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.