Tag Archives: art

Cultures and Christians: Book Recommendations

Throughout the approximately twenty centuries since Christ, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth have lived in a variety of cultural climates, both apathetic to their cause and enraged by it. Regardless of the century, language, and environment, the levels of freedom and comfort, Christians have always existed. There has never been a time when they have died out. Christianity’s success cannot be predicted by the right moral culture, nor the most conducive political climate. The Christian confession of Christ as Lord spread like wildfire during the Roman occupation and persecution of the first century. Yet, Christianity was also arguably strengthened during the American Restoration movement as it seemed to enjoy a burst of freedom. So, whether or not our cultural environment approves of us does not seem to indicate a tell-tale sign of how well we will flourish in it.

In recent months I have been reading and reflecting a great deal on culture and the proper response to it as a Christian. My natural instinct, honestly, is to shrink back from the excessive amounts of pop culture and trends. However, much of the books, articles, and podcasts I have been reading and listening to have urged me to think more broadly about our responsibilities and opportunities to engage the people around us. I am feeling challenged more than ever to spread truth and beauty and goodness in His name.

I would love to recommend the following books to those of you considering how to live successfully in this post-Christian culture ( in whichever culture you find yourself) as followers of Jesus, while still making genuine connections with people. We do not need to despair, for we know the end of the story. We do not need to be silent, biding our time.

For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 GNB

We need not fight and rage against the machine, for his light of peace is within us. Instead, we have the opportunity to create a culture which best reflects his beautiful face.

Although some of these books have a more specialized focus than others, there is a striking similarity and continuity of thought among them. I encourage you to read these in communion with others and discuss how you can build a culture that is faithful to Christ and open to loving all people.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher is a Roman Catholic turned Eastern Orthodox writer and editor. His book, The Benedict Option, received mixed response as some felt it to be too pessimistic and fear-inducing. I found it both challenging and poignant, and a catalyst to aid me in refocusing my purpose. Dreher makes use of both the symbols of Noah’s ark and Ezekiel’s streams of water “issuing from the altar.” In his mind the Church is both the ark and a wellspring.

“The church, then, is both Ark and Wellspring- and Christians must live in both realities. God gave us the Ark of the church to keep us from drowning in the raging flood. But He also gave us the church as a place to drown our old selves symbolically in the water of baptism, and to grow in new life, nourished by the never-ending torrent of His grace.”

p. 238

Dreher uses the Rule of St. Benedict to make application as to how we should order our lives today. He warns against a consumerist society, promotes a certain amount of asceticism, and believes in prayer as work and worship. He advocates for groups of Christians working together for the stability and flourishing of their local communities. Religious liberty, according to Dreher, is of vital importance if our cultures are to thrive. He reminds us of examples in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and China under the era of Communism. As Christians in America today, we have a choice.

“Part of the change we have to make is accepting that in the years to come, faithful Christians may have to choose between being a good American and being a good Christian.”

p. 89

“Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good…ceasing to believe that the fate of the American Empire is in our hands frees us to put them to work for the Kingdom of God in our own little shires.”

pp. 98-99

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life by Makoto Fujimura

In 2009 Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura was commissioned by Crossways to create an illuminated manuscript, The Four Holy Gospels, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It was published in 2011 as part of the English Standard Version. The artist is the founder of the Fujimura Institute and the International Arts Movement, which “creates a new paradigm by lovingly tending to cultural soil and caring for artists as pollinators of the good, true and beautiful.” In his book Culture Care, Fujimura encourages all artists, regardless of media, to produce high quality fiction, film, paintings, sculpture, poetry, etc. in order to cultivate a Creator-honoring culture.

“The God revealed in the Bible has endowed creation with overflowing beauty. There God is not characterized by utility but by abundant love. God desires his creatures-especially those who in Christ are adopted as his children-also to be creative and generative.”

pp. 96-97

As God is the Creator, we are likewise creators, as we bear his image. Fujimura challenges modern-day Christians to move about their spheres in ways they have perhaps not done before. He asks us to look at the entire story of the Bible and to find our place in it today.

“…churches often present the middle two elements (fall and redemption) but rarely connect the whole story of the Bible-that begins in creation and ends in new creation-with the stories of our present lives and communities. We often issue this great book, reducing it to a book of rules, a checklist for earning our way into heaven, or a guidebook for material prosperity or personal well-being. Many churches replace God as Artist with God as CEO of the universe…

Christian communities are thus often busy with programs, but rarely seen as a creative force to be reckoned with, let alone as a power of good that affects whole cities and gives everyone a song to sing.”

pp. 95-96

Fujimura believes in truth telling, but also believes that the Christian has more to tell than just the darkness and grimness of reality. There is more to the real world than brokenness and despair.

“In The face of the undeniable and often unbearable human suffering all around us, we must still affirm beauty and work to make our culture reflect it. This is why a culture care approach will encourage truth telling about alienation, suffering and oppression alongside truth telling about justice, hope, and restoration.”

p. 56

Fujimura invites all artists- and here his definition of an artist or creator is wide and encompassing- to participate in culture care, in creating and restoring.

The third book recommendation, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping our Kids Navigate Today’s World by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, was just published this year. The authors make a point early in the book of defining culture as morally neutral. There is nothing inherently negative about living within a local culture. On the contrary, some cultures may be extremely moral and beneficial. As creatures, we were created to make something of the world. That is, our culture, not the created elements, the trees, the lakes, the birds, but the art, the cuisines, the sports, the entertainment and myriad of expressions that converge to comprise any one culture. Stonestreet and Kunkle writes particularly to parents, church leaders, youth leaders, and anyone who has spiritual contact with teens. They articulate words of warning and encouragement to both teens and their adults to aid in teaching and training young people to build their faith. They frequently describe us as “image-bearers” in this broken world. Like Fujimura, the authors of A Practical Guide to Culture do not see culture as something to be shunned, but something to take advantage of – a beautiful opportunity on which to construct something beautiful and healing.

“Cultivating is exactly the sort of behavior the Scriptures would have us expect from God’s image bearers… God made humans with the capacity to do something with His world, and that’s exactly what we do. Culture was an integral part of God’s plan for us and His world from the very beginning.”

Celebrating contemporary artists and leaders, the authors give nods to several people involved in various fields who are creating beautiful culture. Educator and Founder and President of Celebrate Kids, Inc., Dr. Kathy Koch, the aforementioned artist Makoto Fujimura, and S.D. Smith, author of the middle grade novel series The Green Ember, and others are all lauded as having accepted the call to be faithful in their sphere, “celebrating, creating, confronting, co-opting, and correcting” in the world.

Addressing contemporary topics like LGBTQ issues, screens and technology, and the media, Stonestreet and Kunkle discuss how Christians should biblically view them. By far the strongest sections of this book are their treatment of racism and Part Four: Christian Worldview Essentials, a final section on teaching our children a Christian worldview. Stonestreet and Kunkle remind us that tolerating racial or ethnic barriers is a sin.

“Do we find our identity in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we cultivated a posture of forgiveness and reconciliation or of hostility and bitterness? Do we simply dismiss all concerns about racism without listening carefully to others?

Followers of Jesus don’t have the option of tolerating racial or ethnic barriers. It’s sin. We take our cues from Scripture,not from culture.”

The heart of the book lies in the final section. It could easily be read by an adult to help a teen, or by the teen herself. Stonestreet and Kunkle present the Christian worldview in describing why we believe the Bible to be historically true and accurate, but also why we consider it to be the very words of God. They also help teens navigate other world views, and show them how honest people might disagree with them.

“Classical tolerance actually entails disagreement about important matters, but we ‘tolerate’ those who hold differing opinions, treating one another with respect even while disagreeing.”

In a world that purports tolerance, we see pitifully few discussions which seem to epitomize a tolerant or understanding spirit. How much richer and more beautiful would our cultural soil be if we were able to engage our neighbors with truth, beauty and goodness, all while listening?

Advertisements

“Travel schooling” : learning to relax

Many home school families have been amused by the term HOME schooling or HOME education, because, well frankly, we are not quite home as much as others may think.  We drive to co-ops and extra classes, drive to the parks, to social groups, and drive to countless field trips.  Perhaps we ought to call it car schooling?  But that concept might be for a different post.  Once or twice during the school year our family embarks on a major trip across country or states to visit family.  As we are out of our routine for one to three weeks, I never like to just take off all that time from academic work.  I am still quite caught up in counting the number of “school” days and making the most of every learning opportunity, besides the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult for my boys to jump back into books and studies when they have had a lengthy hiatus.  As I type these words in to my iPad, we are munching pretzels and sipping cranberry juice on the airplane while on our way back from family and friends in Arizona.  It was a successful visit in many ways.  Here are a few of the simple ways we maintained our learning while still having a fun vacation.

Make use of local museums-

While this may not always be possible depending on your budget and the affordability of your destination, museums are a wonderful way to experience new places while learning.  Although not necessary, if you can tie them in to your curriculum, even better.  This trip our family hit the art museum and science center.  On previous visits, we have explored children’s museums, geology centers and history or state museums.

Appreciate relationships as their own education-

Here is where the tired and trite socialization argument dies.  Before we officially began our home schooling adventure we comprised a concise list of all the reasons we wanted to keep our kids at home.  The freedom to travel and family closeness topped the list.  I love seeing A’s and S’s brotherly relationship solidify the longer we do this thing.  G adores being a part of his big brothers’ daily routines, and has learned an indescribable amount. Traveling only enhances this.  It is not only the relationships in our immediate family, however, that benefit us when we travel, but the relationships with everyone we meet.  This is particularly crucial for my guy with Asperger’s.  All three of my guys need to know their grandparents.  We live in a time when the value of family may be fading.  Unconditional love can be the greatest educational tool, not to mention all those extra life skills they may learn from being around different people from different generations.  Utilize them in your travels, or if you have the grandparents next door, be appreciative, and allow them to serve your family well.

Notice nature and take advantage of the outdoors-

DSC_0064_2778

Regardless where your journeys take you, there will be something new to see and explore.  Taking advantage of nature centers, hiking trails and parks only makes sense.  It can be as simple as photographing and observing the diversity in our world to something more intentional.  One year we spent two weeks walking about my parents’ neighborhood identifying various cactuses – saguaro, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, cholla, etc.  One of S’s favorite memories is chasing (and catching) lizards around the Sonoran desert.

Travel lightly-

Packing textbooks and heavy curriculum is not what you want to do.  Traveling with kids can be stressful enough. Simplify.  On this trip we packed The Story of the World, volume 3 by Susan Wise Bauer, and our read aloud, which currently happens to be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  That’s it.  We read the Bible together, we practiced our copy work, we watched a couple of science videos, and did some random math practice.  Supplemented by our museum trips, it felt like just the right amount without providing too many stressful expectations.

Let go.  Come to terms with taking days off.

Honestly, I only “counted” two-thirds of our travel days toward schooling.  The rest of the time I let the guys just be.  They laid around and watched far more t.v. than is usually permitted.  They played in parks, and threw rocks at each other in the backyard.  They ate far more desserts than was typical.  They relaxed.

Now, we are back in the Midwest buckling down once more to studies and winter.  Though leaves are sparse, we love them.  “Travel schooling” allowed us to go from summery hikes to craving peppermint mochas in a single day.  It was a wonderful break.

DSC_0102_2738

Grace, Theology and Autism

Inaccurate theology.  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it.  If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.”   And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true.  Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….

My husband and I saw the signs.  We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis.  It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected.  If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum.  There.  Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect –  in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous.  And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there?  If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths?  Out of desperation, helplessness?  The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear.  It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.

Praise be to God for his grace and understanding.  I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously.  I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts.  He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him.  An accurate vision, a heavenly help.  Grace in the providential stream of our lives.

Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.  Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences.  My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities.  As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.)  It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community.  Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care.  Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for  those who are able to live independently.  Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare.  The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to  the nation-wide Goodwill stores.  Many of the clients we worked with had autism.  I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism.  There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box.  I am so thankful for these moments.  And for the wonderful people I worked with there.

One of these people was also my neighbor.  Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me.  He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little.  Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism.  Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year.  I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia.  It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet.  Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.

DSC_0017_2660

Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily.  He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful.  Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself.  What would I change about him if I could?  What would you change about anyone whom you love?  And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine.  Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.

How Jackson Pollock saved a summer morning

Summer is fading.  I know because the school bus brakes hiss in front of our house around eight-fifteen every weekday morning now.  The big box stores devote an entire section  to brightly colored school supplies – folders and Trapper Keepers, glue sticks and protractors.  And, because I am seeing less of my children.  They are wandering about the house in search of entertainment, irritably spending more time alone in their rooms.  Let’s not relive the petty squabbles that have become way too prevalent the last couple of weeks.

It was time to take action.  And it turns out it wasn’t that hard.  I focused on G, and everyone else seemed to fall into place.  My goal was to get him outside running around before he realized it was time for PBS’s Curious George.

I asked G if he wanted to paint outside like the famous artist Jackson Pollock.  He was enthusiastic.  A had been wandering up and down the stairs and overheard me.

“Can I paint too?”

“Sure…if you want.”

We began to gather supplies from the bottom drawer of our craft cart – paints, plastic tray for a palette, brushes, yarn, craft sticks, etc.

DSC_0023_2647

S came storming down the stairs.

“Can I do a Pollock painting, too?”

“Of course.”

Here we are eight-thirty or nine in the morning.  Outside, under blue skies.  Taping our paper down on to the back patio.  Happy, all three boys doing something together again.  And it wasn’t that hard. It really didn’t take any planning.

the MixWe talked about how Pollock worked over his canvas, flicking, smearing, pouring the paint directly on.  We talked about how he created as he went, letting the paint land where it willed.  There were no mistakes.  If he didn’t like something he continued flicking, mixing until it looked right.

“I’m NOT Jackson Pollock!” G kept insisting.  “I’m Van Gogh!”  And with his purposeful, short, thick strokes, he was.

DSC_0018_2643_edited-1

I’m not sure why I was so surprised by how pleased they were with this unplanned activity, or how different each of their paintings turned out.  But I was.  Happily so.

A's painting
A’s painting

 

 

G's painting
G’s painting

 

 

 

 

 

After they finished painting we did watch a brief video of Jackson Pollock describing his technique.  You may view it here.

If you asked them, however, I suppose, they would vote for another round of Nerf guerrilla warfare throughout the house with their dad.  They are energetic boys, after all.  But Jackson Pollock did save that morning.

We were outdoors.  Together.  We were engaged in a familiar activity in an out-of-the-ordinary location.  The birds were singing.  They were allowed expected to make a mess.  Mistakes never factored in to the equation.  There was not a single mention of whose painting was the best.  Competition did not exist – for the moment.  Each of them was simply busy, creating…for the moment.  Quite a feat, Mr. Pollock.

A final tip: Wipe up any stray paint splatters as soon as possible.  We may or may not have had rainbow-freckled siding at our house for a few days.

S's painting
S’s painting

Dale Chihuly Spaghetti

Chihuly hanging sculpture in the entrance to a Glendale, AZ library
Chihuly hanging sculpture in the entrance to a Glendale, AZ library

Artist Dale Chihuly wears an eye patch.  Sadly, this is from losing an eye in an automobile accident several years ago, and yet, this only adds to his cool factor for little boys.  Think pirates.  Mr. Chihuly is famous world-wide for his colorful blown-glass sculptures which can be found in city parks, in front of museums, in private homes and inside museums and libraries.  My three know his work intimately from the nation’s largest children’s museum in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Not only has he contributed a  massive scultpure which extends up four levels in the center of the museum, but there is also a wonderful exhibit attached.  Children can create their own Chihuly-inspired sculpture using plastic replicas of the glass pieces, and can try their hand at virtual glass blowing on the computers.

Chihuly's Fire of Glass

Chihuly has provided us with some truly impressive views as we make our way up the ramps at the museum.  It is more than just something to look at on our way from the Dinosphere to the Science Works.

DSCF2936_1963

And I thought dusting around the crystal in our china cabinet was tedious.

This piece is entitled Fireworks of Glass, but G has always referred to it as “Chihuly’s Spaghetti.”  It does look a bit like wiggly pasta strands.

This naturally led to the epiphany of  cooking our own “Dale Chihuly spaghetti.”  I have seen so many postings and photos of colored spaghetti, but we have never done it ourselves.  G was very excited about the idea.

colored spaghetti

We simply used several drops of food dye in our boiling water for the pasta.  It did not turn out as brightly colored as I was hoping, but it worked for our purposes.  G (and his brothers) were impressed and wanted to taste it.  I tossed it lightly with a capful of oil so the noodles would not stick together as they cooled.

DSC_0027_2132

My neat and tidy G was fairly tentative at first about digging his hands in to the mess.  He generally does not like to get dirty.  Although, after a bit of coaxing, we finally convinced him to go for it.

 

 

Dale Chihuly spaghetti

Here it is: our Dale Chihuly spaghetti.  I liked this sensory play even more since we were able to connect it with a specific artist.  It was more meaningful for him, and it will give us something to talk about and remember the next time we head to the Children’s Museum.