C.S. Lewis Blog Round-Up

This week I thought I’d do a round-up of a few C.S. Lewis-related blogs I’m aware of:

C.S. Lewis Foundation Blog – Keep up-to-date on happenings at the Kilns and the C.S. Lewis Foundation. Learn about Foundation events, and read posts by visiting Scholars-in-Residence (soon including yours truly) at the Kilns. Subscribe

Further Up & Further In: A C.S. Lewis & Inklings Resource Blog – This blog is maintained by Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, a well-known Lewis scholar and author and editor of several books, including a major new four-volume reference set called C.S. Lewis: Life, Works & Legacy. This blog is one of the major resource sites I’ve found on upcoming Lewis-related events and publications, Lewis resource links, and information on Narnia and the other Inklings. Subscribe

HarperOne’s C.S. Lewis Blog – The official blog of publisher HarperOne’s C.S. Lewis website invites leading Lewis scholars to contribute posts every few weeks. Contributing scholars include such names as Michael Ward, Diana Pavlac Glyer, the afore-mentioned Bruce L. Edwards, Jerry Root, and many other promiment scholars. Subscribe

Dangerous Idea – Blog by Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason. I admit, I just found this blog while doing research for this post, but I immediately subscribed. The blog discusses not only Lewis, but also important arguments in philosophy and religion. Subscribe

Internet Monk – All right, this isn’t really a Lewis blog, but it is a Christian blog by a “New Covenant, Reformation-loving Christian in search of a Jesus shaped spirituality.” I really enjoyed his post on the sexual C.S. Lewis. Some choice quotes include: “Yes, Jack Lewis had sex. In marriage. And before. Maybe more than once. He wrote Christian books, and (gasp) he wrote Christian CHILDREN’S books.” And, “The media must assume that serious Christians are seriously unhealthy people, and what better cause can one find for rolling out those freshman psych classes and all that Fruedian repression in the name of religion?” And finally, “Stand by for future posts, as we learn that the author of the popular Christian children’s books also drank, smoked, liked a bawdy joke and had theology that would drive the Truly Reformed into a hissy fit.” Subscribe

And finally, as a bonus, Into the Wardrobe, perhaps the most thorough C.S. Lewis resource site on the Web.

What Lewis-related (or Christian-related) blogs do you like to read? I’ll update this post to include any Lewis blogs mentioned in the comments.

Some brief news about my life:

Three more weeks of doing touring children’s theatre, and then the season is done. I’m doing the Virginia Renaissance Faire on the weekends, squiring for the Joust, and that’s done at the same time. My awesome sister and her friend are going to come visit me for a couple of days, and then I’m going on vacation for about a week to New York City, to say farewell to my friends from college before I cross the pond.

I found a Greek tutor! He’s an adjunct professor at Loyola College and St. Mary’s Seminary, both of which are within a few minutes’ drive of my apartment. He’s planning to meet with me twice a week and really work me hard, for which I’m grateful.

Last but not least, I found a really cool church to attend in Oxford. More on that later.

Ascension has passed, and now we await the coming of the Spirit!

More on a Christian Theatre

My posts “Offending the Audience”, “Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe”, and “Theatre Company Brain Dump” have gotten a relatively large amount of attention. There are comments on this blog and on my Facebook page that have been waiting for responses for a month. (Life has been very busy, filled with several 15-17 hour work-days, and I won’t have a day off until mid-June, which is why this is the first week I didn’t have a post up on Monday.) I thought I’d address a few of the themes from the comments, in a simplified Q&A-type format.

You said that one of your goals as an artist is to inspire hope. Do you think that all art should be positive and uplifting?

No. I believe that hope exists for the world and for each individual person, so any piece of art that is nihilistic or makes the claim that all is hopeless and life is meaningless I would repudiate as untrue. I also believe that one of the purposes of art is to remind the audience that hope exists. However, there is room for many different types of art, not all of which is pleasant to experience. For example, another legitimate purpose for art is to remind the audience that evil exists. If the art piece stops there, I don’t think it has gone far enough, but it still serves a purpose. If it goes so far as to say that evil not only exists, but is inevitable and undefeatable, I would say it is wrong. If, on the other hand, it not only states that there is evil, but also hints at the possibility of overcoming it, I would say it does well. For example, The Lord of the Rings is filled with much evil and destruction, and part of the point of the chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” is to remind the reader that the effects of evil are real, and can’t be wished away. The Appendix to the book even discusses the death of Aragorn, and there are several reminders that even this hard-won victory of the restoration of the Kingship of Gondor will one day fade away. However, Tolkien being a faithful Roman Catholic, we are assured that one day the marring of Arda will be undone, and Middle Earth will be remade into a new and glorious form, free from all evil and the workings of Melkor. There is hope.

You keep saying art should serve this purpose, and that purpose. Do you think the artist should make art with a particular purpose in mind?

Again, no. He may, but good art generally starts with an image, or a longing to tell a particular story, or some such expression of a creative impulse. However, between the first stirrings of that impulse, and the exposure of the finished product to an audience, I believe the artist should consider whether his work is good, not only in terms of quality, but in terms of serving someone besides himself. Does it celebrate, inspire, strengthen, edify, teach, warn, confront? It doesn’t have to do all of these things, or even one in particular, but it should in some way make the world better for the fact that it exists. And it should be true; that is, the audience member, through experiencing it, should have gained some level of true understanding about himself, the world, or his relation to the world. If he learns that life is meaningless, he has not gained understanding, as he has been taught something untrue. However, this line of thought leaves the realm of art per se, and gets into philosophy and theology. We may agree, as artists, about the best techniques in which to say something, but completely differ as to what is worth saying, and whether what the other says is true.

But isn’t the artist’s responsibility just to the quality of his art?

No. As a human being, and a member of the human community, he has a responsibility to act morally and serve his fellow human beings – in his case, through the creation of art. (I would also add that, as a creature, he also has a responsibility to his Creator, but I won’t go further into that in this post.) As a commenter on one of Scott Walters‘ posts (I think) said, artists are not social workers. They don’t serve in the same way social workers, or teachers, or pastors serve. However, he must serve, in whichever way he is called, and in whichever way his particular style of creation can serve.

However, this question brings up a very important point. For too long, especially in Christian art (to our disgrace), standards for art have seemed to live by the maxim, “As long as your heart’s in the right place, your work doesn’t need to be especially good.” One of the commenters on my blog, Alida Anderson, has an awesome post on her blog Thoughts on Art and Faith, called “When ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough”:

Too often, I think that the attitude within the church is, “Whatever we give God, he’ll do something good with, so I don’t have to give my best.” And yes, while it’s true that God makes beauty out of our brokenness, it doesn’t give us the excuse to be lazy or to give less than our best–not only the best of what we currently are, but the best of what we can be, through training, practice, and honing our skills…

When Christians make art that presents our faith to the world, we come at it with a significant disadvantage, because people have a preconceived idea about what “Christian art” (or movies, or music, or theatre) is like, and that preconceived idea is, more often than not, that the work is cheesy, outdated, preachy, ineffectual, and so on and so forth. There’s a notion of what the work looks like, and when the work feeds into that stereotype because we don’t do the best we possibly can, it is not only dishonoring in our work as worship, but it reinforces a stereotype that doesn’t need any more help being perpetuated.

Yes, God can work through–and despite–us in anything… Still, it can’t be good enough to hope and pray for the best results from work that is less than the best. If God can do amazing things through mediocre work done by imperfect, broken people, imagine what he can do through excellent work done by imperfect, broken people. We’re still the broken part of the equation. That doesn’t change. But the work we do doesn’t have to be half-assed because of it.

Exactly. As an artist – just the same as with a shoemaker, architect, or doctor – you still need to do a good job. The discussion of the role of the artist in serving his community assumes that as a given. Another one of my commenters, Travis Bedard, said, “If all you manage to do with such an endeavor [i.e., a Christian theatre tribe] is raise the bar for Christian theatre above the Sunday morning sketch the world will be improved immeasurably.” I hope that’s what we as Christians in the arts can do, because while there’s room for the “Sunday morning sketch,” it shouldn’t be what most people think of when they think of Christian art, which includes in its tradition the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Speaking of which, one of the greatest gifts this blog has given me so far is that it has put me in touch with some other like-minded theatre artists. Besides the afore-mentioned Alida Anderson and Travis Bedard, stage manager Lois Dawson has let me know about the Christian mandate of Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. I’m also meeting a couple Christian actresses from Canada tomorrow night. They found me through the blog, and are going to be here in Baltimore for a conference. I’m taking them to dinner and a show (On Golden Pond at Spotlighters Theatre, which is where I volunteer in the box office and teach during the summer Young Actors’ Academy).

So, I’m looking forward to meeting them, and thinking and talking more about this topic. I’m going to wrap up, because my roommate just got home and it’s Chinese food time, but first I want to let you know that the C.S. Lewis Foundation posted this week about activities coming up later this year, including not two but THREE week-long Seminars-in-Residence at the Kilns this summer, and a Regional Retreat with Diana Pavlac Glyer in Navasota, Texas. (I highly recommend attending a Seminar-in-Residence if you have the opportunity.) Read about them here.

I’m working on responding to the backlog of comments, and will plan to be back on schedule with blog posts next Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend!

Why I Blog

My friend Lynn has tagged me in a “Why I Blog” meme (and a pax upon her). So to make her happy, here are some reasons:

1) To keep friends apprised of my goings-on. I have had many people ask me to keep them up-to-date on life in England when I go over. This way, I can provide all that information in one place, and just give them a URL.

2) To earn a living. I hope to blog professionally, as a source of direct and indirect income. I am a freelancer by nature, so my income comes from a variety of creative activities. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you see ads popping up soon (once I get this blog transferred from a free wordpress.com account to a professional set-up on my own domain). I’ll try to make them as unobtrusive as possible, though, because that’s not why you’re here. In addition, a blog provides a professional “home base” on the web, where people can come to find me if they want me. I’m going to continue to add Inklings resources to this blog as I go along (such as the new link in my blogroll to the Charles Williams Society – see more about C.W. below), to provide value to you, my awesome readers.

3) Related to #2, I want to write, and blogging has so far been the only form of writing I’ve kept up consistently. (Before this, I’ve been writing in a personal blog on LiveJournal for about 5 1/2 years.) The theme of this blog – C.S. Lewis, Christianity, and the Arts at Oxford – was specifically chosen to help me focus my writing on the themes I’ve been interested in during my acting career so far, and the topic I want to write a book about – the moral responsibility of the Christian artist. I’ve been doing research on what C.S. Lewis has to say on this topic for over a year now, in what spare time I have left from my two jobs plus freelancing. This research has involved re-reading (or reading for the first time) all of Lewis’ books. I just finished Arthurian Torso, Lewis’ commentary on Charles Williams‘ Arthurian poetry.

(If you’re at all interested in the Matter of Britain, I can’t recommend more highly reading the two parts of Williams’ Cycle – Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. Though be warned: they’re difficult. Even Lewis says he is “baffled” by several poems. You may want to read Lewis’ commentary first. He suggests a chronological order for reading the poems. I read the poems first, because I wanted to read them fresh, without any explanation, but I plan to re-read them now that Lewis has helped me understand much of the symbolism and imagery. I’ll be writing more about them later.)

The numbering should probably be reversed, because as listed, my reasons are in order of increasing priority. I should mention I also blog for my current employer, the Baltimore Theatre Alliance, at the BTA Blog.

No tags, because that’s just how I roll.

Theatre Company Brain Dump

Here’s my plan for the next few years:

2009-2011: Second BA in Theology at Oxford University

2011-2012: M.Litt. in Theology, Imagination & the Arts at the ITIA at the University of St Andrews

2012-2015: D.Phil. in Theology, Imagination & the Arts, ditto

Doctoral dissertation: The Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist

And then? I’m currently thinking: Create a Christian theatre company.

Here’s my brain dump about my ideal company:

1) Excellent work. In contrast to the view that seems to be prevalent about Christian art, at least in the U.S., having good intentions does not excuse mediocre work.

2) Do only plays that will contribute something to the world – are edifying, or hopeful, or morally exemplary, or challenges us as human beings.

3) Involve the community, whether by doing world premieres of plays by local playwrights, or supporting young artists, or doing talkbacks and discussions. Be sensitive to what the community wants and needs.

4) Eventually would like to do 12 shows a year (like Spotlighters, the theatre where I currently volunteer doing box office, and teach during the summer’s Young Actors’ Academy), but at minimum, 3-4.

5) Actors, directors, designers, technical personnel, and staff are all the same people, and all work together as an ensemble. Each person works according to his strengths, and therefore no one person will take on all roles unless he wants to, but every person will take on more than one role.

6) The company will work with local churches and be of service to them, whether providing space, being involved with worship (as the company members choose), or helping host activities and discussions.

7) Perhaps affiliated with the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s C.S. Lewis College? It would be awesome for the College’s Performing Arts Center to have an Equity theatre affiliated with it, or at least a high-quality professional non-union theatre.

What would you like to see in a Christian theatre company?