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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

Christmas Eve-Eve

I love this last few days before Christmas. It seems that almost everyone is getting into the spirit of the season. Even those die-hard hold outs have realized that Christmas is almost here and are allowing themselves to enjoy the festivities. We are saying Merry Christmas to friends and coworkers because we won’t see them again before the holiday.

It really feels like Christmas is here!

Now, in our world of last minute planning and rampant hesitation to commit to anything, some of you out there may be looking for something exciting to do on Christmas Eve. Well, if you live in the Calgary area, I may have just the ticket.RockPointe Christmas Carol

Every year, RockPointe Church puts on its annual Christmas Eve service across our three sites. This year, we are taking everyone back in time for A RockPointe Christmas Carol. The services will follow Ebenezer Scrooge on the day after Dickens’ classic novella as he struggles to understand his newfound feelings.

 

There will be drama, carols, candles, and general merriment all around.

This is a special event for me, because I was privileged to write and direct the show. I will also be performing with my wife at our Bearspaw location.

So, if you are in need of an hour of awesome Christmas fun, sprinkled with moments of sentimentality, I welcome you to join us. The information is below:

Bearspaw
255024 Lochend Road
4:00PM and 6:00PM

Bowridge
12 Bowridge Drive NW
3:00PM and 5:00PM

Westhills
150 Ambrose Circle SW
5:00PM

For maps, just check out our digital invite:

Christmas2015_DigitalInvite

If you end up at the Bearspaw site, come say hi after the service, I’d love to wish you a Merry Christmas in person.

To everyone else, may this be the happiest of Christmases for you and your family!

Blessings

5 Lessons From the First Year of Drama Ministry

The first year of the ministry was always meant to be a learning year. It was the dipping of our toes into the water that would allow us to see if the pool was warm enough before jumping in wholeheartedly. It allowed us to see if there was interest, if there was talent, and if there was congregational support. We quickly learned that we had all three and only needed to apply the organization and leadership to make it happen. And so we did.

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Yet, it was not without its bumps along the way. Here are five of the most important things I learned about starting a Drama Ministry this year:

1. Everything Takes Time . . . sometimes a lot of it

This is true of all endeavors, but seems to be doubly so when working with churches and volunteers. Coordinating actors, directors, filmmakers, pastors, and worship teams can be a hassle, but it needs to be done early. It always takes longer to get confirmation from everyone than you’d like, so start early. Especially when working with church leadership, having the script or video fully prepared with enough time to show everyone BEFORE the week of the event can help keep everyone on the same page. Always a plus.

Along the same line, if you are working with film, it will almost always take longer to shoot than you expect it to. I’ve learned to figure out how long I think it should take, and estimate longer when communicating with my crew. They are rarely upset that the shoot is short, but going longer is not okay.

2. Plan, Plan, and Plan Some More

When you are dealing with an established church, new ideas, and several volunteers, more forethought is always better than less. We found that the more effort we put into planning our film shoots resulted in smoother shoots, less wasted time for our volunteers, and more room to play artistically. I learned that I hate wasting people’s time and just a little forethought can make sure people don’t end up sitting around doing nothing for hours at a time.

3. Be Prepared For Curveballs

On the other hand, things are going to go wrong. People are going to be late, other groups may have taken over your rehearsal space, costumes might not fit. When these things happen, we can have a fit and try to force our first plan or we can compromise and find a new way to tackle the problem. When one of our shooting locations was being used by another group that had run their rehearsal several hours over their time, we ended up moving to a new space that suited our needs even better. Sometimes God puts blocks in our way to make us go in a better direction in the long run. Remember that.

4. Don’t Shut Out God’s Work

One of our mandates has involved aiming for great work in our ministry. We don’t want to be doing bad church drama. Everyone has seen that kind of work, and no one likes it (except maybe the performers’ moms). Yet, some of the most amazing performances we’ve had this year have come from people with little or no experience. God can work with anything that we give Him, and sometimes we need to be open to that. Give people a chance to shine and see how God works miracles.

5. Don’t Stop Learning

The purpose of my first year in Drama Ministry was to learn. I had to learn about how the church works, find out how many and what kind of volunteers we have available, and how the integration of drama would work in a multi-site church. Having this kind of mentality has made this year far less stressful than it otherwise might have been. Although we almost drove ourselves insane by having performances at all our sites for each weekend in December leading up to Christmas, we walk away realizing that we don’t have to do that again. When we understand our audition process has been inadequate, we can learn what went wrong and restart with that information next time.

Looking back on this list, I realize that each of these tips can be useful in most of life’s  crazy circumstances. I think it’s neat how God uses our everyday circumstances, like work, family, and school, to teach us really big life lessons. As long as we can continue to learn from them, we can grow and mature and continue on this journey. We become better artists, better disciples, and better people.

Let’s keep learning.

Blessings,

A Response to Mark Driscoll

As it turns out, I am not the only one writing on art and faith.

Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, has written on Four Ways Artistry Can Become Idolatry. I deeply respect this man for his faithful preaching of God’s Word throughout his ministry, and I appreciate his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style of teaching. Not everyone has the respect for him that I do, and people seem divided on whether or not Mark Driscoll is a good pastor or not. Even though I do not agree with everything he says, I am on the side that defends his ministry.

Today, I want to discuss the article I’ve linked to above. If you haven’t read it, please stop, go click the link, and read the post. Then come back to join the conversation. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, let’s dig through what Pastor Mark has to say about art and idolatry.

Smashing Idols

Driscoll begins with a brief personal and church history as it regards art. The Catholic Church has always approved of and utilized art for the glorification of God. In the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance, the Church was one of, if not the biggest patron of the arts. Works such as Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have rarely found their match outside the world of the Church. There have been dark times (such as one pope removing all “indecent” parts of sculptures in the Vatican), but nothing compared to the iconoclasm associated with the Reformation.

When the Protestants saw some church-goers worshipping the icons of the saints, they decided the best plan was to remove and destroy all art in their churches. Many pieces were smashed, burned, or torn to shreds to protect the laity from falling back into pagan-like worship. Mark Driscoll understands this. As an artist, I think it is a great shame. We are left without thousands of masterpieces, the spiritual work of artists trying to worship God through their talents. There had to have been a better way than to destroy everything that COULD have led a brother or sister to old and sinful ways.

God Loves Art

I totally agree. God is a Creator and gave us the commands to create beautiful works of art. We have a tendency, however, to worship that which we have created, including pieces originally intended for the glory of God. The point of icons, however, is not to be an object of worship, but as a means through which we are able to draw nearer to God. We are to look through the piece of art to the Creator who inspired it, and perhaps learn a little of His majesty, power, and beauty in the process. This is a matter of teaching this appreciation of icons to our congregations and helping them to not worship the object but the God it points to.

As for Mark Driscoll’s four ways art can become idolatry:

1. When We Claim That Art is Mediatorial

I really think this is a misunderstanding of what an icon is. Nothing about the icon itself is more holy than anything else in creation. It is a tool, not to bring God closer to you, but to draw closer to Him. Just like a set of worship songs at the beginning of a service can help bring a congregation to an emotional place to hear the Word of God, so too can art allow us to place ourselves in a place to hear from our Creator. We must be careful, I admit, but I think all of our spiritual endeavors must be undertaken with a certain degree of caution. It is so easy to substitute the creation for the Creator, and vigilance is necessary.

2. When Any Attempt is Made to Portray the Father

Adam and God from the Sistine Chapel
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t think I understand Driscoll’s argument on this one. As long as we do not worship the created portrayal of the Father, I don’t see this as idolatry. I agree that God the Father cannot be accurately portrayed, but part of the work of the artist is to explore the unportrayable. We often depict Death as a person, which is wildly inaccurate. I think it is perfectly acceptable for the artist, whether he or she works on the stage, in film, or on canvas to try to communicate his or her idea of who the Father is.

3. When there is Confusion Between the Creator and the Created

I completely agree. There is only one Creator. Everything else is created. Nothing that I, or any other artist, can create will ever come close to the awesomeness of God. And we need to be very careful that we recognize this fact and keep it in our minds when we appreciate great art.

Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral
Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t know, however, if Mark Driscoll really knows what Prayer Labyrinths are for. They, like art, are a tool to be used for contemplation. The end goal is not to turn completely inward, but to go on a spiritual journey. They were created as a substitute for pilgrimages for those unable to travel long distances. When properly used, they allow the believer to follow along a path that leads them through the prayers and thoughts of those who have come before. The aim is to draw nearer to God, not deeper into oneself. If it was, I could completely agree with Pastor Mark, but my understanding of this spiritual practice does not allow for that interpretation.

4. When the Gathered Worship of God’s People is No Longer Word Based

While I agree that the creation of art should not replace the preaching of God’s Word in Sunday or Saturday worship services, there are other ways to gather and worship God. Perhaps artists come together on a Thursday night to draw or paint together for God’s glory. I would probably include some Bible reading during this event, but would usually forgo formal preaching.

“I am for artistry when it is subservient and obedient to God’s Word.” As a faithful artist, I couldn’t agree more. My art is not my God, it is one of my paths to glorify Him.

I love Pastor Mark’s preaching and respect what he has to say. I hope this post has allowed another voice to enter the discussion. Now, I would love to know what you think about Driscoll’s four points above. Where is the line between art and idolatry? How do we honour God with our calling while maintaining a safe distance from worshipping the created thing? Please chime in!

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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