to the Christian worldview as it governs plumbing even though they might otherwise embrace the Gospel.
For some reason, the same is not true of art. Non-Christian artists violently rebel against the aesthetic norms for art making all the time, and, for some strange reason, people jump at the opportunity to pay big bucks for these bogus artworks. They won't tolerate leaky pipes, but they will celebrate objects devoid of craftsmanship, beauty, and nobility. The Bible has a term for this sort of thing: futility of mind.
Monday, December 02, 2002
The Place to Be
Newberg, Oregon is becoming the place to be for Christian culture. (Or, as we say, if you can't be in Moscow, Idaho, you might as well be in . . .)
Our church, Trinity Presbyterian (OPC), is becoming more cultural all the time. Last weekend, Paul Otto and his family joined our church. He came to Oregon from Iowa and is a history professor at George Fox University. What is a neo-calvinist doing at an evangelical Quaker college, you might ask? We are wondering that ourselves! We now have four historians who are members of Trinity (two with PhDs), not counting me (I am an art historian!) We also have two professional musicians and a poet. Not bad for a church with 70 or so members. (See Paul's paper he delivered at Covenant College on history and culture - strangely similar to the ideas I talk about in Plowing in Hope. Hmmm.)
Besides the Coffee Cottage, there is the new Blue Trout art gallery in town which holds great promise. It is owned by Gary Buhler, who is a wonderfull landscape painter and prof at George Fox. (You can see pictures of Roughly Hewn playing at the opening.)