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    Entries in Christianity (92)


    Professional Photography :: An Interview with Scotland Huber

    I enjoy photography.  It has been a hobby of mine since high school, and as the years have passed I've continued to play around behind the lens.  I really enjoy finding photographers who do excellent and inspiring work, for it informs my own experimentation with taking pictures, and inspires me to keep shooting.

    Enter my friend, Scot Huber.

    Mr. Huber is a photographer, artist and public health educator in Boston, Massachusetts. He currently works for Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester while also operating Give and Take Pictures (go ahead, click on the link and check it out), a portrait and wedding photography business. He holds a BA in Philosophy from Gordon College.

    I met Scot while leading a youth mission trip to the city of Philadelphia in 2008.  At the time, Scot was a city host for The Center for Student Missions.  I enjoyed discussing theology, music, baseball, and ministry during our week together.  A year later, Scot stopped off at our home in De Soto, Kansas during a road trip he took across the United States.  I've continued to stay in touch with Scot.  He is a blessing to me.

    I asked Scot a few questions about his work.  Check out his response.

    First, how did you get started in photography?

    Photography was at most a peripheral hobby in my late teen years, but I really only took interest in it as I went off to college and eventually studied abroad in England. There one of my closest friends was a fantastic photographer and he provided a lot of inspiration towards a love of photography and photographs. After returning from that year abroad and finishing up my senior year, some folks I knew were getting engaged so I offered to do engagement photos for them. The next thing I knew they were asking me to photograph their weddings, and from there, as they say, the rest is history.

    Whenever I look through your collections, particularly your wedding photography, often I find that you capture emotion, or some dimension of the person in your photography.  Your photography tells a story.  How does narrative inform photography?  Does it?  Even though an image is static, can pictures tell a story?

    All images carry a message. The first inscribed images & drawings were used to record events and tell stories. Photographs should be no different. The medium has changed and the way we as a culture think about narratives and stories may have grown more complex, but the goal still remains the same: communication. It is this sharing that inspired the name for my photography business. As a photographer you have to be careful not to get too caught up in the story of the image though, as it can quickly become too complex, too confusing, or even too much about the story. Photographs must communicate something, but they also must be interesting to look at. The best photographs are ones where there is a certain amount of freedom for the viewer to slowly find his way to the message through the thrill of exploring what is presented before them. Wedding photographers, myself included, can sometimes seem restricted to a very literal documentation of the events of the day, but I think even here the photographs can find a way to creatively speak and lead toward a meaningful story.

    Have your experiences as a wedding photographer broadened or deepened your appreciation of Christian marriage?  What have those experiences taught you theologically?

    I have been very blessed to be able to photograph numerous wonderful weddings—days not just valuable as a party or fashion event, but starting points for a new life together. I think it is difficult not to be pessimistic about the state of marriage in our country, but many of the weddings I have been to have been tangible demonstrations of the deep love and commitment two people can share. It is quite refreshing and inspiring to see. I think my own loosely sacramental theology has been challenged at various weddings I have photographed, trying to see the way God is working both inside and outside of “Christian” ceremonies. In the end though, weddings that embody values deep within the Christian tradition feel deeper and more meaningful than those with a more self-absorbed view of the world.

    What are your favorite subjects to shoot?  Why?

    I have to say people, but that is quite broad. People are the most dynamic (and challenging), but also the most relatable. I am still trying to find my “voice” when it comes to the main direction of my photography, but the simplest way I can say it is that my favorite things to shoot are things I think will capture something about the human condition, or just say something of value. Giving a photograph to someone that is meaningful to them is one of my favorite things to do.

    Lastly, where does your Christian faith intersect with your work?

    My hope is that it’s deeper than an intersection, that it is the ground from which all of my work is built. Within the art world, even within the wedding photography world (especially in my geographic location), it’s not a marketable quality to be a Christian, so I often try to be more creative about the story I am telling rather than using terminology that will turn people off. I want to show what is true and celebrate what is beautiful. Of all the ways that can be done, I think I’m most successful at doing that through photography. My hope is that the kind of business I operate and the way my pictures communicate points toward something bigger than me.


    By What Authority? :: Responding to Thad Wilson of KC Star's Faith Walk

    Last Friday the Kansas City Star's Faith Walk section featured a meditation on abusive exercises of religion, written by Thad Wilson.  The article captured well a common objection to Christianity, that being, that oftentimes the organized or established Church (or churches) leverage their collective authority to propagate doctrine and dogma that leads to voilence, hatred, bigotry, exclusion, and oppression.  Wilson, like so many who find harmful expressions of religion difficult to understand, expresses his deep dismay.

    Wilson's article, entitled "No Matter What Religion Says, God Loves All," is a personal, heart-felt column that captures well the struggles faced by those within religious traditions who see their own tradition abused.  Wilson expresses his deep frustrations with those who hate (by his own definition) in the name of God.  Wilson names himself as a Christian, and expresses the conviction on the part of those inside and outside Christianity that Christians should be kind, accepting, compassionate, and marked by love.  When Christians fail to do this, Wilson is tempted to no longer identity with his own tradtion.  He finds it that shameful.

    Wilson writes:

    So when I hear or see good Christian people use their culturally biased beliefs to emotionally harm, control or attempt to destroy other people, I don’t want to be a Christian. I’m thinking in particular of a certain sect that enjoys destroying the sanctity of a funeral and has won several legal battles to make their despicable practice possible. I know these people aren’t mainstream Christians, but they are seen by the world as part of my religious movement.

    It is rather obvious that Wilson is speaking of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, a convenient foil for those who are opponents of organized religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

    However, the question should be asked, from whence does Wilson's sense of injustice come from?  On what basis does he denounce their protestations of homosexuality?  He states at the beginning of his article, "I believe in a God who is loving, compassionate and caring of all creatures, even those whose beliefs are very different from mine."  But this is not enough, for it does not acknowledge from whence that belief has come.

    In objecting to oppressive expressions of religion, Wilson denounces those who use "their culturally biased beliefs to emotionally harm, control, or attempt to destroy other people".  But in doing so, he assumes that he is able to speak from nowhere.  Others may have "culturally biased" beliefs, but his convictions are neutral of such influences.

    Wilson states:

    There are days when everywhere I turn I am confronted by those willing to use religion to destroy others. On those days, I have to turn to my personal faith in a God who loves everyone and away from organized religion that silently sanctions this abuse of spirituality.

    Wilson fails to recognize that his ability to denounce harmful expressions of religion stem not from his deeply held personal convictions, but from the source of those personal convictions, "organized religion" itself.  The Christian tradition provides a deep well to draw from, and is its own best defense against perverted expressions of the faith.  When aberrant groups like the Westboro Baptist Church proclaim "God Hates Fags," Christians are able to likewise turn and say, "No".  They are able to say things like, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us"(Rom. 5:8).

    While I too regret when fellow Christians speak and act in a way that is violent, or do harm to our fellow human beings, rather than showing forth the love of God, I am unable to disown "organized religion" or the Christian tradition itself.  I must concede that my ideas about a loving God come from within the Christian tradition, and have so permeated Western culture that the conviction that they derive from within my own "personal belief" is an illusion, a failure to recognize the consistency of the water that I swim in.

    The great thing about being part of a tradition is engaging in debate and dialogue concerning what belongs within the tradition, and what should be excluded.  I don't want to retreat from such a calling, but rather embrace it.  By doing so, I make the tradition itself stronger.  I inform a body, a group, and help them as a whole to better identify their own calling, and also to live in to that calling as a loving, caring body of people who witness to Jesus Christ.  I do not, then, represent only my convictions, but the convictions of an alternative polis, a "beloved community," a "new creation" that encompasses not only individuals, but an entire way of being the people of God in the world.


    Something to Chew On...

    This past week I finished reading Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists.  He presents the reasons why this movement has experienced a resurgence, and why, in particular, it has had appeal among younger people.

    As Hansen told his own story, he included a bit of biographical information that might be of interest to United Methodists.  Hansen writes:

    I had been a Christian for about two and half years when I arrived in Evanston, Illinois, in 1999 to study journalism at Northwestern University.  During my last two years in high school I had helped lead United Methodist Youth Fellowship at my family's small church in rural South Dakota.  The denomination even paid for me to fly to Los Angeles to attend a conference for youth considering full time ministry.

    All the while, my knowledge of Scripture grew very little.  Sin plagued me with guilt, and I saw little victory over temptation. . . Yet I knew without a doubt that I had been saved.  I recalled with joy the moment my resistance fell and I trusted Christ to forgive me of my sins.  I knew God gave his church the Bible so that we might know about Jesus and learn the story of salvation.  I actively shared with unbelieving friends and family about the joy God had given me.

    Even before I enrolled, I confirmed that Campus Crusade for Christ ran a chapter at Northwestern.  I harbored no false expectations about the climate for Christians at this school that long ago ditched its Methodist roots.  I hoped Crusade would help me grow in faith and introduce me to other students trying to follow Christ.  Crusade did that--and much, much more.

    Our campus director studied for his Master of Divinity degree up the road at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Most Crusade students attended a nearby Evangelical Free church, pastored by a Trinity grad.  My first morning in church, the pastor rocked my Methodist sensibilities.  It wasn't so much that the sermon's content shocked me.  Rather, I was surprised the sermon contained any content at all.  On top of that, the pastor even raised his voice a few times and preached for more than thirty minutes.  That kind of behavior gets you fired by Midwestern Methodists.

    I had never heard of Calvinism until a Crusade friend, also a Methodist, told me she believed that God predestines salvation.  Before long that's what I believed too. My weekly Bible study with fellow freshmen worked through Romans.  An older student took me to hear R.C. Sproul preach.

    I didn't go looking for Reformed theology.  But Reformed theology found me.  Beginning college as I did with an almost blank slate, Calvinists impressed me with their knowledge of Scripture and devotion to theological depth.  Calvinism made the best sense of what Scripture teaches about salvation.  None of this theology seemed to dampen my friends' passion to evangelize the campus and consider serving as missionaries after graduation.  As I began teaching Bible studies and mentoring younger students, we discussed Calvinism.

    I'd temper Hansen's presentation with a tale from my own experience: I know that in my early to late twenties, many of my questions took the form of, "Why have I not been taught this before?"  I grew up in a healthy church environment, and upon reflection, found that it is more likely that I was not ready developmentally to receive all that I was being taught within my church community, rather than simply not being taught at all.  This does not mean that Hansen's church did not fail him (as he seems to suggest), but in my experience, we tend to frame things a certain way autobiographically, particularly when we have moved from one place to another.  No matter where we are headed, we like to portray our stories as moving us toward the Celestial City.

    I offer this story as something for my United Methodist readers to chew on, largely because this tale continues to be true.  I have met enough United Methodist students to know there is a lack of biblical and theological knowledge.  I have also worked with enough United Methodist students to know that there is a hunger for doctrinal and biblical teaching that is personally challenging and intellectually stimulating.  Calvinism is not the only theological system that can be taught with passion.


    Like to Write? :: An Interview With Jeff Goins

    I write.  A lot.  And when I'm not writing, I'm usually thinking about writing.  I'm processing ideas, making connections, forming criticism, or affirming the finer qualities of something that I've seen, read, or heard about.

    This inspired me to get in touch with Jeff Goins, who also likes to write.  He is very passionate about encouraging others to write as well.  You can find Jeff's blog here, or you can follow him on Twitter.  I contacted Jeff to ask him a few questions about writing.  What follows is our exchange.

    Hopefully you'll pick up a few tips.  I know I did.

    You write a great deal about writing.  What inspired you to encourage and instruct other people about the craft of writing?

    I started writing on writing, because it was a subject that I felt particularly passionate about. I also wanted to grow as a writer. At first, I thought that this disqualified me from blogging on the craft, but then I found out that many "expert" bloggers on certain subjects (including Problogger) started out as amateurs, wanting to become professionals. I'm finding that I'm in good company; not to mention, the best teachers are learners.

    For many writers, the hardest part is getting started.  Where do you look for inspiration and ideas?

    I look at what's available to me. I consider the following: books I'm reading, movies I've seen, stories that friends have told me, and what's happening in the world. But mostly I look inside myself. What's happening in my life? How is it affecting me? How am I growing as a result of it? What lesson am I supposed to learn?

    What about discipline?  I know that many writers struggle with procrastination.  What are some of the best ways to make sure you sit down to actually do the work?

    I'm terrible at discipline, but here's where I land on that: Just make a covenant to do SOMETHING every day. I wrote over 1000 words the other day, responding to a 15-minute daily writing challenge. I was amazed! I just try to write a little every day. From Pressfield to Grisham to King, I hear this idea resonated amongst some of the most successful and motivated writers of today. It's not about quality or quantity; it's just about doing it. Every single day.

    Whose writing do you really enjoy?  What bloggers or authors do you find stylistically compelling?  Do you model yourself after anyone in particular?

    For books, I like Hemingway, Donald Miller, and C.S. Lewis. For blogs, I enjoy Seth Godin (of course), Michael Hyatt, and Keith Jennings. In terms of who I'm trying to model myself after, I tend to write more memoir style in long form (offline) and more like Copyblogger in short form (i.e. blogging).

    Lastly, how would you describe the intersection between your creative work as a writer and your convictions as a Christian?  What does your faith have to do with your work?

    I like what Madeleine L'Engle says about faith and art: All true art is Christian art (my paraphrase). That is, if we believe we are created in the image of a creative God, then we have no excuse not to steward our creativity and use it to change the world. My faith is my work. And my work is my faith.


    A Broader Narrative RE: Catholic Priests and Sex Abuse

    In Kansas City, one of the most disturbing and attention getting headlines in both The Kansas City Star and on local news programs has involved Father Shawn Ratigan, improper relationships with children, and the diocese failing to respond promptly and appropriately to concerned parents, parishioners, and school administrators.  The Catholic sex abuse scandal continues to grab headlines.

    That is why this posting by Ben Meyers struck me as fascinating.  Scott Stephens at the ABC has done some research on the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and has found that a different narrative may need to be told by the media in order to proper contextualize what has been happening, and what continues to happen, among Catholics with regard to the sexual abuse of minors.

    Meyers writes:

    The study, Scott says, shows "a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a sharp and sustained decline from 1985 to the present". By 2001, there were 5 reported cases of sexual abuse per 100,000 children (compared to 134 cases of abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in the same year). By 2010, there were just 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States. The report thus describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as really a "historical problem." 

    Scott discusses many other aspects of the report's findings. Most interesting, I thought, is his suggestion that "the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse" – and that the Church's reinstatement of a "punitive approach" to sexual deviance (as opposed to its earlier adoption of fashionable "therapeutic" approaches – counselling, treatment, relocation), together with "John Paul II's radical reform of seminary life and the spiritual formation of priests".

    Thus Scott offers his own blistering conclusion: "Those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door." The deepest problem, he thinks, was the cultural milieu of the 1960s, with its vociferous opposition to all taboos, and its sinister promotion of unchecked sexual experimentation. (Sinister if you happened to be a child at the time.)

    While I have not encountered additional coverage of The Catholic Church's report, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors By Catholic Priests in The United States, 1950-2010, I hope to.  If there are aspects of the report that are in need of challenging, such analysis would prove beneficial in establishing what has actually taken place, and the reasons abuse has been a problem among clergy.

    Considering that sexual abuse has been a major obstacle in people taking seriously the claims of the church, if the issue has been addressed and is improving among Catholics, then this serves to clear away some of the debris for all Christian people to give faithful witness to Christ.