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Renew the Arts Roundtable: Ambient Church

Renew the Arts Roundtable is a continuing series of discussions between members and friends of Renew the Arts concerning (mostly) recent happenings in the intersecting worlds of faith, art, and popular culture. In this first installment, three staff members talk about Ambient Church, the implications this movement has for the relationship between the Church and the Arts, and how Christian art can be liberated by analyzing this issue.

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Are We Overstating the Importance of the Arts?

After launching the Renew the Arts podcast, we started getting lots of feedback. All of it was encouraging, and a lot of it contained (even from some of our most supportive fans) some skepticism about the amount of emphasis we place on arts in the church. The arts might be important, but are they actually essential in any way to the work of the church? Sure, we like them, but can’t we actually do without them in the church and still be okay? Is it really that big of a deal?

Are the arts really that central to the life and work of the church?

Who Will Be the Next Billy Graham?

It’s a question on many of our minds since Billy Graham died: What now?

This iconic moment for American evangelicalism paints a clear picture of what has weighed heavy on the heart of Christians, even before the passing of Billy Graham: who will carry the gospel into the next generation? The conversation has a tinge of hopelessness, as millennials flood out of the church at an increasing rate. “America’s pastor” is dead. Will the church in America die with him? It almost looks like it will.

From Quality Strangers to Make Sure, Joshua Jackson Walks Home Instead

The sun has set in Opelika, Alabama, and Joshua Jackson rolls through town with a car full of his close friends. They’ve spent the day shooting for a short film to be published on Jackson’s YouTube comedy channel. Hungry, they decide to go to Wendy’s for a quick bite. As they drive along, one of the friends starts to slap a beat on his lap. Another starts beatboxing, and the rest join in the impromptu percussion session. At the request of one of his friends, Jackson starts to sing a song about driving to Wendy’s in a free-wheeling, pseudo-rap as the crew laughs and continues the beat.

This is a fairly standard summer evening for Joshua Jackson, a singer-songwriter now working under the moniker Make Sure. Jackson currently lives in Auburn, Alabama, to attend Auburn University, but he is an Opelika native through and through. Jackson was born and raised in the neighboring town, and many of his friends still live there.  He speaks very highly of his home town, noting its welcoming atmosphere and kind-hearted inhabitants. Joshua Jackson reflects this warmth through his music, and he has been doing so for six years now.

Asher Graieg-Morrison’s “Pure Religion”: Meditating Night and Day

Many Christians seem to have lost the ability to meditate, and for a few reasons. For one, the very word meditation causes some uneasiness in certain Christian circles, bringing to mind new-age subjectivity and Eastern mysticism. Further, the information saturation and overall busyness of Western culture has contributed to our shrinking attention span. We all have a decreasing ability to dwell on one idea for any length of time, even “action” movies are sometimes described as boring by the chronically desensitized.

So in days like these when meditation has fallen out of practice and has been devalued by the cultural status quo, a meditative aid can be productive to assist us in our attempts to sustain focus on God’s word. God has, after all, recommended this practice as “blessed” (Ps. 1:2, among others).

Roe v. Wade isn’t the Main Problem

I grew up hearing a narrative about Roe v. Wade. Maybe you heard it too. It goes like this:

Abortion in America used to be illegal and socially frowned upon. Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, forcing abortion on a predominantly pro-life culture in a radical act of judicial activism. Once abortions on demand were legalized, the number of abortions suddenly skyrocketed. Overnight, Roe v. Wade both legalized and normalized abortion, and if we are ever going to suppress the legal killing of unborn babies, we first need to take political action to overturn this decision. [2016 edit: And that’s why you need to vote for Donald Trump, since there’s an open seat on the Supreme Court].

Scorsese, Endo, Silence, and Me: “These Poor Signs of Faith”

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On his way to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum to get inspiration for his next novel, Shusaku Endo was diverted to the smaller, almost hidden, Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum nearby. There he first saw the fumi-e (“trampling pictures”)—brazen images of Jesus hanging on the cross or of Mary with her iconic cucumber (perhaps Eastern-styled as a lotus), representing purity even in the midst of swampy filth.

The unswervingly Buddhist 17th-century Shogunate commissioned these brazen images specifically to be desecrated as a public sign of apostasy, and Japanese peasants would step (or trample “if you prefer a more florid reading”) on the fumi-e as proof that they posed no threat to the order and solidarity of Buddhist Japan.

Christmas Music for a More Sober Joy

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I used to love Christmas music. I used to love it so much, in fact, that I convinced the rest of my family that it is acceptable to listen to Christmas music on November 1st (the previous acceptable time was exclusively post-Thanksgiving). However, I’ve found myself listening to less Christmas music with each passing year.

This year, as I’ve become more vested in the philosophy of aesthetics thanks to my involvement with the Nehemiah Foundation, I’ve been pondering why I have experienced this gradual divorce from holiday tunes. What I’ve found are some serious pitfalls within the genre and some solutions to renewing the arts that surround Christ’s birth.

Death and Electric Puritans: A Narrative Report on “Death is Their Shepherd”

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This is a guest post by Quenton Frank Brooks, an adjunct literature professor currently living in Israel. He was gracious enough to allow the Foundation to publish his thoughts on Death is Their Shepherd. Since not much has been written on the narrative portion of the project, we’re pleased to present this report in honor of Death is Their Shepherd’s one-year anniversary coming up this Halloween/Reformation Day.

And just in case this sort of thing matters to you, consider this your spoiler alert.