The Art of Social Commentary

Why Charles Dickens should be our social commentary muse.

“Where Dickens wielded a pen, today we wield a smartphone.”


“Please, sir, I want some more.” These are the famous words of the hungry orphan, Oliver Twist. The novel, so named after the main character, is one of Dickens most popular, and if you don’t know anything about the novel, you have probably still heard those words.

But beyond simply writing and creating a great story around Oliver Twist, Dickens created him for a purpose beyond the page of a book. Twist became a form of social commentary.

Read the rest at Fathom Mag >>

 

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Special Revelation, General Revelation, and Chronicle’s Library of Luminaries

I’ve been an admirer of Coco Chanel’s ambition, designs, and other aspects of her life story, so when I found out Chronicle Books had a series of illustrated biographies called Library of Luminaries and that Coco Chanel was one of them, I was all in. Chanel’s biography was released this past August along with one on Frida Kahlo, joining books on Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. Nina Cosford illustrates these women’s stories with delicately sharp watercolor designs, while Zena Alkayat pieces together quotes and personal letters from each author or artist, along with her own words, in handwritten text.

This concept of placing equal emphasis on text and visuals is a rarity in adult literature, perhaps even more so for Christians…

Read the rest at Think Christian >>

Book Review: The Biggest Story

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Once upon a time my husband pre-ordered a book from Crossway. We waited and waited; then – in a brown package – it appeared at our doorstep. Our order had arrived and we couldn’t be more pleased. The End.

Not a very exciting story, is it? Well, the story inside the book from my personal story is a very exciting story. It’s about Jesus Christ — the most important character. Author Kevin DeYoung does a great job telling the greatest story ever told in his new children’s book: The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden.

DeYoung takes adults and children on a sweeping aerial tour of the Bible; he weaves together key stories and thematic elements from the beginning to the end of God’s Word and presents us with a beautifully concise and simple masterpiece. Adults and children alike will have a firm grasp of the broad purpose and scope of the Bible after reading this book. In all ten short chapters DeYoung provides a God and Christ centered approach to the Biblical text — he consistently points everything back to God and the person of Jesus Christ.

Not only has DeYoung done well constructing the broad Biblical story, but the illustrator — Don Clark — has brought truth alive through his art. As I’ve been reading this book to my three year old for the second time, he asks questions about the images; he is captivated by the stories contained in each illustration. Because that is what Clark has done —  he not only has drawn images depicting the reality of the stories, but has also drawn abstract images conveying abstract Biblical themes.

Reading this book to my preschooler has stirred up questions from him and discussion between us, but it’s also reminded me about the promises of God in Christ: his faithfulness to a faithless people, and the greatness of God’s redemptive plan from the beginning. I recommend it as a bedtime story for kids, but also a book for adults to remember how they are apart of this big story. And if you rip out any of the pages to frame as art around your house, I won’t blame you.

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Christ & Culture Series: Juggling Artistry, Business, and Theology

I’m kicking off a new series about how our life in Christ connects to culture. We can’t hide ourselves from our culture; we are fully immersed in the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are free to take pleasure in certain God-given areas of culture and many are important and even beneficial to the Christian life. I hope you join in on the dialogue with each post in this series. 

What better way to start than with an interview of my husband? Joshua Wann wears many hats (literally and figuratively), can do many things, but above all he desires to honor God daily with the way he engages the culture.

One of Josh’s first ‘hats’ (have I mentioned he has a lot of hats?) started in 2003 to give those in Christian hip-hop a platform for releasing music without having to deal with the business side. His record label was dubbed Lamp Mode Recordings and was intended to make music primarily for the edification and teaching of the Church.

Josh’s second ‘hat’ is Scouts Honor, which started in 2012. It began as a combination graphic design, branding, and video production company, but has since focused solely on video production. It exists to bring higher quality production value to mid-sized companies and musicians.


What was your purpose and desire in starting Lamp Mode?

At the time, just out of college, it was really just a hobby that turned into a career. I waned to create a record label that did away with a lot of the “industry” and business politics that tend to squelch artist autonomy. Lamp Mode had a philosophy of giving artist’s creative control with financial backing. In addition, there was the theological thread of all the artists. At that time there wasn’t an iTunes, or digital market that exists today. Because of that, it was hard for an artist to be independently successful. I wanted to create something that bridged the gap between a commercial model and an independent artist model.

What was the approach you took in making music and in the creative direction of Lamp Mode?

The approach was to let the artist be the focal point, not the music business. Most commercial models of a record label are focused on profits and market value. I wanted a record label that focused on highlighting the artist as artist, even if that meant not having commercial success. If creating profit is the end goal for any art, then the art is diminished and relegated to only a select few. In the end, that’s a short-sighted way to run a company or even an industry. It doesn’t create good music, but only creates a product.

The balance is that Lamp Mode needs to be mindful of the business and commercial viability of its artists, but not in a way in which it trumps everything else. We always had to juggle artistry, business and theology. All three are necessary components of the brand.

Was the business affected by your Christian beliefs? If so, how?

The only part of the label that was affected by my Christianity would be the theological component. Before becoming a Christian and being involved in the music industry, I had the same philosophy of letting the artist reign supreme, even at the expense of the business side of things. So the philosophy came from wanting to see the artist have full creative control, but the Christian convictions fueled the content of the music and the artists that we chose to work with.

How do you feel God was glorified in the process and end product of your musical and art endeavors?

On the horizontal level, I feel that he was glorified in treating our artists more fair than any other record label that I know of. I don’t know of any other record label that has treated their artist’s the way that we have, which also includes the deals we made with them financially. I believe this comes down to just doing good business. Doing things ethically, treating people right and having integrity. In our industry, we still have a good name and reputation.

On the more vertical side of things, I believe that he was glorified by the nature of the content of the music. Most of the music is focused on the character of God, the message of the Bible, and communicating the gospel.

How does God’s Word speak to all this?

From creation man is called to work. The way in which he works reflects the image of God. As a worker, there is opportunity to do good or to do harm. I believe we did good work most of the time and that it honored him. Also, in the Bible it speaks of doing everything to the glory of God. In secular work that looks like having integrity. In work of a more religious nature that means representing him accurately. Those are the things that bring him glory.

How do you think our culture views art and music?

Without trying to be exhaustive, I think one example is what I would call the “passive consumer”. They fall victim to what the machine feeds them. The machine is the totality of the industry. The executives of the record labels and people in charge of the distribution channels. They determine what gets most visibility, and in turn, the consumer is programmed. The consumer doesn’t make a decision about what they like or what is good. They just get fed by the industry, by what they hear on the radio, and by what they see on TV.

I think all people should be able to step back from the machine of the industry and be able to think for themselves. They should be able to determine what they like, regardless of what is popular and what isn’t. They are not the only victims. Unfortunately, many artists lives are disrupted by the pursuit of the dream. They might share relative success for a year or two, only to be abandoned by the next artist of the day.

How should art and music be a unique and different view for the Christian? And how can we share common ground with our culture?

The Christian should be able to think holistically about these things. One way to think about this is: a person’s art should not be exploited for profit. This is really an exploiting of the artist. We should care enough about justice and fairness that we reject industries that don’t treat people fairly. This is part of loving our neighbor. Any time profit is the ultimate goal, people will be hurt. We should be able to step back from the machine that the word propagates and see it for what it is. See it from God’s perspective. In turn, that can help us to also not be influenced by it.

Sharing common ground with the culture is one of those things that can be terribly misunderstood. It is not a bad thing, in fact it is unavoidable. I think the first thing is to acknowledge that we already share a great deal in common. It is as simple as the language we speak, to the way we make music, the equipment we use, the way we distribute music, use of the internet, etc. There is undeniable overlap. It’s in this overlap in which we can develop relationships and foster conversations.

Series Part 2 : Education >>

Heaven is Our Bucket List

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about heaven.  Not because I’ve experienced any recent loss, but just from thinking about writing. It’s been over a month since my last post (a combination of the holidays and lack of motivation), and it made me wish I had more time to write. This catapulted into thoughts like, “Will I ever write more than this?” Will I write a book someday?” “Or just get published somewhere a little more noteworthy?”

Before I descended into despair, a new thought sprouted up and choked out the others.  The thought of heaven.  My thoughts were grounded too much on this Earth.  I was believing this life was my only chance at…well, life. My death isn’t the end for me or for my writing. I’ll have all of eternity to focus in on my craft. Maybe I’ll even be better at it in some ways? I’m sure being without sin has its perks.

Heaven and Motherhood

Thinking about heaven has not only affected the way I think about writing, but the way I think about motherhood. There is so much of eternity wrapped up in rearing children. One of the most frustrating things about being a parent is working hard and not always getting immediate results or rounds of applause. We might see some fruit from our parenting labors in this lifetime, but many we won’t know or see until heaven.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Every sacrifice for our children, every teaching moment, every loving word and action, every time we grow in character through parenting is an eternal thing. We’re building an unseen eternal kingdom in our homes. It’s much more glorious than snotty noses and poopy diapers. We might not hear shouts of approval and rounds of applause now for every mundane task we do, but in heaven we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.

Dream About Heaven

It’s important to dream about heaven. To dream about what we will do and accomplish there. Every dream and aspiration can be met in heaven if we can’t do it on Earth. Who needs a bucket list with this kind of guarantee?

Heaven is hope for the weary mom. It’s the ultimate comfort, because every trial and disappointment we face points to something better. It should make us groan and long for heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:1-2 says, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

Every negative thing we feel or know on this Earth turns into a positive in heaven.  Every hardship is a blessing if it makes us long for heaven. Are you discouraged by your lack of progress in the Christian faith? Groan and long for heaven. Where you will be fully perfected in the way God already sees you through Christ. Do you feel distant from God? Does he seem silent? Groan and long for heaven where you will never feel this way again. You will finally see his face and feel his presence forever.

Heaven is for the sinner saved by grace, it’s for the mom who is Queen of the mundane, and it’s for the artist who needs more time and opportunity than this life can offer.

Home is Your Canvas: An Edith Schaeffer Book Review

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Maybe you’ve heard of the tortured artist. A frustrated and alienated character (also, real-life person) who feels like no one gets him or his art.  Edith Schaeffer, in her book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking addresses this type of person. The book is aimed towards women in the home, but at times also men.

Before you run and hide for cover at the word homemaking, know that Schaeffer is not trying to add another ball for you to juggle in life, but opening our eyes to the importance of beauty and order. Schaeffer shows us that homemaking is not drudgery, but a blank canvas for us to express ourselves. Art doesn’t just have to be framed paintings hanging on our walls; it can be a colorfully arranged plate of food for dinner, fresh and thoughtfully arrayed flowers on a table, or a well designed book case display.

The Little Things Matter

Why should these little things matter to us around our homes? Schaeffer says it plain and simple: because we are Christians. She presents the case that we are creative, because we are made in the image of the Creator God. God is the originator of all art forms. So, Christians should be the prime advocates of art, creativity, and beauty.

“The Christian should have more vividly expressed creativity in his daily life, and have more creative freedom, as well as the possibility of a continuing development in creative activities.”

“But, not forgetting the above, then what I call ‘Hidden Art’ should be more important to one who knows and admits that he is made in God’s image, than to those who do not.”

Everyday Details

Schaeffer refers to hidden art, not in the way of a career or profession, but as the everyday details of one’s life. We should use our hidden art in our homes everyday as a way to enrich other people’s lives, and represent the beauty found in Christ. Each chapter in Schaeffer’s book explores different art forms and how we can express them in our homes; it’s a way to give ourselves (the tortured artist) an outlet, but also a way to enrich our families and guests.

“A Christian, above all people, should live artistically, aesthetically, and creatively. We are supposed to be representing the Creator who is there, and whom we acknowledge to be there.”

“If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for our appreciation.”

You don’t have to be a married woman to read this book, heck, you don’t even have to be a woman. You just need to be someone who has some kind of living space in which to exercise your art. Whatever you call home…that is your canvas!

Literature: What’s a Christian to do?

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Do we as Christians really need to read non-Christian literature? Can’t we just stick to the Bible and maybe a few Christian books? Wouldn’t it be better for us? Rather than to pollute ourselves with stories about adultery, witchcraft, and treachery?

Well if you say yes to that last question then you might as well burn the Bible along with all those filthy worldly fictional stories. The Bible is littered with some of the grimiest stories; stories that would have Stephen King beat. A pulp fiction novel would have to compete against the types of gritty stories found in the Old Testament.

What’s the Point?

So, we can see the logic of a Christian sheltering himself from non-Christian fiction doesn’t add up. But what’s the point anyway? Well, we as Christians believe we have meaning in life. Guess what? Much of classical and modern literature explores meaning and purpose in life. So, we have common ground in this arena. In Literature Through the Eyes of Faith: Christian College Coalition Series, by Susan V. Gallagher and Roger Lundin, they purport this concept:

“As a result, although some things are obviously of greater importance than others, everything in our experience has significance, and our attempt to discern that significance — as well as we can — is part of our calling as God’s servants.”

Literature can proclaim truth. Yes, God’s Word is the ultimate truth that we use to evaluate everything in this world. But if we have a good understanding of His Word it’ll be easier for us to discern what is truth and what is not in works of literature. How can literature show truth? Through characters, actions, dialogue, and story. We can also see truth in the beauty of well-written verse and craftsmanship, which points to the beauty of the creator craftsman and wordsmith. We can better understand ourselves, others, and our world when we read literature.

“The fact is that we never get away from stories. In and out of literature, stories tell us who are and what we might become.”Gallagher and Lundin

Why Read Literature?

This is why we read literature; even when the work is not written by a Christian author or doesn’t contain a direct Christian message. Sometimes it’s good to not try to look for a Christian message in a text and to just enjoy it for what it is. According to Gallagher and Lundin, “The ability to write and read literature is a gift from God.”  So, delight in it!

Gallagher and Lundin continue by saying, “Although as a result of sin our capacity for enjoyment is much diminished and often wrongly directed, delight is still an important part of God’s plan for us.”  In fact, Jesus came in part, to recapture that ability to feel true joy. So, we as Christians should enjoy literature and other works of art and culture as much as, if not more, than non-Christians.

We should be experts at developing art and culture as well; it’s part of being a steward. This was one of the jobs God entrusted to Adam and Eve, but they ruined it. Let us, as Christians, work hard towards redeeming art and culture on Earth now, until the day Christ fully redeems everything back to perfection. The Lord stopped and enjoyed his creation on the seventh day; he declared it was good. So, can’t we do the same?

“In acknowledging the skill of an author or the beauty of a work of literature, we praise the great Creator of the heavens and the earth. Delight in a well-crafted work of literature is a response to God.”Gallagher and Lundin

How Should We Read?

Gallagher and Lundin don’t stop at these points in their book, but go on to examine how we should read and evaluate works of literature, as Christians. They ask, ‘What happens when we read?’ and discuss the conflict of interpretations. Topics such as: the literary canon and classics are addressed, as well as modern literature, works that are for thinking and works for sheer entertainment, the question of morality, literary forms, and genres.

By reading Literature Through the Eyes of Faith you will not only grow in your understanding of literature, but grow in your understanding of God.

“The profusion of literary texts in our world represent the variety of ways, both good and flawed, that human beings have attempted to develop God’s creation and to participate in his world, whether conscious of his hand or ignorant of the true King.”Gallagher and Lundin