We had only one official meeting in the summer. It was held at Higgins’ Croft (my house). There were six people present, including myself. We began the evening with a discussion about how Ekphrasis needs to change, if at all. You see, I’ve been going through a pretty serious and amazing internal change regarding my approach to the-arts-and-faith. In a nutshell, I have been convicted about my selfishness and smallness. First, I realized that I have been pursuing things like Ekphrasis, my interview series, and attempts to promote arts in my church simply and because I like art and want more of it—and because I want other people to like the arts so they like me and appreciate what I do. Bad idea. Second, I realized that in spite of many, many great recommendations (mostly by Rosie) of books to read on the subject, I was pursuing my concept of the-arts-and-faith all alone. I wasn’t read books on it. I wasn’t asking other people what they thought of it (until the interview series started). I have been pretending I’m the only person who knows anything about how Christians should approach the arts.
And it turns out I’m just about the only person who doesn’t know anything.
So I have changed my ways, started praying like crazy, talking and listening to anybody who will discuss this, and reading one book after another on the subject. Stay tuned for little reviews/recommendations/responses to these works. So far I’ve read David Taylor’s For the Beauty of the Church, Jeffery Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly, and part of Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions. I learned an awful lot from each one. Next in the pile is one of Jeremy Begbie’s books. Then I’ll move on to works by Wendell Berry, Andy Crouch, Frank Burch Brown, William Dyrness, and others. I’m planning to attend Redeemer Presbyterian’s InterArts fellowship in October. Basically, it’s time for me to shut up and listen to what all these wise Christians have to say about their encounters with the arts.
All that said, we decided (at this meeting and in a private one I held with one Ekphrasian) that Ekphrasis doesn’t need to change a whole lot at this point. We will begin meetings with prayer from now on, just to help direct and focus. We will meet more regularly. But we don’t want the group to grow much; we like it small, because that allows for longer and more detailed critiques. We don’t want it to become any more explicitly theological, because part of our purpose is to write works that engage with our faith in subtle, realistic, integrated ways. There was a film festival host who made up a series of rules for Christian filmmakers who wanted their work shown at his festival: “Refrain from the use of popular religious symbols, including the cross. No church scenes. No conclusions that involve a conversion to Christianity. No Scripture verses. No music with lyrics. No End Times scenarios. Show; don’t tell” (from Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly, p. 328). Adapted to each of our chosen media, I think this might be a good set of rules for Ekphrasians. Set ourselves the challenge of saying what we want to say by means of the art; not twisting the art to propagandize a clichéd version of the message. Even more: just make art and don’t worry about what it says. If it is excellent, that is enough.
So then. After the introductory discussion, we got into the workshopping session. JA went first. As usual, he offered us a finely crafted poem. It was a trope on the old writer’s block theme, understated, lean, and keenly observant. We all loved it—as we always do his work. He left the next morning for the Glen Workshop; J, maybe you can write a little report on the Glen and I can post it here??
Then MD shared the first chapter of a biography she’s writing about her neighbor. This neighbor grew up under Soviet oppression and has an exciting, tragic, memorable life story. M is doing a fantastic job of turning her tale into semi-fictionalized narrative, replete with imaginative descriptions of settings and conversations. She’s really bringing it to life. It’s designed for about a middle-school audience, and M has a gift of teaching history through the medium of compelling story-telling.
Then I shared Act III of my play-in-progress. We took parts and read it around the room. I love doing this; I love hearing it in different voices. I hope to get a full reading sometime when it’s done. This method is hard for workshopping, because nobody there had read Acts I and II except J (and he had to leave before my reading, in order to get home and get ready for the Glen), so Act III out of context was fairly random.
SB and TmcC were also present, but had just finished intensive summer sessions at their colleges and so hadn’t any creative work to share. However, their contributions to the discussion were extremely insightful and valuable. I look forward to our next session!