My Tattoo

For years, I liked the idea of getting a tattoo, but not knowing exactly what I would want on my body for the rest of my life, it stayed in the idea phase for a while. I found it fascinating to put something on you so important that you’d want it there forever. But my idea phase ended when I landed on something specific in my mind. Then about a year ago, I met a friend who was a tattoo artist and now owns his own shop. I talked to him about this idea, and eventually it was go time. I made a consultation appointment. I wanted the artists Georges Rouault and Jeremy Lewis to collaborate, using my arm as the canvas. Continue reading

Lecture: Discipleship in the Arts

A couple months ago I was able to speak to a group of church planters in South Carolina through the Carolina Greenhouse. It was an honor to talk to these leaders about discipleship in the arts. It’s fairly brief, and includes a section of the Q & A. You can listen to it below, and download it here.

I also created a sample reading list, you can download that, too.

A Theology of Horror: Intro

Theology of Horror

The horror genre has not been particularly embraced by the Christian church. I think that harms the genre and the church. Both have much to teach each other. Christians have had horror in their holy book for thousands of years. We know (or should know) a thing or two about it. The entertainment industry has used horror to give voice to the fears of today in ways the church has surely trailed behind. Why don’t the two play well together?

This next series of posts will be about a theology of horror. What can the church learn from horror and what can horror learn from the church? I’ll take each sub-genre specifically (zombie, vampire, occult, etc.) and see if and where the two meet.

Often when a Christian references a horror film it’s nothing more than, “don’t watch that!” There might be real legitimate reasons for this: certain people are more sensitive to things than others. And some films are incredibly violent, or violence for violence sake. Any art that is mere sensationalism is not art worth giving our time and money to.[1]

But there are plenty of illegitimate reasons for dissuading people to not see the next horror flic. It might be a refusal to be involved in our real world, ignoring real pain and darkness. It might come from not wanting to feel uncomfortable, as if Christianity’s end goal is about us feeling comfortable.

Our Lord died a gruesome, nasty, horror-filled death. We wear his execution instrument on our necks and put them on our cars as bumper stickers. The pages of our own holy book are riddled with violence, and the hope of our future contains a brutal holy war. Have we sanitized the stories of Christianity to make ourselves feel comfortable?

Horror, properly used, grabs us by our shoulders and shakes us back to life. In this next series of posts, I want to dive in to these topics, shake them, and see what good might fall out.

  1. There are definitely reasons a society creates and consumes sensationalism, but that’s for a different post.  ↩

Copy and Paste: the work of fear

Arts and TheologyOften the church tries to copy and paste from previous performances (unimaginatively reflecting their favorite decade/century), even trying its best to remove individuality all together. Our created uniqueness is not some enemy of truth, it is just another part of the truth we believe and hold to.

My previous post was a call to re-imagine the familiar. Specifically, for the church to continually mine out the new realities of ancient truths. If something is truly universal, it will always have an aspect of the new in it. Universal truth will always be able to be contextualized into the present time.

But this can be risky. We can (and will) easily mess up and make mistakes. In the church this is really frowned upon. Sometimes the unwritten rule of being a member of a church is just that: don’t mess up. But that’s not what we’re really called to.

Continue reading

Standards New and Familiar

Arts and TheologyIn the world of jazz, it is common to perform and record songs written by other jazz artists. Some songs are classics, or in jazz parlance, standards. These standards are (or should be) always different and new from one another, with each artist or band baking their individual flavors into it. At the same time, there is a sense of familiarity to them, because they are standards. How can something be new and familiar at the same time? Continue reading

Intro to Worship Class

Arts and TheologyFor the past 10 weeks I’ve been teaching an introduction to a theology of worship class at my church, Orlando Grace Church. I’ve cleverly named the class Introduction to a Theology of Worship. The whole class is available online, through my resources page.

I wanted to teach on worship by using as many art forms as I could: dance, painting, installation, music, etc. I also wanted to use as many instances of contemporary art as possible, hopefully creating an awareness of contemporary art that I think the church, in general, has lost (much to the detriment of the church’s mission, not to mention richness in devotional or everyday life, but that’s another topic).
Some of the artists whose work I used as metaphors and parables: John Tavener, James Turell, Soweto Gospel Choir, Bill Monroe, Makoto Fujimura, Georges Rouault, John Cage, Philip Glass, Wendell Berry, Gregory King, Mark Rothko, Lauren Shea Little, J.S. Bach, Thomas Tallis, James MacMillan, Olivier Messiaen, and some of my stuff. For a full list of the artists and their work, see the art referenced page.

The class attempted to follow a certain order: starting with God, talking about the Trinity, God’s transcendence and immanence. Immanence led to a week on creation, which led to speaking about humanity. Because we can’t understand humanity apart from God, that led us to the topic of the Incarnation, which lends itself to the cross. From there, we talked about the resurrection’s meaning on the Christian life: sanctification. We then took a step back to consider our context: our tradition, our church history, the importance of creeds and confessions, as well as looking at how to interact with those around us now. We ended the class with a discussion on eschatology, the in-breaking of the future into our present.

I’ve made available my notes, slides, reading list, and art referenced. It’s broken down week by week, or you can download it all in one shot. For those of you who care to look at it, I hope it’s helpful!

An Introduction to a Theology of Worship

Arts and TheologyFrom September to the end of November, I’ll be teaching a class at Orlando Grace: An Introduction to a Theology of Worship. My goal is to teach about the history of redemption using mainly systematic categories, and using many different forms of art to teach or illuminate the material. My hope in doing so will lead to a greater appreciation of God’s manifold grace and our response (worship), understanding that this grace comes in more forms than letters on a page or sermons on a Sunday. I’m not discounting those two forms (we would all be lost without them), but just trying to shed some light in an area where Protestants fear to tread: the arts. Especially the visual arts and most especially the contemporary visual arts.

Stained Glass Window with ChristThe overall scope of the 12 week class will hopefully look something like this: starting with God, the Trinity and its transcendence and immanence, moving to creation. Then looking at man, his dignity and his depravity, then moving to the Incarnation of Christ, then to the cross, then to sanctification, or the life of the believer. After that, we’ll look at more environmental aspects: our history (from the early church to the reformation to now), creeds and confessions, and maybe do some clean-up on contemporary issues. We’ll then (hopefully) finish up on the future of worship, aspects of eschatology in our daily lives.

As I go, I’ll be making all my information available to whoever wants it: my Keynote slides, notes, a recommended reading list, and a list of artists mentioned along with their work and links to further information.

It will be listed under the ‘Resources‘ tab up top or by visiting here.

More on Artists and Terrorists

Arts and TheologyIn my previous post, I wrote this:

We all create, sometimes for life, sometimes for death. We are a mix of artist and terrorist.

I was reading Mark 14:1-11 and came across this idea of artist/terrorist.  This event takes place before the Lord’s Supper.  A woman anoints Jesus with some costly perfume, in preparation for His burial.  The disciples scold her for “wasting” such a precious and costly commodity, it could have been useful. Jesus receives her gift and defends her actions to the clueless disciples.  Mark then places an interesting two verses: Judas apparently leaves the scene in his plot to betray Jesus.

There are a few interesting things going on here at first glance.  We find an artist, a terrorist and some pragmatists.  The artist is the woman who created something our Savior deemed “beautiful.”  She sacrificed and created a beautiful moment.  The disciples, not really getting it, only see the pragmatic side of things- the money would have been better off for a more “useful” purpose.  Like giving to the poor, or something that really helps other people.  Their false assumption is that something beautiful, even if it be ephemeral, is worthy of our time and energy and money.

The woman was basking in the presence of the Lord, and the Lord affirmed her.

The woman is contrasted with Judas, the man who would try to betray Jesus.  He was not basking in Jesus’ presence, he wanted to remove His presence.  Both chose to create.  One chose to create life, the other death. And this is the war within ourselves- all have the power to create, and with that comes the responsibility to create life.  Taking cues from Chuck DeGroat, part of us wants to create life and part of us wants to create war.  Part of us is an artist, part of us is a terrorist.

There will always be people who don’t get it, like the disciples.  “Art is a waste of time.” “Shouldn’t you evangelize the lost instead?” Though good questions will arise, artists will always have to defend themselves for spending time creating.  But there is a real truth that many who don’t define themselves as creative types often miss: we are all artists.  We are always creating, like a language or a culture, it’s just part of being human, being made in the image of God.  And, as artists, we look up to see Jesus looking down on our attempts at creating beauty in our lives, and he says “You have done a beautiful thing for me.”

Art is Hopeful

Arts and TheologyOne of the books I’m currently reading is Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions, a collection of essays reflecting on faith, art and culture. It works as a devotional book with its starting places and illustrations in art. I love it so far. In chapter 8, he writes this:

Art is an inherently hopeful act, an act that echoes the creativity of the Creator…[art] is done in hope; the creator reaches out in hope to call the world into that creation.”

Makoto Fujimura - Refractions

Makoto Fujimura – Refractions

The very fact that we imagine something that is not created yet, we reach out to it, to see it become manifest is an act of hope. We don’t know for sure if the thing in our brains will become the thing in reality, but we hope it will. When writing a song, I normally have a specific feel that I can’t quite put to words and I’m straining to work it out in reality- to see the intangible become tangible (at least in some way).

And this creating is not limited to art. We are all little creators, an attribute given by The Creator. With our lives we can create beauty and life (such as being a sacrificial husband or a loving sibling) or we can create chaos and death (such as being an abusive spouse or an arrogant Christian). We all create, sometimes for life, sometimes for death. We are a mix of artist and terrorist.

The Christian’s job is to be creating beauty in this world, seeking God’s will to be reflected here on earth as it is in heaven.

We have a mandate to become artists, using the wreckage of broken beauty in this world. We each have a different brush, a different voice, a different movement, but and we are all united in the hope we have to create. A hope for our own creations, and a hope in the One who made creation.

Truth and Creation (or art?)

Arts and TheologyTruth is not something we create, it is the thing we choose to embrace or disregard when creating.

I think this little quote could be handy to the modern/postmodern divide, a possible corrective for both camps.

When looking at a work of art (we’ll constrain this post to that arena), the modern side will typically be only concerned with the objective: What did the artist intend for the work? The postmodern will typically only be concerned with the subjective: How does the work affect me?

Both sides don’t often like to embrace the question from the other. The problem the moderns can run into is not realizing that art is not made inside a vacuum, but within a community. And this community not only includes the artist himself, but the viewer, the surrounding environment, etc. The postmoderns are all about embracing this idea of community, especially on the side of the subjective personal experience coming to the art, but they often do not include the original intention behind the work in that community of experience. Because of this, moderns say the work has one meaning for everyone and postmoderns would say the work has one meaning for each individual. The two both have great thoughts to offer each other.

The modern can teach the postmodern of the importance of original intention. The artist has labored over the work for a reason, and even if the artist doesn’t know what that reason specifically is, there are thoughts and emotions poured into it. We do not exist in a vacuum and therefore our art does not.

The postmodern can teach the modern of the importance of personal experience. Art does affect us and the way we interpret the art does add to its meaning. A piece of art stands by itself, one doesn’t have the artist standing by its side constantly explaining it…and if that was to happen that would surely be a boring experience. Part of the joy of art is the discovery process. It moves us and it should.

So what’s more important? The objective or the subjective? Yes. We don’t need to pick sides and entrench ourselves, there can be (should be) a third way. Truth is not something we create, it is the thing we choose to embrace or disregard when creating. The modern errs on the side of equating art with truth itself. The postmodern errs on the side of not recognizing the embrace or disregard of any kind of truth.

I think both sides have much to bring to the table, and aspects of both perspectives are needed for us to get this whole thing. But when we grip so tightly to our own views at the expense of seeing others’ perspectives, we lose out. That’s been every philosopher’s flaw since the beginning of time. They stick to their ideas and when confronted with something that doesn’t work, they try to squeeze the bits through the experience of the truth. And it comes out like the Play-Doh in their spaghetti maker: it’s fun to play with, but not much good for anything else.