Reflections on “Brain Pickings” at age 7: How Maria Popova’s ‘little labor of love’ newsletter became a source of such great joy for her and for her 7 million readers!
Fuller Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that Makoto (“Mako”) Fujimura will join the seminary as director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts. Fujimura’s appointment, effective September 1, 2015, follows a yearlong international search process. Master painter Mako Fujimura is a respected leader in the conversation between Christian faith and art. A devoted believer, world-renowned artist, and cultural influencer, his leadership has had a profound impact around the world.
Fujimura is the craftsperson of a movement toward renewal called “culture care.” This magnum opus work, his alternative to “culture wars,” is born from the integration of his work as an artist and his commitment to his Christian faith. He says it is worship that integrates all of his endeavors, acting as the heartbeat of a legacy that dovetails beautifully with the task before Fuller and with the original vision of the Brehm Center.
“I am filled with gratitude and joy at the rich opportunity I have to welcome Mako as the new director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts,” says Fuller President Mark Labberton. “This role ‘shaping culture shapers,’ as Bill and Dee Brehm noted in the early days of their vision, is key for Fuller, and Mako beautifully fulfills our commitment to innovation, collaboration, faithfulness, fruitful risk-taking, and courageous creativity. Bill has always said of the brainstorming process: ‘start with the universe!’ The appointment of Makoto Fujimura to the directorship of the center that bears the Brehm name lives up to that robust challenge.”
“Our relationship with Mako,” says Nate Risdon, Brehm Center program director, “has been one of mutual admiration for nearly 10 years: his lectures, work, and writings have inspired much of our work to date. To have Mako serve as our director brings an amazing convergence that will energize and magnify the movement of ‘culture care.’”
Fujimura will be a “vision director” for Fuller’s Brehm Center, working directly with President Labberton toward a “robust, imaginative experience for Fuller students,” says Fujimura. “My goal for all of us is to experience our God as the author of beauty. My studio is where I experience the presence of my calling the most, and is also where I can offer an integrated experience to others.” Through his studio practice he has mentored many, written several books, and had significant conversation with the church and the world. Fujimura says, “This Fuller appointment is intended to amplify those connections to share with many more.”
Fujimura argues for the importance of creating and conserving beauty as antidote to cultural brokenness by asserting a need for cultural “generativity” in public life. Beauty is vital to “soul care,” he believes, offering a vision of the power of artistic generosity to inspire, edify, and heal the church and culture. (See his speech on culture care at the National Press Club.) Fujimura’s book Culture Care is a support volume to the personal gatherings and international speaking engagements in which he shares that vision with like-minded artists, supporters, and creatives…
I went to a screening of Woodlawn last Saturday. Directed by Birmingham brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, the film tells the true story of revival among the players on the football team at Woodlawn High School in Birmingham during a racially tense period of the 1970s.
The film focuses on Tony Nathan, the tailback who takes the position from a white teammate and becomes a star. The real-life Tony Nathan went on to play at Alabama and for the Miami Dolphins.
It’s a moving story, with some high-pitched emotional scenes. The acting is good, especially Jon Voight as Bear Bryant, Nic Bishop as Woodlawn’s coach, Tandy Gerelds, and Caleb Castille who plays Nathan in his first film. Technically, Evangelical films have come a long way.
The large crowd at the screening cheered when Woodlawn scored a winning touchdown, shouted when Tony Nathan dodged a tackle, laughed at the punch lines. It was a very into-it crowd.
Yet I came away from the film dissatisfied, as I do from many films by Evangelicals. I think there are a number of reasons for that dissatisfaction, but at base the problem is theological (ain’t it always)…
Watch the ‘Woodlawn‘ trailer
The Blind Side Leading the Blind: Better Faith-Based Filmmaking through Better Stories, by Gary David Stratton
Why Most “Christian” Movies Suck, by Brennan Smith
Christians in Hollywood: A Mission Impossible Writer Offers a Treatment, by TV Writer Ron Austin
It is no secret: Culture in the West has become progressively more practical, materially oriented, and skeptical. When I look out at my students, I see people who are in the process of choosing a way to make money and succeed, a strategy for getting on in life.
We’re more and more a worldly, money-based culture geared to the life of getting and spending, trying and succeeding, reaching for more and more. We are a pragmatic people. We do not seek perfection in thought or art, war or faith. The profound stories about heroes and saints are passing from our minds. We are anything but idealists. From the halls of academe, where a debunking realism is the order of the day, to the floor of the stock market, nothing is in worse repute than the ideal.
The passing away of our commitment to ideals should not happen without second thoughts. Young people, who have traditionally been the ones most receptive to ideals, should be able to choose. Do they want to live a wholly practical life in a practical culture? Do they want to seek safety and security and never risk being made fools of? Or do they perhaps want something else? Every generation should be able to hold its own plebiscite on the issue of ideals.
Courage, contemplation, compassion: These are the great ideals of the ancient world. And though their lights are dimming, there is still time to revive them, to examine them, and, if one is so moved, to bring them into one’s own life. Although their first exemplars — Homer, Plato, Buddha, Jesus — are male, the ideals are there for men and women alike, and for members of all races and every class. The warrior needs strength, yes; the thinker needs the chance to develop intellect. Those facts may eliminate certain individuals, though not as many as one might imagine. But the life of compassion, perhaps the most consistently rewarding of the ideals, is available to all of us.
Few will be able to adopt an ideal without reserve. There will always be some need for the protective armor of what I will call “self.” But even those of us most enclosed in self can expand our beings with the simplest acts of courage or compassion, or with a true effort at thought. And after that initial expansion, who knows what might befall?
Dear TWH Community,
Here’s the good news, July 23-24 witnessed the largest THW 24 hour site use of all time. Here’s the bad news, the website went down around 7pm (EDT) on the 24th. After a week of frustration and a lot of help, we are finally back online.
Special thanks to Lem Usita and “Andrew” from Bluehost for all their help in this process, and to the Bethel BNA cohort for their patience and support.
We now return to your regularly scheduled blog posts.
With great gratitude,
Gary & Sue, et al
“When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” John F. Kennedy proclaimed in his touching tribute to Robert Frost, celebrating poetry as “the means of saving power from itself.” And although poetry itself exerts a singular power over the human spirit, as one of the greatest poets of all time observed, it is hardly a power that comes easily to the poet: “Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop wrote when she was only twenty-three. So how, then, does one come to master this unnatural power — how does one become a Poet?
That’s what the wise and wonderful Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934) — a man of great wisdom on solitude, love, and our “rugged individualism” — explores in a marvelous poem titled “How to Be a Poet (to remind myself),” found in his New Collected Poems (public library).
In this recording from the consistently transcendent On Being, Berry brings his beautifully aged voice to the poem — which is in many ways not only about how to be a poet, but also about how to be an artist of any kind. With its insistence on the vitalizing power of silence and stillness and self-refinement, it is perhaps, above all, about how to be a complete human being.
For more of Berry’s enduring wisdom, see his meditations on the two great enemies of creative work and what poetic form reveals about the secret of marriage, then treat yourself to Derek Walcott’s stirring ode to being at home in ourselves and subscribe to On Being here.
Stories have shapes, as Vonnegut believed, and they in turn give shape to our lives. But how do stories like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm or Alice in Wonderland continue to enchant the popular imagination generation after generation — what is it that makes certain stories last?
That’s what the wise and wonderful Neil Gaiman explores in a fantastic lecture two and a half years in the making, part of the Long Now Foundation’s nourishing and necessary seminars on long-term thinking.
Nearly half a century after French molecular biologist Jacques Monod proposed what he called the “abstract kingdom” — a conceptual parallel to the biosphere, populated by ideas that propagate like organisms do in the natural world — and after Richard Dawkins built upon this concept to coin the word “meme,” Gaiman suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does.
Please enjoy, with transcribed highlights below.
Considering the scientific definition of life as a process that “includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death,” Gaiman argues that stories are alive — that they can, and do, outlive even the world’s oldest living trees by millennia:
Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes… Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce — they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.
On story being the original and deepest creative act:
Pictures, I think, may have been a way of transmitting stories. The drawings on cave walls that we assume are acts of worship or of sympathetic magic, intended to bring hunters luck and good kills. I keep wondering if, actually, they’re just ways of telling stories: “We came over that bridge and we saw a herd of wooly bisons.” And I wonder that because people tell stories — it’s an enormous part of what makes us human.
We will do an awful lot for stories — we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn — like some kind of symbiote — help us endure and make sense of our lives.
A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems — a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.
Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor…
In one of the first courses I took as an undergraduate, the English professor walked into class one morning invoking the name of Faulkner as if it were a sacred incantation: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read Faulkner.” We students shivered at the sublimity of the name. Since this trick seemed to work with his students, I figured I, now some 20 years later and new professor in my own right, would try the same trick with mine: “Today, ladies and gentleman, we are going to read—Faulkner.” But something was conspicuously missing here. Students just stared at me. After class I overheard some of them whispering down the hall: “I hear Faulkner’s novels are zig-zaggy and confusing and filled with all this weird stuff about race. Why, oh why, must we read Faulkner?”
My own undergraduate experience immersed me in a sense of the gravitas of Great Literature. Matthew Arnold had claimed that “the best which has been thought and said” had the power to elevate the mind and transfigure the human spirit. The school of New Criticism elevated the critic as high priest of the poem, then later the poststructuralists gave the critic full apotheosis as one who, through the act of criticism, unveils vast hidden structures of domination. All in all, I felt a form of belief palpitating throughout my college education: a belief that Great Literature, the act of engaging with it, especially in its torturing difficulty, carried with it near metaphysical weight. So I was only happy to take up monastic vows to Literature: night after sleepless undergraduate night, followed by eight grueling graduate years at the poverty line.
But now I found myself standing before students far less concerned with Literature’s sublime powers than with gaining tools for a precarious job market and towering college loans. So what they wanted to know is, Why? Why subject oneself to the sound and the fury of a plotless modernist novel, or the white noise of a fragmented postmodern novel? Why all this needless obscurantism? And why must these novelists fuss so much about race? Why can’t we just read a really awesome story, like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter? In response, I continued proclaiming heady metanarratives: “Look, this has been considered by the best minds to be important! The best that’s been thought and said! It’s GOOD for you.” They yawned, checked their Twitter accounts, and at the end of the semester left me a Yelp rating of 1.5 stars….
Erick Sierra is an associate professor of English at Trinity Christian College.
One of today’s most articulate voices for faithful engagement in culture, Dean Batali, is best known for his work on That ‘70s Show, where he served as a writer for seven years and as an executive producer for the show’s final season. Dean also wrote for the initial two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as for a number of other successful shows (Duckman, Hope and Gloria, The Half-Hour News Hour, and The Adventures of Pete and Pete) and has been key in the development of many young TV writers in Hollywood today.
Always the stickler for precision, Dean took EXACTLY 15 minutes to complete his list and added the following caveat: “I’m going to assume that the Bible is ineligible, but it should go as #1. Sheryl (Anderson) only listed writers, which I would be happy to do, in which case it would be “Preston Sturges” instead of Sullvan’s Travels and “Tom Fontana” instead of Homicide and “Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abraham” instead of Airplane! and Peter Jackson instead of Lord of the Rings… etc. But if I were doing just an author list, I’d have to get into names like Bob Briner, and maybe A. Scott Berg.
Here’s Dean’s “Fab 15” list of the greatest influences in his life.
St. Elsewhere (TV Show)
The Lord of the Rings (film) trilogy
Homicide: Life on the Street (TV Show)
Ordinary People (movie)
What’s on your “Fab 15″ list?
Maria Popova is a Futures of Entertainment Fellow, a hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large. Her blog, Brain Pickings, is a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
One of my theology professors, or perhaps many of them, (sometimes my entire seminary experience simply flows together as one great river) once said that bad art is bad theology. Think about that for a moment. Bad art is bad theology. Good art reflects the world around it. Good art unveils a deeper theme or emotion undergirding its story and truly great art oh-so-subtly transforms the worldview of its audience by making them question things they once thought stable. By breaking out the keen prophetic edge of a good story well told and using it to deftly peel back the layers of an unexamined life.
So what does bad art do? It reinforces preconceived notions about the world and about ourselves. It encourages the mundane and allows its audience to wallow in self-validating sense of security. All of which helps no one and leaves both outsiders and those insiders who are striving for something more scratching their heads and wondering at the inept mangling of something once called beautiful.
God is a vast and wildly wondrous thing that no human can ever hope to fully grasp. And so it disappoints me to no end that so much energy of the American church and particularly the American Evangelical church has been set to pearl clutching in an attempt to confine God, theology and by extension, art to a terribly tiny box whose corners have all been painstakingly mapped. The good news is that neither art nor theology nor God can be trapped in such a suffocating box. It is sheer hubris to believe that this might be so.
So where does this leave us if we want a living, breathing theology that is reflected in our art?
The list below is in no way infallible, but it sure could get a good Oscar weekend conversation going. (See Deep Culture Impact Films for the ever-evolving DCI criteria.)
* Indicates Academy Award Winner
1933 King Kong (F)
1936 Modern Times (C)
1937 Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (C)
1939 The Wizard of Oz (F)
1939 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (D)
1939 Gone with the Wind (D)*
1940 Fantasia (C)
1941 Citizen Kane (D)
1943 Casablanca (D)*
1946 It’s a Wonderful Life (D)
1951 The African Queen (D)
1952 Singin’ In The Rain (C)
1954 Rear Window (T)
1954 On the Waterfront (D)*
1955 Rebel Without a Cause (D)
1954 Seven Samurai (D)
1956 The Ten Commandments (D)
1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai (D)*
1957 12 Angry Men (D)
1958 Vertigo (T)
1959 Ben-Hur (A)*
1959 Sleeping Beauty (C)
1960 Psycho (T)
1961 West Side Story (C)*
1961 101 Dalmatians (C)
1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s (D)
1962 To Kill a Mockingbird (D)
1962 Lawrence of Arabia (D)*
1964 Mary Poppins (C)
1964 My Fair Lady (C)*
1964 Dr. Strangelove (C)
1965 The Sound of Music (C)*
1966 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (D)
1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (D)
1967 The Graduate (D)
1967 The Jungle Book (C)
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey (F)
1969 In the Heat of the Night (D)*
1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (A)
1971 Fiddler on the Roof (C)
1973 The Exorcist (T)
1973 The Sting (C)*
1973 American Graffiti (D)
1974 Chinatown (D)*
1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (D)*
1975 Jaws (F)
1976 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (C)
1976 Taxi Driver (D)
1977 Annie Hall (C)*
1978 National Lampoon’s Animal House (C)
1979 Apocalypse Now (D)
1980 Raging Bull (D)
1981 Chariots of Fire (D)*
1982 Blade Runner (T)
1982 Tootsie (C)
1982 E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial (F)
1984 Amadeus (D)*
1984 Beverly Hills Cop (C)
1984 Ghostbusters (C)
1985 The Breakfast Club (D)
1985 Back to the Future (C)
1985 The Color Purple (D)
1986 Top Gun (A)
1986 Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (F) The best of the highly influential franchise… so far. (J.J. Abrams could change that.)
1986 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (C)
1987 The Princess Bride (C)
1988 Rain Man (D)*
1989 Dead Poets Society (D)
1989 Field of Dreams (F)
1989 Do the Right Thing (D)
1989 Driving Miss Daisy (D)*
1990 Dances with Wolves (D)*
1990 Pretty Woman (D)
1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (F)
1991 Beauty and the Beast (F)
1991 The Silence of the Lambs (D)*
1992 A Few Good Men (D)
1992 Unforgiven (A)*
1993 Groundhog Day (C)
1993 Jurassic Park (F)
1993 Schindler’s List (D)*
1994 Forrest Gump (D)*
1994 Pulp Fiction (D)
1994 Shawshank Redemption (D)
1994 The Lion King (C)
1995 Braveheart (A)*
1995 The Usual Suspects (D)
1995 Toy Story (C) and the entire Toy Story trilogy.
1996 Jerry Maguire (D)
1996 Fargo (D)
1998 Saving Private Ryan (A)
1996 Independence Day (T)
1997 Men in Black (C)
1997 Good Will Hunting (D)
1997 Titanic (D)*
1998 American History X (D)
1999 American Beauty (D)*
1999 Fight Club (A)
1999 The Matrix (F)
1999 The Sixth Sense (T)
2000 Gladiator (A)*
2000 Memento (D)
2001 Shrek (C) and the entire Shrek franchise.
2001 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (F) and the entire Harry Potter series.
2001 Serendipity (C)
2003 Finding Nemo (C)
2003 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (A) at least as part of the entire Pirates franchise.
2004 The Passion of the Christ (D)
2008 The Dark Knight (F) and the entire Dark Knight trilogy is definitely going to make the DCI list.
Films on the Deeper Culture Impact ‘watch list’
I suspect many of these movies will prove to be DCI films, but it is still too early to tell.
2005 Crash (D)*
2006 The Departed (D)*
2007 No Country for Old Men (D)*
2007 Juno (D)
2008 Slumdog Millionaire (D)*
2009 The Hangover (C)
2009 Avatar (F)
2009 The Blind Side (D)
2010 Inception (F)
2011 The Help (D)
2012 Django Unchained (D)
2012 Life of Pi (F)
2012 The Hunger Games (F), and and most likely the entire Hunger Games series.
2013 12 Years a Slave (D)*
2013 Frozen (F)
2013 American Hustle (D)
2013 Gravity (D)
2014 American Sniper (D)
2014 Selma (D)
2014 The Imitation Game (D)
2014 Guardians of the Galaxy (F)
2015 Spotlight (D)*
2015 Inside Out (A)
2016 Zootopia (A)
2016 La La Land (M)
2016 Arrival (F)
* Indicates Academy Award Winner
What films did I miss?