“…sinners rather than saints…”

Dana Goia. Photo by Lynda Koolish.

How does the Catholic vision differ from other traditions of Christianity?

To answer that question would require a shelf of books.  There are so many Christian traditions.  But let me mention one aspect of Catholicism that affects the writer.  All Christian denominations believe in original sin and humanity’s fallen nature, but Catholicism emphasizes the slow and difficult nature of the personal struggle toward salvation.  The notion of suddenly being “saved” feels alien to a Catholic who sees life as a pilgrimage in which each step forward can easily be followed by a fall backward from grace.  For that reason the great Catholic writes characteristically write about the experience of sinners rather than saints, often people of great spiritual capacity who have lost their way.  O’Connor’s mass-murderer the Misfit is one example, as is Greene’s nameless whiskey priest.

-Interview with Dana Gioia, Image Journal.

Gioia is a Catholic and was the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts.  In the follow-up question he adds this insightful comment: “By comparison, American Protestant writing has often tried to present good people doing good things.  Occasionally a masterpiece such as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead appears, but it is a harder task to realize.”  Gioia is thinking about poetry and prose but I’d wager his critique can be applied to other art forms.  While he’s correct to point out the theological differences between Protestants and Catholics I’m not sure Protestantism is devoid of the theology that can lead to great art.  But then he does level his critique towards American protestants and we, it must be admitted, have not always made the best art.

“Exhibit of American Negroes”

I was directed to these spectacular charts by a Facebook friend.  The charts were created by sociology students at Atlanta University under the supervision of W. E. B. DuBois for the “American Negro” exhibit at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.

Title Page

I learned more about the charts on two design blogs, All My Eyes and Fast Code Design, and the originals can be found at the Library of Congress.  However, the best source for the context and history behind exhibit and DuBois’ role in pulling it together is provided by Professor Eugene F. Provenzo of the University of Miami.

"Occupations of Negroes and Whites in Georgia"

From Professor Provenzo’s website,

The Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris 1900 Exposition provided Du Bois with an important opportunity to not only advance the sociological study of blacks, but to begin to bring into focus the intellectual and social accomplishments of black Americans, as well as their social, cultural and political experience. The exhibit in Paris is important for a number of reasons. For contemporary historians and sociologists, it provides an extraordinary snapshot of the conditions of black culture and society in the United States at the turn of the century. At the same time, it represents an important stage in Du Bois’s work as an empirical sociologist. In the exhibit–particularly in Du Bois’ study of the Georgia Negro–are found the fundamental components a new sociology of black Americans, as well as a review of the social, cultural, literary and political experience of black Americans from the Colonial period to the year 1900.

"Negro business men in the United States"

While these are the only three surviving color charts, Professor Provenzo has three pages of beautiful black and white reproductions.

Three things about these charts and the history behind them catch my attention.  First, DuBois’ influence as a sociologist and teacher is seen very tangibly in the exhibit.  Second, the charts provide a poignant snapshot of the years after Reconstruction as Jim Crow laws were being enacted across the south.  Third, as art and/or graphic design these charts stand up to any info graphic created today.

How crass is your music?

In response to a video from the Low Anthem I posted earlier this month, regular commenter Dan VBD asked an interesting question.  I’m posting his entire question here- though my response is limited to music- and hope some of you will chime in.

I am curious if the name of this album [Oh My God, Charlie Darwin] bothers you in anyway? I know as a father of young children the crassness of the language in every day life bothers me. It is one thing that I have made a point of standing up against. I have been at a local park with my young kids while teenagers have been swearing at each other and I have asked them to consider the others in the park. On another occasion I was in a local parking lot where two young women were trading the most vile language I have ever heard as loudly as humanly possible. While parents with kids rushed into stores a few of us phoned the police. I believe words matter. I would think that as person in a leadership position in the Christian community that dishonoring words would matter to you. I would appreciate your response. Maybe I am just a prude but someday you may find yourself in my shoes sitting in a park wondering why we have sat back and let public discourse become so crude.

I agree with Dan that language matters and I’m coming to better understand his concerns as a parent about what words his kids are exposed to. The distinction I’d make is that all words matter, not only the ones we hear as crass and offensive.  There are plenty of songs that may avoid certain words, but which nevertheless communicate ideas and values far removed from those of my Christian community.

From my vantage point, all art will contain within it elements that contradict the priorities of the coming Kingdom of God.  It could be that crass words are proof of this opposition, but just as often it will be veiled in language both benign and subtle.  The danger of focusing primarily on certain words when deciding which art to interact with is that entire streams of thought are ignored.  While our ears may be protected from offensive language, our minds are uncritically engaged with ideas opposed to the Gospel of Jesus.

I hope my son grows up with the ability to discern not only good words from bad, but between destructive ideas and philosophies and those that point to beauty, justice, and life.


happy saturday: best super bowl commercials

One of the (hopefully) obvious goals of this blog is to notice signs of life.  It is easier for me to find these things in some areas of life and culture than others.  Advertising and marketing is one of the difficult places, but every once in a while an advertisement captures my attention.  During the Super Bowl in 2007 it was Coke’s re-visioning of Grand Theft Auto that seemed worthy of signs of life status.

Last week’s big game featured another Coke commercial, Avatar, that is equally wonderful.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
I’m not sure either of these advertisements need much commentary.  I am especially fond of how these commercials take something culturally common and introduce new and more interesting meaning.  There’s a bit of theology to be found within these ads as well, but that will have to await another day.