Culture Care part 2: Our Calling into the Starry Night

In his seminal book, Culture Care, visual artist Makoto Fujimura explains how Emily Dickenson and Vincent VanGogh struggled to fit into the context of their churches and cultures. Their vision was creative and artistic, but it was also theological and intimately connected with what they considered to be true worship. He adds, I see in their works a pilgrimage towards the margins of their society.1

I have found, as a local leader in communities and churches, that others do not know what to do with you if you identify yourself as an artist. Things go much more smoothly if you are a lawyer or accountant. In church and parachurch ministry leadership training, those who do not fit into the agenda of preset programs are often marked as hard to disciple, or even as unfaithful.2 In the cases of Emily and Vincent, their vision and spirituality was rejected outright, yet the power of their perception lives on, ministering soul care to future generations.

Fujimura points out how Vincents painting, Starry Night, addresses a shortfalling: The painting is set in Arles, France. Notice at the very center is a white Dutch Reformed church the dominant cypress tree on the left and the church are the two forms that connect heaven and earth. Without the church there is no visual center to hold the painting in tension and yet the church is the only building that is completely dark.3 Even so, Fujimura points out, the power of Gods creation swirls all around, in testimony of sun/moon worlds not yet fully realized.

Van Gogh Starry Night

Van Gogh Starry Night

What is our calling into the starry night as artists who follow Jesus, the shepherd-artist, (who lived) border-stalking our tribal existence?4 Fujimura states The Psalmist tells us The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19). If the church is darkened, perhaps we should focus on where the Spirit is moving and pay attention to where the colors are most intense.5 As a fellow believer, Fujimura offers these cultural mandates both to artists and their spiritual communities:

Open the gates: all of us in the sheepfold (that is the institutional church) need to go in and out (John 10:9) for our flourishing into the green pastures which exist outside our tribal norms.6 Jesus heart was for other sheep, not of this sheep pen. (John 10:16)7

We need the sheepfold: a solid grounding, a secure place to which [border-stalkers] can return. That sheepfold should be A healthy community secure, anchored in tradition and faith, but also allowing for a dynamic movement outward, sending forth artists and missionaries, caregivers and entrepreneurs. It is centered and confident of its identity as a flock because it knows the purpose for which the Good Shepherd has gathered it: to serve and bless and transform the wider world.8

We need cultural estuaries: Serving and blessing the wider world with the gift of art can best occur when The ideal conditions for the arts include a communal recognition that they are a gift to society and need some protection. Fujimura then presents the best analogy for this sort of microcosm is not a greenhouse, but an estuary. Estuaries offer buffer zones for many species Fujimura points out. They are microcosms of protected aquatic diversity between saltwater worlds and freshwater. Their purpose is not so much protection as preparation.9

The estuary incubation model offers a way to release the full generative efforts of these creatives, who can offer much to our churches and communities and the wider culture. They can cast the appealing vision of beauty in the face of injustice, revealing brokenness and need, modeling love for the unloveable, revealing complexities, brokering reconciliation, teaching us to speak appealingly and persuasively, guiding the whole community through the challenges of engaging with the culture, leading us away from fragmentation and onward to reintegration, and perhaps even uncovering again the Spirits light in the churches.10

1 p.51
2 p.54
3 pp. 56-57
4 pp.59 & 64
5 p.63
6 pp. 67 & 69
7 p. 70
8 pp. 71-72
9 p. 82
10 p.86

Read Culture Care part 1: On Becoming Generative

Culture Care book review part 1: On Becoming Generative

“Still Point – Evening” by Makoto Fujimura

Our culture is broken and needs care to be restored to wholeness. declaresinternationally renowned painter Makoto Fujimura. Culture Care is this artist’s deep and dense manifesto, written to provide a necessary conceptual framework and the beginnings of practical responses to repair that rift.

Fujimura asks that we begin with the attitude of a loving servant toward culture rather than treating it as territory to be won.1 He then explains how his own journey towards cultural stewardship and nurture began when his wife, Judy, brought home a bouquet of flowers at a time in their early married life when they were struggling to pay rent and eat. Her response to his accusation of waste was We need to feed our souls, too.2

The connective power of beauty

Judy had chosen that bouquet to reconnect with beauty, and more deeply with what makes us fully human. Her generous act became generative, a catalyst of creative life and growth in her home and Fujimuras studio, and the seed of soul care not only for himself, but in his heart for the nurture of society and culture.3

Fujimura invests several chapters stating American culture’s degenerative problems of utilitarian pragmatism, commercialism and authoritarianism that sap our love of life and beauty. He then proposes the antidote of generative thinking where the reality of beauty can help integrate fragmentation.4

Charis-Kairos by Makoto Fujimura

Charis-Kairos by Makoto Fujimura

Beauty points beyond itself, beyond survival to satisfaction When we encounter beauty, we want to slow down and partake of its refreshment, to let it reorient us to our deepest longings and reconnect us to our deepest selves.5

Fujimura points out that our universal connection to beauty can better connect us to one another.

The bridge-building potential within artists

Artists, who are often marginalized from systems of power, whether political or religious, can become bridges between the bubble communities of philosophical and doctrinal sameness from which they are marginalized. He explains Artists are instinctively uncomfortable in homogenous groups, and in border-stalking we have a role that both addresses the reality of fragmentation and also offers a fitting means by which artists can help people from all our many and divided cultural tribes to learn to appreciate the margins, lower barriers to understanding and communication, and start to defuse the culture wars.6 As border-stalkers, artists have the potential to be reconcilers of division and fragmentation. They can release great generatively and flourishing.7

To strengthen our generative potential, Fujimura recommends forming artist communities where we can encourage one another towards creative thriving and cultural leadership from the margins with support and training. He references the character Aragorn or Strider in Lord of the Rings, an exile who was trained by a community of rangers who received their training and support from one another and the elves.7

Empathy, that ability to see the different perspectives of others, is also a common trait of the border-stalking artist. And with empathy comes the desire for justice. Fujimura states that generative thinking is not limited to the appreciation of beauty, but also includes a desire to create flourishing for all humans. Artists can and should lead from these generative desires. Connecting justice with beauty is essential, Fujimura says. Artists are leaders by the sheer fact of their awareness and observation.8

Artists who desire to care for culture have the observation, awareness and empathy needed to build bridges and become a positive generative force to repair the social fragmentation around us. Part 2 of my book review will address how we can strengthen one another by flourishing in cultural estuaries, in order to repair and care for our culture.

1 Preface
2 p.1
3 p.7
4 p.12
5 p.33
6 p.39
7 p.41
8 p.49

Further reading “From Culture Wars to Culture Care” blogpost by Makoto Fujimura

Not Yet Dead: Meditations on Regeneration

Last night I started reading God is not Yet Dead by V. Gardavsky, a book I was introduced to within the pages of Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson. Why is a book about a prophet, referencing a book written by an atheist, demanding my attention? It summarizes my 2017 experience, caught in the clash between two systems of thought and belief.

These books, and a bowl of shriveled beets on my kitchen counter, give me perspective.

shriveled beets regenerate life

In 2017, I suffered through the petty meme-induced, twitter-fed, mud brawl of culture that has become the dominant news-feed of American society, as did we all. What is this landscape that we have created, where animosity and shaming the “other” have become mainstream on all fronts?

Why does my discovery of beet leaves in a bowl of decay give me hope? Because, like Gardavsky, I must look to an answer to the decayed civil landscape by digging down to the roots. What looks ugly and wrinkled in a state of decomposition, like the uncivil state of Western Civilization, remains the source of life even so. Beet roots of latent, mold-covered energy are not yet dead; a mid-winter shimmer of burgundy and chartreuse life springs forth from its shriveled mass.

not yet dead beet

A resident pattern of regeneration testifies to Life. On this we can all agree.

How the pattern became resident has been the matter of debate since human-measured Time began. Was the pattern created or accidental? If created, then the hope of Life originates and remains in its created Source and all men are created equal, with blind-folded Justice consulting an absolute Morality outside ourselves, often called God. If accidental, then the hope of Life has evolved and our trust must be in the evolutionary system and Ourselves as its accidental, yet sagacious spawn. Justice is determined by ever evolving moral conduct as determined by genius-leaders at the top of the evolutionary matrix. These are the twin roots of our info-wars.

As an artist who mingles between these two camps in a cultural estuary of fresh water and salt, I must guard against becoming reactionary, and instead point to the pattern of regeneration found in each system. It is my job to help create a generative culture of green-leaved connection. This mandate I have gained by reading another book, Culture Care by Makuto Fujimora. More reflections on that later.

A resident pattern of regeneration testifies to Life. It is my job to help create this generative culture through my work.

Daily Art :: What Job did in my mind’s eye

I have been reading The Artisan Soul over the last several months, and have developed a conviction that I should create more sketches from my imagination when I make daily art. Ive always admired artists who can do this well, but rarely take what feels like a leap of faith myself, sticking to creating art from what I see in front of me in life.

Recently, I have taken in the Dream Worlds show at the Canton Museum of Art, and this quote became a key to open the door:

Often Imaginative Realists are asked to create fantastical works that dont exist in the real world. How do they create these works? you may ask. One crucial role is the development of fundamental art skills and observing from life. What we see in the natural world [we] use as a starting point to develop [our] ideas further – Aaron Miller

I am halfway to Imaginative Realism when I succeed in creating art from life observations! I am creating daily art this year to continue to develop those fundamental skills; to give myself an imaginative vocabulary.

From Imagination to Image

This morning I acted on what I saw in my imagination when my husband and I read the book of Job, chapters 1 and 2, after dinner last night. Job has just received bad news four times over: the loss of his cattle, the loss of his sheep, the loss of his camels along with several servants, then the loss of his ten adult children. How does he respond to these four calamities?

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground and worshipped. – Job 1:20

In my minds eye, I saw a bald man huddled on the ground.

Job 1:20 Illustration by Lynda Rimke

My process is grounded in life observation.

When attempting to draw the human figure, I start with a rough skeleton in 4H pencil to express the emotion of the pose. I pay attention to the proportions of the structures using the size of the head for reference and taking into account any foreshortening:

  • The ribcage is 2 heads long and the pelvis about 1 head high.
  • The clavicles (collar bones) are 1 head long each.
  • The humorous (upper arm bone) is 2 heads long and the ulna and radius (forearm bones) are 1 1/2 heads, or 2 if you include the hand.
  • The hand is 3/4 head and can cover the face.
  • The femur (upper leg bone) is 2 heads long and the tibia (lower leg bone) is also 2 heads if you include the bottom of the foot.

I then added arm muscles with 5B pencil to give the near arm form: the deltoid is somewhat heart shaped from above, and the bicep lies under it. I outlined the torso, thigh and calf of the near leg and drew a rough hand and feet to express extreme grief.

Job tore his mantle, which in ancient times was the outer garment worn by men of wealth or status. (Cook) This meant he was probably still wearing a tunic of sorts underneath, and I have taken liberty to dress him in punjabi-style tunic and pants.

The final sketch is in charcoal pencil. To express the intensity of the scene I created a heavy cast shadow.

My daily art sketch of Job took about an hour to develop. I spent about a half hour compositing the process in Photoshop, another hour writing my post in a text editor, and a half hour posting.

Why I am inspired to work for this image

Job is one of my favorite books which has been a source of comfort to me during my lifes losses and trials. I admire how he kept his integrity, and willed himself to not blame God when things went terribly wrong in his life. That he could continue to worship and honor God as his Source (El Shaddai) after getting hit with horrible news is pretty amazing. I hope this image inspires others to hang on to God and not let calamity destroy that precious faith connection to the Source of all Life.

New Year’s Resolution #1

In 2017 I have resolved to make daily art. This means drawing a 15 minute to 1 hour sketch, and painting twice a week or more. These are my only new resolutions for 2017. In the past, I have told myself to do these things but somehow the ball gets dropped. Maybe some blog accountability with help?

Getting enough exercise and eating with moderation are resolutions that will continue, along with working responsibly, walking with God and being a kind-hearted human being. Simple enough … These are the foundational things that help the artisan soul and make my life into a work of art, which is what is most important.

Therefore, this morning, I used SketchTime on my smartphone to catch the dying blue spruce out my living room window.

Lynda Rimke daily art 2017

#dailysketchtime #dailysketch #dailyart