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…..

Liberty & Covetousness…

51UQgsywFkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg“In a moment of eternity, while the taste of redemption was still fresh to the former slaves, the people of Israel were given the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. In the beginning and end the Decalogue deals with the liberty of man. The first word – I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – reminds him that his outer liberty was given to him by God, and the tenth Word – Thou shalt not covet! – reminds him that he himself must achieve his inner liberty.”

and further along….

“We know that passion cannot be vanquished by decree. The tenth injunction would, therefore, be practically futile, were it not for the ‘commandment’ regarding the Sabbath day to which about a third of the Decalogue is devoted, and which is an epitome of all other commandments. We must seek to find a relation between the two ‘commandments’ Do not covet anything that belonging to thy neighbour; I have given thee something that belongs to Me. What is that something? A day.”

~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – The Sabbath

Missional

“But it’s one thing to say that the Church at large is involved in the Missio Dei; it’s another to use the term “Missional” as a kind of advanced concept of Church, or as a thing you have to do to qualify for Church.”

Maggie Dawn helps our understanding of this oft misused/misunderstood term. From back in 2007

My sons

One idea I have for the resurrected Toward Hope blog is to use this as a place to write general letters to my children about life. From time to time, I will address them with thoughts they can perhaps read one day and know me better as a result.

These are my sons. My boys are a handful of work and blessing all in the same bundle. They bring me much joy and lead me to the end of myself in good ways. They have led me to conversion points in my life more than any sermon has and when I need forgiveness, they pour it over me like soothing ointment on a wound. My sons are a gift from God that are here to receive their own life and be a constant blessing to everyone they share life with. It’s truly my privilege to care for them in these formative years. I often look for God in their eyes and encounter Him there while in full rapture of wonder and delight.

As a photographer my desire is to reflect the best in people and tell their stories. As a hack theologian, I long to find the link to life on earth as it is in heaven. The camera helps me do that.

 

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

Lamenting Death in the OT

Our church is making its way through a long series on the story of scripture. We are after the meta-narrative and desire to see people embedded into the scriptures in a way that will drastically form identity and purpose. It is a good journey.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been in the book of Judges. Today we looked at the story of Samson. As is typical of such a passage, the sovereignty of God theme was broached in regard to how God manages to fulfill his will, even in the least optimal set of circumstances; like Samson’s disobedience. Also a focus was the fact that, during this time, Israel made no attempt to repent for her wickedness while under the thumb of the Philistines. She was somewhat comfortable, satiated, and made due under the Philistine rule. Perhaps a sign of how forgetful they were of God’s plans and desires for them as a people.

While listening to the sermon, I could not help but think about the incredible loss of life recorded. What about the one thousand men Samson struck down with a donkey’s jawbone? They were surely fathers, brothers, and sons whose lives were deeply mourned. I got to thinking if it was really God’s will to see all these people die. As you know, there are many other references to wartime death in the Old Testament that are problematic, to say the least. My fear is that often these passages can be read in a triumphalist way with little regard for how God feels about the casualties caused by the circumstances of the fall lived out. We tend to write “them” of as pagan (or secular) and minimize life as we do so. But how does God feel?

Perhaps these scriptures can serve as an invitation for us to allow God to implant his heart into ours. What if we looked at these scriptures from the perspective of the father? What if we felt these scriptures with the father’s heart? Might we see a God who even agonizes over the death of the Pagan priest as His true love painfully allows the circumstances of his sin-bound creation to unfold? It is hard to make sense of it, but my gut is telling me that we would be served well to consider this from His perspective. It might just ease the conflict of such passages and do away with much of the sacred and secular dichotomy that pits us against modern day enemies (read culture) that are evil and need to be defeated.