Summing up my life with a painting

[Click to enlarge]

A few weeks ago, I went to the National Gallery. And while I was there, I came across Thomas Cole, a British-born American painter, and his four-piece series, “The Voyage of Life,” which really spoke to me. In particular, the third painting, depicting “Manhood,” and its accompanying explanation:

Storm and cloud enshroud a rugged and dreary landscape. Bare impending precipices rise in the lurid light. The swollen stream rushes furiously down a dark ravine, whirling and foaming in its wild career, and speeding toward the Ocean, which is dimly seen through the mist and falling rain. The boat is there, plunging amid the turbulent waters. The voyager is now a man of middle age: the helm of the boat is gone, and he looks imploringly toward heaven, as if heaven’s aid alone could save him from the perils that surround him. The Guardian Spirit calmly sits in the clouds, watching with an air of solicitude the affrighted voyager. Demon forms are hovering in the air.

Trouble is characteristic of the period of Manhood. In Childhood there is no cankering care; in Youth no despairing thought. It is only when experience has taught us the realities of the world, that we lift from our eyes the golden veil of early life; that we feel deep and abiding sorrow; and in the picture, the gloomy, eclipse-like tone, the conflicting elements, the trees riven by tempest, are the allegory; and the Ocean, dimly seen, figures the end of life, to which the voyager is now approaching. The demon forms are Suicide, Intemperance, and Murder, which are the temptations that beset men in their direst trouble. The upward and imploring look of the voyager shows his dependence on a Superior Power and that faith saves him from the destruction that seems inevitable.

I was there with a friend, and in reflecting on why it grabbed me so, I said,

I think this is where I’m at, knowing the troubles of the world, but having faith also in God, who is bigger by far than any and all of those troubles.

Culture, technology & theology

One of the classes I’m in is Theology & Culture with Barry Taylor. I love it. We’re looking at the way in which God can be found in various aspects of culture. This week, we looked at media, and we noted how technological advances have revolutionized not just media and media communication, but how technology has also lent itself to a developing theology. Barry made the point that technological advances have laid the groundwork for imagination to play a more central part in shaping our realities; not that imagination (or vision, as someone else phrased it) was not previously involved in the process of seeing and working towards a better or alternate reality, but that it’s place is becoming more central and its potential is becoming more wide-ranging. At least, that’s how I understood his point.

A year ago, I wrote a paper on spirituality and technology in the 21st century. My basic point was that technology is a boon to us–it allows us to do so much more than we were ever able to–in this specific case, in terms of communication, with email, with social networking, with sites like YouTube and Twitter; but that we need to be aware of how it impacts us and how it influences us. This is a particular challenge since technology is such a part of our lies that it is often difficult to see what influence it has upon us. But we need to be active and proactive in engaging with culture, in seeing how God is working in the culture we inhabit, in the technological advances that we see and the benefits that they bring, as well as being aware of the pitfalls and risks. Media and technology and their benefits for culture and spirituality can only be properly enjoyed and appreciated if its challenges to culture and spirituality are also properly understood and engaged–the best way to engage is with an eye on the whole picture.

I love technology. As a musician, I love the convenience of being able to carry my entire music collection around on my laptop. I have over four thousand songs in my library, and assuming (generously) that a CD can hold fourteen or fifteen songs, that would equal almost three hundred CDs. As someone who lives on a different continent to most of my family and many of my closest friends, I appreciate th ease with which technological advances have allowed me to chat with friends over IM or talk to people long-distance for cheap (or free). As an activist, I love that the internet can be utilized to bring people together for a common goal, to share with and to encourage one another.

But I’m also distinctly aware of the challenges that technology poses: the temptation to avoid silence and contemplation having so much with which to distract myself, the tendency to waste time browsing inane websites (and there are A LOT), the abuse of the internet to spread falsehoods and malice, the multiplicity of creative TV shows that can take up much of one’s time (to the point where one doesn’t even take time to be creative oneself!).

As a church, as Christians, we need to be engaging with culture; we need to be seeking God in culture and seeing where he’s working. I think if we really open our eyes and look for him, we’ll be surprised where he shows up.

Speaking of media, there’s a new NBC drama that I love. It’s called “Kings,” and it’s based on the biblical story of David, translated to a fictional modern kingdom. Apart from the fact that Chris Egan, who plays David, seems to always have a look on his face as if you’ve just wounded him (I suppose that’s the natural look for a young, righteous hero), it’s been interesting to see how the writer Michael Green has brought this story to life for modern times. Here’s a teaser video for the premiere episode.