The defining element in Christian art

Let me propose this thesis, drawing on the recent post about what Bruce Springsteen said about Hank Williams:  All distinctly Christian art must be, in some sense, about the agonizing struggle between sin and grace.

Mere moral lessons, while perhaps commendable, are  not enough to be distinctly Christian, since Mormons, Muslims, and ethical humanists could agree with them.  And mere optimistic positive messages are not enough and may even be harmful, since they can create the illusion that we can achieve righteousness by our own efforts.  Works of meaning and beauty have their own value.  But to be explicitly “Christian,” a work needs to be, directly or indirectly, about sin and grace and what Christ has to do with them.

To test the thesis:  Let’s consider classic Christian works of literature.  The Divine Comedy.  check.  Paradise Lost.  check.  The poems of John Donne and George Herbert.  check.  The Chronicles of Narnia.  check.  Flannery O’Connor.  check.  Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory.  check.

The Art of Words

This is a topic that Lori Lewis asked me to address at her webzine Everyday Opera, trying to help people appreciate all the different literary styles:

“I can’t stand all of those flowery descriptions in classic literature. Why don’t the authors just get to the action?” “I don’t like opera with all of that over-the-top emotion.” “Those old writers are just not realistic!” Those are common complaints, but they deserve an answer.

First of all, literature is an art form that consists of language. Whereas a painter uses daubs of paint, an author uses daubs of words. Whereas a musical composer works with individual musical notes, working them together into complex harmonies, rhythms, and melodies, an author creates the effects of a novel or a poem with individual words.

This is to say, an author can’t just “get to the action” because a story is not just a matter of action. It’s words. Plays, including the dramatic production that is a movie, do consist of action. But even a visualized story generally depends on the language of dialogue, which actors use to create their characters. Purists who want only action might restrict themselves to silent movies. But even silent movies—as with all dramatic scripts—have to be written.

Words are multi-dimensional and can create an infinite number of effects–including the illusion that the words are doing nothing. Those who are impatient with “style” often don’t realize that “realism” is also a style.

continue reading.

I’m speaking at an online apologetics conference

Do you like to go to conferences–say, a big conference on apologetics–but don’t have the time or the money to take off and fly somewhere for several days?  But why should anyone have to travel for a conference, what with online technology?

I’m going to be giving a lecture on Christianity & Comedy at an online apologetics conference to be held April 19-21.  The overall topic will focus on “Literary Apologetics,” the use of stories (including literature, films, music, and other expressions) to convey the truth of the Christian faith.  The conference is being put on by Athanatos Christian Ministries, an apologetics organization led by Anthony Horvath (a Lutheran teacher and a former student of mine!).

You can sign up for the conference here.   The following are the speakers and the topics.  Go here for a schedule of the actual times.  (Mine will be at 9:00 a.m. Central on Friday, April 20.)  Notice that most of the conference is for paid registrants (a mere $30) but that the sessions on the 19th are free.

Athanatos Christian Ministry’s Third Annual

Online Apologetics Conference

2012 Theme:

Using Story to Defend, Promote, Explain, and Transmit the Faith

Keynote:

Dale Ahlquist

President of the American Chesterton Society

 Other Speakers:

Dr. Gene Edward Veith | Dave Sterrett | Paul Hughes | Dr. Holly Ordway | Anthony Horvath | Brian Auten  | Stephen Bedard | Glenn Jones | James D. Agresti | Mikel Del Rosario | Mark Riser | Tom Gilson | Joseph Keysor | Bruce Hennigan, M.D. | Dr. Ryan MacPherson | Paul Nowak

An apologetics conference held… entirely online! (Click here to see what a session is like)

April 19th,  20th, and 21st, 2012.

Access on April 19th is FREE!

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ALL SESSIONS RECORDED – Make up sessions you missed at your convenience. All conference registrants receive free access to these archives. Information on purchasing archive access coming soon!

2012 Conference Goals:

  • Build off of visions of ACM’s previous conferences, encouraging Christians to defend the faith through the arts.
  • Call attention to the power of Story and Narrative in the formation of world views.
  • Argue that the Gospel Story is superior to all of them, if only because it is the Truth.
  • Encourage Christians to use video, movies, literature, and music to mount a defense of Christianity in general and the Biblical model for the family in particular.
  • Connect Christian artists with each other and with those who can help propel them to success.
  • Remind Christians that they each have a responsibility to be ready to give a defense in their own lives.
  • Raise awareness of the fact that competing ‘stories’ are promoting beliefs and values that must be critically analyzed, not just mindlessly absorbed.

Conference Framework

ACM’s 2012 conference will be a little different than previous years.  The main part of the conference (being held on the 20th and 21st), the plenaries, will present a number of short stories that have some bearing on the Christian worldview.  Each presenter will take one of those stories, digest it, and apply it to contemporary issues in apologetics.   The stories and presenters will be announced in due time.

On the 19th, credible apologists will be invited to present on the topic of their choice (subject to ACM approval).   Up to 20 presenters are expected, and the topics will vary.  Note:  all presentations on the 19th will be open to the public!  Only the sessions on the 20th and 21st require paid registration.

Friday-Saturday (Apr. 20-21st, paid registrants only)

Keynote:

Others:

  • Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Author, “Christianity and Comedy”
  • Dave Sterrett, Author and Apologist, Spokesperson for “I am Second“, “Using Story for Christ:  Reflections on ‘I am Second.’”
  • Paul Hughes, Author and Apologist, “Tim Gautreaux and the Apologetics of Real Life” and “5 by Flannery [O'Connor].”
  • Dr. Holly Ordway, “Finding God in Fairy Tales” (Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel) and “The Importance of Excellence in Christian Fiction: A Lesson from CS Lewis”
  • Jason Jones, MovietoMovement, producer of movie Bella, “Topic TBA”
  • Anthony Horvath, Athanatos Christian Ministries, “An Analysis of ‘The Birthmark’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne” and “How 3 Stories Got Under the Skin of PZ Myers and the New Atheists.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author. “Speculative Fiction and Apologetics.”
  • Paul Nowak, author.  “It’s the Fight that Matters” [based on Chuck Palahniuk's original short story "Fight Club" (later a novel and movie by the same title)].

Guest Lectures (Thursday, Apr. 19th – Free Access)

  • Brian Auten, Apologetics315, “Avoiding Apologetics Pitfalls”
  • Glenn Jones, apologist. “Reading Genesis as History: Implications for Science and the Age of the Universe.”
  • James D. Agresti, author of Rational Conclusions.  “Cosmology, the science of the origin and development of the universe.”
  • Stephen Bedard, author and apologist, “Reading the New Testament in Context.”
  • Mikel Del Rosario, apologist, “Defending the Resurrection in Everyday Conversations.”
  • Mark Riser, apologist.  “Why I Am An Old-Earth Creationist: A Personal Journey”
  • Tom Gilson, apologist.  “How Arrogant Are We, Anyway?’
  • Joseph Keysor, author. “Hitler, the Bible, and the Holocaust.”
  • Bruce Hennigan, M.D., author.  ” CSI: Golgotha”
  • Dr. Ryan MacPherson, author.  “The Culture of Life: The Redemptive Power of Conversion Narratives”

E-books are increasing reading

E-books and e-readers are increasing the amount of reading that is going on.  People who get a Kindle are reading more than they used to, including reading books that aren’t electronic.

A fifth of American adults have read an electronic version of a book in the last year, a trend that is fueling a renewed love of reading, according to a new survey.

The portion of e-book readers among all American adults has increased to 21 percent from 17 percent between December and February, due in large part to a boom in tablet and e-reader sales this past holiday season.

All those devices are turning some consumers into super readers, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. E-book readers plowed through an average of 24 titles in the past year, compared with an average of 15 for readers of physical books.

“Those who have taken the plunge into reading e-books stand out in almost every way from other kinds of readers . . . They are avid readers of books in all formats,” said Lee Rainie, director of research at Pew.

Curiously, e-reading somehow sparks a love of books in any format. Even as e-readers are downloading books on computers, tablets and smartphones, they are also checking out more books at libraries and buying more at bookstores and online. About nine in 10 e-book readers said they have also read printed books in the past year, Pew reported in its survey of about 3,000 people 16 and older.

via Survey finds e-readers are spurring consumers of books in all formats – The Washington Post.

I find that happening with me.  I read a lot, of course, as a literature teacher and someone who wants to keep up with things.  But ever since my wife gave me a Kindle–which as an old-school print guy I was skeptical of at first– I find myself reading much more for fun (bringing back pleasures that got me into the literature profession in the first place).  I can crank up the type-size so that I can read on the treadmill (which re-enforces that good habit I’m trying to cultivate) and instead of aimless surfing on the computer or watching television, I am now reading novels. Also books don’t cost as much when you download them, further liberating my reading impulses.

What I’m enjoying is not novels of ambitious literary merit–that’s more like work–but books that give me an interesting imaginative experience.  They have to be well-written with a certain measure of complexity, otherwise they can’t hold my attention, so genre fiction and bestseller fare doesn’t always do it for me.  But I’ve found some gems that I think I’ll be blogging about.

By the way, with my Kindle I’ve signed up for Amazon Prime, giving me the ability to “check out” books from Amazon’s virtual library for free.  Unfortunately, the pickings seem pretty slim.  I did find a couple of excellent reads:  Moneyball and Hunger Games.   (More on the latter later.)  If anyone has found other good books in that library–ones that meet my criteria–I’d be glad to learn about them.

Anyway, if you have broken down and bought an e-reader, has this “kindled” your reading?

That eye-on-the-object look

W. H. Auden–another major poet who converted to Christianity–has written perceptively about vocation.  This is from his poem entitled “Sext,” part of his Horae Canonicae, poems on the canonical hours on Good Friday.  (It gets a little obscure towards the end, but he is referring to the medieval guilds, praying to the patrons of their particular crafts, each of which was thought of as a “mystery.”  The last stanza ties to the hour (“noon,” which is when “Sext” was prayed) and to the death of Christ.

You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.

To ignore the appetitive goddesses,
to desert the formidable shrines

of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,
to pray insted to St Phocas,

St Barbara, San Saturnino,
or whoever one’s patron is,

that one may be worthy of their mystery,
what a prodigious step to have taken.

There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still

wandering through forests without
a consonant to our names,

slaves of Dame Kind, lacking
all notion of a city

and, at this noon, for this death,
there would be no agents.

via theskelfs: SEXT – one of WH Auden’s Horae Canonicae.

HT:  Laura via Comment magazine

Lying to tell the truth?

Mike Daisey has been performing a one-man-show entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in which he exposes the unsafe working condition in Apple factories in China.  NPR picked up the story and interviewed Daisey on “This American Life” about what he found out during a visit to one of these Chinese factories.  It turned out that Daisey made up the more dramatic details.  When this information came out, NPR retracted the interview.

Consider this defense of Daisey from tech reporter Joshua Topolsky:

Mike Daisey was lying.

No, he didn’t lie about all of it. He did go to southern China and meet with workers from Foxconn. He was there, all right, but he wasn’t honest about what he’d seen. There were no underage workers he’d spoken with, there was no man with a maimed hand. In one passage of his show, ­Daisey talks about workers who had been poisoned by a gas called n-hexane. That part was true — there had been workers poisoned by this gas at an Apple contractor somewhere in China. But Daisey never spoke to them. Like many of the most upsetting moments in his show, Daisey simply fabricated the encounter.

The lies were so clear and so egregious that after learning the truth, “This American Life” issued a retraction of its report by way of a new show — a show in which host Ira Glass confronted Daisey over the deception.

It’s an uncomfortable listen. As Daisey is called out by Glass, you can hear the hesitation, the panic, and the fear in his voice. He doesn’t offer much in the way of excuses. The main point he drives home is that he felt it was necessary to embellish his story in order to retain the “truth” of the message of his show. He lied to tell the truth, basically.

In some immediate way, this defense rings true. There are many documented cases of worker mistreatment and injuries in Foxconn factories. There have been reports of underage workers. There have been suicides. Some of the most important and honest revelations of these issues have come from Apple itself, which issues a supplier responsibility statement every year detailing both the improvements and problems it’s having with international partners.

But until the radio broadcast Daisey took part in — and many of the follow-up interviews he gave — this problem was never discussed in a such a big, public way. Daisey’s lies inspired honest questions about the gadgets in our pockets. Did he betray the trust of the public and journalists by lying? The answer to this question is easy: Yes. But were the lies necessary?

We have a tendency to tune out the things we don’t like hearing. That is doubly true when money is involved. I’m not suggesting that we didn’t listen when Apple issued its report, and that we didn’t pay attention when the Times published its findings. What I’m saying is that sad songs have a way of sticking with us long after we’ve heard them — and Daisey found a way to tell the sad, human part of this story. To make it catchy enough to stick, even if it was a lie.

via Why Mike Daisey had to lie to tell the truth about Apple – The Washington Post.

So in order to expose abuse of workers he had to make up cases of the abuse of workers.  In order to tell the truth, he had to lie.   Does this make any sense?

It’s true that fiction can tell the truth–a novel can express truths about the human heart, even though its incidents never happened–but, as Sir Philip Sydney has shown, fiction isn’t a lie because it presents itself as imaginary.  A lie, on the other hand, presents itself as truth.  Which is what Mike Daisey did.


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