Monday, August 18, 2014

Lessons for Filmmakers

Tired of cheesy Christian family films? Here's a great summary of what does and does not work in the faith-revealing storytelling process.

On Restlessness

It is a strange thing how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs can be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure. —Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Visual Theology

"A wedding is planned: and it will require all of our senses, and all of the arts. What wedding have you attended that did not include all of the arts: dance, poetry, design, fashion, culinary crafts? By advocating for the arts, we are planning for the Cosmic Wedding to come. Christians are Wedding Planners. The nard, the precious perfume of Mary, spreads with its extravagant, sacrificial aroma to anoint the Bridegroom.  'She has done a beautiful things to me,'  Jesus commended Mary's act.  'Whenever the Gospel is told, what she has done will also be told' (Mark 15). May that be true of us." —  Makoto Fujimura

Read the entire article about Visual Theology.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Look, Ma!

It may not be the Rolling Stone, but it's the cover...

Friday, August 08, 2014

Save the Date

What: All about Influence Conference
Who: Women in leadership of any kind
When: Monday, Nov 17
Where: Campus of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas   
What else: I'm booked to do a workshop on expanding your influence through publication
Hope to see you there!
You can register and get more details by following the link.

All about Influence: A Women’s Leadership Conference

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, August 04, 2014

What Our "Son" Is Doing Now

We met Carlos in Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1995. He came into our lives when we longed for children and he longed for spiritual training. By the time we had a daughter and he was coming to Dallas to seminary, he lived with us for long enough to introduce our daughter to Spanish soap operas. (He said are much cleaner than US versions.) Years later,  having lost both parents, Carlos honored us by asking us to be the parents of the groom at his wedding. For those who have followed our family and his progress through the years, check out who this wonderful young man has become. Amamos ama Carlos!

Friday, August 01, 2014

Introverts Arise

Ever visit a different country and find yourself wishing the Americans you run into were less boisterous? Do you want them to tone it down when they guffaw in the subways or talk louder than everyone else in the room? Not everybody values “outgoing and friendly” as much as Americans. Sometimes the very extroversion we view as an asset in the West looks like arrogance or socially inept behavior in the East.

So it turns out it's not just the East that feels that way. 

A few years ago a book by introvert Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, hit the stands, and people have been talking about it ever since. I heard about it from my introverted "daughter-in-law," Karla, who drew on it in her master's thesis about the ideal size of small groups for producing true life change. She concluded that big groups were fine for extroverts, but introverts wouldn't compete. So smaller is better: "Where two or more are gathered…" 

In Quiet, Cain challenges our cult of extroversion. She argues that we tend to undervalue introverts—from nursery school to Harvard Business. And she shows how much we lose in doing so. Money, relationships, time, resources. In her work she interviews introverts and provides the kind of thorough research introverts are known for.  Why should we make it harder for our innovators and our team-workers, or discount the personality of some of the world's most devoted friends?

When asked, “Why did you write the book?” Cain said “For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time—second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to ‘pass’ as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.”

Whether you’re an introvert or love one, this book will open your eyes to how we can do a better job of listening to and learning from the one-third of the population that are more energized by tasks than people. Quiet is an especially good leadership-development resource. A friend highly recommended the audio version, which has not disappointed. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Letter from Imprisoned Iranian Pastor

By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) — Imprisoned Christian Pastor Farshid Fathi has sent a letter from Iran's notorious Evin Prison, reflecting on God's faithfulness even in difficult times.

Pray for Farshid Fathi.
Fathi has apparently been in Evin Prison for almost 43 months because of his Christian faith and ministry. He is scheduled for release in Dec. 2016.

According to a news release from Elam Ministries, which assists the church in the Iran region and beyond, he wrote "In each of our lives, there are nights: nights of loneliness, nights of nightmare, nights of fever and pain, endless nights of prison, nights of missing, nights of hard-breathing and some scary, unexplainable nights in our lives." Fathi said these experiences are inevitable, even for those who have a close walk with Jesus Christ.

According to Elam, Fathi continued "When a child has a bad night, his father or his mother lies beside him during the night, tenderly stroking his forehead, kissing his cheeks over and over, calling his name in the most lovely voice, and they keep looking at the child's face until that bad night passes over. Then the child opens his eyes and thinks his father has just come to him. He was not able to sense his father's breath while he was battling with his nightmares."

That's the same for us, Fathi continued, when our troubling times end. We think that God has just come to us. But that's not so. "He was not only there in the morning, but He was with us all through the dark nights of our life . So I am absolutely sure that finally 'the sun of justice will rise with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2).'"

Elam wrote, "Thank you for your faithful prayers for Farshid, who is in the midst of a dark night, and yet waits for the dawn to break. It is a great encouragement for him to know that his family around the world are still holding him up in prayer."

For more information visit www 

An Art Show for Your Wish List

For press release 2Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea
National Museum of Women in the Arts
December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015

Landmark exhibition explores images of Virgin Mary
by renowned 
Renaissance and Baroque artists
Many works on view for the first time in the United States

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Appearing throughout the entire world, her image is immediately recognizable. In the history of Western art, she was one of the most popular subjects for centuries. On view Dec. 5, 2014–April 12, 2015, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, is a landmark exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., bringing together masterworks from major museums, churches and private collections in Europe and the United States. Iconic and devotional, but also laden with social and political meaning, the image of the Virgin Mary has influenced Western sensibility since the sixth century.

Picturing Mary examines how the image of Mary was portrayed by well-known Renaissance and Baroque artists, including Botticelli, Dürer, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Gentileschi and Sirani. More than 60 paintings, sculptures and textiles are on loan from the Vatican Museums, Musée du Louvre, Galleria degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and other public and private collections—many exhibited for the first time in the United States.

Botticelli-Sandro_Madonna-of-the-Book_Poldi-Pezzoli 2“Among the most important subjects in Western art for more than a millennium was a young woman: Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her name was given to cathedrals, her face imagined by painters and her feelings explored by poets,” said exhibition curator and Marian scholar Monsignor Timothy Verdon, director, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence, Italy. “This exhibition will explore the concept of womanhood as represented by the Virgin Mary, and the power her image has exerted through time, serving both sacred and social functions during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.”

 Picturing Mary presents images of Mary as a daughter, cousin and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; and the protagonist in a rich life story developed through the centuries. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue reflect the project’s ecumenical approach, offering new views of Mary through a range of contemporary art-historical perspectives.

Picturing Mary is the newest project in an ongoing program of major historical loan exhibitions organized by NMWA, including An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (2003) and Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and other French National Collections (2012). In addition to illustrating the work of women artists, NMWA also presents exhibitions and programs about feminine identity and women’s broader contributions to culture. Picturing Mary extends, in particular, the humanist focus of Divine and Human: Women in Ancient Mexico and Peru, a large-scale exhibition organized by NMWA in 2006.
Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts with the support of MondoMostre, Rome. The exhibition is made possible with multiple sponsorships including an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Highlights
Picturing Mary will offer insight into the manner in which both female and male artists conceptualized their images of Mary. The exhibition features the work of four women artists: Sofonisba Anguissola, Artemisia Gentileschi, Orsola Maddalena Caccia and Elisabetta Sirani.

“Although women artists during the Renaissance and Baroque periods were expected to focus on still life or portraiture, Picturing Mary demonstrates the intriguing ways in which women artists engaged with the narratives and symbolism that developed around the subject of Mary,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “Both female and male artists contributed to the rich and varied visualization of Mary in these periods.”

In one of the earliest works in the exhibition, Puccio Capanna, a student of Giotto, depicted an enthroned Mary as Queen of Virgins. She is surrounded by female saints, a grouping that alludes to Mary’s position as a model of virtue and faith for all women. Early regal depictions of Mary prevailed until the concept of Mary as an approachable, empathetic persona began to take hold in medieval monastic communities.

Fra Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child (1466–69) was made for the influential Medici family, patrons of the arts who helped foster the Italian Renaissance. The artist’s image of Mary reveals wealthy Florentines’ desire for a Madonna who reflected their own lives: the Virgin is dressed in a rich brocade gown and a head scarf trimmed with gold and pearls. The mother and child’s touching cheek-to-cheek pose first appeared in Florentine sculptures of the same period.

Picturing Mary offers the first opportunity to see two mid-15th-century works by northern Italian artist Cosmè Tura side by side. A painting of the Madonna and Child on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and a related terracotta relief attributed to Tura from the Grimaldi Fava Collection in Italy both depict the Virgin with elongated fingers and a wide forehand. These deliberate distortions were meant to signify Mary’s spiritual intensity.

Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child (1480–81) depicts Mary and Jesus in a domestic setting as Mary reads from a book of prayers. Her melancholy expression and the darkening sky beyond the window suggest Mary’s premonition of Christ’s death. Botticelli was favored by the leading aristocratic families of Florence and enjoyed the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV.

Considered the most important woman artist before the modern period, Gentileschi was the first woman to run a large studio with many assistants and was also the first woman follower of Caravaggio. Her life story has inspired a number of contemporary novels and films. Gentileschi’s Madonna and Child (1609–10) depicts Mary as a nurturing peasant woman. With Jesus wrapped in a plain cloth and a barefooted Mary wearing simple, everyday clothes, Gentileschi presents a markedly humble conception of the Virgin.

Sirani’s Virgin and Child (1663), part of NMWA’s collection, portrays Mary not as a remote queen of heaven, but rather as a very real young Italian mother. She wears a turban favored by Bolognese peasant women and gazes adoringly at her plump baby. When Sirani died at 27, she had already produced two hundred paintings, drawings and etchings. She became famous for her ability to paint beautifully finished canvases so quickly that art lovers flocked to her studio to watch her work. Her portraits and mythological subjects, especially her images of the Holy Family and of the Virgin and Child, gained her international fame.

Online Exhibition
In conjunction with the physical exhibition, NMWA is presenting an online exhibition, featuring global representations of Mary, including the Virgin of Guadalupe and Black Madonnas from Europe and the Caribbean. In addition, NMWA has partnered with MapHook, a location-based journal and social networking application, on an interactive program that will enable a global audience to trace the route of exhibition works arriving from major international museums and learn more about them.

A 160-page, full-color catalogue published by NMWA and Scala Arts Publishers will accompany the exhibition; it features four essays and one hundred color images. The essays, by Monsignor Verdon; Melissa R. Katz, Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow in Art History, Wesleyan University; Amy G. Remensnyder, professor of history, Brown University; and Miri Rubin, professor of medieval and early modern history and head of the School of History at Queen Mary University of London, deepen the ecumenical approach of NMWA’s Picturing Maryproject, offering an expansive view of historical Marian art. The central essay, by Monsignor Verdon, discusses works in the exhibition and provides an incisive view of Mary through both socio-historical and theological lenses. Essays by historians Amy G. Remensnyder and Miri Rubin situate Mary within the broader social context of European history. Remensnyder centers her discussion on the Virgin Mary as a key player in encounters between Christian and Muslim nations in the medieval and Renaissance eras. Rubin surveys Christian traditions of representing Mary (including those developed in monastic communities) and their influence on political and cultural realms. Including discussion of a sculpture type known as Vierge ouvrante, in which the Virgin’s body serves as a set of doors that open to reveal other motifs, art historian Melissa R. Katz considers the devotional function of Marian imagery and the remarkable fluidity of its meaning through time. The catalogue will retail for $45.

National Museum of Women in the Arts 
Founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, NMWA is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,500 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin, along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints.

NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days take place on the first Sunday of each month. For more information about NMWA, visit nmwa.orgBroad Strokes BlogFacebook or Twitter.

Image Credit Lines
Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 × 27 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In the Footsteps of St. Paul with David Suchet

David Suchet, a British TV actor best known for his role as Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, received a 1991 British Academy Television Award (BAFTA) nomination.
            As an actor he travels a lot, and one day he picked up a Bible in a hotel-room drawer. He read the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, and in the interview below he talks about that experience, which led to a life-long interest in and respect for the apostle:

One result of reading Romans is that Suchet set out on a personal journey around the Mediterranean to uncover the story of the man he has longed to play since that experience. David Suchet: In theFootsteps of St. Paul is the documentary he created in association with the BBC. The two-part series ran last Christmas and may run again at Easter. But it's also now available on video. Suchet and the BBC are now in production for a similar journey with St. Peter.
In this 90-minute work, Suchet takes viewers along as he visits ancient and modern locations; interviews Jewish, Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Orthodox experts; and deciphers evidence from the latest archaeological research. The film contains beautiful scenery on the way to and in places relevant to Paul such as Tarsus, Antioch, Jerusalem, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessaloniki, Caesarea, and Philippi.  
Mostly I loved this film. Really loved it. Suchet's enthusiasm for his subject made the content come alive. And his use of Paul's own words at appropriate times in the contexts of where they would have been heard added clarity to their meanings. Additionally, the scenery in the places where Paul walked, sailed, and lived is beautiful throughout, making this a visual feast. That feast can help readers of the New Testament easily envision the world Paul inhabited. 
But while I heartily recommend this work, I must give some qualifications. Being an actor, at times Suchet imagines what drove Paul's actions. His conversion, for example, is treated as a result of inner turmoil and an identity crisis rather than the biblical text's depiction of it as a supernatural encounter with the living God that made him do a 180.
 Sometimes Suchet refers to finding out what really happened, leaving the viewer wondering if the text's explanation is untrue. And the result is that in his passion to reach the Gentiles, Paul comes off as a bit of a maverick driven by a newfangled religious idea rather than being motivated by the love of Christ. I understand that sometimes we have to fill in the blanks when we have incomplete information about people we're profiling, but Paul gave us insight into his own motivations when he wrote "the love of Christ constrains me" (2 Cor. 5:14).
In one scene, Suchet stands on the steps of the Ephesus library, which was completed in AD 135. The expert with him says they know a synagogue existed in Ephesus in Paul's day because a menorah appears on the stone steps to this library. But Paul was in Ephesus long before the middle of the second century, when those steps were hewn. Perhaps a synagogue did exist there in Paul's day, but those steps aren't the evidence. Suchet also refers to the Ephesian Artemis as a fertility goddess, and anyone familiar with my dissertation knows that a conflation of Artemis with the local Ephesians' goddess might have meant she was associated with fertility in earlier centuries, but not by the time Paul was there.
Suchet concludes that Paul saw life in black and white. Yet Paul became "all things to all people" rather than being rigid. John the Baptist saw things in black and white. But Paul ate meat sacrificed to idols, insisting that in the gray areas, believers should "let each person be convinced in his own mind."
Those studying the role of women in NT times will be interested in knowing that the experts Suchet asks about Paul's take see the apostle as pro-women and somewhat of a radical in his times on that topic. Suchet himself says this is a real shift in perspective for him. 
The film ends with a look at how tradition says Paul died (beheading, the merciful option, because he was a Roman citizen) and where he is believed to have been buried. Following an intriguing look at the evidence about Paul's last days, Suchet shifts from guide to actor. He closes with a dramatic reading of some of Paul's words about the resurrection. In the context of having just walked with Paul for some of the ten thousand miles he traversed in the ancient world, the words of Scripture in closing come off as quite moving.
I recommend viewing/purchasing this video and reading Walter Wangerin's novel, Paul, as a companion guide. The DVD comes with a small helpful booklet, but strangely it calls into question the Pauline authorship of the Book of Ephesians while not raising such a question with the pastoral epistles, which for many is more hotly debated. A bio of the actor is included as an "extra" in the video. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bible Transmission Not Like "Telephone"

“It's time to fly home for dinner!” we read in the new children’s book, Telephone. In this witty tale from award-winning, bestselling author Mac Barnett, a mama on a wire passes a message for her son, Peter, to the next bird down. But as the message travels to Peter, each subsequent bird hears Mama's message according to its own hobbies. For example, the baseball-loving bird thinks Peter is supposed to hit a fly ball. Hilarious stuff.
Did you ever play the game of telephone as a kid? I know when my friends and I played it, we would purposely distort the message to make the outcome funnier.
Sometimes people think that’s how the Bible’s oral history happened. Bill Nye the Science Guy made this exact analogy, in fact. Such folks argue that nobody has a clue what the original message was because it got so distorted in transmission.
But that analogy is flawed. Deeply. It shows an ignorance about oral culture. When you have no paper or iPhones, you remember stuff better as part of everyday life. Because you depend on memory. And you're trying to remember precisely.

Consider just one of the ethnology texts from Genesis. (An ethnology is like a genealogy except that it sometimes leaves out generations in which pretty much nothing happened). Imagine passing this down the telephone line:  

Cain knew his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch…To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael. Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. Lamech took two wives for himself; the name of the first was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the first of those who live in tents and keep livestock. The name of his brother was Jubal; he was the first of all who play the harp and the flute. Now Zillah also gave birth to Tubal-Cain, who heated metal and shaped all kinds of tools made of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah (Genesis 4:17–22).

People learning such oral histories memorized them, repeating them back till they got every detail right before passing down the information to the next generation. And they had a motivation to get it all perfect: it was their own family's story. They themselves did not want to be forgotten, so they required exact precision from those to whom they passed the histories. Unlike my friends and me, they had a strong motivation to get it right.

The movie, The Chosen, demonstrates what such a transmission was like. In one scene, Hassidic young men memorize together ethnologies in Scripture. The elders would sometimes change one word or name to catch the young men in imprecise transmission. That's because everyone understood that oral history had to be passed down with word-perfect precision.

Today’s translators go all the way back to the oldest transmissions rather than using the message from the closest person on the wire. In the bird-on-the-wire analogy, they skip the last 20 birds and get as close to “Mama’s message” as possible.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NAE Finds President's Executive Order Lacking

Press release:

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) regrets President Obama’s decision, announced today, to omit an exemption for religious organizations in his executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in their employment policies.

“The President missed an opportunity to lead the nation toward greater tolerance and social harmony by respecting diverse viewpoints on divisive issues,” NAE President Leith Anderson said. “Religious groups that have longstanding and principled positions should be allowed to compete for federal contracts on an equal basis.”

As federal contractors, religious organizations provide overseas relief and development services in partnership with USAID, services on contract with the Bureau of Prisons, and research, technical assistance and other services for other federal departments and agencies. These organizations are often the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts. It is counterproductive to bar them from offering their services due to their religious convictions.

Last month President Obama announced his intentions to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring decisions. The NAE met with White House officials to provide input, and leaders from a long list of organizations and denominations signed a letter to the president asking for robust religious freedom protections in any executive order. Another letter asked for similar protections. However, the president failed to include either group’s recommendations in the order issued today.

“Our entire society suffers when our government discriminates against religious groups and loses access to their services. Instead of bringing us together, the president’s actions today sow the seeds for continued polarization,” Anderson said.

The NAE calls on Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to issue regulations that fully protect religious contractors.

For the Beauty of the Earth

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes get beauty-withdrawal in Texas. The state has some fantastic beauty, but not the kind that makes me feel I'm "home." I got a lot of that in Italy, and I'm still so grateful. That time provided deep soul-rest, and part of that rest came from the beauty that surrounded me day and night.

Here's the song I've been singing in gratitude. Savor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wordless Wednesday