I want to tell you about a Community of Faith that I’ve found. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they found me. It’s interesting how Father God lovingly invites us down special paths of life designed specifically to meet our needs.
I think some really brief backstory is important or the significance of this Community will not be fully appreciated.
All my life I’ve gone to church, the institutional church. I’ve sat and listened to the sermons. I’ve stood and sung hymns. I’ve always believed that this was the Church, the Body of Christ, where I’d encounter Father God. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. Something, … something that I couldn’t put my finger on, was somehow missing. Now, you need to know that in no way am I criticizing that centuries old institution of church. This is my story of my journey, and that is all it is; nothing more.
At some point, after marriage, and raising our children, I didn’t attend church much. I just slipped away and was open to whatever else Father might have for me and my life. To cut a long story short, it was through one friend after another that Father lead me to a vibrant Spirit-filled Community of the Body of Christ. This is Church without the building, without all of the trappings of mere religion, without the hierarchy, without the idolatry of mere theology. I found God outside of the covers of the Bible; intimately, personally, face to face. And I wasn’t alone … there was a Community.
This Community I’ve found has three powerful aspects to it that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They are a movement (not an institution); they are organic in nature, and they are entirely relational.
In it’s organic nature, this community is Community. The famous story of Stone Soup comes to mind. People round about had little or nothing to eat. Then a clever man brings a stone with which to make a soup. He begins to boils it in water. After a while he invites the people each to bring what they have to add to the soup; vegetables, salt, meat, broth, whatever they had. Each put into the soup what they had. After a while the soup was done and everyone had soup. Everyone ate their fill of what had begun so simply as a stone boiling in water. Now they were a Community, sharing what they had and who they were with one another. That’s the Community I’ve found.
This Community is part of God’s global movement, His Body. There are no preachers, although there are ordained clergy among us. There is no hierarchy, no pecking order, no formal documents to tell us who’s who and how we’re all supposed to behave. We’re a movement created, governed and, fully lead by Father God. It reminds me of Israel’s days of The Judges. God was their King … not a man. It was God who lead and “ruled” the people. So it is with our Community.
This Community is fully relational. Everything about it is relationship based, meaning we begin, each of us, with a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Father God. He is the unifying force and power of this Community. He is what makes us a Community. He is our spine and our glue.
Having begun in our relationship with Father, we extend that relationship to one another. As a movement, and not an institution, the organic nature of the Body of Christ is fully manifest. When someone needs healing, like white blood cells, a number of us gravitate toward that need and pray it away in healing. When someone celebrates, we all celebrate. We bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. All of this, absolutely all of this is joy and not obligation. It’s fully Love and not duty.
In this Community I have never experienced so much joy and excitement with Father God and with one another in all my life. This is a priceless Community wherein I find the God of the heart, the God of relationship, the God of love. This is what / Who I’ve been looking for, and I’ve found Him.
This evening, I watched a film (80 mins) on photographer Annie Liebovitz, Life Through a Lens. It’s aptly titled because following her early career to today, it’s an historic walk through the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. We revisited San Francisco and the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll era. We wandered through several decades of Rolling Stone magazine, read by anyone wanting social and cultural change. We moved on to her current work with magazines, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. It was 40-years of American, New York cultural history and influence.
What struck me most was how so many up and comers find their creative expression in such destructive lifestyles. She talked about her incredibly close friendship with the late Susan Sontag, singer & visual artist Patti Smith, and her engaging work in the lives of a vast array of celebrities. This film is a whirl wind tour of the back half of the twentieth century all seen in the tumultuous context that is artistic New York.
This morning Manuel Luz, singer/songwriter and author wrote a wonderful post. In Science, Hendrix, Banned Books & Brokeness he spoke of how truth is so often found even in the midst of lives of death and destruction.
“Angst is real. It’s a part of what is true. So if you’re wanting music or any art form that is true, you go for truth, regardless of where it comes from. I think Jimi Hendrix was doing something that was actually really true. Now he was coming from a sense of brokenness, and I feel bad for that because he never was able to reconcile that. My faith is what has helped me to reconcile…”
So many Christians in this season – and it’s becoming less so, praise God – keep ugliness and unpleasantness at arms length simply because it is unpleasant and ugly. They’re not really looking for God’s Truth, but merely a quiet, pleasant life. When it comes to their kids being seduced by pop culture, or secular humanism, their tendency is to wall themselves off with their families lest they be contaminated. In this way, these Christians are operating from a posture of fear and are allowing themselves to be neutralized by their enemy, the Liar. To them God isn’t very powerful, and evil must be battled even here in the physical / material realm. Folly this.
This is perhaps the main reason the institutional church fights to manage artists who are Christian; much Truth is found amid ugliness and unpleasantness. If the artists are forced to seek Truth in stringently clean, fully Christianized contexts, well then, it will be not only beautiful, but pleasant. However it will contain absolutely no Truth.
Because artists are open, brave, and receptive to the world around them, their lives are often lived as loose cannon, rolling around the deck of life and doing “damage”. Christians who wall-off and shelter themselves from unpleasantness and ugliness seek peace and order, something that life has very little of, and in so doing endeavor to present a Theology of Aesthetics. In effect these wall builders seek to dictate and control expressions of beauty and the arts. Therein lies much of the basis of the centuries old friction between the institutional church and artists.
This is why I am creative outside of the church, and in The Church (Body of Christ). I do not allow any institution to dictate to me what I will or will not produce as art. If the creative person is censured, there is little or no Truth in the work, just Christian propaganda; yet another reason why 1-million Christians are leaving the institutional church every year and seeking God in person – directly and relationally.
And all of this was triggered and unpacked just by a documentary film on the greatest cultural photographer of our times. Amen ~
NOTE: I apologize for the lack of open space between the paragraphs. WordPress is having problems just now. Thank you for your patience.
The new goals I’ve set for myself this year is to [try and] read a new book every two-weeks; so far so good. The latest I’ve finished is by musician, worship leader, and author Manuel Luz called Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (2009/Moody). This is not a book review but more of a sharing of a couple of his most nourishing points.
I love how Luz reminds us that the life of an artist, and the daily act of art-making has a transformative effect on those artists for whom Christ is Lord. “In my own life, I have found that my music – and art in general – is a means by which I am drawn more closely in communion with God. God has formed me through the discipline of music. The discipline of worshiping while rehearsing… the discipline of songwriting and song journaling.
“And this should make sense if one understands that to grow as artists is, in part, to increase in our Christlikeness.” Luz / 127
To my mind this is another example of the purest essence of the convergence of faith and art; it not only affects those who engage the work but the artist as well. I love the Presence of God wherever I am. I love knowing that He’s not far off, up on heaven listening at a distance, but through His Spirit is literally with me 24/7. I love our discoveries in the process of making art, at whatever stage of the work. I love those discoveries which enrich my relationship with my Lord God.
I don’t usually talk about art work that I’ve not finished, let alone haven’t even begun. A powerful thing happened to me a while back as I was reading Matthew 9:20 / Mark 5:25, the story of Mary Magdalene being healed by merely touching the edge of Christ’s shawl.
There I was in the middle of my daily Bible readings and up came this story, with it’s beginning, its middle, and end; complete in every way. Heck, it even fits the 5-sentence story structure of a good Western world tale.
So, there I was reading and as I savored each word, something built up in my heart. Here was a woman who’d made mistakes (don’t we all) and who was seeking full healing. Mark’s verse 27 tells us that she’d heard Jesus was near. She resolved to merely touch His shawl or tunic – that’s all, just touch his clothing. That’s all, the merest gesture, and she knew that she’d be healed. To my mind she got more than she hoped for. She got salvation, redemption, a whole new life in that single experience. What a powerful story. Then I heard it, I call it the silver bell. “Dinggggggg”; there it was, that resonance of recognition that this was an important story. My heart quickened, as itProcess as Transformation always does when that “bell” rings. I know I’m in the Presence of His Spirit and being offered a gift if I’ll just listen and receive it.
As I began journaling about the encounter, something I often do in preparation of making a work, God was right there, revealing one level of meaning after another; a simple story, a single, brief encounter but layer upon layer of relational / spiritual significance. The practice of even preparing to make art was transforming me. I was growing and being nourished in the experience. I was savoring the Divine Presence of the living God whom I follow and serve. I was enjoying a deeply personal, intimate, private relationship with Him.
It’s this self same experience Manuel Luz was on about in his book. Art making, for the artist who is a follower of Christ, can (if we’re willing, open, and receptive) have a transformative effect on us – it ought to. Then the work itself goes on to affect the lives of those who engage it elsewhere, as long as they too are willing, open, and receptive. And I know I’m repeating myself, but I assure you that it’s deliberate repetition – process is an art-maker’s transformative journey. There is no destination, only journey, ever changing, ever growing.
Recently I was re-reading my notes from the Kindling’s Hearth I attended (Oct 2012). I came across something Dick Staub, our host brought up – Holistic Readiness. We were asked; What does it mean to be holistically ready creatively? How do we remain ready? What happens when we don’t remain ready?
I’m reminded of a story from a now famous TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). She was talking about a poet friend who could feel the approach of a poem from far away over the landscape. Her friend, because she was hanging laundry that day, had to run to the house to get paper and pencil so she could write down the poem as it passed by. For me however, it’s that word holistic (emphasizing the whole and all of its parts and their interdependence) that implies something larger than having paper and pencil at hand.
As an artist whose art-making is literally driven by my relationship with God, holistic readiness begins with the health and depth of that relationship. For me, that relationship is far more than just going to church, doing daily devo’s, and attending a weekly Bible study. Holistic readiness, in terms of faith, has everything to do with remaining fully surrendered to God, with constant prayer, daily journaling, and literally seeking His presence. It’s a 24/7 kind of relationship, not a, “Let’s see when I can carve out 15-minutes for God.” kind of thing
In the studio I know He’s there partially because I invite Him in. He’s directly involved, often in a dialogue, as I’m in the process of making. He’s always reminding me that there’s no such thing as a mistake, and that I’m not bold enough in the creative risks I take. He’s my comforter, my counselor, and my Lord. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the wonder of what we’re making that I just have to raise my hands, and looking up, pray the Doxology; Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below / Praise Him above the Heavenly host / Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost / Amen. My holistic readiness is founded upon my walk with God, without which I have nothing creatively to say.
Holistic also implies other life areas as well; diet, exercise, leisure, rest, and ArtJournaling. Like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from her groundbreaking book The Artist’s Way, art journaling has become something akin to scrapbooking or doodling. It’s an artform all by itself. For more on the value and power of doodling, look up Sunni Brown on TED. But my art journaling (Lessons From My Art Journal) has become a vital tool in remaining holistically ready.
In that journal I make messes and “waste” time and materials. I find out what various media* are able to do. I discover, play, and experiment. I take creative risks, and develop my skills with various media to use them well when making art. Mostly I find ideas that work and develop them toward becoming finished works.
I’ve learned that when I neglect my relationship with God, my health, or my exploration time, I’m not ready; I’m not creatively primed to work on making art.
Oh… and one last thing. I also need my coffee, and great music so we have an espresso machine and a boombox in the studio as inspiration.
Thanks for listening.
*Please help stamp out the misuse of the word mediums. I’m serious. This misuse has become an embarrassing epidemic in the art community. It’s bad enough how few people take us seriously anyway that we don’t need to empower their disdain by this simple mistake. Medium = single art medium (paint or ink or etc.) Media = many art media (paint and ink and etc.) BTW: Mediums are not art supplies, they’re people who predict the future or tell fortunes. Thanks!
I’ve read a lot of blog posts, essays, and a few books which talk about art as worship and art as prayer. Personally I find the subject fascinating, and it brings with it as many variations (which I love) as it does commentators.
Last Thursday evening I’d been invited to a gathering of faith-driven creatives and after a good meal together, catching up with one another, and some Show ‘n’ Tell, we got down to the discussion; (and I paraphrase here), Does prayer and worship show up in your work (if it does at all), and how does prayer and worship affect your art practice? Juicy question, huhhh?
I want to share a few notes I took, which are reactions to comments made by others, and then I’ll talk about my own reaction to the question(s).
We talked about whether or not our artwork is prayer and if the act of making is an act of worship. Some folks saw quite specific distinctions between prayer and worship, saying that for them prayer is a deliberate, intentional conversation with God. Others felt absolutely no distinction between prayer and worship, feeling that they were so closely related as to be almost one experience.
What about following a formal structure or formula in prayer and can we offer prayer in any context? To the latter half, we shared a resounding “Yes, we can pray any time, any where.” But for some there is a need for some kind of structure to prayer, while others saw prayer differently, informally; perhaps more immediate and responsive.
One person said that for her prayer was intentional, serving a deliberate purpose, while worship is more responsive (perhaps more emotional). And, yes, she felt worshipful in the act of creativity.
For me, at this time, most of my prayer life, in any context, is done through my journal writing. Sure, I do pray elsewhere at other times. But my processing of the life-stuff that’s the “bread and butter” of my arts practice is done in my journal. I learned this from author Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. I unload my spirit and listen to God in my journal writing. It’s a luscious outpouring of often random bits and pieces which He and I look at and make sense of. A whole lot of self-discovery has happened in our “sessions” together.
Often, in my writing time, I will break into worship, usually because He’s given me a discovery or revelation. I may stop right then and there, raise my hands and pray the doxology, or simply proclaim His awesomeness in the form of a Psalm, just how great and wondrous He really, truly is.
For me, worship is part and parcel of my art-making process and experience. Sometimes I’ll be so overwhelmed at what we’re making together I’ll start crying with release and joy – our time together is that intimate. All-ways though, the making is an alchemy of an intimate faith relationship and is my worship of Him. I mean, the very idea that I get to share in one of His most awesome attributes, creativity; I’m often overwhelmed by the privilege.
Let me close with this thought; To my mind we Faith-Driven artists are (or should be) powered by the ever-deepening intimacy and the ever-growing maturity of our relation with God through Christ. That’s what Faith-Driven means – literally driven to action by our faith (relationship) in God.
I’ve been to Orcas Island. I’ve walked and talked, and broken bread with other thoughtful creatives. I’ve been loved back to my senses and out of my own self-inflicted doldrums. I’ve been quickened among other friends at KindlingsFest 2013. Last night, I listened to a podcast and took notes from Dick Staub’s talk on day one, The Good Life as the Godward Life. Let me share a particularly powerful gift I was given while there.
The “terrible” parable of the talents… it pierces me through the heart time and time again. I drift away in some form of self-inflicted confusion or misery like a skiff that has somehow come untied from the cleat on the pier. With the slightest breeze, the briefest lapping of the waves, I slowly and inexplicably drift away from my purposeful place at the dock where I await my next commission.
I say terrible not because it’s a bad story, or because it’s a tale of retribution. I say terrible in the sense that Madeleine L’Engle calls human freewill a terrible gift. Like fire that warms and feeds, human freewill can also destroy the very thing it was meant to nourish and support. One’s home can be either warmed and brightened, or burned to the ground by that self-same power.
Talent is like that. Oh, I know the parable is dealing with a measure of material wealth, but that’s just a metaphor for any gift God, in His infinite wisdom, has designed us to bear; and they’re terrible gifts too. These same gifts woven into the very fibre and nature of our being can either bring great abundance and prosperity, and glory to God, or they can reveal what we’re made of through our cowardice of their neglect.
God doesn’t “gift” us just so we can run away in fear and trepidation and bury that thing He’s graciously made us to be. He’s not a malicious God of tricks, but a God of love, and yes, even of tough love; the kind of love that kicks us in the butt when we really need it. His is the love that restores our self-respect, gets us out of the ditches of our own digging, re-equips us, and sends us on our way, refreshed, restored, and a little wiser.
Love is restorative; we the prodigal child and He the Divine Father, embrace with the sudden realization that we’re off course and the brutality of some aspect of life was needed to bring us back to our senses. All He waits for is our own realization that we’ve somehow gone astray and need His help. He awaits our return with open arms, a ring for our finger, and yet another cloak to cover our nakedness. And with these gifts of restoration, He embraces us, kisses us on the cheek and says, “All is well now. What have you learned? Let’s go celebrate the new depth of our relationship together.”
I’ve neglected to regularly post on my blog, to show up every single work day in my studio, and to get an artist’s website up showing what I’ve been doing.
KindlingFest-Day One: I was at lunch and got to talking with some friends about our creative lives in general, and that embarrassing question came up again, “Do you have a website?” My friend asked in genuine curiosity. She wanted to see my latest work, and in the context of our conversation, I wanted to show her and the other friends round the table what I’d been working on. I couldn’t though.
Then it hit me; How long have I been asked that question? How many years have I been asked about a website of my own? How much longer am I going to keep my talents buried in mere conversation? I mean how tough is FREE for Pete’s sake?
“I don’t have one yet, but I promise you here and now, that I will before the year is out.”, and I shook hands with everyone at the table. I was “safe”, it was late July and that gave me about 4-months to undertake the huge, complex, website project.
Well, it’s been just two weeks since KindlingsFest, and like so many other attendees, I’ve been processing the tremendous wisdom and counsel we received. I’ve also been getting my website together. And today I can tell you that I kept my promise to my friends; more importantly I’ve finally done what I ought to have done years ago. Now I can share the work that God and I do together in the home studio we have. Now I can deposit the talents my Lord has given me and return them unto Him with interest. Now I don’t have to stand around trying to describe with words what I ought to be sharing with pictures. Oh, and one more thing, I now keep a portfolio of my work on my Smartphone as well. I don’t ever want to be asked again, with enthusiasm and interest “if” I have a website, what my work is like, what kind of art I make. I want to show and share the gifts God has built into my very being on my way to becoming fully human and living the good life to His glory.
Here’s the link: http://lcurtiss.weebly.com/index.html
Mother’s Day is a kind of broad experience for me because in effect I have had three mothers bring me into the world and raise me. My “mother” is a person of collaboration; three people who have done their part and handed me off to the next to continue the process. This went on from my birthday right up to mere days before my 18th-birthday.
For eighteen years these three women, my birth-mother, her sister (a maternal aunt), and their mother (my maternal grandmother) all worked hand in hand to provide a home, protection, and life-guidance. All three of them have passed on now; my mother when I was 7-years old, my grandmother when I was 17, and my aunt when I was an adult and married to the love of my life, and a father to our three children. Only my aunt got to see her “grandchildren”.
It’s on mother’s day that I miss them most because I know that my mother and grandmother would have fallen in love with my bride, Emily. If there was ever any truth to the saying that a man marries his mother(s), it’s right on the money for me. I married a wonderful woman who characterizes much of what I valued in both my aunt and my grandmother. It’s uncanny, but Em will often make gestures, stand, or make facial expressions just like my aunt. Em’s sense of generosity, hospitality and elegance all remind me of my dear grandmother. They’d have gotten along like family.
The best way I can repay them all is to heed their counsel well, deeply honor my own covenant of marriage, and to raise our children the very best way we can. These three mothers have all invested their lives into mine, as do all good mothers into the well-being of their own children.
I hope that in some way this will be a special day of gratitude from you toward your mother(s). Mums everywhere, I hope you will be blessed by the families, yours or surrogate, in whom you’ve invested so much of your own lives.
Thank you and bless you all.