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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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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

Faith and Film: The 100

Well, everyone, this was supposed to be our 100th post here at EpicTheology, but as the weeks turned out, Mother’s Day happened right at the 100 mark, and I figured our moms are more important than other things I was going to say. So, in honour of our 101st post, I thought we would take a look at one of my favourite Young Adult Post-Apocalyptic TV shows: The 100. (Full disclosure, this may be the only YA Post-Apoc TV show I’ve watched…)

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Essentially, The 100 is LOST for teenagers, in the future. I found the first few episodes to be hard to watch, the writing was so bad. But as the series continued, it picked up in quality and my wife and I were hooked.

The basic premise of the show is as follows: humanity has nearly destroyed itself with nuclear war. The surviving humans live on a space station where any crime is dealt with by pushing the criminal out an airlock and into space (known as floating). UNLESS that criminal is under 18, in which case they are kept in prison until they are old enough to stand trial (and then get floated).

When the space station begins to run out of air, 100 of these teenage delinquents are sent down to earth to see if the planet is hospitable again. If they live, they are pardoned for their crimes. If they die, well, they were going to die anyways, and they saved the space station from sending down everyone.

Once these teenagers are on the ground, the situation turns into a fraternity party-meets-Lord of the Flies. With no strong emotional connection to the adults who sent them to the ground, the teens rebel and begin building a new society that suits whatever their whims may be. It’s everyone for him/herself, with pleasure-chasing and power-wrestling the top concern for many of the survivors.

Sound at all familiar?

Who, as a teenager, didn’t rail against the oppression of adults in our lives? Whether our parents, or teachers, or coaches, we had adults telling us what to do and when to do it. When I got to college, it was like all the controls had been taken off and I could do whatever I wanted.

To be fair, I didn’t build a wooden fortress and become a warlord on campus, but I still flexed in my newfound freedom. I also know many who went through a similar process. No matter how well our parents raised us, curiosity or inner rebelliousness urges us to push against what we’ve been taught.

Which isn’t always a bad thing. A big part of the draw of The 100 is the exploration of the post-apocalyptic world that the teens find themselves in. They world is full of mysteries that the following seasons slowly unravel, and many of the misconceptions (or downright lies) of the space-faring adults are brought to light by the curiosity of the protagonists.

But sometimes, rebellion is just rebellion.

It’s in all of us. Since Adam and Eve listened to the snake, we’ve had a tendency to believe that those in authority over us are holding out on us. That God himself is holding out on us. That if WE were in charge, WE would be happier. But happiness does not usually follow a life of narcissism and hedonism. Only a deep relationship with Jesus and a loving community can do that.

And The 100 shows us the importance of community. When facing the terrors that still inhabit the earth, the heroes have to put aside their differences, their pasts, and their pains in order to stay alive. They have to squash their prejudices and swallow their pride in order to see another day.

Perhaps we could learn a thing or two.

So yes, the heroes can be incredibly whiny (being more concerned with your girlfriend than the survival of your tribe…really now…), but I remember being a teenager. Love and popularity and purpose were the biggest of questions for me. It’s only through the lens of an adult nearing 30 that I can see how much bigger life gets.

If you haven’t seen the show, I suggest it. Push on through the first few chapters and really dig into how The 100 depicts human selfishness and selflessness. See if you can find anything that applies to you. That’s how art changes us.

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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