Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Favorite Towns

This is a departure from the usual but in some ways, it goes along with my last post about the importance of nature to nurture the artist. This is a list of my favorite towns across the country. Funny enough, I have been less places than I would want to admit, still, these towns provide a great deal of inspiration, rest, beauty, fun, memories and all of the other good things that a favorite place provides.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Cooperstown, NY.

Many people flock here for reasons baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I think it is one of the most beautiful, quaint, and fun towns that I have been to! The picture above is a view from the back balcony of the Otesaga resort overlooking the beautiful Lake Otsego. This area was made famous by James Fenimore Cooper's (hence the name "coopers"town) Last of the Mohicans.

Plymouth, MA.

A stunning seaport town and my old stomping ground. I grew up ten minutes from the waterfront. It is home to the first permanent settlement in North America, the 1620 Scrooby England Pilgrims. There is a beautiful replica of the Mayflower in the harbor and you can still see the original Plymouth Rock right near the Mayflower.

Genoa, NV.

There is no way to explain this area. It is twenty minutes from Lake Tahoe in the Carson Valley and has spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada's. Being from the East Coast I had never seen an area like this, absolutely stunning, both day and night. Genoa is also the first settled town in all of Nevada and the area where my wife grew up.

Williamsburg, VA.

Williamsburg has done the best job of integrating the colonial, living history museum that is Colonial Williamsburg into the town of Williamsburg proper. It is seamless and beautiful. Lush english gardens abound, people dressed in colonial garb, William and Mary college, stores like the toymaker and the Cheese Shop make this place a fairytale come to life. It also has a fantastic downtown with one of two Yankee Candle flagship stores and plenty of restaurants, including a favorite of Jennifer and mine, a restaurant called  "Food for Thought."

East Haddam, CT.

Located on the side of the Connecticut River and about forty minutes from Hartford, East Haddam is a perfect 10 out of 10 in beauty, elegance and quaint-ness. It boasts Gillette Castle, home to William Gillette who was famous for playing the character, Sherlock Holmes around the U.S. It also houses the Goodspeed Opera House, one of the best professional Musical Theatres in the country (seen above).

Franconia Notch, NH.

Franconia Notch is not exactly a town but it is a location. It was home to the state symbol of New Hampshire...The Old Man on the Mountain, a granite profile of a face that tooled like an old man looking south. Unfortunately the profile fell in 2003 after a bad thunderstorm, but you can still see where it was. Regardless, Franconia the town and Franconia Notch are known for their unparallelled natural beauty, hiking, skiing, boating, fishing, swimming and probably one of the best prayer spots I have ever been to in my life. It is pure beauty as far as the eye can see.

Sleepy Hollow, NY.

Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite towns to visit around Halloween. It is the sight of Washington Irvings classic tale, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". The old dutch church above is featured in the tale and some of you might recognize it from the Disney short Ichabod Crane. It is a lovely sleepy little village on the side of the Hudson River. Some nice places to eat and at Halloween, all sorts of activities. You can even go into the cemetery behind the Old Dutch Church and see where Ichabod Crane, Braham Bones, KAtrina and Baltus Van Tassel and The Headless Horseman himself...yes the Headless Horseman was a real person!!!

South Bend, IN

Home to the University of Notre Dame and the Fightin' Irish, South bend is one of the few cities I have on this list. It is a fun city with the University in the center of it all. You can visit the South Bend Chocolate Company, Kayak on the East Race Waterway, drive twenty minutes to Northern Indiana Amish country, visit the Studebaker museum, or enjoy a steak and guiness stew and take in a session at the Fiddler's Hearth...a local Irish Pub. A FANTASTIC place.

Marshall, MI

I have added a picture of the Marshall, MI that I know well but it isn't the most indicative picture of the town. However, the fall colors in Marshall are some of the best in the world...and I am a New Englander, I think that is saying something. The fountain in the center of town, Win Schulers restaurant, the Honolulu house, the Museum of Magic and the riverwalk are many reasons that this town is one you don't want to miss...and try to visit in the autumn!

Southwest Harbor, ME

A perfect Maine Fishing village and harbor, replete with the Deck House, a restaurant where the waitstaff performs numbers from your favorite Broadway shows. This town is on Mt. Desert Island, the same where Bar Harbor is located. Down the street is the beautiful echo lake and Somes Sound...the only official fjord in the northeast.

South Lake Tahoe, CA

Funny enough, many from this area believe that South Lake Tahoe is their least favorite part of the beautiful alpine lake. It boasts some large casinos, resorts, restaurants, and lots of shopping. But the views are spectacular. Any part of this lake is a must see...especially Sand Harbor State Park and Emerald Bay.

Stockbridge, MA

The town that Norman Rockwell called home for many years and the downtown that Rockwell made famous in his painting "Main Street at Christmas" which is being reenacted in the picture above. This is another example of the perfect New England town in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. It is also the home of the famous landmark attributed to the song, "Alice's Restaurant."

Hershey, PA

What's not to love about the town that's number one export is chocolate? The streetlambs are Hershey's Kisses, one of the best theme parks in the world is housed here, one of the best high schools in the world was founded here by Milton Hershey and it is an all around beautiful and fun town with plenty of places to stay and things to do.

Reston, VA

Reston isn't exactly a small town as much as it is a suburb of Washington DC. It is a beautiful area with both rolling fields, hills and forests as well as a busy town center area with fall and winter Ice Skating rink. It is a beautiful town with many eateries, shopping and it is a quick drive to Tyson's Corner or downtown DC.

Woodstock, VT

If I had to describe the perfect New England Village during the holidays, it would be Woodstock VT. It has three or four covered bridges, creeks and rivers running through it, an old curiosity shoppe, among many other New England Holiday favorites. Quaint and beautiful.   

Princeton, NJ

A GREAT college town. It has charm and is a vibrant community. Between Princeton college, the college of William and Mary and University of Notre Dame, I believe there is a tie for most beautiful colleges.

Lynchburg VA

Home to the evangelical Liberty University, Lynchburg is a slice of heaven. It boasts a bustling downtown area and is minutes from some of the best sight seeing and hiking you will ever do. Lynchburg sits on the edge of the Blue ridge Mountains and is a great place to spend a few days.

Sandwich, MA

A pristine town, full of antique shops, great dining at places such as the Dan'l Webster Inn, The Painted Lady, The Beehive Tavern, and the British Beer Company. It has a great boardwalk out to the beach with an area on a bridge where kids can jump into the salt marsh river at high tide and is a beautiful historical part of the cape. Out of all of cape cod, Sandwich, I believe, is the best town. It's small, quaint, charming, and breathtakingly beautiful.

So that is my list as it stands for now, I have many other towns that I believe are fantastic, but those will have to wait until another post. For now, enjoy the beauty of these amazing towns and if you are in any of these areas, I would highly encourage you to visit these fantastic places!

The Need for Nature

I spent the better part of today driving through Dartmouth, Massachusetts in the Padanarum bay area where my grandparents used to live. What struck me most about the area was its pristine beauty. I love Southeastern Massachusetts and its colonial/seaside/cape coddy look. There are rolling fields with grey shingled colonial style houses, there is the lovely Padanarum bay with its grassy salt marshes and deep, blue skies dotted with white fluffy clouds, and there is the sandy-growing rose bushes that I have only ever seen in this area. All of this, along with the lovely fall air makes one breath a little deeper and easier as if the earth itself is telling you, "everything is going to be alright."

As an artist, I adore creating. I believe it is one of humanities greatest traits.We inherited this ability from our Father when, in Genesis 1:27 he said we were made in His image. When I stop to think where I get my inspiration for creating art, I really don't have to think very hard...from creation itself. After spending quality time in God's creation I feel refreshed, replenished, full of vigor, excited, rested, hopeful and ready to tackle almost anything that will come my way. Creation helps me create and I would bet it is the same for many artists. If we look throughout history, most of what we see in the visual arts (up until the last 50-100 years) are pastorals and religious paintings. The subject of many artists was faith and creation. But why? Why does creation speak so powerfully?

First, I believe that any work that is the handiwork of God speaks to all humans. Because, whether we believe in God or not, we are all still His children. I have never heard a person utter, "Well, THAT is a lousy looking sunset." I don't think we would have it in us to even suggest such a claim, because every person knows that a sunset is beautiful and the sunset is beautiful because God, Himself painted it.

Second, being creators ourselves, we are interested in creation. Creation fascinates us, we can't get enough of it. If it didn't fascinate us, camping would never have been invented, or hiking, or vacations to Lake Louise in Banff, or strolling through the Redwoods, or houses by the sea, or mountain lodges, or scenic overlooks on highways, and the list keeps on going. Humans put art in their houses, make artistic choices about their interior design, exterior design, landscaping and then the value of the house goes up when it is a waterfront home or in the mountains. Why is land so expensive...the more you want to get, the more its going to cost you. I guess you could argue that there are so many people, the more land you have, the less land the rest of us has, but we know that isn't true, at least in America. Much of the west is still untamed and there is PLENTY of space out there. Ultimately, it's because nature is valuable.

Third, being made in the image of the Great Creator, we value beauty. God made gold to admire and fruit in the Garden that was both good to eat AND beautiful to look at. Let's face it, God could have made a drab, utilitarian world and it would have worked just fine...but he didn't! God loves beauty and beauty is the visual form of love. He wants us to be pleased with what we see in this world AND he wants what we see to point back to Him. Beauty does just that. Beauty is indescribable except for that word that describes it...beautiful. We are so enamored because when we see something beautiful, our lives feel more completed by it. Love does the same thing. If there is one thing I believe it is that the heartbeat of the bible is that God loves us and he wants us to love Him back. Love takes many forms, and beauty, I believe, is one of those forms.

I have an issue with cities. I am both enamored with them and disgusted with them at the same time. I find it amazing that THAT many people can live together...in relative harmony...in one place. I am blown away by the marvels of architecture within cities. I am amazed how a city incorporates nature into its urban jungle. I love the buzz of a city at Christmas. I love Times Square and the lights of Broadway. But I also find cities to be a bit cold, that relative harmony I spoke of is just that...relative, many times it is people barely tolerating each other in order to keep civility. Cities are made of concrete and steel and plastic and glass. Not high on my beauty scale. Cities are so loud, you can't think. The light pollution drowns out the stars at night. After these two lists, you can see my conundrum.

I find artistry that comes out of the city to be a bit cynical as of late. Great art has come out of cities but more and more cynicism, propaganda, social agendas, and other modern topics are bleeding into art. I suppose there is no problem with this, somebody has to create it, but I am interested in art that is revelatory, transformative and redemptive. My favorite art touches the divine and strikes a deep chord in my soul. My favorite art deals with the big picture and not the moment-to-moment issues...it doesn't ignore those issues, it just frames them in the eternal.

What is amazing to me is that many of our fine artistic universities and establishments are found in cities. This shocks me a bit because as an artist and knowing a bit about artists, I am not sure how they draw their inspiration. I would assume one would draw inspiration from other artistic works, relationships and vacations to more serene and beautiful places. Many of the older actors I know don't live in NYC proper any more but have chosen to live in southern Connecticut or upstate New York and commute in and maybe that is because they have learned a little bit about artistry and the city versus nature. Perhaps the reason there is such a cynical feel to a lot of art is that people have locked themselves in a concrete cave and then tried to deal with things eternal which just end up turning into things that matter to and happen in the City proper.  Only God knows.

I believe that if artists spent more time in nature and less time in the subway, their art might look a bit different and their perspective on life might change. Don't get me wrong, many fine artists and fine art comes from the city...some of our best...I believe it must truly be God inspired because nature is hard to find in downtown NYC... unless you live near central park. Either way, I believe that spending time in nature is good for the soul of every human and good for the inspiration of every artist.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Gift of Tongues and the Gift of Art

First, I have to say that  this blog is almost entirely my wife's brainchild. Jennifer (my wife) and I had been to a charismatic-pentecostal service one day and, as you might imagine, there was much speaking in tongues. Before I get into it, I want to speak about my history with tongues. As a child, I was fairly horrified when I first saw tongues being spoken. My family an I were recent protestant converts from the Catholic church on the South Shore of Massachusetts and the gift of tongues was something that I never saw in the Catholic church growing up. One evening, I went to visit some friends at a pentecostal Christian youth camp and it was a baptism by fire. People were speaking in tongues, crying, screaming, rolling around on the ground and being slain in the spirit. As you can imagine, being from a modest Catholic upbringing...it was traumatic to say the least.

The major problem I had was that throughout all of that rolling and screaming, not once did I feel God's presence. Occasionally, I sense the presence of God heavily during a charismatic worship service where tongues are being spoken, other times, not. This had always bothered me because I felt that if the spirit of God was going to manifest himself in tongues...it would be pretty powerful and you should sense his presence. You can imagine my confusion/frustration when I felt like God's presence seems to be absent from such a strong manifestation of His gifts.

Also, Many times I would be at services like this and people would be speaking and tongues and there wouldn't be an interpreter. This confused me because I thought that the three ways tongues normally happens in the bible is  1) That tongues of flames came over the disciples heads and gave them the ability to speak in a tongues that people of different languages could all understand at the same time as in the Pentecost, or 2) That the message spoken aloud in public through the medium of tongues would also have an interpreter that would interpret the tongues, or 3) That the heavenly language was one for the personal and private prayer time between the speaker and God, not for the public. Others may have different interpretations of the scripture, but this is how I understand the bible's perspective on it.

Now, I am a much more charismatic Christian in these days than I ever was in the past. The gifts of the spirit don't bother me like they used to, in fact, I am amazed by them. But tongues had always been difficult for me and during this car ride home from the service I was previously mentioning, Jennifer gave me an amazing perspective I had never thought of before.

Jennifer said that dance was her gift of tongues. I looked at her with a mildly confused expression on my face. She went on to explain that she felt closest to God when she was dancing and that she believed dance was her heavenly language that she spoke with God.

To me, this statement was revelatory

 It makes perfect sense... to me, at least. I have always felt that when I was writing songs, God had blessed me with connection to him. Something about the flow between chord and lyric, between story and the music that underlies the story always made me feel like I was connecting to something spiritual. As a matter of fact, I would argue that many if not most artists feel this way about art, that it IS spiritual. Could it be that the gift of art is a gift of tongues?

Lets look at the three qualifications of tongues that I mentioned before starting with the third and working backwards.  3) That the heavenly language was one for the personal and private prayer time between the speaker and God, not for the public.Tongues is supposed to be a "heavenly language" that one uses to communicate with God when our language isn't enough. Art absolutely does this. I believe that art is a form of "language" and one that can speak far more powerfully and clearly than the English that I speak. Most aestheticians and artists talk of art as language, it is core to their explanation of what art is and what it does. Also, I have experienced a communion with God on the spiritual level while doing every art I do - song writitng, acting, directing, choreographing, painting, etc. So art absolutely fits this category.

2) That the message spoken aloud in public through the medium of tongues would also have an interpreter that would interpret the tongues. Interestingly enough, art fulfills this as well. Almost everyone in the public who perceives an art work will interpret it. Add to that the many heads of churches, museum curators, artistic directors, art teachers, critics and the like that will interpret the artwork for the audience. The art can be interpreted personally by each member of society and publicly by people who have been set aside to critique or review the art form.

Last and the most outrageous and miraculous form of tongues was at the Pentecost. This was the Holy Spirit moving in an amazing way in a way that I haven't ever seen since I have been alive...or had I? 1) That tongues of flames came over the disciples heads and gave them the ability to speak in a tongues that people of different languages could all understand at the same time as in the Pentecost. I must admit that I have never seen tongues of flames over anyone's head to date, but the idea that one would speak a heavenly language that all cultures and societies across the globe could understand at once IS actually possible with art. As a matter of fact in his book Art in Action Nicholas Woltersdorff cites a cross cultural study that was done in the arts. In this study, random people were selected from all over the globe and they were to look at one hundred pieces of art. The study then had them commit to which pieces they liked and which they didn't. All of the participants chose seventy five percent of the same art works as being the pieces they personally enjoyed. The implications of this study go further than the commentary in this blog but it does point out that over seventy five percent of a grouping of artworks spoke personally to a cross cultural group. This is astounding! To me, this is strong evidence that art is a language that all cultures can potentially understand.

So I believe that my wife was right without a doubt, but I find it more amazing that art fulfills all three of the ways the gift of tongues manifests AT THE SAME TIME! I am not discounting anyone's heavenly language. I do believe that tongues works in the way we often see it happen. It is so unusual, God must love it, because our God is a God of mystery and wonder and miracle. But this theory of art as the gift of tongues is certainly one worth pondering.