Kingdom Discernment and Art

I think there is much that needs to be explored about the place of art in kingdom discernment and mission. If we maintain the theological conviction that the church exists for the world, then it makes sense that the church is led by the Spirit into Civic discourse as partners on the journey. This is the realm where I believe the artist can contribute meaningfully. I'm in discovery mode with these ideas and have rested initially on the following questions to guide me further.

  1. Can artists in the church participate in civic conversations in a way that identifies the work of God (the who) in a specific locality (the where)?
  2. Is there potential for the theologically formed creative artist to move us away from an agenda of church growth and strategy as is too often is the case with the church on mission (getting away from 'how')?
  3. Is theologically inspired art a way to dialogue and partner with communities to realize new civic possibilities and transformation (…on earth as it is in heaven)?

My questions clearly revolve around the nature of the civic partnership and conversation. Is it always an academic conversation? Is it a practical needs-oriented conversation? Is it a challenge in the spirit of the prophetic? I think it can be all of the above and I think art is a valid medium for dialogue.

If we think about art for a moment, it can generally be defined as the ability to say something creatively. Creative expression is important within culture because art, at is core, evokes reaction and proposes a vision for something. Art is emotional and subversive through its display. Art serves to build culture, nurture vision, and transform perspective.

The artist is important in this equation because the artist is first a listener and then an interpreter. When the task of listening is complete, the interpretation of the experience begins for the artist. Then the artist can express their voice through artistic means. The result can lead to the advance of culture, a challenge to the status quo, an alternative vision for society, and many more possibilities. After all, isn't listening the enabler/first step of discernment? And isn't discernment the prerequisite to discovering the work of God in our neighbourhoods, both where He is already working and where the church can partner? I think so, and as such, artists deserve a bigger voice at the table. I would argue that artists are discerners and can should lead this civic conversation at times.

The place of Art in the church has not been neglected per se throughout her history, but in evangelicalism, I think it is not underscored in a way that it should be. Often the impulse toward the practical and instrumental tends to squeeze the mystery of the artistic to the margins of the church's life together. In other words, it's not taken as seriously as it should be because the artistic process is too open ended and unpredictable, making the traditional approach of strategy evangelism (that is based on certainties) anxious.

Another note to mention on the topic is leadership. All artists are leaders in their own right. They lead because they say something unique as a result of a transformative process they undergo. Unfortunately not all people see themselves as artists, or at least creative. This is tragic because if all God's people understood themselves as artists, things could be different. What if every follower of Jesus felt like they had a voice inspired by God in them and actually spoke with that voice through image, song, paint, poem, story, creative conversation, etc? This would be a form of leadership through creative expression that could awaken many possibilities for Kingdom discernment and life.

Every person has the ability (via divine imaging by their creator) to express themselves artistically. They can say something with conviction as a result of being stirred by the Spirit of God. Unfortunately most rely on a consumeristic posture in their faith that surrenders their potential to ordained leaders as the inspired ones feeding consumers spiritual information. The consumer/believer in this situation is devoid of imagination, discernment, artistic impulse, and (I would say) life potential. In many ways we have reduced the experience of God to a cerebral process devoid of creative expression. This, I think, is tragic as it resists the theology of the Missio Dei; the church's identity as co-creators with God in his project for creation through the Spirit's sending. This understanding demands that – at least in a loose sense, but yet a very real sense – all followers are creative artists.

It's becoming clear to me that theological formation and discipleship should be less averse to embracing the creative potential of people; or, fostering the artist in every disciple. Even in the life of Jesus we see a vivid imagination in his stories about the Kingdom. In this way Jesus was an artist. We can also interpret the creative demonstration of his signs and miracles as artistic expression of God's rule. In vivid, subversive and powerful ways (all the things art can be), Jesus painted a reality picture for us that not only pointed to him as creator come in the flesh (the 'who'), but also to God's Kingdom arriving in power locally to make things new (the where). His promise that the church will be capable of even greater things (John 14:12) makes me wonder at the possibilities while at the same time challenging my faith.

Our church has mission groups that are intentional about doing the above. We are trying to discern a “mission focus” for our group. My imagination is running wild with the possibilities of engaging though art. I'd love to facilitate a conversation in our group that could help us say something together about God's kingdom showing up in our neighbourhood. Artistically.

More to come on the journey as it unfolds…..

A Christmas Message

 

This time of year means different things for many people. Rightly so, traditions and superstitions abound and have converged over the years to bring us a whirlwind of ideas about what Christmas is. People make it what they want it to be and that is their right. The traditions are vast and they vary carrying with them a rich mosaic of colour, music, food, story, and practices.

Christmas comes rushing for many and carries a heavy sense of dread. It can be a difficult time of expectations pushing up against economic limitations and guilt. For many, commercialism runs rough shod over the season and people are left with the feeling of being pawns in some corporate game whose goal is to create unfulfillable desire. It leaves many with an empty feeling and too much stuff.

Christmas is a painful time for far too many people. It opens wounds of loves lost, expectations unmet, and ushers in anxiety in ample measure. Family systems are broken and people are brought together by obligation in the full force of their dysfunction. Many a Christmas dinners become yelling matches and battlegrounds where words serve as bullets to rip open old wounds and create new ones. For those who suffer in this vein, waiting for it to pass is the hope that floats them.

… But Christmas is good news for all people. Why you might ask?

Christmas is about welcoming a baby into our broken world that became King. In the midst of everyone's calamity and the anxiety of ultimate death that befalls every human being, a baby was born to do special things. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

This is no myth. This is a physical and undeniable moment in space and time when something remarkable happened. In speaking of this baby as a rose, an old hymn tells it to us like this…

Isaiah 'twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;

Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.

To show God's love aright, she bore to us a Savior,

When half spent was the night.

From the story of the ancient people Israel, came the promise of God to come and deal with the brokenness that enshrouds the entire world. This brokenness is a result of humankind's rebellion toward God. God's way of dealing with the predicament was to send himself, in full vulnerability of a babe, to inaugurate God's kingdom and save the world from sin. He does this in love and not force or violence. For love is the hallmark of this King's kingdom.

The great news about Christmas is that the God who made us forgives us and loves us. God wants to restore and refurbish all things. He is making the whole earth new (including us) and invites us to follow him in that great task as co- creators and conspirators. God promises that anyone who partakes of this journey will never regret it but experience life to the full. That is not to say we will be free from suffering, but that the God who loves is familiar with suffering, having suffered himself, and is now present for us through it. God transforms even the greatest of tragedies into part of our ultimate healing. Take comfort in this.

So whichever story you find yourself in, whether it is marked by pain or a joyful time with family, my hope is at you will get a glimpse of the light that is shining in the darkness and come to understand how good the news of Jesus is.

From my family to yours….May you experience the fullest measure of God's love, joy, and peace this Christmas.

 

My favourite telling of the Christmas story….

This is my favourite Christmas Story video. The kids are adorable and the message is clear and full of wonder. As we approach Christmas, eagerly waiting for the coming of the King, let’s remember the story and how it serves as the genesis for transformation in us and through us.

Toward Hope is back

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It’s been some time, years, actually, since I have blogged and as a result of a need to write again, I am kick starting the Toward Hope blog. I purchased the domain name and am geared up on the wordpress platform. My goal this time around is to use this blog as a place to reflect theologically on life. I am convinced that the hope of Jesus appears in all situations and circumstances and if I can capture a glimmer of it here, it’s bound to serve as a place of learning and hopefully transformation.

My first thoughts revolve around how challenging it was for me to read NT Wright’s Simply Jesus this last week. It was not hard in respects to being a purely academic book, it’s actually quite accessible. The challenge for me is in light of how Wright illuminated the agenda and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. You’d think it’s pretty clear, but actually, there is more confusion about who Jesus was and why he did what he did than any other person in history. He positions Jesus’ ministry as primarily being focused on proclaiming in powerful speech-action that God is becoming King. In Him and through Him. What bothered me was when I started thinking about the implications this has on me and all who profess to follow.

Jesus came to instigate God’s Kingdom and offers in his life the visible manifestation of its economy as expressed in the sermon on the mount. The implications run thick not only through the conventional ideas about personal transformation and growth, but in how we understand and treat our neighbours (I mean it in a global sense) and how the church aligns itself as an agent of truth and reconciliation in public life.

on to my next book….Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra