Saturday, June 14, 2008

Freundeskreiss (German hip hop)

For some reason, as I was folding laundry today, I remembered the German hip hop group, Freundeskreis. Is this ringing any bells out there?

Ohhhhh, how I loved their "Esperanto" album. It came out in 1999 (or "neun-neun" as they say auf album), and I remember listening to it in my brother's car and driving all over town just so we could keep listening to it (yeah... this was when gas was like $1.25 a gallon).

Looking back, I have to say the 90s were a remarkable time for hip hop. Ohmega Watts brought this up in Imago Dei's "Yes Yes Y'all" workshop. There was so much creativity and thought going into the genre in the 90s. It wasn't just the time of Snoop Dogg, but Digable Planets, the Fugees, Common and so much more.

This album was particularly creative. Musically, was full of tasty guitar bits and old-timey samples over mellow beats. Lyrically, what I understood of it was really fun and clever. It was multi-lingual above all-- German, French, English, Spanish, even Esperanto (the International Language, if you don't count Love like the girl in "Better off Dead" did). Only Freundeskreiss could bust three languages in one phrase and make it all rhyme.

All I have of it at this point are web samples and my brother's kasset tape. Does anyone still listen to these guys? Does anyone miss them as much as I do?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mister Lonely

Harmony Korine’s latest cinematic offering “Mister Lonely” comes hot on the bizarro heels of such oddball and often time disturbing offerings, as “Kids”, “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey Boy”. “Mister Lonely,” a slightly softer film than some of Korine’s other more controversial movies, follows the fortunes of a young American lost and lonely in Paris where he makes his living as a street performer impersonating Michael Jackson. The movie begins with Michael’s utopian belief that he can be anyone he wants to be and find in this ongoing impersonation some kind of misplaced freedom and sense of self. Michael sees himself as master of his own destiny and takes comfort in fully embracing the identity he has created for himself. A powerful opening scene finds Michael moonwalking and gyrating for a group of senile pensioners in a nursing home, repeatedly chanting, “you’re never going to die, I want you to live forever,” as if he truly believes in his own omnipotence.

Moments later Michael is introduced to a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. Besotted from the outset by her ethereal charms and the promise of utopia, (a place where everyone is famous and no one ever grows old,) he follows her back to the Scottish commune where she lives with her husband- a Charlie Chaplin impersonator, her daughter- Shirley Temple, and a number of other impersonators including Madonna, Abraham Lincoln, Sammy Davis Jr., the Pope, the Queen and somewhat bizarrely, in a film marked by the ongoing suspension of disbelief- Little Red Riding Hood. This unlikely group of individuals have created their own version of paradise in the Highlands of Scotland; farming the land, performing nightly and deciding who they each want to be on a daily basis. Korine takes great pains to create his paradise not quite lost, using haunting panoramic camera angles, a deeply nostalgic soundtrack and a number of woozy, almost narcoticized soliloquies from his cast, preaching on the perfect idealism they have finally found here in this community of the misunderstood.

Very soon however, darker powers become apparent in Eden. The Fall comes early in “Mister Lonely” as Marilyn Monroe, dripping strawberry in hand, makes her seductive move on Michael Jackson. He partakes of the fruit and the descent into sin wrecks havoc on the whole community. Death enters into paradise as disease sweeps through the livestock calling for a cull on all the sheep. Adultery, lust, anger and jealousy are all subtly hinted at and magnified under Korine’s unflinching lens. As the film progresses the director refuses to airbrush these impersonated stars who at first seemed glamorous, beautiful and somehow larger than life-we begin to see them blemished and goose bumped, cellulite bulging from beneath their sequined costumes. The effect is almost grotesque as if someone finally turned the house lights on Hollywood to find Tinseltown one hundred years old and bearing the marks of age. Each of the key impersonators begins to find a sense of entrapment in their assumed identities, rather than the initial hoped for freedom. Marilyn Monroe suffers terribly from a lecherous, abusive husband and chooses in return to flirt with adultery. Charlie Chaplin struggles with anger, lust and an inability to be taken seriously and Michael Jackson becomes the Mister Lonely and misunderstood so heavily hinted at in the film’s title. Without exception each of the impersonators begins to assume, not only the fabulous talent of their idealized star, but also their crippling insecurities and character faults. Too late they realize that no one, not even Marilyn Monroe is entirely capable of recreating themself.

Faced with the problem of a fracturing community and reality knocking darkly on their commune door, the community rally round and with forced bravado, decide to put on the show to end all shows, a swaggering wonder of a performance which will wow the locals into not only accepting them as normal but also envying them their odd standing in life. They build a stage, hoping in their own minds to ascend to Babel’s heights, practice for hours and eventually perform to an audience of eight bored looking locals. Finally the penny drops and Korine does an excellent job of capturing a community devastated by the realization of who they really are- a group of individuals unsure of their own identity, flawed, incapable of change and miserably lonely. Monroe surrenders to her assumed destiny and commits suicide, Chaplin descends into hysterics and Michael Jackson trashes his hats and costumes to attempt life in the normal world as a young man without a name.

In “Mister Lonely,” Harmony Korine has given us an excellent, if slightly oddball look, at man’s inability to force his own future. Watching the movie I was once again reminded of the many ways in which I daily attempt to force freedom and escape only to find myself caught up in an ever-contracting noose of my own making. Like a proverb, pinning this whole movie together is the gorgeous metaphor of a group of nuns whom God has blessed with the miraculous ability to fly unaided. For weeks they fly free on invisible wings through God’s blue sky, humbled by their small part in this enormous miracle. Finally the Pope hearing of this miraculous turn of events calls for a display at the Vatican, the nuns pile into a plane, suddenly excited by the idea of celebrity, adventure and actual, tangible human wonder. Korine closes his movie with a shot of these same five nuns, intended by God to plough the open skies, dead and washed up in the wreckage of their shipwrecked plane- a timely reminder of freedom found, tainted by human ambition and oh so easily lost.

Jan Carson blogs at

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jesus, Kanye and me

This week I was lucky enough to get free tickets to see Kanye West's over-the-top, pyromaniacal concert in Portland. I'm big a fan of a lot of Kanye's music (fun beats and hyper-clever rhymes), but I'm not a fan of his ego trips. This show was definitely confirmation of that.

But we were still lucky to go because it was such a huge spectacle. The show had a spaceship theme (which looked SO cool!) and a story that concluded when Kanye realized he was the biggest star in the universe and that he alone had the power to send his broken spaceship back home... by rapping his most recent radio hit. Umm... yeah.

But in the midst of all the flashing lights, naughty lyrics and ego-mania, Jesus was with me. Yeah, it was kind of a surprise, but it was really cool.

Kanye has one remotely religious song that's called "Jesus Walks." Musically, it was the best-sounding song of the show, which was interesting because it was also the one where God spoke to me. Hopefully it spoke to other people too. The song starts with these lyrics (try to get past the hip hop lingo!):

"Yo, we at war
We at war with terrorism, racism,
And most of all we at war with ourselves

(Jesus Walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus Walks with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now."

What clicked with me was the phrase "at war with ourselves." Suddenly I realized that I'm not much better than Kanye. I don't show my faults and my pride to the world as extravagantly as he does, but they are there. God knows they are there, I know they are there, and they are wearing me out.

A lot of times I feel like I'm at war with myself, just like good ole Kanye. Because of some weird past experiences, I usually cringe when people talk about spiritual warfare. But as I was boppin' along to the "Jesus Walks" song, I realized that it's good to see some of my own struggles as a war-- they are not to be taken lightly. In many ways, as I work to overcome the weakest parts of my humanity, I am in a spiritual war, and Jesus is with me on it. It's something I've been told my whole life, but it finally sunk in. If Jesus is with me, what can be against me? Nothing, unless I try to face it myself, which is usually pretty ineffective and exhausting.

Kanye kept going:

"To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
(Jesus walks with them)...
Now hear me, hear me, want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary...
I ain't here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus."

OK, permission to laugh is granted here. I really love those last lines. They're hilarious because they're true. And I'm really grateful that they are.

Charity blogs at

Sunday, April 27, 2008


After listening to Rick's take on the David and Bathsheba debacle, I took some time to reflect. It certainly forced some honest introspection. I highly recommend it. The reflection, that is; not the debacle. I thought I would share what came out of my exercise. I call it, "Ode in Fear of Man."

Oblivious. Desiring ignorance. Claiming ignorance.
Denying culpability...emphatically...pathetically.
Hypothetically begging the question. Change the topic of conversation.
Did you hear the news today?
Can you believe they? Did you see...? The audacity. The atrocity.
Please buy my glittering generalities. Here's another hyperbole...
But back to me? Back to you!

Why try to fight the fighter?
For fear of the fight or fear of the night after?
I know I'll lose...
My sense of security is as secure as my teeth.

It's a lost cause; lost in the shuffle of thought and word.
Why are we here again? Is this really necessary?
We're quibbling over two degrees off course.
"Straight sailing" is a crooked colloquialism anyway.
Quit crying criminal.

The Prophet speaks...
Can I listen through my tunnel vision? It blurs...

So I resign to change.
So I resign to change.

Still afraid of myself, my potential for pain.
Not mine, but theirs... their wealth, their health.
My pride must reside on the shelf.

If you missed Rick's talk from his David series, check it out here (April 27). But listen with caution; it's dangerous.
Sidenote: I was listening to The Doves while I wrote this, and while I didn't necessarily plan this while I wrote it, I was messing around, deciding to exercise my creative juices, and it synced eerily with "Firesuite" from the Lost Souls album, so I recorded it. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Medium is the Message

A crazy guy once said, "the Medium is the Message." I never understood that until Shane Hipps preached a sermon about it out at Mars Hill Bible Church last Sunday. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Shane Hipps was an advertiser for Porsche and now is a Mennonite Pastor. He talks about how the Medium of a message is intimately connected to the Message itself and if the medium changes the message changes. He showed how Jesus recognized this. This is a concept I had to chew on for a while but it is extremely important for artists to have thought through.

What does my medium communicate? God chose a burning bush, stone tablets, Bahlem's ass. What does a burning bush say? Maybe, "I can't be contained." What do stone tablet's communicate? Maybe, "this is serious?" And Jesus was God's word become flesh. Jesus was the perfect Medium to communicate God's message. What does this communicate about God?

We all use different mediums to communicate all the time. It would be good to think about what our medium is communicating since that message is more powerful and sustaining then anything our medium carries.

Jon Collins uses the medium of video to squeak out a living and is blogging at

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Livin' In The Future

Taken from a review of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band live at the Rose Garden, March 28th, 2008.

Pausing on the first few bars of Livin' In The Future, Bruce silences the gathered masses. A reverent hush falls over the Rose Garden, it feels like Sunday morning, crouching on the edge of a charismatic revival. Springsteen the evangelist steps up to the mic and delivers his thought for the evening. Living in Portland, you find yourself subject to any number of political rants delivered from the wrong end of an electric guitar. Most of the sermonizing you hear in the local bars and clubs falls into the cynical and ashamed to be American category, every opportunity for critique is hungrily lit upon while optimism and genuine advice for the future are often sadly lacking. Tonight you find more positivity, hope and dare you say it, patriotism in the three sentence introduction to Livin' In The Future than anything you've heard in the last year.

Bruce Springsteen is openly proud to be an American in a way which most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with. His national pride is not a blinkered, unrealistic view of all the shortcomings inherent in modern American culture, but rather a strongly held belief in the constitution and what it once meant to be an American and hold true to the American values of freedom, independence and equality. During the forty five seconds Springsteen devotes to sermonizing this evening you find yourself incredibly convicted not of American cynicism, but rather of a deeply ingrained cynicism to all things Church-related. As Springsteen says he is proud to be associated with what it really means to be an American and call us to stop complaining and disassociating and step up to embody these ideals, you hear a similar call to abandon cynicism and step up to a fuller embodiment of what God intended the Church to actually be. "Good grief," you think, almost tearing up as he sings Livin' In The Future, "Why does God always get me with Bruce?" and it is weird because afterwards, on the long walk home, you talk to Nate and he has heard exactly the same thing. Maybe, just maybe, this is the best church service you'll attend this year.

Jan Carson blogs at

Monday, March 31, 2008

Into the Wild

I really loved Chris' journey in this movie from arrogant isolationism towards the need for relationships. I imagine I probably felt a bit different than many about his trip into the woods: I didn't find it all that romantic or adventurous but really that of a pretty arrogant coward (like many of us often are) running into the wild to avoid dealing with the pain and broken relations in his life (particularly with his parents) in a more redemptive way. One of the things I liked about the film is that it didn't seem to have an over-idealized sense of nature: even before the brutal end. Chris seemed aware of its violence and raw power even from early on in the movie; though at times he seemed to exhibit an overidealized sense of a "peaceful creation" that drew him into the woods, he more often seemed driven by a fearless entering into its sheer raw power (the "rapids" scene seemed another poignant example of this). I thought in this sense the film (and Chris' life) was powerful in capturing the tension between both the beauty and peacefulness of creation as created good by God on the one hand, and its violent sheer raw power under the weight of the Fall on the other. These two both seem to exist in dynamic tension today and I thought the movie captured them well.
But the deeper sub-text of the film seemed to me to be the relational one: his wounds from his family and the pain of a sin-scarred world (ie. his classes on Apartheid and food crises in Africa) drive him away from all people. The Alaska trip seems to be so idealized because it is the final Westward expansion, alone in uncharted territory, away from all people towards the power of isolation in nature. It reminded me of Lewis' Great Divorce image where hell is everyone trying to move farther and farther away from each other because of the ways they've been hurt by others and their assurances that they are "right" about the world. Though for Chris of course, he would identify more with Sartre's opposite picture of hell in No Exit where "Hell is other people" and salvation is in isolation.
As Chris pursues his "freedom" (re: salvation) through his trip into isolation I felt like God was moving through a number of characters in his life to try and pull him back into the human web of relationships: Wayne (Vince Vaughn), the hippie couple, the "love interest" and ultimately the elderly gentleman. One of the things I found so beautiful was that none of these people were perfect (like his parents weren't perfect)--Wayne was a convict, the hippie couple had a troubled relationship and an estranged child of their own, the love interest was too young, and the elderly man was timid towards life--yet in their imperfection they extended to him invitation to join their imperfect web of relationships (a beautiful image for me of church community?) I thought one of the most powerful scenes was the elderly gentleman desiring to adopt him just before he left into the wild. This seemed like one of the most "God moments" in the film, the man almost an image of God's voice desiring to adopt him as His child into His family.
But the biggest "God moment" to me was the "Happiness only real when shared". This seems to be the point in Chris' life of repentance / transformation: where the Nature and Isolation he has sought his salvation / freedom through has now turned on him to kill him, and he realizes the necessity and need of relationship--even imperfect broken ones--and reconciliation / grace towards this broken world's people. That's what's so beautiful to me about the final scene. As he dies, he is now truly free. This transformation to value that which is valuable, to "call each thing by its proper name" and return his own fractured, scarred, relationally-defined identity to himself, means he is for the first time in the film truly free even as he dies. The final line where he imagines himself embracing his parents and saying to effect "If I came into your arms would you see what I see now?" I took as a powerful proclamation that he wants this transformation and realization for his parents too but whether or not it is fulfilled in their mutual embrace he has it regardless now as he dies. As he looks up to the sky, though dying he is yet a new creature, it is as if he is seeing creation with fresh eyes for the first time.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Art of Politics 2008 Bonus Competition

So, speaking of dangerous art, your chance to run with scissors is here now!

I can't think of anything much more dangerous than:

-Dabbling in the arena of propaganda
-Commodifying your art by seeking a cash prize
-Juxtaposing your faith with your politics

The Art of Politics political poster contest caught my eye recently. I checked out the entries so far, and was saddened by the majority of them. I asked, is this really the length and depth of our country's political conversation and creativity? Surely, it cannot be. I tried really, really hard to think of what I would make, and I came up more cynicism. See?

So, the question is, can you do what I cannot? It will involve conversing with a crowd that perhaps you feel no sympathy for. You may need to walk where your art angels fear to tread. You may not want to trifle with this, because you belong to a greater Kingdom. Or, you may feel burned by politicians who have used your Good Lord's name to gain political power. I challenge you, if you feel so superior, to please enlighten the masses.

What we're looking for:
-Neither cynicism nor fideism.
-Concensus building rather than polarization.
-Forward thinking; not wallowing in the past.

My pet project, Click Patron, is sponsoring a bonus competition to the Art of Politics 2008 poster contest. That means you enter their contest, and once you let Click Patron know, you're entered into a bonus competition. The grand prize is $200! Find out the gory details here.

Click Patron's mission is to encourage emerging artists with cash assistance among other things.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Karen Russell, Magic Realism and the Kingdom

If you haven’t heard of Karen Russell you should take yourself down to Powell’s and pick up a copy of her debut short story collection, “St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves.” I borrowed a copy from Van around this time last year and have read and reread it so many times I’m hoping to claim ownership. The short stories which make up Russell’s collection are the most captivating, beautiful, imaginative little nuggets of joy I’ve stumbled across in the last few years. They draw deeply from an immense creative reserve and introduce us to the most incredible characters including a class full of werewolves in training for suburban life, a camp of kids with various sleeping disorders, a minotaur and his family making their way along the wagon trail and an ice skating Yeti. So far so classic fantasy but the thing that makes Karen Russell’s writing so uniquely intriguing is the fact that all these fantastical stories are couched in terms of reality.

Karen Russell is the latest in a long line of modern writers loosely associated with the genre of Magic Realism, (including Aimee Bender, Jonathan Leathem, Jonathan Saffron Foer and the wonderful Japanese writer Haruki Murakami,) who have drawn first my attention and upon closer investigation, my ongoing devotion. Magic Realism as a genre hangs upon the basic need for the suspension of disbelief. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, writer of “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and many other pieces of fantastic imagination stretching literature once admitted, “my most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic." It is this blurring of realism and the fantastic that draws me to Magic Realism and drives me as a writer to create stories which most easily fall into this genre. Where fantasy creates entire new worlds; kingdoms, creatures and languages, Magic Realism is set in the real world with a realist view of the possible and impossible. However the lines of possibility are quickly smudged, blurred and often done away with entirely as weird things happen, the unlikely becomes increasingly likely and an odd kind of magic bubbles to the surface of the real world. Reading Murakami or Saffron Foer for the first time one might be fifty odd pages into a straight up piece of fiction, comfortable and relaxed with the status quo, when a talking cat or disappearing villages pops up to unsettle your resolve. The effect is both disarming and intriguing and more often than not leaves the reader hungry for a fresh miracle.

I choose to read and write Magic Realism because it appeals to the little girl in me; the part of my soul not yet world-weary enough to have developed presuppositions about what is and is not possible in this world. As I read some of these novels and stories I am constantly reminded of Christ’’s desire that we become like little children, not so we are overly simplistic or ignorant about the world we find ourselves in but so we can once again have a limitless sense of the possibilities afforded to us by the Kingdom of God. To read these texts and enter into them is to understand a little of the world view Jesus established when he pointed out the mountains and said how easily they could be moved with his help, when he stood on a fishing boat and controlled the storm or threatened to build and rebuild the Temple in three days. Christianity is a kind of Magic Realism in itself. We live in this world with all its temporal limitations, fully aware of the possibilities of God’s infinite power and creativity.

Moreso I have come to love Magic Realism because of its need to suspend disbelief. Nick Drake, the folk musician, once sang of, “straightening our new mind’s eye,” and this line has always made me think of Jesus’ command to repent and believe. I believe that this command though encapsulating our need to turn from sin, goes beyond right and wrong, to a place where God desires us to believe in an entirely new way of seeing the world. The Kingdom of God is with us now, hovering over the surface of everything we do and see, just waiting to break in and startle us with the amazing, miraculous, bigness of God. As I read these books I am challenged to “straighten my new mind’s eye,” and begin to see the beautiful possibilities for miracles, for wild imagination, hope and transformation just waiting for an opportunity to break into our reality.

Jan Carson blogs at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dangerous Art

The following is an article from David Taylor, the Austin-based playwright and pastor who is speaking at our Artists' Retreat in April. He is doing some research for a symposium on the theme of art and danger and would love to get some feedback from you guys so all his information isn't coming from the South. You can reply by commenting directly on his blog at or by commenting here and beginning a conversation with our readers and contributors. We're really looking forward to getting to know David and his wife in April.

I am beginning my research for my talk at the symposium. My given title is: What are the dangers of artistic activity? and I would covet your opinions and perspectives. Here are a few areas for exploration.

1. Think of your personal experience. What experiences of art for you have been negative or destructive or debilitating or stifling or confusing?

2. Think of your church setting. What are dangers in high church settings and in the low church settings? High art practices and pop art practices?

3. Think of sins of commission and omission. In what ways are dangers things done or things left undone? In what ways is a danger a "too much" or a "too little"?

4. Think of cultural and societal patterns. In the advance and proliferation of media technologies, how are the arts being enlisted to serve ends that do not contribute to the well-being of humans or communities or cities?

5. Think of the artist and the audience. What are dangers peculiar to the artist, separate from the work? What are dangers peculiar to an audience--from a mass audience to a select audience?

Think whatever you want. All I care is to hear what you think are dangers--past dangers, present dangers, future dangers, actual dangers, potential dangers, fantasy dangers, small and big, yours and theirs.

Lastly, for fun, in addition to any of your observed dangers, tell me a way in which you might become the one to produce something dangerous; and by dangerous I don't mean daring, prophetic, "people just aren't ready for me yet" kind of dangerous art, I mean good old fashioned, "produced by a fallen creature" dangerous art.

David Taylor blogs at

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Cobalt Season comes to Portland

So I sat down to write this review because one of my favorite music groups is coming to town this week, and I wanted to pimp the show. How’s that for shameless? Here goes: San Francisco-based Indie Art Folksters, The Cobalt Season will be playing at Enterbeing Thursday night, February 28.
Who is The Cobalt Season
, you might ask. I figured someone wouldn’t be in the know, so when I started considering how I would go about prostituting their music ("pimping"? "prostituting"? alright, this motif has to end), I thought I would just throw out some links to other online reviews and call it a post. In my review-writing laziness, I came across something interesting; I discovered it’s impossible to describe an artist without comparing them to someone else. Have you ever noticed that? Brian McLaren, compared TCS to the Weepies and Sigur Ros, among others. Mark Van Steenwyk likens them to the Arcade Fire and Copy (I don’t see that connection myself, but, to each his own). Had I to do it, my instincts call to Iron and Wine, a dash of Sufjan Stevens, and perhaps a less ambiguously enunciated Thom Yorke. But you can hop on iTunes and draw your own conclusions.
The musical styling isn’t the only reason you should check out The Cobalt Season; their live performance is compelling and provocative (ok, that’s a third racy-descriptor, but this one is not gratuitous). The front man, Ryan Sharp delves into critical issues of faith and living, and doesn’t settle for the cliché-ed, quick answers. As many of the live performances I have seen have been in small faith communities, often connected with Emergent Village, prepare to sit on a pillow and engage in some story-telling and culture prodding.

I’m not familiar with Enterbeing myself (the venue/community hosting the event), but the show is at 7pm and you can find out more about The Cobalt Season at

Glenn Krake writes sporadically for the ImagoDeiArts blog when he's not browsing iTunes for artists that sound like Martin Sexton.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Name Inflames


"A name inflames peoples' ideas and expectations. It's a cultural defect" Jonathan Shahn, sculptor and son of Ben Shahn.

For a year, my family and I made and displayed our art under the pseudonym, Saint Anonymous. It was an experiment with a few key goals. I wanted to be immersed in an atmosphere that nurtured a purer form of worship. I wanted to make collaboration a priority. I wanted to save my family--but that's another blog post.

The main tenet of Saint Anonymous was pure worship. It wasn't until the Renaissance that artists began signing their work. Before then, artists who made works for the church were not interested in defacing the pieces offered to God with their signatures. Considering this, when contemporary artists make worshipful pieces, I wondered if it is indeed a pure offering if we are signing our work. It's kind of like saying, "Here God, this is the very best I have to offer to You, but HEY PEOPLE, I've made a false idol of needing your approval and affirmations, too." Aside from casting down idols, I figured that our narcissistic MySpace profile-building generation needed a dose of humble anonymity to be mystified by. You see, when we come together to worship the Lord, all eyes should be on Jesus, but we are too easily distracted by our own creativity, our fellow worshipers, brand-name preachers, and denominational awareness. So, showing my family's art, which we make as an act of worship to our Creator, seemed best done in anonymity (at least it did at the time). We wanted to draw the viewer in to sharing our worship of God, and help them to not consider us, the sub-creators, as a factor in their worship.

We had a month-long solo exhibition under the nom de couleur of Saint Anonymous. It was an uncomfortable experience. We were invited to a celebration of the show, and drove 7 hours over to Nampa, Idaho so that we could pretend to not be the artists who made the work. There were lots of questions about the pieces, with nobody to ask. It became a game for the students to find out who Saint Anonymous was. They speculated preposterous notions about the art into the air, hoping to see if there was a troubled reaction on anybody's face. I struggled with casually milling around the gallery and not engaging with their quandary. I wanted to strip away identity from ourselves in order to more purely worship God, but I was finding that the side effects of our experiment were alienation and misunderstanding from the rest of society, who seemed unable to connect with the work that had no identifiable maker.

This experiment led me to ask a key question: what is more pleasing to God? "Pure" worship that causes isolation and confusion? Or messy, communal worship that leads to reconciliation and truth? I came to the conclusion that the identity of the artist is essential for the work to build community, and as you guessed, I am certain that God desires unity far more than well-intended, but alienating praise.

The quotation at the beginning of this post is from Jonathan Shahn, a sculptor. He has some gripes with critics who can't resist comparing his work to his father's. I agree with the intent of his sentiment, but I suppose he's going to have some more gripes, because I've included his words so that I could take them out of context.

"A name inflames people's ideas and expectations."

Imagine if God came not in the form of Jesus Christ, the human, but as an unknown property of physics such as anti-gravity. We certainly would take notice when, let's say, the toilet starts flushing backwards, but then, we also would feel no relationship or emotional bond to it. We might feel fear for sure, and quite possibly the shame of soiled clothing, but it would be hard to love even if "it" might be our Creator demanding our attention. Once Adam died, humanity lost firsthand knowledge of what it is like to walk with God in the cool of the morning. We were alienated from our Creator and His art. It is hard to deny the existence of God when we are awed at the complexity and order of the macro and micro universe, or when our guts get all tingly at seeing a beautiful sunset, but this amounts to anonymous, unrelatable majesty. It is art that we cannot connect to because we don’t know the Maker. It leaves us confused and isolated. We don't know how we relate to this creation, and we feel so skeptical about people who claim that they do. We loathe those people speculating wild notions into the air about religion and God, and we detest it to the point of proposing back that there is no Artist, this gallery, and the work inside of it, came into being on their own.

I've often asked the question, "Why Jesus?". Why this scheme of an Only Son, a blood sacrifice, an all-powerful God in a helpless baby's body at the mercy of His own creation? Maybe you've come to your own conclusions about this. Here are some of mine. I think that this Creator recognized that we could not know Him unless we raised Him as our own. We had no reason to believe Him when He said that His creation was good, until He proved it, and placed Himself in the care of it. We could not appreciate and be unified by the art until the Artist ripped open the curtains of anonymity. Of course, that was 2,000 years ago that Jesus walked among us with as normal and unassuming a name as Josh might be today. But, this face in the crowd was also the face man for God the Artist, and has left a growing and indelible mark on society. His name has not faded away and it truly inflames ideas and expectations. Just like most artists, He suffers through misinterpretations and fallacies about His work, but the power and essence of His work is His name, His identity as the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is a reference point, juxtaposing humanity with their Creator. God's face is no longer unknown to us, and through our relationship with His Son, we too, should no longer feel anonymous.
Christopher Dennis heads up his family’s art blog, Dennis Family Art Collective, and is the founder of Click Patron, an organization whose goal is to provide cash assistance to emerging artists.

Image: Detail from Blue Heron Foils Snake's Plans For The Valley

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sting's "Message in a Bottle"

I heard Sting’s classic song “Message in a Bottle” on 94.7 driving into work recently and was struck by his brilliant metaphor for contemporary isolation and fragmentation. The castaway, alone and isolated on an island, throws a bottle out into the ocean hoping for rescue, but instead of a 747 coming to rescue him, or a passing cruiseliner that caught his note, he instead receives a hundred million responses from others who are likewise castaways alone and isolated on islands out at sea. The line that really struck me was “Woke up this morning, can’t believe what I saw, hundred million bottles washed up on the shore.” We reach out for connection and community thinking we're alone in feeling isolated and others out there must have the connection we long for: if only we could be drawn in. Instead we awake to the realization that most out there feel as lonely and isolated as we do. What's keeping us apart?

It was a real “Lost in Translation” moment, how we’re so often walking through cities filled with people yet emotionally feeling the disconnect of castaways on islands out at sea. When we reach out to find connection, hoping for rescue, we find instead the realization both comforting and disturbing all at the same time: that everyone else is in the same boat (no pun intended), similarly lost on islands out at sea. Sting takes on the classic "no man is an island" with the critique that we may not have a choice.

I love Sting’s brilliant and honest observation, “Seems I’m not alone at being alone, hundred million castaways longing for a home.” Its got me thankful for the family of Christ: that Christ is drawing us castaways out of our islands-at-sea, into a depth of communion (rich united life together) with the very life of God (filled with his Spirit, united to Christ, adopted into the Father’s family) and each other (the diverse body of Christ: across race, class, across history and around the globe) in the hope of God’s restored communion with creation (heaven come to earth in fulfillment of his kingdom). I'm grateful that the gospel is drawing us out of our islands of isolation into communion with God, humanity and creation. We’re clumsy and awkward trying to figure it out, and we experience it imperfectly now in anticipation of what’s coming, but we’re growing in knowing & being known by God together—a bunch of castaways drawn together into an awkward, clumsy, and beautiful family.

Why I love country music

1. Because country music reminds me of open roads, mountains, rural areas, places where you glance out the window and can see for miles and miles. In short, country music reminds me that I am very, very small. When I’m at my wits end worrying about [insert issue here] it’s comforting to recall that there is there is an enormous, all-knowing, all-powerful God who controls everything. We miss out on that feeling when we live in cities, a mere bowling ball’s throw away from our neighbors. Country music reminds me how big God is.

2. Because, as my friend Las Frijoles once said, San Antonio in country songs is always just San Antone. I've always loved that.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Music and Place Photography Project

Hello All,
This is going to be a somewhat short and business like blog. I just wanted to call in favors and hook ups outstanding with all of you. My good friend Melanie Brown and I are embarking on an exciting art project to explore the relationship between place and the music which comes from that place. We're beginning the project with a ten piece exhibition of five photos and short interviews with Portland musicians and five similar pieces from Nashville musicians who we'll be interviewing in Nashville at the beginning of next month.

If the initial exhibition goes well we're keen to expand the project and interview/photograph musicians from other music rich cities (eg New York, Dublin, London, Seattle, LA etc.) Unsurprisingly we don''t have a huge budget for travelling all over the world so we'd love to shoot people as they pass through Portland on tour. We're looking for anyone who has contacts or knows people who know people who know people we could take pictures of. In the next few months we'd really like to shoot Bell X1, David Bazan, Rosie Thomas, Mark Kozelek, a Crib or several Cribs and anyone in the greater Portland/Nashville/Seattle area. If you might be able to help us or pass us on to someone who could we'd love to hear from you. We have lovely professional resumes and you can check out mel's photography at she's an excellent photographer.

the whole project hangs around the idea that community affects music and so we'd love this to be a community effort getting the shoots set up. all help will be rewarded with wide smiles, mix cds and hot mugs of stumptown, much love,

mel and jan (

Jan Carson blogs at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Just read this article about how polaroid is not going 
to be making the polaroid camera or film anymore.
I guess it's not as profitable since the digital cameras took over.
Stock up on film.

Discover music, authors, movies:


Gnod is the "global network of dreams" and somehow it is VERY capable of telling you which musicians, authors and movies you will like based on stuff you're already enjoying.

For example, I entered "Jack Johnson" on the Music Map page and got a comprehensive map of a bunch of artists I'm already listening to (like Ben Harper, Paolo Nutini, Ray LaMontagne, Norah Jones, Sublime and The Shins), which tells me I'm going to like the artists on the list that I haven't heard yet (like Donovan Frankenreiter). It even includes odd stuff-- indy folkster Elliott Smith was on the map when I entered rapper Mos Def. It's weird that I listen to both of those artists, but I do and somehow Gnod knew that.

There's also the option to enter three of your favorite musicians to lead to to new music that's sort of a combo of the three. Now that I think about it, this tool might be where they get data to make the music map work. Or maybe they just do it by magic.

The movie and book map sections are great too. And there's something on there called Flork that lets people discover other people around the world or something. If anyone tries it, let me know how it goes.

Props to Jessica for tipping me off to this.

Praise God for Gnod! (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Charity Thompson
Charity blogs at

Grammys: 3 Most Awkward Lyrics

I’m a fan of pop-music, but some lyrics just make me uncomfortable. In honor of the Grammys this week, these have my vote for the 3 most awkward recent pop-lyric lines (congrat's fergie, yours takes the cake):

#3) “you’re on my heart just like a tattoo”: I keep having a mental image of the actual surgical operation making this happen: just TOO painful! [Jordin Sparks "Tattoo"]

#2) “you can stand under my umbrella”: I really love this song--so catchy, so “get stuck in your head”, all the way up until this point. Not sure why but I get an image of Mary Poppins in my head and just feels kind of weird cuddlin’ up to her at my age. [Rihanna's "Umbrella"]

#1 most awkward) “i'm going to miss you like a child misses its blanket”: I heard it was nominated for a Grammy for best song so its probably just me, but every time I hear this line I get an image of Linus in my head totin' around a dirty ol' blanket and I can’t help and either chuckle or cringe. Though I find this line really awkward, all said my wife and a few friends jokingly text each other this line as code that we miss them. [Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry"]

Its weird that it’s the “object” (tattoo, blanket, umbrella) reference that’s the point of the song that gets awkward for me. I’m sure it’s the very utilization of common imagery as metaphor for human experience that makes these such popular songs w/ broad-based appeal, but nonetheless it makes me feel like a kid in his underwear on the schoolbus (that’s pop-code for: awkward).


Favorite Performance
On another note, my favorite performance for the evening would definitely have to go to Alicia Keys for "No One". I only saw about 1/2 the Grammys and was half paying attention on alot of them, and I heard Kanye's (which I missed) was awesome, but Keys' definitely caught my attention: strong, classy, right-on. I already love the song, i'd have to say i find it about the catchiest recent pop-song out there in recent months, and the lyrics strike on that classic unbreakable love that nothing can come between or tear-apart (in an ethos that really gets me thinking about Romans 8:38-39 everytime I hear it ["neither hardship or famine or death, nothing can separate us..."]).

"Old School" by Tobias Wolff

I just watched my roommate Paul walk out the door. Paul is fresh back from a week in sunny Texas, which has given him an extra hop in his step. You can always tell the people in Portland who have just been somewhere else -- they always have that extra hop in their step. This is probably because it's been less than sixty days since they last saw the sun.

As one of the many Portlanders stuck in the dreaded It stage of the year, I've turned to books for my sunshine. I'm pleased to give a huge huge huge megahuge recommendation to Tobias Wolff's Old School. I picked this book up for two reasons: 1. Because Tobias Wolff bears a striking resemblance to Tobias Funke; and 2. Because Wolff's This Boy's Life is my favorite memoir ever, and in my top ten for "overall fave books."

You know what? Usually I make off-the-cuff, arbitrary statements about books, movies, et al being in the top ten. Let's see what my list would actually look like, off the top of my head:

1. The Beach (Alex Garland)
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling)
3. The Catcher in the Rye (Jerome David Salinger)
4. This Boy's Life (Tobias Wolff)
5. The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Salmon Rushdie)
6. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
7. Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller)
8. Moneyball (Michael Lewis)
9. Faithful (Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan)
10. In God We Trust...All Others Pay Cash (Jean Shepherd)
11. Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain (Charles Cross)
12. Bringing Down the House (Ben Mezrich)

If you're the judging type, please judge my literary taste by the BOOK, not the movie. Also, it's worth noting this list is in order of how much I loved the book at the time. If I had to re-read them all, they might be in a completely different order.



Where was I?


Oh yeah: Old School is not quite up to the level of This Boy's Life, nor should I have expected it to be. Doing so is akin to expecting the next JK Rowling book to measure up to Harry Potter, or thinking Will Ferrell will always be able to duplicate Anchorman. This is still a darn good book.

The problem with darn good books, of course, is that I have too many things I want to say about them. Thought, thought, thought, thing I learned and then I'm incoherent, unable to put together a solid thesis statement. Instead of putting you through that, let me give you an excerpt from Old School. In it the narrator is competing with other prep school writers for the opportunity to meet Robert Frost. One of the things I love about Wolff -- and what you'll see in the below -- is his focus on character detail. Whereas I'm always concerned with the overarching story, you can see where Wolff's desire is to give you the whole, entire visual behind the story. Wish I could do that.

You could tell, reading George's poetry, that he knew his stuff. His lines scanned, he used alliteration and personification. Metonymy. His poems always had a theme and were full of sympathy for the little people of the world. They bored me stiff but George had expertise and gave occasional intimations of power in reserve.

I didn't really believe he would win. He seemed more professor than writer with his watch chain and hairy tweed cap and slow, well-considered speech. The effect was less stuffy than dear, and that was George's problem; he was too dear, too kind. I never heard him say a hard word about anyone, and it visibly grieved him when the rest of us made sport of our schoolmates, especially those with hopes of being published in Troubador. At our editorial meetings he argued for almost every submission, even knowing that we could take only a fraction of them. It was maddening. You couldn't tell whether he actually liked a piece or just hated turning people down. This provoked the rest of us to an even greater ferocity of judgment than we were naturally inclined to.

George's benevolence did not serve his writing well. For all its fluent sympathy, it was toothless. I had some magazine pictures of Ernest Hemingway tacked above my desk. In one he was baring his choppers at the camera in a way that left no doubt of his capacity for rending and tearing, which seemed plainly connected to his strength as a writer.

Still, I knew better than to write George off. If he just once let a strong feeling get the better of his manners, he might land a good one. He could win. (pages 9-10)

The best part of this book? Not that much actually happens. The entire thing is about character development. Maybe that won't appeal to everyone, but it did to me.

Mike Pacchione
(Mike blogs at

Timmerman’s Condensed Art History

There is no better way to spend a rainy Tuesday evening than engaging in a ninety minute dash through a history of art and the Church. Beginning at the year dot with a few paintings of Christ the Good Shepherd on tomb walls, Tim Timmerman, (Director of Art at George Fox University,) guided us through almost two thousand years of art-steeped history without drawing breath. Having passed quickly over the whole fine art arena to land on music and literature as my own particular comfort foods I was fascinated to find out a little more about the progression of visual art throughout the last two thousand years, the developing role of the artist and the Church’s, oftentimes unwieldy hand, in the whole process.

Timmerman is an excellent communicator with a wealth of fascinating little asides which punctuated his lecture and allowed us all to take something home to mull over at the end of the evening. Personally I loved his section on Gothic art and architecture and was really convicted to discover that many of the great architects who began the construction of elaborate Gothic Cathedrals and Churches fully realized they would not live to see their work completed and would pass this privilege on to their children and grandchildren. This knowledge coupled with Timmerman’s stories of intricately carved capstones and bricks placed eighty foot above eye level really convicted the artist in me to create art and beauty for the glory of God, with the kind of humility that does not need gratification from critics or fans. Throughout the evening we were offered many similar nuggets. I could hear people scribbling notes and anecdotes into journals all around the room and hope to see some of these quiky little stories popping up in our art over the next few months.

By the end of the evening I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of information which had passed between my ears. I had a file page full of artist’s names I plan to check out and investigate a little further and a healthy appreciation for the artists who have come before us. Surely this kind of awareness of art’s progression through the ages, (the artists who have struggled, locked heads with the church, been misunderstood and highly acclaimed, wrestled their own faith and art, failed,learned and soldiered on,) can only make us thankful to have a small place in such a rich tradition of people who have presented a God-drenched sense of beauty and truth to the unbelieving masses. I know that I left the lecture last night, freshly inspired to create, to strive towards innovation in my work, to anticipate struggle and failure but ultimately to know that God has throughout history used and continues to use the Artist as His hands and feet, His canvas and pen to scratch His kingdom into the four corners of the World.

Tim Timmerman lectures at George Fox University. Keep watching the website and mailing list for upcoming Imago Arts lectures.

Jan Carson blogs at

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Live! From my parent's basement!

First, thanks to Josh and Jan for inviting me onto this blog. That was very cool of them.

Some people make fun of blogs, like the people at the store where I work, who ask me "Done any blogs lately?" and then laugh like I'm an idiot.

The important thing is to see blogs as they are. Blogs are not actual media outlets. They are the thoughts of one or more people on a wide array of topics, like glorified diaries. They can be horribly self-absorbed piles of tripe, or they can be insightful and entertaining. Knowing Imago (and Jan and Josh in particular), this will be one of the latter.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hello. My name is Jordan, and I'm a blogger. That's me above, before I stopped smoking in early January. I also edit the Burnside Writers Collective web magazine and it's bastard son, the Burnside Writer's Blog.

"Operating Instructions" by Anne Lamott: Hilarious required reading

Hey y'all, it's Charity. I am three chapters into Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and I am already declaring required reading for... I don't know who. People who are pregnant or parenting or people who know people who are those things. Or people who like hilarious and poignant authors like Anne Lamott.

I picked up the book because I want to devour anything she's ever written and I just can't get over how wonderful it is already. How many authors write about giving birth and include the fact that while they were pushing they squeezed out a little poo on the birthing table? She is just way too honest and funny. And such a master of words. I keep reading this paragraph over and over, even though I am nowhere near the situation of a single, poor, pregnant, recovering alcoholic:

"So I am often awake these days in the hours before dawn, full of joy, full of fear. The first birds begin to sing at quarter after five, and when Sam moves around in my stomach, kicking, it feels like there are trout inside me, leaping, and I go in and out of the aloneness, in and out of that sacred place."

Read it!

Charity blogs at

Thursday, February 7, 2008

No Country for Old Men

An old man behind us let out a long, low, raspy expletive in response to watching yet another victim find his or her way into the damage path of what may be the most menacing character created in film. I looked to my friend Tim, back to the old man, and saw the same just-passed-a-fatal-car-accident on both their faces. Sitting in plush, comfortable chairs at the theater I was anything but comfortable. For this unique film experience, my face was turned slightly, as if to wince at the action on screen and ready to dodge the blow…and there he was, Chigurh. With black Mamba eyes, ready to strike a fatal blow at the toss of a coin, Anton Chigurh (played by the soon to be Oscar Award winning actor, Javier Bardem) has become film’s newest nightmare born on the arid desert of West Texas in search of stolen drug money. Chigurh’s character is never fully explained, but the audience doesn’t care. Cold, calculating and subtracting anyone in his path, Anton’s weapon of choice is a captive bolt pistol (in layman’s terms: a penetrating cattle gun) which uses compressed air as a deadly weapon. The sound of the weapon only added to its soon to be cult film status, as does: the cinematography (Roger Deakins), the editing (Roderick Jaynes) and the adapted screenplay (Joel & Ethan Coen). With 8 Academy Award Nominations including Best Picture, No Country for Old Men was easily the best picture of the year…that is, for me.

And now, after this true confession, how does a Christian enjoy and find value in a film with such disturbing and violent images. To add insult to injury, my second favorite film was Eastern Promises (Viggo Mortensen’s role as Nikolai should win Best Actor), another hyper-violent concoction of Director David Cronenberg. I guess I should add in my third (P.S. I Love You) for redemption’s sake, but must admit it’s probably because I didn’t see Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. We all need a creative, tender love story now & again, and P.S. fit the bill admirably.

So why the violence? And how do films with dark themes help us better grasp the Light Christ brought to this world? And am I chewing off too much, painting myself into a corner, not enough oil in my lamp? Probably. But here goes anyway, thanks for taking this non-stop (keep your eyes inside the page at all times) thrill-ride, destination (hopefully) Appreciation of the Arts: Finding God in Film.

One thing I’m confident about is my understanding of what makes a good story (creating one is another matter). At the moment, two LA based production companies are reading my screenplay which I’m busy marketing & hoping to option…so I hope my screenplay fits the bill so I can start paying mine. A screenplay usually runs 120 pages (1 minute of screen time per page) and is divided into three Acts. I’ve heard many ways of describing the Acts: Set up, obstacles, resolution – or – 1) put your protagonist in a tree 2) Pelt him with rocks 3) Get him out of the tree. I would add thorns to the limbs on the tree…but you get the idea.

The point is text book: by creating tension with obstacles the writer can develop a complex character who undergoes a dramatic arc that leads to transformation and ultimately the character & audience’s desire (not strong enough) NEED for resolution. The character either attains his desire (a comedy) or doesn’t (a tragedy). And this is usually the structure for screenplays that land on the desks of those in charge of acquisitions…not so for No Country.

When Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) gives the final dialogue in the film with a true blue Texas drawl… Tim & I (and the Old Man) sat shell-shocked. My mind rolled with the credits and I knew I had watched a film of profound beauty and meaning. Random violence and evil is part of the Christian worldview; the carnal man unto himself is capable of doing anything to anyone. I wanted Rambo retaliation; I wanted the hand of good to forever close the lifeless eyes of evil; I wanted a happy ending…but we live in dangerous world. All one has to do is read the New Testament in honest reflection and find an account filled with danger, death, betrayal and sorrow. I think of how alone Christ was in the garden and how His brutal afflictions brought forth atonement & redemption in his blood, “and by His wounds we are healed.” Because He took the brunt of Sin (and paid His life for it) and overcame Death itself… those who profess Christ appreciate the Hope, Peace, Love & Charity He gives us to Light a dark world. Knowing just how dark it really is (not in celebration) only adds to our appreciation of the One who came to save.

Did I really sense all of this watching a film like No Country? Not immediately—I had to think about it and that is the beauty of Art and the lens it provides for us to see our world differently. At times Art can make us uncomfortable or it can give us a fresh glimpse of old surroundings—the familiar seen in a new light. Besides The Passion (criticized for its brutality), Christian films (and by that I mean films designed to entertain Christians) have never hit me as hard as No Country…not nearly as hard.

With no defined character arc across the sky, obstacles left as ragged outcroppings and no sunset of resolution on the horizon…I felt strangely satisfied in this new land. The film had pushed deep into emotional terrain long guarded and not easily given up. Tim and I raised the white flag as we left the theater…and I turned back and the old man hadn’t moved.

Darren Jacobs
(Darren blogs at

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Waiting for Snow in Havana

I have been reading an outstanding book, both from a literary and a theological perspective: Waiting for Snow in Havana.

The author, Carlos Eire, is a Cuban exile. The book is primarily a memoir of his boyhood in Cuba, but it also touches on his post-Cuban life in the US, and on the present. I had never meditated on the painful process of exile, even if the exile is a child. The author was a wealthy, white son of a judge, and ended up being "a spic," who had to lie about his age to get work washing dishes all night and being looked-down-on by everyone around him. His mom went from being a pampered wife to being a single, crippled mom, unable to find work or take care of her children.

One of the amazing things about the book, aside from lots of great randomness one might expect from a thorough childhood memory, is the author's amazing ability to turn everything back around to God. At the end of one awful chapter, where he remembers fragments of near-molestation by a hated foster brother, he heaps coals on the brother's head by wishing he would go to heaven and be forgiven by Jesus, when the reader expects him to wish the brother damned.

The author went through scarring by his monk-teachers; he ended up being paranoid that a dirty magazine might fall open on his face right before he died, thus sending him straight to hell. He went through trials ranging from living in foreign orphanages to listening to his mom scream while bombs fell. He also lived in a country where religion was eventually outlawed. However, none of that seems to have separated him from his God. I like that--it is too easy to allow fellow "Christians" to injure our faith, or to see our traumas as reasons to doubt. Carlos Eire just sees it all as the way things are, and maintains this amazing reverence toward God. He does so with an amazing sense of humor, too.

I highly recommend this book, to almost anyone. It is remarkably upbeat, considering, and brings back all of the fun of childhood. It also has taught me more about history, and made me think about identity, and about God.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Movie Recommendations from Mike Pacchione

I'm usually against spending much time watching movies. It makes me feel dependent on someone else's creativity rather than my own.

With that said, I've been in a bit of a sloth-like mood of late. As such, I've watched three (3) movies in the past two weeks. That's like six months worth for the most recent version of me. A quick rundown:

* The Savages: An extremely well-acted, well-written movie that's so completely draining I hope to never see it again. There's no particular protagonist, which always intrigues me, and I walked away reminded of how selfish we are at most points in our life. If that's not a solid sales pitch, I don't know what is.

* Stranger Than Fiction: Yeah, yeah, it's been out on video for a while, but still. My friend Cindy Morris once told me "if you ever write a movie, I picture it being exactly like this one." Comments like that almost always result in me hating the film, but I LOVED Stranger Than Fiction. Clever, funny, a bit left-of-center* and, in the end, a film of some substance. Plus, Buster Blooth guest-stars. Can't ask for more than that.

* Sweeney Todd: Saw this one on Saturday and figured to hate it. Musicals have about a 0% conversion rate with me. Really liked Sweeney Todd, thought it was funny and comic bookesque. Also, I was excited to like it because I saw it with a bunch of people who loved that Juno movie. I was finally going to be on the side of popular opinion (exclamation point). Not so much. Saw it with three girls and one other guy; the guys really liked it, the girls hated it. Such is life.

* = Don't really know what this means

Mike Pacchione
(Mike blogs at

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thoughts on Loveless

How do I hear music? It’s an interesting question. I’m four hundred pages into Christopher Rick’s epic synopsis of Bob Dylan’s vision of sin and virtue. With painstaking attention to detail he attempts to analyze dozens and dozens of Dylan’s songs paying special attention to meter, rhyme patterns, lyricality and use of literary technique. Ninety percent of the book leaves me dry and distanced from the actual songs: acutely aware that the divine mystery of listening pleasure cannot be explained away by the songwriter’s artful use of iambic pentameter or a particularly devastating onomatopoeia. The other ten percent of the book drives deep into the heart of Dylan’s music, harnessing something of the lyricality, the heavy handed wordery, social commentary and wit which has elevated his music to mythical levels. There is something about the music I love most, the kind of music which feels like it is permanently anchored to the interior of my thoughts, which refuses to succumb to analysis. It is a constantly changing beauty, a difficult truth, a fluid sound which shifts with context, maturity, mood and even company.

Last night we spent a good hour in the company of My Bloody Valentine’s early 90’s masterpiece, Loveless. This record has been languishing at the bottom of my conscious for the better part of a decade. During my college years there was always a copy of Loveless propping up the pot plants and coffee mugs in some student dive or other. The record sleeve, (a terrible nineties blur of menstrual pinks and reds,) always takes me back to the days when color photocopying was still a wild luxury and had terrified me into drawing unfair assumptions about the sounds contained beneath. When Lost In Translation came out and allegiance to fuzzy guitars and static drone seemed to be a prerequisite for everyone under thirty five, I opted to get my kicks with The Jesus and Mary Chain. By the time I was ready to give My Bloody Valentine a fair listen I was twenty five years old, trapped in a gloomy basement, existing on a diet of second hand novels and mould. Occasionally I would slip in my earphones, sandwich them to my head with a huge pair of bright red industrial ear protectors and listen to Loveless until I began to blur the lines of conscious. It was the best of times and also not so great.

Three years later with a handful of friends, half of us MBV devotees, half of us recent converts, the record sounds like an entirely different slice of music. We sit back and listen to a few songs, some of the more “radio friendly” tunes plus a fair spattering of songs which might be better described as visual art. “Well what do you think?” says Nate who has been elected to steer the conversation tonight. We say the obvious things using words like experimental, difficult and even visionary. We start to swap facts. Did you know that MBV single-handedly destroyed Creation? Did you know that the flurries of sound are made by employing the following technique on an electric guitar? Did you know that MBV went through twenty odd producers before they finally got Loveless in the can? This kind of fact swapping fun could keep me up all night because it comes so easy to me. It comes from the same place as modern record reviews which seem to say less about the songs themselves and more about the reviewer’s impressive and somewhat pithy knowledge of obscure bands and records. I realize five minutes into the discussion that most of us, like Christopher Ricks, are much more comfortable with the concrete when it comes to assessing the worth of a piece of music or art. Facts are fine, guitars, amps and synthesizers perfect, rhythm, meter and rhyme schemes just dandy; after all aren’t they the mathematics of rock music? You can always prove yourself right or wrong picking out which make of guitar is being butchered or what the lyrics refer to. The abstract edge of music is a little more difficult to love.

After we pushed through the preliminaries we began to wrestle with the real dark heart of Loveless. We said things like, “doesn’t it feel like contractions?” and “I feel like I’m underwater in a bad, industrial way,” and “I forgot that I was listening to music. It feels exactly like dreaming.” We used the word feel enough times to wonder if this record doesn’t go beyond simple music to a kind of music/visual mixed media where sound can actually be shaped, felt and visualized. We did not analyze the lyrics. It is impossible to analyze the lyrics of MBV unless you have their songs on some kind of bizarro David Lynch does karaoke sing-along cd. MBV do not print lyrics on their sleeve notes. They go out of their way to create beautiful lyrics and hide them under dense, fuzzy waves of see-sawing guitars. Perhaps they want their listeners to wrestle with the abstract beauty of the whole rather than the smaller, funneled beauties of each individual part.

Later in the evening, "Only Shallow", still crunching in our ears, Nate and I retired to the Hutch for further synopsis and beer. This question of abstract beauty has dominated every one of our last three conversations and My Bloody Valentine had given us a fresh vehicle for debate. Nate takes photographs. I write stories. Both Nate and I become obsessed with these huger visions of beauty; abstract glimpses of God which come peeking through the trees when you’re content and marching in your Winter boots, the way condensation collects on a coffee mug, the inside of your head first thing in the morning. All these thoughts are abstract in the extreme. They concern God, love, beauty, truth, fear and all those other overplayed themes. They are each and every one a great concept to spend your life wrestling into art. The problem being both Nate and myself are constantly bogged down in the concrete. We take these airy, ephemeral beauties and trap them inside clumpy plot lines or fuzzy shots. Instead of distilling the bigness into something neat, fit and intense, we end up diluting the enormity of the abstract as it gets funneled through a very concrete and somewhat limiting means. Despite our every effort we find ourselves frustrated by thee end product of thin stories and distant photos. In short we are nowhere near Loveless and oftentimes crippled by fear of falling short.

Today I listened to Loveless again, walking round Portland on an uncharacteristically fine January day. Alone and moving it was a completely different record. I stopped under a tree and my head felt like a sleeping machine, lungs contracting and expanding from deep underwater. I saw the tree branches spindly armed and grasping, etched into the blue, blue sky and in a second knew the bigness of an unquantifiable beauty. This is the same kind of abstract wonder that wraps itself around God himself. The entire Bible is full of writers lost for words in pursuit of God’s beauty. Again and again the Old Testament writers fall back on simile and comparison, God is like this or God is like that. No one seems comfortable with describing God in concrete terms: no one is capable but this does not deter them from trying to capture even the smallest hem of his garment. Perhaps there is a desire in all of us to wrestle with the enormities of abstract beauty and truth, to keep funneling these truths through the art we make, art which will always fail and fall short of our intentions.

Jan Carson
(Jan blogs at

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

::Mourning Doves In Nicaragua::

Two weeks ago I sat in the Houston airport waiting for a connecting flight to Nicaragua. I accepted my fate begrudgingly, found a roosting spot and pulled out from my bag a novel my friend Anna gave me. A book she listed on her Myspace favorites called Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. The language I found was epic, every word a carefully hand picked berry that Abbey dutifully polished on his shirt close to his heart and carefully placed in his bucket. Berries that he’d later make into the juiciest, sweetest pie for his five closest friends. There’s a line in the book that brings me to this present moment. Late morning, sipping a cane sugar cola from a glass bottle and listening to the mourning doves from the courtyard of my hostel in Nicaragua. The sound these birds create is something nostalgic for me. As a kid I would listen to the forlorn D minor bellow of this bird outside my bedroom window like a nature’s lullaby.

In Abbey’s book he writes: “Also invisible but invariably present at some indefinable distance are the mourning doves whose plaintive call suggest irresistibly a kind of seeking out, the attempt by separated souls to restore a lost communion: Hello…they seem to cry, who… and the reply from a different quarter. Hello…(pause) where…are…you?

I’m not sure how it happened but I’m happily surrounded by friends who are great writers. I mean really great. Had they been born in an earlier century they would have been in social circles with Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. In fact they would’ve been Fitzgerald and Stein, hopefully without the hang up of alcohol abuse. But for me, writing does not come naturally, nor do I foresee ever rightfully owning the title of a writer. My emails are lazy, I’m a horrible typist, and my hand tires quickly when I write. My journals teeter between psychotic and pathetic. The one script I’ve been known to write well are break-up letters: passionate and from the heart. A genre of writing that, hopefully, I won’t write much more of in my lifetime.

I’ve grown to respect great writing, so Thank You Edward Abbey for describing something I’ve always felt on a molecular level, but never knew how to find the words like in the dialogue that the mourning doves share.

When I first contemplated getting a ticket to Central America to visit my friend Lisa I was a little uncertain if I wanted to go. I knew some sort of get-away was imperative for me but I have never been drawn to Spanish speaking cultures, Nicaragua wasn’t top on my list. I suspect my aversion to the Spanish language came from my youth. I grew up in a small town where the neighborhood kids who came to jump on our trampoline had names like Juan, Jesus, Hector and Lupe. They would ask me, ” Jew wanna come to my ouse for deener?”

Words like; Hola, Dinero, Que pasa and the ever-displeasing mental image of Gracias pronounced “Grassy-ass” were imbued into our everyday speech. Later in life living in New Mexico an ex boyfriend would entertain himself with the cartoon voice of Speedy Gozales, “Hey Ese, Que Pasa your Sombrero is too Beeg.”

Relaxed, in the warm morning air of Nicaragua I’m happy to declare that I am kickin it in a Spanish speaking country and I’m even growing fond of the language. Who knew. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere next to Haiti, yet somehow this country encapsulates the most kind hearted people I’ve ever met; my safety has never once felt threatened.

I theorize that the Nicaraguans serene nature is somehow woven into their infinite helix. Music plays a large factor into their chilaxed disposition a spiraling staircase of DNA comprised of musical instruments. The blend of the accordion, guitar and trumpets are like an airborne tranquilizer. To demonstrate the tender heart of these people, on several occasions I have, overpaid; sometimes the equivalent of fifty US dollars or more; the street market people, the ardent sales man, the taxi drivers and to my good luck a sympathetic smile to coddle my ignorant gringo ways come to their lips as they hand me back my money. Mind you, I have traveled a fair amount in my lifetime and this does NOT happen anywhere else in the world, especially a country as poor as Nicaragua. One evening strolling through the street markets to get a late night snack I was discussing with my friend Jonathan from Connecticut how strangely big hearted Nicaraguans were, and just then I looked over and saw a police officer with a hand gun strapped to his side kneeling down to tie the shoe of a homeless guy.

There is a Dutch woman named Dorien who heads an organization called MPOWERING PEOPLE. My friend Lisa has been working with her to orchestrate hundreds of street kids in a 45-minute play with handmade, but functional props to depict the history of Nicaragua with a message of empowerment to females and children who are often victimized by family. I saw the play last night. The kids took the stage in one of the poorest villages outside the town of Leon. I didn’t understand a lick of the language but when the Spanish Conquistadors came out of the shadows and shouted “Christiano, Christano!” and then beheaded the loin clothe clad indigenous people the walls of my heart collapsed and my eyes welled with tears. The play was captivating, something Dorien and a group of people have been working on for almost a year; writing the script, costume designing, rehearsing, and promoting. This was a huge task to organize and they managed to pull it off with flying colors.

Dorien is strong in stature with long red hair, which is often disheveled and wadded back in a messy ponytail. She looks at you with nurturing blue eyes; benevolent, and exhausted from trying to save the world. I don’t know what her religious orientation is or if she even has one, but regardless, to me she is like a Twenty-first century Jesus. When I think of what Christ looked like when He hung out with the people I think of that ubiquitous Sunday school image of Christ surrounded by and walking with the children. His comforting hand on the shoulder of one of the boys, a baby resting on his chest and all of them looking up at Him smiling, while a cotton puff cloud-like lamb rests in the foreground. That image is Dorien; replace the cloud like sheep with a mangy, emaciated, diseased and dirt-ridden dog. She sits with the sick and the poor and tries her damnedest to help anyone in need. She’s known for miles, people yell her name as she walks down the street, running after her to be near her. Dorien! Dorien!…

One day, in the same village where the play took place we went to a little corrugated tin shack of a house. An old woman a foot shorter then me with one tooth in the center of her upper gums greeted us with rib crushing hugs. She first embraced Dorien and then around the circle of people; Lisa, Dorien’s visiting parents and myself. When she came to me, she held my face with her small hands and then with one hand gestured emanating rays of light around my head. Dorien translated what she said, “You are like an Angel from heaven.”

I felt my face light up in the aura of acceptance, that sort of special feeling of confirmation that you get when babies and dogs take an instant liking to you. This “supernatural divine occurrence” happened a few times on my journey; situations where I felt singled out from the crowd as if someone from a higher place was trying to send me messages of love. On the beaches of Bonita, four of us travelers sat facing the sun, reading, listening to the oceans roar when a little boy came by and with long strands of grass he wrapped and twisted little flowers for each one of us. We gave him in exchange a little money and then carried on reading our books. Continuing to stand over me and blocking my much enjoyed sunlight he started folding another piece of grass skillfully creasing it in half and then into the shape of a cross, he handed it to me, and In Spanish he said, “This is for you.”

“O’ no, no gracias. Yo no dinero.” I said, which was actually true because Lisa was spotting me until I could get to the next ATM. He insisted and said, “It’s a gift for you”.

Now, its possible that this is all coincidence, maybe he thought I needed a cross to ward off evil werewolves under the night’s full moon, but the thought did enter my mind that maybe these are little messages from God, communicating like the mourning dove.

Hello…I Love you,..(pause)… Hello….I’m right… here….

The diminutive old women, after she pointed out my golden rays of light, started to cry and told us her daughter who is only thirty was in her corrugated tin home dying of cancer. The irony of this scenario momentarily stopped my heart. I currently struggle to make sense of my duties and place with a terminally ill stepfather who too is dying of cancer.

I felt helpless. This poor women who obviously loved her daughter greatly had no hope so I asked Dorien to please translate that if it was possible, I’d like to pray for them. It was the least I could do. In the darkness of their shack I sat on the daughter’s bed while she cried, holding her hand and her mother’s. The three of us. The room was pitch black with only a bed and an oscillating fan. I saw only the incandescent glow of their eyes and stumbled awkwardly through a prayer asking the Lord to please comfort this family and help the daughter endure any pain that may be inflicted on her body by the cancer. When I said Amen, they followed by saying, ” En nombre de Jesus Christo Amen.”

As I was leaving, the daughter cried in fear and gripped my hand piercing my wrist with her nails. After we left, Dorien quickly got on her cell phone and in Spanish arranged for a doctor to travel to the village and get the girl pain medication. The following day, Dorien went to the Nicaraguan hospital and donated her blood to the girl.

There are many questions I battle with being a Christ follower and in a way I have learned through my friend Don’s writing that it’s ok to ask these questions, like “Why are most Christians, jerks?” You see, Dorien overwhelmed me with her kindness. Her heart is the embodiment of true compassion. This kind of compassion was the opposite of my experiences in Managua at the orphanage. A missionary lady who worked as a coordinator to bring down teams from the states to help build new housing and schools for the locals and another affluent woman in her fifties visiting from the states to adopt three babies were my company for the week in Managua. It was one of those situations where immediately I knew; they were not interested in getting to know me.

Not once did I experience sincerity from them. I wondered how they could do what they did with such little structure of compassion. I suppose some people are just good people and others think all they have to do is call themselves Christians and leave it at that. Not only did they treat me poorly, but they also treated the locals poorly as if they were somehow better then everyone else. I thought of confronting them, but I don’t think they could grasp just how insensitive they were. I tried like a bullied school kid to engage in their conversations but my words would only fall out of my mouth flat in the dust. They’d turn their attention away from me and start talking to one another not even hearing me, like my words lacked breath, like I was invisible, like they were deaf, except to each other. Other times I’d try to act perky and pretend their coldness went unnoticed I’d say something like, “What time do we head to the orphanage today?” They’d talk among themselves, giggle share an inside joke, pause, look out the widow for a while to contemplate the change of weather and then lethargically say, “Oh did you say something Melanie?”

…What happened to my emanating rays of light? Did they not see them too? My failed humor was constantly taken the wrong way and instead of explaining what I meant, I took their looks of annoyance like a cockroach in my half eaten sandwich…Gulp…

When we went out to eat we’d pray before and then because something wasn’t right with the meal they’d throw a fit and demand money back. I was embarrassed to be white and embarrassed to be Christian. Even more fatal I started developing a complex, asking myself if anyone anywhere had ever liked me. I desperately needed to get back to Lisa.

Day six into the trip I started to regret ever leaving Lisa until I arrived at the orphanage. At the orphanage all my frustrations were forgotten. This is where I fell in love with Alexandria, a one-year-old baby girl. The moment I saw her the universe shifted, like the great ease of ancient tectonic plates falling into place for a temporary slumber. Somehow, I refrained myself from immediately running to her side and lifting her to the great baby gods in jubilee. Instead, mentally half present I held and comforted other children to sleep, all the while watching Alexandria in my peripheral to see if she equally noticed me. I can tell by watching her, she feels and hears everything intensely. Immediately, when she caught my eye and lifted her hands to me I felt deeply protective of her. For five days, I spent time getting to know her, and in the wake of my inability to ever remember the correct lyrics of any song; I think there’s a name for this disorder, something like, Lyrical-Popcornheaditis. I sang to her Christmas tunes, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…” and Paul Simons “Slip Sliding Away” and “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard” as she fell asleep on my shoulder I softly sang… ” He said Dolores I live in fear, my love for you is so appalling I’m afraid I will disappear…slip sliding away..” not a typical infant lullaby, but I tried to exercise a constant voice around her. I noticed as the hours and the days went by the more she recognized my presence as a person of solace.

I’ve tried to pinpoint this love. I’ve been in love before, and to this day I am often weighted down by him, the “Impossible” love. I drag him with me in my mind and heart everywhere, even here to Nicaragua. This kind of love is written about in Latin countries where a man or women will love each other for fifty years and may have never even kissed one another. This impossible love of mine has warranted volumes of break up letters.

But this is not the same kind of love that I felt when I saw Alexandria. I have only been hit by Cupid’s arrow twice in my life. The knowing, when upon first sight you can actually feel the piercing of cardio flesh that aches in the voice of fate. Crossing paths with Alexandria felt more like an arrow from cupid. Through research I have learned that the adoption process doesn’t look promising; too much difficulty with the Nicaraguan government. They’re disorganized and inconsistent with the law. But, I plan to do what I can, even if I have to learn Spanish and if I can never help her find her way out of the orphanage she now inhabits part of my spirit and I will always pray for her. I hardly saw this coming when I first contemplated buying a ticket to Nicaragua. But, soaking in the sun and surrounded by the events that took place; the good and the bad, I’m happy I did.

Melanie Brown

Melanie's work can be viewed at