A Sacred Look
May 14, 2015
6:30 PM-9:30 PM
A Sacred Look moves theological exploration into the realms of dance, music, painting, film, art installation, comedy, poetry, and cultural media studies. Here, faith can be found through the manipulation of materiality that turns spiritual quest into poetic query. A Sacred Look is the culminating event showcasing the year-long thesis projects of Tawanna Benbow, Daniel Bodkin, Peter Brook, Jeaser Castillo, Sheri Park, Colton Simmons, Rebecca Testrake, and Sr. Nancy Usselmann. The Fuller community is invited to take A Sacred Look as a chance to be inspired by creative practices that explore and express faith in the twenty-first century. Student bios and descriptions of presentations are below.
Tawanna Benbow is a Masters of Arts in Theology (MAT) student with an emphasis in Theology & Arts (graduate summer 2015). She is a Chaplain and honored to be a part of Fuller’s Pastoral Care Team; and she is the President of the Fuller Performing Arts Company. Tawanna holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) Degree from North Carolina A&T State University with a concentration in Acting/Directing and a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in Degree in Acting from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. She lived in New York where she pursued her acting career prior to relocating to Los Angeles. Tawanna has acted in numerous plays and performed at several regional theatre companies: Huntington Theatre (Boston, MA), Syracuse Stage (Syracuse, NY), American Stage Theatre (St. Petersburg, FL), TheatreVirginia (Richmond, VA) and Utah Shakespearean Festival (Cedar City, UT). Her television credits include: One Life to Live and Sex in the City. Film credits include: Robert Altman’s Kansas City and the independent film Brooklyn Babylon. Her directorial credits include: A Crack in the Door, an original play by SM Wactor, Leading Ladies, an original collaborative script and various showcases and programs; and The Issues of Life, an artistic expression in honor of the legacy of her mother.
I am embarking on the exploration of sanctified passion. Passion is a word that evokes a myriad of responses especially when spoken of within the religious context. Mary Magdalene embodied sanctified passion and artistically I will use the mediums of drama and dance to share her narrative executing pivotal points of her journey: Despondency, Deliverance, Devotion, and Delight. There is such power and mystique in the life of this woman and delving into the fire that fueled her shall prove to be a rich and formative experience. The marriage of my theatrical training and my theological discoveries of incarnation and embodiment begin to lay the foundation for a customized vocational niche. I desire to use this piece as an evangelistic tool to minister to women within and outside the four walls of the church; I want to induce discourse that can illicit healing that will speak to all denominations and all ethnicities. Sanctified passion is the sojourn of a woman whose testimony says, ALL things are possible with Christ; regardless of how marginalized you have been, you are not disqualified in sight of God. The long term goal is to complete a one woman show.
Daniel Bodkin is from Chattanooga, TN and moved to Pasadena, CA in the fall of 2012 to begin his studies at Fuller Theological Seminary where he is currently pursuing his M.Div. in Theology and the Arts. Prior to moving to Pasadena, Daniel graduated from Lee University in Cleveland, TN in 2010 with his BA in Pastoral Ministry and minor in Theology. Daniel began playing the drums at the age of 10 and grew up playing the drums in church. Throughout high school and college, Daniel was a part of three different rock bands and played locally in Chattanooga, both inside the church and other venues.
In 2011, Daniel began playing the guitar in order to expand his musical abilities and to write his own music. Besides preaching revival from the pulpit, Daniel has felt called to carry the fire of God through his music in both the mainstream and Christian cultures. Daniel will be using this project as a stepping stone towards recording a full-length hard rock/metal album of 12 songs in order to pursue God’s calling on his life.
Daniel’s favorite bands include U2, Alter Bridge, and Metallica. His guitar of choice is the PRS Mark Tremonti Signature series.
The theme of this musical demo focuses on the theology found in the parable of The Prodigal Son in Luke 15: 11-32. This parable seems to be a reality for many in this generation. The lyrics present painful issues faced by prodigals, such as rejection and condemnation from others, including one’s closest friends and family. Songs within this theme reveal the heart struggles of the lost and estranged and their longings for healing and belonging. This endeavor focuses on the Father’s calling and his revelation of love for all prodigals. Although the struggles of the prodigals are revealed in the lyrics, the majority of the project revolves around the theme of redemption and walking out one’s life in the authority of Christ; this theme will be the theological cornerstone of Prodigal.
The musical sound combined with the lyrics and melody compliment each other in order to reveal the emotions that a lost son or daughter of God faces. The musical sound consists of heavy guitar tunings, such as drop Bb (Bb F Bb Eb G C), drop B (BF#BEG#C#), and drop C (C G C F A D) as opposed to standard tuning (EADGBE). These heavier tunings help encapsulate multiple emotions, including a healthy aggression after the heart of God and one’s calling in Christ. The overall concept of this project is to show how desperate this nation is for a healing revival and another great awakening.
Peter Brook graduated with a BFA, majoring in painting, printmaking, and drawing from Deacon University, Melbourne Australia in 1991. Since 1996 Peter has worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators, primarily in vernacular literacy and adult training and, together with his wife and three boys, have ministered in Papua New Guinea for over 12 years. Since 2011 Peter has been an ‘EthnoArts’ visual arts specialist with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He has worked with local artists and communities in Papua New Guinea documenting visual languages and facilitating local expressions of the Gospel and Scriptures through the visual arts. Peter has held several solo exhibitions of his paintings and also participated in group exhibitions in Australia, and has works in private and public collections in Australia, Canada, United States, Norway, Papua New Guinea and Benin.
Peter will graduate from Fuller with an MA Inter Cultural Studies in Theology and the Arts in September and has plans to return Papua New Guinea.
Heaven and Earth
Just as worshiping God through music or theological study helps one to understand God better, so too painting and the visual arts are able to help the body of Christ understand and experience God through visual language and symbolism. Though often overlooked, God’s creativity and prophetic voice can be manifest through both Christian and non-Christian artists and their artistic works. Makoto Fujimura, noted NYC artist, has commented, “Art reaches both heaven and earth, fusing them together.”
Peter’s Theology and Arts thesis project is a suite of paintings installed in the worship room used by the Office of Presbyterian Ministries. The works will help facilitate a place for reflection, mediation of worship and an encounter with God. Peter employs motifs and colors drawn from orthodox iconography as well as an array of abstract works from the past sixty years to express his developing visual theology.
Another aspect of Peter’s emerging pictorial lexicon for worship and theological reflection are indigenous designs from Papua New Guinea. Peter is an initiated member of the Gusemb clan of the Kwoma people in the North West of Papua New Guinea. As part of his visual language, Peter has interwoven Kwoma patterns into this group of paintings thereby inviting Kwoma culture in our midst.
Peter’s paintings are particularly influenced by the American Abstract Expressionists, contemporary abstract works of Bill Jensen, Joseph Moroni, Alfonse Borysewicz and traditional Orthodox icon paintings. Whether it is unintentional or intentional, these artists express spirituality, theology and God’s transcendent presence.
Counter intuition is the lens from which Jeaser Castillo’s filmmaking primarily focuses on. This concept plays an important role with his understanding of God’s interaction in the world. When the least likely of approaches prevails or enlightens humanity in a new and different way, God’s essence reveals itself to the world. The Biblical account of God’s counter intuition is apparent in various forms, and in the New Testament in particular, many apply to how humanity should conduct itself: love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and forgive those who offend you. These counter intuitive instances continue to happen in the world today, and reveal the true heart of God’s ultimate plan for the world.
Jeaser enjoys all aspects of film and television production, but especially the editing process. He has a plethora of experience working for TV (MTV and Bravo) shows, commercials, corporate, and non-profit organizations. Currently, he does freelance video production for Google and his church.
Right To Fight
Combat sports and its popularity among Christians in America is a growing phenomenon. Unlike sports such as football, basketball, and rugby, boxing and MMA have made its way into the mainstream of Christian culture as an acceptable norm despite the violence associated with it. Unlike football or rugby the goal is to hurt the opponent until he or she submits or is knocked unconscious. There is no substitution for an injured opponent and in many instances can result in death or permanent disability. The scoring system in professional boxing is highly subjective and favors the most aggressive and violent contestant more times than not.
Some Christian churches embrace and capitalize on the popularity of combat sports as an outreach tool. These ministries host or even participate in MMA viewing parties as a draw for unchurched men to enter church doors. By capitalizing on the pay-per-view’s exclusiveness, churches can now draw men into their doors and hope to open a line of communication between the sacred and the secular.
What tends to be overlooked in this form of outreach is the moral issue of violence. The idea of loving one another and loving one’s enemy can easily be lost or overlooked during the sporting event. “Right to Fight” addresses one boxer’s love for the sport and the moral issues present within it.
Sheri Park is an interdisciplinary visual artist, focusing on photography, video/performance, and found object collage construction. Themes of growth and change are the reside in her art: the joining and dividing of cells, the shifting of seasons, the mystery of maturing. What do the different phases look and feel like? What prompts or hinders these changes?
Her undergraduate art degree is from Union College in New York. In 2011 she exhibited a large scale painting series Genesis and Dreamtime; and in 2013, a series of painting, collage and video self-portraits, As I Am, Changing. After moving back to the Bay Area in 2013, she became involved with Peninsula Covenant Church and Peninsula Community Center. Although she completed her internship with them in 2014, she continues to work and volunteer within this community.
This Capstone project is her first attempt at large scale, collaborative, installation work; she is looking forward to continuing to collaborate with others.
In addition to making visual art and contemplating the mystery of God, she works as a receptionist, freelance graphic designer, and art teacher. Her hobbies include dancing, writing poetry, making breakfast, and sometimes beating her dad at Boggle.
How do we encounter God within our tangible existence as we work and worship together? How is the spiritual present in objects that we touch routinely? How are ordinary objects transformed into symbols bearing divine presence? Different denominations and historical periods provide a range of answers. Through an interdisciplinary art project entitled Today-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, I will seek to answer these questions by reflecting on daily patterns in my own life and that of my community’s.
My aim in this project is to immerse myself, and the communities I am a part of, in a sacramental way of life during the Lenten season. Lent is a long period of fasting and preparation and reflects a day-to-day journey with God. As a Lenten discipline, I and my church, work, and digital communities will collect ordinary materials and daily moments that are normally disregarded.
Created with the aid of others, Today-Friday-Saturday-Sunday expands on the notion of corporate Christian worship and investigates sacramentality. Roman Catholic theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, defines a sacramental encounter as an encounter not just with an object, but with a person present through that object -- as when the weight and effect of a gift comes from the relationship between the gift bearer and the recipient. In sacramental encounters, the divine is made present through sacramental events coming from and enacted within community.
These materials and moments were built up into 3 large artworks: Friday, made of nets and written prayers, installed in a church building and focused on the crucifixion; Saturday, a blog with photos, audio clips, and brief meditations reflecting on the ups and downs of life with God; and Sunday, towels and dryer sheets, the material of my workplace, installed on a footbridge and celebrating the resurrection.
Colton Simmons was born and raised in Northern California and only left the better half of the state to attend Azusa Pacific University where he earned his BA in Christian Ministries. After four years of extensive theological studies at APU, he took the logical next step and became a broke actor in Hollywood where, by the sheer grace of God, he made it into the Screen Actors Guild and was able to pay rent for two majestic years by taking prestigious roles such as “high school background guy #2” in Glee, Pretty Little Liars, and almost every other show featuring teenagers.
Over the course of his time on set, Colton began to realize that he much preferred ministry to acting. He found that many people in Hollywood had never met a relatable, or even slightly “normal” Christian person before and that this could indeed become his niche ministry. Now, after almost two years at Fuller Theological Seminary, Colton could not be more ready to graduate and return to the entertainment industry with his enhanced understanding of how to integrate theology and the arts into an effective ministry.
The Assault of Laughter
I love to laugh. My sense of humor has allowed me to survive so many heartbreaks, set backs and trauma. I’m told I’m made in God’s image, which then makes me wonder if God laughs or if Jesus ever told a joke? No one invites the guy who can’t appreciate a good joke out to parties or drinks, and Jesus got invited out all the time. We don’t all have to try to become standup comedians in the church, in fact that would be terrible. However, we have to understand how humor is a part of everyone’s identity and is essential for bridging gaps across racial, religious and moral divides. The art of comedy is a powerful tool. It’s not just for the immature, crass, or cynical people in society. Mark Twain said, “against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” Perhaps that’s why Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel led to their ultimate destruction. So I pose the questions:
What might we need to destroy in society today? Racism? Political corruption? Homophobia?
What might we need to edify in the Church? A sense of humility? A lighthearted disposition? Unity amongst believers?
Comedy is not the answer, but it is one major factor. I believe if we start laughing more, especially at ourselves, we might actually start loving more as well.
As an artist, Rebecca Testrake wants to make beautiful things. She wants to be a part of something greater than herself. She wants to make a contribution that matters -- that touches the lives of others, that makes them pause even if for only a moment, and that stays with them in their memories and hearts. Perhaps this translates as the desire for eternity.
Rebecca sees beauty and brokenness in the world although her vision as of the past four years at Fuller has felt more filled with the latter. She is learning to hear the invitation to walk as a wounded healer while finishing up her Masters of Divinity with an emphasis in Worship, Theology, and the Arts. This growth is part of her journey and she would like to thank her friends and family who have encouraged and taught her along the way. Particularly, she attributes her grandmothers with instilling a love for the arts in her at an early age.
In her art, Rebecca’s aim is to pull together the artistic influences in her life; her experiences of loss and hope, tragedy and beauty; and her search to see how God is at work in the process of redemption to produce something new. She wants to create art that simultaneously disturbs the complacent and comforts the broken. She wants to create holy space, and provide opportunity for contemplation and engagement with the Transcendent.
Rebecca refers to this project as a Sound Quilt because it brings together a myriad of artistic influences and allows for collaboration with other artists. Using the Psalms as inspiration, this project combines her life experiences and artistic leanings with biblical themes. This project regenerates the old into something altogether new. In trying the new, she has surrounded herself with a community to work, create, and play. The curating of this community is part of the artistic process, mirroring the expanding nature of art. The creation of something beautiful mediates pain. Sound Quilt is a patchwork piece, utilizing her background in performance and poetry to explore the musical quality of mundane speech patterns of human voice. In combination with her life experiences she offers this: speak music.
As a healing quilt wraps around those with bodily afflictions, she hopes that her music will wrap around the hearts and minds of those who hear it. For those in spaces of emotional, mental, and spiritual pain, Sound Quilt is intended to offer comfort, healing, catharsis, or an acknowledgment that they are not alone. Given the brokenness of our world, the artist acknowledges that we need spaces to be “not okay.” Only allowing grief creates the opportunity for healing.
Sr. Nancy Usselmann is a Media Literacy Education Specialist and a member of the Daughters of St. Paul for over 25 years, Religious Sisters dedicated to evangelization in and through the media. She has extensive experience in the creative aspects of social media, print media production, radio and video production as well as in marketing, advertising, retail management and administration within a media production company.
For the past 20 years, Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping them to create the dialogue between faith and media. She has the knowledge, passion and desire to bring the message of Christ within the popular media culture.
She is a member of the Alliance for a Media Literate America and has also joined with a select group of theologians from around the world formed by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in the Vatican to annually discuss Theology and Communications in Dialogue. She gave a presentation at their last gathering on the topic of Ethics in the Emerging Mediascape. Sr. Nancy is currently Manager of the Pauline Books & Media center in Redwood City, CA and adjunct presenter for the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA.
Sr. Nancy’s Theology and the Arts thesis project is a curriculum for a college undergraduate course on Theology and Popular Culture. The curriculum will introduce students to a theological understanding of the more profound human experiences expressed in popular film, music, social media, and online gaming. Her theological framework stems from a Christian anthropology that seeks to address the existential questions of humanity, draw them out of the popular cultural experience and provide a theological intellectual examination through a sacramental imagination. This will lead students to a deeper awareness of the presence of God at work in the world and in common human experience.
Through this theological inquiry, Sr. Nancy adopts a media mindfulness method that provides a pedagogy to establish this dialogue with popular culture while articulating Christian values, philosophies of life and a distinct sacramental-theological perspective. The individual classes will evaluate various media but also involve the experience of creating media that presents a message of humanity’s desire for truth, beauty and goodness. This course could also be of assistance to artists in order to imbue their faith perspective in their art so as to be an effective communicator of Christ within the media culture.