Michael Winters: Today should be a lot of fun. I'm really excited to have these folks here to speak with us. I'm glad for kind of the environment we're in, this is hopefully gonna be a great opportunity for interaction and conversation, for you to speak up and ask questions. And so I encourage you, as our speakers are speaking, if you have questions, if you have thoughts or reactions, write those down. Keep the reactions to yourselves and save the questions for Q and A.
Our first speaker this morning is Doctor David Taylor. David is the author of several books, all of which are worth checking out and reading. He's a professor at Fuller. If you saw the Eugene Peterson and Bono video that went around a while back, that was a project that you were sort of the brain, mastermind, behind the curtain, as well. And so, David is somebody I have a tremendous amount of respect for in thinking carefully and theologically about the arts, about the church. He's a pastor, has a pastor's heart, and so I think ... I'm super excited. This is the first time he and I have ever gotten to spend much time together. And just from our conversation this morning, I'm really eager to hear what he has to say today.
So, please welcome David Taylor.
David Taylor: Thank you. Thank you, Mike. Am I mic'd or am I speaking with my normal voice? Oh good, good. I like to speak with my normal voice. Okay, can y'all hear me? (light laughter) I have one post. I'll swivel here to make sure that we connect.
So, it's wonderful to be here. Michael Winters, it's so good to see you through the lens, as well. I've known Michael over the years. So impressed and encouraged by the work that this church has done in general, but also with the arts, and have an equal respect for Mike and his care of this community. So it's great to be with you guys. Thanks for being part of this pre-conference. Hopefully I'm not gonna' blow it, but you have three more speakers that can just keep giving you better if we screw it up here.
Now I was going to talk about my book. Is it possible to drop these lights? It might make the screen a little bit more sharp. Not to be too high maintenance, but if not, it's fine. So this is a book I just published, it's on John Calvin's theology of the physical creation. I was curious about how the arts might lie downstream from how we think theologically about the physical world. But I'm not gonna talk about that today. I'm gonna talk about something else. Oh! There you go! Look at you! Yes, it takes a village! A network. Yeah, you can drop that one. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know it's you guys ... oh, there you go, good.
So I'm gonna talk about what I'm titling, "A Psalmic Vision for the Arts," and Tim here, he heard me a couple weeks ago on this, so I have few new slides just to make sure you're not completely bored. Seventeen years ago, I gave a seminar at a conference called Urbana, Urbana Missions Conference, anybody familiar with that, University Christian Fellowship? They put it on every three years, twenty thousand students come, and I was asked to give a seminar on the Arts. Nobody knew me from Adam, so I titled my seminar something that might draw a few students. The title of my seminar was, "Why it's Okay to Paint a Nude." And I had hordes of students come because they wanted to know what the answer was. I didn't give 'em the answer, cause I wanted to talk about other things, but I at least got them there.
At the end of the seminar, I had one young, earnest college student who wanted to know an answer to my question, and I thought, "well, fair enough. He wants to know," and I had a number of students that were involved in a conversation, and so he asked me. And I felt like, under the circumstances, this wouldn't actually be the place for me to offer a nuanced answer, and so I just said I'd be happy to talk to him later. But he was persistent, and then he started quoting Bible verses at me. Then he began quoting the sin of Ham at me. If y'all remember that story, Noah comes out, he gets drunk, he gets naked, his son Ham exposes him, and so this student was, "What about the sin of Ham?!" And I said, "That's a great question. Right now is not the place where I'm gonna answer the sin of Ham," but it does raise a question: how do we think, biblically, about the Arts? But really, the more interesting question is: how it is that certain text, biblical text, become privileged departure points to think about the Arts, right? And then how it is that we authorize that text to do work.
So, you could go to Genesis 1 and 2 and say, "God is Creator, and therefore we are creative and we make the Arts," but it doesn't answer the question, "should college students, or visual artists, do live drawings with models who are in the nude?" All it says is there's a Creator God, but then you have to do a whole host of work to go from Genesis 1 to a theology in practice of Arts, right? Or, you go to Exodus 31, you could work with Bezaleel and Aholiab, and you have here the first instance of the language of the Holy Spirit coming on somebody, comes on artists, artists love it, the Holy Spirit comes on artists FIRST in the Bible, at least first in sort of the order in which the scriptures appear to us. Or you could go to the narratively constituted activities of Jesus, and you could build a whole vision for the Arts out of that. Or, one of my favorites, you could go to Philippians 4:8, and then you could have an inter-Nicean war between the adjectives here, right?
So some can build a theology in practice of Arts on whatever is pure, others built it on whatever is true, and you're supposed to think on all these things, then it begs the question, "what does it mean in context?" And then once we get all the context and exegesis right, then how do we build a theology in practice of Arts? Or you could go to the very end of Holy Scripture and work with the book of Revelation with its kind of hyper-realist vision of a world turned upside-down.
You go any number of places in scripture, right? But you still have to ask yourself, "what does the text mean? What does the text mean in context? What does the text mean in conversation with the rest of what's going on with the rest of biblical theology?" And then after you do all that hard work, then you have to figure out what does it mean for artists to be engaged in the world faithfully. So I'm gonna propose to you that we should go to the Psalter.
I think the Psalms are especially helpful, fruitful place for us to go for two reasons:
Number one: here we see how a community practices art over decades, right? So with all the text that I mentioned to you, you have key ideas:
God is Creator, Holy Spirit comes upon artists, Jesus tells stories and parables and uses all these sorts of things to convey the Kingdom. But all you have is an idea. You still have to ask yourself, "how does that translate into a community that does art over time?" If you've ever run an Arts ministry as Mike has, and Michael, Mike and Michael have, that I know of from this room, you know that you have sort of these arcs. You know your first two or three years, you're building. Then your third, fourth, fifth, sixth, you're going somewhere. And by year ten, you run into little hiccups, and you have to ask yourself, "well are we gonna go in this direction or that direction?" The Psalms shows you at least 100 years' worth of a community engaged in art practices looks like, right?
And then the second is: here we discover the kind of subject matter that artists today might care about, right? These are the hot topics, these are the kinds of questions that those of us who are pastors and in leadership positions have to wrestle with subject matter.
I had a young man get on the phone with me a couple of months ago, I didn't know who he was. He emailed said, "hey, I'd love to talk to you about the Arts." His first question on the phone was, "how do you deal with problematic topics?" Like subject matter: violence, nudity, language. I was like, "can you just tell me a little bit something about yourself before I answer that question, just so we can have a human conversation here." But these are things that are real and we should take them seriously, and respectfully, and humbly. So, I'm gonna suggest to you that the Psalter shows us a way forward on subject matter.
Okay, so I'm gonna take each in turn. I'm gonna suggest four ideas or point out four ways in which the Psalms, the Psalter, does art-making that commend themselves to us as we think about the Arts not just within the life of the church, but within the life of our society at-large. And then I'm gonna consider three subject matter that the Psalms offer to us and, I think, become an analog for how we can think about the work that we do.
Number one out of four: The Psalms are Poetry. Now, this is to state the obvious, but dear friends sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. The point is this: it is through a poem and not despite, or beyond, a poem, that the meaning of life is discerned in the Psalms. And it begs the question, "how does a poem mean?" Now, we do have Karen in the house. She's an English professor. She knows a thing about poetry, and if I say something amiss, you can correct me later. "How does a poem mean?" Well, this is a complicated question, and there's no easy answer, but let me start with the Hebrew scholar Robert Aulter and a book that he wrote called "The Art of Biblical Poetry." He says, "Poetry is a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely in musical language than does ordinary language," and I think my image cut off the "y." Hebrew poetry does this through similes, metaphors, rhythm, musicality, and parallelism.
These are the ways that a poem MEANS something, so if you want to understand what a Psalm means, you gotta know how poetry means a thing. Let's take an example, Psalm 8. If we were to read all of Psalm 8, if we had time, it would be wonderful, but we don't, so let's just take verses 1 and 3. How many of you have taken Hebrew and have learned the Hebrew language, any Hebrew schol...? Good. Wonderful. How many of you know a foreign language? Speak it relatively decently? Okay, less people. When you know another language, you find when you try to translate it into your...from one language to the other, a lot of stuff just doesn't translate, especially humor, it just doesn't translate easily. Which is why it's wonderful when you have a chance to learn Hebrew or Greek, then you hear things, you feel things, you notice things that you wouldn't notice otherwise.
So, if you were to read this in the Hebrew, you would know that the word "your name" and "your heavens" sound almost the same in Hebrew. Now, they're not the same term, but musically, when you read it, you hear that they sound similar, and the sounds of the words are intentional. The poet here is showing how the heavens spell out the name of the Lord and it's an intimate, personal presence that is being communicated to us in this poem. You wouldn't catch these little nuances if you couldn't hear the musicality of the poetry at work. More to the point: Holy Scripture, in Holy Scripture, prose is not seen as a more faithful to speak the truth in poetry. They're both capable of doing it, but they do it in their own native ways, in their own native tongues, as it were.
The English professor at Wheaton College, Clyde Kilby, who started the Wade Center which collected lots of the Inklings materials, says this, which I think is helpful, he says, "a bird on a dissection table is not a bird. It is a specimen. In the laboratory, it loses its bird character of flying, singing, joyfulness, undulation, rhythm, and even its shape. It is only in its God-given birdness that we shall have its high truth," and then he says, "so too the truth of Holy Scripture cannot be discerned apart from its literary, poetic, visual, dramatic, imaginative, musical beauty. It's wrong, therefore, to go to the Bible at any time forgetting that it is a work of art as well as a book of truth."
Prose matters, obviously it does. Narrative matters, obviously it does. Poetry matters, obviously, at least from the perspective of Scripture, it does. So, what I commend to you, here today, is this: If Holy Scripture is at home with poetry's capacity to truth-tell, then it seems to me that so can we. And I think that this offers itself as a boon to the work of artists.
Number two: The Psalms Traffic in Metaphorically Rich Language. Now, for those of you who have ever taken a poetry class, in fifth grade, or eighth grade, or ninth grade English, or freshman year of college, you know that a metaphor is a figure of speech. Whereby we speak of one thing in terms of another. "Juliet is the sun,""the church is a temple,""God is a Rock,""The Lord is my Shepherd." Now within the context of the Psalms, the truth about God does not exist on the other side of the metaphor, it exists THROUGH the metaphor.
Let's go with our favorite singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas. Patty Griffin. Any Patty Griffin fans in the house? Okay, good. In her 2013 album, "American Kid," she has a song in which she sings about God as a wild, old dog. Clyde Kilby again. He wonders out loud about the fittingness of this metaphor to talk about God. He says, "why not Christ as a hound? Christ has many qualities that are hound-like. Faithfulness, lowliness, patience, love, and He came to seek the lost." So, if you were to read Francis Thompson's late-19th century poem, "The Hound of Heaven," he says, "hounds will henceforth possess not only some of the quality of Christ, but Christ will take on a new dimension, to the quality of the hound. An inter-relationship arises, and the cosmos is a little more of a unity, and a little less of a chaos." That's what good metaphors do. Good metaphors embedded within works of art create an experience of coherence that takes all the disparate, fragmented parts of our lives and helps us to see it in a way that shows how things hold together.
You guys are all religious ministry, church pastor-y kind of people. We've heard of this line, "Jesus is the Bread of Life." I'mma pause from my notes and then use you guys. What does Jesus mean when He says that He is the 'Bread of Life?' I need you to tell me eight possible things that Jesus is alluding to in this use of the phrase.
Number one: He's a sustainer. What else? He is manna, and where is manna coming from? It's coming from heaven, where's the literary allusion coming from? Okay, great, so we have an allusion to Yaweh. Where else does Yaweh and manna show up in the Old Testament? Well, yes, very much, there is lots of nourishing there, but in the Prophets. So we have three. What else? What else is Jesus alluding to when He says, 'Bread, I am Bread of Life?' C'mon pastor ministry people, don't let me down, pardon me? Okay, yeah, sure, in the same manner that what? How does bread help us do that? How does bread become a way to think about faith in Jesus? No answer? It's gluten-free. (laughter) Okay, so somehow, when you receive a loaf of bread at the Baker, local Baker, you trust that that bread is actually going to do what it is being sold to do. You have some sense of faith, okay, that could work.
What else do we have, like, why not, "I am the Burrito?" Or "I am the tacos?" What else is bread? Yes sir? There ya go, it's a staple! It's very common. It's accessible to all. So in some similar fashion, Jesus is accessible to all. Okay? So now the Gospels are written after Jesus has departed, so the community is aware of other things that this Bread image is evoking for them. What else? Yes? Great! Wonderful! Bread is broken among people, bread is also broken, right? So we have a little bit of Cross action going on. What else shows up in Jesus' last hanging out time with the Disciples that is...communal meal together which is pointing to...the Lord's Supper. So it's pointing to the Cross, it's pointing to the Lord's Supper, to Communion, it's all these things. So you think to yourself, "Jesus, why didn't you just say that? Why didn't you just say these eight or eighteen or eighty-eight things?" Because the metaphor does that work. A really, really good metaphor does a heckuva lot of work in an economical space. There is no other better, more faithful way for Jesus to say what He wanted to say than through that metaphor, "I am the Bread of Life."
Alright, why does this matter? Well, it matters because metaphor is one of the defining characteristics of works of art. All art, in some fashion, is saying, "this is kind of like that." And it matters because when we understand how a metaphor helps people to make sense of their lives, we understand the central role that the Arts can play in a meaningful society.
Moving on swiftly.
Number three: The Psalms Originate in an Oral Culture." The ideally intended context matters to how a Psalm means in practice. So if you want to know what a Psalm means, you need to say or sing it out loud. That's how you know what a Psalm is on about. You can't just read it silently in your head. That's not how the Psalms, or poetry within the Psalms, works. So its meaning occurs through its heard musicality, not despite it. Which is, of course again, what all poets might tell you, including Miss Honey from Roald Dahl's story "Matilda." "There was a moment of silence, and Matilda, who had never before heard great romantic poetry spoken aloud, was profoundly moved. 'It's like music,' she whispered. 'It is music,' Miss Honey said."
W.H. Auden, "I like hanging around words listening to what they say." "And the feathers popped out with a zang, with a zing, they blossomed like flower that bloom in the spring. All fit for a queen with a sight to behold, they sparkle like diamonds and gumdrops and gold. Like silk, like spaghetti, like satin, like lace, they burst out like rockets all over the place." It's its musicality, that you get a feel for something, that you grasp it, right? And when you grasp something, you're doing two things, probably, right? You're either grasping or what else are you doing? You're understanding, right? So if the language of grasping is itself a metaphor. In our common usage it's another word to say we understand it, but it comes to us by way of the world, the way of the physical world, of grasping, holding, feeling, knowing something intimately, kinesthetically, rather than at a distance, right?
So, the point is this: we could write a book about justice and injustice. And we need those books, but it's in the hearing of Sho Baraka's album "Narrative" that we get a 'grasp' of justice and injustice, that we get a 'feel for it,' right? We can preach a sermon about the loss of a friend. And we need sermons like those, but when we read Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner," we know it. We know it from the inside and we say, "yes!" It's as intensely sweet and tragically sad as that story. How many of you have read "The Kite Runner?" Oh! So profoundly moving! Also, you could talk about the majestic, holy, highly-exalted character of God, and I hope you do, or you could put people inside a Neo-Gothic Cathedral and let them know it with their eyes. And then they go inside and they say, "Ah, yes! I see now," right? And that phrase, "I see now" is doing double duty, right? I see with my physical eyes, but again going back to sort of Hellenistic philosophical tradition, sight is a primary vehicle for knowledge. So you understand things.
So meaning in all these ways is discovered through the experience of art, in context, not abstracted or in a secondary manner.
Number four: Psalms Operate within the tradition of David. That tradition includes both the individual poet and the community. There are three kinds of poets that we find in the Psalter, if I may summarize it in that way. There are those who are named and known. There are those who are unnamed and unknown. And those who are unnamed, but are known by the guild to which they belong. So we have the poems of David. We have poems by the guilds of Temple Musicians, the Korahites and the Asaphites. And we have poems by individuals who remain anonymous to us. And I think this is a really lovely picture for the role of the artist within the global historic body of Christ.
Some artists will be known by name. A heckuva lot of artists will be unknown to us, and some will be known by the tradition to which they belonged, right? But they all matter. They all constitute the life and the history of the church. And like the Poet and Psalter, they give voice to their own concerns and to the concerns of the community. They give voice to the heartbreak of moms and dads, to the hopes of the young and the old, to the fears of the working class, and the anxieties of the rulers. They give voice to the little people and to the famous people. Everybody somehow, somewhere, gets a voice in the body of the Psalms.
And again, I think this commends itself to us as we discern ways in which we might engage in the communal practice of art. So, four things! Here we go:
Second task: What kinds of subject does the Psalter tend to favor? Well, I'm going to borrow here from the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann. How many of you are familiar with Walter Brueggmann? He's one of the most important scholars, I think, on the Psalms, and in this book "The Message of the Psalms," he suggests three kinds, three categories of Psalms. What he calls 'Psalms of orientation,' 'Psalms of disorientation,' and 'Psalms of new orientation.'
I'm gonna take these categories and translate them into 'Art of orientation,' 'Art of disorientation,' and 'Art of new orientation.' So let me take each kind of Psalm and term and suggest what that might look like for us today.
So, "Psalms of Orientation," what does that mean? The songs of orientation say things like, "here, life is good!" Here we experience the goodness of God, the reliability of God, the grace of God's creation. Psalm 16:6, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed my heritage is beautiful." And there are certain times in our lives when we say that, we say that wholeheartedly, we say, "Yes! The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places! My heritage is beautiful and I rejoice and celebrate and revel in that!" So, what might that look like in today, so here I'm going to do a little bit of transposition. What is a Psalm/Art of Orientation? Well, 'America's Got Talent,' people get up, they have their talents, Darci Lynne wins this year's, she's a 12-year old ventriloquist, she wins, it's beautiful, it's a heartwarming story. All creatures of our God and King. Coca-Cola advertisements saying "life is good." Sandra Boynton, any Sandra Boynton fans in the house? If you've ever had the little kids [inaudible 00:25:47]. Jimmy found he just wants to put a smile on people's faces at the end of the night.
That's Art of Orientation. John Scalzi wrote a novel called "Redshirts," any Star Trek fans in the house? Star Trek? Star Trek? Y'all know all the red-shirted members of the Star Trek, the ones that have no name, they all die! They all get killed off, and so John Scalzi writes a novel like, "well what's their story? I mean don't THEY have a story to tell? Who are they?" It is hilarious, so good! And then a lot of, I think, ornamental art or liturgical art can have this Art of Orientation. Sometimes the world of sports says, "it's awesome to be 'this'!" Whatever you care about...go Cardnals. I've been tracking Airport art. Art that you find in airports around the world. I love airport art! Airport art is intended to say, "Hey! I know your life is stressful and anxious right now, and you may not make your flight, or you're jet-lagged, but here's something that offers some goodness or some lightness to your moment."
Now I notice the number of beards, so I hope you'll appreciate, I don't do a lot of art these days, I used to do playwriting back in the day. But, the only art form that I work with these days is, like, facial hair. And so, here are a few things that I have enjoyed doing over the years. This is the Gandalf moment, this is David Crowder, we had a beard-off. I was one time the Blue Man, and that was a lot of fun. One time I was the angry postal worker. One time I was Vladimir Lenin. I have been Keith Green in the past, really loved that, comes with a verse attached to it. And then my favorite was one year I wanted to dress up as an abstract idea, so I dressed up as 'dead in my trespasses.' Little kids loved it. They flocked to me. No, they didn't, they hated it. Parents like, "what are you doing?"
Let me give you an example a little bit more at length. Miles Davis quintet, they record a song in 1956 called "Salt Peanuts." And you have 'Philly Joe' Jones on drums, and I'm gonna play a small excerpt. It's a six-minute piece of music, I'mma start it at minute 2. At minute 2:45 is what I would call the drums doing "Psalms of Orientation." The drums saying, "I am so glad I live and I am alive and I get to be my drum self." This is what it sounds like:
And it goes on, and on, and on, and on...if the heavens have declared the glory of God, this almost four minute drum solo is telling the glory of God. I love it! I think it's great! I hope we have lots of these things in our communities.
Second: Psalms of Disorientation. These are seasons of life that are marked by hurt, alienation, suffering, and death. These destabilizing seasons evoke in us a range of emotions, from rage to resentment to self-pity and hatred in response to the pain that we have experienced. An example of this within the Psalms, Psalm 137. Anybody know Psalm 137 by heart? Anybody go to Awanas and memorize this as part of your Awanas scripture verses? Anybody know Psalm 137? By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept, and so on and so forth, and our captives said, "sing us one of those ditties from your hometown, you slave, captive people, you musician people." It's what happened to Jewish interns in Auschwitz. Musicians were asked to play for their Nazi guards. "Play us one of your good ones. Play us Vogner." That was the greatest insult.
Psalm 137 is a Psalm of lament. Sometimes we call it an 'imprecatory' song. This is a song where Israel seeks to make sense of experience of nightmarish violence, irreparable loss, and death upon death upon death. And its exile in Babylon. The poet here is flat out angry. He's angry at God, he's angry at his people, he's angry at Babylonians, he's angry at the Edomites, and he asks God for vengeance. And I get this kind of answer. I get this kind of anger, and I get it from the inside. I have a proclivity towards anger. If there are seven vices, anger's the one that I gravitate towards, and I have stories to illustrate that. Our society certainly gets this kind of anger, if you're paying attention. People in our congregation get it. There are people in our congregations that are angry, so my counselor calls the movement from sad/mad to bad, right?
You get hurt, and it wounds you, it hurts you. And if it's a hard enough hurt, if it's acute enough, you get upset, you get mad, you get angry. Then you make a choice, to go from anger to sin, right? In some ways. People are hurt by things. Unintentional, commission, omission, things that get left out of their lives, it makes them upset. But we're rarely told by our people in leadership that our angers matter to God.
The Psalms tell us that our angers matter to God. But unlike the Psalter, our songs and prayers rarely make space for the people of God to name their angers in a faithful way. In a way that leads to healing rather than allows our anger to become toxic and destructive. Now it's not, of course, that Psalm 137 is easy to put on our lips...it isn't. But it belongs in the church's vocabulary as much as all the art that gives voice to this world's pain.
Parisian-born theologian, Miroslav Volfe, he has some things to say about this. He is aware, first-hand experiences of violence, and he says, "Psalms 137 belongs within the communal life of the church. It belongs within our liturgies. It belongs within our songs and prayers. Why? By placing unattended rage before God, as the Psalmist does, we place both our unjust enemy and our own vengeful self face-to-face with the God who loves and does justice. To pray these Psalms in our worship may point to a way out of slavery to revenge and into the freedom of forgiveness." Revenge isn't just what one country, or one people-group does to another, it isn't just what one political party does to one another, it isn't just what neighbors do.
It's what a person does to themselves when they self-sabotage. It's a revenge against God by doing violence to one's self, and we have to provide people with a way for them to be appropriately, faithfully sad, and appropriately, faithfully angry as the Psalms show us that it is possible to do.
Okay, examples of this: George Orwell's "1984," the movie "The Killing Fields," Maya Angelou's collection of poetry "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Before I Die," the choreographic works of Alvin Ailey come to mind, that fascinating commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl this last year, 84 Lumber's commercial, I don't know if you guys remember it, if you watched the Super Bowl, it's about that ... it was a long narrative commercial, or advertisement. Mother and daughter, making their way up through Mexico, and then they come to this wall, it was so antithetical to all things Super Bowl! I don't know how they thought they were gonna get business from this, but I think the mission of their organization was that they needed to say things at a time when there were the most eyeballs on the television.
A friend of mine, Steve Prince, African-American visual artist, does work that I think addresses this Psalms of Disorientation. Some of his work appears in a book that I edited on Contemporary Art in the Church. I know this may seem a little bit predictable, but I actually do think that U2 does Psalm of Disorientation quite well in a faithful way. They name things that ought to be named that are fragmented and broken, and sinful in our world, but they do it in, I think, a very effective, artistically-effective, but also humanly-effective way. So I did get a chance to do some interviews with him and Eugene Peterson. I did a second set of interviews with Bono in New York City, and five video clips came out of that, one of which, I think, helps us understand the origin of Bono's own sense of this kind of Psalm of Disorientation. Why he's able to do it so well is because he reckoned with death in his visit to Israel. So let me just play this. It's about 2 minutes long.
Turn it up.
Video (Bono): I became an artist through a portal of grief. My mother died at night ... her own father's graveside. [inaudible 00:36:35] She left me, but she left me an artist. It began the journey, trying to fill the hole in my heart with music, with my mates, my band mates, and finally [inaudible 00:36:56] and it's a big hole. Luckily, it was a big love.
It's like the wound never quite closes, so death is very important. But you know, I went, finally, to Jerusalem and found the hill, and I went to Golgotha. And I went to this ... where I had some time on my own. Where death died. I was like, "Wow! There it is. That's where death died." And so, I don't [inaudible 00:37:37] anymore. So it's not a ... it has no power over me as it had when I was 14 years old. And it's unpleasant for the people we leave behind, or if we're left behind, but it isn't unpleasant for the soul to now find its true meaning. You know, we look through the glass darkly, then we shall see face-to-face. I wear colored glasses, I can't wait to get them off! I wanna see. I wanna see straight.
And, you know, it's a large part of our psychology, you know, is the fear of death. So, if you have that dealt with, I think you can get on with life a bit easier.
David Taylor: So it's just fascinating to hear that. He really does have a quite serious, substantial theology at work in his mind. We may not be in the same place as him, theologically, but it is because he reckoned with death theologically in Jesus that he's able to name the darkness, he's able to name all that is wrong in the world, I think, effectively.
Lastly: Psalms of New Orientation. These are seasons of life that involve turns of surprise. When we are overwhelmed with the grace of God. The new orientation is not, however, a return to old, stable orientations because there is no such going back. We can never really go home again. We may be healed, but the wounds don't wholly disappear.
Psalm 149, I think is a good example of this. In that Psalm we find the phrase, "sing to the Lord a new song." Israel, within the context of this Psalm, is in exile. They can't see the way out of exile in the same way when we are experiencing hardship or suffering, we often can't see our way out of it. For them, it is all hard, all weary. So the Psalmist writes a poem so that Israel can sing a new song of new story that beckons from the future: the end of exile.
For Israel, the story isn't real yet. Not here. Not now. But the Psalmist says, "sing yourself into a new reality that awaits you by faith. Sing yourself into the truth. Sing yourself into what is really real." And while God may be silent, He is not dormant. He is on the move, even if He takes decades to complete His move.
Examples of this might be Mary Doria Russell's novel "The Sparrow" that tells the story of a Jesuit Catholic priest, this is in the future, who goes on a mission to another planet in another star system, and has a harrowing experience. At the very end, his experience is described as "an awful grace." "Schindler's List," the movie "The Visitor," a lovely children's storybook called "Emanuel's Dream" about a boy in Ghana, I believe, who is born with a deformed leg, and in his home culture, that would put him in a place of significant social disadvantage. A place of dishonor, and his mother says, "do not let anyone look down on you. You can become somebody important." And so, he does, and he grabs a bicycle and he rides all the way across the country, raising money on behalf of children with disabilities. And there's a story, which I think, commends itself to us. Those of us, in our communities, who have physical or mental disabilities, or some other kind of disability that we may feel, we may experience. And we feel like it is the last word on our life, it is the only thing that will mark us.
But, by God's grace these things don't. They do not have the last word in our life.
A friend of mine runs a non-profit organization in Austin, Texas, called "Imagine Art." It is for adults with disabilities who love the Arts. And her word to them is, "your disability is not the last word. Do not let our society, that would favor those who are able and heroic and accomplished, to define you and your worth."
The one that was, I think, most powerfully impressed upon me was an experience about ten years ago. My wife and I went to a dance, a modern dance installation that took place within the city of Austin. Intel had great aspirations to establish a space within the city. They ran out of money, and they left this eyesore for months and years within the city. Art come along and say, "we can take what is ugly and make something beautiful happen here." A modern dance company set up this space with lights, sound, and cables, and then told a liturgy. It was a requiem. A requiem for all that is felt to be lost in our lives, in our communities, in our cities, and they told it through sound, they told it through sight, and they told it through dance. These dancers are dancing in all this space, in a sense reclaiming, redeeming, talk about redemptive presence, taking this space that is felt to be abandoned and broken and hopeless, and bringing in something extraordinarily beautiful into this space. I love it! I just wish Christians would think of these kinds of things and do them.
So let me conclude. How then can we think about the Psalter as a resource for Christians today, for artists today? Well, we can think of it as a kind of analog. It suggests a way forward rather than prescribes it. It's not format. It's not a blueprint. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to transpose what happens in the Psalter to what it would look like within our communities. But the Psalter does show us how a particular community, over time, makes space for artists to give expression to the things that matter most deeply to them and to the community. And they do so in poetically rich, aesthetically intensive, and contextually meaningful ways.
And, my friends, as followers of Jesus, I think that we, too, can say things like, "this is a good world. There is God's goodness at work in our world. It's happening here and now. And when despair and cynicism threaten to overwhelm us, we can choose, in faith, to revel in God's goodness.
As followers of Jesus, we can name the darkness, and we expose what is evil, and when denial and amnesia become an easy temptation, and they do become an easy temptation, we choose, in faith, to prophecy against all that is bent and broken in our world.
And lastly, as followers of Jesus, we too get to imagine a new way of being in the world. And when anxiety and weariness mark our lives as they often do, we choose, in faith, to look for the signs of the surprising grace of God. And in doing all these things, we enter into Jesus' vocation.
Musical terms. Home. Away. Home prime, right? Incarnation. Crucifixion. Resurrection. He is the same Jesus, but his wounds remained. So, too, with us. So if a biblical vision for the Arts is unoffered, dear friends, I can think of few better places to discover that vision than in the Psalms. And with that, I end.
Michael Winters: So I think we got about, ten minutes or so for questions. We were gonna set it up where we text in questions, but it's a small enough group, I think just raise your hand and we'll let David pick whoever looks like they have a good question to ask.
David Taylor: I'm happy to take questions. I know we covered a lot of territory here. Yes, sir?
Speaker 4: I'm currently re-listening to the "Lord of the Rings," and I wonder is that considered an art that shows orientation, disorientation, or new orientation. I feel like in the beginning, death suffering, and then Frodo [crosstalk 00:46:05] away from the Shire [crosstalk 00:46:10] is that ...
David Taylor: I mean, I think the answer is, "yes, both and, and more so." Because we have to treat the Trilogy as one complete work of art. So then we ask ourselves, "what kind of work of art is the whole Trilogy?" I would probably put it in Art of New Orientation. Within the Trilogy you have instances of art that play themselves out with the Hobbits, they like to smoke, play music, and ... that's a lot of Art of Orientation, I think. And I think you could find examples of Art of Disorientation happening within the Trilogy, and then Art of New Orientation happening within the Trilogy. But I think, as a whole, I might say that it is Art of New Orientation. That, when you think death and darkness and evil will have the last word, something surprising comes about. But Frodo doesn't come back the same Hobbit that he left. He comes back wounded. Wounded by grace, if you will. I'm not a Tolkien scholar, but seems to me that could be one way to read it.
Speaker 4: So we have, so I'm already thinking [inaudible 00:47:19] that's it's really great, and I'm just thinking about the horrible church context that so many times plays out in the written word [crosstalk 00:47:26] ... spoken [crosstalk 00:47:26] ... musical [crosstalk 00:47:29] and just wanted to know some touch points on the recommendations for how these stripes [inaudible 00:47:35] visual context, in the local church context.
David Taylor: So if you didn't hear the question, in many of our local church congregational contexts we have the written word, the spoken word, musical arts, which are wonderful, and I would even say within those oratorical/rhetorical arts, the literary arts and, you know, the musical arts, we could still stand to do even richer iterations of this Psalms of Orientation, Disorientation, New Orientation. So, I think if you never wanted to touch the visual arts, you could still have the rest of your life to explore rich ways of doing this.
I mean, the visual arts ... gosh, I put the visual arts in the broadest sense of 2D/3D, two-dimensional art, three-dimensional art, and architectural arts. I'm gonna put all in sort of that visual category and say ... I would want to say even to my Mennonite/Amish friends who would meet in meeting houses where everything is either a natural wood color, or light or white color, I would say, "I respect your tradition. I respect the theological convictions that play into why you do what you do. But I still think you could figure out ways in which these things could come into place, and it's as simple in how seats are arranged." The arrangement of our seats is orientating our bodies in certain ways, so ... can you stand up with me ... what's your name (Andrew) ... Andrew, you got a name tag here, so come here ... I just say, this is kind of a little example. So if Andrews and I are together at worship singing, and we're standing side-by-side, I have some sense of Andrew's presence "here," right? In my peripheral vision. But he doesn't intrude upon my presence. Andrew could be right in front of me, and this is my primary experience of Andrew, which is his back. Not the end of the world, but not terribly theologically vibrant.
If Matt and I are in a semi-circle, then it's like, our bodies are oriented to one another in a way that I'm actually doing what Saint Paul says which, "sing to one another." Right? And so, his singing implicates my singing. Now if we were in a Cathedral Choir, you know in an orchestra, or in a Cathedral in England, we would be doing "this," we'd be literally singing ... and if you do "this," then at some point Andrew is probably going to avert his eyes, because there's a certain power that comes in play, my face, my eyes, my gestures, what I do, my breath, all that kind of business comes into play ... sorry.
I think there are small ways we can, to use our language, we can reorient ourselves without really reconfiguring our theological convictions. Now we wouldn't know when to press out into certain kinds of territories with a visual art that may be in our sanctuary space, or outside our sanctuary space, if we ever get to build a new sanctuary, I think those are exciting places where we can think through, "how can this space be a place that does Psalms of Orientation where we say that the materials in this space are telling the glory of God?" Whatever's local here becomes this earth, this real estate, is giving praise to God. So, you know, whatever that would be here in Louisville, whatever the natural resources, I like that idea. I think that's powerful. Because we're entering into creation's ongoing praise.
But then how might our architecture bring about Psalms of Disorientation, where it's bringing to our attention things that so easily fade from our attention? I think this is a really tricky thing for like, large churches or cathedral churches that have stained glass windows. There's one story that's being told in those stained glass windows. It might be a wonderful story, but it's still only one story. If that story is that only Caucasian human beings are near the heavenlies, then what does that say to the global body of Christ? So then you have photographic, occasional art exhibits that come into place, as is the case at Duke Chapel on the Duke University campus. They have stained glass windows, and they have a commitment to occasional art that comes ... and it's not so much, "oh, we're gonna tell off the stained glass windows above," but, "we're gonna be part of telling forth the good news that God is at work within communities here in Durham. God is at work across the oceans." And it disorients us in a way, it's like, "oh, I thought I was just like those. We were like the special people, but now I'm being confronted with these faces, and maybe I'm not special in the way I thought I was. But maybe I'm more profoundly embedded within the Gospel, or the body of Christ, than I thought possible."
And then onto New Orientation, again, you can have explicit works of visual art. They can accompany sermons. They can accompany the bulletins. They can be occasional events. I mean, any number of things that take sort of the downward inertia of a world that is broken, and our lives that are broken, and then catches us by surprise in saying, "Wow! I didn't know that good news, you know, could be encountered in that way, and I'm so glad I'm caught up in that good news. It's better than I'd imagined."
I would hope we would have that experience. That art would catch us up and say, "Jesus is even more beautiful, even more powerful, even more wise. The good work that He's doing through his people is even more redemptive." You know? Etc., etc., etc. Things you guys are probably familiar with, but that would be kind of ... okay maybe one more?
One more. I have two hands. I'll answer really briefly. You gonna do ... is this Cam Newton? Any Cam Newton people? No, no, it's Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt. Okay.
Speaker 4: Just wondered if you had any thoughts on using things like metaphor, poetry, stories in preaching, and like I guess how to "balance" is the right word. Balance between like the role of preaching, exegesis of the Word, Gospel clarity, with story and arts. I know the two work together, but what thoughts would you have on that?
David Taylor: Well, I would say all art is contextually meaningful. When Jesus says, "I am the Bread of Life," to His original audience, it means 18 different things that do not mean, to me, you know, in the same way. And so, they have a capacity to hear all the nuance, all the subtlety, all the tensions that Jesus is inviting them to experience through His stories, through His use of metaphors. And so, obviously, we as preachers, have to help our people find analogs for that. Cause if I just say, "Lord is my Shepherd," which we say, I'm sorry but it's so flat. It's so two-dimensional. We do not feel in our bodies. We do not feel in our emotions. We do not feel in our imaginations, all that is happening, all the work, all the potency that an ancient Near Eastern society would feel, right?
So, we can do explanations, which I think we want to, we want a REALLY good explanations. Inevitably, we're going to do illustrations. We're going to say, for a Psalmic audience to hear "Lord is my Shepherd," is kind of like us ... and so either we come up with an equivalent "Lord is my Shepherd" or we just unpack "Lord is my Shepherd" by saying, "well it's kinda like this, it's kinda like that, it's kinda ... " I don't know. I really don't know. I find myself failing to think of adequate ways to help people have those moments of, like, my whole humanity encountering sort of the Mack Truck impact of Jesus' stories in a way that would feel kinda the same way to His original audiences.
That's one sort of way to answer it. The other way to answer it is, and I was a preacher, so you try to work as hard as you can with the limited hours you have in a week. But you either find one good image, or one good story, and you let it do really good work. You let it do honest work. By "honest" I mean, you know how they say, "if I had 100 hours, I would write a novel. If I had 500 hours, I would write a Novella. If I had 1000 hours, I would write a short story. If I had 10,000 hours, I would write a poem." It takes more time to find the most economical, dense way of saying things. Most of us preachers don't have the luxury of that amount of time, so we do the best we can.
Now, if you're like John Stott, you bring in the body of Christ to be a part of your team of thinking through your sermons, which I think is an incredible way of doing it. But, you could be Eugene Peterson, and you spend 50% of your time telling a story, and then 50% of your time commenting on it, cause you actually trust that if you get people to inhabit a story for 10 to 15 minutes, however long your sermon is, that that story, if it's really a good one, is helping people have these moments of an "AHA," or of an internal conviction, rather than, "I hope you get convicted, I hope you feel humbled, I hope you feel whatever it is," the story is actually doing that work. And then the commentary can flow out of it.
So, you do that, or you have a team of artists that you trust. They're wise, mature. You say, "hey, would you be part of this process with me? Would you help me think through ..." and they're the ones that know stuff, and they say, "hey, you're preaching on Judges 11. Here's some possibilities." And you take advantage of those, and they do the work on your behalf and you acknowledge them, and ... but they can bring resources to your attention.
So, yes, I want things to be clear. I want people to know what it is I'm communicating. Behind that, it begs a question, "what do I mean by 'clarity'?" What sort of clarity, and are there a range of clarities that I want people to experience? And does one sermon on one Sunday have to do all the work, or can my Sundays over a period of time do kind of a piggy-back or Lego work, you know, so I'm going somewhere through time with them. Cause most of us don't get our lives changed in one sermon. Unfortunately our sermons do very little work of changing real people's lives, as we know from our congregations where people just keep returning to their same issues. And we're like, "didn't you hear my sermon?"
It's because our sermons are likely monologues. And as a pedagogical vehicle, it is largely ineffectual. I'm not saying we shouldn't, but I'm just saying it begs the question, "are monologues the way that the historic church has done communications of sermons?" No. Should we never do it? No. But are there other ways in which we can engage people's learning processes to reckon with how real human beings' neurons and bodies and inertias change. And artists can come along and do that with us.
Okay, that's it.
Thank you guys, it's wonderful to be with you.