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art & the prophetic imagination

On Saturday night here in Sydney TEAR Australia hosted the first of its Art of Resistance events. We had a really fantastic set of works, both visual and performance-based, which provided a wonderful witness to the prophetic power of art. (You can download the catalogue of works here.)

Here is a very rough text version of the short reflection I gave during the night’s proceedings:

In talking about art I don’t want to take long, since too much talking can interfere with the power of art. It’s like the story of a dancer who, having completed a dance piece, was asked what it meant. She replied that if she could explain what it meant, she would not have had to dance!

Why are we doing this? Why would an organisation like TEAR, committed to fighting poverty, bother spending time on art?

Because art is important, because art is powerful.

I think Bono said it well: Read the rest of this entry

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“there’s always hope!”: pete seeger on hope for peace

From Fr. John Dear in his book Put Down Your Sword:

For years, one of my friends, the legendary folksinger Pete Seeger, has questioned friends and audiences who feel hopeless. “In the early 1970s,” he asks, “did you ever expect to see President Nixon resign because of Watergate?”

“No,” people answer.

“Did you ever expect to see the Pentagon leave Vietnam the way it did?”

“No, we didn’t,” everyone answers.

“In the 1980s, did you expect to see the Berlin Wall come down so peacefully?” Pete asks.

“No, never,” they respond.

“In the 1990s, did you expect to see Nelson Mandela released from prison, apartheid abolished, and Mandela become president of South Africa?”

“Never in a million years.”

“Did you ever expect the two warring sides of Northern Ireland to sign a peace agreement on Good Friday?”

“Never.”

“If you can’t predict those things,” Pete concludes, “don’t be so confident that there’s no hope! There’s always hope!”

We do not know what the future will bring. We cannot see where the road is leading. We know the sufferings, wars, and injustices tearing us apart, but we do not know the outcome. And so we cannot presume that there is no hope of a new world of peace.

We only know our mission, our vocation, our duty is to proclaim God’s reign of peace and resist the anti-reign of war.

We know that the God of peace is alive and active among the struggling people of the world. We know that if we repent of our violence and take up God’s way of nonviolence, the world can be transformed into a haven of harmony for everyone. We know that if we stay on the road to peace, one day we will enter God’s house of peace and meet the God of peace face-to-face.

The key, then, is to remain faithful to the journey of peace, to take the next step on the path of nonviolence, to join hands with one another and walk forward with hope.

I regularly need to be reminded…

MCA

art and envisioning a new world

In the last few weeks I’ve been studying early Jewish apocalypticism. Perhaps the best known apocalypse is an early Christian text, the Book of Revelation, with a close second being a Jewish apocalypse, the Book of Daniel.

One of the things I have been convinced of is, in simple terms, the intention of apocalyptic authors to shift the symbolic universe of their readers. In short this means changing the lens through which readers view things, helping them imagine a better world. In terms of the early Jewish apocalyptic texts this looked like composing a transcendent narrative that inspired hope and resistance in the face of oppressive foreign empires.

This has got me thinking (again) about the place of other forms of art in encouraging resistance to evil and inspiring social change.

In order to remain committed to change in the world people need constant inspiration – without it their ability to envision a better world diminishes. Art has a transcendent, even mysterious, potential to energise us by critiquing the current reality, or imagining a new one.

Father John Dear (whose book Put Down Your Sword I have been reading devotionally for some time) says this: Read the rest of this entry

the anti-beatitudes

All Christians must, at some point, do serious business with the Sermon on the Mount.

It is the penultimate discourse of Jesus, his magnum opus within the Gospels. If there was a handbook on Christian living, the Sermon on the Mount would probably be it.

One topic major topic present in the Sermon on the Mount is that of peace and nonviolence. This is, unfortunately, one of the aspects of the Sermon that Christians often ignore. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. called the Sermon on the Mount the greatest manifesto of nonviolence ever written, yet so many Christians feel free to support war and violence.

When you open Matthew 5 to experience Jesus’ stunning sermon you are first greeted with the Beatitudes. These eight statements are a blueprint for the values of the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus (cf. Matt 4:17). These values are taught by Jesus over-against the dominating values of his day; violence, greed, pride etc.

Things have not changed in our time. The values of our culture are antithetical to the Beatitudes taught by Jesus. This is perhaps nowhere more obvious that in our penchant for war and violence. Read the rest of this entry

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