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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

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Faith and Film: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has been out for a few weeks now and has been smashing box office records all over the place. My wife and I were blessed to have an impromptu babysitter a couple weeks ago and decided to see what all the hype was about. We were not disappointed. Although I think our culture is saturated with superhero films, Wonder Woman was able to bring enough fresh ideas (and impressive fight scenes) to make the movie a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention the crazy woman-power of a pregnant lady (with a CGI stomach) kicking some serious butt. Look that up, it’s nuts!

Yet, what I was most impressed with wasn’t the storming of No-Man’s Land or the battle on the beach. It was the ultimate message (Spoiler Alert!):

It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe.

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When we first meet Diana Prince (Wonder Woman), she is a child who believes that humanity is an inherently good group that only kills when under the influence of the evil (and uncharacteristically powerful) Ares, god of war. Diana believes it is her duty to destroy the wayward god and allow humanity to return to its peaceful ways. Her calling is to protect people from anything that would get in the way of their innocent state. Everything goes according to plan…until she reaches the real world.

Because, unfortunately, Wonder Woman gives an accurate portrayal of humanity: a mess of beautiful selflessness and horrific destructiveness. Diana comes across the depths of human evil and is, for a time, able to overcome the evil through violence and destruction of her own. However, as the story continues, she realizes that even the “good guys” are not paragons of virtue and are capable of cowardly and unheroic behaviours.

In short, she realizes that humanity does not, in fact, deserve her protection. 

But this is where the true beauty of Wonder Woman comes in: Diana realizes that humanity is not worthy of her protection. WE are not worthy of God’s grace. WE have fallen below God’s standard through our own selfishness. Though we are capable of good acts, thoughts, and intentions, we are also capable, each one of us, of unspeakable evil. Put together, we are, as a race, beyond justification.

Yet, we are not beyond salvation. God, in His grace, has given us a way back: belief in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins opened up the door for us to be saved. All we need to access this salvation is to believe in the Son of God.

Now, this isn’t exactly what the creators of Wonder Woman are talking about in their film. BUT, if we tease out our Christian understanding of the Father’s grace further, we see that Wonder Woman’s message bears an even closer resemblance to our faith.

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Every day, we are confronted by people who let us down, by people who wrong us, by people who embrace selfishness at the expense of others. When our family frustrates us or our coworkers embarrass us, it can be difficult to offer forgiveness. Worse, when we see especially brutal acts of violence against children or the heinous atrocities of war, we can believe that the perpetrators are WAY beyond redemption. We convince ourselves that those who commit evil (that we believe ourselves to incapable of) have given up their fundamental humanity. Our inner longing for justice does not want to see the murderers and rapists and tyrants receive mercy. We want to see them punished for their crimes, because THEY DON’T DESERVE GRACE. Which is true.

The only problem is: neither do we.

And here’s where Wonder Woman can teach us. When we deal with those who have wronged us or others, we need to believe that we have all fallen short of God’s standard and are deserving of death. We have all taken the path of self-seeking narcissism to one extent or another. If we truly believe that we are all fallen, then we can settle on the truth that it’s not about what we (or they) deserve. It’s about grace. And it’s about God.

So, as you go out this week, you will be disappointed in people. Someone will hurt you or embarrass you, or fail to come up to your standards. And you will do the same to someone else. But instead of withholding forgiveness or berating them for their sins, remember: It’s not about what they (or we) deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in the power of grace.

Blessings,

Christian Cosplay?

Hey folks,

It’s a crazy week around here, getting ready for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, but I just wanted to have a quick word about cosplay before the week is up.

For those not in the know, cosplay (short for costume play) is the growing phenomenon of people dressing up in costumes, often for expos and conventions, and often costumes of characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comic books. It’s becoming quite large, especially around the convention scene, with thousands of people showing up in elaborate costumes to showcase their creative talents.

Now, cosplay can have a tarnished reputation because of the plethora of scantily clad women (and men) in comics and video games resulting in a equal number of scantily clad people in cosplay. There is a much longer blog post on the morality and ethics of modesty in cosplay, but for today I want to offer another thought.

Cosplayers sometimes dress up as their heroes because they want to inhabit the lives of these people. They want to pretend, even for a short while, that they are the superheroes and adventurers and ne’er-do-wells that they look up to. And I think this is fantastic.

Empathy seems to be (at least in my world) to be in the decline. We are quick to make others into villains and ourselves into heroes. We don’t listen to others and we argue only to win our point. We have lost the ability to empathize with others, to think about what it must be like to be them.

Cosplay, and acting in general, forces us to think about what someone else’s life must be like. The best actors are those who have sat in the life of someone else without judgement and tried to understand why they do what they do. This is especially true of villains, who rarely believe what they are doing is evil. We all believe we are justified in our actions, even if we know the actions to be reprehensible. Yet, we are usually quick to judge others by their actions and not their motives.

If we can live like this in our daily lives, if we can spend more time trying to understand others and why they are doing or saying what they do or say, then perhaps we can start moving towards more peace in the world. Our relationships would be stronger if we were to believe the best of our partners and admit that they probably have justifications for what they do.

When we live in someone else’s shoes for a while, they stop becoming a “them” and start becoming a real person, just like us.

And if dressing up like Spiderman or Princess Leia helps us get in that mindset, I’m all for it.

Blessings,

Challenges of a Christian Artist

Being an artist is hard.

It is a life of looking for work, running to auditions, waiting for callbacks, creating portfolios, long nights, early mornings, day jobs that have nothing to do with your real passion, friends and family that don’t “get it,” and many other challenges that accompany a calling into the arts. Yet, for those artists who have been called into a life of faith, there are several unique challenges that must be faced.

I write from the vantage point of an evangelical Christian actor. There will be hurdles that I face that may not be an issue for artists of other faiths, and others may have obstacles that I will never have to deal with. I merely want to start a conversation for the mutual encouragement for artists of faith. When we realize the difficulties we all encounter, our ability to empathize grows and we create community.

Christian artists that I’ve known have tended to travel in two distinct circles: the “Christian” circle, and the “Artist” circle. They have their church, their Christian friends, and perhaps family who serve and worship God together.  They also have their theatres, studios, rehearsal halls, and artistic friends who create and work together. I have no doubt that this is probably true of many callings, but the artist’s world tends to be incredibly secular with very little overlap. In my life, for example, I know of one girl at my church who is a professional actor, and one practicing Christian from my entire graduating class in college.

Many artists are wary of religions (especially Christianity), with the rules and restrictions and “judgment” that are tied into organized faiths. While they may not outright attack a fellow artist for their commitment to a belief, the disparaging and insulting comments that are thrown around the average rehearsal hall have been enough to make me incredibly uncomfortable. It can be lonely not joining in while friends are drinking all night, partaking of recreational drugs, and spending their small income at the local tavern. Yet, depending on the faith of the artist, many social aspects of “the business,” are unappealing at best.

From a business end, artists of faith must spend time figuring out how their morality will interact with their work. He or she must draw a line in the sand and turn down work that would require them to cross it.  Will you contemplate nudity? Or adult language? Sexuality? Violence? These are questions that each artist must answer, preferably BEFORE a job is offered that contains something he or she is uncomfortable with. Many shows also perform on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, making it difficult for a church attending artist to join with their congregation for worship. The arts business is becoming incredibly secular, and we must be aware of how far into this world we are each willing to go.

Christians, on the other side, often do not understand the calling of an artist, or the deep connection that our work has to our faith. We often do not have pastoral leadership that fully understands the trials of an artist, and are left without the support that many housewives and businessmen find at church. Pastors and ministers do their best, and I have been blessed with mentors that have the heart of an artist, but this is not always the case. They often are shepherding a flock of older or conservative sheep who would not appreciate the gifts that a rebellious young artist could bring.

As with all artists, financing our call is almost always a problem. Work can be scarce, especially when you begin turning down jobs for moral reasons. We rely on patrons, audiences, and grants to finance our ability to create. Yet the market for faith-centered art is very small. I’ve found that Christians, as a whole, do not value the arts as highly as the secular world does, and do not go to theatre or art galleries in the same numbers as the rest of society. An artist catering to the faithful must then rely on other sources of income to continue their work. However, grants are also less available for those seeking to put on a “Christian” show. The only options left are to work in the secular world and embrace the difficulties that brings, or to split one’s focus by working a side job for longer hours at the cost of time that could be spent on the art.

My final burden has been perhaps the most challenging for me: the issue of pride. We are often told today that pride is a virtue, that we should be proud of ourselves and our work. Yet the Bible repeatedly warns against the sin of pride. The selflessness that Christ taught comes into direct conflict with the self-centered nature of many of the arts. We must focus on ourselves because we are often the product that we are selling to potential employers. We are to boast of our past accomplishments in our resumes and our interviews. We must constantly be reminding people that we are still working and are desirable in the business. For performing artists, we must also ensure that we look our best, toying with the temptation of vanity in order to compete. We are given curtain calls where people praise us and our work, but we are not encouraged to give the praise to God instead. I do not argue that these challenges are inherently evil or sinful, but we must be aware of the danger of pride if we want to be faithful in our calling.

The challenges are many, and oftentimes overwhelming, but the rewards are beyond measure. We who know the beauty of the Creator and have the ability and calling to share that beauty with the world are driven to do so. Finishing a project that has been bathed in prayer for the glory of God is incredibly satisfying, and the joy of living one’s calling definitely outweighs the dangers. My hope is that together, we can make the journey a little easier for all of us.

So, what are the challenges you have met so far on your journey through faith and the arts? Have you thought about lines you will draw in the sand and refuse to cross, or are you open to anything, as long as God is honoured? Can you help support a local artist of faith, either by going to their show/gallery/concert or with an encouraging word over coffee (if you treat them, they’ll be even more blessed…see the point about finances above)? Let me know your thoughts on how we can make these challenges a little easier!

Blessings

A Few WORDS Before We Head Out

“that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

Words. The verbal expressions of thoughts, ideas, and concepts, usually utilized to communicate such thoughts and ideas to another person. As we speak words, the images in our minds flow almost magically into the minds of our listeners. Furthermore, words can be incredibly forceful in their conveyance of ideas: if I say or write the words Purple Penguin, anyone listening or reading has no choice but to imagine a violet, flightless bird. Powerful indeed! I want to write further on the power of words, but will save that conversation for another post. Suffice it to say that we should be aware of the force we wield as we converse with words.

Having been in several heated conversations lately, both online and face to face, I’ve come to realize that many of my debates have been around the definitions of words. We define ourselves with words all the time, and if someone comes down on one of our self-descriptors, defensiveness can ensue. As a Christian, I consider myself religious.  Several other Christians I know, however, believe that Christianity is a faith, and not a religion, and go so far as to argue against religion. I believe that this disagreement stems not from our ideas about Christianity, but about our definitions of religion.  To my understanding, religion is an organized system of beliefs, something I’m sure few Christians would deny about Christianity. Christians adhere to a certain set of beliefs about God and the world.  Since I also follow this set of beliefs, I consider myself religious.  Yet to others, religion is the rules, regulations, and rituals foisted upon people by those who consider themselves righteous. It is the empty piety of the hypocritical Pharisees that Christ fought against in the Gospels.  I am definitely not in favour of such practices, but to my understanding, the word hypocrisy might be a better word for this definition, not the word religion.  Thus, in this situation, my opponents and I are not arguing about the concept of religion, but about the definition of the word.

This is all further confused by the evolution of language.  English, especially, seems to be changing almost on a daily basis.  New words are added each year to our dictionaries as legitimate words, and common usage of words changes to meet the social demands of the day.  This raises the question: Which is a more legitimate use of a word, it’s traditional meaning, or the meaning it has adopted by the greatest percentage of people? There may not be an answer to this question, but if we are going to be discussing such personal issues as faith and art, then we will need to make sure we are discussing the issues at hand and not the minutiae of word meanings.  We have bigger fish to fry.

For this reason, I would like to set in place several definitions of key terms that will be frequently used along this journey. I am not going to use my definitions, because my understanding of words is biased, and we need a neutral ground for conversation.  I am going to use the 1998 Oxford Dictionary, for no other reason than it is the one I have in my house. If anyone wants to disagree with a definition here, please comment, and we can see if we can come to a better understanding.

Without further ado, here are some words we will probably use throughout our future conversations:

Religion: belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship; expression of this in worship; particular system of faith and worship

Faith: complete trust or confidence; firm, especially religious, belief; religion or creed

Love: deep affection or fondness

Hate: dislike intensely

Tolerate: allow the existence or occurrence of without authoritative interference; endure

God: I really want to leave this definition up to each person. If your understanding of God or god is specific, please elaborate to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Art: Another word I’m hesitant to define, as exploring art is one of the purposes of this blog.  For reference, Oxford defines art as: human creative skill or its application; work showing this

As we continue on our journey, I plan to update this list with any problematic or enigmatic words we encounter.  We can now embark on an exploration of the arts, faith, and religion with fewer misunderstandings than before.  Everyone ready? Then let’s move out!

Blessings

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