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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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pride

Staring into the Deep

Throughout much the Bible, the sea is considered a symbol of chaos and the enemy of God’s people. The Leviathan is a beast that God conquered. Rahab is the name of both a mythical sea-beast and a euphemism for Egypt. This all makes sense when we consider that the Israelites were land-dwelling folk with little experience in shipbuilding and ocean-voyaging. For them, the sea was full of danger and uncertainty, the complete opposite of the loving Father figure of God.

Yet, in Genesis 1, we see God creating the seas and calling them good. They cannot be evil if God considers them good. Scary and untamed? Of course. But not evil.

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I watched the film In the Heart of the Sea a few days ago, which recounts the trials of the whaling ship Essex, which was attacked by a sperm whale and would eventually inspire the story of Moby Dick. Throughout the film, I could not help but wonder at the majesty of the ocean. After thousands of years of human civilization on the Earth, we still do not have mastery over its depths. It is full of wondrous creatures and fearsome monsters (for those who think there aren’t sea monsters, just try denying that you wouldn’t scream like a child if you came upon a giant squid while out swimming one day…monster). And we have no control over it.

I was born on the West Coast, and perhaps my bias is showing, but I feel like the ocean can show me much of God. Just as C. S. Lewis said of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia (his allegorical Christ, for those who haven’t read the books…or seen the movies…) the ocean is not safe, but it is good. We are reminded of just how small we are when we are faced by the endless expanse of water. We are reminded of how powerless we are when we come up against the giant swells of ocean storms. We are reminded that, no matter how much we build ourselves up as masters of this world, we have not conquered the sea. Just as we have not conquered God.

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The ocean forces us to face our hubris, and for that, I love it.

We may someday map the ocean and catalogue all of its denizens, but until then, it will stand as a symbol of what we have no control over. And no matter how powerful we become as a species, we will never have power over God.

For those keeping track, I enjoyed the film. It also speaks to some of these themes of human pride in the face of nature’s incredible force (and sometimes wrath). I suggest you go see it, if you haven’t. It’s worth the couple of hours you’d spend. Unless you’re easily seasick. Then don’t.

Also, Thor with a harpoon. Who doesn’t want to see that?

For my non-land-locked brothers and sisters, what do you think of the ocean? Scary or beautiful? Enemy of God or symbol of the divine? Chime in and let me know what you think.

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

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