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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

Worship Language: Ascetic

Hello everyone,

Today we’re going to continue our journey into the Worship Languages, which we’ve adapted from Gary Thomas’ Spiritual Pathways. If you’re just catching up, you may want to check out the Naturalist, the Sensate, and the Traditionalist. Today, however, we are going to be talking about the Ascetic.

Ascetics (not to be confused with Aesthetics, which has to do with how things look) are those who worship God through silence and solitude.

Almost the polar opposite to the Sensate, the Ascetic finds God in the still, quiet moments of the day when everyone has gone to bed, or in the dark of pre-dawn. They often find the world and other people to be distracting from the voice of God. In order to really hear from Jesus, the Ascetic needs to get away and be by her/himself. They do not need worship music or brilliant imagery to be drawn into God’s presence. In fact, the life of a monk may seem quite appealing if this is your primary worship language.

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If you find yourself overwhelmed by the distractions of the world, you may be an Ascetic. If you like to cloister yourself away to spend time in prayer without the distractions of life, this is probably one of your worship languages. 

Churches can be both incredibly helpful and quite the hinderance to an Ascetic. The church building itself is often a quiet, lonely place when services are not going on. An Ascetic can hear the voice of God in the solitude of an empty sanctuary. However, weekend services are rarely marked by moments of silence. They are filled with music and teaching and people and handshaking, which do not draw the Ascetic the same way they draw some of the other languages.

If you are an Ascetic, I suggest you show up to church early. Spend time in the sanctuary before the service starts. If you kneel and close your eyes, people will probably leave you alone. You can also get up early or stay up late to use the silence of a sleeping house to speak to God. Retreat centres are often built around the idea of getting away by oneself, so check out a centre near you. I’ve had a very fruitful time at a silent retreat and look forward to doing so again. (Side note, if the idea of a silent retreat is causing you some anxiety, you probably are not an Ascetic).

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For the artist, alone time may be vital for your creative process. As a writer, I rarely write around the house because it is loaded with distractions. I like being around people, but I need to isolate myself with music (or even just headphones with nothing playing) to get anything done. I suggest you take time by yourself to connect with Jesus, hear from Him, and then create out of that filling up.

The danger of asceticism lies in its isolation. We are a communal species and we need others to do life with. While it is healthy to get away and spend time by ourselves (even every day), we still need to spent time with others as well. If our spirituality is bound up in spending quiet time with God, we can forget that we are called to love and serve others and to take the Gospel to those in desperate need of God’s love.

Bottom line for Ascetics: Get away from life for a while to connect with your Creator and recharge your batteries, but then return to the rest of the world to spread the love and joy that you find in your solitude.

If you are an Ascetic, how do you connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Traditionalist

Hello everyone, and welcome to the third Monday of Lent. How are you all doing with fasting and prayer? I ask because today we are talking about our next Worship Language: the Traditionalist.

For those who are just tuning in, you can find the Naturalist here and the Sensate here.

Traditionalist is my primary worship language. Which also makes sense, growing up in the Catholic Church. I know traditions are often viewed as stuffy, old fashioned, or even empty, but please bear with me. There’s more going on here.

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Traditionalists connect to God through tradition (shocker!), ritual, and symbol. Ancient spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, liturgy, and the sacraments draw the Traditionalist closer to God. Sacred spaces like cathedrals or the Roman catacombs will “feel” more holy because they have been set apart for worshipping God for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They may be drawn to the forms of worship that they grew up with or prefer older hymns to newer worship songs.

Our churches can do much for the Traditionalist in the congregation. Frequent observance of the sacraments (Baptism and Communion for most Protestants; Catholics will add Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick) will allow the Traditionalist to feel a connection to God and His people. Observing the rhythms of the church calendar, like Lent and Advent, also help the Traditionalist to sanctify their everyday lives.

If you find your heart soaring while reciting the Apostle’s Creed, you may just be a Traditionalist. For your journey, I suggest you dig into some ancient disciplines, such as Lectio Divina or create a Rule of Life in the vein of the Rule of St. Benedict.  You may find prayer labyrinths to be useful for clearing your mind of clutter to better focus on God. If your church doesn’t follow the liturgical calendar, find ways to observe and celebrate Lent and Advent at home each year with friends and family.

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Traditionalist artists may find if useful to study the symbolism of the early church. Look into how the masters of your medium have used those symbols, whether in painting, or writing, or film, and try to incorporate some of these symbols in your practice.

Like all of the worship languages, Traditionalists have dangers they need to avoid. The comfort of a ritual can allow the act or symbol to become mundane and empty if we are not careful. We need to remember that the acts are not what is important, but the God that they point to. Traditions are only valuable so long as we continue to use them to pour our hearts out to God and allow them to enrich our lives.

This doesn’t mean we abandon our disciplines when they become rote; it means we constantly strive to ensure they continue to perform their function: to draw us into the presence of our Creator.

Bottom line for Traditionalists: create space for traditions and spiritual rituals in your life while allowing God to fill those moments with meaning by His presence.

If you are a Traditionalist, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Sensate

Hello everyone,

I’m excited to write today’s post because this is one of my top two worship languages. For those who missed the rundown of what worship languages are and our first entry in the series, you can find both here.

Today, though, we are going to be talking about Sensates: those who worship God through the senses.

The vivid colours and delicate lines of a stained glass window draw a Sensate in. The smell of flowers or incense or even fresh bread can be a form of worship. A soft melody or heavy drumbeat turn the sensate towards their creator. Theirs, like the Naturalists, is a faith that is tied to the physical world.300px-Incense-smoke-and-censer-thurible

Many churches, especially older, more traditional ones, cater well to Sensates. The aforementioned stained glass and incense let the Sensate know they are in the presence of God. The crack of a broken communion host/cracker and the bite of communion wine (or sickly sweet smell of grape juice) draws the Sensate into the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Art, music, and architecture all speak to the Sensate, reminding him or her of God’s beauty, transcendence, or immanence.

If you find yourself drawn in by your senses, take time to savour the experiences created by the world around you. Allow the taste of honey to remind your of God’s sweetness. Close your eyes and listen to the harmony of several human voices singing praise to our Lord. Light candles, burn incense, and fill your house with art. Create a rich landscape from which you can be forever reminded of your Creator.

I imagine there are quite a few artistic Sensates out there. If you are one of them, use it! Create music that stirs your soul. Get your hands messy when you paint. Feel the floor and the air and the beat as you dance. Create experiences for others that interact with all of the senses, including touch and taste and smell. Help to immerse others in the beauty of God.ballet-studio-floor-large.jpg

Like the Naturalists, however, Sensates need to keep their eyes ultimately upon Jesus or they risk worshipping the created over the Creator. Gluttony can replace an appreciation for taste. Objectification can replace an appreciation of beauty. Remember, we are Sensates, not hedonists.

Bottom line for Sensates: allow this world to point you to God and use all of the senses to draw others into an experience of worship.

If you are a Sensate, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings

Worship Language: Naturalist

Hello everyone,

I hope this post finds you in a place of deep connection with God. As we move into the Lenten season, I want to talk about how we connect with and worship our Creator.

Our church’s Design Team has been using Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to inform how we craft our services to best serve our congregations. For those unfamiliar with Thomas’ book, he outlines nine pathways by which we connect with and worship God. Each person will have one (or more) paths that they are drawn to and will likely have paths that do not come easily at all. For clarity’s sake, we have decided to use the term Worship Language to emphasize the idea that these are ways we speak to, hear from, and worship our God.

For those keeping track, here are the nine languages/pathways:

Naturalist
Sensate
Traditionalist
Ascetic
Activist
Caregiver
Enthusiast
Contemplative
Intellectual

Today, we’re going to start our exploration with the Naturalist.

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Naturalists connect with God outside. They deeply feel God’s presence when surrounded by the majesty of the mountains, or sweeping plains, or a delicate flower. God left His fingerprints all over His creation, and the more unspoiled this creation is, the more Naturalists can see the Creator.

If you find yourself stunned by the beauty of the outdoors, you may be a Naturalist. If you hear God’s voice more clearly when you get out of the city and go on a hike, you may be a Naturalist. If you find cities to be scars of human sinfulness on God’s otherwise perfect Creation, you may be a Naturalist.

Churches can find it hard to create experiences that allow Naturalists to worship God with their native language. Large windows with natural light, plant life, gardens, or pictures/paintings of nature can help. Sermons on the first two chapters of Genesis may do it. Farming metaphors or outdoorsy stories may speak better.

For any Naturalists reading this, it may be in your best interest to take time regularly to go out into nature just to be with God. Go to a retreat centre away from the city. Go for a hike alone or with fellow Naturalists and spend time soaking in the glory of God. Speak to Him and listen when you are away from the distractions of home and hearth.

You may also benefit from filling your home and work with landscape or wildlife photography. If you can, find an office with a view of the mountains. Or, build yourself a nice little cottage by the lake.

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View from my office…wonderful on a clear day!

For your art, find a way to incorporate Creation into your creation. This may already be happening, if Naturalist is your primary worship language, but perhaps its something you should start looking into.

The danger for Naturalists is the temptation to worship God’s Creation instead of God Himself. Nature is beautiful, but remember that all of Creation was marred by humanity’s fall. As long as nature points to its Creator, you are good.

Bottom line for Naturalists: find more ways to be outside, talking and listening to God. From this place, join Him in creating!

If you are a Naturalist, how do you best connect with God?

Blessings,

Kingdom Artist Network

Hello everyone!

Happy New Year. It’s been quite the month over here. After resting up from Christmas, I’ve been diving head first into making sure the Arts Chaplaincy continues to move forward. Lots of emails, coffee meetings, planning sessions, and networking opportunities.

One of the big thrusts of the chaplaincy is the creation of a network of Christian artists; a home where we can connect, collaborate, and encourage one another on our journey to faithfully serve God and grow in our artistry. There are many artists working hard out there for the Kingdom, but we all seem to be doing it on our own or in small pods.

Today, I’m happy to announce the Kingdom Artist Network! This website is a place for us to connect, plan, and grow. We have space for artists to advertise their work, a gallery for showing off what we’ve been working on, and a forum for chatting with other faithful artists. 

So, please check out the website. Head on over to the Members section and sign up. Start a riveting conversation in the forums. If you have an arts Event you would like to promote, just let us know. Or, send us your production photos or art pieces for the Gallery.

I pray God is blessing all of you this year, and that each and every one of you would grow in faith and artistry in 2018.

Blessings

Faith and Film: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Being a dad with young kids, my wife and I rarely get out to the theatre to see movies anymore. The planning needed and cost of babysitters has just made it easier to wait for the movies we want to see to come out on DVD or Blu-ray. But, for the last couple years, we have made a point of seeing the new Star Wars films in theatre because we believe that is how those films are meant to be enjoyed.

Last night, we were invited to Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. I have been excited about this film since the first trailers showed up, and my excitement has only grown. This film franchise played a big part of my childhood (like many nerdy folks who have grown up since the 70’s). I was young enough when Episode I came out that Jar Jar Binks didn’t bother me. I played with the toys, watched the movies, played through the video games. I built LEGO starships and rocked a lightsaber like no one else. So, when the first brass blast played and the yellow STAR WARS started to scroll up the screen, I was instantly a child again. It was magnificent.

Now, as an adult, I think my appreciation for the movies has deepened. While they are, at their heart, stories of good vs evil, I can now see the deeper wrestling that goes on in many of the main characters. While the Light/Dark side battle plays out on a grand scale in the battle between the Rebels/Resistance and the Empire/First Order, we also see that same battle happen in the hearts of Luke, Anakin, Ben, and Rey. And it’s THIS battle, the internal, that I find so fascinating.

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I understand that there are a lot of people who are upset about the new direction that Rian Johnson took the Star Wars saga in, but I, for one, loved it. The Last Jedi, in contrast to many of its predecessors (especially the prequel trilogy), is very light on plot. The Resistance spends most of the movie running away in a straight line from the bafflingly large First Order Mega-Class Star Dreadnaught. The entire story takes only a few days. Instead, we get to dig deep into our characters and find out what they are really made of.

And this, my friends, is compelling. I’m sorry to break this to you, but we are all flawed. Though made in the image of God, we are fallen people with a disposition towards selfishness. And when others challenge that self-obsession, we can turn quite nasty. Inside, we have both the Light and the Dark. Each of us is capable of turning to good or evil.

But what The Last Jedi asks is this: can we really turn from our current situation? If we are stuck deep in things we shouldn’t be (addictions, harmful habits, crime, etc), can we actually turn to a different life and find redemption? If we are dedicated to helping others and serving God, are we able to fall into temptation and allow our “goodness” to become self-righteousness?

The answer to both is a resounding YES. 

No one is beyond redemption. Just as Darth Vader turns against the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, so too can we turn from our old ways of life to follow God’s intended plan for our lives. I’ve seen this in my own life. I was not in a good place when God found me again. But through His grace, I’ve been able to change who I am and become closer to the man I would like to be.

In the same vein, I also know that I am not totally free from the siren call of the Dark Side. Selfishness rears its head. Apathy sets in. I begin to care more about my own wants and desires than those of others. Compassion and altruism become just too hard. I fall.

But I get up again. 

It’s not an easy life. We are training for eternity. We have to run around with a metaphorical little green Jedi master on our backs through the swamps of life if we are going to grow. We need discipline and compassion. We need to know what God wants of us and how to rebel against the evils that threaten to take hold of our world.

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There are Christians who don’t like the idea of the rebels being the good guys because Adam and Eve were the first rebels and they rebelled against God. But I look at things differently. I see a world that is increasingly sympathetic to evil. A world that ignores horrific working conditions or class divides. A world that closes its eyes to sexual exploitation and dirty business practices. A world that encourages us to shut ourselves off from the mess that is other people and instead turn inward to our own happiness, propagating the idea that we can find happiness on our own.

This is what I rebel against. I rebel against hate, against injustice, and against apathy. It’s hard. It sometimes feels like I’m part of a tiny group who actually care. It feels like there is a giant dreadnought of consumerism that threatens everything I hold dear.

But I hold on to one idea, one theme that Star Wars hits over and over: Hope. 

Ultimately, God is bigger than the Empire or the First Order. He is bigger than hyper-individualism or rampant consumerism. And in the end, He wins. 

The Light wins.

This is one place where my beliefs contrast with that of the Star Wars universe. Balance between Light and Dark is not ideal. At the end of the day, Darkness will be defeated, not balanced. There will be a time where death and suffering and purposeless and conflict will be no more.

Until then, we keep up the fight.

Blessings

Robots For the Win!

For those following the story, back in March I let you all know about a literary prize for those who write about faith in Canada. Then, in September, I was overjoyed to tell you that my story had made the shortlist for the Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize.

Guess what?!

The story won!

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My short story, “Saint 148,” was chosen as the first winner of the Ross and Davis Mitchell Prize at a gala in Toronto on October 30th!

I’m not going to lie to you, I was more than a little shocked.

You see, “Saint 148,” while ultimately an exploration of my own faith-fuelled wrestlings, sits firmly in the realm of science fiction. Science fiction is considered by those in the biz to be “genre fiction” (along with action, mystery, romance, fantasy, etc), and not literary fiction (those things that don’t fit nicely into those other categories). So, a story about a robot taking first place in a literary competition was highly unlikely. I was more excited to be shortlisted at all. I was hoping for a fun trip to Toronto, a nice evening, and maybe a solid second place at best.

Then they called by name.

I’ve only had a few moments in my life that have been completely stunning. The birth of my first-born was one. Seeing my wife come down the aisle at our wedding was another. Getting this announcement was up there.

It’s still surreal.

I’ve had interviews with the media, been approached by complete strangers offering congratulations, and had more people ask when the book will be published than I can shake a stick at.

But it still doesn’t seem real. I’m still the same. My writing is the same (although I do get some guff from my actors about being too protective of my words now…). My mission is the same. I’m still making art for God’s glory and the betterment of humanity.

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Photo taken on the night of the gala!

The award on my wall is nice, but I have to say, it doesn’t feel like I deserve any of it.

You see, God has been mind-blowingly generous to my family this year. To the point of Bri and I just throwing up our hands and saying “Thank You!” because we can’t make any sense of it. Other than our belief that we have a loving, generous God who has chosen this season to remind of of the fact.

But really, everything we’ve done, or “earned,” or won has been God’s doing. From the impetus to write, or the words he gives, to ensuring my story was rejected ten or twelve times in the past two years, to guiding the judges to their decision, God has done the heavy lifting. All I have done is follow His lead.

And I believe that is the artist’s job: to follow God’s lead in creation. We are co-creators, to be sure, but God is the Master, and we are the disciples.

So, thank you for celebrating this wonderful blessing with me. Here’s to another year of awesome creation and the knowledge of God’s unfailing faithfulness to us.

Blessings,

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,

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

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