Culture Care Gathering 2016

Originally given at Q Gathering by Makoto Fujimura in Pasadena, March 3rd, 2016

Los Angeles: The City of Better Angels?

What if Los Angeles became a city of angels? Or of “the better angels of our nature” as Abraham Lincoln exhorted us to become? What would happen if we truly became “the City of Our Better Angels”?

To ask “what if?” is not just idealism or false hope or fantasy. “What if” questions are filled with hope and faith while acknowledging our struggle for that quest. To ask “what if?” today is to say, “I have a dream.” What I call “culture care” is a non-violent resistance to culture war; culture care is not to wage war over territories of culture which only leads to polarization, but it is to lay down the weapons of ideology, and instead to sow seeds of goodness, truth, and beauty into the ecosystem of culture—into the cultural soil of our cities, including Los Angeles.

To say “I have a dream today” is to plant seeds of hope in the arid soil of disappointment and despair; to say “I have a dream” today is to raise seedlings of joy and peace in the midst of the bitter taste of suffering and injustice; to say “I have a dream” today is to water the “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3) in a land full of fissures of division and polarization. To say “I have a dream today” is to—even in tainted ground such as Japanese soil poisoned by the fallout of nuclear attacks—plant sunflower seeds, as one Japanese farmer did soon after the 3/11 tsunami catastrophe. He planted them because sunflowers remove the radioactive isotopes out of the soil. To say “I have a dream” today is to create beauty as the pursuit of the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

In that city of God, the better angels of our nature imagine and invoke the future. In our current city of man (as St. Augustine would have it), culture wars rage, dehumanizing forces invade, and polarizing specters abound as the accursed ghosts of our divided past and present haunt us. But in the city of God, the city of our better angels, invitations arrive for Genesis moments—offered even in our brokenness. What would that city look like? It might be much like the Highline of New York  where nature has been reunited by culture caregivers with the daily rhythms of that great city. Or it might look like the gardens of Ron Finley, “A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA” introduced to many through his TEDtalk. Or Roberta and Howard Ahmanson’s  “Village of Hope” a 192-bed transitional housing program for homeless men, women, and children brought to life on a decommissioned military base. It would look like all of us—homeless, exiled, forgotten, and enslaved gathering to march toward freedom, justice, poetry, and beauty.

No one wins in culture wars. Culture is not a territory to be fought over, instead it is a garden to tend to, an ecosystem to care for. Each time we battle for what we consider some “sacred right,” we lose ground by dehumanizing and demonizing the other side. A culture-war stance assumes an “us verses them” situation in which every position must be monolithic and dominant. It requires the investment of so much time and resource to defend absolutes rather than collaborating, negotiating, and finding common ground. Culture caring rejuvenates culture by aspiring to the greater good, actively mediating and guiding people through the darkness of injustice. What we are experiencing this election cycle is but a disfigurement of democracy. Instead of aspiring to the “better angels of our nature,” we have become dark, mutated angels fallen to the temptations of culture war. Mr Trump, I suggest, is fallout from those wars, a gusher erupting from the fissures of culture wars. He successfully took advantage of culture war polarity to focus the media on himself and his own ideas of “winning.”  He gained this dominance first by intentionally firing incendiary remarks to pressure the fault lines of culture wars, recasting everyone other than himself “losers” from the starting line. We may yet be able to elect the culture wars candidates of our choice, but we all lose in that process, degrading the integrity of our culture in the process. No matter who wins this election, an age of disillusionment will be ushered in with the new occupant of the White House.

Culture Care is about nurturing the good, true, and beautiful into the soil of culture. Reinhold Niebuhr stated that “Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.” The growth of democracy requires the good soil of culture so that “proximate solutions” can further the privilege of stewarding culture. The goal is not to “win” at all costs—democracy never claims to resolve,insoluble problems no matter who the leader is. Niebuhr also warns us: “Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.” Culture Care is generational work, and will require much faith.

I want to suggest one “proximate solution.” What if we spent 1% of the budget for this current presidential election cycle, and created gardens of culture for the generations after us? What if we elected not politicians but cultural gardeners? A gardener is judged by the fruit they produce. An election should be like a farmer’s market: whoever produces the best fruit in our culture should sell the most fruit. With that 1% we would be able to fund all of the worthy arts organizations and cultural entities I support, from Image Journal to the Jose Limon dance company, and make them sustainable. Politics are downstream from the arts. What happens in culture upstream can affect the whole river.  Let me further suggest that if we up the ante and redirect 10% of all of the campaign spending for the elections happening this year (including Super PAC) and apply it to culture, it could make sustainable ALL of the organizations in the United States, including every organization funded by the NEA, NEH. That amount would fully fund NPR (imagine not having have to listen to their fund-raising campaign pitches!).  I dare say that this 10%, used generatively and resourcefully, with care of a master, proven gardener, would do more for the thriving of our culture, the thriving of our economy, and the thriving of world cultures than anything that this election will yield. So according to this model, Mr. Trump will have to show that he not only succeeds in negotiations and firing people, but show that the fruit of his work actually tastes better and is more nourishing for all people. It’s no different for  Secretary Clinton. She will have to do the same. What cultural fruit has she made that is enduring, what fruit has she nourished that causes not just registered democrats to benefit but the entire ecosystem of culture to thrive?

The city of our better angels is lush and abundant: let’s give up a small portion of our ambition, lay down our weapons of ideological polarity for an apportioned time, and devote our energy to tending the soil of culture right beneath us. In a land tainted by radioactive isotopes of apocalypse, fear, and anxiety, we must plant sunflower seeds of hope, like this painting of Vincent van Gogh. (see above image) “I dream my painting and I paint my dream,” he said.

Let’s cast our “what if?” dreams into the wind of culture instead of pinning hopes on our leaders, or an establishment ready to break apart like an old wineskin. Let’s become gardeners of cultural farms, stewards of cultural ecosystems.

To nurture the soil of culture, we must learn to see with “the eyes of our hearts” (Ephesians 1:18) beyond fear, beyond anxiety, and beyond despair. Be patient and long-suffering; love deeply; nurture the soil of imagination, gestating in faith until we can give birth to that city of our better angels. What if we did that? We would find a city filled with the aroma of the new, emanating out of the extravagant, with denizens like bright flowers turning their heads toward the sun. Out of the trauma of our times and the disillusionments of our days, God would birth something true, good, and beautiful.

“Culture is not a war to win, but a garden to tend.” – Makoto Fujimura

12750224_457739331086312_1290135117_n

* – from IAM Instagram

Mako’s Report from the Culture Care gathering in Pasadena

Over 150 attendees came to the first Culture Care gathering at the Brehm Center in Fuller, which took place March 3-5. We are scheduling three of these gatherings—the next one will be a Culture Care Summit, taking place February 10-12, 2017. What we experienced was a significant movement of the Spirit among artists, entrepreneurs, theologians, and pastors.

Keiko Yanaka came from Japan to be the “still point” by serving the Rikyu style of tea (specifically Omote-Senke style) in the Brehm|Fujimura Studio. As we converted the small exhibit space attached to the studio, I realized that the tatami mats fit perfectly in the space, and the three paintings I had been working on as a meditation in the Lenten season,which also happened to fit perfectly. Keiko said that she was amazed that the Brehm|Fujimura spaces were echoing the tea houses; the entry rooms prepared the hearts of those receiving tea through stages of meditative/prayerful zones. As you will read in my new book Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, Rikyu is a prototype of resilient faith operating covertly and deeply embedded within culture, and our task is to uncover and reveal some of the Eucharistic elements of tea.

The response by the guests were so overwhelming (she could only serve 25 people) that we plan to have her back for next year as well. We will also focus on Shusaku Endo’s book Silence—now being adapted by Martin Scorsese (the movie is due out in December)—tracing the roots of Japanese aesthetics born in the time of persecution and strife. As my Q Conference message says, we are entering an age of disillusionment and persecution, so we have much to learn from those who created “still points” in such a historic setting.

The Culture Care gathering invited many from around the world, and featured Dr. Mark Labberton, the President of Fuller Seminary, whom I interviewed on stage. Implementing the principles of Culture Care into the full curriculum of Fuller Seminary will take time, but we are off to a great start. I have identified a few students with whom I hope to work closely as Fujimura Fellows, with the eventual goal of establishing master’s and doctoral-level curriculum for Culture Care. Other presenters included artist Pamela Alderman and retired Army sergeant Ron Kelsey.

The afternoon highlights included Professor Alexis Abernethy, a professor of clinical psychology, who reported on her research on the relationship between worship/prayer groups and trauma recovery in the Bahamas. The director of Spiritual Development at Fuller, Dr. Laura Harbert, also join us on stage to lead the sessions as a responder to the presentations. I asked Alexis’s church’s worship director, Dr. Dianne Clayton-White (“Dr. D”), to close the gathering with her music as Dr. Harbert began to pray. God visited us in a special way in Travis Auditorium at Fuller that day. With tears and our hearts full of joy, we concluded the gathering.

The experience was so powerful that I later met with Dr. Ed Willmington and suggested that we organize next February’s Culture Care Summit as a worship service. Dr. Willmington, being a composer and worship director dedicated to the next generation of worship leaders, said, “Now you are speaking my language!” I anticipate that this will be unlike any arts and faith conference you have ever attended, a weekend full of worship, Culture Care, and learning, so please mark your calendars!

Advertisements

Art, Love, and Beauty: Lecture V

IMG_0452

Beauty Will Make the World

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato

“Beauty will save the world” – The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Click on the video below to be redirected to vimeo to watch lecture

Art, Love, and Beauty: Lecture IV

* – from IAM website

Makoto Fujimura will continue his lecture series on “Art, Love, and Beauty” with this 4th live broadcast focusing on Gretchen Bender’s media installations.
This month, we are privileged to have with us Soo Bae, a world class cellist.

soo bae

Soo Bae at Space 38|39

(I don’t have a video of this lecture so below is one of Makoto’s writings on Gretchen Bender)

REFRACTIONS’S 15: GRETCHEN’S BUTTERFLIES

by Makoto Fujimura

refractions15

Bill T. Jones started to sing, as he stepped out from the audience. He sang an old spiritual, and he slowly stepped down the stairs moving into the main stage, and his body swayed, his feet began to tap. The Kitchen, a black-box theatre located in Chelsea, Manhattan, a catalyst for much of experimental art and music on recent times, was his stage, his artistic home. And yet, he was not here to perform, he was not here to start a new program, he was here for a memorial service.

Gretchen Bender had passed away at the age of 53, to the shock of her friends and colleagues who came to honor her on that cold January day. Many influential figures of the art world, like Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Elizabeth Streb were present. Her sister Valerie Godwin, whose husband Clyde pastored my home church, The Village Church, introduced us in 1999. Gretchen then graciously took part in my TriBeCa Temporary project, which I curated after September 11th, 2001.

Gretchen, as many participants in the service recalled, remained in the background of the emerging media art phenomena in the eighties. She was a pioneer in this new form as New York Times’ critic Roberta Smith wrote in her obituary. She was part of “the generation of early 1980’s Pictures Artists…Combining aspects of Conceptual Art and Pop Art, these artists used the images of popular culture to dissect its powerful codes, especially regarding gender and sexuality. “ Many credit her today with pioneering “the rapid-fire hyperediting now pervasive in film, television and video art.”

Her accomplishments range from PBS documentary to museum retrospectives. But to me, her public work of 1990’s collaboration with Miran Fukuda, in the Tameike-Sanno station in Tokyo continue to be etched in my mind.

Tameike-Sanno Collaboration appropriated, ironically, the images of the World Trade Towers. When I visited her studio, located in Southstreet Seaport near Ground Zero, she told me of her experience after 9/11: “I was sitting on the steps in front of my studio, reading an article in a newspaper about the ‘butterflies’ the Russians had dropped all over Afghanistan in the last war and I looked up from the paper and stared blankly as I tried to comprehend the meaning of the article: what kind of cruelty was it that children picked up these ‘butterflies’ floating down and were blown apart… A sense of general despair for the world began to creep into my whole being when, suddenly, two feet in front of me, a REAL butterfly floated by my face. I couldn’t move in astonishment. I had never seen a butterfly in all my years on South Street and it was November and it was ground zero air quality and where did this fragile emanation appear from? All those souls lifting out of the white dust, off the collapsed shards – a sacrifice, a gift, a hope, for a spiritual shift in the world.”

She then created an installation for TriBeCa Temporary project that became a highlight of our six months effort to “create an oasis of collaboration for Ground Zero artists.” She folded hundreds of white origami butterflies, and carefully arranged them on the floor, re-presenting her experience that, she repeatedly told me, was her “resurrection moment”.
Then she told me something remarkable: “I could never do this in Chelsea galleries or museums.” I asked her “why?” She answered “well, it’s too tender, and beautiful.”

One of her friends reminded me, at the memorial, this was the last work that she ever exhibited.

It was evident to those who attended the memorial service how much she struggled with the hype, the greed and the back-stabbing that characterized the art world. She was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and too unguarded. Her long time partner Mitchell Wagenberg, shared how he wrote down pages and pages of how the art world had destroyed her, but then felt to restrain his comments. He nevertheless wanted to convey how she was victimized and swallowed up by the vicious realities of the art world, and felt betrayed. But perhaps Mitchell did not have to share the details his notes. The service started to take on a confessional tone, where one after another, emotive expressions by artists recalled her delicate nature, giving account of their personal struggles in their relationships with her, and with each other. Perhaps the language used in describing the scene was too brutally honest for some. One of my friends commented afterwards: “I’ve never heard so many four-letter words at a memorial service!”

After Bill T Jones spoke and sang, one of Gretchen’s assistants stood to share a song. It was a song that Gretchen listened to in her studio on her tape player. The worn-out tape is by an underground artist I’ve never heard before called Daniel Johnston1, but the assistant said, “it’s from First Corinthians 13 in the Bible.” I was surprised, as I knew how much Gretchen struggled with the church and Christianity. And yet when he started to sing, almost everyone in the room knew the tune, except, ironically, those of us who were Christians. We knew the words well, but not the tune. “Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way…Love never ends.”

Perhaps Gretchen herself was “too tender and beautiful” for the art world after all. Perhaps she saw herself in that butterfly, a lone specter of a strange mystery in terrible dark days. Where would a creative butterfly like Gretchen migrate to? Would the art world continue to alienate and divide in our Darwinian grasp for a flash of spotlight? Would we then miss the small “resurrection moments” of our ordinary days? Gretchen, at last, saw the butterfly. Perhaps we would miss it or ignore it even if it flew in front of our eyes. Perhaps what we wanted to acknowledge on that cold day in January was the reality of how far we have fallen short of our own expectations and, even, our desires.

If Elaine Scarry (Beauty and Being Just, Princeton Press) is correct, true beauty forces us to admit our errors. Perhaps, in missing Gretchen, would we admit the vulnerability, and unguarded innocence of a true artistic experience? Would a community of broken, brutally honest, creative people lead the way for admission of our errors? The small, avant-garde theatre in Chelsea, for but a fleeting moment, became one communal confessional box, filling it with hymns and spiritual songs.

As I left The Kitchen (only to return in a few months later to do a collaboration called, ironically, Shangri-La), I felt certain of Jesus’ presence in that room. As the author and fulfillment of that song by Daniel Johnston, He would have invited himself there, as the manifestation of the “unknown, rejected” singer of a worn out tape of old. And there, his “dancing has turned into mourning” (Lamentations 5:15). At that moment, he would certainly have been unguarded, and perhaps as vulnerable as a single monarch flying in the ashes of Sept. 11th.

The Artisan Soul

Artisan-Soul

We all need to create, to be a part of a process that brings to the world something beautiful, good, and true, in order to allow our souls to come to life.

erwin

Erwin McManus & Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura interviewed his good friend Erwin McManus during a book launch of his newest book The Artisan Soul at Space 38|39 in NYC. Erwin Raphael McManus is an author, thought leader, and founder of Mosaic church in Los Angeles. He not only calls us to reclaim our creative essence, but reveals how we can craft our lives into a work of art.

Erwin wrote this book during a time he was frustrated with Christians. God spoke to him about sharing HIS beauty to the world and so he wrote The Artisan Soul. The book is for everyone – not just artists. It’s for anyone who has been told that they are less than what they were created to be. The most tragic moments in our life are the most beautiful. God makes ALL things beautiful in its time. We need to access the essential nature of being human and live out our lives as artisans. Be unpredictable!

Click on the video below to be redirected to vimeo to watch the interview

The Artisan Soul video promo