"As an eight-year old boy, I would lie down under the belly of the gleaming ebony frame of my mother's grand piano, curled like a baby, and listen to the notes floating around me, plunging down into my body, my imagination quietly forming itself in to a permanent appetite for beauty." This is how artist, pastor and theologian W. David O. Taylor describes his deeply formative memories of listening to his mother, a concert pianist, play the piano in their Guatemala City home.
Taylor is the new Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture -- as well as Director of the new initiative of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts -- at the Texas campus of Fuller Theological Seminary.
Taylor has a passion for connecting the arts and the church that informs his impressive vision for the new Brehm initiative. "Going back to my high school and college years," Taylor says, "I have had a clear sense that my calling lay at the intersection of church, city, and the arts. Entrusted with the responsibility to direct an initiative for worship, theology, and the arts, I would love for it to be a place that fosters the arts for the common good: for the academy, the church, and the world."
Taylor has already begun collaborating with key individuals to create a clear plan for the role that a Brehm initiative would play in the faith and arts communities in Texas and beyond. "My desire," says Taylor, "is that seminary students, including future pastors, lay Christian leaders, and artists, will have an opportunity to become both artistically literate and theologically thoughtful during their seminary years. In this way, my hope is that they would be prepared to shepherd the people of God through the sometimes-tricky art and entertainment arenas of our society."
Taylor has had a range of experiences connecting art and the church in the past - crossing denominational lines, cultivating relationships with other organizations and individuals, and developing artists and resources. He plans to bring this ethic with him to the Brehm Texas initiative, developing connections locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally.
The global art scene is important to this conversation, Taylor adds. "As Christendom in the Global South grows strong, the forces of artistic influence will bend northwards, from Nigeria to France, from Bollywood to Hollywood," he says. Taylor himself speaks Spanish and hopes to use this ability to connect more deeply with the Hispanic community at Fuller's Texas campus and beyond.
Taylor grew up in Guatemala, the son of a concert pianist and of a seminary professor who enjoyed boat-building and raising orchids. Curiously, Taylor grew up with little sense that he would eventually become an artist and a pastor, or a theologian for that matter. Instead he pursued schooling that would prepare him to be a diplomat and to work for the State Department. "I pursued this dream for seven years," says Taylor, "studying in Washington DC and Germany, interning at the Chilean Embassy, reading The Economist and the Foreign Affairs Journal for breakfast."
Then Taylor had an encounter with art that opened up a new direction for his journey. At 21 he read Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings, and "well, something happened to my imagination," Taylor recounts. "It woke up, I guess." He wrote a fairy tale soon after, along with other short dramatic sketches, yet still did not consider himself to be an artist.
A year later he read My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok. "While Tolkien stirred my imagination, Potok placed an ache in me to be an artist," reveals Taylor. "Asher Lev made sense of my world. He belonged to a deeply religious community, he saw lines and colors and shapes that he believed came from Elsewhere, and he wanted to make the world more truthful."
Taylor's way of making sense of this deep ache was to enroll at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he received a master's in theology and another master's in New Testament studies. It was there, too, that he began to develop a theoretical grounding for art, aesthetics, and the vocation of an artist.
Following these years of study, he served as a pastor for nine years at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas. "It was in this community of regular folks that I grew up, became more human, figured out what I was to be on about," Taylor shares. "Alongside good friends and under the care of wise leadership, I was also given the opportunity to experiment with the arts, and to risk and fail, risk and fail, on and on, till slowly I discovered the proper contours of my calling as well as a sense of how the arts could serve the worship and mission of the church."
Taylor is married to a professional visual artist and an avid practitioner of the domestic arts (making her own dried fruit, herbs, and recipes for all things gluten-free, among other things). Taylor's artistic interests include playwriting, modern dance, and photography, but his work in the community at large has involved gathering together artists for the sake of all sorts of events, from dinner parties to three-week arts festivals to symposia on art and faith. He has also written widely on the subject of art and worship and has spoken at conferences, retreat centers, and Christian universities. The focus of his recent doctoral research at Duke includes theological aesthetics, liturgical theology, the Reformed tradition, trinitarian theology, and the place of the arts in worship.
Taylor begins his work at Fuller Texas July 1.