Archives For Art and Theology

Come Alive‘ by the Foo Fighters is over ten years old, yet it remains an example of Christ alive in contemporary culture.

“…Nothing more to give I can finally live
Come alive
Your life into me I can finally breathe
Come alive
I lay there in the dark
Open my eyes

You saved me the day that you came alive.”

(Foo Fighters, 2007)

‘Come Alive’ was part of the 2007, Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace album.

Viewed through the eyes of a child, teenager, husband or wife the words could easily reflect the sentiment of gratitude for an abusive/self-abusive person who has changed and is in the process of recovery.

The repetitive  “come alive” is about the solemn gratitude that comes from an awakening. Within it is the mixture of a cautious relief, recognition and acknowledgement that when “good turns to bad”, “good can come from bad”. Accompanying this theme of thankfulness is the apparent rescue, and the author’s proclamation that rescue from the abyss is possible.

This isn’t an optimist speaking about a positivism detached from reality. ‘Come Alive’ is a proclamation and an invitation. Sentences like, “you saved me the day you came alive” could be taken to be a reference to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection as the point of our conversion – our being saved;the reconciliation with God made possible by the free decision of God to dwell among us, showing us our freedom to reject or accept that state of reconciliation.

The message speaks of promise for the broken, from the broken, to the broken.The message speaks to the recovering and those still stuck in a cycle of abuse, reminding them that Inhaled Grace Ignites.

The song starts with clear lines of remorse, empathy and remembrance.

“Seems like only yesterday
Life belonged to runaways
Nothing here to see,
No looking back

Every sound monotone
Every color monocrome
Life begin to fade into the black
Such a simple animal
Steralized with alcohol I could hardly feel me anymore

Desperate, meaningless
All filled up with emptiness
Felt like everything was said and done I lay there in the dark,
I close my eyes…”

From a theological  perspective, the voice of proclamation and victory (one I would confidently say is empowered by the Holy Spirit) is to be heard moving out from behind the pain, and the silent groans which rest in what the author is reflecting on.

This is Jesus Christ alive in contemporary culture.

Within the song there is an active, raw acknowledgement of grace, and the gratitude given within it is a recognition of an awakening, a personal apocalypse, now very real, and very present to the author.

Dave Grohl confirms as much, stating that ‘Come Alive’ is ‘about reawakening after becoming a father. Anyone who’s a father understands how the world becomes a different place when your child is born. I just feel and see everything differently now.’ (Fooarchive)

Although the song is in the end about fatherhood.The overall weight, tone and presence of the song, even with its lack of a clear object, is worship.

It’s the intensity of these kinds of songs, which are created outside the ”Contemporary Christian Music Machine”, that make statements like the made by Kevin Davis, all the more intriguing:

“art and artists are vital for teaching us how to live. And, therefore, art is part of the gospel, whether or not the artist is fully aware.”  (Kevin Davis, ‘The Grace of Holly Williams‘) 

Jesus is Victor.

‘How precious is your steadfast love O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Oh continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.’  (Psalm 36:7-11, ESV)

 

 


(Updated from a post originally published on 5th May 2014)

The Flower Of The Holy Night

December 16, 2017 — 2 Comments

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the United States.

Running with a few ideas for the remaining weeks of term 4, I settled on one which contributed to our encounters with cultures different to our own.

Combining craft, theology and horticulture, we looked at, painted, cut and pasted together the Poinsettia; otherwise known as the ‘Mexican Fire plant’ or the ‘Flower of the Holy Night’.

Poinsettia Collage 1_0

The resources included ‘Christmas around the World Scrapbook {Supplement}’ from Sarah Cooley, a TpT contributor, and a video presentation of Tomie dePaola’s book,  The Legend of the Poinsettia’. (Both worth checking out).

I didn’t have the room to advance beyond this activity supplement and launch into the scrapbook. I was, however, able to merge the activity into a hands-on discussion surrounding the history, theology and tradition.

Poinsettia Collage 1_solo 1

According to the official website for Poinsettia Day[i], the plant was renamed after American Statesman and botanist, Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), who brought the ‘red-leafed plant into the United States’[ii] from Mexico.

‘Mexico’s relationship to the plant begins with The Aztecs, who called the plant “Cuitlaxochitl” meaning “star flower” and used it to produce a red dye. The sap was also used to control fevers. Mexico’s use of the plant to celebrate Christmas dates back to the 17th century.’ (Source)

Mexican tradition speaks about how the Poinsettia came to be an important part of Christmas celebrations there.

‘The flower connects to the legend of a young girl, distraught about not having anything with which to honour the Baby Jesus in a Christmas procession. An angel tells her that any gift given with love is a wonderful gift. Later the weeds she gathers by the roadside to place around the manger miraculously transform into the beautiful red star flower we think of as Poinsettia.’ (Source)

The Smithsonian Institute is also loosely connected to the Poinsettia with Joel Poinsett being a founding member of its progenitor, ‘The National Institute for the Promotion of Science’. An organisation later renamed the Smithsonian after James Smithson, its primary benefactor. ’[iii]

Should you receive or see a Poinsettia this Christmas, its history and tradition are good conversation starters.

As far as facilitating a homeschool lesson that includes horticulture, history, tradition and theology. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Related reading:

Poinsettia care tips


References (not otherwise linked)

[i] http://www.poinsettiaday.com/

[ii] Smithsonian Institute, A Smithsonian Holiday Story: Joel Poinsett and the Poinsettia sourced 13th December 2014

[iii] Ibid.

This post was originally posted on the 13th December 2014.

Mahalia

September 22, 2017 — Leave a comment

No one does His Eye is On The Sparrow, as well as M.J.

For me, it’s the octave dip. The overall chilled dynamic and the presence heard in her voice, as heart meets sigh, song becomes prayer, and another broken heart is lifted to an awareness of God’s embrace.

It’s said that when Martin Luther King Jnr. was overly troubled, he’d ring Mahalia and ask for her to intercede through song. I can see why.

Afternoons deserve a little Mahalia.


Related reading:

A Voice Like This: Mahalia Jackson

Tell Me

August 29, 2017 — Leave a comment

.

Ask me what I see, and I’ll show you battle scars.

Tell me what I’m not
and I’ll show you my old home, and its prison bars

Tell me how I’ve failed,
and I’ll show you my bible,
its well-worn corners, impressed with the mark of a child’s hopeful embrace,
and how, though, lost in a sea of loneliness
that child broke through the bitter dark.

Tell me to prove this
and I’ll show you healed marks,
of how they illustrate a trophy of grace;
the miracle that is this mended heart.

Tell me why I’m not enough
and I’ll tell you of teen intoxication,
of long midnight footsteps away from temptation,
and the gut wrenching sound of the devil’s bark.

Tell me how none of this ever happened,
and I’ll take you right back to the start,
then speak of father wounds,
and in minute detail, roll out the saga of abuse
and the many cruel people who joyfully played their part.

Scream at me that I’m wrong,
and I’ll have to walk away,
for I was there in that moment,
you abandoned your right to have a say.


(©RL2017)

Create in me a clean heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence     or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

– Psalm 51:17

.

The appearances of tended wounds and mended hearts,
offer little room for understanding how tender they still are.

The former dances with the latter.
Perception is distorted by this intoxicated waltz.

Complimented by self-medication
and a patient’s self-prescribed dose.
Complicated by
Its dark promise, its false solace, its temporary pulse.

But by all means salute;
stand in wonder.

Give up your “like”, your “share”, your applause
Gather the wounds, see the marks.

Be sucked in to the pit;
watch the walls fall apart,
as the veil lifts and reveals the devil behind the self-righteous mask.

Time gasps in horror.
Suspense grips the scene from right to left.
From clock to clock,
beat to beat.
From silence to infuriating,

Tick.

Tock.

Don’t be fooled.
Leap beyond the crevices created by human haste;
Cut through the noise of a fool’s embrace

For encased within both God’s command and claim,
is seared into human history and human hearts,
through living Word, and touchable scars.

The witness, not written by any movement of stars,
His “remember me!, whispered,
carried, through epochs and delivered thus far.

God breathed humanity into His name
And from the breath of angels,
their baritone awe is the same,

of wonder,
at grace,
of hooded silhouettes
and impossible handshakes.


(©RL2017)

‘Nothing is worse in times of danger than to live in a dream world. To warn a [democratic] political system of the menace hanging over it does not imply an attack against it, but is the greatest service one can render that system.’

(Jaques Ellul, Propaganda, xvi:1965)

 

Moving slowly with the wind,
.  elements of thread bare rags
.  sit idle on the parched and colourless ground.

Curled up in a ball.
Like a wounded child dressed in dust.

Frayed fabric sways,
shifted by the breeze and its biting thrust;
fragments of its former self.

Silently dancing to discordance
.            bowing to abandonment and its solemn discourse.
No owner to be found.

O dry-eyed,
.                   whimpering bundle;
.                   rarely loved,
.                   emptied of life,
.                   left to lie on the cold and barren ground.

Resolved you sit,
.               begging for patience to fill every tear less cry,

Sorrow heaves like vomit
. up through whisper, heart, and broken tongue,
.     the only prayers are sighs.

O hear the beating of distant drums
From morbid light to cheerful sun.

Raise your head to see
Your shadow in the hands of the One
.       who now stands,
.       and by your side,
.       picks you up to breathe.

Picks you up to give you life;
.  Life emptied of lifelessness,
.     Like day emptied of night.


(©RL2017)

‘And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.’

(Matthew 8:2-3, ESV)

Image credit: Rembrandt, The Leper at Capernaum, 1657-60

On page 291, of his 2013 book, Hollywood and Hitler, Thomas Doherty makes a small, but note worthy statement about the song “God Bless America.”  Written by Irving Berlin from an earlier tune called “Yip!, Yak!, Yaphank!” , “God Bless America”  was to become an unofficial second national anthem.

 ‘as the wave of antisemetic violence [during what was penned by journalists as Krystallnacht], in [Nazi Germany], was subsiding, the singer Kate Smith had long planned to dedicate her variety show program to the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, a solemn look back at the last war as the world stood on the brink of another. Smith asked Irving for a patriotic theme suitable for the occasion’[i]

Whilst it is right to describe “God Bless America” as a patriotic song, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it also fits well within the rubric of protest songs.

Cast in the light of his original intent, Berlin’s song is an anthem for peace. It rallies people of all races, around the banner of peace.

God Bless America” is perhaps also the most significant musical push-back against the onslaught of mid-20th century Nazism, to come out of America during that pre-WW2 era.

Post-1939, into, America’s 1942 involvement in the war; first in the Pacific, then in the North African, and European theatres, this prayer for peace, while still holding its integrity, extended its meaning towards a prayer for freedom.To call on God’s blessing is to call on His grace and victory.

And if prayer is, as Karl Barth asserted:

 ‘…the beginning of an uprising, [a revolt] against the disorder of the world’[ii]

Then “God Bless America” is a protest. It is an effective protest that draws people’s attention towards the great Other. Towards the God, who, in His Covenant with Israel, and it’s fulfilment in Jesus Christ, sets out to present Himself as the revolution against the disorder, that is set in play by false lords, false claims to authority, and all human versions of “ordering” the world, which takes place under those false claims, in total allegiance to those false lords*.

Irving’s lyrics join up with the voice of the Confessing Churches, who, in the 1934, Barmen declaration, led by Karl Barth, declared that any proposition that suggests, or asserts that salvation could come through Hitler, or any human, outside of or abstracted from God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, is false, and is therefore is to be utterly rejected. This is because:

‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying […] The one Word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’[iii]

There are no ways to God, there is only one way from God to us. Founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ. No man, woman, leader, idea or natural organism can lay claim to this revelation that lays claim to all of humanity, without usurping God. It’s not something that can be moulded, crafted and raised in the name of human triumphalism.

Irving Berlin’s song declares that before nations and governments, there is no other Lord, but God.

As problematic as ambiguity and nationalism[iv] that is attached to the song, can be; at its inception, “God Bless America” was conceived as an anthem for peace. It was written at a time when the majority of Americans understood God as the one who makes Himself known in history, as testified to in the Judeo-Christian Bible.

What “God Bless America” became was both a prayer and protest. It focuses, unites, humbles, and in combined song, rouses a challenge against all those who actively seek to do the opposite.

God Bless America” is a song of defiance in the face of an adverse and overwhelming enemy. As a prayer, it becomes the anthem for revolt. Not just against an oppressor from without, but also from within; against the sinful nature of the flesh that exists within each of us, to which God has answered, not by the way of man’s religion, and feeble attempts to save himself, by way of the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In “God Bless America” both the Sh’ma Yisrael and The Lord’s Prayer are heard. If we lean in close enough, we’ll hear Irving, Kate, Barth, Roosevelt and the many others, who, in fox holes, camps and gas chambers, ‘prayed both'[v], we may hear them “whisper their legacy”[vi] to American and non-American alike. I should point out that I’m not an American, but that doesn’t mean I’m exempt from joining in and singing the same kind of prayer and following the same kind of protest. For:

‘Even the “devils believe and tremble,” and I really believe they are more afraid of the Americans’ prayers than of their swords’
(Abigail Adams, 1775, Letters #55)


References:

[i]  Doherty, T. 2013 Hollywood & Hitler: 1933-1939, Columbia University Press, p.291

[ii]  Barth, K. CD Fragments IV:4

[iii]  Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A. pp.23 & 37

[iv] For more on this see Sheryl Kaskowitz’s article ‘How “God Bless America” became a conservative anthem’

[v] Victor Frankl: we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.’ Man’s Search for Meaning, Beacon Press. p. 134.

[vi] Robin Williams, 1989. The Dead Poets Society.

*According to an unverified source, the Klu Klux Klan, only with Pro-American Nazi’s are said to have boycotted the song. The only source I could find, so far, which mentions this, is parade.com:  6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Song ‘God Bless America’ 

Original image credit: Photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash