“[A]n art work has value as a creation because man is made in the image of God, and therefore man not only can love and think and feel emotion, but also has the capacity to create. Being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity.… We never find men anywhere in the world or in any culture in the world who do not produce art. Creativity is a part of the distinction between man and non-man. All people are to some degree creative. Creativity is intrinsic to our mannishness.” — Francis Schaeffer
Yesterday I gave an hour-and-a-half design breakout session for participants at the 2009 Baptist Media Forum at Camp Buckner, up near Inks Lake. The seminar was entitled Between Heaven & Helvetica: How Good Design Can Energize Your Existing Communications. I hadn't delivered a talk that long before, so I was a little nervous to say the least. I figured I'd leave a half-hour for Q&A and prepared what I thought was an hour's worth of content.
My stated purpose was to "embark upon an interactive, multi-sensory conversation among designers, self-proclaimed non-creatives, quasi-creatives, and people who have to work with creatives in order to sketch at the intersection(s) of good design, good theology, and our role as culture creators." True to form, it was meandering and quirky — a soupçon of history, theology of the Imago Dei, a little design philosophy and advice, and visual inspiration/stimulation (I hope).
About 15 minutes into it, I realized I had too much content, but pressed forward, and we ended up getting through most of it without much compromise. Before I went on, my friend Marcus Goodyear gave a great presentation on online community building; I knew he was going to skew his content heavily (actually completely) online, so I weighted my presentation toward traditional media and channel-neutral branding design.
The preso was a mashup featuring three youth media case studies tied to some theological points I made at the presentation's "history unlesson" ... as well as a gallery of twenty logos I had designed, which I will glom together and present to you below. I also re-fashioned and re-presented my "six design nuggets for non-creatives" talk as a 10-minute overview. I was really pleased with the mix of people — I asked the group of media professionals (I assumed I'd be getting mostly PR folks, writers and editors) to classify themselves (how modern of me): almost a third of the room comprised designers and creatives. Another third considered themselves quasi-creative, and only one guy thought he was a non-creative.
My friend Tim Snyder made the trip out to the hill country with his visiting friend (my new friend) Josh. They audited the whole session and Josh participated in the interactive [Playdoh sculpting!] portion of the talk as well. With them and Marcus and my friend Brad Russell from TheBaptist Standard there in the room, I was more at ease than I would've been.
After the presentation, Tim and Josh and I spent the rest of the day together. On the drive back to San Antonio, we stopped in the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls, TX. That's Josh and his chocolate meringue pie. After that we crashed at my house for a bit ( I really needed a nap) before heading to Alamo Drafthouse Theater to see Slumdog Millionaire.
It was a nice break in the middle of the week.
I leave you with an excerpt from an essay by Leland Ryken that I published in Communiqué back in the day, and dredged up for the conversation yesterday (but didn't have time to share with the group):
"What does the image of God in people say about the arts? It affirms human creativity as something good in principle, since it is an imitation of one of God's own acts and perfections. Someone once wrote, "As image-bearer of God, [people possess] the possibility both to create something beautiful, and to delight in it (Kuyper 142). Christian poet Chad Walsh once wrote that the artist "can honestly see himself as a kind of earthly assistant to God..., carrying on the delegated work of creation, making the fullness of creation fuller" (308). This applies equally to those who are not themselves creative artists but who delight to enter into the creativity of others. And it stands as a rebuke to those who disparage God's gift of creativity in people."
Here's a handful of the logos I've designed* — I used these in the presentation:
*the All Saints logo was a collaboration between myself and Von Glitschka, whose work also made it into the presentation.
-- note -- sorry about abandoning the live blogging last night. it was engaging, to be sure, but just not conducive to blogging.
5:52 pm - I'm here at St. Mark's, San Antonio, in the historic heart of downtown. The room is abuzz, and for a so-called emergent topic, the place is brimming with folks over 50. At 39, I'm clearly the youngest person here. Mary Ellen is here from ¡Viva! — and we were able to talk a bit about the upcoming Open House. Phyllis Tickle's flight was delayed, and she just showed up.
"The Nehemiah Center is a community of service and learning which trains lay and pastoral leaders in an integral, biblical worldview and encourages local, national and international collaboration for a Christ-centered, transformational development of communities and nations."
My buddy Pamela serving as an international partner as a communications specialist for the Nehemiah Center in Managua via Food for the Hungry. The Center's new website went live this week. She's a missionary and as you can glean from this description above, part of their gospel mission is to serve as community organizers.
From the stories I've heard, Nehemiah's work in the community is an also/and between spiritual needs and physical ones. In their work with the extreme poverty they encounter daily, they "promote the health of the whole person" — mind, body and soul, a holism I'm convinced Jesus was all about.
"The people of Nicaragua face enormous daily challenges living in
their communities. Extreme poverty limits many families to one meal a
day. Malnourishment and parasite-caused diseases are common, especially
among children. Access to free quality health care is extremely
To address these pressing needs,
the Nehemiah Center has adopted the Community Health Evangelism (CHE)
strategy designed by our international collaborator Life Wind. CHE is
multifaceted, and promotes the health of the whole person—physically,
spiritually, emotionally, and socially."
the reverend jennifer baskerville-burrows is a chaplain at syracuse university and rector at grace episcopal church. she is a localvore and writes the beautiful food blogcookin' in the 'cuse, and was one of the first friends to greet me at the recent Trinity Wall Street consultancy. today Jennifer and her community garden was on MSNBC:
i waited to blog about my recent new york trip, hoping some unifying thread would be found running through the whole of the tapestry — some way to serve up the sights and sounds and smells of the last week that would remain engaging. some way to let you experience some of the energy of the city, some of the joys and loneliness of being a solo guy traipsing around manhattan, of being a fish out of water in a consultancy full of anglican vibe, some of the small pleasures in meeting new friends, in logging a few precious hours with some heretofore online friends, in spending a few quiet evenings with friends danny and kristen trying restaurants in their park slope neighborhood of brooklyn.
no magical thread has been found, other than a celebration of the beautiful, threadless remnants that would not be sewn together, and a new label for that tendency of mine towards assemblage, appropriation, pastiche, and montage: yes, the word of the week was bricolage.
bri•co•lage (n) Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available
Like the farmer rummaging through the junk pile for makeshift parts the
spiritual tinkerer is able to sift through a veritable scrap heap of
ideas and practices from childhood, from religious organizations,
classes, conversations with friends, books, magazines, television
programs and web sites. The tinkerer is free to engage in this kind
maybe i'll post some of my new york sketches soon. but for now, i'll post a few of the photos i shot (haven't been color corrected yet or anything).
m is for: manhattan. moma. mosaics.
then after brooklyn, guggenheim, apple store, i headed out to west cornwall, connecticut:
It came in today! My advance copy of Jesus for President, the new Shane Claiborne + Chris Haw book for which I contributed 40 or so watercolor illustrations; designed by my friends Holly and Ryan over at SharpSeven. I'm really geeking out over how cool it turned out, thumbing through it like a little kid. It's cool to finally see the other contributors' work (several artists, photographers) and see how the whole thing comes together.
Please consider buying a copy.
It's four-color throughout, but somehow the price is less than $12 over at the big box place. I'm sure VivaBooks will sell it as well.
Here's an illustration I did, which you can see closer when you buy the book:
file under: filet'o'fish'o'war
Here's designer Ryan hard at work with his other love. This is fresh footage BTW:
Tonight, Emergent|SA got together at our downtown San Antonio hangout, Ruta Maya Coffee Co., for an evening with Claude Nikondeha, Amahoro Africa. It had been quite a few years since I had spoken with Claude in person, and it brought joy to catch up with him again. He has a missionary's heart for Christ's work in Africa, with none of the imperialist, colonialist baggage. He's open to God doing things in new, different, unconventional ways, and his whole being seems bent toward lives engaged in God's Kingdom-work, whether its lone outposts of conversational gospel in red-light districts or serendipitous sermon-free church plants in urban Africa, or charting an emergent type of accountability/edibility among his close friends in Phoenix.
It was good to see TJ, Lane, Danielle, Tim and Bob there as well. I'll leave you with a large pull-quote from Bob about tonight:
"What a hope-filled night it was, crashing the Emergent|SA Feb gathering. ... I got to Ruta Maya early, in time to stumble upon the San Antonio Obama staff, squatting for the past 3 days until their offices open this Sat. It was
great to hear their stories of community organizing in Iowa, Idaho,
Nevada and Washington - a swarm of people in their early 20s helping
connect people to a powerful campaign.
It was even more hope-filled to hear Claude Nikondeha of Amahoro Africa. Claude talked with great energy about how this network helps build
relationships, sharing stories and exploring the shape of the emerging church in post colonial
Africa and beyond.
He was quite moving talking about what God is doing in East
Africa, particularly in terms of new models of faith communities and
courageous people fostering new model of transformation.
just the past few years, Amahoro is now consists of over 200 leaders representing 200 communities. For more about Claude, see this interview.
Two things Claude said really grabbed me:
he talked about what a contrast America is with Africa -
particularly how un-involved or interdependent our lives are with one
another in the U.S.
he used a term I had never heard or even considered - pre-emptive reconciliation. Talking about the recent conflicts in Kenya, Claude talked about the power of engaging in reconciliation BEFORE an outbreak or a provocation.
I came away from these two hours just brimming with hope, eager to
see the world that these Obama staffers and Claude are birthing." — Bob Carlton
My friends Chris and Meredith Alvarez lit these three advent candles Sunday morning, so my sketch took on new meaning for me after-the-fact.
Chris played cello again. I'm really enjoying that. It's a perfect instrument for that size of a room. Adrian played a single snare at my request during a verse of the offertory* and it worked well. I hope my asking him to do that is not akin to someone coming up and asking me to only play any one of the six strings I'm used to playing.
We finished The Way of a Pilgrim in MCP, and are moving on to Annie Lamott's Traveling Mercies, which I first read in 2005. Should be fine, but this makes two texts in a row I was pretty much already familiar with when assigned (I was gone the week everyone picked the new text.). I'm not bothered by it (I love Anne's work) but rather a little ambivalent about re-visiting a known text for weeks at a time. Trying to decide if the MCP is where I'll land long term during that hour. I think the other choices would be to teach a kids' class, attend a class currently taught by Gordon (using a contemplative prayer approach to the lectionary text: I could totally get into that), or facilitating a social justice discussion group (not that I have the time).
I'm contemplating what my bandwidth is, when it comes to some kind of role leading and planning worship at this our new church home. My friend Barry Brake leads worship part time, as does my friend Chris Taylor. They've worked it into the rhythm of their life.
Sunday after church we went caroling up and down the halls of
Graceland (the assisted living facility across the street and down a
bit from Covenant). Wes' dad lives there.
I played guitar at church and at the caroling. My fingers were toast, because my callouses weren't built up for that
much playing on the steel strings. Barre chords always hurt the most,
so when my fingers start hurting I prefer songs in the key of G major.
The least painful key: the I, IV, V, and relative minors all feel
pretty good. Major second can hurt a little. Compare that with something like the key of F major. Yeesh. Ouchville all around.
I have more in my head, but my eyes are growing sleeeepy.
*we covered a song by Steve Hindalong called Babe in the Straw from the City on a Hill series. Hindalong was one of the two founding members of the band The Choir, who totally kicked in concert.
The drawing above is of my friend Tim — the associate pastor at Covenant — and some of the kids of the church. One of the best rituals I've found at our little church is Children’s Time on the Blanket. Kids from two to maybe ten or so come up in the middle of the service, not for a children's sermon, but rather just for a time for the pastor to talk with the kids, to take up their offerings for a given missionary family, and to pray together.
Emma (our almost three year old) will walk up front to 'blanket time' and always catch herself mid-step, five or six paces into it, and do an about-face and come back to us for money; we'll give her a dollar bill or a quarter to put in the bag (like most kids she prefers shiny, weighty coins to paper currency any day) and then she and the other kids will go up to talk with Tim or Gordon.
Thanks, Tim and Gordon, for keeping this tradition alive.
I think if some of our present-day world leaders had, as children, walked
up for Children’s Time on the Blanket, the world might be a more
Wednesday I asked another friend up at church to sing and play our Call to Worship for this morning, and she said yes. So this morning she got up with her guitar and voice and brought something that was wonderful: a simple Advent spiritual, Come, Lord Jesus (Come and be born in our hearts), delivered with a calypso strumming pattern — she told me it was the way the song had been passed down to her.
I hope the congregation received the song with open ears and hearts. Sometimes I wonder how this friend feels because of her present situation: She is a new San Antonian not by choice, but is here because she was displaced from her native New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. She lost everything, relocated. She still brings her infant granddaughter weekly, and they come to worship God. They get a ride up to church because she cannot afford a bus pass. She gets by without internet or email. I met her at the Franciscan retreats we have up at church, and since then we've talked about guitars and songs and her old life back in New Orleans. She's got a lovely singing voice, and in a strange way, I really feel like she's one of the reasons I'm there up at Covenant these days.
I picture her learning today's spiritual, chord-by-chord, decades earlier in Louisiana, perhaps singing with family or friends around her New
Orleans living room. Perhaps she picked it up by taking in the sounds
flowing out of the African-American congregation which I'd imagine she
once regularly attended. Now days, her stories come in trickles, perhaps a little cautiously,
usually while we're tuning instruments or handing out chord sheets. I'm
convinced there's a deep well of story there.
Imagine my surprise when, close to the end of the service today, I looked up and spotted a couple of Emergent Village folks filing into the back of the church — the esteemed Glen Barbier and the inimitable Lance White, as well as their well-spoken sustainable gardener friend Steven Hebbard — all had made the morning road trip from Austin. I understand they got a little turned around, so they missed a good bit of the service.
But, as is often the case, a shared meal proved deeper and perhaps just as soul-satisfying as the service anyway (not to diminish from the service this week, or from the thoughts of John the Baptist swirling in my head). We all headed to Chipotle and spent at least two? two-and-a-half? certainly not three? hours eating and talking and connecting. When tribes collide.
One more missive. This afternoon Amy took a page from the Soupablog School for Nabbing a Christmas Tree this year, and went out and got back with a nice tree in well under an hour. Maybe more like 40 minutes. My kinda woman. Hunters: 1, Gatherers, 0. We had that sucker in the stand and unfurled in record time. Now our house smells like pine, and we'll have to bring in some ornaments over the next few nights. We're usually Late Decorators when it comes to Christmas. Lots of reasons, but if I explained them, it might sound like I'm railing on you Early Decorators out there.
Kate (see note, right) says I should draw a picture of our pretty tree. Maybe once it's decorated. I've got other pictures I'm drawing too, but how can you say no to a note like this?
"Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late / he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will win, so on the edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins...
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play..." —David Wilcox
this sketch is pretty much what church looked like today, except even if you squint, you can't see chris alvarez sitting up front playing cello. and the windows in the drawing aren't interleaved by the beautiful hanging banners of advents past. and you can't see me sitting there wondering if i'm going to have enough energy to explain the deutero-isaiah theory to anyone in my family today (i didn't have to). somewhere in the cross-hatchy composition you can also imagine my friend tj visiting today, sitting there over on the far side, next to liz and jason.
this morning my pastor and friend gordon reminded us all that in advent we trade 'ramping up' for 'slowing down' (i give lip-service to this all the time; today i'm really considering how to live this corporeally and not just let the idea make my head nod); we don't get louder, we search for silence, etc. (this one i can handle usually). also his message gave me pause — i had to be open to a new way of understanding proto-isaiah's prophecy here (as largely unfulfilled prophetic utterings rather than esentially fulfilled or not-yet eschatological hope). not sure i agreed with it fully, but i was certainly willing to travel alongside as this got unpacked. a really good sermon: i wish i could take you all to church with me, but that would quash the innocence of this little stone church hidden amidst the juniper trees.
but what really hit me this week wasn't the sermon or the worship or even the onset of advent. instead it was a few well-aimed words (lobbed in my direction) from some smart women in the mystics/cynics/pilgrims class — i had been talking about some longtime frustrations when [thanks to their insight] suddenly the whole situation unfurled like a starched sheet amidst cerulean sky in a well-directed laundry soap commercial, and i knew that in an instant everything had changed. a burden had been lifted.
from now on at least this one issue will be framed in the language of acceptance, forgiveness and possibly mourning, rather than the posture of my insistence for change or for [the individual in question] to opt-in to my point of view. it was a free therapy session which netted a hammered stake and a new fence vector.
"In our world of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture
and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their
deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a
hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where
community can be found." - Henri Nouwen
My college-mate and former Trinity House denizen Pete Z is currently off at grad school (Wake Forest) and experiencing community with the folks at Dogwood Abbey in Winston-Salem: "…we meet once a month so far and hope to up that within a bit to move to meeting for communion and prayer one week, skip a week, then full service...then skip a week."
Their monastic model is described like this:
The Abbey will be a...
1. Center for reflective theological exploration. The Abbey will be an open space for conversation about God where anyone can participate.
2. Center for spiritual direction. The Abbey will provide individual and group spiritual direction via retreats and/or personal appointments.
3. Center for contemplative practice. The Abbey will be open daily for folks to come pray, and will hold regular retreats and studies on prayer and contemplation.
4. Center for ecclesial experimentation. The Abbey will be a place where the traditional church can experiment with new ideas in community and worship through use of space, apprenticeship, and through staff retreats with Abbey leaders.
5. Center for deep ecumenical friendship. The Abbey will host regular ecumenical gatherings for fellowship, dialog, and activism.
6. Center for community engagement. The Abbey hopes to blur the lines of the sacred and secular dichotomy by partnering with local businesses, farmers, and artisans in whatever ways we can.
Austinchange.org and Brian McLaren hosted a series of conversations in Austin yesterday revolving around his new book EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE. Some links from Bob Carlton… The Austin American Statesman had some great coverage:
My friend Troy Bronsink moderates the session, and it's also interesting to hear them dialog during the nearly 40 minutes of Q&A which follow. I tried to keep the files intact, but edited out a few long audio gaps.
My father-in-law Mike and his best friend G.W. have been involved with The Sunshine Kids for years now. The Sunshine Kids is an impressive group of folks "dedicated to ... providing
positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer
patients. [They provide] a variety of programs and events,
free of charge, for kids who are receiving cancer treatments in
hospitals across North America." A few years back I toured their House in Houston – it's an impressive, small, under-the-radar organization that does much good in the world of pediatric oncology.
This weekend the Sunshine Kids had their 25th anniversary gala in Houston, and Amy and I were honored to be there in support of the organization's mission, and to watch Mike help emcee the evening. In the process we had a great time: Amy's brother Syler got to meet Craig Biggio the day before he flew off to receive MLB's Roberto Clemente award (largely for his community work with the Sunshine Kids); we all got to meet G.W.'s castmates from The Closer (TNT): Kyra Sedgwick (and her husband, this nice guy named Kevin Bacon), J.K. Simmons, Jon Tenney (a good guy), Corey Reynolds (the man can sing, too), Tony Denison, and others.
Syler (lower right in the above photo) and I were there [in our tuxedos] last night talking about all the good that's come from this organization, done in the name of charity, altruism, 'the right thing to do', love for the kids, etc. — and we couldn't help but look at it through, as Danielle Shroyer would say, the lens of "God's-always-up-to-something."
People, for their own non-theological reasons, do these charitable things (like bringing more abundant life to kids with cancer) and that, de facto, advances God's kingdom. Jung is supposed to have said, "Bidden or not, God is present" -- the gist of the saying dovetails with what I'm trying to express: many, many things not under the "church" umbrella or even the "Jesus" umbrella count in God's economy as being kingdom-work. McLaren and others have described the Venn diagram relationship of the Church and the Kindgom as being intersecting, rather than subsets. The church exists for God's (larger) kingdom-work, not vice-versa, and sometimes in history, the most kingdom work is being done either despite the church, or by its supposed enemies.
It was nice to be reminded last night that (even) Hollywood actors and major league ballplayers can advance charity, kindness, love, goodness and mercy, and that on any given day of the week, though the most meaningful work may be done face to face in small local ways — perhaps among the outcast, poor and marginalized — that there are expressions of charity and patterns of giving and engaging which include the rich and famous as well. eye of the needle just got larger. thoughts?