At the Museum Of Modern Art today.
Mondrian and My Shirt.
Film Critic Brett McCracken, a friend of LiturgicalCredo.com, has contributed a fascinating essay that connects the dots between themes in The Dark Knight and Beijing’s handling of behind-the-curtain issues at the 2008 Summer Olympics. As we enter Labor Day Weekend, McCracken’s essay is a provocative Summer 2008 Retrospective. Read it here.
I spent Monday morning at the tiny All Saints Episcopal Church in Avenue, Maryland. I was there for the funeral of my grandfather, Col. Colin F. Burch, Jr., a flight instructor in WWII and an early engineering hand in the space program and Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. Many of my ancestors are buried in the churchyard. Today, I was thinking about tombstones as crossroads between our lived experiences and our memories, between the seen and the unseen. Tactile memorials usher into our minds incorporeal images of the past. In the process of remembering, we reclaim and reevaluate and reinterpret the past, and perhaps, create new, meaningful works for today.
-Colin Foote Burch
The extraordinary fiction writer Pinckney Benedict was recently interviewed by Image; here’s an interesting excerpt:
Image: You have a novel titled Dogs of God, and in this story a feral dog is one of the two main characters. What do dogs have to teach us?
Pinckney Benedict: Dogs give us an excellent metaphor for our own relationship to God: We can see, from our human perspective, how limited their understanding is. And sometimes they make terrible blunders—which we could prevent them from making, if they would listen to us—because they have relatively short horizons. And sometimes they do astonishingly well, by our lights, on very little information and with no moral boundaries.
We’re something like that—magnified to the nth degree, of course—in relation to God. The way I love my dog, even though he’s a spastic moron who eats things that no one or nothing should eat, and then he comes home and vomits on my carpet: that, multiplied infinitely, is how God sees me and also how he loves me. So I can be aware of how limited and shameful I am, and not want to simply burst into flames with humiliation. What I want for my dog is what God wants for me, times one billion.
Continue with the interview here.
An interesting and sad article in today’s Wall Street Journal reveals that the crash in Thailand’s Buddhist amulet market is due, in part, to questions about whether some of the amulets were properly blessed by Buddhist monks. How is it possible to really know if an amulet has been blessed? The article explains the extent of the crash:
In a pattern now painfully familiar to investors the world over, the boom was so great — some amulets sold for as much as $75,000 — that the bust could only be close behind. A glut, combined with growing suspicions that many amulets hadn’t been properly blessed by Buddhist monks, has blown the bottom out of the market in the past few weeks. Most of the little clay objects, part of a billion-dollar-plus industry just a few months ago, are now practically worthless.
Is it possible to restore someone’s faith in a blessing that did not take place? Why didn’t some of the amulets prevent the market crash from happening, and the hucksters from taking advantage of the situation?
[The husband of Ms. Saranya, a former talisman dealer] wants talisman experts to try to rescue the market by talking up the magical properties of the amulets to attract yet more buyers. “Governments bail out banks when they get in trouble,” he says. “The talisman experts should do something to restore people’s faith.” The experts are reluctant. “Too many people got too greedy. They were producing and buying talismans purely to make a speculative profit,” says Wiwat Nilnawee, a Bangkok-based amulet trader and national authority on talismans. “Better the market finds its true level.”
But was the whole thing fated?
Some clerics in Thailand say the talisman craze has distracted from true Buddhist teachings. Phra Thepvinyaporn, abbot of Wat Phra Mahatat, claims it is consistent with the faith. “People are just tools of God’s will,” he says. “Buying talismans was a way of providing the means to support our temple.”
The abbot blessed the $13,000 of amulets that Ms. Saranya paid for but never received — and he is now the chief target of her quest for compensation.
Within America’s evangelical malaise, ministers send out items that have allegedly been prayed for, or that allegedly carry a special anointing or blessing, in exchange for a “seed of faith” donation. How does one verify that such a blessing has been given to the item in question? Why does one need to have that much faith in an allegedly blessed thing?
To take this in another direction, a different aspect of this topic involves the use of common, everyday things to express religious faith.
I’m inclined to think that everyday things ought to be used — we think of Jesus’ earthly ministry of mud, spit, water, fig trees, touching, and an incident in which he wrote or drew something in the dirt.
From a more contemporary standpoint, on a more negative note, think of all the junk in mainstream Christian bookstores — pencil sharpeners and coffee mugs and keychains with “John 3:16” or “Jesus” stamped on the side, making one wonder how hard it is to make a buck off religious people. Does one have to have faith to produce stamped pencil sharpeners and mugs and keychains? Is it really an admirable sign of devotion to carry such things? If you really want to, go ahead, but only if you really want to, and not to earn points with people or God.
From a more hip and trendy point of view, perhaps more positive, think of the folk art phenomenon, and of all the religious messages stated and depicted with loud colors on sections of old tins roofs, or boards pulled from delapidated houses.
Then again, my wife and I were driving near Tabor City, N.C., two days ago and in someone’s front yard was a small, yellow motorboat with “Jesus is Lord” stuck on the side in large, pre-fab letters.
“That does not inspire me to worship,” she said.
-Colin Foote Burch
In an article in the Spring/Summer 2007 edition of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Camille Paglia wrote that only religion can save the arts. What follows in an excerpt from Paglia’s article; thanks to the folks at Mars Hill Audio Journal for posting it on their Web site.
For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people’s faiths is boring and adolescent. The New Age movement, to which I belong, was a distillation of the 1960s’ multicultural attraction to world religions, but it has failed thus far to produce important work in the visual arts. The search for spiritual meaning has been registering in popular culture instead through science fiction, as in George Lucas’ six-film Star Wars saga, with its evocative master myth of the “Force.” But technology for its own sake is never enough. It will always require supplementation through cultivation in the arts.
To fully appreciate world art, one must learn how to respond to religious expression in all its forms. Art began as religion in prehistory. It does not require belief to be moved by a sacred shrine, icon, or scripture. Hence art lovers, even when as citizens they stoutly defend democratic institutions against religious intrusion, should always speak with respect of religion. Conservatives, on the other hand, need to expand their parched and narrow view of culture. Every vibrant civilization welcomes and nurtures the arts.
Progressives must start recognizing the spiritual povery of contemporary secular humanism and reexamine the way that liberalism too often now automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms. If conservatives are serious about educational standards, they must support the teaching of art history in primary school — which means conservatives have to get over their phobia about the nude, which has been a symbol of Western art and Western individualism and freedom since the Greeks invented democracy. Without compromise, we are heading for a soulless future. But when set against the vast historical panorama, religion and art — whether in marriage or divorce — can reinvigorate American culture.
For something that looks a little like the marriage of religion and the arts, please see our interview with Nicora Gangi, along with images of two of her paintings, at http://www.liturgicalcredo.com/NicoraGangiJuneJuly2007.html .