More Incisive, More Powerful, More Permanent: Cast Your Vote for Image!

selfie2webA political season is upon us. I’m guessing that whatever your party affiliation or philosophical persuasion, right about now you are frustrated and anxious about the political process. Yes, democracy is messy, but the amount of anger, fear-mongering, and divisiveness out there is leading many to cynicism and despair.

Millions of votes have been cast, but have they moved us toward a better place?

Since I’m a writer, I got curious about the root of the word “vote” and was surprised by what I found. It comes from the Latin word meaning “to vow” or “to desire.” One of its earliest uses in the West was “to assign by a vow; to devote religiously.” Hence “devoted” and also “devout.” Maybe if we saw our votes as vows we’d cast them more wisely, not in anger or frustration. But now is the time to recall what some of us have been pointing out over the last thirty years:

Culture is upstream from politics.

Ultimately, the stories we tell and symbols we use to understand ourselves are what will shape the political debates.

Beauty, with its expression in art, is one of the most powerful shapers of culture. At last year’s MusicCares tribute to Bob Dylan, Jimmy Carter said, “There’s no doubt that his words of peace and human rights are much more incisive and much more powerful and much more permanent than the words of any president of the United States.”

Art teaches us to pay attention to the small quiet moments, the daily decisions, the seemingly insignificant gestures that make us human. Art is unafraid to look at the worst things about us—but it’s also able to show us the overlooked good in humanity. It gives us a language to speak and share these things.

And in an election year, this is refreshing news.

If you looked at the past few issues of Image for clues about our age, you’d come up with a pretty different picture than you’d get from this year’s election coverage:

• A young poet, who is also a pastor, reads the body language of his congregants and listens to the deeper desire for connection beneath every conversation.
• A six-year-old girl begins asking her father questions about the world that make him realize how much we can love a thing we don’t understand.
• A car crash victim, the daughter of immigrants, is mystically connected to the boy who receives her transplanted heart.
• An elderly Christian statesman visits a dying Jewish philosopher in Jerusalem.

The truth is that we are “voting” every day of our lives, by the way we live. At Image we believe that a life nourished by art, faith, and mystery does have an impact on our world.

Image’s approach to the world—ecumenical, interfaith, seeking out beauty, finding new ways to explore ancient faiths, inviting others to become attuned to the rhythms of slow culture, generating meaningful dialogue—stands in stark contrast to the current political climate, which is divisive, hyperbolic, and fearful, with an eye always on the next news cycle.

In the spirit of this mission, we now write with a request. In a very special way, we are asking you now to cast your vote for Image.

We are asking you to make that vow, show your devotion, and cast your vote with a financial contribution.

Image needs your financial support. The need is real! While our readers tell us that the quality of our magazine has never been better, our donations, which are used to fund operations beyond the subscription revenue, are not keeping up with our costs. This is especially true for the months of May through September.

I trust you know how hardworking the Image staff is, and how much programming we put out into the world: a world-class journal, a beloved summer workshop, a postgraduate fellowship and an undergraduate fellowship, an acclaimed blog, a gorgeous website, and an email newsletter that goes out to 8,000 subscribers.

We work our hearts out because we believe in Image, which you have voted for time and again. For that we are grateful beyond words.

Cast a vote today that you don’t have to feel ambivalent about.

Vote for art, faith, and mystery. Vote for slow culture and the space that imagination carves out where we can meet and come to a deeper understanding of our common humanity.

Thank you, now and always.


Click here to vote for Image! (US) | (Cananda)
Check out the current delegate map here!

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Image above by Aubrey Allison.

Canada: Detroit’s Southerly Neighbor

Detroit RiverDetroit is the only major city in America, people will tell you (even if you haven’t asked), where you drive south to get to Canada. The southerly orientation of our otherwise-northern neighbor is due to an odd strip of Canada that squeezes in between Lake Huron and Lake Erie. That strip extends all the way to the outskirts of the Motor City. There, just across the Detroit River, is the city of Windsor, which is located in Ontario, which is a province of Canada.

You can stand at the bottom end of Belle Isle—a Detroit city park on a small island connected to the rest of the city by a bridge—and observe, if you are so inclined, the goings-on in Canada just a stone’s throw away. (You are not encouraged, however, actually to throw stones.) That man jogging along the path just across the water there? He’s a Canadian.

Why is it so striking, this Canadian proximity? One answer is that we’re in Detroit, and Detroit, more even than other American cities, seems to be so very much an American city. Perhaps this is because of Motown, that most American of American Pop music. Perhaps it is because of cars, American cars: General Motors, Chrysler, Ford. [Read more…]

I Am a Digital Man

mobile-apps-pile-ss-1920I couldn’t record it in my Flava journal app because the transformation happened slowly, like any great change of being. The epiphany, if that’s what it was, only marked my awareness of what had been accomplished through the myriad invisible operations of life. There is mystery yet.

I remember one day at church, a friend mentioned a place to look for work, and, almost without thinking, my hand whipped out my phone and opened Evernote. My hand knew what my mind didn’t: that I have gotten used to thinking “there’s an app for that.” [Read more…]

Kolam: The Beauty of Uselessness

Kolam, IndiaThis one’s for Carin Ruff, and by way of answering my niece Kate’s question.

A little more than twenty years ago, I spent a summer traveling around India under the auspices of the Fulbright-Hays program, a summer fellowship grant program for teachers. Over the course of about six weeks, we traveled to some twelve cities, from the very feet of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.

India seems far nearer now than it was then; when our group visited, the country was in the final days of an old-style Socialist economy, and it was before the boom in the country’s tech sector—which had already started—had achieved a generalized reputation abroad.

It was before India became the home of the world’s customer service call centers, and before the ubiquity of the “mobile phone” revolution: I recall a hot afternoon in Chennai (which was then still called Madras) when I had to walk three blocks to a telephone office and pay in cash to wait for an operator to connect me to an international trunk line.

On that trip, I saw the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort, and the erotic temples of Khajuraho—the whole UNESCO package. But what I remember more vividly, and fondly, are the little things: the reusable cups given out by the “air hostesses” on Indian Airlines and the dogs that waited in front of sidewalk shrines where shirtless Brahmin priests performed puja— acts of reverence to the divine—as though they, the dogs, were praying. [Read more…]

Poetry as a Weapon of Jihad

open qu'ran“Strap on a suicide vest? Join a global mission whose leaders preach hatred and acts of violence against civilians? Spurn the traditions of one’s own community in favor of radicalization? Jihadis face a hard sell. By definition, poetry is a way to say what cannot be said in ordinary terms.”

I sat stunned after reading this online last week. The writer knows whereof he speaks; he is Professor Flagg Miller, author of a book on the Bin Laden tapes. Here, he’s affirming the thesis of a chapter in Oxford Professor Elisabeth Kendall’s forthcoming book, Twenty-first Century Jihad. In this chapter, called “Yemen’s al-Qaida and Poetry as a Weapon of Jihad,”Kendall writes:

The power of poetry to move Arab listeners and readers emotionally, to infiltrate the psyche and to create an aura of tradition, authenticity and legitimacy around the ideologies it enshrines make it a perfect weapon for militant jihadist causes. [Read more…]