There is so much good happening in the world of theology and the arts. At the end of each week, we'd like to share with you a few of the great things we've discovered this past week from around the internet.
Michael Fryer's piece on the sustaining power of beauty for On Being's blog is as good a place to start as any this week (and better than most). If you need a reminder of why a deeper appreciation of beauty is a thing worth cultivating, read this.
Moments of beauty — be it music, art, nature, or an act of kindness — can take you out of a space of weary familiarity. Beauty, in whatever form it takes, can interrupt a pattern of behavior or a way of thinking and cause us to stop in our tracks and take notice of it. There are people holding out on the toughest frontiers of existence, surrounded by misery, but yet somehow sustained by a moment of beauty.
If all this flowerly talk about beauty strains credulity for you, Dr. Rob Johnston's latest book, God's Wider Presence: Reconsidering General Revelation, will grant you a robust theological understanding of why and how the Holy Spirit is sometimes speaking to us via aesthetic experiences. Dr. Johnston's book is one of the most lucid and rich reads I (Elijah Davidson) have had this year.
When general revelation is described phenomenologically, it is seldom (though it is occasionally) understood as the work chiefly of human reason, but more often as the experience of our imagination. Revelation is something, as Friedrich Schleiermacher so forcefully reminded his Romantic colleagues, that is primarily located not in reasoning (the “mind”as Hegel thought) or ethics (the “will” as Kant believed) but in our intuition and feeling. It is not that we by our own effort conclude or project by rational inference that God is a reality, but that we receive God’s revelatory Presence in the midst of our lives.
If you are already a Rob Johnston fan, it might be because you share his interest in theology and film. The folks of the Arts and Faith online community released their annual themed top 25 list this past week. This year's focuses on films about memory. The following quote is from community member Ryan Holt's introduction for the list, published at Good Letters.
The idea of memory is of particular interest to the Arts & Faith community, a group comprised of cinephiles shaped by a mutual interest in faith and spirituality. After all, religion is built upon a kind of collective memory, enshrined in traditions and preserved teachings and experiences, shared records of hopes and faith. It follows that the list features the work of filmmakers of faith as well as those whose work resonates with the essential yearnings that lie at the center of religious traditions.
Speaking of evidence of spiritual yearnings emerging from the once-thought-secular world, Brain Pickings recently featured a "children's book for adults," The Well of Being by Jean Pierre-Weill. The watercolor-illustrated book looks fascinating.
Succumbing neither to religiosity nor to scientism, neither to myth nor to materialism, Weill dances across the Big Bang, the teachings of the 18th-century Italian philosopher and mystic Ramchal, evolution, 9/11, and life’s most poetic and philosophical dimensions. He tells the lyrical story of a man — an androgynous being who “represents Everyman and also Everywoman,” as Weill explains in the endnotes — moving from the origin of the universe to the perplexities of growing up to the mystery of being alive. At the center of it is the unity of life and the connectedness of the universe, “our encounter with One, well-being.”
If you've ever wondered why we at the Brehm Center insist on the importance of integrating worship, theology, and the arts, this video is as good an explanation as any. There are aspects of Christian theology that can't be understood without the use of art, even those that can are enriched when they are expressed in art, and a richer understanding of God and our relationship to God ought to result in deeper worship of God. The three are interconnected, kind of like how Three Minute Theology explains the Trinty using art in the above video.
On the most recent episode of This American Life, Amateur Hour, Jack Hitt investigates a strange-sounding series of variety shows produced by the military men and women of Fort Bragg in the late 80s and early 90s. The shows were an attempt to convince the thousands of young men and women training to risk their lives for their country to be safer in the mean time by wearing their seatbelts and not driving while intoxicated. The story is also a peculier example of the presence of art in unorthodox contexts. Listen above, or click through for the entire episode.
Fort Bragg army base was suffering a number of unnecessary deaths — so they decided to attempt to save soldiers’ lives through the art of musical theater. Jack Hitt investigates, and tells the story of how this strange phenomenon began.
Finally, if you only read one thing we link to this week—and if you were stalwart enough to make it to the bottom of this list—read this article by Betsy MacWhinney from the New York Times in which she explains why, when her teenage daughter was battling depression, she started putting poems in her daughter's shoes.
What I wanted her to know is: People have been in pain before, struggled to find hope, and look what they’ve done with it. They made poetry that landed right in your shoe, the same shoe you didn’t wear for four months because of your despair.