Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dis /enchanted



I heard the song from this short animation on my way home from OKC and it raised chills on my arm. I couldn't remember what it was from, but it haunted me. I finally heard the radio announcer (Weekend Radio, by the way, on NPR> Lots of fun) say it was from the Snowman. I don't know if this will take you down the same memory lane that it did for me, but you are welcome to discover something new at least.
Speaking of Christmas cartoons. I recently recorded Rudolph for us to watch as a family and almost wanted to censor Wesley from seeing it. What a backwards cartoon. I hate the message that it gives. It tries to be "if you are different, that's okay--you're still valuable. But the way I heard it was--Donner was one of those overbearing, ashamed parents who doesn't deserve a kid who has a good bone in his body. santa is a major asshole. There is nothing redeeming about the elves at all--crazy workaholic mindless drones. I just didn't like it at all. I remembered thinking it was really neat, but it seemed stuck--its not a timeless story.

Rudolph ends us saving the day and proving he is useful to a bunch of assholes who don't really change their perspective, they just see that they can USE him after all. In the end, Rudoph still remains deluded that his value is contingent upon his accpetence by his reindeer socity and some skinny fake santa (notice the absence of capital letter--jerk) I was waiting on Rudolph to say, "On my journey, I learned that you guys can just have each other and your stupid toys--I'm going to find something else to do." I also kept wondering where santa was going to take all those reject toys--"I've found a place for you after all," he said. What, is santa going to drop them off in Africa or something? Well, perhaps you don't think this much about Christmas cartoons, and you're probably better off for that--but you might pay attention to the kind of twisted morality tales we pump into our children. Of course, I watched it when I was a kid and I turned out all right......right? I suppose I am dwelling on a cartoon, so maybe I'm not alright after all. Hmmm?

In any case, I don't think there's anything bad one can say about the beutiful short called "the Snowman." It is just haunting and memorable. I got chills when I heard it, and then chills when it all came back to me as I watched it on youtube.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Better than nothing--a response to a question about icons



Hi Joy,
thanks for the question, you know me--I love icons, and questions! The legend goes that Iconography was created by St. Luke, who was reputed to have created the first icon of Mary the mother of Jesus. It developed particularly in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, with Greek, Syrian, and eventually Russian "schools" and styles. The woman who taught me (Bonnie Gillis) learned from a Syrian monk, and I have also spent time with an Orthodox hermit monk iconographer who learned in the Greek style. (Here is his website: http://www.aidanharticons.com/) Let's see, a little bit of history--well, of course you have probably heard of the iconoclasts, or "destroyers of icons" we use the word today to refer to someone who makes something completely new and disregards the old. The controversy erupted in the Eastern church in the first 1000 years among people who read the Hebrew scriptures and found them in contradiction to the practice of painting sacred images. I suppose they have a point from a literalist point of view, but in general the church has never been literalist. (thank God) The iconoclasts would go around smashing icons and painting over the beautiful iconography found in churches. In the reformation, particularly the Calvinist reformation, churches were constructed without any iconography or other holy artwork, and that influence is felt in Protestantism today. In fact, I'm willing to gamble that your churches are adorned very simply with clapboard exteriors and plain glass windows--is that true? Influenced by the iconoclasts and radical reformation! (Also quite a bit cheaper than the alternative)
I love iconography because it drives home the importance of incarnational theology. The notion that some minerals, egg yolk, wood, molded by the hands of created individuals can become conduits of God's presence--windows to the divine as they say, is an important step toward acknowledgeing God's presence and activity in the created world. And I'm all for that!
This is by no means a comprehensive "guide to iconography." I have attached a document that I wrote exploring the intersections between the theology of icons and process theology if you want to delve a little deeper. I've also linked to a picture of the icon I've painted . Hope things go well with your study and I'm glad to hear your flock is interested. Oh, yeah, one really neat thing I've heard about icons is that they are two dimensional because the third dimension is in front of the icon, so in a sense, it is not complete until it is viewd and venerated. Our encounter with the icon provided the third dimension because we stand in it. Okay, and I couldn't resist. I've also attached a photo of another icon. A living icon you could say. St. Wesley the Cutest.
Peace,
Nathan

PS Here's the document I attached:
When I studied abroad in the Fall of 1999 in Oxford, England, I stumbled upon an acquaintance that would turn into a friendship that would eventually deepen my understanding of the Christian tradition. Here I met Brother Aidan Hart, an Eastern Orthodox hermit monk. Aidan was giving a lecture at a college in Oxford on iconography. In his lecture, Aidan spoke of the process of painting an icon as being an experience of interconnectedness. He explained that the use of egg tempura, ground minerals and dirt, and gold leafing to create a picture that was experienced as a portal to a direct expense with God was inherently affirmative of the created world’s sanctity. I had been dissatisfied by what I perceived to be an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on the “world beyond,” and a devaluing of the “world below” in Christianity. I longed for a theology that placed more emphasis on the life lived—one that was affirming of our experience here on earth. I was fascinated by Zen Buddhism’s acceptance and value placed on the “mundane,” such as finding enlightenment in sitting and breathing, or having a bowl of tea. I was not satisfied by “pie-in-the-sky Christianity,” and thought that the only alternative was to be found outside the tradition of Christianity. After my studies at Oxford, I was hoping to make a visit to Plum Village, a meditation center in France, where Thich Nhat Hanh lives and teaches meditation. By a twist of fate, I wound up visiting Brother Aidan instead in the hills of west England, on the border of Wales. Less than twenty miles from the home of my ancestors, I found a home again in the faith of my ancestors.
Brother Aidan invited me to the hermitage that he had been sent to build by the leaders of his order on Mt. Athos in Greece. In between the time it took him to build the hermitage from the ground up, plant saplings to reforest the hills that had been deforested since the time of the Romans, and tend to the sheep that he kept on the property, he found the time to paint icons. He had been an icon painter in Greece, and had built a chapel on the grounds of the monastery that was covered with icons. He was able to share his gift of painting with the church, and use the donations to build the facilities of what would one day become a full monastery. His icons are in churches from the Russian East to New Zealand. In the chapel there at the Hermitage of Sts. Anthony and Cuthbert, the saints adorn the walls in the form of icons. In this way, he was never alone at the hermitage, but always worshipped in the fellowship of the communion of saints. I never knew then that I would one day possess the knowledge of how to paint icons myself.
In the Spring of 2003, I contacted Bonnie Gillis because I had heard that she painted icons. I asked her if she would be able to spare the time to teach me to paint an icon. Fortunately, she said she did and that she had another person in mind who would like to take a tutorial together. Soon we began the learning process in the tradition that stretched back 1900 years (or more) to the beginning of our religious tradition.
The process of painting an icon became for me a devotion—a spiritual discipline. Every week last spring, I would sit in Bonnie’s kitchen or backyard and learn how to paint the details of the face of Christ. The process started simply, with three colors. As I became more comfortable with the brush in my hand, we continued to paint finer and finer detail, until finally I had painted a tiny glint in the eyes of Jesus. One aspect of the devotion of painting an icon is the mediation on the imagio dei. In order to construct a representation of this image, the painter must first spiritually prepare him or herself. We begin with simple shapes, painting the outline of the image—like our experience with God, our experience becomes more detailed as we grow in our understanding. Eastern Orthodox spirituality is progressive—we slowly uncover the realization that the imagio dei is in us.
As I have come to understand more about Process theology, I have developed an interpretation of the icon that I think might be agreeable to those of us who uphold this theological framework. Instrumental to the notion of Process theology is the idea that God acts persuasively, not coercively. I believe the icon symbolizes this kind of relationship with God through the use of the two dimensional nature of iconography. I was told by Brother Aidan that that the third dimension of the icon is not realized until the viewer engages the icon. Icons are painted in two dimensions because the painters desire the third dimension to be in front of the face of the icon, not behind it. Instead of expressing depth, the icon expresses reverse depth—the icon invites you to participate in it. One could say that the identity of the icon depends on the identity of the person experiencing it. Certainly this is true to some extent in most art, but the icon is painted purposefully to engage the viewer instead of to express the ideas or passions of the artist. This rule is so widespread that most iconographers don’t even engage in original work until they have had years and years of training. In Process theology, God is beckoning instead of pushing. The icon sits silently in a distinct location in a home—it is a devotional object, not a showpiece. Its purpose is to beckon one to meditate on the divine, not to broadcast a certain doctrine.
Conversely, the expressionless faces of the icons do not lend themselves to another element of Process divinity: the experiencing God. Icons demonstrate the Greek ideal of dualism. The pain and suffering of the saints may be alluded to by symbols outside the person of the saint, but the face is always serene. In the Christ icons, this serenity communicates the theological blunder (according to Process theology) of impassability. The notion that God does not experience the world is one that has been upheld in traditional orthodox theology. Even though the principle of our faith is that Christ (God incarnate) came to suffer and die for our sins, our theological tradition has rejected the notion that God truly experienced or experiences pain and suffering. This ideal comes from the stoic notion that perfection entails a lofty existence above emotion. Emotion was seen as something of the earth—it was too raw and passionate to be of the divine realm. Emotion was something to be transcended. The saints of the church came to be remembered in icons as those who had transcended emotion—and their faces alluded to this sanctification.
Process theology rejects the notion of impassability—in fact it flips it on its head. Instead of God being the one being in all the universe that isn’t affected by the universe, God is the one being in all the universe that is effected by the entire universe. This notion resonates with me, and I think that it leads us to a healthier and more spiritually fulfilling existence in this world. It is, however, quite foreign to the tradition of the icons. When I was painting my icon, I accidentally dropped a brush with red paint on the face of Jesus. Bonnie was quick to remove the paint and help me fix the painting so that one would never know the blemish had occurred. I mentioned to her that though I was happy to have the painting back in great condition, I wouldn’t have minded leaving the blemish on Jesus’ face to remind me that his face was bloodied as a result of his radical ministry. Bonnie didn’t seem to think that that would be an appropriate element of an icon. She told me that icon was to represent the divinity that pervaded the Christ. It was not clear to me then why this answer didn’t resonate with me, but now that I have been steeped more thoroughly in Process theology, I can articulate why I disagreed with this notion of a Christ without blemish. Why does blood and dirt take away from a person’s divinity? The word incarnate means “in the flesh.” The Latin “carne” is a word that has more to do with the market than with Plato’s divine forms. The message of the New Testament is that God became flesh—God became meat, like us. The flesh and dirt are celebrated and sanctified in the incarnation—why should icons picture the holy and distance the holy from the things which make us human? I believe the actual process of making an icon better illustrates this notion of the sanctification of the natural world—which includes our flesh.
Icons receive their color from a mixture of minerals and egg tempura. What better natural elements to give shape and color to a representation of the imagio dei? The minerals—things of hard, static matter. Minerals are ancient rumblings of the earth itself—some are formed by impacts with the heavens. Egg yolks are viscous, organic, and life giving. They are indicative of the miracle of life on earth. If anything celebrates the messiness and motherhood of the physical world, it is an egg. Though the picture we traditionally envision of the divine is serenely indifferent of the physical world, the divine physical substance is unwittingly attested to in the very creation of that image. Somehow, the incarnate God sneaks into every corner we see as rotten.
I believe the lens of Process theology gives us a more dynamic interpretation of the icon than that theological lens which birthed the icon. God experiencing the world is a powerful message for an age that has seen so much destruction and pain. Icons seek to offer an alternative: a divine realm which is unmarred by our life experience. It is a fairy tale—one that gives humanity a skewed sense of what is divine. The icon’s construction reveals the true nature of the divine. As water gives the earth life—it is also the final ingredient for the icon. Colors are given different shades with the addition or subtraction of water. In the Christian tradition, we celebrate new birth with water—we know deep down that God is as necessary and natural to us as water and breath. Icons are not only a reflection of our own misled ideals of stoicism and impassability, they are composed of our primal understanding as God being present and experiencing in the substantive.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Now this is fun!
IS this fun?
Obviously he has an IQ of about 175