“ART AND HOMEMAKING” with Dot Vile

Dot Vile is a sculpture/installation artist from Philadelphia who recently spent a few weeks here with us in Southborough and was kind enough to share some photos of her work as well as a short reflection on her time at L’Abri.

I read Edith Schaeffer’s book Hidden Art on whim in art school.  I knew the book was about homemaking but didn’t foresee it to have any impact on my work.  At the time, I had already been thinking about the relation between a human body and a house.  I was looking for physical similarities in their inwardness, outwardness, strengths and weaknesses.  My suspicions were affirmed when I read the last chapter titled Environment.  Edith says, “We are an environment, each one of us … People who come across us or walk into our presence become involved.”  That stopped me in my tracks and pin-pointed what I began to believe about homemaking.  It goes beyond physical walls.  A relationship can become a home.  I had no idea what L’Abri was while I read the book and was pretty stunned when I found out the word meant shelter.

In much of my work, I play with both construction site and homemaking material – like cement, curtains and steel nails.  I set up interactions between the material to show their strengths and weaknesses.  Human interactions are so alike in that way too.  Direct interactions, especially through tension, can quickly show how strong or weak a relationship is.  Many of the pieces I make become physical metaphors for this idea.

While I was at L’Abri for the beginning of the summer term, I learned “hospitality” means loving the stranger.  Upon hearing that, the environment I give off suddenly became more of a responsibility and something to hone.  The more I believe that I am an environment, a temple and a dwelling place, the more empathetic I feel towards both people and run-down houses.  I observe and enter construction and demolition sites wherever I can.  If we really are “glorious ruins” (as Francis Schaeffer says) than that empathy does not seem strange but somehow inborn.

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You can find more of Dot’s work on her website or Tumblr page.

 

 

 

 

“SURPRISED BY PLAY” by Jeff Banks

Jeff Banks, a recent graduate from Columbia Theological Seminary and soon-to-be fellow with the Trinity Fellow Academy is one of our superb helpers at L’Abri this summer and was kind enough to share some thoughts about his time at L’Abri.

If C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy and N.T. Wright was surprised by hope, I was
surprised by play when I came to L’Abri.
When you learn about L’Abri, you are apt to hear about its focus on apologetics and its emphasis on the intellectual life. You might know about the discussion meals, during which we don our theological caps and discuss all topics known to man. If you have taken a look at the list of lectures or even attended one, you will know that there is no theological or cultural stone that is left unturned. The problem of evil, the nature of man, the search for meaning—we cover it all.  The unexamined life is not worth living, so we examine it carefully.
However, even the people who come to L’Abri are not, in Jamie Smith’s felicitous phrase, “giant bobblehead dolls, with humongous heads and itty-bitty unimportant bodies.” We are thinking creatures, but we are also bodily creatures, and one of the ways that we honor our bodies is by playing.
Now, if you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to think about playing than to actually play. After
all, play is such an interesting concept! It’s a key part of our development as children, when we learn how to interact with our peers through the games that we play with them. We learn about justice (“hey, you totally stepped out of bounds there!”), accepting loss, cooperating with others (aka not eating all the orange slices at halftime), and competing healthily. The playground is a kind of school.
Playing is also a sign of the kingdom of God. (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?) In
his book, A Rumor of Angels, sociologist Peter Berger writes about “signals of transcendence”— signs that point us to the reality of God—one of which is play. When we play, Berger writes, we enter into a different sort of world that is marked by a different sort of time. Instead of being 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, it is the third round, the fourth act, the allegro movement, or the second kiss. When we are truly engrossed in our play, full of the joy and rapture of the activity, we step out of time, at least for a few moments. We return to the “deathlessness of childhood” and glimpse the timelessness of eternity. We see what heaven might be like. All at a volleyball match during tea break.
But playing is also a time not to think—one of the times when we can rest from all the
intellectual, personal, and emotional wrestling that we do so often at L’Abri. And for that reason it is an integral part of life in community. After all, coming to L’Abri is not just about learning to think differently, but about learning to live differently. In a world in which we over-work and under-play, L’Abri is a place at which we can learn to do both well, and so become more like the children who will enter the kingdom

 

N.T. WRIGHT ON PLACING MARRIAGE WITHIN THE BIBICAL STORY…

No stranger to controversial subject matters, biblical scholar N.T. Wright presents in this brief video some wise thoughts on the importance of locating our understanding of Christian marriage within the larger story which the Bible is telling.  This talk was originally presented a few years ago at an ecumenical conference at the Vatican on the nature of the human sexuality and Christian marriage.  While are certain limitations on what can be covered in a 16 minute video, true to form Wright presents an impressive amount of learning in easy to follow manner that is both creative and faithful.  This video is well worth an attentive listen.

RECENT PUBLIC LECTURES…

We’ve already had some great public lectures this summer here in Southborough.  The kick-off lecture for out summer term was by one of this branch’s co-founders Mardi Keyes, who retold the story of L’Abri from its humble start in the Schaeffer family’s home in the Swiss Alps to the present day where L’Abri is an international fellowship of Christian community study centers across the globe, though Mardi paid particular attention to the history of the Southborough branch.  For anyone who wants to know about what exactly L’Abri is or how it started this is a wonderful talk.

Mardi Keyes – The L’Abri Story from Switzerland to Southborough

Our second lecture was by local pastor Doug Calhoun on the relationship between our “Father Wound” and our spiritual growth.  Doug has devoted a tremendous amount of thinking and studying to the many difficult questions around relationship between our families of origins and the way we engage with God.  The lecture sparked lots of helpful discussion around here.

Doug Calhoun – The Father Wound and Its Impact on Your Spiritual Journey

Our third lecture of the term was from our own Mary Frances Giles who gave us some really helpful insights into what it means to live with longings and desires.  Looking at ways that both our broader culture as well as the church have often given us overly simplistic, confusing or just plain unhelpful ways to think through our desires and longings Mary Frances offers some helpful reflections.

Mary Frances Giles – Living with Longing in a Fallen World

If you’re interested in subscribing – check out our podcast which is updated after each lecture!

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: “You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit” by James K.A. Smith

 

Cover Art

James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.  Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016.  224 pgs.

If James K.A. Smith’s recently released book You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit is correct in its general thrust, then reading this accessible, insightful and well-informed book will decidedly not change your life.  Let me explain.

You Are What You Love is Smith’s ‘user-friendly’ presentation of a thesis he has been arguing over the last few years in more academically inclined books (if you’re interested see here and here).  Central to this larger project of Smith’s is an attempt to expand how contemporary Christians understand what it means to be human and how this effects our discipleship.  In short, Smith wants to re-situate our head with our heart, our thinking with our desiring, and our rationality with our imagination.  Smith believes that all too often the church has bought into an Enlightenment picture of the human person as primarily a ‘thinking thing,’ and with this reduced picture of the human person in hand, models of discipleship have also been reduced to mere data input: learn the right doctrine, read the right books, go to right conference, download the right podcast.  All of these are good and helpful things in our discipleship, but if discipleship is only aimed at the filling our heads the broader culture will be more than happy to captivate the heart, woo the imagination and form our desires.

Taking his cues from both St. Augustine and the biblical witness, Smith wants to enlarge our picture of the human person and in so doing questions the discipleship-as-data-input model.  Early in the book Smith puts it this way, “Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings.”  Smith gives many pointed examples throughout the book about the limitations of data input discipleship, showing how human action often flows out of deeper places than our rational deliberation (a favorite example of mine was Smith’s retelling of enthusiastically devouring the anti-industrial food writings of Wendell Berry while at the same time devouring a hot-dog in a Costco food court).  Smith wants to say that discipleship is a much richer, deeper, and often more time-consuming process of both having our minds renewed but also having our loves transformed and reoriented towards God through the power of grace-filled habits.

This is central to Smith’s project: if humans are more than merely thinking things, and are instead driven by our loves, then discipleship has to include the reorientation of our loves through the creation of habits.  Smith is constantly touching down into the seemingly mundane routines that characterizes daily life, showing how they can become opportunities to shape and reorient the things we love.  Smith talks about habits of worship, marriage, educating your kids, and going to work. Unlike his previous books that primarily remain on the level of philosophical and theological reflection, this book orbits around day-in and day-out living, making it much less intimidating to wade into than his earlier works.

So if discipleship is not only learning certain things, but actively working to create habits which shape our deepest longings and loves, then reading Smith’s book by itself won’t change your life.  At best it might change the way you think — something of high significance! — but if that is all it does, then in a real way Smith has not accomplished what he hopes to through this book.  Along with changing the way you think, Smith wants  you to face the truth that your habits might reveal that the things you love can often be in contradiction to the things you think you love.  The resulting vision for Christian discipleship seeks to create new habits that can re-orient our loves towards God and his Kingdom, so that our thinking and our loving work in unity.  This book comes highly recommended.

POETRY BY OUR OWN SARAH CHESTNUT…

While this blog seems to have fallen into something of an online hibernation over the long, cold New England winter months, now that the weather is warming and summer is making its way to Southborough it seems to be an appropriate time to bring some new life back to this space.

So to start with we’ll pass on a link to two recently published poems by our in-house poet Sarah Chestnut.  One of these poems, Neighbours, appeared in the Spring 2016 Edition of Regent College‘s journal of Christian Thought, Crux, while the other poem On A Wire appears in the most recent edition of Regent World – the college’s alumni publication.  You can read both of them online here as well as find other interesting resources related to Regent College.