September Letter from Jeremy Begbie

Fall 2021 Letter from Jeremy Begbie

 

Back in April of last year, soon after the Covid crisis erupted, I wrote in a newsletter that the arts would come to matter much more to us than before. And so they have for many. But I think probably we have also learned far more about why they matter. Things taken for granted, previously unnoticed, have become suddenly precious.

Being forbidden to sing in church has reminded us how important singing together is to almost every society. Being unable to attend a show or movie brings to light the mysterious difference that the physical presence of others makes to the way we see and hear things. Having more time to read (at least for some) makes us freshly conscious of the potency of printed words. Despite the downsides of connecting by screen, an outpouring of “digital solidarity” in the arts has made every conceivable form of art instantly available as never before. Of course, ugly truths have also come to the surface: not least the large number of artists who are systemically disadvantaged because of race, gender, and socio-economic status. But the fact remains that many have found themselves newly thankful for the numerous things that have been painfully absent and are now slowly coming back into the light.

At DITA we have certainly been awakened to myriad ways in which theology and the arts connect and cross-fertilize, and to conversations we would never have imagined possible. The “Meeting our Moment” interview series has opened up a whole set of new opportunities for us. The 2020 Yage Arts Prize drew enormous interest (over 900 submissions) and demonstrated the capacity of art both to speak to particular cultures and cross cultural boundaries. Classes at the Divinity School have reminded us of the immense power of different art forms to re-invigorate our theology when it becomes stale and over-familiar. And the essays that came out of the DITA10 symposium—shortly to appear as a book—have shown us how transformative the artistic imagination can be in a post-George Floyd era.

We start a new school year at a time when many of us live under a cloud of caution, still looking over our shoulders, conscious that this virus can catch us unaware and all too quickly undo the best of plans. But our long-term vision takes its cue from the power of the Holy Spirit to take the things we have learned during this stressful and distressed season and make something beautiful out of them. Such are the ways of the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

 

Our long-term vision takes its cue from the power of the Holy Spirit to take the things we have learned during this stressful and distressed season and make something beautiful out of them.

 

We begin this year especially grateful for all those who have partnered with DITA along the way, and with a renewed sense of the vibrancy of the theology-arts interface. With the encouragement of our supporters and donors—including the extraordinary generosity of the McDonald Agape Foundation—we look ahead with hope. We are delighted to welcome three new ThD scholars who will each bring their exceptional gifts and experiences to DITA. We are also excited to welcome the largest-ever incoming class of Divinity students who will pursue studies at the intersection of theology and the arts, both through residential courses and the newly-established Hybrid MDiv. And as pandemic restrictions continue to ease, we look forward to announcing opportunities for gathering once again in person and online.

In the meantime, please know how grateful we are for your continued support and willingness to join us as we explore this ever-fruitful field.

Jeremy Begbie