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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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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

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Whom Do You Serve?

Hello readers,

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining with 50-60 Calgary artists to discuss issues facing the arts community in our city. One such question, “Who or what do we serve?” has sparked a lot of thought for me and I want to hear some of your thoughts.

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I believe the question of service is really a question of purpose: Why do we create? What is the end goal? In the end, I came to the conclusion that we serve four different people/things with every creative act: ourselves, the art, our community, and God.

It may sound selfish, but creating art is something that is initially done for oneself. I believe that artists create because they must. There is something within that must be expressed. Like breathing or blinking, creation is an inherent process for the artist. I know that when I can’t create something physical or write, I will create worlds and stories in my head. If we ever discover a way to read minds, I don’t envy the person who gets the first peek into my head. It’s a mess. Creating is a way to move those worlds out of my head and into the real world. In this way, I believe we serve ourselves when we create.

In addition, for professional artists, we have a career to maintain. We create to make money, to build a brand/voice/style, to further our careers. We grow as we create, serving our need for progress and direction. We create because it’s how we navigate the realities of the world. In a world where our social identity is so caught up in what we do for a living, artists must create to stay alive and part of their community.

Next, when we create, we serve our art. When we work to become masters of our media, we ensure that those very media continue to exist. When we push the boundaries of what’s been done, we ensure that the art form grows. If people stopped practicing painting, then the art (and the world, in my opinion) would suffer. So, please, continue to take classes, to sketch and stretch, to try new things. The art will be better for your contribution.

Many believe they create to serve humanity, but we have to ask: to what extent are we serving our community when we create? When you sit down to write, or get into the studio to dance, or take up a brush to paint, do you have others in mind? If we really want to serve others, we have to ask who we’re creating for and how we can best serve them. When I write plays for my church, I have a very specific group of people in mind that I’m serving. I don’t push them very far outside their comfort zone on Christmas Eve, and I don’t inundate them with theology on Easter. Knowing who I’m trying to serve allows me to cut out things that don’t serve the mission of the piece and ensures that every step, from conception to rehearsal to performance, makes it easy for my audience to join me in the story.

Finally, as human beings, whatever we do should be in service of God. This isn’t particular to artists, but to humanity as a whole. Whether you are a doctor or a teacher or a web developer or a steampunk maker, everything should be for the one who created you. God has placed the desire and need to create into artists, and our first job in serving God is to do just that: create. Yet, whenever we are faced with choices, we should be asking which option best serves God. The answer may not be obvious, and all options may equally glorify God, but we have to ask.

So, today, I ask you: Who or What are you serving? 

Blessings

Another Journey Begins

Well, everyone, I have some good news today. Not the Good News kind of news, but exciting nonetheless (and definitely related to the Good News sort).

As of May 1st, I will be in full-time ministry!

I have been hired as the new formed Director of Art and Story at RockPointe Church, here in Calgary. My main duties will be fostering discipleship amongst our drama, film, and visual art teams, and telling stories of what God is up to in our midst.

It’s terribly exciting.

Even though this is a dream job for me, even more exciting is seeing how God has been working throughout the journey.

God pulled my wife and I out of the arts community and onto a path towards church ministry. However, as the years went by, our heart for the arts community grew. God was slowly drawing us back into the arts. This was confusing, because we felt pulled between church and the arts, and there didn’t seem to be much in the way of the middle. We prayed for guidance, but could only hear one word: “Wait.”

So, we did. We’ve spent three years building a drama ministry, waiting for God to provide a bigger answer. But there was still a lot of “Wait.” Not being particularly good at that, we applied for other jobs all over the place. Pastoral, secular, writing, administration, anything, really. But the doors were always closed. Often, JUST closed, which was even more frustrating at the time.

Finally, about a year ago, I had a frank conversation with God about what was going on. He told me that something was just around the corner and I still had to wait, but I wasn’t totally satisfied. He then reminded me that He had called me to serve the arts community. When I pushed back that I needed Him to provide a job for me to do that, He just asked, “Do you?”

That was a huge change for me.

Our calling does not rely upon a job. That struck me like a tidal wave, and we began to think up ways to get back to serving. We started hosting artists at our house. We got more involved with creatives we know. We started planning for an Arts Chaplaincy and making contacts along the way.

And then, a month or two ago, we started to hear that God was about to “give us the land.” Shortly after, I was offered a new job, one that fits me to a T.

So now, we feel like we’re on the edge of the Jordan River. We have an adventure before us and God has given us the means to really dive into it. The Promised Land wasn’t a paradise when the Israelites showed up. It was full of danger. But they trusted, and God provided.

I have faith that God has big plans for this ministry and for our family.

Thanks for being with us for the journey thus far. Let’s go change the world.

Face Your Artistic Fears, Artistically

Hello everyone!

It’s that time of year for us where we begin to discuss what our Easter services are going to look like. We’ve spent time narrowing down our themes and aesthetics and are looking at how we want to portray the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s a heavy, yet jubilant season, and we want to do it well.

But in the past couple of weeks, I was challenged like I haven’t been since I took the role of Drama Ministry Coordinator. One of my dear colleagues (and good friend) suggested a presentation that would take the entire team’s input and direction throughout the process to pull off. I wouldn’t be able to go and create my part and put it together with everyone else’s later. We would be breaking new ground with what we’ve done artistically, technically, and organizationally.

My initial thoughts included: “Yes! That’s so cool!”

My subsequent thoughts included: “Can we even do that? I really don’t know if we can.”

This is a terrifying and exhilarating place to be. If we move forward with this idea (which I’m not going to spell out. You’ll have to come and see the service if you want to see), it will challenge me and the team to step into ground that is out of my comfort zone. Which, I believe, is exactly where we need to be.

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Can you imagine Michelangelo, suspended under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, brush in hand, about to place his first stroke? That could not have been an easy project to start. So much empty canvas in one of the most important churches in the world. And HE had to fill it. Failure would be unacceptable. Mediocrity would be disaster. Michelangelo HAD to step up.

And he did. With, quite literally, flying colours.

It can become easy, especially when have a stable, creative job on staff somewhere, to stick with what works and what you know. Often the drive to create comes from someone else: a boss, a co-worker, a ministry partner. I get to stretch my creative muscles, but I am not creating something from the depths of my own soul with the frequency that many artists keep. My own projects get built slowly in my spare time (or occasionally get matched up with the needs of the church…those are wonderful days!) while I work on what the church needs.

It’s a wonderful place to be, but it doesn’t push me artistically very frequently. Yet, it is in the pushing that we grow. There is a place for repetition and practice. There is another place for stepping outside what we’re know to see what’s on the other side.

This is one of the big points Ed Catmull makes in the book Creativity, Inc., which uses the story of Pixar to teach about creating creative cultures. We need to balance one foot in the known while stepping out into the unknown if we are going to tap into our best creativity. If you haven’t read this book, I suggest it.

So, this project may fall flat on its face. We may realize it’s too big for us right now and pull the plug. Or, we may realize a dream and step into a new era of creativity at RockPointe.

I like that last option.

So, when you are faced with challenges that seem beyond you, remember that each one gives us the opportunity to lean into God, who is FAR bigger and FAR more capable than we will ever be. He who created the cosmos lives within us. If we can tap into what He is doing, we will be able to create FAR beyond what would otherwise be possible.

I challenge you to look at what you are doing with your work this week. Does it challenge you? Are you keeping both feet firmly planted where it is safe and secure? Or are you ready to step out, in faith, to push back the boundaries of the new and the safe? See what happens. Maybe God will step into those moments alongside you, and what you are left with will be a legacy that can be placed alongside the Sistine Chapel.

Who knows?

Blessings

Call for Artists!

A few weeks ago, my job at the church got a temporary boost in hours. I’ve been asked to spearhead an art show and sale, to revive an event that the church used to put on years ago. The offer meant double my weekly hours for three months, and, despite never having put on an art show in the past, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was a steep learning curve, but God has been incredibly gracious. I was given the authority to remake the show however we saw fit. We were encouraged to use whatever was helpful from prior incarnations of the show and leave behind whatever we did not fit our vision for the show. A co-worker of mine, Melinda, offered her wealth of knowledge and experience to help us make this show the best it can be. Between her help and a stack of forms, letters, and feedback from prior shows, we were able to set everything in motion.

 

We wanted to create a show that helped us reach out to artists and serve them with no “churchy” strings attached. We wanted to allow local artists to sell their work with minimal overhead and commission. In short, we wanted to love on them, and let them be artists.

Thus was born the illuminArt Show.

I have been working furiously over the past few weeks getting our show to the place where we can start inviting artists to apply to join us. Yesterday, that day finally came. Our website is up, the Facebook page is set, and the Event page is locked and loaded. We have all the forms we need, and now we just need artists.

Are you an artist? Are you located in or around Calgary (or willing to come stay with us for a day or so)? If so, I want to hear from you. Head over to www.illuminartshow.com and click on the Apply link. There, you will find a brief rundown of the show info and an application form. Download the form, fill it out, and send it back to info@illuminartshow.com.

From there, our illustrious jury will comb through the applications and put together a show that is bound to be all sorts of awesome.

For those of you who have heard all about this already, thank you for your patience. This is an exciting adventure for me, and I just can’t wait to fill the show with awesome talent.

In a few weeks, I will write down the process we went through. Maybe our journey can help you do something similar in your town or neighbourhood. I want to see more art, and I want to see artists able to feed themselves. Projects like these help both.

Blessings

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