Art as a Common Gift

Given the several ways of modernist art it is logical to conclude that the production of things to see and read is not a rare or special gift.
—Jacques Barzun, Dawn to Decadence

A casual traipse through Tumblr—an Internet miscellany of photography, found art, confessional essays, and often painfully sentimental teenage poetry—indicates Barzun may have been right that the means of producing art “is populistically distributed to all or nearly all.”

Toss in the explosion of self-publishing, add the pastiche of comedy, jeremiad, and layman picture-snapping that permeates Facebook and Twitter, and logic suggests that if one were tasked with tallying people creating art, it might be faster to subtract from census statistics the people who don’t draw or build or write or play. [Read more...]

We Are All Immigrants

Several years ago I had the humbling honor of sharing my journey as a convert to the Orthodox Church with former my parish, a large cathedral in Washington DC. Here are some of my remarks:

Being a part of this family, and having the Orthodox Church as my spiritual home, comes at the end of a long road of hope and longing for me. For so many of you, the depth of your faith and your commitment to the Church—indeed, your experience of the grace of Jesus Christ—are closely tied to the stories of your immigrant ancestors and how they came to this country: the yia yia who was once a scared little girl crossing the Atlantic, the uncle who swept diner floors from dawn until dark and managed to squirrel away millions.

As a child growing up in a little Southern town, I was always fascinated with the stories of immigrants who came to the United States in big ships and then lived in close-knit neighborhoods where houses, churches and synagogues, and stores all were in one block, and everything, I imagined, smelled like hot sweet bread from the bakery down the street.

I realize a lot of what I just mentioned about Greeks and immigrants is cliché, and that your own family stories are entirely distinctive. But there are some elements common to all immigrant stories, that explain why they have such a powerful hold on us: the experience of losing a homeland, the need to go to a new place and to find a new way to live, the experience of pain, uncertainty, and fear about the future, and the reliance upon faith and tradition to navigate difficult times.

[Read more...]

The Eclipse of the Airport Chapel

The San Francisco International Airport has a yoga room, but no chapel. At least that’s what it looked like, when I was there a couple of weeks ago at six o’clock in the morning: The Yoga Room was obviously a point of pride, with extensive signage along the concourse, but there was no indication that there might be other kinds of religious—excuse me, spiritual—spaces.

It turns out that SFO does, in fact, have a chapel, though it is tucked away in the International Terminal, and is known as “The Berman Reflection Room,” which, as an entry on IFly.com cites, “provides a center for quite self-reflection and meditation.”

Assorted photographs from Flickr, if they can be trusted, depict the space as not much different than an airport gate, with carpet, lines of chairs and window-walls of glass, plus what appears to be a vestigial Chuppah-type structure, and some potted plants. (The website for a group called the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, incidentally, laments that it was asked to raise funds for the Berman Reflection Room, but not allowed to conduct any “programming” there.)

If the cliché that all trends move eastward from California stands, then the idea of airport chapels and other incidental religious spaces would appear to be in eclipse.

Which would be too bad, for I’ve always loved sighting the airport-chapel logo out of the corner of my eye, skidding my beat-up suitcase across the concourse, and entering a hushed space of—well, exactly what? [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Rivers

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others…”

Whether you’re a moviegoer or a reader, I suspect you’ll recognize that passage. It opens A River Runs Through It, and Robert Redford reads it with appropriate reverence in the beloved big-screen adaptation he directed.

It sets the stage for a story about a family living between the rivers of religion and art. And although I’ve always been a city boy, this story set in the great outdoors, has felt like a gift meant for me. In fact, the film opened on October 9, 1992 — my twenty-second birthday.

Last week, I sat my forty-two-year-old self down to watch this twenty-year-old picture once again, and it moved through me more powerfully than ever. Basking in Phillipe Rousselot’s patient, observant, Oscar-winning cinematography, I experienced a mysterious solace. [Read more...]


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