dietrich bonhoeffer


Some weeks you just have to punt. This is one of those weeks.

I have a ruled composition book to jot down bullet points for a weekly post. There is a page that has “April 24:” written and underscored on it. There is nothing written underneath it. I have a folder in my notes on my phone for “Writing”. There’s not much in there either.

            Easter was a mixed bag of emotions for every Christian around the world. The holiest day, celebrating the greatest sacrifice and victory, tempered with news of over 350 people being killed, some of whom were targeted for the very thing we all were celebrating. I woke up to news of the Sri Lankan bombing. Others experienced it in real time. Even more probably had their morning services out of the way before it happened. This is the part of our calling that on most days Western Christians have the luxury to push to the margins. That comfort is a double-edge sword that simultaneously allows us to sleep but also threatens our faith. Our security makes our faith soft, like a person that needs medication for mental health that stops taking it because they feel good, all the while forgetting that it’s the medication that makes them feel that way. I rarely think someone might shoot up my church. There was a church shooting in Nashville less than 2 years ago and I know a family that was in it and had to provide medical aid to the wounded but even that doesn’t make me fear for much. That said, we have to live with the knowledge that the profession of our faith puts a target on us. It’s not unique to Christianity. Anyone that declares themselves anything risks attack.

            Currently I am reading St. Augustine’s City of God and a history of the Orthodox Church. Couple that with a daily reading of anything in the New Testament and that fear of not being loved by the world around you turns to vapor. None of this is new. It is a faith born into one of the most decadent, hedonistic empires the world has known. It spreads underground where it is made illegal by dictatorial atheistic governments. It was overrun by competing ideologies and survived. Whether threatened by violence or the recent Western weaponization of public shaming, we can take comfort in knowing that we are not alone. That contemporaneity that allows Easter of the year 50 to feel closer to us than Groundhog Day of 2015 not only allows us to share in a message of eternal love but also strengthens us to share our anxiety related to exterior forces across time as well. Long story short, it’ll be ok:

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Quote for the week:

“You deserve less”- Trenton Doyle Hancock

Lyric for the week:

“These prayers are a constant road across the wilderness” - Paul Simon “Cool Cool River”

Currently reading:

The Book of Luke

1 John


St. Augustine: City of God

The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity by Timothy Ware

The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis


         There was a moment last Wednesday, while drawing, where I felt like I had powered through the recent frustrations and lack of direction. Returning to basics, just drawing, strips it all down and allows you to focus on the core of what you want to do with your hand. I made 10 ink drawings in an hour and it set up a visual language that looked like the beginning of something substantial. The drawings weren’t the solution. They were what looked to be the first step forward- the bottom layer of a structure for future parts to rest. The problem is that I made the drawings and then immediately had to leave the studio and take care of the rest of my life, then go teach and then leave on a trip. So here I sit, 5 days later where I should have been 4 days ago. Fortunately, the work still looks like how it felt last week. I want to make 10 more. Once I have a critical mass, I will probably know what comes next. So much of the creative process is building something up just so you can tear it down again at a later date. I think about singer-songwriters in that way. I get committed to a recording. Bob Dylan should only play “Tangled Up In Blue” the one way it exists on Blood on the Tracks. Bob would tell me to shut up. It’s his song. He can play it however he wants. He hasn’t listened to Blood on the Tracks since 1975 and that’s only because he had band practice for a tour and forgot something in a verse. He’ll tear that song down and build it up a different way, thank you very much. I’m the same way with my work and I forget to extend that courtesy to other artists sometimes.

         My desk area is littered with notecards of ideas, etc. I think Pinterest people call these “vision boards” or something. Sometime in January, I wrote down “develop a drawing language for painting, a new form of abstraction (for me). Consider Byzantine and medieval ideas.” I wanted something divorced from the somewhat untrained version of academic language that I use in drawing: the endless hatching, cross-hatching, stippling that, in reality, anyone that ever cared about what I did would rather that I still be doing. Looking at work spanning the “Middle Ages” is way of divorcing ego from the process. Making work in service of something greater with no concern whether or not your name is registered. Creating work for the purposes of edification and joy. Whatever I did last week is that step on the notecard. There are 10 other notecards that have to get addressed now. Once all of those cards are either conquered or dismissed, then I’ll probably be back up to speed. All of that said, I have a lot that will keep me busy this week so I will not make much progress.

         I went to the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville this weekend. If memory serves me correctly, this is my 5th time. I don’t know that I go hoping for inspiration more than I go to get out of my own head for a few days. It is the perfect music festival for middle-aged people like me because you get to sit down for a lot of it, you don’t have to camp, and it’s contained in the heart of a city that I do really love. You can take a trolley from one event to another, but I walked the whole time, which was also good for me. According to my watch, I walked 10 miles a day. The festival focuses on contemporary composition, be it jazz, ambient, atonal, drone, dance, etc. This year featured a focus on Harold Budd and, separately, the ECM record label and their 50th anniversary. I didn’t get within 400 yards of Harold Budd. The crowds were too big for his events, so I always had to opt for a different performance. Some acts are deeply committed to their craft. Their joy is not obvious, but I assume under that sober veneer is someone dedicated and happy. Others are all in and want you to know that they are still up onstage for the reason they started piano or saxophone lessons 20 years ago or bought a copy of Ableton. Jlin performs like she hit the lottery. So gracious. So happy to not be working whatever factory job she had.

Nils Frahm dances around his equipment and when he speaks. It is casual and inviting. He feels no obligation to set the tone. You like it? Like it for why you like it. You don’t have to meet him in his place. No explanation required. Others? Man, they want you to know what was happening during the gestation of the piece. They need the story. I get that. If you have any doubts about that, check my last show. That’s the stuff I’m trying to burn out of my work now. It puts too much on the audience to almost demand that they come to it on your terms. You’re not George Lucas in 1977 at that point. You’re George Lucas tweaking Star Wars in 1997, demanding you accept his vision.

         I know I’m old(er) but what the weekend reinforced for me is a bias I hold towards my generation and the two that follow me. Vulnerability, now, is saying a lot of words that came out of a diary entry. It’s a digital post-blog world. Putting yourself out there with the safety of a screen. Post a photo and type how you feel. Younger people’s vulnerability is words. People have been taught to type out, “I really need some love right now” and try to survive on the random thumbs-up and “You can do it!”s that come back in return. No one has risked anything. Not the person seeking help and not the person thinking that they provided any comfort. You gave someone a dopamine fix and that’s it.

         I get that this is the new emotional currency, but it is safe and, to me, relatively risk-free. You have to be willing to physically embarrass yourself in a performance in some ways. The first time I got “onstage” to perform music, I had a simultaneously crippling and liberating thought: “I am here for an hour no matter what happens.” It would either be a personal disaster or a chance to grow. I had a student last semester say, “I hope I can teach in a way like you one day.” My response was, “You have to be willing to make a total jackass of yourself, everyday, in front of 30 people.” Jlin flat out said she felt like she was giving something to the crowd because she was throwing stuff in her mix that she had never done before because she wanted to know what would happen. It could have tanked but she put it out there. Some of these other people probably aced their Tutorial on the Postmodern Condition class in college. They had taken something born out of risk and failure 60-70 years ago and reduced it to a calculated event where nothing could go wrong unless the power got cut to the club. Vulnerability is of the body as much as it is of the mind. Nirvana’s songs still seem to have an audience with teenagers. It’s not just the words. It’s the scream. That survives. When we were younger, it was the scream, but it was Cobain diving into the drum set or even Krist Novoselic throwing his bass up in the air and accidentally having it hit him in the face. I say this, but I never listen to them anymore. I listen to Big Star’s “Thirteen” and think, “I would never have let myself write that song because I would have thought it was corny, but I am so glad he had the courage to write it and sing and play it so purely.” The reduction of teenage love to something that sweet only makes sense to me now. Chilton was on another plane to write that in his 20s.

         That risk has to be there, but it has to be backed up. I saw one act that was nothing but emotion, and it was as wrong as anything clinical that I witnessed. She might as well have banged on a gong for 45 minutes and yelled the same sentence over and over again because that’s how hit felt. She had one thing to say, at one volume for 45 minutes. It was like reading the same sentence in a novel for an hour if the sentence was written in all caps. There was no fear but there was little art as well. It was just anger and at the end of it, she just screamed her diary at me while something that sounded like a track Trent Reznor put out in the trash hammered away in the background.


         Onward towards joy. Up in the air with your bass:

Quote for the week: 

“God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together


Lyric for the week:

“Scientists and engineers will only amplify your fears”

Chris Stamey “Geometry”


Currently reading:

In Xanadu- William Dalrymple

St. Augustine: City of God

The Book of Mark