Saturday, March 21, 2009

"I've Found Grace Inside a Sound"

I just found a well-written article (HT: Jeffrey Overstreet) by Jeff Keuss about the comedy of U2's new album No Line on the Horizon. He uses Gustav Freytag's "pyramid" to trace the arch of U2's whole body of work, focusing primarily on No Line and its comic movement. Keuss articulates well what I was trying to say in fewer words in a previous post, paying special attention to the "sound" motif throughout the album.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Poetic Preachers

I just found out about a recently published book by M. Craig Barnes called The Pastor as Minor Poet. I've been wondering when someone would publish such a book (of course, Eugene Peterson has done so--just not so directly--just not books aimed directly at pastors). As a friend of mine once said, "There needs to be preachers who are poets." Amen. We need pastors who view the world poetically as opposed to merely scientifically, legally, factually, etc. Though I've not read Barnes' book, it looks promising from a quick perusal of the table of contents.

Speaking of poetic of the most poetic preachers I've ever had the privilege of hearing over a long period of time is Skip Ryan, formerly of Park Cities Presbyterian Church (where my wife and I met) and now Chancellor of Redeemer Seminary.

I am always a little leery of allowing the sermon to be so central to worship. We are, after all, more than minds and worship has to do just as much with our bodies as it does our brains (hence, we kneel, stand, smell the wine of the communion cup, etc.). Skip understood this, I believe. I remember him saying, a la Dorothy Sayers probably, that the whole worship service is a drama--a space created where we can encounter God through the sacraments, Scripture, fellowship, etc. We, in the fullness of our humanity, encounter the God who became flesh. Because that mystery was central to his preaching, Skip's sermons took on the character of poetry: he used language, rhythm, and his gravitas in such a way that the sermon left you with a deeper sense of awe and conviction. Listen to his sermons if you have a chance. They're worth your time. You can find them here.

(Skip Ryan meeting Bono in 2006)

Friday, March 06, 2009

RIP Horton Foote and Musings on U2's New Album

I heard last night that Horton Foote (March 14, 1916 – March 4, 2009) died a couple of days ago. If you don't know Horton Foote, you should really check out his screenwriting chops. He's also known for writing the Academy Award-winning Tender Mercies (one of my personal all-time favorite films and filmed near my home town--the rolling prairie land that makes up its geographical setting fills me with longing too deep for words...memory, dreams, Sehnsucht).

On another note...U2's No Line on the Horizon is quite the record. When I first heard it, I was dubious. I thought, "Ah, their music's gettin' soft...what is this poppy stuff." But then, through more listening, I think No Line is a truly comic album: an album that celebrates "love" that "can heal such a scar." This sentiment expresses a perfect answer to Achthung Baby's "Love is clockworks and cold steel / Fingers too numb to feel...Love is drowning in a deep well /All the secrets, and no one to tell./ Take the money, honey...Blindness." The former is the hopeful answer to the tragic limitations found in the latter's disordered love (HT to my friend and colleague, Brett, for that last thought). Bono has progressed as a writer, his artistic vision moving toward the wholeness of the time when heaven and earth will be one--as in "no line on the horizon."

If you don't own No Line already, give it a listen at U2's Myspace page. It has free streaming of the whole album. I'll leave you with a live version of the title song "No Line on the Horizon."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Spotlight on Poetry: Richard Wilbur's “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra”

Today, I attended an AP conference where I got to listen to a retired teacher talk about one of my favorite poets, Richard Wilbur. Though I am fairly familiar with his work, I had not read read the poem you will find below. Please read it. It looks daunting and, well, it is, for the most part. But it will reward you. Spend some time with it. Look up words you don't know. You'll be glad you did. Hint: the speaker is thinking about two different fountains he's seen in Italy. Also, Don't read right past the reference to St. Francis.

Oh, I tried to get Blogger to copy the poem in stanzaic form, but it refused. It you want the poem with all it's stanzas, here it is.

“A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra

Under the bronze crown

Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet

A serpent has begun to eat,

Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down

Past spattered mosses, breaks

On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills

The massive third below. It spills

In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes

A scrim or summery tent

For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.

Happy in all that ragged, loose

Collapse of water, its effortless descent

And flatteries of spray,

The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,

Watching, about his shaggy knees,

The goatish innocence of his babes at play;

His fauness all the while

Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh

Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh

In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile

Bent on the sand floor

Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come

And go in swift reticulum,

More addling to the eye than wine, and more

Interminable to thought

Than pleasure’s calculus. Yet since this all

Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,

Must it no be too simple? Are we not

More intricately expressed

In the plain fountains that Maderna set

Before St. Peter’s – the main jet

Struggling aloft until it seems at rest

In the very act of rising, until

The very wish of water is reversed,

That heaviness borne up to burst

In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill

With blaze, and then in gauze

Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine

Illumined version of itself, decline,

And patter on the stones its own applause?

If that is what men are

Or should be, if those water-saints display

The pattern of our arête*,

What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,

Spangled, and plunging house?

They are at rest in fullness of desire

For what is given, they do not tire

Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse

And riddled pool below,

Reproving our disgust and our ennui

With humble insatiety.

Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow

Before the wealthy gate

Freezing and praising, might have seen in this

No trifle, but shade of bliss –

That land of tolerable flowers, that state

As near and far as grass

Where eyes becomes the sunlight, and the hand

Is worthy of water: the dreamt land

Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.

* ancient Greek term used to describe "excellence" or the pursuit of the highest limits of human potential

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Quick Evaluation of Benjamin Button

Spoiler Alert: This post contains details pertaining to the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I haven't been able to get out and see many of the films that have been nominated for the Academy Award's "Best Picture," but Jana and I were able recently to drop the little one off at the folks so we could go watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. We wanted to see Slumdog Millionaire, but it was not showing in the part of town we were visiting, so we settled for Benjamin Button.

I have read various judgments of the Academy's nominations and many of them have been highly critical--including this one. I have to say, after seeing Benjamin Button, I tend agree with these nay-sayers.

The main problem with film--besides the fact that its been done before (see Forrest Gump)--is that Benjamin is so uninteresting. He doesn't change. Actually, I take that back: he does change, but the change is only skin deep--quite literally. He goes from ancient-ugly-infant to a weird A River Runs Through It Brad Pitt to adolescent-trying-figure-himself-out to cuter infant. But that's it. He's a manchild all the way through and static; his co-star Cate Blanchett's character (i.e. Benjamin's "Jen-nay") is more interesting with her moving to New York, talking about D.H. Lawrence, and having a career-ending accident. Her struggle is more internal, and she seems a bit more complex and therefore, interesting.

Also, I am not sure why Hurricane Katrina in the frame story is so important. Is it there simply for context--to let us know that the frame story takes place in recent years? Fine. But when the waters from the broken levees begin to flood the basement where the clock, which is so central to the story, is stored, you being to think Katrina is supposed to represent something more than just a backdrop to the present-day story.

I am not always this critical of the Academy. I was pleased with No Country for Old Men's selection last year. But then again, there have been other years when the Best Picture went to more mediocre fare.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Throw Down Your Heart

I just found out about this documentary coming out this Spring. In it, Bela Fleck (you should know him and his music if you do not) takes the banjo back to Africa, where it is believed this beautiful instrument originated, to play with African musicians from all over the continent.

There are not many instruments that "send the chills down my spine," as I heard Bill Monroe once say, like the banjo. Its history also interests me given that it was brought over by slaves and eventually became a core instrument of bluegrass, country, etc.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's Been a Really Looong Time...

It's been a really long time since I posted anything on this blog. I had pretty much given up on it. What, with taking on new teaching duties and adopting the cutest baby in the world, I've had little time for such superfluous activities. But, hey, here I am taking some steps back into the blogosphere.

I thought I would re-christen this weblog by posting a copy of the poem that inspired its name. It captures, I think, the single most common theme running through the lives of all men and women and children: limitation.

I was reminded the other day of why this fact of life is of such interest to me when I was listening to some old radio interviews with Rich Mullins. In one of them, he points out that that most blessed of gifts we have been given, friendship, is not a cure for loneliness: that even in the most intimate moments with an Other, there is something undone, something not-yet-united, something incomplete. This absence, or lack, is always there lurking underneath all the fluttering emotions and the activities of the glands (a la Faulkner) that often accompany our many and varied experiences--including friendship. It's that lack, which works itself out into a holy "restlessnesse" (see the poem below), that is central to this blog.

As Herbert depicts below, we are body and spirit, and though these two forces are meant to live in harmony, they often are at odds. Moreover, though the Incarnation reaffirms our life in the body, we will never, in this age of the "inaugurated eschaton" (thanks, NT Wright, for that apt term), find rest-wholeness-unity in its complete and final form. This blog is borne out of that restlessness and the urge it creates to continue to explore God's wonderful (literally) world, looking for signs of wholeness, beauty, truth--signposts of that wholeness to come--even in the midst of darkness and brokenness--especially in the midst of the darkness and brokenness.

So, one of the signposts I hope to continue exploring on this blog is art in all its forms: poetry, prose, music, painting, design, etc. The postings may be sparse, but I plan to at least be "faithful" (wow, that feels silly--faithful to a blog).

Enjoy and see you 'round the 'sphere.


WHEN God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by ;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can :
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way ;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure :
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone, of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottome lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts in stead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature :
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse :
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.

~ George Herbert