Source for Christian Art & Design

Some Christian artists, of the confessional Lutheran variety, tired of schlocky and doctrinally vapid Christian cards and gifts, have put together a website that offers an alternative:  Ad Crucem ☩ Christian Art & Design with Discernment ☩ To The Cross with Art & Word!. [Read more...]

Music of localism and vocation

Thanks to Hillsdale Professor Korey Maas for alerting me to Emily Dunbar, a Lutheran musician who sings about vocation and a sense of place.  After the jump, what Dr. Maas says about her, along with a links to her music. [Read more...]

Bach’s “Passion” as online meditation

Bach is among the very greatest of Christian artists, and his “St. Matthew Passion” is considered one of his greatest works.  It is an oratorio, something like an opera, that sets to music Matthew’s account of the crucifixion of Christ (Chapters 26-27), with soloists singing the lines of the various characters and magnificent choral music, all punctuated with Bach’s rendition of Lenten hymns (many of which we still sing today) and remarkable verse by Bach himself responding to Christ’s sacrifice.

My colleague Steve McCollum alerted me to an online resource that makes this masterpiece of musical devotion accessible online:  Oregon Bach Festival » Digital Bach Project » St. Matthew Passion.  It gives the English translation, as well as the Biblical sources and the dramatic script, for each line as the oratorio unfolds.  Click the link, then when you see the painting of St. Matthew, hit the play button.  It’s divided into five 30-minute segments, which makes it an excellent Holy Week devotion.  [Read more...]

Who best approaches the spirit of Bach?

Masaaki Suzuki is a distinguished harpsichordist, organist, Yale music professor, and conductor who founded and directs the Bach Collegium Japan.  He is also a devout Christian.  Many thanks to Paul McCain and the various people he credits for unearthing this quotation from the liner notes to the first album of Bach Collegium Japan.   He is responding to the question of how the Japanese can play Bach, whose music comes out of a very different culture.  He says that better than having the same culture is having the same religion:

“… [T]he God in whose service Bach laboured and the God I worship today are one and the same. In the sight of the God of Abraham, I believe that the two hundred years separating the time of Bach from my own day can be of little account. This conviction has brought the great composer very much closer to me. We are fellows in faith, and equally foreign in our parentage to the people of Israel, God’s people of Biblical times. Who can be said to approach more nearly the spirit of Bach: a European who does not attend church and carries his Christian cultural heritage mostly on the subconscious level, or an Asian who is active in his faith although the influence of Christianity on his national culture is small?”

via News Flash: J. S. Bach was a Christian – Why Suzuki Gets Bach | CyberBrethren – A Lutheran Blog.

Here is an interview with Suzuki and a sampling of his music:

Lucas Cranach, cover story

The cover of Books & Culture, the Christian culture journal, features Lucas Cranach, and the cover story by Daniel Siedell is a review of a new book on the artist and patron of this blog.  The book is called The Serpent and the Lamb: Cranach, Luther, and the Making of the Reformation by the important Reformation scholar Stephen Ozment.  It breaks new ground in asserting the importance of Cranach and his art for Luther and for the Reformation.  A major emphasis is how Cranach embodied and communicated Luther’s doctrine of vocation.  I’m not quite finished reading Ozment’s book, but I plan to post on it for its own sake.   Here is an excerpt from the Books & Culture piece:

Far from being compromised or constricted, Cranach flourished in and through his relationship with Luther, in large part because both the artist and the theologian shared converging interests and concerns, which, upon their meeting, made their relationship especially rich and productive, both personally and professionally.

This relationship developed only after Cranach decided to move his workshop into Wittenberg. Growing weary of the tedious demands of the court and a lack of challenging painting commissions (not to mention inconsistent remuneration), Cranach moved into the bustling university town, renovating several buildings for his home and workshop. He soon became a leading figure in city politics and one of the largest owners of real estate in town. A savvy businessman and entrepreneur, Cranach owned Wittenberg’s only pharmacy and operated the most powerful printing press in the region, a press which would publish Luther’s German translation of the New Testament, completed while he was in exile in Wartburg, and would generate the pamphlets and other printed materials that spread the ideas of the Reformation. Cranach was also a skilled statesman, traveling to the Netherlands on a diplomatic mission on behalf of Frederick the Wise. Far from being seduced by Luther, then, it was Cranach’s robust and expansive public life and his wisdom in statecraft that served the younger, less politically astute Luther, ultimately winning him the protection and patronage he needed from Frederick.

Although Cranach shared Luther’s anti-humanist and anti-Renaissance “Augustinian” view of the sinfulness and weakness of humanity, the convergence between the two men was less doctrinal than it was social, in what Ozment calls the “second phase” of the Reformation. This social phase focused on the recovery of the spiritual integrity of all aspects of domestic family life, from rearing children to marital sexuality. The home had been subjected to excessive and burdensome interference from Rome, creating legalistic burdens for laity and the clergy that were impossible to follow, the crushing nature of which resulted in licentious behavior that undermined the integrity of the family. Luther’s emphasis on justification as a “passive righteousness,” which he would develop in his lectures on Galatians in 1531, was already worked out socially and culturally, liberating the laity and the clergy to enjoy a robust family life, including an intimate sexual relationship within the institution of marriage. Ozment shows how Cranach and Luther both were fulfilled by their families, embracing fully and boldly the creational blessings of marital and familial life. Luther’s famously earthy language about marital sexuality is echoed in Cranach’s beautifully seductive women, whose enchantment was part of the created order and whose sexuality could be celebrated as a divine blessing. “By excising the external girth of the High Renaissance woman,” Ozment writes, “he set free her inner mirth. The result was more engrossing than the direct touching of skin and flesh.” Cranach and Luther’s relationship was further deepened through their families, as they served as godparents to each other’s children. . . .

Ozment’s Cranach embodies a proto-Lutheran approach to culture and vocation. Apparently unconcerned with the burden of demonstrating or achieving his salvation through his work, Cranach was freed to use and enjoy his God-given talents as a painter, politician, businessman, and advisor. He is also a historical example of what James Davison Hunter has called, in To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), “faithful presence.” The Serpent and the Lamb makes the convincing case that without Cranach’s faithful presence, the Lutheran Reformation would not have possessed the scope that it had.

I might just add that this vocational view of family life, including the affirmation of sexuality in marriage, is what we explore in our own latest book Family Vocation: God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.

“The greatest Lutheran bar band, ever”

That would be the Jayhawks!   I had no idea that Mark Olson was a Lutheran.   I heard them in concert years ago.   Thanks to Larry Wilson for alerting me to this fact.  From the Mockingbird Blog:

I once heard The Jayhawks described as the “greatest Lutheran bar band ever,” and though I’m still not exactly sure what that means, I know I like it. It’s certainly better than the “alt-country pioneers” label they normally get saddled with. Or worse, heirs of Gram Parsons’ “cosmic American music” legacy. (Which is not a knock on Gram in any way, just on the flaky non-genre he coined). My own description would be: jangly God-haunted Midwestern country-folk with fuzz guitars and harmonies that redefine the words “sandpaper-and-honey.” But even that doesn’t cover the oddly circular progression they’ve undergone, from breezy singer-songwriters to arty and somewhat angsty recordmakers, and back again. Regardless of how they’re categorized, The Jayhawks are an American treasure, responsible for at least four brilliant albums, two of which feature co-founder/-lead singer Mark Olson (Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass), two of which don’t (Sound of Lies and Rainy Day Music are exclusively Gary Louris-led affairs). The fact that they’ve got a connection to Lutheranism is just a bonus. . . .

Anyway, back to the “Lutheran” part. Mark Olson’s faith has always informed the fractured poetry of his songs – an image here, a phrase there – never obscured by fear or paraded with insecurity. I’m thinking of the uncontrived religious undertones of “Waiting for the Sun” or “Real Light,” how they cleverly changed the title of “Martin Luther” to “Martin’s Song,” or how they covered Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head” on an early b-side. So when Olson wrote and recorded a straight-ahead gospel tune on his solo record December’s Child (!), “Still We Have A Friend In You,” it may not have been a big shock, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise (he had almost gone there with the excellent “Someone There To Talk With” on his previous album). It helps that it’s such a great song, too – totally authentic, uplifting and singable, with not even a whiff of cheapness. In other words, it’s top-tier white gospel (which is not meant as a backhanded compliment) and a bit of a modern classic. Olson explained himself in the press release for the record with characteristic humility and understatement: “That’s a gospel song in the sense of when you’re younger, you go away from God. It talks about what it takes to get you back into the walk with God. A lot of times you don’t go back until you’re just down.” Turns out it was a dry run for his next record, arguably his best, the divorce-themed The Salvation Blues. Garrison Keillor, eat your heart out.

via Mockingbird (Go to the link for lyrics and a sample.)

Does any one know any more about this?

Of course, my favorite Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod bar band has to be anyone playing with Lyle Lovett.  (Does anyone have any more Lyle Lovett sightings at local churches?  I’ve heard a few, including one where he explained to his band members why they couldn’t take Communion.)

Does anyone know any other Lutheran bar bands, or any other interesting and seemingly unlikely Christian affiliations?


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