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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Living a Paradox

I like order. I like neat boxes that allow me to understand what things are and what they aren’t. Although I am comfortable in the messy, grey-tones of real life (especially life in the arts), I prefer the black-and-white, right-and-wrong, this-or-that of a properly ordered world.

Lately, however, I’ve had to come to terms with the paradoxes of my life.

I am a licensed worker for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and evangelical, Protestant denomination. However, I am also deeply Catholic. I work and worship at my church, but I also attend mass every couple of weeks, and have a deep devotion to my Catholic heritage. I am both Catholic and Protestant.

My moral system is quite conservative. I believe that God laid out the black-and-white of ethics in the Bible and that all people should follow what He says. How that plays out in my life, however, is rather liberal. I lean to the left politically, despite the fact that “the Left’s” moral ideals differ wildly from mine. I am both conservative and liberal.

I am deeply idealistic. I chase after dreams that are huge. I philosophize how life should be, and want nothing less for humanity than union with God and peace on earth. Yet, I live practically, even pragmatically at times. I want people to know they are loved where they are. If ideals must be relaxed to show love, then sometimes, so be it. I am both idealistic and pragmatic.

I am a romantic. I love to spoil my wife, take her on dates, and let her know how cherished she is as often as I can. Yet, I see how our obsession with (a rather shallow notion of) romance in the West has deeply damaged the institution of marriage. I hate how families are torn apart because parents “fall out of love,” or, worse, “fall in love with someone else,” allowing their temporary feelings to dictate their actions. I both love and loath romance.

I am a highly emotional artist and a heady intellectual. A sinner and a saint. An fun-seeking adventurer and a stable homebody. A humanist who believes humans to be deeply fallen.

Some of these paradoxes are comfortable in tension. Others are not. But each is a part of who I am, and each feeds into my work and art.

I think this is also important to realize about the characters we create or portray. People might not all carry such deep paradoxes, but they certainly hold conflicting beliefs about themselves and the world. It’s part of living in this messy world. We believe it’s not okay to lie, and we believe it’s not okay to betray our friends. What do we do when telling the truth betrays our friends? This is interesting.

Now, digging into the paradoxes of our beliefs might not be the most seasonally exciting activity, but I challenge you to think about some of your beliefs, identifiers, and thoughts that are in tension. Chat about them here. I would love to hear what inconsistencies make you human.

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

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

Fasting for the Artist

I have had a mixed relationship with fasting throughout my life. I grew up “giving up” things like bubble gum, candy, and pop for Lent every year. As I grew older, I started fasting from sunup to midnight on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. My 12-year stint with vegetarianism began with giving up meat for Lent.

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Fasting was always part of the rhythm of my life, but never really for the right reasons.

If I’m honest, I would often treat myself like a martyr. I was so much holier than others because I was depriving myself of food for a day, and I would subtly let them know it. It was part of my identity as a Catholic, and I don’t regret it, but my heart was not in the right place.

For starters, a big part of Christian fasting revolves around forgoing certain things in one’s life so that we have more to give to the poor around us. I certainly did not do that. Fasting during the day also gives us more time to sit with God (when we would be otherwise eating), but I wouldn’t do that either.

And then, for years, I stopped.

After coming back to God seven years ago, I wanted to start fasting again. Yet, here, I found a new problem: fasting led to pretty intense anxiety, which was already a problem for me. I tried several times, but always felt worse, especially if I had to abandon the fast for my mental health.

So, again, I stopped. But I never stopped believing in the importance of fasting.

Now, here’s the exciting bit. I started fasting one day a week about two months ago, and it’s been such a fruitful part of my journey. I start my fast after dinner on Thursday night, and have refrained from eating food until dinner on Friday. The fast lasts about 23-26 hours (depending on when we eat both nights), and I’m asleep for a good chunk of it.

The mornings are rough. I know that the enemy of our souls does not want us to connect with God, and he attacks when we are weak. Physically, my body is not used to not eating food. Even today, between when I started writing this article and now, I had to break my fast as I started to be sick. It’s disappointing, but had to be done.

But, whenever I persevere, the benefits are amazing:

A deep sense of peace and clear-headedness. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of state of being that I would love to have every time I sat down to write.

A feeling of being closer to God. I’m not one for chasing feelings around, but this one is nice when it happens.

A greater understanding of my need for God. The more I understand my relationship to God and my utter dependence on Him, the more I’m inspired to make my entire life about Him. A great thing for artists who can be obsessive about their art.

A more balanced view of food in my life. Though not overweight, I am a glutton when I stop to look around the world. I have FAR more than enough food and rarely go through a whole day where I only eat when hungry. Understanding what REAL hunger is (and not just boredom or the love of salt or sugar) helps balance out my worldview.

So, if you are thinking of a new spiritual discipline, or have been feeling far from God, I suggest you try a fast. It will probably suck for a while, but if you can push through the temptations, the lies of the enemy, and the social pressures to eat, and if you can focus on the One who actually sustains and satisfies, then perhaps He will meet you in your fast.

One last word of wisdom: Don’t make a huge Indian meal to break your fast with. Trust me on that one.

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

How I Know God Loves Art

My wife and I were walking to our community garden this morning when I was struck by how amazing all of the new flowers are. They have popped up over the past two weeks, bathing our neighbourhood in colour. I turned to my wife and said, “This is how I know God loves art: why else would the world be full of flowers and sunsets?”

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You see, there are many, many beautiful things in this world that seem to have no real use other than to make life better. Colour is one of these things. We could be just fine without colour (dogs seem to do just fine without it), and it doesn’t at all seem necessary in and of itself. I can imagine a far simpler universe that had no colour. Yet, we do find colour, and we are often blessed by its inclusion in our lives.

For me, artists prove that God is alive and well. We do not strictly create things that are necessary for the survival of ourselves or our species, but no one I know would like to live in a world without art. Even those who don’t think art is very important probably wear clothes designed by an artist, listen to music created by an artist, and live in a building designed by an artist. A life without art would be like living in prison, and we tend to save that fate for those people we really, really don’t like.

So, if no one needs art to survive, but we all seem to need art to really live, I must ask the question: why? Why are we so drawn to art? I argue that it’s because God is an artist who designed us for more than mere survival. We are designed to feel, and to emote and to worship. And art allows us to do all of these things.

I’ve heard it quoted that art (or music, I can’t remember) is feeling made manifest. It allows us to put our feelings down for others to experience. In experiencing art, we can join in with the feelings of others, drawing us together as a people who are on the same journey: the journey to find meaning and purpose.

Art can also draw out our emotions, confront us with our fears, our joys, and our angers. Each time we engage a piece of art, whether it is music or a painting or a theatre show, we are given the opportunity to explore our emotional range, giving sustenance to that which makes us human.

In this place of emotion and feeling, when we are taken away from our own little world into something bigger, something beyond ourself, we are able to turn from ourselves to God. When we embrace His joy, His love, or His grace, we enter into an act of worship. When we walk with others through their trials, even through the medium of art, we are worshipping. When we let the world and all of its problems fade and focus on the divine eternity of heaven, we worship Him who created all of these things.

Many throughout the millennia have tried to define what the Book of Genesis meant when God tells us that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. The imago dei has been argued to be our ability to reason, or our ability to love, or our ability to live in community. I don’t think these answers are all wrong, but I would put forward one other: our ability to create. Up to this point in the story, all that God has done is create the universe (all…) and judge it to be good. He then creates humankind, a being that is to be like Him in some way. Perhaps it is this very creative nature that makes us the bearers of God’s image.

As the summer continues to move forward, I am excited to revel in the beauty of God’s creation. I love the serene beauty of winter as well, but as a Canadian, we see far too much snow and far too little green, so I will enjoy this temporal beauty as long as it lasts. Like everything else of this world, our art will fade and be destroyed, but the moments we experience beauty and art can, if we let them, show us a glimpse of a perfectly beautiful, perfectly artistic God.

Blessings

Quotes Revisited

Earlier this week, I posted 10 quotes to help inspire your artistic endeavors. Today, I want to look at a few and expand on them. It is my aim to interpret what these thoughts can mean for the faithful artists of today as they seek to find God and maintain artistic integrity. We will explore what art can offer the world one small bit at a time.

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“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
– Stella Adler

I don’t know of anyone who can claim that life is always easy and care-free. Life is hard for everyone. It is harder for some than others, but we all face pain, suffering, and adversity throughout our years. Unfortunately, the unstoppable wearing of life can, as Adler so eloquently puts it, “[beat] down and [crush] the soul.”

Yet, life is not a long, dreary march toward oblivion. It is a struggle, to be sure, but it is a struggle that is full of beauty, hope, love, and joy. These are the things that feed our souls, allowing us to continue on our journey through this life. And art, fortunately, has the opportunity to remind us of these moments of glory. It can remind us of the times when we were full of joy, or fill us with awe at the majesty of the Creator. It can be a light-filled respite from the darkness that threatens to encroach on our lives.

If for this reason alone, I would argue for art’s value in our lives. Yet it has many other amazing qualities.

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God.”
   – Catechism of the Catholic Church

For those who have been reading with me since the summer, you know that my aim is to seek God through the avenue of art. I acknowledge that there are other ways to connect with the Creator, but as one called to create art, it is the path I know best. In this quote, the Catholic Church affirms art’s capability to draw us to a place to meet with God.

As we enjoy the beauty of a created object, we can be lifted up to look at the Creator of all objects. A beautiful landscape, a symphonic masterpiece, or a delicately folded piece of origami each show part of God’s majesty. If we keep our eyes, ears, and minds open, we will soon see God’s fingerprints in the works of all great artists. If the aim of art is to portray truth, then all great art should, in some way, point back to the Greatest Truth.

In this way, art is an invaluable tool to help us along the greatest journey we ever undertake: the search for God.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
   – Henry David Thoreau

This one was probably my favourite of the bunch. My imagination is one of my favourite qualities about myself. I am easily swept into stories of swashbuckling pirates or fearful runaways or dashing knights that occur nowhere except my mind. I often fall asleep immersed in a world I have created. It may be part escapism, but these worlds are also places to explore greater meanings of life without the danger of actual conflict or injury.

Yet none of these imagination-led wanderings would be capable without an exploration of the real world. Many are based on the question “What if…” as I look around me each day. I see a person at my work and wonder “What if that girl was a spy escaping from an evil plot?” Or I read a novel and think “What if the character had done something else?” I often wonder what our world would have been like if certain changes in technology had never occurred, or if extra technology was at our fingertips. These additions to reality are the jumping off points for a plethora of stories I have that are waiting to be written or staged.

The ability of art to express the imagination and its relation to the real world is the real reason I call myself an artist. I can, like my Father before me, create worlds for His glory. I can mimic God as I create stories and images, beginnings and endings. This is how I relate to God.

But what do you think? What quotes inspire you to create? And how do you use your inspiration and art to seek after God? Or, if you prefer, what do you think about the quotes I delved into today? Do you see something else in them that I missed, or do you see something completely different? Join the conversation!

Blessings

10 Quotes to Inspire Your Art

I want to start off this week with some quotes that I’ve found to inspire your art. No matter what your discipline is, spend some time this week making art. Make good art, make bad art, just make it with all you’ve got.

I haven’t been able to confirm that all of the quotes are attributed to the correct people, but the research so far seems pretty good. I hope you enjoy!

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”
Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”
C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Andy Warhol 

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
Aristotle

“Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.”
Stella Adler

“Sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God”
Catechism of the Catholic Church

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”
Neil Gaiman

“Dancers are the athletes of God.”
Albert Einstein

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”
Henry David Thoreau

Do any of these quotes inspire you? If so, go and be artistic for the week. Come back on Thursday, when I will discuss my top three favourite quotes from this list.

Creative Rituals

We all have rituals. Some are religious, like praying the Rosary. Some are habitual, like flossing your teeth before bed. We use them to simplify our schedules, organize our lives, and affect our futures. Yet how many of us are deliberate about our rituals? If we look at the intended purposes of some of the historical rituals of the Church, perhaps we can find a wealth of tools to use in our creative lives.

As an ex-Catholic turned Evangelical Bible college student, I’ve heard time and again that the Catholic Church is full of empty rituals. I argue that this simply isn’t true. The rituals of the Catholic Church are no more intrinsically empty than anyone else’s. The real source of fulness or emptiness is not the activity itself, but the heart of those participating in it. Yoga can be empty if one’s heart isn’t in it. Belting worship tunes can be empty if a guy lets his mind wander to last night’s game. Kissing your children goodnight can be empty if you are really carrying anger over the latest tantrum. The issue is the heart.

Rituals are important for several reasons. First, they force us to make room for something. Twice a week, I slow down from my schedule to sit and write this blog. It has become a ritual for Monday and Thursday afternoons. When I read the Bible, I am making room in my day to sit and be with God. When I go for a run, I am making room for my health. Many rituals cause us to leave our normal, daily lives to seek out something higher, or at the very least, something different. They draw us out of ourselves to make room for something else.

Secondly, rituals can connect us with a long line of people who have participated in the ritual. Knowing that others have come before your God (or gods) in the same way that you are is an awe-inspiring and often humbling experience. To join thousands of pilgrims in Mecca for the Hajj is to also join with millions of Muslims over the centuries. In a world that values individualism over community, this connectedness is a breath of fresh air and a huge boon for humanity.

Thirdly, rituals can be an opportunity for learning and growth. Many rituals are handed down through the generations. As we struggle to find a deeper connection to our spirituality, the chance to join someone else in their ritual can be of great value. Perhaps fasting can help bring you closer to God. Or reading through your Scriptures daily. Or reciting the prayers of those who have come before. Not all rituals will succeed in helping everyone, but the search can be very rewarding.

Finally, rituals can be a comfort and a guide when things are not going well. When I have hit low points in my spiritual journey, some of my daily rituals have been incredibly comforting. Many find reading the Bible to be boring or dry, but it has been a source of peace and joy for me, and a place I can connect with my God when other avenues fail. We tend to rely so heavily on our feelings and refuse to act unless our hearts are totally behind us. Yet there are times when our feelings are just tired or worn out, and the adherence to a ritual can keep us headed in the right direction until we are able to sort out the heart issue.

While most of the conversation so far has revolved around religious and spiritual rituals, I believe each of these concepts applies to our artistic lives as well. Let’s have a look.

As artists, we have skills that need practicing. Whether it is stretching, sketching, or singing scales, we need to keep our craft sharp thought repetitive practice. If we see our practices as rituals, then our first point above makes perfect sense. Writers don’t always feel inspired to write, but taking time out of each day for the ritual of consistent writing will keep them better at their craft. Devotion to taking photos will create a better photographer because it forces him or her to leave what is comfortable and make room for practice. We won’t become better artists without work, so we need to make room!

Every time I pick up a quill and ink pot to write a letter by hand, I think of the many writers throughout history who have done that very act before penning their words. I lay out my paper, thinking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing by gaslight. I laugh at ink spots on my hands, wondering if Shakespeare was always covered in ink. I know that literate humanity has done just these very things for hundreds of years, and it’s exciting to be part of that company. We have a long list of people in our world’s history and it’s really cool to know that we have something in common with many of them.

I spent two years at a Theatre School learning acting. Looking back now, I realize that most of that time was spent learning and practicing the rituals of my professors and other actors. This is how the Royal Shakespeare Company tackles text, so it is how I will try to tackle text. At the end, I was able to walk away with many ritualistic tools that allowed me to be a better artist. I still practice them whenever I get to perform, so their usefulness has not diminished with time, a testament to the power of rituals.

Finally, artists sometimes need encouragement. Like everyone else, they can be caught up in the difficulties of trying to live out one’s calling. Especially during dry times of no work or little creative muse, consistent practice can be the assurance that we haven’t lost our purpose. The class we attend can be a reason to get up or leave the house. The weekly meeting with a mentor can be uplifting and encouraging. It is in the harder times that we must allow the ritual to do it’s work, even when we don’t feel like it.

So, what are your rituals? A more important question, I believe, is do they work? Do your spiritual rituals draw you closer to God? If not, spend some time thinking about the issue and see if the problem is with the ritual or in your heart. Do you have artistic rituals? When is it hardest to keep them? These are the moments we must hold onto our practice or risk falling into a slump and dulling our tools.

Until next week!

Blessings

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