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Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist

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spiritual journey

Question Everything

Hey folks.

This week has seen more than its share of activities, and for that reason I am three days late in my post. I contemplated just waiting for tomorrow and resuming my regular schedule, but I have something that I really want to talk about before finishing our conversation about God and Fantasy. It’s an event that I’m going to be part of, and would love to have others join me. An event called Alpha.

If you live in Alberta and have been anywhere near a TV, YouTube, or a bus, you’ve probably seen this advertisement: question everything. It asks if you’ve ever had questions about the big issues of life, and if so, to check out their site, http://questioneverythingab.ca. As part of my aim as a Christian artist is to ask and explore the questions that can’t be answered by an encyclopedia, I’m very excited to be part of the Alpha campaign.

Alpha is a seven week course that is designed to be a place to explore the big issues of God, purpose, and life. It is a place to come together with others who are seeking truth, share some food, and get to the nitty gritty of the spiritual journey. There is a video to watch each week (about half an hour, if I’m not mistaken), but most of the time is spent discussing the questions we all have: Does God exist? How can we know? Who was Jesus Christ? Why am I here? What do I do now? There are people set up to lead and facilitate each discussion, but most of the time is free to talk about whatever spiritual issues the group wants to address.

I am one of these table leaders for my church in Calgary. I am privileged to sit down with other seekers and walk with them on the path. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I can definitely help those seeking the path to God. At the very least, my aim is to create a place where it is safe to vent all of our questions, frustrations, and anxieties with others who are traveling along the same road. That was what I needed when I began my journey back into Christianity, and my hope is to offer the same to others.

My challenge, for those who are seeking spiritual guidance, is to find an Alpha course near you. They are being offered all the time, and if you live in Alberta, there is going to be one near you sometime in the next few weeks. Perhaps you have reservations about Christianity, and that’s fine. You don’t need to make any commitment at any time. You can walk away at the end and decide that Christianity still isn’t for you. But if you do decide that you want some answers about God, come to the first session and see what we have to say.

And so, I challenge everyone looking for answers to the big questions. Find an Alpha course, grab a friend, and go to the first session. You’ll probably get a free dinner out the the event, and maybe learn something new. A similar course (called Christianity Explored) changed my life almost four years ago. If you live in Calgary, come out to RockPointe Church on September 26th. I’m leading a table at the Bearspaw site, and would love to chat.

Blessings

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Seeking Identity, Finding God

“Why am I here?”

The idea of purpose haunts many people, myself included from time to time.  We have been sold the idea that our purpose on this planet is to consume goods to make ourselves happy and further our economies, but many are finding this purpose to be shallow and unsatisfying.  Generations are embarking on a spiritual journey to find a better purpose. But perhaps we are missing a more basic question: “Who am I?”

Identity and purpose are intimately linked. Runners run. Poets write poetry. Bankers handle money. When we label ourselves with an identity, we are able to move forward with a purpose.  To many, the search for identity is like shopping for clothes: we try on a number of labels until we find one that we like. We become writers until we realize that we don’t like writing.  We become outdoor enthusiasts until our allergies force us indoors. The pattern continues until we find a passion that sticks, and we keep that label. And we pray that we don’t get bored. Yet, maybe there is another, more full sense of identity that goes beyond our daily activities, one that digs deeper than what we do.

For those on a faith journey, there is another question that must be addressed as we try to figure out who we are: “Who is God?” Who is this entity that created me? This question is impossible to answer in full, and difficult to answer at all. Most religions agree that “God” is either infinite, or so beyond our comprehension that it is impossible for us to understand Him in His completeness. The finite trying to capture the infinite seems like an exercise in futility, but is perhaps the most important endeavor we can undertake.

For my own journey, the questions of “Who am I?” and “Who is God?” have been inseparable since the start. The more I understood about God, by studying Scripture and speaking with others on a similar journey, the more I learned about who I am. In turn, the more I understood about who I was, my own strengths and weaknesses, lead to a greater understanding of who God is. The quest for my identity and that of my God are two sides of the same coin.

I wonder, is the big idea of this world to seek self-actualization, the answer to “Who am I?” or is it to understand the infinite, “Who is God?” Perhaps it is both. Perhaps it is impossible to answer one without addressing the other. If our destiny, purpose, and identity are tied in with our deity, then maybe we need to spend our entire lives reexamining our answers to these two questions. Perhaps.

Yet this is not always easy, and there are pitfalls we tend to fall into. The easiest trap is to create a God in our own image. Genesis tells us that God created humanity in His image, but many of us have turned that around.  We create a God that fits in with what we know about ourselves and the our understanding of the world. Artists can read through the Bible and see that God is an artist. PETA activists can look at God’s work in nature and know that God is an animal-rights activist. Administrators can see, throughout history, that God is the ultimate CEO of creation. All of these can be true, but they fall terribly short of who God is. God is love, but God is also wrathful. Too few wrestle with the apparent contradictions in God’s character, leaving themselves with a half-understood deity that does not hold against pressure from other seekers.

Another terrifying question that may confront us as we honestly seek our identity is “What if I’m not the hero?” What if it’s not all about me? This was the hardest part of my journey. I could understand my sin, the brokenness of the world, and the goodness of God. But I could not accept that I was not the hero of my story; that I could not pull myself out of the hole of my self-inflicted pain to become righteous. I could work harder to become a better person, but without divine help, I could not earn my salvation. This is the unique message of Christianity. Though the ethics and morality of many religions are similar, if not the same, Christianity alone teaches that Jesus Christ is the hero of the story. He paid the price for my sin, and nothing I can do can add to that. Its humbling, to say the least.

What about you? Are you the hero of your story? Have you delved into the heart of who you are and why you’re here? Perhaps it is time to look into your life and see if there is something more than you currently life for. For me, I found Christ, a God-man that is the centre of my identity and purpose.  What is yours?

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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