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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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New Advent Devotional and Thoughts

Hey folks,

I’ve started a new Advent devotional put out by Biola University that is HEAVILY inspired by the arts. Each day includes a piece of art, a poem, and a song, alongside the devotional. My wife and I are walking through this devotional together, which has been doubly enriching for us. If you are interested in an arts-based devotional time, you can click right here:

http://ccca.biola.edu/events/2018/dec/2/advent-project-2018-online-devotional-series/

I need to say, I love Advent. It’s perhaps my favourite seasons of the entire year. The world slowly changes from the mundane to the magical. Lights appear everywhere. People start focusing on others and what brings them joy. Also, gifts. Gifts is one of my love languages, and getting to splurge on gifts for my loved ones brings me much happiness.

However, Advent is also my job. I start seriously thinking about Advent in June. We craft themes, dramas, art projects, and experiences that will build upon each other to create an advent experience that draws our congregation into greater relationship with the God who came down to earth over 2000 years ago. I have to pace myself or risk burning out on Advent before October shows up. By the time I’ve arrived at actual Advent, I’ve often lost some of the magic that I love about the season. It becomes a time of implementing what we’ve designed (which, I will admit, has its own magic) rather than about preparing my heart for the wonder of Christ’s arrival.

That’s where this devotional has been a Godsend (literally!). Each morning, I’m able to open my email, pull up the devotional, and allow someone else’s work to usher me into a place of wonder and beauty. And, already, I’ve had my Christmas world shaken!

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The first day’s devotional speaks about our tendency to think of Christmas as a time of family gathering. However, for the Trinity, it was not a time of gathering but of scattering. The Father SENT the Son to earth, away from heaven. (The writers are clear to preserve the unity of the Trinity, however, so don’t worry about heresy). It was not a time for togetherness for God. 

I have never thought of this before. The silent-night image of the star over the stable, with the angels and the shepherds and the Holy Family all reverently gazing down at the manger brings me all the soft fuzzies. However, this beautiful picture came with a cost. God’s plan to gather all of humanity meant sending His Son away. 

This adds a little bittersweetness to the story. It also adds to the seriousness of the season. We are aware that this season can be hard on many. Especially those who don’t have anyone to gather with. God knows. God’s been there. And He loved us enough to choose that option.

The writer also has thoughts as to the repercussions of this for us, but I’ll let you go, sign up, and read the devotional for yourself. It’s well worth the time. You can catch up, or just start on whatever day you’re at (after reading the devotional for Dec 2nd, where I got today’s thoughts from).

Anyways, I hope you’ll come back on Friday when we dig into the theme of the 2nd week of Advent: Peace.

Blessings,

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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,

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

Why Christians Need to Stop Boycotting

And they’ll know we are Christians by our picket signs…

…said no one in the New Testament.No Fun

It’s a sad state of affairs these days. When Christians are portrayed on the news or in films, they are often standing outside some event with signs declaring hell fire and sulfur for any who seem to be having any sort of fun. While it is true that the Bible puts some guardrails around our lives, and even places big “DO NOT GO HERE” signs every so often, Christianity is, at its core, a belief IN something.

John 13:35 tells us that Jesus told his followers, “By this everyone will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Yet, if you ask someone today what defines a Christian, it will often be answered with “Someone who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t dance, doesn’t have sex, doesn’t have any fun. Oh, and is a hypocrite.” Not exactly what Jesus had in mind.

I’m not here to tell you how to interpret the Bible. There are things I avoid that I know other Christians do not, and there are things I’m fine with in my life that others would stay clear from. So, if not smoking, drinking, or dancing are part of your spirituality, awesome. If you do smoke, drink, dance, and love Jesus, also awesome. But can we stop getting so loud about it?

When the Noah film came out, there were Christian groups lining up to not only NOT see the film, but to officially NOT see the film, and to tell everyone else to NOT see the film. Last time I read through my Bible, I did not see any prohibitions against seeing a film that disagrees with God. I would wager that most of the people who wanted to see the film probably went anyway, whether they were Christian or not. And those who were not part of the Christian conversation only saw that some Christians were opposed to the film (probably because it was fun, or something), and some were not. In this rapidly decaying world of hyper-individualism, we need more instances of unity, not discord.

Maybe we should spend more time actually being the church. We were once known for our hospitality and our willingness to serve others, even at the cost of our own lives. The Roman empire was converted on the strength of those selfless souls who gave simple medical care to people with the plague, whether the afflicted were Christian or not. We were known as followers of The Way. Now, we’re the followers of the No Way.

This is especially important when dealing with art. Artists push boundaries. We explore the aspects of our lives that others would rather keep hidden. We start conversations that are uncomfortable. If our brothers and sisters start boycotting because they don’t like our questions, then we can’t live out our God-given calling. Sometimes we WILL ask the wrong questions, or push things too far. But we need love then, too.

The arts and Christianity split because of this issue. Christians are still wary of artists, and artists still feel confined by Christians. Let’s work to have conversations, not protests.

As a final note, I’m aware of the irony of this message: writing to tell people not to tell people what not to do. But, there you have it. Just my thoughts.

Blessings

Why Artists Need the Church

My post on Monday made an argument for why the church needs art and the benefits of supporting the artists in our midst.  Today, I want to look at the issue from the other side and discuss why artists need to be involved in a community of faith. I know this will ruffle the feathers of those artists who disdain the restrictions and limitations that can come with associating with one particular church. Yet, as beings made in the image of our Creator God, we need to be part of His people for three reasons: to be functioning members of the body of Christ as spoken of in the New Testament, to be nurtured and guided on our spiritual journey, and to find a place where our art can be practiced, challenged, and grown.

One of Paul’s most-used metaphors for the Church is the body of Christ (See Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 3; Col. 1), and as Christian artists, we must accept that we are part of this body.  Just because we do not like how the body is being run, does not give us the right to leave altogether. Christian unity is vital for the Church, and we must join with our brothers and sisters if we want to show the world what it means to be Christian.  If we are living in community, showing love to those inside and outside the church, then anyone who comes looking to the church for answers to spiritual questions will be met by a richer example of the full life that Christ offers.

This is not going to be easy. Churches have their drama, just like any other group of people; we are still living in a fallen world, after all.  But if we can work at our relationships, talk through our differences, and let our needs be of less importance than the needs of others, then the body can function with amazing love and purpose.

This talk of community may sound exciting to some, but to many, the world of an artist is an often-solitary realm.  Painters can spend hours alone, unwilling to show a piece to anyone until it is finished. Songwriters need the space to explore the music they create before it is first performed.  Writers are rarely great conversationalists while they are enthralled in their work.  As I write this blog, I sit alone in my house, drinking decaf coffee with my back to the world outside.  We need time by ourselves to sift through our imaginations before we can bring the gold to the outside world.

But this aloneness can become loneliness very quickly.  The church, however, is a community that meets regularly, giving a reclusive artist an excellent excuse to meet with others on a regular basis.  Weekend services, Bible studies, women’s retreats, and men’s ministries allow us to connect with other human beings and realize that we are part of a greater whole. Joining with others as they celebrate, mourn, question, doubt, live, and worship, is a great part of what it is to be human.  By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can gain a better view of the bigger picture, for our own sight is limited by the experience of only one life.

It is this shared experience that gives us the final reason to join with others in worshipping God: we are given a place to grow as artists. Gaining perspective on the lives of others will enrich the work of an artist before he or she even begins their next project, for it is in communicating the universal truths of our existence that art becomes memorable. A church can support an artist while the physical and emotional roller coaster of artistic creation takes its toll. It will be there to celebrate the victories, and to help clean up the failures. The church is also a ready-made audience for an artist, and better yet, an audience that wants its artist to succeed. This kind of crowd is far more rare in the secular world.

It is also in this congregational setting that our art can undergo the hard work of growth.  Criticism is the constant companion of an artist, and this truth will not go away in the church. Yet listening to the opinions of our critics can push us to greater and greater works of art. We may also find mentors who can help us train well, and ensure that we stay within the light as we explore the truth of a fallen world. If we push ourselves to create better art, to both glorify God and to uplift our brothers and sisters, then we will find that the results will gradually become more and more stunning. The church can give us this opportunity to push.

Too many artists have left the church because the church has not recognized the value of the artist, or because the artist has not recognized the value of the church. In reality, both artist and the church need to realize that they need each other. The life, beauty, and power that an artist can bring to the body cannot be found anywhere else.  The opportunities for spiritual and artistic growth that a church can provide to an artist should not be discarded or forgotten. For when these two groups, often at odds, come together to worship and glorify the God of all Creation, real beauty is found.

 

Blessings

 

 

 

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