15 years…

August 25, 2011 (rev 09-09-16)

I had always thought I’d get to the top of them…but it could wait, after all they would always be there.

The morning started like it normally did for me – reluctant to leave sleep but looking forward to seeing the students. Knowing that I was meeting Paul to collect materials to hand out at Pace University resonated in my mind as I slipped on my shoes and made my way to the subway.

The books, music CDs, info postcards, and special toys were all safely deposited in a self-storage building west of Times Square. Our plan was to meet at the self-storage place, load everything we needed in a taxi and take it down to Pace located three blocks from the World Trade Center. We would hand these materials out to incoming and returning students as we did every year before looking for ways to help students during their years in college…and to remind them also that there is a Jewish carpenter who loved them. So Paul and I met at 9AM.

The first sign for me of anything unusual that morning was the sound of emergency vehicles echoing off the buildings. Normally there wasn’t anything strange about this sound in Manhattan, after all there are a lot of people with needs in the City. But what was strange was seeing eleven vehicles pass hurriedly down 11th Ave, a brief red blur. I remember remarking aloud something like, “Must be something big” or “You don’t see that everyday” to a fellow pedestrian as we both paused to watch the passing vehicles rushing downtown…some for the final time.

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Where we now work…

IMG_2765_sm

I thought it would be cool to send you all a series of photos to give you an idea of where we now work. Our environment is wonderfully unique and visually beautiful. We are looking forward to connecting with people, instigating events, and seeing people have a chance to see the transcendent and personal God of the universe from these humble digs. Enjoy!

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Do not be anxious…

Eugene Holland Irwin
May 5, 1935 – December 6th, 2012

About 4AM I was seeking consolation in the book of Job, unable to sleep due to a heavy heart. I was deep in the curse Job pronounced upon the day of his birth and found these beautiful and solemn words…

“Let the stars of its dawn be dark;
let it hope for light, but have none,
nor see the eyelids of the morning”

Little did I know that in a few short hours my father would be going to “meet his Lord” – as he said to me just a few days before when I asked him what he was thinking about. He died at 6:32AM while my brother Chris and I watched him breathe his last breath through tears of both joy and sadness. Just seconds later Mom, Sarah, my sister Stacey, and Chris’s wife Diane burst through the door in hopes of sending him off with their goodbye.

I will cherish many moments I had with Dad these last few days. Two come to mind: one, was when I leaned over him in his bed while holding back tears at the discomfort I could see in his face. I said, “Pop, I wish I could help you, I really do. You know I would if I could.” With his eyes still closed and without a word he reached up and patted me twice on the arm as if to say, “Thank you, son – I wish you could too.” The second was when I was sitting on the bed at his side talking to him and I brought up his favorite verse Philippians 4: 6&7 – I started to recite it, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God…” and quietly my Dad jumped in with a hoarse whisper and said, “And the peace of God, which surpasses understanding…” – he said “surpasses understanding” as if he was drinking a cold glass of water, something he craved but we were unable to give him much of at the time – and together we finished “…will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It was hard for me in that moment not to dissolve into a puddle in front of him, but I wanted him to know the courage I felt and shared with him as he faced his passing from this earth.

This afternoon we met with Mom and Dad’s pastor to talk over his memorial service that my brother and I are arranging. We are structuring it around Dad’s verse. Chris will share his memories over verse 6, and I will share mine over verse 7. I hope we can get through it. A few days ago, as I was reading Philippians 4, the phrase at the end of verse 5 that sets the context of 6 & 7, “The Lord is at hand…” really jumped out at me. We’ve asked the pastor to finish off the memorial with an exposition on this phrase after Chris and I are done. We know Dad would have wanted all who attend this service to know his Lord, to know that He was at hand for him – during Dad’s whole life and especially at his death – and that Jesus is at hand for any who call on his name in faith. There will be non-believers at that service and I pray the Spirit chooses to rush in like a wind and do His work in their hearts, as well as the hearts of those who follow Him.

Back: Pop, Joan (Kirk’s Aunt), Frank (Kirk’s Uncle)
Front: Frank (Kirk’s Granddad), Dorcas (Kirk’s Grandmother)

Thanks so much for your prayers…and the emails. They were known and felt. It has been a struggle for me and will continue to be for a while. Tomorrow I wake up for the first time in my life without my Dad living and breathing on this earth – and I feel undone about that feeling. Nevertheless, I trust the God who was at hand for Dad and so will He be for me.

Peace my friends, and remember the Lord IS at hand,

Kirk & Sarah

The admission of Poetry

I came upon poetry late in life, and am sorry for that fact. It was four years after I arrived in New York City, the spring of 2002 that I first discovered the wonders of a well turned phrase. I was 34. An invitation came to me for a gathering where poet and soon to be NEA Chairman Dana Gioia was doing a reading of some of his rhymes and reciting other favorite poems. It was the first time I had ever been invited to an event where the invitation included two books to read in preparation for the festivities. Both, written by Mr. Gioia had a profound impact on my life and forever convinced me of my need for poetry. That night in Brooklyn where poetry was extolled, was memorable and especially needed by all the New Yorkers gathered as the specter of 9/11 still lingered even six months after those dark days.

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I’ll use Rocks

The other day a friend told me that the governor of Kansas was shutting down all arts programing for the entire state. You would have thought – from the tone of the statement – that the arts were dying or dead in the Jayhawk state. This kind of thing is not the only time I’ve heard of this happening – for the last four years since our “Great Recession” started in 2007 arts funding seems to have been a victim of scarce finances. I remember having discussions with some of my art friends at the start of the recession lamenting the fact that art programs would be the first to go. It appears we were right.

In 2005 I accompanied my friend, painter Makoto Fujimura to Washington DC to an event specifically designed to connect high income business people with artists in order to stimulate a culture of patronage. Simply put we were inviting the money holders to invest in beauty by supporting artists. During the day-long event, Mako was part of a panel discussion. At one point, a question was posed, “What would an artist do with $10,000 and what would they do with $1,000,000?” I will never forget his answer – to this day it still haunts me and I quote it often where appropriate. After a nervous laugh he said, “In many ways, for an artist $10,000 is too much, and $1,000,000 is not enough.” Frankly, I don’t remember anything else he said at the point and I certainly couldn’t come close to recalling what the other panel participants stated – nothing else needed to be said.

We have to remember at times that there is a difference between art and beauty, between the created thing and creativity itself. These pairs are tied very closely together, but they are not identical. We must remember that art and the created thing are not as important as beauty and creativity.

Our current economic climate is a case in point. All the governments of the world, every corporation and school district could decide tomorrow to defund their arts programs; every penny could be removed from artistic programs everywhere but beauty would not be touched – creativity would remain unmoved.

Why?

Beauty and creativity transcend the paltry functions of cultural structures. They are not dependent on the temporal or the fleeting. If they were, then all of us who are artists or involved in the arts ought to find a favorite seat in our nearest pubs and pickle our livers until we die.

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica wrote that beauty must include three qualities: “…integrity or completeness – since things that lack something are thereby ugly; right proportion or harmony; and brightness – we call things bright in colour beautiful.[1] Many have used Thomas’ three characteristics not only as a way to think about beauty but also as a defense of the importance of beauty for a human being and society in general. Afterall, one doesn’t want to be an incomplete human being. A person wouldn’t want to be out of proportion in their personal life and in the warp and woof of existing cultural institutions. As for brightness – Robert Barron – in his book The Strangest Way – writes of how we need to escape our “taupe existence” – human beings need to avoid a dull life. But some have forgotten the context of Thomas’ characteristics of beauty.

Comeliness or beauty bears a resemblance to the properties of the Son. Beauty must include three qualities; integrity or completeness – since things that lack something are thereby ugly; right proportion or harmony; and brightness – we call things bright in colour beautiful. Integrity is like the Son’s property, because he is a Son who in himself has the Father’s nature truly and fully…Right proportion is consonant with what is proper to the Son inasmuch as he is the express Image of the Father; thus we notice that any image is called beautiful if it represents a thing, even an ugly thing, faithfully…Brightness coincides with what is proper to the Son as he is the Word, the light and splendour of the mind (my emphasis).[2]

Is it surprising that Thomas’ context was the carpenter from Nazareth, the Son of God, Jesus?

This analysis of beauty is why Mako can answer the money question the way he did. Monetary amounts matter little when beauty and creativity endure transcendently – and for him they are embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Elaine Scarry once wrote, “What is beautiful is in league with what is true because truth abides in the immortal sphere.”[3] Therefore, according to Scarry’s logic, beauty is also immortal – it will last forever. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is now immortal after his resurrection from the dead – that is both true and beautiful.

You may not agree with me – that beauty and creativity are embodied and sourced in Jesus of Nazareth – you would not be alone in that belief, and I respect that. However, the issue still remains for you regarding the transcendence of beauty and creativity. Where does it reside for you? How you answer will affect how you respond to the increase or decrease of monetary resources in arts programs in national and local levels. If beauty and creativity are not transcendent, then the money would be the only thing that matters and losing $10,000 would be just as unsettling as gaining $1,000,000.

CS Lewis addressed a similar issue in his sermon on “Learning in Wartime”. At the time the issue was martial, not monetary. Should one even bother with learning and education when a war rages and people are dying? The defunding of arts programs falls far short of the death of a human being but the tension is the same. What is the point of pursuing beauty when no one seems to care – and their lack of regard is exhibited by the removal of money? Lewis opened his talk and summarized brilliantly:

A University is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, or to start making yourselves, in to what the Middle Ages called clerks: into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians. And at first sight this seems to be an odd thing to do during a great war. What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or, even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we — indeed how can we — continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?[4]

We are in a similar situation, and we should learn from Lewis’ reasoning. Why should we still pursue good and beautiful things in times of difficulty? Lewis answers:

If you attempted, in either case, to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing…if you don’t read good books you will read bad ones. If you don’t go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions you will fall into sensual satisfactions.

Difficulty does not give society permission to pursue bad art or no art at all; in fact hard times demand more beauty – whether in life or art.

With the loss of financial support from public institutions we ought to approach these times as an opportunity to strive for beauty and it’s objects – poems, screenplays, sculptures, paintings, etc – to thrive in the hands of both gifted and (as most of us are) common creators. Whether we participate in this or not makes no difference. If we ceased creating due to hopelessness it would matter little. In this visible world our lives would diminish in beauty a bit but the unalterable transcendence of Beauty would remain and eventually rear its head like a phoenix from the ashes.

Von Balthasar described Beauty as being closely united to her two sisters Truth and Goodness. He warned that Beauty would not be long separated from her siblings. In fact, she in her exile would take both Truth and Goodness with her in an act of what he called “mysterious vengeance”. A world that scorns Beauty eventually does the same to the True and the Good. Von Balthasar later states that those who lose Beauty are not only unable to pray, but also unable to love.

If Beauty is dependent on an institution’s resources then it is easily lost. But if it is dependent on some transcendent principle, or as I argue here – God, then no amount of an institutions resources matter. They certainly can help – as we have seen over the last several decades – but they ultimately aren’t needed by an eternal Beauty because by definition an eternal Beauty is infinitely resourced.

So I say to you artists, and supporters of the arts to pursue Beauty. When they take away your money – paint! When they tell you it’s useless – sculpt! Use whatever is at hand to create beauty because it IS worth the effort.

As I wrote this essay I am reminded of that passage in the Christian Bible where Jesus in his last days was entering Jerusalem and greeted by throngs of admirers chanting his name and yelling “Glory to God in the Highest!!!” – everyone seemed to favor him. Yet there was a group of leaders there who reprimanded him for the ostentatious display of praise directed at him. It was too much, they said. They wanted the admiration taken away and they told him so.

His reply? “I’ll use rocks.”

Peace,
Kirk & Sarah


[1] Aquinas, Thomas. transl, O’Brien, T.C, Summa Theologiae, New York, NY, 1976, p133

[2] Aquinas, Thomas. transl, O’Brien, T.C, Summa Theologiae, New York, NY, 1976, p133

[3] In her book On Beauty and Being Just

[4] CS Lewis’ “Learning in Wartime” can be found in any copy The Weight of Glory.

Weary legs and Beauty…

It had been a long wonderful day; lots of work with the satisfaction that you knew you were participating in something larger than yourself. Nevertheless, the weight of the First Father’s curse prevailed as it does on most days and our legs felt the weariness of suburban life, unused to the city. To reduce the burden, we spent a few hours on our friend’s deck sipping at two bottles of wine I had purchased at a local shop. It was nice to find some invigorating moments with good friend over drinks. It’s these times that make you look forward to the Great City when they become perpetual.

I told Sarah that I wanted to transfer to the next train even though it was one stop. As I was telling her that my shins were developing splints, we ran into a crowd coming down the transfer ramp having just disembarked from the previous train – one we would have liked to have boarded. Disappointed, we trudged our way to the platform. “10 minutes” flashed as an indicator of the next train and I began to regret the choice of taking the transfer. I knew we could probably walk the distance in the same amount of time but was too tired to even make that decision. Thankfully there was a bench with two seats, as we sat, we took a breath and settled in to wait the eternal “10 minutes” – at least my shins could rest.

Then, from across the tracks we heard the familiar sound of one of the many street performers in the City. It was unusual in that it was almost midnight, but we were thankful to hear the plucking of a classical guitar. The sounds grew more satisfying when the flautist joined in. “Where is that water?” Sarah asked. I hadn’t noticed the sound until that moment, but the normal sound of liquid draining somewhere through the complex pipe system of the City was evident. “I don’t know?” I replied. The guitar, flute, and sound of running water could well have been replicated in any rural scene where a creek is full of life. But here we were resting our weary legs ten feet underground waiting for the next train. It was worth missing the previous train, and making an attempt at a one stop transfer.

Peace,

Kirk and Sarah

On our way…

Smokey downtown Jacksonville, Florida

By the time you read this we will be in New York City for our summer project. We spent the last few days traveling up to Maryland where my (Kirk’s) parents live. We traveled through wildfire zones (Jacksonville, Florida – the pic of the city skyline is Jacksonville, that’s not fog, but smoke) stopped over night in Charlotte, NC with Scott and Audrey (thanks you two). We then drove through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia (I was reminded of my Civil War history and “Stonewall” Jackson) before arriving today in Elkton, MD. It was two long days and I am quite tired – I hope I recover enough for the project.

I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley

Tomorrow we are taking the train into the Big Apple where we will begin the project for the staff – the students arrive on Monday. Sarah will be making furious preparations for the art work to be done and I will be doing more prep for the teaching times. Please pray that we focus and are able to get work done.

little white church on the way

We will be sending out a “funds update” (probably something referring to “pie”) soon, but in the meantime ask that you continue to pray for God’s provision for our summer.

Thanks for your continued prayers!
Kirk and Sarah

In my reading…

I’ve really come to enjoy reading the theology of Herman Bavinck (more on him click here). I came across this passage in my reading as I prepare for teaching college students this summer about the importance of the arts to the mission of God.

In no way should the Christian faith be represented as otherworldly or anti-creation. Rather, grace and nature are united in the Christian faith, and general revelation links the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of earth – it joins creation and redemption together in one great eschatological cantata of praise. Grace restores nature, a religious life is woven into the very fabric of ordinary human experience. Finally, God is one and the same loving God in creation and redemption; grace restores nature.

This comes from his Reformed Dogmatics, volume I, Prolegomena. His entire dogmatics have recently been published by Baker Academic. I commend all four volumes to you. I only say that to you all because my wife also has come to like Bavinck. In a recent paper I did quoting him often she said, “I really like this Bavinck guy!”. And we all know her opinion is much more important than mine could ever be.

Peace,
Kirk and Sarah

More info please…

I looked at the date of our last blog post and realized I hadn’t done anything in 4 months. That is waaaaaaay too long.

Seminary is a bit to blame for that as I had four papers to do for my four classes. that isn’t all that big a deal for a Master’s level program EXCEPT that the topics of the papers were all ones related to the arts, and of very high interest for me. I finished them, some better than others, but I am satisfied to know I will be returning to those same topics again in the course of my career.

This summer Sarah and I will be on the road for two months, spending three weeks in NYC, 10 days in Colorado, and a week of vacation in the Outer Banks with family. Squeezed in between will be travel and seeing family and friends – some we haven’t seen in quite a long time. (If you are interested in helping out with the ministry expenses of the summer – which we would be most grateful – go to https://give.ccci.org/give/View/0402593)

This summer marks the start of what we are trusting is our permanent return to NYC. It is our hope that we will be moving to (or very close to it!) The Big Apple by September 2012. The thought of getting back to the City excites me to no end. We are grateful for your continued prayers and support.

Peace,
Kirk and Sarah

Jesus and the Rockettes…

A friend of ours posted this story (click here) about a veteran Rockette and how Jesus impacted her life and those among the ranks of lovely ladies with the high kicks. It brought home to me how even in the most unusual places the Nazarene appears in the life of someone who trusts in him.

The world of dance is not known as a culture that “knows Christ”, in fact in many ways it is completely opposite. I found this story extremely encouraging and leading me to pray that God would shine more of His light in the dance world of NYC and beyond.

“…you will take up your timbrels and go out to dance with the joyful.”
Jeremiah 31

Peace,
Kirk & Sarah

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