Life-Saving Moments of Art

Drawing of a nesting hen In August, the musical duo Alright Alright, composed of husband and wife Seth and China Kent, performed in our living room for their last house concert in a series of a dozen across the country.

As the musicians (described as “piano-based folk Americana with a healthy measure of art-song/cabaret”) set up their lighting and cigar-box guitars, a number of children played outside in a tree house garlanded with flowers. Cicadas electrified the maples. Adults drank cheap pinot and dipped pretzels in hummus. For many, the next day would be the first day of attending or teaching school. Already, it was a bittersweet, beauty-haunted evening.

And then the couple sang.

With her rich, soulful voice and his tender harmonies, China and Seth filled our small space with songs about quirky lovers, a dying father, child soldiers, and Mary, mother of Jesus. Our usually empty living room couch and chairs radiated with an unlikely assortment of friends and neighbors who just minutes before had been strangers. The immediate, shared intimacy of participating in this music together was palpable: communion, healing, and worship.

[Read more...]

Kent Haruf and the Tie that Binds


By Rebecca A. Spears

When you know people all your life you try to understand how it is for them. What you can’t understand you just accept. —Kent Haruf, The Tie that Binds

I’ve lived most of my life in cities with a population of a million or more, but once or twice I’ve lived in smaller communities of 25,000 or so, where I might run into people more than once. In big cities one person can’t know even a fraction of the inhabitants. So, most city-dwellers cultivate communities with family, friends, colleagues, and other fellow travelers.

How is this so different from life in small towns? In a city like Houston, I don’t have to just accept the people around me. If a relationship with a friend doesn’t suit me, I can move on to other friendships. If I suddenly stop writing and decide to desert my writing group, I might associate more with ice sculptors or entomologists or long-distance runners. Large communities allow people to be more selfish, defining and always seeking their own desires.

In the late Kent Haruf’s novel Plainsong, abandonment and acceptance are always in play. Victoria Roubideaux, a pregnant teen, suddenly finds herself homeless after her mother locks her out of the house. Maggie Jones, a teacher at her high school, takes her in and helps her. Through Maggie, Victoria eventually realizes that there is a place in the community for her, that people in it will love her like family. To get her to see the reality of her situation, Maggie speaks kindly but directly: “Honey…. Listen to me. You’re here now. This is where you are.” [Read more...]

A Conversation with Artist Natalie Settles, Part 1

orn_and_arch_2This post was made possible through the support of a grant from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution and Christian Faith program. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BioLogos.

Artist Natalie Settles, featured in the most recent issue of Image, “Evolution and the Imago Dei” , has long been fascinated by the biological sciences. She makes drawings and installation art that mix highly detailed botanical and zoological imagery with highly stylized forms, like Victorian decorative motifs. Her installation works are interactive; they use a gallery space to create an ecosystem in which the viewer becomes a participant. We asked her about her interest in the sciences, the temporary nature of her work, and the way she uses color. [Read more...]

Divine Drudgery

vanTwo weeks after we moved to the Mennonite community in rural Illinois, a baby was born in a teepee in my backyard. My neighbor Angela was a doula and had agreed to let a friend give birth in her own home. I’m not sure even Angela had expected the full-sized teepee to be erected fifty feet from the double sliding glass doors that looked out onto the backyard we shared.

Really, though, we share more than a backyard. Along with five or so families, we live on 180 acres of woods and farmland and dwell in the seven or eight buildings constructed by community members in the seventies and eighties.

That night, the teepee, straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves, was full of smoke, fire, and rain from the fateful thunderstorm whose thrumming rose and fell in pitch with the mother’s vocal contractions.

I stood at the window early the next morning and heard the newborn’s very first cries. And despite the strangeness of it all, I cried too.

Witnessing an unusual birth, living on a farm, rubbing shoulders with hippies, growing and raising our own food: It all sounds so romantic and interesting when I describe it, doesn’t it? [Read more...]

Wanted: God—Dead or Alive?

305880083_7cf2d7bf10_mIf you practice a religion faithfully—faith-fully—, why do you do this? And why is it this particular religion that you practice?

“The embarrassing fact is that most religious people seem to believe in a religion for no better reason than that their parents believed in it.” So states poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch in his review-essay “Is Reason Enough?” in The New York Review of Books (April 23, 2015). [Read more...]