Monday, July 30, 2012

Art Appreciation

It was time to get some culture into these lambs of mine.

It's not like they subsist on a diet of root beer and pork rinds, and we eat our dinners on TV trays in front of HeeHaw.  They know who Bach and Handel are (though one prefers Tchaikovsky). They have to read--and discuss--Shakespeare, Hugo, and Dickens before they graduate. They chew with their mouths closed (mostly) and one hand on their lap.

But art. They know nothing of art.
And that is all my fault.

Yes, in general, they can spot "Girl With a Watering Can" or Monet's "Japanese Garden." Other than that, though, they have inherited what my friend, Scarlett, calls my 'bad attitude' regarding art.

So, last week, I decided to make some headway in this obvious gap in their education. I packed lunch and kids into the Blue Whale, and we headed off to UT to see Austin's Blanton Museum of Art.

Our little adventure commences as we enter the first floor gallery. And I immediately remember why I feel justified by my bad attitude.
the unidentifiable sculpture made of styrofoam packing pieces...
the ball point pen enshrined in a glass box...
the white paper, blank, except for a centimeter of green crayon...

My kids look at me. I look at them.
We look at the art. The art looks at us.

And I am clueless as to how to rescue the dignity of these 'artists' in the eyes of my children.
But that anxiety lasts about a nanosecond.
Then the Adams snark sets in.
I see the wicked little gleam of mockery lighting eight sets of eyes--which I am sure merely reflects the wicked little gleam they see in mine.

"Look, kids," I say, standing in front of the framed pieces of notebook paper with watercolor paint spilled on them. (I wish I were kidding.) "Mommy's been throwing art away for years."
"Yeah," someone snorts. "Bad mommy."

Alex stands in front of a rather minimalist piece and begins to play docent. She's analyzing the picture--out loud--for the benefit of her siblings. They snicker. I walk briskly past, pretending this pack of Cretans and I do not share the same gene pool.

Determined to rescue this day, I encourage them. "Okay, before we leave this floor, you have to tell me what your favorite piece is."
I'm trying, people. I really am.

My eleven-year-old pipes up. "That one is really speaking to me," he says innocently.
Oh? Which one?
He points. The lit-up, red "exit" sign.
Should I slap the child here or wait until we get back to the van?

The first floor is a complete bust, but we proceed to the second floor. We've been on museum grounds for approximately 38 minutes...and I'm already tired of art.

I'm very thankful for the second floor.  We walk into a Hudson River School of Art exhibit. Oh, thank you, whoever you are who put this here. This is real art. My heart is warming. Okay. We can do this. There's a "Go West" exhibit in which I see recognizable things like homo sapiens, cows, horses.
Flora and fauna.
I get this.

Other rooms on this floor display Renaissance paintings. And there is the occasional piece that makes me stop and...well, appreciate.  But...what is the sixteenth century artist's fascination with fat, naked women? Half of these pictures contain at least one bared breast. And the kids are starting to notice.
Besides, Brett says, "If you have seen one, you have seen...two."

Proceeding to the sculpture room, we are waylaid by an empty room with one bench facing one painting. It's a long, lean black and white of a long, lean woman who has the smokey mystery of Gloria Swanson...
So I stop and look,
And my kids stop and look.
I don't know what's more important here...the fact that there is a good piece of art...or the fact that nine Adams are all standing and staring in respectful silence--in an art gallery!

Give me a minute to bask in the glow of this culture moment.

Then, the woman blinks! We gasp. We continue staring. Mesmerized, the kids are actually difficult to steer to the next room. Be still my heart! A positive art experience!

Moving on to the sculptures...
We are surrounded by beautiful sculptures of 8 foot tall marble men.
Naked, marble men.
These men are eight feet tall. Several of my children are of the four-foot variety. Their eyes are about three and a half feet off the ground...
You do the math.

So, I hustle them to the next room before one of my four footers with a mouth to match exclaims something that will embarrass me....
and we appear to have come full circle on the Cycle of Stupidity, for we are back in a modern art exhibit.
And I can smell Jackson Pollock.
My spidey-senses are tingling.

But I never get a chance to find out if I'm correct. Alas, they want to make dioramas across the street.

Later that evening, I drive Jake to football practice.
Football. Feel the love.
My nine-year-old, along for the ride, is staring intently at something on the windshield. Finally, she bursts out, "Mom! I see pictures in the bird poop!"

Someone pass me the pork rinds.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Real Truth: The Foundation for Real Justice

If Jesus came to proclaim freedom for the captives and good news to the poor, then Passover uniquely belongs to the bottom dwellers.So we cancelled (Easter) service and took church downtown to the corner of 7th and Neches, where our homeless community is concentrated. We grilled thirteen hundred burgers and ate together. Our band led worship; then in a powerful moment of solidarity, we shared Communion. It was a beautiful mess of dancing, tears, singing, and sharing. It wasn't an 'us' and 'them' moment. It was just the Church, remembering the Passover Lamb and celebrating our liberation together. 


I rummaged through the box of books like a kid on Christmas morning. My books from T4G had finally come in. It wasn't the same as actually being there in bodily form, but it was a nice consolation prize. Whoop! I pulled every book out and began labeling the insides. Then a name caught my eye.

Rick Warren.
Rick Warren?!
Hold on a cotton-pickin' minute.
Why do I have a book in my house blurbeb by Rick Warren?
I skimmed the back suspiciously.
Looking about as deep as I might expect from RW.
Okay, it's Christmas. I'll be charitable. I"ll give Mr. Purpose Driven Life one pass.
But, I swear, if I find one book, just one in this pile of wholesome goodness, blurbed by Bill Johnson or Rob Bell...
I swear it's getting burned on the Altar of Insanity.

Some of the books were looking uncharacteristically...shall we say...crunchy.
What the heck?!
Al. Dude. What are you thinking?
I double check with my fellow WOE (wife of elder), Susan, who placed the book order.
"What is up with the books this year? They're looking rather, um, lite. ???"
She nods, knowingly. "Oh, those would be the ones I threw on top. The Band Of Blogger recommendations."
"Phew." I wipe my brow. "I was wondering which of the T4G guys was caving."

But my summer of reading began.
I saw his name out of the corner of my eye. And I was like a moth to flame.
My guy. My theologian. Yes, there are precisely two theologians (of the ones still living) I might just lie, cheat, and steal to meet. (Hyperbole, people.)
Al Mohler. (Ahem, we went to the same university. Just sayin'.)
And D.A. Carson. Drool.

So there it was.
Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson. (And I find out later from Susan that was an independent buy of my husband's. My husband rocks.)
I dig right in. It's an amazing book which, once again. reinforces to me how carefully the Word of God must be handled. God's Word is an awesome thing. And we humans have a way of making an interpretive mess out of it. There are hermeneutical rivers that deserve the Golden Gate Bridge....yet we simply throw a rope across...and put lots of folks in lots of danger.

Yes. The Bible deserves our respect.

No. I'm no preacher. I don't believe in women preachers. But I am a mother. And it hits home how we exegete every day for our kids. We answer questions and interpret and...well, yeah...we kind of our kids. Every day. And we need to be very, very careful how we do that. When our children are young, we may be the only representative of Heaven they ever know. What we say, and what we say Gods says, counts.

I loved it. I loved learning about word fallacies and grammatical fallacies and logical fallacies and historical fallacies.
It fed me. It made me revere God more.
Poof! Finished. Nourished. Growth.
I love growth.

I come back into the study. Circling like a shark around a bleeding seal, I start lapping the room.
"You're looking for your next read," Brett says.
Ah. There it is. Seven, by Jen Hatmaker.
It looks intriguing and silly all at once.
So I pick it next.

Hatmaker is a gifted writer. I hail from Planet Snark (as one person told me), but this chick put It on the map.

Seven is Hatmaker's account of her attempt to shed American consumerism in search of a legitimate Gospel walk. So, she picks seven areas in which she will simplify. Her accounts are laugh.out.loud funny. And she has poignant observations sprinkled throughout. Hatmaker has spunky, passionate zeal. I'll bet she's a riot to live around.

She drew some rather bizarre lines in the sand, like buying locally or at 'living-wage' companies. (Economics, anyone?) But she had some really interesting points, too, like taking seven prayer breaks a day, which really intrigued me.

Unfortunately, though, she makes a couple of really fatal errors. She gives the nod (kinda) to careful study of the Truth. But her gospel, like all social gospels, is about half a bubble off plumb:
Sometimes, the best way to bring good news to the poor is to actually bring good news to the poor...Usually the best news when you're desperate is food, water, shelter.
See what just giving a casual nod to Truth does? It alters the Truth. It moves the bullseye just a fraction of an inch off center, and we barely notice because it seems close enough. What kind of hard-hearted moron wouldn't recognize that desperate people need food, water, and shelter? But what kind of false gospel would adjust trajectory just enough to think that food, water, and shelter is the best news? No. The Cross is the best news for a desperate person. Salvation from our desperately wicked hearts and our subsequent eternal death sentence is the best news.

This is dangerous stuff, Beloved.

Hatmaker again demonstrates where shrugging at scriptural approach can lead you seriously astray. See her quote at the top of this post on communion. But back the bread and wine truck up a moment, would ya? Communion is serious business. It is a sacrament reserved for the Body of Christ. And every careful church will fence the table because Communion done incorrectly causes serious harm. A good-natured, good-time approach to the Lord's Table is not kind; it is cruel.

In the end, there was a lack of testimony. Disappointing. But not shocking, given the kind of gospel she advocates. Lots of stories about people getting hot meals, new friends, and a warm bed. Not one story of anyone coming to the Cross, broken and repentant, and getting a new heart.

Sheep and goats come to mind here.
Notice that when Jesus commends the sheep for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and extending hospitality, the sheep respond with, "Uh, we did? When did we do that?"
But when he condemns the goats for not feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick or imprisoned, or extending hospitality, the goats say, "Whoa there. Oh, yes, we did. Weren't you watching?!"

Sounds like there were lots of prison ministries and food pantries and shelters and clothes closets run by goats. Sounds like the goats were into some serious social justice. Probably lots of soup kitchens and non-profits in the goats' gospel. I'll bet they had fundraisers and boards of directors and marches and publicity campaigns and websites. The "LookAtMyCause/IDoStuff/SomeoneDonate" gospel. Otherwise known as the Filthy Rags Gospel. These people make me roll my eyes.

Then they run to the Lord and say, "Dude. Good to see you, man!" (Insert dorky-cool attempt at fist bump here.) And Jesus looks at them and might say something like this. "And you are...?"

Meanwhile..the sheep just do what comes naturally. Hoopla-free.They probably put up a random unwed mom they met at the community college so she wouldn't have an abortion, gave her a room of her own, and shared the Gospel. They probably rescued a trafficking victim, brought her into their family, taught her how to be a better mom, and shared the Gospel. They probably took in kids whose adoptions didn't work--troubled kids--and gave them a home,love, and security, and shared the Gospel, even though it meant virtual loss of all social life. They probably shared a meal (and the Gospel) with a neighbor who is from an 'enemy'  country and grew up in an 'enemy' religion. I know these people. These people make me look at my white bread life and lament my own utter lack of kingdom usefulness.

They bow before the Lord with a woe-was-me-in-the-presence-of-a-holy-God attitude. And Jesus looks at them and might say something like this. "Welcome home, brothers and sisters!"

Might it be that Hatmaker, despite all her delicious zeal, has gotten it wrong? Might it be that goats do causes...
and sheep do Christ?

Poof. Done with Seven. More concerned than inspired.

I was on the prowl in the study again tonight. His name caught my eye. Chandler. Matt Chandler. And his book? The Explicit Gospel. He resides with Hatmaker and me on Planet Snark. But he is oh good. Solid ground again after a weird, wild ride. And it's blurbed by Warren. Dude! What's happening to Rick Warren?! I think he got saved.  ;)

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Real Hunger Games

Books are amazing things...
really because stories are amazing things.

Think about it.
Stories well-told keep the little ones in rapt attention on the laps of their parents. They can be made-up stories like the ones in our home (Yacov...or Chocolate EClaire...or Moldysocks). Or they can be true stories that chronicle family history like the ones I remember my grandmother telling. Or they can be stories of memorable heroes who overcame something--be it the enemy within or the enemy without--and were better for it.

The fact that there are good stories necessarily means that...
there are bad stories.
Oh, that doesn't mean that a bad story is a poorly told story, though that may be the case, too. In my book anyway (no pun intended), it means that the protagonist remained unchanged by his conflict. That is always sad because the only hero who never needed to learn anything was Jesus. The rest of us have a long way to go...which brings me to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.

I admit it. It was a page-turner. I wanted to see what would happen next. I cared about Katniss and Peeta. Rue tugged at my heart. Cato couldn't die fast enough or hard enough. I wanted to see Katniss take those games and shove them in the Capitol's collective face. I wanted to see It go down in humiliating flames. Oh yeah. I would have stood up and cheered for that one.

But she didn't.
And I didn't.

Written on a fourth-grade level, complained one of my friends. And no doubt about that one. None. I don't think there were any words over three syllables long. Interesting story line? Sure. I wanted to stick it out for the next canon fire. I wanted to peer into the night sky with Katniss. 'Good' literature. (cough) Make me laugh.

There was precisely one memorable line in the whole 273 pages. One. Katniss observes, quite astutely, "Destroying things is easier than building things." Amen to that, sister. Our fallen state makes it much easier for us to be image-bearers of the Destroyer than to be image-bearers of the Creator. And that problem goes back as far as Eden. As my friend Susan lamented the other day, (in another context),"Stupid Eve."

To be sure, the entire tale is a treatise on senseless destruction.

But when I read the book jacket comment, "Unsettling parallels to our times," I rolled my eyes. Nice try at making this story 'relevant.'

Give me dynamic characters. Give me a character with arrogance or ignorance or bitterness or give me the most wretched bottom-feeder humanity has to offer. Couple him with a conflict that makes him face down his rottenness, see his fallenness, his need, the fruit of his life. Walk him through a change that couldn't have come any other way, and we've got a story worth telling and re-telling. Give me Austen's Darcy or Dickens' Scrooge or The Wingfeather Saga's Igiby children. But write about a character who starts with no hope and ends with no hope...and I'm not sure why we wasted good paper and ink, let alone my time.

The Hunger Games offers no hope.
The characters find no hope.
The games will go on; the tributes will acquiesce; the Capitol will win.

If stories can't offer hope, they shouldn't be written--and they shouldn't be read.
Where's the growth? the lesson? the salvation?
And for the readers, where's the 'wow' moment?

Pointless at best; nihilistic at worst.
But hardly the poignant tale our culture would lead us to believe.
Unsettling? Nah. Far too incredible for that.

But as a parent, I'll tell you what I find unsettling.
The real hunger games.
The appetite that this generation has for this kind of story.

And as a parent, I ask myself, "What are these children feeding on that makes them read a story like The Hunger Games and say, 'Oh, that was so good!'?"
I don't think the answer is difficult. This is the generation, after all, raised on a sponge in underwear. This is the generation who thinks Lady Gaga has talent. This is the generation who texts at the dinner table. And this is the generation who is in serious danger of being called The Dumbest Generation, as is evidenced by a book of the same name.

It falls to parents to cultivate in our children good appetites for good things. We need to start when they are young. It is possible. It is possible for a four year old to hear the finale to Les Miserables and break into spontaneous applause. I know. My first four year old did just that. We need to feed them good things which are worthy of their time and their intelligence. That's hard work. But we don't have a choice.

If  The Hunger Games is the epitome of good literature for this generation, we are in for a world of hurt.