Thursday, March 28, 2013

1000 Words: Too Disturbing

Earlier this week, I submitted some posters to the digital communications office at University of Tulsa to display on the scrolling message boards that promote events all over campus. Just today, I noticed that they were displaying the one for tonight's Living Last Supper, featuring two of the disciples from DaVinci's masterpiece engaged in discussion, with the tagline "Everyone's Talking about the Living Last Supper." I had also given a poster with David Mach's crucifixion sculpture (called "Die Harder," yes, "Die Harder") displayed in some cathedrals around London with the tagline "Embrace This" written, quite brilliantly, if I do say so myself, in ransom note font. I noticed it wasn't scrolling too, but just figured they would be putting it up tomorrow. When I got back to my office, I noticed an email from one of the staff people in the student affairs office apologetically informing me that they had been running the Good Friday poster too, but a student called and was concerned that it was "too disturbing for display throughout campus," and asking if it would be possible to submit another image for use with the promotion.

I was elated.  What a fitting response to the cross! I had just been speaking with a student leader at the Wesley foundation about the image over lunch (the International Student Ministries Lunch featured it on their announcement slideshow) and how I chose it because it is so gripping and different.  The ubiquity of crucifixion portrayals somehow works to defeat the power of the image, in a way.  We're not really shocked by it, we might not even take a second glance at it.  But for some reason, perhaps because of the prickly coat hangers that protrude from the giant figure of Jesus, perhaps because of the utter agony on his face, this one is captivating.  We don't just glance over it.  It prompts an emotional response, and is therefore great art.  Not that all those beautiful images of the crucifixion aren't great art, but Mach's piece makes a good case for themes continuing to be explored in modern conceptions.  If we're no longer shocked by "conventional" crucifixions, then they have lost an integral aspect of their purpose.  “The figure of Christ is in pain and anguish pierced by thousands of spears, that single body acting as a conduit for all the cares and the woes in the world” says the artist talking of the lowly, humble coat hangers which pierce the figure, acting like a “language or currency common to us all”.
I've read that it is so captivating that it is quite a sensation in the UK, and is drawing people into churches to observe and just sit in its grip, and judging by the expanded works on the same theme, I'd say the Church of England has decided it is an effective mode of communication.  I'm glad the Church of England is willing to push boundaries and display such a "challenging" work.

Die Harder from Peter Zabb on Vimeo.

And yes, I sent in another poster that I was using to promote Good Friday as well.  I never thought I'd see the day when a Salvador Dali painting was the "more palatable" option!  Now the familiar Christ of St. John of the Cross looms over a landscape with the tagline, "Larger Than Life," inviting people to the Service of Darkness tomorrow night.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Hokusai's "Great Wave"

Ever since I was exposed to Japanese woodblock paintings, most memorably at LACMA's wonderful Asian Art Wing, I've loved Hokusai.  I remember one time when I was watching a movie called "Pi" (I can't figure out how to make that mathematical symbol), I was captivated by a an image in the movie of a seashell, which illustrated the "Golden Mean," and when I looked up at the picture on my wall of "The Great Wave," it struck me that Hokusai's wave also seems to be in the same arc illustrated by that mysterious number.  So, in the peom below, I attempt to capture that connection by using the Fibonacci sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13) to guide the syllables and rhythm of the meter.  With this tactic employed, it also became a "shape poem."  

“Hokusai’s Great Wave”

(       )   
The Foam
Circles Us.
The deep deathly blue
Looms like an enormous monster
Flaying out cat-like claws and ready to pounce on us.
We crouch in our boats like turtles
Thrusting forward on
Spearish points
Aimed at
(       )

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon In B flat

There's nothing really "web 2.0" about Morris, OK.  A handful of my church-members have blogs or twitter accounts, and a larger group have facebook pages, but quite a few more have dial up connections or nothing and don't really know how to use the computer.  (They sure could school me on repairing a light socket or running a tractor or birthing a cow though.)  But, since this is my context, I sometimes hesitate to unleash something like the following at church, though I really want to.  So, instead--you are the web 2.0 church I preach to, mkay?

Today's sermon comes with a hat tip to Darren Solomon of "Science for Girls" who created the "In Bflat" collaborative music project, which I heard about today on NPR in the car and pulled over to write a note to myself to check it out when I got home.  (Okay, I didn't pull over, I just drove with my knee while fishing around the car for a pen--hey the roads are pretty straight and trafficless here in rural OK).  The link to the In Bflat thing is here:
The idea I had today (Saturday, which is the day before Sunday) was to set up the webpage in the church service and then have the congregation call out different instruments to start, etc.  I just know something would probably go wrong though: probably get a hang up with my wifi or something, and I imagine half the congregation would kinda not know what the hell was going on anyway.

But if I were to pull out this cool thing (and I still may next week), what I would like to relate it to is the power of a common theme (such as the season of Lent or the key of Bflat) to make sense of or harmonize various sounds or experiences.  So, abiding by a season of faith is essentially a collaborative exercise.  People all over the world are reflecting on temptation, struggle, repentance, mortality, wilderness, and preparing to receive the mind blowing newness of resurrection, grace, and transcendence.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Ocean of God

About 12 years ago, I had a vision of how we relate to God/the Ground of All Being in a sort of visual metaphor that encapsulated many different approaches.   Basically it posited that God was the Ocean, and the way that we relate to that Ocean typifies many different ways of relating (or not) to God. 

Some go out into the water and snorkel or play water games with others.  They are in the Ocean, with their feet in the mushy sand, and enjoying the sway and rocking of the waves, but their attention is also on the company around them.  I would interpret these as those devotees who are involved in a relationship with God, but also with the “community of faith.”

Some go out into the water and kick up their feet and float.  They let the power and volume of the Ocean support their weight, and the water covers their ears.  They stare up at the sky and float on the waves until they truly feel at one with the Ocean.  These, in my interpretation of the vision, are the mystics who experience transcendence.    

Some go out into the water, and either enjoy the frolicking with others or kick up their heels for a few moments, and then feel an overwhelming urge to go back out of the water and try to get others to join them.  I would call these “evangelists” or “bodhisattvas.” 

Some go out into the water to swim against the incoming tide.  They test their own bodies against the power of the current.  These are the religious athletes or ascetics. 

Some have surfboards, and ride the waves of the ocean and interpret its motion in artistic jumps and speeding crescendos.  This is how I see artists such as Bach or Dali or Hokusai or Bob Marley. 

Of course, on every beach, you have some who just don’t go in the water. 

Some walk along the shoreline for miles and miles, content enough to walk along the wet sand in their bare feet and roll up their pants so that the occasional wave can wash their soles of the little granules stuck to their feet.   I would call these the religious dabblers who wander the great expanse of the shoreline, but never find anything compelling enough to take off their clothes and dive in.

Some sit on the beach (in their favorite spot) and admire the Ocean without ever going in: I would call these  the people who like the idea of God, maybe they attend religious services, but have never had an experience of the Water.  They’ve never really “felt” God.

Some feel the need to watch after others' safety in the water.  They are the self-appointed “lifeguards” of the Ocean. 

Some take the wet sand (earth infused with the Ocean) and build intricate castles, large and small.  Some invite others to come and play in their sandcastles, some guard their sandcastles very jealously—worried someone is going to come around with the intention of destruction.  Perhaps they may run out and jump into the waves every now and then to cool off, but their attention is primarily on the sandcastles.  I would say these are the architects and attendants of religious structures.  Primarily concerned with the construction and preservation of structures infused with the Ocean—but not the Ocean itself.  (And what is it that Jimi said about sandcastles? J

Some are so fascinated with the intricate life within the coastline and beach that they turn their back to the Ocean and have no interest in it.  Some are so involved in the deep mysteries of each granule of sand that they have dug deep trenches down into it, ready to discover more and more.  They have dug down so deep, in fact, that they no longer see the Ocean at all—and some of them say to each other, “Ocean—you believe in that hullabaloo?”   But the deeper they dig, the closer they get to the water that has seeped under the sand.  And they may believe they have found something new, but it will of course be the Ocean. 

And then there are all those who ignore the ocean entirely.  They are sitting in traffic on the 405, because there have so many important things to do.  

Where do you see yourself in this metaphor?  Or is there another way that better describes your understanding of God?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ode to Hogs

I don't really stop being an Arkansas Razorbacks football fan during the offseason.  I feel right now like I probably should feel during Advent anticipating Christmas, being a minister and all.  A whole season of exciting games is only two weeks away.  I enjoy the chatter of other excited football fans on a message board, which has become a good stand in for actually being in state and having the random Razorbacks discussion with other Arkansans.
A friend of Lara's was recently baffled by how either of us could consider ourselves fans of the Razorbacks since neither of us went to U of A.  He suggested that we should instead be UTulsa fans or UCLA fans since Lara's PhD is involved in those two institutions since our undergrad didn't have a football team, but some actual connection must be made to the U of A if you have actually attended secondary education and want to cheer for the Hogs.  (his logic holds that high school graduates who never go to college are "allowed" to be fans of the state institution of their home.)   Perhaps his argument is logical, but logic has no basis in college fan-dom.
I remember when we first moved to Oklahoma tuning into to Razorbacks connected us to home as the summer days grew cooler.  I remember staying up until almost 1am watching the Ole Miss game go into 7 overtimes and shouting with a friend on the phone when we finally won it.  I remember two seasons later watching the Hogs take on the Kentucky Wildcats and taking that game into 7 overtimes as well.  (Arkansas owns the title to playing the three longest NCAA football games, including a 2002 6 overtime loss to Tenn. to go with the two 7 overtime victories.
I remember I used to have to go to Hooters at 9am in the morning in Santa Monica to catch the 11am game-time in Arkansas.  (I guess I hadn't discovered pay-per view yet)  These two internet gamblers would be the only other two guys in the place, and they used to marvel at the way the Hooters girls would flirt with me.  I showed them the ring on my finger, and said, "They see this, no doubt.  I'd think they see me and think, 'safe and flirtation starved=good tip.'"
Razorback games are also deeply embedded in my personal history.  They are part of my identity.  I may not have gone to the University (I fell in love with Hendrix College when I attended Governor's school there and met a great new group of people planning to attend there), but I did grow up in Fayetteville and spent many fall afternoons as a 8, 9 and 10 year old trudging up and down the stairs of the bleachers in Razorback stadium with a tray of Cokes strapped around the back of my cub scout kerchief clad neck raising money for scout camp on the Buffalo River.  I'm just old enough to have those last days of the old Southwest Conference embedded in my mind.  I remember I used to get in a rhythm leaning a little bit backwards walking down steps that I couldn't see in front of me for the big metal tray of Cokes.  People would stop me, and I'd pass a commemorative cup their way, and they'd send a couple bucks down the row for me to put in my little canvas pouch.  I enjoyed walking down the steps instead of up them even thought the prospect of falling forward was a bit scarier, because then I could watch the game as I delivered refreshment to the thirsty masses.
When we lived in Los Angeles, I remember watching some games on the couch with a pregnant Lara, and Wesley would jump around in Lara's womb when he'd hear us hooting and hollering about a big play.
We went to San Francisco one year for Thanksgiving, and stayed in this ultra-mod appointed (but cheap b/c it was a like a Euro-hotel with one or two bathrooms on a floor.  We went to a diner in downtown SanFran to get a turkey meal to go, and we watched the Miracle on Markham" (that year we won in dramatic fashion) while reclining on our bed watching a retro, egg shaped television perched on a little table that jutted out of the foot of the bed.  I remember our voices echoing out on the rain washed street as we watched Matt Jones (a run-first option qb (now a receiver in the NFL) make two unusual and unlikely completions to win the game for us in the last seconds of the game. 
When I was in Oxford ('99), I listened to the radio broadcast of the Tennessee game where we avenged the previous year's heartbreaking loss on yahoo radio.  I remember sitting there wondering what kinds of marvelous powers of communication the internet was going to afford  me in my life if I could sit in my roomate's room upstairs on Marlborough road in Oxford listening to Paul Eels call the game through a regional radio broadcast coming through the internet.
Being a Razorback fan is just part of being an Arkansan, I'd say--and you could logically say I'm no longer an Arkansan, since I've spent the past 4 years in Oklahoma, and lived in Oklahoma for another 2 years before that.  So, logically speaking, I'm 3/32nds Californian, 1/8th Missourian, 1/7th Oklahoman,and 22/32nds Arkansan.
Most of these stories share a common thread--being a fan connected me to my home state as I have been living elsewhere.  Fan-dom is a kind of resonating with home.
So, there's my apologia for being a Hog Fan.  Woooo Pig Sooie

Friday, July 16, 2010

Art V. Porn

Well, if that title doesn't get some clicks from my RSS feeders after 2 months of incommunicado from little ole me, I don't know what will. So, I'll break the ice (after 2 months away, I do feel kind of frozen about the idea of posting anything short of a manifesto) with something spiky. Well, to make it easier on myself, it will be more like an annotated link of something spiky. I've really been enjoying the tv channel Current. (esp. Viral Video Film School.)  I just watched this little news clip about a new* sex-art-porn? magazine called H-Bomb at Harvard, and it got my attention because 1)I wrote a book chapter (sp ;) on some of the issues brought up in the clip and 2)BC they mention that the magazine is beginning to franchise out and they mention Boston U, where my sister is hoping to enroll in the MFA program in the winter, and where several of my friends have gone/are going to seminary.
So, a few quick notes, then I'll give you the video. First, I like Current's strive for some balance in reporting. They interview one of the editors, a professor who teaches the evolution of sexuality, and a couple who started an abstinence support group on campus. For what it's worth, I think the pro-abstinence couple give perhaps the most cool-headed and articulate reasoning for their perspective that I've ever heard. You can tell they've had to explain their position to other Harvard students, and that takes a little more rationality, I would say at the risk of sounding snobbish, than the average Campus Crusader pleading for virginity for purity's sake. I think the "hook up culture" really came on the strongest after my time in college, but from what I understand about it (I remember seeing an interview with a bunch of SMU students on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly one time), there is a real absence of a sense of need for commitment in sexual relationships in college environments these days. (Wow, convoluted sentence, or was it even a sentence? Oh well, I'm rusty.) Secondly, I'm interested in the magazine editor's accusation that the general media has a very simplistic notion of what constitutes pornography versus what qualifies as art (she obviously categorizes her magazine as art,) but she never quite clears up for the viewer what makes the general media so obtuse in it's view. Do they not understand that a filtered photograph or a grainy photograph is art and a bare bones video is not? If the general media is missing the distinction, then what is the distinction? Is it because it is made by and for Harvard students, as opposed to Arkansas Tech students? Does the culture surrounding the medium give it it's identity, or is there a "thing in itself" about the presentation of sexuality that renders it either pornography or art?
By the way, as I was writing this, I googled the H-Bomb and found out that I must have been watching a re-run of Current. (A re-run of Current: hahaha) Because this article from the Crimson from 2007 shows that the Hbomb magazine went belly up after only two issues in 2005, and the group lost it's status as a student group, oh well. I'm late to the game, but then again, you probably know that based on the fact that you haven't gotten a post out of me in two months.  I could give you the list of reasons, but I'll refrain.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good lecture from "Theology After Google" conference

One of my favorite profs from seminary (Philip Clayton) was instrumental in getting this conference together, which I didn't go to, but was interested in.  I just watched my first lecture from the conference, and was impressed with Barry Taylor's lecture:

h/t Callid Keefe-Perry