LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brad Davis, Poet

San Diego born and weaned, Brad Davis now lives with his wife Deb in Pomfret, Connecticut, where for 21 years they have worked at Pomfret School, a secondary boarding school. He has also taught Writing Poetry at Eastern Connecticut State University and, most recently, the College of the Holy Cross. Having received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Art, his job at Pomfret is to administer all things "Broken Bridge," a Fine Arts outreach of the school. He edits the Broken Bridge Review (a journal for emerging adult poets and writers), directs the Broken Bridge Summer Arts Workshops (an immersion program in art-making for high school students), curates the Broken Bridge Poetry Prize (a national contest for students in private secondary schools), and leads the Broken Bridge "062" Creative Writing Workshop (a seminar-style program for aspiring writers who live in Connecticut's 062 zip code area). Brad and Deb have a son and daughter-in-law who live in Brooklyn, New York.

For information about Brad's poetry collection, Opening King David, click here.

LeAnne: What draws you to poetry?

Brad: I am drawn to images and ideas. By image (plain, textured, or figured) I mean a sensory impression, and by idea I mean anything from a concept to an emotion to a motivation. In poetry I find a concentration of both image and idea that is usually compressed into a brief language event. And yes, I am drawn to brevity, perhaps because I am drawn to contemplation, the poem functioning nicely as a springboard to, as Merton spoke of it, thinking into and with the heart of God. I also love the music of language, especially of plain speech. Though I am not as much a sensualist (one who, apart from virtually anything else, loves language for how it plays on the tongue and in the ear) as many of my poet-friends, if a poem is aurally clunky (without meaning to be), it cannot be an excellent example of the art. I am drawn to poetry for the experience of how it makes my brain work: in an encounter with a well-written poem, whether on paper or articulated at a reading, I see, hear, feel things vividly in my inner self that enlarge my experience of the beautiful, broken world in which you and I serve as stewards.

LM: Why should Christians read poetry?

BD: I have issues with "shoulding" on people. Actually, most Christians encounter poetry on a weekly basis, but they don't think of it as such; besides the hundreds of songs they listen to on the radio and their iPods, every Sunday they sing hymns and spiritual songs, read aloud from the Psalter, intone canticles, and listen to the words of the prophets and the poet Jesus. Music, secular or sacred, is poetry's number one delivery system in the modern world, and yet I suspect most believers fail to make the connection. For them, "poetry" remains one of those subjects they hated in high school. That said if there are Christians who, as stewards of the Mystery, understand that before compassion there's the necessity of attending to the culture in which they serve, then they "should" read all kinds of things, the culture's poetry included. And go to art installations and lectures and other highly valued cultural events. Even NASCAR races (poetry in motion?) and music festivals. How can you connect meaningfully with a neighbor about kingdom stuff if you don't know anything about his or her cultural orientations, or favorite music, or the language used to describe his or her lived experience?

I often joke that the best reason for Christians to read and grow comfortable with poetry is that poetry is the highest form of kingdom communication. In the Garden before sin, the only recorded example of speech is the poem uttered by Adam when introduced to Eve. In the Bible's most ecstatic, transportive moments (prophesies, love lyrics, proverbs, laments, beatitudes, parables, doxologies, etc.) the human authors launch into poetry. And, of course, every biblical representation of heaven reveals a realm in which all inhabitants do all of their communication business in poetry. So there would be two big reasons why we Christians "should" read poetry: first, for its value in understanding the world and communicating with the culture in which we serve (see Paul in Athens), and second, because (see tongue in cheek) poetry is the official, eternal, and highest mode of kingdom communication--so get used to it! I joke about the second reason, but it may not be entirely wrong-headed.

More from Brad Davis on Thursday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Joey O'Connor, Part 2: From a Heart of Grace and Truth

Joey O'Connor is the executive director of The Grove Center for the Arts & Media in San Clemente, California. He is a pastor and author of 18 books. He is currently writing a screenplay about slavery and genocide in Africa in the late 1800s. He lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife and four children.

LeAnne: One part of your mission is to create a national network of artists in the church. How are you accomplishing that?

Joey: Facebook! One of our larger goals is to create or be a part of a national network of artists and artistic organizations who want to develop a creative hub for intentional artistic spiritual growth and excellence. As a small ministry, we've had a number of false starts in this area, which is a matter of trying too much too soon. Our best work this past year, in terms of national networks, has been in developing relationships with Mission America Coalition, Hollywood Prayer Network, Visual Story Network, and some conversations with Christians in Visual Arts (CIVA). At the most basic level, we receive emails and phone calls from people all over the national looking for how to connect with other artists and groups. We try to help people do this as best we can. With so many social networking sites out there, we've decided to camp on Facebook and build from there.

LM: The Grove Foundation for the Arts gives grants to professional and emerging artists. What are the requirements? Who can apply? 

JO: Over the past five years, The Grove Foundation has given over $40,000 in small grants and scholarships. We've also helped other artistic ministries in their fundraising efforts. That said, every penny has come from money we have raised through our donors. We have no endowment or pile of cash we're sitting on. At this time, we are accepting no new applications because we're not in a position to release any funds. Previously, the majority of the grants were given to artists, churches and non-profit artistic ministries in the Southern California area.

LM: What else would you like to say about The Grove Center for the Arts and Media?

JO: From speaking to a number of ministry leaders in the arts throughout the country, there is a great desire for education, collaboration, and eliminating redundancies in the Church as well as a very strong desire to create new culture in our society. We need to move forward with new ideas, innovation, and not imitation. We are very committed to helping develop tools and resources that help churches, pastors, and worship leaders incorporate the beauty of the arts in their worship services. Artists are always looking for their next commission. I believe we've already received it: the Great Commission. Artists and churches need to be committed to authentic spiritual formation and community building so we truly will be a city on a hill. The danger is to put artistic craftsmanship before authentic apprenticeship of Jesus. Pursue excellence, yes, but let's have it proceed from a full heart of grace and truth.

Next week: another new feature

Monday, October 20, 2008

Joey O'Connor: The Grove Center for the Arts & Media

Joey O'Connor is the executive director of The Grove Center for the Arts & Media in San Clemente, California. He is a pastor and author of 18 books. He is currently writing a screenplay about slavery and genocide in Africa in the late 1800s. He lives in San Clemente, CA with his wife and four children.

LeAnne: How did The Grove Center for the Arts & Media come about? 

Joey: It came as a complete surprise to me. As a writer and pastor, I have always loved the arts, but I never had the aspirations to develop a non-profit ministry. The Grove came out of a time of prayer in August, 2002, while I was spending time alone with the Lord at the San Juan Mission. As I sat among the beautiful mission gardens and architecture, I thought to myself, "What if there was a place for people to get away and be renewed? What if there was a creative, sacred space for artists in the Church?" After a couple of hours of thinking and praying about this, I asked, "Lord, are you speaking to me?" By the end of my time in the gardens, I said, "Okay, Lord. I'm in." We had no plan. No vision. Only a calling.

Three weeks later, very unexpectedly, I received a phone call, and six acres of lemon and avocado were donated to develop this retreat center that didn't have a name yet. Within the year, the six-acre gift turned into a twelve-acre gift. We formed the non-profit and started doing retreats for artists in the Church.

Our vision is to see Christ in culture through the arts and media. Our mission is three-fold: 1) Cultivate spiritual transformations in people's lives through retreats and events. 2) Connect artists, non-profits and churches. 3) Create film, audio and printed resources for creative ministry in the Body of Christ.

LM: What do the retreats offer? 

JO: Right now we are offering one-day retreats on the actual Grove property. Our focus is the spiritual formation of artists and creative people in the Church. The day retreats are a combination of solitude with the Lord, small group discussions, a creative spiritual formation exercise, guest artists, pastors, and worship leaders...and a great meal. All of our retreats have received very positive feedback, but we pay real close attention to our retreat evaluations. The retreats are not focused on artistic "product" (i.e., what the artist produces), but giving artists a place to grow deeper within the Lord among others who share similar values.

LM: Tell me about Grovefilms.

JO: Grovefilms is the media ministry of The Grove. We have several goals with Grovefilms. First, we want to provide high quality church media to churches across the world. We also want to be very intentional about supporting the work of filmmakers who are Christians. Every time someone buys and downloads media from Grovefilms, filmmakers are financially supported through the sales of their products. Next, we wanted to produce our own short films and feature-length films with stories of spiritual transformation. There are a lot of great stories to be told! Last, we wanted a tool to produce sustainable income for the ministry. We want to show our ministry partners that their investments are taken seriously.

More about The Grove on Thursday.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Quite a Concert

I'm excited to be offering a new feature next week so be sure to check it out.

Today, I thought I'd pass along this article by Mark Gavreau Judge that appeared in Books & Culture about a concert that the writer calls "a holy joy." 

It starts like this: 

"On Friday, September 19, I witnessed one of the most miraculous things I've ever seen on a stage. I use that adjective with purpose; the only way to describe what happened is the language of religion.

"It was the 2008 NEA National Heritage Fellowship awards presentation, held at the Strathmore Music Center, a spectacular concert hall outside of Washington, D.C." Click here to find out what happened.

I wish I had been there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Craft or Message?

Today I want to turn your attention to the blog of literary agent, Chip MacGregor, where he answers questions about writing and publishing. Scroll down to the second and third question. That section starts like this:

"Ben wrote and asked a question that is obviously related to my earlier criticism of Fireproof--"You said that good messages and moral content don't trump quality...but does quality trump message and moral content?"

To read Chip's answers, click here.

On this Columbus Day, may we spend some extra time in prayer for our country.

Coming soon: new features 


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Words to Create By

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." Psalm 19:1

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." Philippians 1:27

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32

"You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world." Matthew 5:13a, 14a

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12:2

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Nigel Goodwin: Missionary to the Arts

This weekend, I had the privilege of spending more time with my friend Nigel Goodwin, Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust. On Friday night, author, radio talk show host and culture expert Dick Staub did a Q&A with Nigel at a reception in Nigel's honor. (Click here for my interview with Dick last year.) Dick called Nigel "a pioneer" in helping people around the world understand faith and culture, and faith and the arts. 

When Nigel came to faith in Christ in the 1960s, he was told that you could not be an artist and a Christian. He, along with other artists who were Christians, struggled with their identity. He spent some time at L'Abri in Switzerland where Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker were his mentors. They helped him to understand that it's okay to think and be a Christian and to be an artist and a Christian. He soon married Gillie, a lovely young woman he met at a wedding, and they began to invite people into their home and listen to them. Nigel says that everyone asks these questions: "Does anyone love me?" and "Is it safe?" He and Gillie created an environment that was safe and loving--a place where people could ask anything. 

Pastor and author John Stott commissioned Nigel to be a missionary to the arts and years later, he continues to invite people into conversation, creating a safe space for them to be themselves, to ask questions about Christ, to gain a new understanding of how faith and art can work together. He is never too busy or distracted or tired to engage a person, whether friend or stranger. He takes the time to talk to artists who need encouragement as well as servers in restaurants who need to be acknowledged for the people they are. He is as comfortable with famous actors as he is with those who will never set foot on stage. Nigel often speaks about the arts and culture at churches, colleges, conferences, and homes. He loves his Lord, his wife and family, and his calling. The world is a better place because of Nigel Goodwin.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Arts Series

Last night several arts enthusiasts from our church met to discuss creating a new arts series. We already have a strong worship arts program but this will be a new series of events outside the regular worship arts lineup. One main purpose of it will be outreach to the community. We're just beginning the planning process but are considering concerts, lectures, readings, dance performances, visual art exhibitions, film discussions and more, all intentionally geared toward different age groups. 

We had a special guest join us: our good friend from the UK, Nigel Goodwin. (Nigel was the first person I featured on this blog when I began it two years ago.) A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Nigel worked in theatre, film, TV, and radio for over 10 years. He trained under Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri. Now, as Executive Director of Genesis Arts Trust, Nigel encourages and supports Christians in the arts, both celebrities and as-yet-unknowns, all over the world. 

My husband and I met Nigel several years ago. A common love of the arts brought us together, and we were thrilled to have him take part in our wedding. Since then, he has spoken at our church several times and will do so again this Sunday. I'm hoping to have some time to interview him again for the blog before he goes to encourage artists elsewhere in the US.

If your church has an arts series like the one I've outlined here or if you know of something similar, please tell me about it by leaving a comment. I know of several myself but would love to hear from you.

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