The Art of Approaching Ideas
Not in the too distant past, I was listening to lecture by a fellow Christian about the “way things were” in her explorations of dance and faith. While all those listening seemed to come away with poignant moments of affirmation and tools to keep going in their dance education, some of her theological claims didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t shake it. In the aftermath of further processing those claims, I jotted down some thoughts on what I thought was important to remember when ideas are presented, and questions arise. It’s just a quick reference that I hope to keep developing.
God is not afraid of questions and doubts, but we need more theology, not less, when it comes to fleshing those questions out. These issues have eternal implications. We can’t afford to be lazy about counting the cost of true discipleship in Christ and we ought not be prideful about our need to live an examined life lest we find ourselves in serious danger of a life wasted.
PC: Living Water Dance Company, AD: Amy McIntosh, promo photo shoot, photo by Rachel Bruce Johnson
This post was originally intended as our Christmas Card message at the end of 2020. I intentionally chose a neutral design because I figured I wouldn’t really get them mailed until January 2021, however, they didn’t arrive in our friends and families mailboxes until August of 2021. It’s hard to say why I was so delinquent in sending them. I think part of the problem was a growing temptation to be a hermit crab in these tumultuous and grievous times. It’s difficult to muster the courage to live the words I wrote at the end of 2020 and yet, here they are all the same. It seems that the world is just as changed as before. Although there was this grasp for the hope of 2021, it has seemed to be more of the same. I guess it all depends on what you are putting your hope in. If I put my hope is feeling different or people being nicer or circumstances looking up, 2021 has more than disappointed. However, if I choose to put my hope in something like the unchanging nature of a Holy God, it is a far more stable reality than any I pretend isn’t as bad as it looks. This is an honest place as well as a safe place.
There has been such anticipation in concluding this last year, as if all the world’s troubles would just disappear on Jan. 1st. While none of us were probably quite that naïve, I know there seemed to be a common thread of hope that 2021 would be vastly different, and yet…..
As humans, we have been tested and tempted; found failing and stirred to rise. The trouble in the world is ultimately a trouble with the human heart. At its’s very root, the human condition has some pretty low lows, but our hope for the future isn’t in humankind although it is, at its foundation, connected to humankind. We need each other to not give up so that we can, as many as possible, continue walking toward the Hope of the world. My family and I are convinced it is only found in Christ Jesus and any reason to hope really has no verification except through the fact that He was killed and rose from the dead, proving Him to be the Christ. You may not agree but in solidarity with keeping hope alive, we want you to know that Truth will guide us, and Love will be our hallmark. We are committed to traveling with you, together. May you find what really matters in life are the things that make it worth living. May you reach out to those in destitution with no hope to help them feel the reality of hope. And may you experience the evidence of a God that Loves through the ability to see Him at work in changing people – real change, lifting us from the low of lows to a place of restoration that can’t be denied. May we ever strive to see the Truth that we are all made in the Image of God who will bring Justice to the world beyond our efforts. May you find reservoirs of Love to call others into His Light and courage to respond with action to those in deep need, for this is Right, Just and Good.
Memorial Stone for Tulsa
There is a biblical precedent for laying stones as a memorial to the Lord in order to remember the good things He has done for us. There are at least three cases of biblical characters laying memorial stones, and these become significant locations throughout biblical history. Bethel is where Jacob memorialized his vision. Gilgal is where Joshua commemorated the Israelites’ miraculous entrance into the Promised Land. Samuel erects an Ebenezer stone after God thwarts the Philistine’s attack.
In all the depravity that humankind is capable of inflicting on one another, the gospel of Jesus calls victims to safe haven and oppressors to repentance under the reality that we are all sinners in need of salvation from a Holy God and that true healing only comes from Him.
As Tulsans remember the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre this weekend, this is a digital memorial stone, if you will, of what Christ has done enduring his brutal execution on the Cross and defiant resurrection from the grave. This is not a dismissal of real victims that deserve justice nor real pain that requires real healing, but the real power for healing comes from Christ’s work on the Cross and it’s finality. The evidence is transformed lives across dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2) that we should endeavor to live worthy of that reconciliation offered by Christ alone.
Esau McCaulley puts it in his book, Reading While Black:
“God’s vision for his people is not for the elimination of ethnicity to form a colorblind uniformity of sanctified blandness. Instead God sees the creation of a community of different cultures united by faith in his Son as a manifestation of the expansive nature of his grace. This expansiveness is unfulfilled unless the differences are seen and celebrated, not as ends unto themselves, but as particular manifestations of the power of the Spirit to bring forth the same holiness among different peoples and cultures for the glory of God.”
For more information on the events of 1921 attack on residents in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, OK, explore the New York Times article delineating the historical records of the weekend 100 years ago. We want to be a city in healing; on the road toward being the "Magic City" again.
photos by Nathan Harmon
DON’T LET QUESTIONS LIE
As a Christian, allowing disappointing circumstances to teach us and shape us is part of the calling to the Way of Jesus, especially ones that test your resolve or affect your generally positive outlook. It’s also natural to be cautious not to fall into an erroneous belief about God as a result. This is a good thing, however, incomplete, if left there. What was the underlying assumption triggered by an unexpected feeling or circumstance that left you unsettled? How do we think of a job loss when we felt so certain the move was the right one? How do we cope with the loss of an adoption plan when a precious gift of natural childbearing is on the way? Are these moments of disconnect ‘just the way it is sometimes’ or could we see them as opportunities for growth and discipleship?
Experiencing hardships or disappointment in life can be difficult. Even worse, those who feel deeply can be consumed by disappointment. And those who approach life trying to turn everything into a positive may find let downs an irritating distraction to be dismissed. It may be a natural response to muster consolation by thinking of more horrific tragedies, circumstances or losses in other parts of the world or even to someone in less fortunate circumstances. Sometimes situations have a real need to usher us into a period of mourning, grief or lament, but, for now, I’m speaking of more general and less devastating happenings.
Circumstances may raise questions we are unfamiliar with or reveal an area of Christian discipleship we don’t know much about. Like the parable of the man who builds his house on sand, this is something sand-like and it would be unwise to leave it tottering as such. Is there something more stable? What is the Biblical principle underneath the question to explore? Is this an indication of the all-illusive mystery of God or a moment for deeper understanding?
If following Christ is all the Bible claims it is, I should be willing to test it, study it and understand it deeply and rightly in ever-increasing ways. This is the promise of a “real relationship” with a God that wants relationship with us (that still blows my mind right there).
The name Jacob means “to wrestle with God”. It’s the very essence of what it means to have a personal relationship with God. These surfacing questions don’t always bring us to an arrival point, but sometimes they do. Something more solid; rock-like. There are things we can know within scriptural text and in the way that God reveals Himself to us. Yes, there is the Beautiful Mystery of God but that shouldn’t be conflated with ambiguity. Ambiguity may eventually mature into an outright lie about God. We seem to give up rather easily these days. A disciple of Christ should be willing to know, feel, and move through the process of a substantive relationship with God.
I do believe there are things we won’t fully understand about the Almighty, Sovereign God but are we being too quick to dismiss the revealed question as unknowable? Have we bought into the lie that knowledge is illusive, in and of itself, and nothing can be truly known? “What is truth?”, Pontius Pilot asked Jesus on trial. A moment later, turning and walking away, Pilot began addressing the Jewish crowd once more (John 18:33-40). Pilot asked, not because he wanted an answer, but because he had already convinced himself there was none, let alone did he expect one.
The tragic irony in this historical scene is that Pontius Pilot asked that question of the God-Man that claimed to be Truth itself. He was in the presence of Truth and did not wait for an answer. Let that be a warning to us.
Don’t let these moments pass by just waiting to see how the day-to-day feels. Your feelings may not catch up with your sense of where God is leading you. This may be an opportunity to learn more about how God does interact with His creation and specifically with you. If ignored, you may soon find yourself moving on and not thinking more of it.
What is Truth if it doesn’t affect the life lived? Why would we acknowledge the questions rising only to brush them aside when Truth is available and waiting? Read the Bible, discuss questions with others who are also invested as Disciples of Christ, unearth any erroneous baggage, read commentary on scripture passages or find topical addresses.
Lastly, don’t let questions lie to you either. Those unexamined questions can lead to doubts and although doubt is not sinful, unattended doubts can become willful unbelief because you allowed assumptions to become the norm. Don't let the questions formulate lies about the God you could have known deeper and sat with longer.
Out on a Limb Dance Company, 2019, PC: Nikki Riggs
Let Justice Roll Down
The anniversary of the death of my friend, Amy McIntosh, is tomorrow. The year she died, she danced her way into eternity on Good Friday. I heard it was a desire of hers in her last days to make her eternal crossover on that Friday. I'm not surprised she had the idea, made a plan and accomplished it. She was a determined and very creative artist who stayed busy with numerous ideas and projects always rolling. And it seems that God saw fit to grant her her wish to exit on Good Friday.
A group of us danced Amy's work, Let Justice Roll Down, many times and in many venues. She set it on her company, Living Water Dance Company, and on her students at Oral Roberts University. It was challenging to dance but rich to consider all the thoughts and reflections she poured into the work. She was a deep thinker.
I recently ran across a print out of the program entry for this piece for the 2012 Exchange Choreography Festival, the festival I've produce (with much help from many, many people in Tulsa) for the past 11 years. It was one of many performances of this work. I was always inspired at the way Amy worked. She never apologized for presenting a section of piece she knew would grow beyond that section, nor did she apologize for continuing to develop a work even after it had been on stage already.
Amy McIntosh, Let Justice Roll Down, 2012; Dancers pictured: Amy McIntosh (left), Christina Schneider, Kayla Zahrt, and Jessica Vokoun; PC, unknown
It warmed my heart to find this print out on today of all days, Good Friday, and in the times we are living. I wanted to reprint her program notes below. John M. Perkins book is salient and a must-read. May we continue to reflect on matters of justice and continue to stay the course, not grow lazy or weary, to do good to all people and to endeavor to convince others of our love for them with our actions.
2012 Exchange Choreography Festival Reverb Program Notes ~
Let Justice Roll Down grew out of McIntosh's struggle with oppression, injustice, and misplaced power within our communities, along with a pivotal book written by John M. Perkins. After having lived in Jackson, MS for five years, McIntosh moved back to Tulsa in 2006, and soon after, was given a copy of Perkins' book, "Let Justice Roll Down". Perkins, a native of Mississippi, now 81 (he's more wise and worn now), writes of his journey out of racial injustice into renewal, as he discovers his role in pioneering a new way of living in community. Perkins has devoted his life to developing communities where reconciliation and transformation thrive, and where the walls of power are broken down. McIntosh's work explores power as it seeks to devastate, devour, and deteriorate the very fabric of humanity.
"The road is lonesome and to succeed one must be like a wolf: eat or be eaten, for one can only succeed at the cost or the failure of others."
- Jacob Holdt
"I am ashamed because fear for my own well-being overrides my desire for change, and ashamed as well for the fact that it is attitudes like mine that keep the oppressed, oppressed."
- Letters from John
I've never formally observed lent for no other reason than that I never went to a church that led its congregants through the season. This year, however, I have run across a beautiful lenten devotional posted online from Biola University's Center for Christianity Culture and the Arts. There is such a treasure trove of text, art and reflection that I thought I'd post some of my favorites here. May we, as followers of Christ, find more substance to being salt and light in the world.
The Temptation (overall and closeup)
J. Kirk Richards
Oil on canvas
Parable of the Ten Virgins
Jorge Cocco Santángelo
Oil on canvas
30 x 40 in.
Cleansing of the Temple
Oil on canvas
St. Edward’s Roman Catholic Church
Denise Kufus Weyhrich
99 illuminated antique saltshakers, custom clay housings, kosher salt, rock salt, Christmas lights
8′ x 8′ x 10″
Personally Seasoned Dance Premiere
An Imaginary Dance Review on My Purpose for Creating and Dancing
Written September 5, 2005, as a graduate studies course assignment
Rachel Bruce Johnson
Carbon copy cutout dancers are hardly what you will find in Watercourse Dance Company’s recent premiere performance “Us Who Live Here”. The physical bodies are as varied as the eclectic movement tastes of artistic director and performer, Rachel Bruce Johnson. This emerging dance cooperative is finding light in the established dance scene of the city by doing what it does best: diversify. From pure movement ideas to multi-media work, Reformation Dance Cooperative is a project company exploring multiple applications of dance while remaining loyal to exploring the medium of movement in the body. Even though the dancers’ ‘containers’ are as different from one another as salt & pepper, all have obvious performance depth and artistic presence that help to diversely season each choreographic work. The root of that diverse work seemed to be diverse personal experience and a unity rooted in common humanity.
Bruce Johnson casually philosophizes that “personal experiences shape the decisions of your life; the way you conduct yourself as well as the response you choose to have from them. Performing from the body you have means performing from those experiences. Not that you are limited by your experiences but that they simply mark the way you’ve come from. All of this informs you as a performer regardless of the decisions you ultimately make in a performance.” “Us Who Live Here” is a collection of body stories as diverse and personal as the performers’ bodies. Each dance seems to be tailored to the dancer performing. Ranging from light comedy, as in The Secret Lives of Housewives, to serious commentary about verbal abuse in Mute ON, an atmosphere of intimacy invites the audience to connect to personality, mistakes and triumphs. “My life as a performer has taught me that people are an infinite well of connections and it is possible to speak to a person without the aid of words. It is not always about what I have crafted but sometimes about the existence of a strange grace that has the ability to cover wounds…even deep ones, as in the idea that failure can beget recovery.”
A seasoned performer herself, Bruce Johnson’s work has only recently emerged into the public’s eye, partly due to “blooming late” and partly due to her passion for grassroots work that has kept her out of the limelight. She offers some insight into why her personal decision to perform is so important to the company’s work: “Kinesthetic and interpersonal connections give me the greatest satisfaction in performance; connections to the movement, to the audience, or to an idea give me a passion for the work. Acclaim means nothing without these connections – especially connections with people and the generation of conversation. Remaining a performer keeps me passionately and personally connected to the mission of the company’s work. If I knew that nothing really happened onstage of any consequence – ever – I would quit.” That is the main reason she chooses to open up the choreographic responsibilities to guest artists and company members.
At any given moment, company members can be found rehearsing, building sets, discussing new projects with collaborators, or mentoring academy students as they perpetuate this grassroots company into the illuminated mainstream. There is no hierarchy other than the delegation of final decisions to the artistic director that keeps these company members designated to solitary roles. Each performer seems to radiate with passion and creativity and is actively involved in a personal set of interests that feeds the company professionally as a whole. Dancers who are actively engaged in the process of the work energize rehearsals and performers are, at times, called upon to submit improvisational material or simply imitate the movement of a set work. Regardless of how the work is conducted, a respectful attitude of the performer’s expertise is vital to the company’s work and mission and seems commonplace among the dancers she prefers to work beside. “I feel most comfortable viewing the relationships with my dancers as a collaboration because I enjoy the excitement that a positive, respectful working relationship can yield. However, I am not afraid to assume leadership and make firm decisions, reasoning that this leadership role is necessary for remaining faithful to the company’s overall mission.”
Even though Bruce Johnson claims to be a better performer than a choreographer, it is obvious that her commitment to creating accountability with other performers, directors and choreographers only serves to strengthen her body of work. The main way She does this is by carving out space for collaborative work. “I often feel like I am stealing ideas when people say things or suggest ideas that I then take and incorporate with my ideas and make something out of it. It sometimes causes me to criticize my work and think that my creativity only flows from non-original sources. But, I don’t really believe that there is such a thing as an original idea; it’s simply who gets there first and has the resources to direct it to fruition. With time-spent in the medium choreographing, I think my personal skills will improve. All that said, I am most interested in directing good work with a positive impact into an audience’s awareness.”
Performance vulnerability is the key, Bruce Johnson states, in finding company members for this particular work. In addition to high standards of technical preparedness and integrity, she values a collaborative working environment where performers are ‘fully present’, which is to say, giving of themselves in mental, emotional and physical ways as professionally as possible. Although this call to vulnerability remains an invitation, rather than a directive, out of respect for people’s privacy and personal choice, Bruce Johnson believes that accessing one’s generosity is what makes performances of the work so potentially powerful. “I believe I am a strong performer because I have allowed myself strong experiences in life. I have allowed myself to deeply feel the circumstances of my life with very little ‘shutting down’. This is not to say that I have not had cause to ‘shut down’, but it is a choice. I think this has allowed me to practice moving in and out of empathetic performance states regardless of whether or not I have the personal knowledge of any elusive experiences. Actually being a performer has helped me to understand the privilege of choice and that performance is all about choice. Live in the freedom of that knowledge and contentment is achievable. Performance taught me that, or hit it home, rather. And audiences have responded positively to the resulting work.”
With so much talk about being personal in the work, it is hard to imagine that any professional work actually gets accomplished. But even though the working environment reflected an atmosphere of friendship rather than the stress-driven energy of co-workers, a comfortable balance of personal and professional realms was accessed easily. The result was a premiere concert of professional-caliber performances of artful dance work. “It’s about the ability to use the personal toward the work, not instead of the work. I usually encourage personal interaction in rehearsal and often outside of it, but there has to be a balance in order to accomplish the work. I need mature movers who will take care of their bodies, see that as an important and respectful approach to the work, and have considerable work ethic and integrity but I prefer working with those who also understand a balance of work and play. In conclusion Bruce Johnson offers that “the body alone being the central focus of dance is a nice idea, but if focus can’t be given to the body in connection to something bigger than itself, such as a relationship or an idea, then what are we doing here?”
Why Fire & Mud?
Fancying myself an amateur Christian Apologist, a professional Artist and an emerging Social Reformer, I’m committed to moving in the liminal space between catastrophic reverence of God and a quaking humility that intentionally keeps the tremors of Grace close at hand. I am actively seeking deep ways to explore this robust Christian faith through an artistic lens. I needed a personal place to create and to write about matters of faith and worldview frameworks within the arts, specifically the profoundly personal faith stirred within a dance artist who desperately wants to engage in intellectual rigor. Reverence is like fire that is both thrilling and terrifying, as I think of the revelation of God as something to put us in a state of awe and makes us tremble at His presence, becoming the context in which to move through our formation as persons. Humility is like mud coming from the scriptural imagery of repentance and making oneself low with sackcloth and ash and imagines of mixing those acts of repentance with the tears of the repentant to form a mud that becomes the soul content of the person being formed. Both elements are active and willful on the journey, serving both as reminder and embodiment of things beyond oneself, pointing to the Creator who created us as persons.
I am realizing and recognizing that a common human dignity is key in tethering to touchstones of common human experiences in order to bridge differences for common understanding. This is vital, in my opinion, to create the kind of diverse communities that really generate and uphold human thriving, making life worth living.
My foray into apologetics came several years ago when I realized there weren't many answers I could adequately give the people I cared about that didn't profess Christ. I ran across several apologist videos who spoke so robustly about the Christian faith that it bolstered my faith with confidence to address my doubts and questions about the truth of Christ's life and resurrection. At the time, I didn't seem to be able to explain much without saying, "scripture tells us", which had little effect on friends that didn't care what scripture had to say. After a significant loss in my life, I was even more determined to be able to articulate why faith in Christ was necessary and why God is reality. So, I found information in YouTube videos, many, many books, and have attended many apologetics conferences. I was thrust into a learning season once again that felt alive and transcendent. Although, I'm grateful that there are others interested in learning and knowing and growing, I often feel alone in my particular interests in my career field in the arts.
Thus the Fire and Mud website was born. This is a space for me to collect my thoughts, discuss current social issues, build community and work out my faith in 'fear and trembling'; guided by God's Spirit (FIRE) and housed in humility (MUD) because I desire Truth above winning the argument, Love beyond logic. I believe it is the only place where Life can be truly found.
Thank you for taking this journey with me.
photo by Jeanne S. Mam-Luft
I'm a Christ-follower passionate about moving in truth/love and intellectual rigor through all things faith + art. A professional Dance Artist and fancying myself an amateur Christian Apologist, I’m committed to moving in the liminal space between catastrophic reverence of God and a quaking humility that intentionally keeps the tremors of Grace close at hand.