When Facebook first came into existence we were—each of us—required to create a profile. As I recollect, it was displayed fairly prominently. We entered data like: name, birthday, religion and political beliefs.
I remember thinking about that last one a lot (probably too much). Initially, I opted for the term apolitical, because I wasn’t keen on needlessly pegging myself to a political ideology.
When I first laid eyes on the above painting I thought, “Whoa, I guess Bob Ross had a dark side!”
The above piece is titled “Shattered Tree” and it is by the German painter Otto Dix.
Dix was part of a cultural movement-cum-art-exhibition called Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which rejected the Romantic sentimental outlook of expressionism.
While many artists, thinkers and spiritual leaders fled Germany during the instability of the Weimar era and the rise of National Socialism, Dix joined others who described themselves as “inner emigrants“—opting rather to live as ostensible immigrants within the boarders of a nation that was becoming increasingly foreign to them.
…he was classified as “degenerate” under the Nazi regime and went into an “inner emigration” in southern Germany rather than leaving the country. Dix continued to paint during WWII but focused subjects with a non-overt political nature, such as this 1941 painting entitled “Shattered Tree.”
This piece reflects Dix’s thoughts and feelings about the state of his country. It is gloomy. There are signs of death and decay. What appears to be a once-regal tree is now fracturing; cleft by brutal, destructive forces.
And I find myself resonating with the notions of inner emigration, which mirrors St. Peter’s sentiment of living as “aliens and strangers in the land” (1 Pet 2:11), connoting that one can feel like a foreigner or alien within one’s society. The term “stranger” could be translated sojourner, exile, pilgrim or even refugee.
If we ask art to fit into our lingual categories or to say something explicitly, we will often find art loath to accommodate our demand.
Art says those things we cannot say; because they cannot be put cogently into words, can find no hearer on which to alight, and, in some cases, are strictly forbidden (streng verboten).
In this way, art can be a lonely, prophetic business; the voice crying in the wilderness! And yet art also has power to ping the cosmos; to transmit though space and time the message, “You are not alone!”, and, perchance, to be pinged back.
They say one of the more unexpected perils of being buried in an avalanche is that when you find yourself entirely encased in snow (having been tumbled repeatedly), you simply cannot sense which direction is up. If you were able to get your limbs free and start digging yourself out, the chances are high that you’d start digging the wrong direction; maybe even further down.
There’s a trick though. You spit. You dig out a little cavity around your face and spit. Depending on which direction your spit goes, you can orient yourself—you can determine which end is up!
Have you ever found yourself upended? I’m not necessarily talking about catastrophic circumstances, though they may lead to the upendedness I have in mind. But have you ever found yourself not knowing which end is up? Not knowing whom to trust (even one’s own thoughts), not knowing how to make sense of things, afraid you may be digging yourself further in?
Here are a few of the things that have been meaningful to me (and my family) recently.
It occurs to me that posting these is sort of my effort to invite you in on my own journey. As I’ve mentioned before, I appreciate hearing from you as a reader!
As shall be my custom, I will list them in order of how much time they’ll require of you.
BROTHER (THE BRILLIANCE)
On the inspiration of a friend, I assembled a “Sunday Morning Mix” on Spotify. Another friend had just introduced me to The Brilliance, and a few of their songs were promptly included. They are wonderful; contemplative and rich without become too melancholic.
We had a birthday dance party for my 9-year-old, and she actually asked for us to play one of their songs.
Brother (video above) is the one the whole family keeps singing. Maybe you’ll want to start the video and listen to the song while you look down this list. Maybe it will get stuck in your head, too.
His name may prove hard to spell, but his beautiful hand-drawn infographics make information easy on the eyes. Makes me think (hope?) we would’ve been kindred spirits.
It is Black History Month, so here’s the first part of his bio from the site:
William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois — sociologist, historian, activist, Pan-Africanist, and prolific author — had also, it turns out, a mighty fine eye for graphic design. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868, Du Bois studied at Fisk University, Humboldt University in Berlin, and Harvard (where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate), and in 1897 he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University.
I would encourage anyone with misgivings about the BLM sentiment and movement to dive deeper than soundbites or political point-scoring. As a Christian, I would say this is paramount at this point in our nation’s history.
It’ll just take about 10 minutes to read.
SCANDALIZING CHRISTIAN WRITING
Jessica Hooten Wilson is an English Professor at John Brown University, and she makes the following confession:
For three years, I judged Christian novels for Christianity Today’s Novel of the Year Award. One year it was almost unbearable. I found the contenders all but unreadable.
Her article on FathomMag.com goes on to address the dearth of scandal in Christian writing. I’m certain her article could be more broadly applied to Christian art in general.
Something I’ve been giving more thought to of late is a Christian value and understanding of art. I’m still not certain how I’d elucidate my view of art and its importance, but I remember with pangs those times I’ve brushed up against certain offerings of art done in the name of Jesus. To quote our president: “Not good.”
The page will tell you its a 6 minute read. I’m a slower reader, so we’ll go with 10.
In this video, Tim Keller and Bryan Stevenson share on the Biblical concept of justice and what it looks like in practice. (On a separate note, I was surprised to see my friend Susan Nacorda moderating … so deftly, I might add.)
There’s a diner perched on the cliffs of Ft Lee, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River, George Washington Bridge and the skyline of Manhattan. It’s an unassuming establishment, but the locals love it dearly.
They specialize in the fare of lunch; soups and salads and (especially) sandwiches.
Here Reubens and Clubs are both so simple and so savory as to be almost paradoxical.
Long before farm-to-table or artisan foods found their way into the popular vernacular, the proprietor of this diner understood the near sacred importance of provenance and preparation of meats, cheeses, vegetables, herbs and spices. Without fanfare he sought and found ingredients that gave their food a singularity of character. And almost unawares, they calibrated perfect proportions and parts.
Call it happenstance, but the folks of Bergen County knew it was truly sublime.
One such item on the menu was their BLT. Down 4 from the top on their sandwich list, one could nearly fail to notice it whatsoever. But, having tasted the tang of sourdough and mayo awash in the sweet pop of tomato, crisp butter lettuce and etherial applewood bacon, one could not henceforth overlook it easily. If not a miracle, it was at least a phenomenon. Continue reading “BLT”
Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was an American painter and sculptor. In 2007 his painting Phaedrus was vandalized. Phaedrus is a 2 piece installment. The above painting is the left side. The right side is a canvas painted entirely white. It was the white canvas that was vandalized.
How was it vandalized? It was kissed.The perpetrator paid over €1,500 in fines.
The only way we can make sense of this crime is to realize that the paintings were valued at over $2 million. The restoration costs were nearly $50,000. It was a masterpiece by a master artist. Only then can such a kiss be deemed criminal.
I know I won’t always have the opportunity to do this, but I liked the idea for once in a while. Especially in light of my past two writings, I wanted to provide a few resourced and items that are influencing me at present.
In his seminal book Night, Elie Wiesel recounts a horrifying event among a trainload of starving Jews locked in a train to Buchenwald. The Nazi guards throw food into the cars, and gawk while the prisoners fight to the death. A son kills his own father over a piece of bread.
I will never forget reading that. It is an excruciating glimpse into the human condition degraded by desperation. Of course it is an instance of violence, but one could hardly fault those who were deranged by deprivation.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethics was largely born from his own labors to faithfully live his Christian faith in fascist Nazi society. In it he writes of abortion calling it, “nothing but murder.” (In modern terms, he’d be described as “pro-life”.) However, training the focus on the issue of responsibility or culpability, he continues:
“… in cases where it is an act of despair, performed in circumstances of extreme human or economic destitution and misery, the guilt may often lie rather with the community than with the individual.”
I’m not intending to address the issue of abortion here, but rather draw attention to Bonhoeffer’s application of guilt. In essence, he says that a woman’s society bears the blame for her choice made in despair and destitution.
We don’t often think of ethics that way—we want to situate blame on individuals. This is very Western, and is actually incongruent with the collective ethics of Scripture. Continue reading “Desperation | #Friday500”
I live on the Southside of Chicago, and my city has become a placeholder for the topic of gun violence. Last year (2016) there were more than 700 homicides–over 4000 shooting victims. Just writing those numbers makes me feel heavy with grief.