The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Friday, March 28, 2003
How Not to Think About Christian Culture
I return again to Breakpoint. This time a piece Colson did on the Leonardo drawing show the the Met. These comments are decidedly off the mark on how to think about Christian culture:

This omission is far from unusual. Christianity's role in the development of Western art is rarely, if ever, mentioned by art elites.

This is especially maddening since, as Bryan Appleyard of the London Times has written, "Western art was Christian, is Christian, and, for the foreseeable future, can only be Christian." The messages and images contained within the Gospels, he writes, "determined the way we think [and] the way we create."

Neil McGregor, director of Britain's National Gallery, agrees. "All Western art flows from Christianity … It is the fundamental element of Western culture."

Chrisian influence = Christian culture? I don't think so.

Thursday, March 27, 2003
PCA Member Gets Key Arts Appointment
A recent Breakpoint commentary announced that Makoto Fujimura was appointed to National Council for the Arts. He is member of the Village Church PCA in NYC's Greenwich Village. Fujimura works in a minimalistic style with strong ties to traditional Japanese techniques.

Does Fujimura's work reflect a biblical worldview? Take a look at his stuff and let us know what you think.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Required Reading
For all you Christian cultural elitists out there (especially Neo-Calvinists!) who need to come down to earth once in while. And that includes me. A short story zinger from Credenda Agenda.

Monday, March 24, 2003
Did Vermeer Have a Dark Side?
New BBC documentary looks into the background and tragic death of the great Dutch master.

Friday, March 21, 2003
From an Essay by Andrew Sandlin on Culture:
"In the face of the twin threats of Western secularism and Near Eastern Islamofascism, Christians today are looking to counter not with a denominational culture (a Presbyterian commonwealth, for instance), but with a Biblically ecumenical Christian culture, one that supports political structures like Constitutional democracy, that grants great liberty to the Church and other religious groups; that advocates free markets, which generate the wealth necessary to sustain a thriving culture and finance kingdom activities; that founds civil law ultimately on God’s law in the Bible, which does not conflict with God’s revelation in nature (and forbids abortion, pornography, homosexuality, feminism, materialism, and so on); and that stands for a decentralized state, whose main goal is to protect life, liberty and property. The goal of the Biblical state is not to create virtuous citizens (this is the goal of tyrannical states), but to protect is citizens from external molestation (Rom. 13). It is the goal of the family and the Church in a Christian society to preach the Gospel and teach the Bible and (humanly speaking) create Christians."

(Find entire essay here.)

I like a lot of what Sandlin has to say, but I feel a bit uneasy about his ecumenical vision.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003
And I Thought We Were in a Post-Christian Culture
David Brooks argues that we are entering a post-secular phase of history! Of course we all knew that religion is inescapable. Like eating and breathing and culture-making, human beings were made to worship. We can't help it. Its woven into the very fabric of our existence.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Hot-Crossing the Secular Establishment
I can remember chuckling with some of my artist buddies, that the way to "tell" if painting is Christian is by whether it has a cross in it. Of course this the height of analytical silliness. But isn't that what the church has done with hot-cross buns for hundreds of years? It's okay because it has the little icing crosses...

Well in Britain, the secular authorities have taken note and banned these delectables from the government schools. For some they were just too offensive. (I personally have always been offended at the little green things in the buns.)

So here's my advice to all you missionary evangelical kids in the government schools: be sure to hide your testa-mints -- or they'll be confiscated. Its just a matter of time. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, March 13, 2003
Classicism and War
Many reviews of the movie Gods and Generals have pointed out that the Union soldiers are busy quoting classical sources, while the Conferates quote the Bible. Is this evidence of a Classical Christian education - 19th century style? Such an education undoubtedly was the norm - in the North and the South. No doubt Lee and Jackson would have memorized the same sources at well. Does this make one side somehow superior to the other?

In a similar vein, C.S. Lewis, recalled his experience seeing the front lines of WWI for the first time in Surprised by Joy: "This is war, This is what Homer wrote about." Classical education, gave Lewis a "vocabulary for agonies."

We are sending our oldest child to a classical Christian school and are very happy with the education she is receiving. If she isn't able to quote Homer in ten years, it won't break my heart. But I do hope that she has massive portions of scripture memorized and internalized.

While on the topic of classical schooling, check out Matt Colvin's position paper on the topic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Martin Luther - That Media Savvy Dude
Everyone knows about how the printing press turned Western civilization upside down. Here is an article by Quentin Schultze, who points out that when it comes to adoption of the printing press as a new technology, Gutenberg ironically failed to adapt to the new medium; while Martin Luther understood how to exploit the new medium to its full advantage. Yet another example of how we need to be "wise as serpents".

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Culture and History
Culture is a process -- the process of transforming the original creation (the garden/nature) into a garden city filled with various structures, objects and texts working in harmony with and enhancing the original fruitfulness and beauty of nature. As a process, culture has a crucial historical dimension -- a history guided and controlled by our Sovereign Lord. There is more to human history than culture to be sure (especially redemptive history), but the history of cultural development (what I chose to call culturative history in my book) is foundational to understanding what humankind is all about under God.

Here are some resources to help sorting this out (as well a coming to a biblical unerstanding of history more broadly understood): papers by Russ Reeves, Paul Otto (posted before), and a sermon by Robert Rayburn.

Friday, March 07, 2003
More on Mr. Rogers
A thoughtful article from Relevant Magazine.

Pro Bono? Unmasking the World's Most Famous Lone Ranger Christian
Article and an editorial from Christianity Today.

I can still remeber the first time I heard U2 in 1982 after reading about them in Cornerstone Magazine. I was blown away. Seconds has to be one of the most appropos songs our the post 9-11 age, even though it was written twenty years ago. Prophetic.

Rise and . . . fall..

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Seattle Visit - Part III

After the Frye, we traveled down (literally) to downtown to the Seattle Art Museum. The SAM is an example of high post-modern archtecture designed by Robert Venturi in 1988 (completed in 1991). This building too is full of amazing detailing. I particularly liked Venturi's use of wood as a kind of unifying theme within the building. During my years at Oberlin College I spent many, many hours in the art library which was designed by the same architect, so I was interested to see what he did for the SAM.

The small art exibit of works from the Taft Art Museum in Cincinnati was a delight. There were three Hals portraits and a series of three Dutch interiors by Steen, De Hooch and Terborch which were exquisite. The museum also had its own Dutch paintings including a large still-life by van Beyeren that was feast for the eyes. Most of their 19th century collection was in storage. Alas. We had lunch in the museum cafe which was also very good (I had the Rainy Day Lasagna).

We played typical tourists the rest of the afternoon, with a visit to a very crowded Pike Street Market and the original Starbucks. We drank coffee overlooking Puget Sound on a what was a sunny, 60 degree day. Pretty rare for winter.

A wonderful trip, by all accounts.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Seattle Visit - Part II
After checking out the chapel for 20 minutes or so, we jumped in the car and drove about a mile to other side of Seattle U's campus to the Frye Art Museum, which also has a new, very contemporary building. We arrived twenty minutes early so we went to find a coffee shop (not too terribly difficult in Seattle) and check out the neighborhood - which is full of hospitals: hence its nickname: "Pill Hill". The Frye is also near the Cathedral, a large neo-Baroque affair.

I really liked what Olson Sundberg Kundig archicts did with their expansion of the museum. It is very modern and dramatic, using water and vegitation in artful ways. The overall effect is very classical in feel with strong Japanese echoes as well. As with the Holl chapel, the detailing was rich and exquisite. I think that the details are what really make a building work aesthetically. This is the real reason why so much "modern" architecture is a disaster: because the there is no attention to the little details, to deep thinking about every minute element of the design. You can bring in traditional style(s), but if the building it put together in a shoddy manner, the results will be hideous. A case in point: The Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Ill.

The museum has an eccentric collection of mostly late 19th century German realist/impressionist paintings and they have the policy (from the will of the founders) to exhibit only representational art. I really wanted to see a exhibit of their Wyeth holdings, especially Andrew. They had a large number of watercolors by Jamie and Andrew. Althought I don't paint like Andrew Wyeth (does anyone?), I really admire his technical ability and I have longed for several years now to see some of his works up close. Seeing his and Jamie's works side by side was illumitating - in watercolors, at least, their styles are very similar. It is amazing what they can accomplish with just three colors: sepia, green and black. My favorite work was Jamie's Wheelbarrow, a simple painting monumentally sillouetting an old wheelbarrow against an overcast sky. It reminded me of the famous William Carlos Williams poem - even the commonplace can be the stuff of real drama and poetry.

(to be continued)

Monday, March 03, 2003
Seattle Visit - Part I
My wife and I (without the kids!) spent Friday night and all day Saturday in Seattle as a mutual birthday treat. The focus of our trip was to visit some of the art museums there, which I had never visited before (even thought I have been to Seattle a half-dozen times in the past five years). I wanted to a see a small show of loaned Dutch paintings from the Taft Museum that were on view at the Seattle Art Museum as well as a small group of Wyeth works (by N.C., Andrew and Jamie) on view at the Frye Art Museum. Although I (and Marjorie) did truly enjoy looking at the art, I ended up being most intregued by the architecture of the buildings - both art museums we visited and a small contemporary chapel on the campus of Seattle University.

After eating breakfast in our room, we drove up the hill, over I-5 to the University campus to see the Chapel of St Ingatius designed by Steve Holl in 1997. I had read about this building in several places and wanted to see if the building lived up to its billing as a beautiful, yet decidedly modern building. What struck me right away was the attention to color and texture. The outside of the building is smooth amber-brown patinaed cement. The massive door-entry is hand hewn varnished wood. The rounded interior walls are white cement textured with tine furrows which gave the effect of a snow cave. What made the chapel truly effective is the use of colored glass and various window effects (skylights, screens, etc.) which povides the bulk of the drama of the space. The art works inside the chapel were mediocre - the sort of Jungian-symbolic-metaphorical approach that is all too often used in contemporary liturgical art. The chapel would have been fine empty of these art works (and more fitting for reformed worship). The chapel is something of an homage to Le Corbusier's Ronchamp chapel, but a great deal more usable. Holl clearly sweated the details in this building and great amount of craft went into making the building into a built reality.

(to be continued)