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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

Blessing Artists

Hello there,

For those who haven’t been keeping up with our recent developments, I am now licensed as a chaplain (and as Director of Art and Story) with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.  My first official event happened last night, and boy did God show up in cool ways.

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Look what just showed up in my inbox!

Val Lieske, with Fire Exit Theatre, has had a dream for Calgary’s arts community for quite some time: A night of blessing for our artists, where we share a vision of God’s love and pray for the upcoming theatre and artistic season. I caught this dream and had the honour and pleasure of joining Fire Exit at last night’s The Blessing of the Artists.

We had no idea what was going to happen. Val planned a short program of music, poetry, and drama. I was going to share about my new position as chaplain. We were going to offer blessings, and then eat some pie. It sounded great on paper, but as with any new venture, we had no idea if anyone would even show up. To make matters worse, God had the sense of humour to blanket Calgary in a snowstorm yesterday morning and afternoon, diminishing the incentive for artists to leave their nice, warm homes to ask God for His blessing.

But, people showed up! We had somewhere between 40 and 50 artists make their way to the Lantern Community Church in Inglewood. More than half of these people came to the front for an anointing at the end of the program! 20 artists (plus 6 who were involved in the event) came forward for an individual blessing!

This was an incredibly moving experience for me. I got to look into people’s eyes and tell them that God not only loved them, but made them for a purpose. A purpose that can be hard and draining and lovely and thrilling. Best of all, He gave them personalized gifts of creativity and now walks alongside them as they try to figure out the best way to use those gifts.

Tears abounded. Hugs were handed out. Seven pies were eaten.

To be a part of this interaction between our artists and our God humbled and excited me. I was full of God’s love for a people who can often feel their brokenness so much easier and deeper than others do. And now, I have an even stronger desire to serve my fellow artists in whatever way I can.

So, to Val and Fire Exit Theatre, thank you for letting me be part of this awe-inspiring event. To Tim, a brother and mentor of mine, it was an honour to serve alongside you. To Calgary’s artists, God loves you beyond anything we’ve ever known.

Let’s journey together.

Blessings,

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Shortlisted for a Literary Prize!

Even MORE exciting news!

Some of you might remember, a few months ago I wrote about a great opportunity for writers of faith. Cardus, a Canadian think-tank, organized the Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize for Faith and Writing, a contest for Canadian writers who write about the subject of faith. With $25000 and publication on the line, it seemed like a chance too big to let pass. So, in addition to encouraging our readers to apply, I sent in a short story myself.

And now, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been shortlisted for the prize! I am one of five short story authors who will be published (along with five poets) in an anthology next year. We will also be meeting in Toronto for a gala on October 30th where we will find out who walks away with the $10000 first prize or $2500 second prize (per category). We will also get to hear from Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke, and the former president of PEN Canada and President and Vice-Principal of St. Michael’s College, Randy Boyagoda. It should be quite the night!

This is an incredible honour and I’m overwhelmed that my story about a plucky little robot was chosen by the judges. God has brought such a deluge of new and exciting blessings that I am constantly in awe of the breadth of his imagination. Though we were still incredibly blessed before we got Rome and the new job and this prize shortlist, this season has just been exceptional.

If anyone is interested in more information on the award, the other shortlist nominees, please check out this site. You can also read all of our stories/poems there, which I’m currently in the middle of doing.

Thanks for all the support I’ve received from my friends, family, coworkers, and loved ones. I will update you all with the results as soon as I get back from Toronto on October 31st. Wish me luck!

Blessings

Thoughts from Rome

Hello everyone,

For those unaware, my wife and I just returned from a trip to Italy and England. We started with a couple days in Florence, followed by 5 days in Rome, and 2 days in London on the way home. It was meant to be part relaxing retreat, part whirlwind adventure. Yet, God invaded in so many ways that I just had to share some of them with you.

unnamed.jpgOur hotel in Florence was less than a block away from the Florentine cathedral, Il Duomo. We just don’t have buildings like this in Calgary. The dome is visible from across the city, and when you first enter the piazza it’s in, there is a moment of complete awe. Tourists everywhere are stopped mid-stride, fumbling with cameras to capture its majesty. It dominated our entire stay in Florence. We ate breakfast while gazing up at its marvellous architecture. We climbed to the top of its bell tower and descended to the depths of its crypts. Such a piece of beauty, built for the glory of God, nearly drove me to my knees many times.

unnamed-1.jpgAcross the street from the Duomo is the equally green/pink Baptistry. This was our second “wow” moment. The entire ceiling is a mosaic of biblical history. We spent so long piecing together each of the stories captured in the artwork that our necks started to hurt. The fact that art was considered so important, for its beauty and its teaching ability, is encouraging for those of us who live in a culture where art is considered a secondary or tertiary concern at best. If God could convince the Florentine people that art was important, I’m sure He can do it again in Canada.

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Rome itself is a masterpiece of majesty. Thousands of years of history, pre-Christian, Renaissance, and modern, come together to create a city that seems entirely timeless. We ate dinner at a cafe across the street from unmarked ruins. We touched the arch commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. We rowed boats across a pond around an 18th century “temple” to the god of medicine. I was forced to contemplate the smallness of my own life. How billions of people have lived and died before I was even born. As we are reminded at Ash Wednesday, I am dust, and to dust I shall return. Yet, while I am here, it is possible for me to leave such a relic of legacy that may be remembered for thousands of years to come. If so, may that legacy be one that points to the glory of God, not the glory of Brandon.

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Also, we found Cogsworth and Lumiere at a theatre in Rome

We spend most of one of our days in the Vatican City, which, as someone raised Catholic, was a profoundly moving experience for me. St. Peter’s Cathedral is a monument to God’s glory and the witness of His saints. The Sistine Chapel is a masterpiece that tells the story of Michelangelo as clearly as it tells the story of the Bible. The depiction of Christ at the Last Judgement struck deeply into my heart and forces me to wrestle with the common view of Christ as our buddy and companion. He is also our Coming King who will judge all the earth. That is the power of good art.

Finally, London reminded me of the power of my own art form: theatre. We saw two shows on the West End, and both proved incredibly powerful. The first, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Queen Anne, took us on a journey of devotion and betrayal, of love and loss and the futility of selfish ambition. While we knew little of the political environs of the play (and it was rather political), the RSC was able to take us on an emotional ride that captured my heart for several hours.

Our second show, Mischief Theatre’s  The Comedy About a Bank Robbery brilliantly showed what is possible when one takes the time to work a script until it shines like gold. Not a moment of this show was anything less than smart, funny, or impressive. My wife and I spent the rest of the evening (and much of the next few days) discussing how well done the play was, how sharp the script and committed the actors. It has inspired me to step up my writing moving forward.

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I have so many more thoughts (about Christian appropriation of ancient sites of worship, about the importance of majestic churches, about the need for adventure to shake up our ordinary), but after more than a week of art galleries, churches, ruins, and theatre, I am most struck by how great was the God of the masters of the Renaissance. His buildings dominated the cities they sat in. His story inspired the best artists to create their best work. The art and architecture still stands, centuries later, inspiring devotion and worship. Though my art is not as impressive, I am inspired to put just as much of myself into what I create. Whether for myself or the church, I want to send a message to those who encounter something I’ve created: This is my God; there is no other, and He reigns over all.

Blessings

Arts Chaplaincy

Hello readers,

I have so much wonderful news. I have been away for a while, but important things have been happening and I want to share just some of it with you.

Our church and our District have partnered with my wife and I to start a brand new initiative in Calgary. I am now, in addition to heading up our Art and Story ministry, a Chaplain for Calgary’s arts community! 

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I don’t actually wear one of these, though.

For those unfamiliar, chaplains are spiritual guides and counsellors who are usually attached to secular institutions. Chaplains often administer sacraments such as baptism and Eucharist, perform weddings and funerals, and counsel those who have spiritual questions or seek to further their spiritual journey. There are chaplains for the military, hospitals, universities, and prisons. There are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu chaplains (as well as other religious/spiritual flavours, I’m sure).

What we are doing, however, is slightly outside the norm. Instead of being attached to an institution, I am coming alongside our arts community. I will be available to anyone who calls themselves an artist, no matter your discipline or medium. I can talk, advise, or just listen.

And this, this listening, is why I’m excited about this project. We all have stories to tell. Stories of triumph and stories of pain. Of the mundane everyday and the moments that give meaning to our lives. And a big part of my job is to listen to your stories and help you sort through it.

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Now, I am not a certified counsellor. I want to be clear about that. I can give recommendations for those in need of psychiatric help, but my speciality is the soul, not the mind. I am a licensed worker in the Christian Missionary Alliance (as of today, actually!), and my worldview is unashamedly Christian, but my focus is on spirituality as a whole, not proselytization. I just like to discuss the bigger questions in life that we all struggle through, like purpose and meaning and pain.

This is a call to all of my friends and readers. I am here and am excited to walk alongside those artists who want to dig deeper into the idea of something beyond what we can see. I want to help actors and painters and filmmakers along their journey, no matter where they have come from or where they are going.

So, if you have questions or just need to talk about some important things, please let me know. I am here to listen, and if needed, and only if needed, to advise or counsel. And know that, as a member of Calgary’s arts community, I am praying for you. For your joy and peace, providence and artistic excellence.

Ultimately, I am here to serve our artists.

Blessings

Faith and Film: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has been out for a few weeks now and has been smashing box office records all over the place. My wife and I were blessed to have an impromptu babysitter a couple weeks ago and decided to see what all the hype was about. We were not disappointed. Although I think our culture is saturated with superhero films, Wonder Woman was able to bring enough fresh ideas (and impressive fight scenes) to make the movie a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention the crazy woman-power of a pregnant lady (with a CGI stomach) kicking some serious butt. Look that up, it’s nuts!

Yet, what I was most impressed with wasn’t the storming of No-Man’s Land or the battle on the beach. It was the ultimate message (Spoiler Alert!):

It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.

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When we first meet Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), she is a child who believes that humanity is an inherently good group that only kills when under the influence of the evil (and uncharacteristically powerful) Ares, god of war. Diana believes it is her duty to destroy the wayward god and allow humanity to return to its peaceful ways. Her calling is to protect people from anything that would get in the way of their innocent state. Everything goes according to plan…until she reaches the real world.

Because, unfortunately, Wonder Woman gives an accurate portrayal of humanity: a mess of beautiful selflessness and horrific destructiveness. Diana comes across the depths of human evil and is, for a time, able to overcome the evil through violence and destruction of her own. However, as the story continues, she realizes that even the “good guys” are not paragons of virtue and are capable of cowardly and unheroic behaviours.

In short, she realizes that humanity does not, in fact, deserve her protection. 

But this is where the true beauty of Wonder Woman comes in: Diana realizes that humanity is not worthy of her protection. WE are not worthy of God’s grace. WE have fallen below God’s standard through our own selfishness. Though we are capable of good acts, thoughts, and intentions, we are also capable, each one of us, of unspeakable evil. Put together, we are, as a race, beyond justification.

Yet, we are not beyond salvation. God, in His grace, has given us a way back: belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins opened up the door for us to be saved. All we need to access this salvation is to believe in the Son of God.

Now, this isn’t exactly what the creators of Wonder Woman are talking about in their film. BUT, if we tease out our Christian understanding of the Father’s grace further, we see that Wonder Woman’s message bears an even closer resemblance to our faith.

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Every day, we are confronted by people who let us down, by people who wrong us, by people who embrace selfishness at the expense of others. When our family frustrates us or our coworkers embarrass us, it can be difficult to offer forgiveness. Worse, when we see especially brutal acts of violence against children or the heinous atrocities of war, we can believe that the perpetrators are WAY beyond redemption. We convince ourselves that those who commit evil (that we believe ourselves to incapable of) have given up their fundamental humanity. Our inner longing for justice does not want to see the murderers and rapists and tyrants receive mercy. We want to see them punished for their crimes, because THEY DON’T DESERVE GRACE. Which is true.

The only problem is: neither do we.

And here’s where Wonder Woman can teach us. When we deal with those who have wronged us or others, we need to believe that we have all fallen short of God’s standard and are deserving of death. We have all taken the path of self-seeking narcissism to one extent or another. If we truly believe that we are all fallen, then we can settle on the truth that it’s not about what we (or they) deserve. It’s about grace. And it’s about God.

So, as you go out this week, you will be disappointed in people. Someone will hurt you or embarrass you, or fail to come up to your standards. And you will do the same to someone else. But instead of withholding forgiveness or berating them for their sins, remember: It’s not about what they (or we) deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in the power of grace.

Blessings,

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