24 August 2007

A Cultural Friday Five

This week's Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals:

I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.
Name a
1. Book
2. Piece of music
3. Work of art
4. Film
5. Unusual engagement with popular culture and tell how these cultural encounters have helped/ challenged you on your spiritual journey.

1. As far as books go, there is much in my faith that springs directly from the books I've read. One that has come up in my reflections prior to nearly every funeral over which I've presided is Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Yes, I know it's science fiction and certainly not orthodox, but I find in the character of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin much to admire in terms of pastoral honesty. When Ender "speaks" the death of someone, he describes them as they are, not in the glowing, saintlike terms so many of us (myself included) tend to use as we eulogize the dead (eulogy being, of course, "good words" in Greek). The entire Ender series, in fact, deals with ethics, politics and faith in thought provoking ways; I've rarely felt more engaged by both story and philosophy.

2. When I entered the University of Nebraska I intended to be a music educator, and even after I felt drawn to ordained ministry I continued to be active in the music department. I spent three years as a member of the Wind Ensemble and played lots of great music, including the Nebraska premiere of Johan de Meij's Lord of the Rings Symphony in its entirety. But the piece that continues to bring me to tears and joy is David Maslanka's Symphony 4 for Wind Ensemble. Here are selections from Maslanka's notes on the piece:

The roots of Symphony No.4 are many. The central driving force is the spontaneous rise of the impulse to shout for the joy of life. I feel it is the powerful voice of the Earth that comes to me from my adopted western Montana, and the high plains and mountains of central Idaho. My personal experience of the voice is one of being helpless and torn open by the power of the thing that wants to be expressed -the welling-up shout that cannot be denied. I am set aquiver and am forced to shout and sing. The response in the voice of the Earth is the answering shout of thanksgiving, and the shout of praise.

Out of this, the hymn tune "Old Hundred," several" other hymn tunes (the Bach chorales "Only Trust in God to Guide You" and "Christ Who Makes Us Holy"), and original melodies which are hymn-like in nature, form the backbone of Symphony No.4…

Out of chaos and the fierce joining of opposite comes new life and hope. From this impulse I used "Old Hundred," known as the Doxology – a hymn of praise to God; Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow, Gloria in excelsis Deo – the mid-sixteenth century setting of Psalm 100. Psalm 100 reads in part:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord
with gladness; come before His presence with singing... Enter into
His gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be
thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

3. Salvador Dali's The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus has always intrigued and challenged me. There's a majesty to this painting, especially when one considers that the original is more than 14 feet tall. The imagery is complex and I'll admit that I know little of the analysis needed to fully appreciate this work of art. But it reeks of both grandeur and empire, which would obviously seem to speak to our modern context, wouldn't they?

4. American Beauty is not a happy film. It isn't inspiring, fulfilling, redemptive or even remotely enjoyable in the traditional sense by which I measure movies. But I've yet to discover a film that better captures the absolutely hollow nature of so many 20th and early 21st century Americans. Gorgeous on the outside and without substance within - isn't this why, in a time of unrivaled prosperity, we suffer more depression than anyone else?

5. I really don't have any engagements with popular culture - we don't run in the same crowds. J But I did have an unusual engagement in theater this summer: I played the atheistic journalist E.K. Hornbeck in our community theater's production of Inherit the Wind. Hornbeck was based upon Baltimore's H.L. Mencken, the critic who wrote scathing reviews of the "Scopes Monkey Trial" to a national audience. Even though I don't share Hornbeck's distaste for matters spiritual, I did find myself relishing the pointed barbs he loosed against hypocrisy, religious zealotry and ignorance; even though Hornbeck wasn't a sympathetic character, he was definitely interesting to play and (I hope) observe from the audience!

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Yes, I think so. I've always said that my primary sermon aid is a daily newspaper, though I'll admit I'm growing tired of the self-serving aspect of the media, especially the television media (are you listening, CNN?). I would say rather that engagement is essential to ministry - it's like learning the dialect in a foreign country, so that you can communicate more clearly.


  1. I like your engagement with "inherit the wind." And the painting....very good!
    I don't believe you when you say you and "popular culture" don't run in the same circles!

  2. I have a print of that Dali work hanging in my home. The original is an outstanding piece - so grand in so many ways . . . Dali has been popularized on college campuses by his paintings of melting clocks and the like, but his The Discovery of America, Ecumenical Council, Last Supper, and others are just moving. Prints of a few of his religious sketches hang in my home and office . . .

  3. okay i so laughed when i saw your culture club reference...80's child you must be. now... we also have in common that i was in an Inherit the Wind production - about 10 yrs ago... played the teacher's girlfriend/wife whatever... been too long ago. good play.

    AND Dali? wow. he blows my mind and there's so much to be grasped although his depticion of the lord's supper entirely creeps me out.

  4. Yeah, I am getting tired of the nature of journalists etc... but I keep listening to opposing points of view just to keep my mind nimble. :)

    Great play - enjoyed the Dali pic.

    BTW I did prefer the books to the movie of Hitchhikers but hey - it was the point of the movie I responded to. I like the older British version better anyway. Zaphod in the new version reminds me of a president from Crawford.. did I say that?

  5. The Lord of the Rings Symphony was fun. The Maslanka was INCREDIBLE! One of my top musical moments.


  6. Aaron - didn't we do a piece that had something to do with the Dali painting? I seem to remember that's how I was introduced to it. BTW, you can download Symphony #4 on iTunes.

    Deb - big head or little head? ;-)

    HCL - I thought Boy George was cool - what the hell was wrong with us?

    Chris - Persistence of Memory is interesting, but like you, the religious works are more intriguing to me.

    Diane - tell my confirmation class what you just said! :-)