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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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Calling

Building a Rock Solid Identity in Five Steps

I hope you all had an excellent weekend! For my Canadian friends and family, you should either just be recovering from the feasts of the weekend, or succumbing to the final food coma before the long weekend is over. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

I’ve talked before about the importance of identity and the role it plays in our journey toward God. Today,I want to talk about building an identity marker for yourself. This is especially important for artists, who often can get lost in their craft, sacrificing everything for the betterment of their work. Even those who are not in the arts can feel the opposing pull that can come from our duties as parents, workers, and members of faith. If we are able to build a hierarchy of identity, perhaps we can keep our bearings through this crazy, hectic, and stressful world.

To accomplish this, we need to follow 5 steps. They won’t always be easy or simple, and may take a lot of time for reflection, but I think it will be worth it in the end. For this article, I will use myself as an example, in case anyone gets lost.

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Step 1: Find What You Worship

This is your centre. The central driving force behind your entire being. It isn’t what you like, or are passionate about, or even love. This is your all. Without this, you would cease to be who you are. You might be a comparable copy, but not the real you. You think about this when you get up, and before you go to sleep.

For me, I worship Jesus Christ. My entire life is based around my relationship with the Son of God. He affects how and where I work, how I treat my wife, what movies I watch, what games I play, and what books I read. He is the reason I write this blog and go to school and make art. I could lose everything else in my life, but as long as I had my faith in God, I would still be me. I will never lose that.

Step 2. Find Your Greatest Relationship

We were created for community. Even introverts that I know (myself included) admit that being around people is good. We need friends, family, and coworkers to lift us up when we are hurting and to kick us in the pants when we’re getting a little too big for our britches. Even deeper, we need someone who knows us in light of what we worship, and hopefully worships the same thing. This person is your companion through life, no matter where you will be. You trust this person with everything you have, from your life to the five bucks he or she has borrowed. In this life, they are your partner.

It may not come as a  surprise, but in my life, this is my wife. She is my best friend, my confident, my partner and companion. We do everything together, and she knows everything about me. My joys and my fears. My greatest accomplishments and most shameful regrets. She is loyal and loving and with me until the end. I am called to be her husband and love her until our dying days.

Step 3. Find Your Legacy

What will you leave behind when you are gone? What will remain of your time on earth after you have stopped living on it? For some, this may be dictated by your beliefs, chosen by your passions, or shaped by your career. We all are aware that our lives will some day come to an end, and figuring out how you will leave this planet is an important question that we must all wrestle with.

With the imminent birth of my son, I know that he (and any other children God blesses us with) will be my legacy. I must take my calling as father very seriously if I want my life to be of lasting impact. They will be free to make their own decisions in life, I have no desire to create clones of myself, but I want to leave a legacy of God-loving, passionate, and kind people. I will pour my efforts into raising a responsible, fun-loving, and caring generation.

Step 4. Find Your Calling

We are all gifted in some way. Some are gifted in far more ways than others, but we all have something that we are naturally good at. What we do with these gifts is of vital importance and will probably reflect your answer to step 1. If you are gifted at making money and worship security, you may end up running a large corporation and hoarding your wealth. If you are excellent at photography and worship yourself, I bet you take some stunning self portraits. The important thing at this step is to find what you are good at and figuring out how you will use those gifts in light of what you worship.

I am an artist. I act, dance, sing, write, and direct. I take photographs and choreograph dances. I paint and colour. I knew all of these even before I decided what I would worship. Yet, as I have grown in my faith, I have understood that these talents and skills are from God and should be used for God. Now, I aim to be one of God’s artists in the world, showing His beauty, His Grace, and His story to a society that desperately needs it. It is my calling.

Step 5. Find Your Passion

Steps 4 and 5 may seem similar, but there are differences. In addition to talents, we all have causes that we uphold. Social justice for the poor. Ethical treatment of animals. Liberation for enslaved peoples. Our hearts break for certain causes more than others. We are not blind to the suffering of other groups, or the need for change, but our passion lies in helping this particular cause. This is not a bad thing, for no single mortal person can take on every injustice in the world. That is why we each have our own passions. Finding ours can help give specific direction to our callings.

My heart lies in helping guide the spiritually hungry in my community. This is why I want to be a pastor, especially a pastor for artists. I want to show them hope and help and freedom from the troubles that plague us here in the West. I know that there are starving children around the world, and my wife and I help where we can, but my focus is on the spiritually poor here in my city.

When you have meditated, wrestled with, and found answers to these questions, you should be able to build a hierarchy of identity. For me, it looks like this:

CHRISTIAN
HUSBAND
FATHER
ARTIST
PASTOR

If I am ever in a situation where my duties to two or more of these identity markers are in conflict, I just look to the list. The one closest to the top wins out. Some may disagree with the placement that I have, and I would love to talk about it. My list is based on my study of biblical principles, so you may have a different order, even with the same five categories. That’s alright. If it works for you, then you’ve accomplished this task.

What did you come up with? What five words would you give to describe your identity to someone who has never met you? I’d be very interested to see what other people came up with!

Blessings

Why the Church Needs Art

To many people I’ve come across in my journey thus far, art is not a vital part of the human existence.  It can be an entertaining distraction from a dreary world, or a time-consuming hobby to be enjoyed on the side, but it is rarely thought of as an integral aspect of our humanity. Professional artists are thought of as people who refuse to get real jobs; people who need to get their heads out of the clouds and realize that their hobby should not be their main source of income.  “Anyone can do art,” they say, “so why should we pay some to do it?”

This tragic world-view upsets me as both an artist and a Christian. The Church was, at one time, one of the most prolific patrons of the arts, commissioning soaring cathedrals, massive and beautiful murals, intricate statues and icons, and educational and entertaining plays. The Protestant Reformation, however, brought with it a fear of anything related to the Papists, and shunned many of the beautiful works that the Catholic Church had created. The iconoclasm of the 16th Century destroyed many works of art that can never be recovered, a shame that we must live with today.

The church needs art, and therefore artists, to turn the eyes of their congregations to God, honour the beauty of Creation and the glory of God, and to respect the call that God has given to the artists in His family.

The idea behind icons in the Catholic Church is not to worship a beautiful piece of art, but to see through the art to the God who inspired it.  This is true of all great works of art. An stunning photograph of a morning landscape calls to mind the perfection of pre-Fall Creation. An evocative poem about the suffering of street people can awaken a love for our fellow humans. A Passion Play can bring the truth of Christ’s pain and love in a way that a sermon may never be capable of. Art is able to connect to people on a level that is much deeper than instruction and light conversation. Dr. Gordon Smith, in his book Courage and Calling states that the purpose of art is, “at the very least, to enrichen our lives from the inside out, to foster a depth of appreciation for the beauty of God and God’s creation.” This sounds like a calling that warrants more than a hobbyist’s devotion.

I understand the argument that the money that is required to create art could be spent on helping the poor and providing for the needs of those who are without.  This is true, and the cost of a modern cathedral could probably pay for the feeding of a small impoverished town for a long time. This argument, however, ignores a different group of the poor, those who are poor in spirit.  North America is rapidly losing its spirituality.  Materialistic Atheism has taken over as one of the only publicly acceptable world-views, a shift that breaks my heart, for many are left without the eternal hope that Christ brings. Through this, many Christians have focused on the here and now, honouring God by serving His broken people.  While this is commendable, I believe that we have let many areas of our lives slide away from a God-honouring priority.  Many churches today look more like community halls, unrecognizable as churches if it was not for the sign outside.  They do little to inspire awe and reverence for the Creator of the Universe in the way that the old cathedrals of Europe still do.

A college professor of mine told a story of two police officers seeking a place of prayer as one of their friends lay injured in the hospital.  When asked by a priest why they chose the Catholic church, as neither of them were Catholic and several other churches were nearby, they replied “It looks like God lives here.” I would love for every church to look like God lives there.

The Old Testament nation of Israel understood the place of artists within its community.  As gifted members of the society, they were given God honouring work to perform.  In Exodus 35 and 36, Bezalel is chosen by God to be the official head artisan for His people.  God filled Bezalel with His Spirit to enable the man and his associate Oholiab “to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers” (Ex. 35:35). They were then paid for their work from the offerings that the Israelite people brought forth. The people were so excited by the godly work of Bezalel, Oholiab, and their fellow artists that they gave too much money, and Moses had to turn potential patrons away.

Today, however, we do not see Artist as a legitimate calling from God, but we should.  We, as Christians, have left society to be crafted by the secular world, and then complain that movies are too violent and sexual, that music is degrading and promotes a lifestyle we cannot endorse, and our legal system is turning away from the code of morality that gave it birth.  Artists are the people who craft culture through music, movies, theatre, the visual arts, fashion, architecture, and the many other art-forms, and we need to support our artists if we want to make a difference in our society.  We need not financially support every artist for their entire lives, but we should encourage and guide them whenever we can, for they are integral to both our church lives and the secular world they work in.

Christian artists, imbued with the image of God, are capable of leading His people towards a deeper love and understanding of the Creator.  They can shine His glory for the world to see in ways that reach beyond the short days of their lives.  They are able to change culture, if we only give them the platform from which to work.  Artists are called by God to be artists, not hobbyists, and we need to accept that. They can reach out to the broken world with a message of hope, something the Church can always use for God’s glory.

Blessings

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