on moana, the old testament, and the power of good story

In general, I don’t enjoy watching films very much. My friends will be the first to tell you that when “movie night” is the hang-out activity of choice, I will do all I can to avoid it, stay busy, or try to get people to do something else with me. Since most films have been made for the purpose of cheap entertainment or money-grabbing, they come with plot holes, cliches, unnecessary details, and gross artisanal oversight. Even films with good artistic intentions can have enough flaws in craftsmanship to launch me out of the storytelling experience and leave me feeling like I wasted 2 hours of precious time.

Because of this, I didn’t watch “Moana” when it was out in theatres. I like watching Disney films as much as the next person, but “Tangled” and “Frozen” left me feeling “meh” enough to not want to spend a ton of extra money on the big-screen experience. I resolved to watch it when it was easily accessible on a platform I already paid for. Even when “Moana” was made available on Netflix this past June, I didn’t get around to watching it until about mid-July.

To quickly sum up my feelings, I very much regret not seeing it in theatres. “Moana” is the first Disney movie in a long time to feel like a proper Disney animated film. The writing is rife with the genuine sense of adventure and heart that marks other Disney classics, and the lush, detailed animation feels nearly lifelike at times.

However, the thing that took me most by surprise was not the high-quality writing or the detailed graphics, but how close the story, specifically the music, ended up striking my heart. At the climax of the film, as Moana realizes where the Heart of Te Fiti belongs, she sings a reprise version of the song heard when she met the ocean for the first time at the very beginning of the film. I did not understand why, but the first time I heard it, I nearly broke down in tears. It felt so powerful to me how the quiet song of the sea was now being sung again as the way to ground Te Ka and bring Te Fiti back to life.

The emotion of that moment stuck with me, and made me realize the beauty of the purposefulness in the songwriting and arranging. That song Moana sang, “Know Who You Are”, is the back half of one of three musical bookends, marking the conclusion of the film and its story by its reflection of the beginning song, “An Innocent Warrior”. The other two bookends are the opening song “Tulou Tagaloa” and its reprise “Voyager Tagaloa”, and the song “We Know The Way” and its reprise at the very close of the film.

Upon looking at the translations of the Samoan songs “An Innocent Warrier” and “Tulou Tagaloa”, we see just how much each of the three bookends establish and reaffirm each of their presented themes and the themes seen throughout all of “Moana”. “Tulou Tagaloa”, the song heard during the opening credits of the film, is sung to the highest deity of Polynesian culture, the creator Tagaloa, and says;

“Pardon us…
Pardon us…
Oh Tagaloa.

Look down
Upon our world
Look down
Upon our world.
The light
[I stand before you]
It is good and beautiful
[My desire (homesickness)]
Look down
[The journey has begun]
At how beautiful our lives are.”

“An Innocent Warrior”, the song sung when Moana first meets the ocean, is translated to;

“Your eyes so full of wonder
Your heart, an innocent warrior
My dearest one
There’s a task for you
Let it flow over you
The freedom you feel
And your deep thoughts
Our young girl
Have you come
Our young girl
Your eyes so full of wonder”

It was after looking up these translations that I realized just how much “Moana” reflected common themes found throughout the stories of the Old Testament. Whether it be Abraham, Gideon, Elijah, or Hosea, the great prophets and followers of God all have a similar tale to tell; they were all called by God to accomplish a specific task for his people for their overall benefit. This great call was the thing that pulled them through every adversity, allowing them to conquer every doubt, fear, and enemy that stood between them in order to complete their divinely ordained end goal.

In the story of “Moana”, we find a story constructed in almost exactly the same way as any of those ancient tales. A young girl, divinely chosen by the high creator, is given a task to perform in order to set her people right again. In the fullness of time, she begins to set out to accomplish that task, finding doubt in the ocean and in herself to be constant companions along the way, causing even the creator’s chosen one to question the legitimacy of her entire journey. And yet, in the face of all of this, she chooses to trust the call that was given to her, carrying out her task to its fullest and allowing her people the freedom to commune with the ocean as they once did so long ago.

This story arc, unspoken and undefined but communicated through a tight cohesion of visual and auditory storytelling, is what spoke to me on such a guttural level. As a Christian, I know in very real terms what it’s like to feel called out to by an incredible God that I am drawn to so deeply. I know what it’s like to feel that relationship so strongly and tangibly at some times, but at other times doubt everything about ever experiencing it. And to see someone, anyone be able to not only pull through that adversity, but fully accomplish everything that was set before them fills me with such passion and hope that it leaves me breathless.

That breathlessness is the power of good story. It is the same power that makes telling and retelling all of those Old Testament recordings so important to the Christian walk. You could tell a person that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. You could even summarize the experiences of Christians long past and present them as clear evidences of God’s faithfulness. But through the power of artistry and craftsmanship in storytelling, these truths can spring to life in astonishing ways, allowing emotion and empathy to carry them to the most raw and primal parts of the human soul. That is why good writing matters. That is why thought-through visuals matter. That is why the arrangement of six songs in a bookend formation poetically written in both English and Samoan to tie together a story based in Polynesian mythology matters.

“Moana” may not exactly be a Christian story. But it is a well-done story, told with excruciating care and attention to detail. And I have found that when it comes to catching the sparkle of God’s truth in media, whether it be found in ancient Hebrew texts or in a big-budget Disney blockbuster, it may be all that matters.

thorns and thistles

For the next two days I’ll be miles away from the nearest piano, working with a client to help them better configure their software and design good customer service processes. I’m writing this blog post from the plane. To be honest, airplanes and conference rooms don’t feel like the most artistic environment, but such is life. Or such is my life, anyway.

These days, most of my art is developed for Sunday mornings. While I work full-time in the IT industry, I spend my free time pouring into the life and love of my local church. It’s a small church, and so I serve in a variety of capacities – on the college & 20’s leadership, the women’s ministry board, and as the pianist. Many weeks, it’s a challenge to find the time to prepare something thoughtful for prelude, and I find myself recycling selections more often than my artistic ideals permit. It’s been a couple summers since I added anything new to my classical repertoire, and my piano degree is now a special interest addition to my professional byline rather than the highlight.

There was a time I would have considered this division of my attentions to be the ultimate failure. Hopes and dreams of graduate school and full-time work in music were dashed with the practical realities of ministry commitments and the financial provision of my surprising career in IT. From a distance, I watched former classmates pursue their artistic inclinations in more wholehearted ways and found myself struggling to find the time to prepare the music for our church Christmas concert in between folding my laundry and planning a women’s ministry event.

And yet, the richness of life in this season has far surpassed what I could have expected from the artist’s journey. Paul Westermeyer’s theory of good church musicianship has served well to frame my vision for art in this season: living among the people and giving voice to their song. I’ve lived this truth, and found that my best art hasn’t been produced in the practice room, but in this life among the people of God.

While some art is profound in its universality and its ability to touch millions, other art is intended for a specific context of people. I won’t pretend to know which art requires more or less care and artistry, but the art I am called to is specific. Each week as I prepare to play, the very real needs of this body of believers influences my musical selections. With the body, my music laments over death and church conflict and rejoices in the blessings we have together in Christ. Playing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” after a recent death or a Rachmaninoff elegy during a Good Friday service simultaneously grants music to the people’s song and provides a context that makes the art more accessible.

In this way, I’ve come to see my very splintering as making me a more effective artist, not less. I struggle to find time to choose a piece for communion on Sunday not because things are in the way of my art, but because they are enhancing it – because I’ve been communing with the saints all week, working in the same thorns and thistles as my brothers and sisters and sharing in their lives.

hir | the chaos of sin

The curtain rises to reveal a stage strung with chaos. My body tenses slightly, and I glance apprehensively at the friend who invited me. He glances back. Neither of us know what to expect from a slice-of-life drama featuring Issac, a war-traumatized vet home from Afghanistan; Max, his gender-fluid younger sibling; Arnold, their stroke-disabled father who abused them all for years; and Paige, their manic-depressive mother.

The show is Hir (pronounced ‘here’; the play takes its name from the gender-neutral possessive pronoun), produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Written by Taylor Mac, the play tips its hand from the first glimpses of the stage and the performers: you are about to enter a world where things are desperately wrong. The author specifies the play’s genre as ‘absurd realism’, and the absurdity of the situation is darkly comic as the characters of the play struggle in increasingly erratic ways to come to terms with the chaos that marks their lives.

The story opens when Issac comes home from the war to find his childhood home in shambles. His mother, Paige, has stopped cleaning anything as a reaction against the abuse and strict perfectionism of her husband, Arnold, prior to his stroke. Issac soon finds out that his mother has been hiding everything significant from him in his absence: their home is a pigsty, his father’s supposedly ‘minor’ stroke has in fact left him unable to speak or care for himself, and the family is destitute.  Soon Issac’s younger sibling Max appears on the scene. When Issac left, Max was his sister Maxine. Now Max is gender-fluid. This, too, was a secret kept from Issac. On the day that Issac arrives home, Paige and Max have already made plans to see a local art exhibit. Issac declines to go, and Paige and Max leave him at home with Arnold, on the condition that Issac resist the temptation to clean. Issac agrees, but does not keep his word. Everything else that happens arises from that broken promise.

It seems wrong to say that I enjoyed the play. How can I claim to enjoy the dramatization of that much pain? I learned from the play. I was grieved by the play. It mesmerized me because it was a finely acted, brilliantly written, expertly produced play. But I did not enjoy it. I saw sin and its consequences acted with crystalline artistry. It caused me to wonder: how can this writer, who likely does not believe that there is such a thing as sin, do a better job of portraying sin than any Christian production I have seen?

Because, believe me, all the pain and death of sin, and the immense brokenness of the world, were fully present in Hir. Issac suffers from PTSD. Arnold abused his family for years and the rage still boils below the fog of his new-found disability. Paige, bitter and exhausted from the years of abuse, has turned Arnold’s abuse back on him and now refuses him basic cleanliness and dignity. Max, lonely, hurt, and confused, shoulders the awful task of diplomacy between all members of a family torn apart when the sin of the father is visited on the children.

What response is appropriate? I sat and joined in the uncomfortable laughter of the audience at times, but I wept by the end of the show. I watched one couple get up and walk out, but I could not tear my eyes away from the wreckage before me. I disagreed with practically every philosophy presented in this production, but I found my presuppositions challenged by it.

Great art should change us in some way. When you encounter a truly exceptional creation, you have interacted in some way with the deepest parts of someone’s soul, and that should affect you in some way. Hir was great art, and it did move me. It made me view gender-fluid persons with much more compassion (that it took a secular production to make me feel that, and not the church, is a discussion for another day). It made me wonder why Christians, who more than any other group of artists should understand the wages of sin, are so very bad at portraying it.

It’s hard to see the glory of the cross and beauty of redemption unless we see the heinousness of our sin. The question, for me, is no longer, ‘Should we portray darkness’, but rather, ‘How dark should we allow our art to be in our attempt to highlight the depravity of the human condition’? It takes a grace-healed eye to see glory and mercy, but almost any person can see how sin can destroy. What if Christian artists, instead of being afraid that showing sin would glamorize it, realized that accurate depictions of sin and it consequences strip themselves of their own glamour? How will we ever feel our need of a Savior unless we feel the sickness of our souls?

Because, oh how Hir longed for, but was denied, redemption. How it longed for grace, but got only unforgiveness. How it ached for wholeness and health, but found only fractures and disease. Each of these characters (and their real-life, in-our-communities counterparts) were dying slow and agonizing deaths as the bill for their sin came due.

No Christian production has ever made me feel the weight of sin the way Hir did. If we dared to strip away the masks of decency and decorum we place on sin, and expose it for the hideous death it is, how might a similar weight be used in the hands of artists who know both the cost, and the payment, of our sin?

discovering Murakami

For me, as an artist who is also a mother, I am often on the lookout for ways to invite my kids to join me in interacting with art of all types. More and more, I am learning the value of experiencing something as a family that is brand new to all of us, not just the kids. I find that my kids – each of whom have wildly different attention spans and artistic interest levels (ages 13, 10, 8 and 5) – will engage more with me when they don’t feel like I’m coming at them as an expert on something (life lesson, anyone??). Modern art is an ideal medium to engage with kids.  We can pop over to the Art Institute and marvel at Seurat in the Impressionist wing, or stand like ants beneath the Renaissance masters, but inevitably the contemporary stuff immediately engages my 21st century (iGen, is it?) babies.

Housed at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Murakami (b. 1962) exhibit, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg*, opened surprisingly simply:  a blue velvet curtain with a single star gave way to a series of three small square panels in solid red, yellow and blue. Immediately, my oldest son chimed in with, “Wait a minute. What is this stuff? I could paint that! This stuff is in a museum!” My daughter offered, “this curtain is like in a play before it starts.” Aha. Yes. Good! They asked me what I thought, and I offered that I wasn’t exactly sure, but if I had to guess, I would say he is bringing us to a simple starting point — building expectation, excitement. I was learning/guessing/processing right alongside them.

Those primary colors and curtain were a genesis to the exhibit and indeed, Murakami’s whole career. Powerful opening, really.

As we wandered through the rooms, Murakami brought us from those simple elements to masterful and complex intersections of modern and ancient, Eastern and Western, high + low art. What he does is nothing short of masterful.

The exhibit continued to open up into room after room of what Murakami is really known for; his “superflat” style, noisily intersecting traditional high art with flashy commercialism. This can be seen in his collaborations with Kanye West (“Graduation” cover), Louis Vitton, Pharrell Williams (“It Girl” video).

The earlier works show genesis and development of recognizable characters like Mr. DOB, the trippy Kaikai Kiki flowers (my daughter’s favorite), into a mid-career phase of abstraction.

These were my favorite pieces. Incredible color, scale and development. The piece we hung out the longest on together was 727 (1996). Mimicking Japanese screen paintings, the piece shows Murakami’s beloved Mr. DOB as a time traveler traversing Asian art history. The kids didn’t need any help from me to see what it was trying to do.

Murakami’s later works come away from the playful characters of earlier works and instead explore topics of death and spirituality; particularly the legend of the arhats — a band of Buddhist monks who roamed the land in an effort to heal and comfort people. My most empathetic 10 year old was particularly taken with the pieces in this series, lingering and studying each one closely. They spoke to him.

Perhaps the thing that stood out the most to me about the aptly-named The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg exhibit was this relentless sense of self-discovery and reinvention. Murakami shows us his process—one that isn’t afraid to ask questions, to learn and reevaluate direction and to change. His looking forward never loses sense of what came before. If only the same could be said of each of us!

*”The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg comes from a Japanese folk saying that hints at this process of regeneration and reflects a biological fact: an octopus in distress will chew off a damaged leg to insure survival, knowing that a new one will grow in its place. Similarly, Murakami often feeds off his own work and Japanese history in order to explore our contemporary world.” – from the exhibit

these violent delights | consuming too much violence and not nearly enough

Violence is one of the most ubiquitous motifs across the entire history of human storytelling, and it’s no real surprise. An act of violence is the purest form of drama, conflict refined to its simplest expression. It’s easily implemented and easily understood, making it both the perfect catalyst and perfect climax for imparting some form of emotional resonance upon an audience.

While violence has been a part of our stories for millennia, the rise of cinema and television has changed our experiences with it and certainly warrants a reconsideration of our ethics of violence in arts and entertainment. That reconsideration thus far has shown itself in a couple of curiously juxtaposed ways: simply judging violence at its face value (where blood and gore are considered a “more inappropriate” expression) and an insatiable lust for violence as a form of amusement.

The aversion to violence in cinema, a phenomenon I’ve noticed amongst American evangelical Christians in particular, is curiously fickle, generally abiding by hard guidelines along the same lines as the MPAA’s rating system while sometimes affording exceptions to both war films (modern and medieval) and films depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (I’m sure you can guess which one I’m thinking of in particular). This is admittedly an oversimplification to some degree, as many individuals will have convictions that err in either direction, but for the most part, outside of the aforementioned genres, if there’s blood, gore, or anything grisly involved, then a film is almost automatically classified as “inappropriate.”

The issue I have with this concept of adjudicating the “appropriateness” of violent content is it fails to consider the context of the violence or the nature of what the director is trying to communicate by including it in his or her film (while also severely underestimating the viewer’s ability to separate fantasy from reality). It’s a haphazard attempt to use an objective measuring stick to draw conclusions about a subjective matter, a symptom not of good Christian discernment but of the artistic illiteracy plaguing the evangelical church and the cult of positivity that rejects things that are unpleasant without first asking why they are unpleasant.

Maybe that sounds a bit forceful, and I certainly don’t mean to disregard people who genuinely just can’t stomach it. By all means, much as I said in my previous article regarding the horror genre, stick to your convictions and don’t engage with violent content if it’s not something you can bear. But I implore you to respect it and refuse to denounce it without first giving it the proper consideration. Explaining what that consideration entails would take up far too much space in an already overlong blog post, but for an entirely too simple illustration, just start by contemplating the difference in presentations of graphic violence between this scene from The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and this scene from Thir13en Ghosts (just reiterating, both scenes contain contain graphic violence and the latter some nudity). Consider not just what but why. What is the motivation for each of these scenes? What do they hope to accomplish using violence?

As you dig deeper into film, you’ll notice the “why” of violence can get increasingly more complex, which is the beauty of it as a storytelling device. It’s malleable and able to spark virtually the entire spectrum of human emotion. The truth is that violence is an immense and unwieldy tool that has the equivalent capacity for profundity in the hands of a master storyteller and bawdiness in the hands of someone more juvenile.

However, I find that it’s that more juvenile understanding that drives our culture as a whole, resulting in a bizarre sort of bloodlust in entertainment. Sure, we’ve long since moved away from things like gladiator deathmatches where human lives were sacrificed for the enjoyment of others, but there remains this sort of vicarious engagement with that form of entertainment that exists in the cinema, on television, and especially in video games. Of the top ten highest-grossing films so far in 2017, six are action/adventure films, and another is a (brilliant) horror film with a violent climax. TV dramas are in a fairly similar position, while the bestselling video games are usually first-person shooters, with the vast majority of games involving killing/maiming of some sort or another. And that doesn’t even include other forms of entertainment like sports, of which in the US American football is the most popular thanks in part to explosive plays involving big hits and brutal tackles.

It’s not that I think any of this is wrong on the outset. There’s an innocence to our desire for action; I believe the motivation behind watching Terminator 2 or The Avengers is similar to the thrillseeking that leads to something like riding roller coasters. There’s some primal piece of us that longs for excitement, and what better way to get that than the one that provides zero risk of bodily harm to ourselves?

But then there’s the whole matter of just how dismissive of human life some films seem to be. When watching films like Transformers, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, The Avengers, etc., it feels like the director is instructing us to take pleasure in the utter destruction of humanity and the world around us. And not to make any immediate moral judgments about that, but it’s hard for me to understand how each of those PG-13 films where millions (if not billions) of people die with minimal consequence and horribly emotionally immature thematic elements attached develop a healthier understanding of violence than notoriously grisly films like No Country for Old Men and Taxi Driver. Visceral violence of some sort seems to be an essential ingredient in a blockbuster, and it’s something that Americans not only tolerate but seem to encourage. Someone taking a bullet to the face on screen is more readily accepted than showing a woman’s nipple – admit it, you were more perturbed by the half-naked woman in the clip from Thir13en Ghosts I linked earlier than you were about the man being sliced in half by a door. Surely it must say something about us if we’re more willing to tolerate the destruction of the human body than admire its beauty.

I’m not really sure what to say beyond that, because honestly I have no answers for this puzzle, only the question. I love gritty action films like Die Hard, The Raid, John Wick, and Hard Boiled, and I love blowing enemies up in Battlefield or smashing people to bits with my giant robot in Titanfall 2. I’m just as “guilty” of this bloodlust as everybody else, and I’m not even sure whether or not it’s something I ought to feel guilty about. I’m aware of the differences between reality and the screen, and my belief in the sanctity of human life is as strong as ever. But if I believe human life is sacred, is it right for me to derive laughter and joy from murder and death of any sort, even if it’s pure fantasy?

I don’t know where that line is or how far we’ve crossed over it. I’m not even sure that there’s a “line” at all. I know there are films like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Unforgiven which handle violence with a brilliant grace and gravity, and there are other films like The Belko Experiment and Hostel that have such an abhorrent attitude toward human life that it makes me genuinely sick to watch them. And then there’s the entire spectrum of film in between. Maybe that’s the thing, though, that violence is far too complex to be discussed in such black-and-white terms as “right and wrong” or “appropriate and inappropriate.” And maybe that’s what makes it such an essential and engaging piece of human stories.

I guess what I want is for us to change our way of thinking, whichever side of the spectrum we approach entertainment from. I want us to stop considering art from a strictly moralistic viewpoint and start diving into its murky waters. I want us to stop asking the irrelevant questions we’ve asked before, and I want us to stop asking no questions at all. Then we can begin to engage this critical aspect of the human experience with a level of nuance that is sorely lacking.

the difficulty of ideas

The single smallest creative act is to have an idea.

The nature of being a person includes this inescapable thing that everyone experiences: at a base level, we all imagine things that aren’t in existence yet.  We look ahead to a future we wish we had.  We play back conversations in our heads with better, wittier responses.  We read stories and our brains and hearts fill in myriads of details around the main characters, things that were never said but fit, so perfectly, into our mind’s eye of the protagonist.  We imagine the smell and taste and texture of bacon.  Because what else would you imagine?

The generative nature of all of our minds is surprising and wonderful and stunning all at once.  But the simple existential fact is that we all have ideas, good, bad, smart, stupid, define them as you will.

And that’s a serious problem, at least in my experience.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to narrow down the difficulty with ideas to two areas: large and small community experiences.

I work for a good-sized non-profit, with a lot of wonderful idea-makers in it.  I have friends in middle management who have a sharp understanding of what makes our company tick, and their ideas for improvement and optimization are nothing short of brilliant.  But most of those ideas won’t move beyond the idea phase to the actuality.

First, they’re telling me their ideas.  And regardless of how excited I am about them, if those ideas don’t trickle upward (a phenomenon that is remarkably hard to find, due to a thing called gravity) there is little to no chance that they will actually become reality.

Second, all my other middle management friends have great ideas too.  Unless there’s some kind of vetting process for ideas which would objectively push the best ones to the top, what usually happens is that the loudest idea-mongers get their ideas put into play.

Finally, little phenomena like pride, fear, and jealousy (let’s save time and call these things sin) get in the way of the best ideas.  These aren’t isolated to the people on high receiving the ideas, by any means.  In other words, while ideas in this circumstance can be tested thoroughly, the likelihood of activation is low.

The opposite environment (not surprisingly) breeds problems too.

Say I have an idea, but no accountability or community to test it in.  Or maybe I have a community, but I’ve been gifted with an obnoxious personality that runs over anyone in my way.

In this scenario, the potential for my idea to be terrible is statistically through the roof, because it can’t be tested. Given the limits of individual human knowledge, the likelihood of personal risk and/or forming a cult are high.  My idea may have merit, but without checks and balances I am, more than likely, toast.  Or worse, I put everyone I know in the toaster with me.

(A caveat: It can’t be discounted that certain ideas won’t actually affect a ton of people in a detrimental way.  Maybe I want to say something true about the nature of penguins. If I were to take a couple of hours and write something artsy and interesting about how penguins live, there’s not really… well, I can’t really think of any problem with doing that, unless it’s like this consistent thing where I’m abandoning my responsibilities as husband and father to write about penguins.  Maybe you get what I’m saying without further exposition.)

So how do we, as believing artists, harness ideas faithfully in any context?

For starters, like most things in life, our ideas are not automatically redeemed just because they’re creative.  Why does such and such an idea stick in my mind and convince me of it’s value?  Is it because it appeals to a base sense of pride?  Is it because it frees my lazy heart to take shortcuts around things I have no business trying to make more efficient? Unless we have a basic mistrust of ourselves, we can’t begin looking at our ideas objectively.

At the point when we’ve vetted a particular idea for sinful motivation, community comes into play.  Like everything in life, this is nuanced and messy. The very practice of vetting the ideas with other people brings other sinful natures into the equation.  How can we trust the human checks and balances around us unless we are learning to live in community and die to self on a daily basis with these folks?  For believing artists, this boils down to church at it’s core.

The people in my life are valuable sounding boards, for a simple reason – more than likely, they will see my motivations more clearly than I do. Here is the moment (ideally) that I trust them to call me out, and the moment they trust me enough to call me out, knowing that I would want just that.

In other words, community is a way to keep me and my ideas honest and humble (repetition is one of my strong suits). This is probably more vital than I realize, and definitely more difficult.

When an idea is revealed to a community, everyone in it naturally considers the reasons for it existing, and particularly how it benefits the community.  Yonder lies arguments, but these should be welcome to us. For example: in a believing church context, where Christ is supreme, our ideas for artistic creation necessarily fall under parameters – usage (what is this for?), aesthetic value (which culture are you in? will the aesthetics hinder other aspects of your creation?), communication (will your meaning get lost in translation? does that matter?), etc.  This is the moment when we ask ourselves and our God the right questions, and half of the artistic process is learning what those are.

As artists, we often act defensively when others challenge our ideas.  I have trouble keeping track of the amount of times I’ve heard the words “well, what I meant was actually…” come out of my mouth.  I don’t mean we should create things that only appeal to the lowest common denominator. I do mean that if there’s something not registering, we should investigate the reasons why and learn from them. This feels like putting fences around artistic creativity, and it should. Creativity without boundaries is ultimately dangerous.

So say we have an understanding of our weakness, a community around us, good questions, and natural boundaries for our creativity. The end game of any idea is activation, and in many cases there is nothing to do but try it out and see where it goes.

At this point, let ‘er rip.

you too can be an anti-hero

“Where have all the good men gone?” sings Bonnie Tyler, echoing what I feel in my own trope-frustrated heart. All I see around me is a wasteland of tortured heroes: the anti-heroes. I was originally tempted to blame everything on the generation around me, since they mess up everything anyways, from the housing market to resurrecting 90s fashion. But after scratching the surface, it is evident that the popularity of the anti-hero is supported entirely by the human condition. It is no news to anyone that people have always needed to hope and believe that despite their flaws, they can still make good and right decisions that help society and make them feel happy. And that’s exactly who an anti-hero is, he’s someone who does the right thing despite adversity.

(I shall continue to use the “he” pronoun to describe the anti-hero, because there are really no popular female anti-hero characters, mostly because anti-hero personality traits are more believable and excusable in male characters.) According to a theory examined by the American Psychological Association, there are two categories that can be used to recognize and define an anti-hero: the Dark Triad personality traits and the life history theory. Not only does it sound super cool, the Dark Triad trait theory is super simple. Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy make up the Triad, and having one or more of them classifies your guy as an anti-hero. In example, Dr. Gregory House from House, M.D. displays Machiavellian traits as he blows past hospital regulations and patients’ feelings to get to his end goal: a cure. Society tolerates him because his overall contribution to the world is positive (even though he’s a total jerk).

The life history theory analyzes the life strategy of an anti-hero compared to the life strategies of other humans. Humans are the slowest creatures. They have a long gestation, they mate for life, they have fewer young and invest more. Anti-heroes typically display characteristics in contrast to this process: spreading their progeny about, removing themselves from social communities. But despite the often unpleasantness of these anti-heroes, they still make up most of our beloved characters! I can’t list them all, but because I grew up with him and adore him, I will list Harry Potter, and just him. Heroes can often be unrealistic, because authors struggle to imagine a character without sin who still can relate to the human condition. The term “good guy” falls flat because he sounds so two-dimensional. But the “bad boy”, the tortured hero? He’s got an edge that makes him stick out.

It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world, doesn’t matter where in the world you find yourself, or which century is happening, stories of anti-heroes will surround you. Humanity is constantly reminding herself that despite brokenness or deformities, there’s still the power to make a decision to fight for what is good and right. However, I have to admit, I stand with Bonnie Tyler, holding out for a fast and fresh hero, strong and larger than life.

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summer picks

It’s been a while since we’ve last posted, and that’s because we’ve been scouting out a team of contributors who are as wonderful and interesting as you all are.  You’ll be hearing from us quite a bit this summer, but as a brief window into who we are, here’s us, along with what we’re listening to, watching, and reading.

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Hattie R. Buell

Bio: Hattie Buell has grown up immersed in church music, classical music, and that necessary pinch of 80s pop. Buell met her Raines after he came back from Africa, they now are worship arts leaders together at an Anglican church and are involved with two others. Hattie’s training in ethnomusicology is one of her greatest joys in life, as she continues to analyze the music she hears, even when her family tells her to “please stop, you’re making our heads go round like a record”.

Reading List: I no longer feel inspired to read, which is the bleakest thing I have ever said about myself. If you have suggestions, I need them.

Summer Playlist: Rued Langgard, Kíla, Beauty & the Beast soundtrack

Currently Watching: I’m in a total splurge of “Great British Bake Off” until “Stranger Things Vol. II” or “Rick & Morty 3”.

Current Artistic Project: Just finished my embroidery phase, now it’ll probably be bread baking or starting a women’s chorus.

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Andy Decker

Bio: I’m an aspiring filmmaker currently residing in Chicago. My ultimate goal is to attend film school in Ireland and get involved in the Irish film industry. While I’m saving up, I’m operating a film criticism website at cinemainframe.wordpress.com. You can also keep tabs on what I’m watching at my Letterboxd profile.

Reading List: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli, Sorry For Your Troubles by Padraig Ó Tuama, The Myth of Sysiphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus, Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Summer Playlist: “Slowdive” by Slowdive, “Sunbather” by Deafheaven, “Run the Jewels 3” by Run the Jewels, “No Shape” by Perfume Genius, “OK Computer” by Radiohead, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles, “Ujubasajuba” by Kairon; IRSE!

Watchlist: Televison – Fargo, Rick and Morty, Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, Silicon Valley
Film – Baby Driver, Detroit, The Shape of Water, Blade Runner 2049, The Square, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mother!

Other Stuff I Love: Soccer (watching and playing), running, board/video games, getting lost in the woods

Current Artistic Project: Currently in the second round of the Screenwriting Challenge 2017, working on a couple of other screenplays and a short story

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Kirsten Ekstrand

Bio: Kirsten has been playing piano since the age of six, but it wasn’t until studying piano in college that she realized her music found its sweetest fulfillment in serving the local church. Now working full-time as the service delivery manager for a Chicago-area IT firm, she pours her free hours into serving as her church pianist, as well as in the women’s and college/20’s ministries.

Reading List: Currently I’m reading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (my book club is reading a sampling of Pulitzer Prize winners) and Te Deum: The Church and Music by Paul Westermeyer. Once I finish Te Deum, I’m hoping to pick up The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg by Robin A. Leaver in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I’ll probably look for a P. D. James murder mystery for my summer travels, too.

Summer Playlist: I’ve been obsessed with Psalms albums in recent months. Sandra McCracken, Shane & Shane, and Wendell Kimbrough have some wonderful ones. I expect to frequently return to the Hamilton soundtrack as well.

Currently Watching: I’m excited to watch several of last year’s Oscar nominees this summer, including Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, and Hacksaw Ridge. For TV shows, I’ve been enjoying The Newsroom, and my guilty pleasure lately has been The Great British Baking Show.

Other stuff I love: Coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, and Oreos — but not necessarily in that order. On the average weekend, you might find me taking in a performance in the city, enjoying dinner with friends, or sitting at home with a good book and that glass of wine.

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Desirée Hassler

Bio: In addition to singing in the full-time chorus at Lyric Opera of Chicago, soprano Desirée Hassler has sung and covered roles at Lyric in Tannhäuser, Oklahoma!, Manon, Macbeth, Boris Godunov, Show Boat, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. Recent performances include Bach’s B Minor mass with Chicago Bach Project (John Nelson, conductor), Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata with the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra, Ellen in Oklahoma! at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Kondja in The Rose of Stambul with Chicago Folks Operetta, soprano soloist in the Brahms Requiem (Los Angeles, CA), Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 with the Prairie Ensemble, Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, as well as Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with the Wichita Symphony.

A California native, Desirée has successfully competed from the regional to International levels at the Bel Canto Competition, Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, International Franz Liszt Competition and is the recipient of many distinguished awards. The soprano is musically curious and stylistically flexible, and enjoys performing music from the Renaissance to the 21st century– in recital, concert, opera and performance art mediums. Her voice can be heard on everything from commercial and film soundtracks, to oratorio, opera and operetta and even progressive heavy metal albums.

Hassler graduated in 2011 with a doctorate in Vocal Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she completed a master’s degree in 2003. Dr. Hassler has served on the faculties of Eastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and currently serves on the voice faculty of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL where she teaches voice and music history courses. Her voice studio is happily comprised of students singing classical, jazz, rock, musical theatre, original compositions and everything in between!

When she’s not doing lip trills or drinking coffee, Desirée is likely gardening or riding bikes with her super-husband Dan and four perfectly quirky children in Oak Park, IL.

Reading list: Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis, Nom Nom Paleo Cookbook, Practical Vocal Acoustics and Kinesthetic Voice Pedagogy: Motivating Acoustic Efficiency, Kenneth Bozeman (yeah nerdy singing stuff), various books on Egyptian history and mummification + embalming techniques to my mummy-obsessed 5 year-old, whatever catches my fancy at the library–we can’t always plan these things.

Currently Watching: Ok. Here we go. I’m not a TV person. I’ve tried. And I’ve failed. If I was to be persuaded to sit and watch something it might be a documentary. Or an episode of Parks and Rec or Chef’s Table. But most likely it would feel stressful and I’d walk away and go straight to my hammock. And people wouldn’t understand this when I tell them. But then again, I’m 38 and my life is noisy. Sometimes I just need some shhhhhh.

Other stuff I love (in no particular order): Jesus. Using the summer to grow a huge garden and cook from scratch and can things. Walking in the forest. Bach. Hard work. Quirky eyeglasses. Growing out my hair and chopping it off and growing it out again. One on one time with those close to me. MUSIC. Honesty. Stories of redemption. Hugs. Adventurous ethnic food. A beautifully-curated art exhibit. Delicious coffee, wine and chocolate. Toddler eyelashes. Chicago! I actually love Chicago.

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Allison Keeport

Bio: I am pursuing my Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance at North Park University in Chicago. When I’m not in rehearsal, a practice room, or the library, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen trying out new recipes on friends. I blog here, where all writing flows from a simple premise: art is great. Jesus is supreme.

Reading List: The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene; None Like Him – Jen Wilkin

Summer Playlist: Mainly repertoire for the upcoming semester, I’m also a little bit obsessed with the musical Waitress. Also high on the list: Ellie Holcomb, Andrew Peterson, Jason Mraz, Sara Bareilles, and power ballads from the 80s.

Currently Watching: Trying to watch less these days because my taste is hardly high-brow. Chef’s Table if I’m feeling classy. Parenthood if it’s a lazy night with a glass of Malbec. Probably more stand-up and late-night comedy than is really good for me.

Other stuff I love: Cooking! I have a DVD cooking class that I’m slowing working my way through. Other than that, I make great stuffed shells, my boeuf bourguignon ain’t too shabby, and I’m learning to bake bread from scratch. I’m discovering a love of gardening. I love red wine and dark chocolate and cheese. If you bring me wine with either of those two other things, I will be your best friend for life. I spend lots of time volunteering at my church, Renewal Church of Chicago.

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Rae Paul

Bio: I’m a student and lover of both words and the Word who breathed them first. I currently study theology at Moody Bible Institute, drink coffee like there is no tomorrow, read compulsively from an ever-growing TBR list, and write because the words will not stay in my soul. Take a peek at this for more of my life.

Reading List: I’m currently wading through The Source, by James Michener; savoring Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves; and waiting for Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis.

Summer Playlist: Twenty One Pilots’ eponymous album

Currently Watching: Sherlock Season 4

Other stuff I love: I dabble in photography, watch whatever superhero movie my Netflix can find, drive too fast, and occasionally cook an interesting meal. I crave honesty, vivid speech, careful theology, and the sunsets of my beloved Midwest; all of which are best enjoyed with a cup of strong coffee in hand.

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Chris Wheeler

Bio: I’m a Christian, husband, father, writer, and beverage lover.  I grew up in rural Indiana until I left for college, studied in Chicago at Moody Bible Institute, and work there now.  I’m always looking for conversations and I love ideas.  I write poetry, liturgies, and stories here.

Reading List: Lila (Marilynn Robinson), Contagious (Jonah Berger), The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene), The Happiness Industry (William Davies), The Death of Expertise (Tom Nichols), A Philosophy of Education (Charlotte Mason). I’m also a big fan of graphic novels during the summer, and I read a spectacular one called One Soul (Ray Fawkes) recently.  Also the New 52: Swamp Thing and the Giant Beard That Was Evil.  Not kidding.

Summer Playlist: For the past month or so it’s been Jack Garratt, Dirty Projectors, Benjamin James, Gorillaz, the National, Kishi Bashi, Panic! At the Disco, Infected Mushroom, Solange, Watsky and Vulfpeck, depending on the mood. Just discovered Tank and the Bangas and they’re definitely on my steady soundtrack for the summer.  I will never escape Bon Iver.

Currently Watching: Plowed through the new seasons of House of Cards, OITNB, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently, and my wife and I are enjoying the Great British Baking Show together, but the home run this season was Patriot (Amazon Original). We have this unspoken rule that we should enjoy the shows our kids are watching, so I’m really into Sarah and Duck and the Stinky and Dirty Show.  Recent movies were Moonlight, Wonder Woman, Alien: Covenant, Valhalla Rising.

Other stuff I love:  I’m loving discovering everything in a fresh way with my kids right now.  My job is office management, but it fascinates me to no end, mostly because of my colleagues.  If I could have any meal for the rest of my life minus the clogged arteries, it would a burger, cheese curds, and craft beer.  I love mixology, trying new beers, and brewing/tasting the best coffee I can find.  I like to grill and read and play with LEGOs.  And I will always, unabashedly, love experiencing new artistic stuff.

Current project:  I’ve got a couple, but the primary summer ones are Words for the Church (poetry based on the church year), a book of parenting experiences, and a collection of my dad’s childhood stories.


Anything to add?  Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out.

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parenting amid beauty (and beasts)

Recently I’ve been seeing some responses to Disney’s choice to include their first openly gay character (itself a debatable designation) in the new “Beauty and the Beast” live action film. Most of them find it sad, or too political (“don’t put your paradigm in my popcorn flick”), but the majority seem to be in a tizzy about Disney indoctrinating children through classic stories.

I have three kids under four, and several things have never been more evident to me:
1. Sleep will never happen. Ever again. I am convinced I will wake up in the middle of the night out of force of habit until I die. I slept through the night about a month ago when the kids were gone and my body was like “what the heck are you doing?”
2. Kids see everything from a vastly different perspective than I do. Kind of like most everyone I know.
3. Kids are very easily swayed by things that affect them deeply, and nothing affects us more deeply than well-told stories and beautiful images. So we’ve decided they shouldn’t read anything at all or look at anything beautiful so that they are never affected.

You might see where I’m going with this.

As a musician and a writer, I love art of all sorts. Art communicates powerfully and viscerally, saying what cannot be said and making us know things in our inner parts. My kids will experience art. It’s not an if, it’s a when.

But I’m exquisitely worried about how and what they experience. We’re not just dealing with the poorly-written children’s books that should never have been published, let alone made their way into the clutches of my pink-obsessed daughter. We’re talking about communicating things deeply, subtly, and memorably. What my kids experience now will stick. I’m nervous about what will stick.

But I’m not so nervous that I’m going to boycott Disney.

My reasons have to do with my goals for my children. Ultimately, I want them to know and love Christ. Then I want them to love others around them the way He does. And finally, I want them to have a robust sense of how to approach anything they encounter with a believer’s backbone.

So here’s why I’m not nervous about Beauty and the Beast:

Our expectations are wack.

We need to stop being so surprised by our broader culture’s take on life and happiness and just about everything else. We can see truth here and there in your average media stream, and sometimes very brightly, but everything coming from a place of unbelief in Jesus Christ and His kingdom rules must be viewed through a grid: It’s broken. My job as a parent is to show my kids why and how, and what God is still doing by His unmerited grace. I help them build that believer’s grid in their own hearts and minds.

But if I’m expecting our entertainment streams to be free of the brokenness, the tension I encounter is my own creation.

Disney’s got way bigger issues than any LGBTQ agenda.

Practically, there are many more insidious issues than LGBTQ agenda represented in Disney movies that I don’t want my kids to buy into. This is one reason we’re going to hold off a little on princess flicks (Nadia would never come up for air at this point). But perhaps the deepest problem in Disney films is the whole “make your own destiny, the truth is within you” thing. If our biggest problem is a minor character’s sexual orientation, we’re not thinking first cause. We’re only treating symptoms.

I don’t HAVE to take my child to anything.

I’ve read responses to this movie that opine the death of childhood because now their three-year-old cannot go to it. First off, nightmares, guys. I’m not bringing a tiny human with an overactive imagination to a movie featuring a terrifying man-buffalo and a torch-wielding crowd, for the simple reason that I value what little sleep I get.

Aside from that, though: As a parent, it’s my responsibility and honor to protect my daughter and her brothers from things they aren’t ready for. Besides this, I have trouble believing 1) that the movies and books I experienced as a child were actually any better and 2) that my children are missing something vital by not seeing a particular Disney movie. Our time as a family, undoubtedly, could be better spent.

How does avoiding this actually prepare my kids for life?

It’s much more authentic to encounter these cultural things with my children, and at some point I must do that in order to prepare them to encounter things alone.

This bites down to a particular philosophy of parenting, the idea that we are authorities and friends to our children. The word “parent” contains surprising nuance, because you are a a guardian, a counselor, an authority, and a friend all at once. To me that says: yes, offspring, I will attempt to prevent harm from touching you. But I also need to give you the building blocks to grow and learn, and let you fall sometimes. When this comes to stories, movies, songs, art – I can walk alongside my children as they grow instead of hiding things from them. Shine a light on a scary thing and it loses its power. We need to be shining the light of Christ on things for our kids, revealing the true nature of them, and letting them learn how to hold the flashlight.

We cannot abdicate our roles as parents to anyone else. Our kids will learn from the larger culture and we won’t be able to avoid that, however, so what should we do? I believe we must strive for a relationship of love and authority that is deeply human (because we need Jesus too) and serious about them and the Lord. This is an anchor for them as they grow, and one that will help them weather the waves of popular culture.

Relationship is what matters.

We tend to give our kids too little or too much credit, because we don’t take the time to get to really know them or to see things from their perspective.

The only way I’m going to know what my kid can or cannot handle is by knowing them really, really, really well. And you don’t know someone that well without spending a lot of time with them, asking them questions and listening to them, and letting them ask questions. This kind of trust-building doesn’t just reveal possible triggers for kids depending on their personality and experiences, it also lets them know that when they hit on something they don’t understand, they will always have someone to talk to who won’t dismiss them or call their honest questions silly. Sounds like Someone else I know.

Taking the moral high ground doesn’t guarantee anything.

The responsibility for my children’s spiritual and moral state doesn’t rest solely on me and how I manage their movie-watching. Christ is the author and finisher of faith, and so to think that my parenting is going to be the final say on my child’s success or failure in life misses a deeply encouraging point: it’s not. It will affect it, definitely, for better or worse, so it matters. But ultimately, my kids are entrusted to me for a time but created and sustained by God.

So if your kid can manage it, go watch “Beauty and the Beast” and talk about it afterward with them. You might be surprised at what they’re thinking. But they’ll be thinking at least one thing: that their parent cares about them.

starving artists | patronage in the church

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I was back home over the holidays when the conversation came up (as it does) about creating something for someone in my parent’s church.

My mother has a lot of experience with artists of all kinds, having raised a couple. After describing the request in a very balanced way, she finished with: “She didn’t say anything about payment. She might be assuming you’ll do it for free.” (sympathetic pause) “Sorry.”

We talked a bit about it, with me giving some nice valid reasoning about how I am fine doing things for free for my own church, but frustrated about the assumptions people have regarding the arts in church: primarily, that it should be free.

My frustration, which is absolutely connected to the ever-present stress of making ends meet, is not unfamiliar to the other artists I know. For instance, in the world at large, there’s this sense of having to pay your dues as a growing artist, of having to do enough free or underpaid work until people start seeing cash-money value in your art. This is the normal stress of making your way in the world, and I believe that it’s okay and good.

But at some point that expectation (on both ends) should be adjusted. Somehow. Right?

Because besides getting past that point, there’s also the ever-present tension: do I create something authentic that won’t sell or something consumer-centered that will? The church is home to it’s own kitschy cash cows and starving snobs, but somewhere in between is a slew of people simply creating good things for their small-to-medium-sized churches across the country and pursuing creative endeavors on the weekends. The fortunate ones get a part-time job out of it. But most of us just donate our services to the church we attend.

I’m not here to complain about the church, and I don’t blame the church for the current cultural climate toward the arts. I do, however, think that as bodies of believers we need to be doing more to support the arts. In fact, I believe that we all need to intentionally provide patronage to the artists in our congregations.

Hey, I wouldn’t be an artist if I didn’t dream a little.

At some point in history, rich patrons started providing artists with housing, food, and money so that they could pursue their art. Bach is an example of someone who took advantage of this to write extensively for the church. Of course, this still goes on, with patrons of the arts in society making it possible for many artists to pursue full time work.

Why doesn’t the church do something like that more often?

The worship of the church could continue without art, if we’re being honest. Word and Sacrament are primary, and if we didn’t have music we would still be nourished by Christ at those tables. However, creative art, like the wonderful gift it is, is given to us as a way of enhancing our times of gathered worship and our everyday lives. Is this not a worthy investment?

Of all communities in this broken world, the church should lead the way in promoting beauty, truth, and empathy in communication. Of all communities, we can champion artists who are trying to be authentic in their work. The expectation of free labor from these artists could, just maybe, be damaging the idea that this sort of gracious, honest communication is valuable and necessary to the life of the church.  It definitely is not producing quality art (if you’re skeptical, take a look at what pays the bills for artists in Christian film-making…)

Speaking of the church, maybe a glimpse at it’s early life would be revealing:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.   Acts 4:32-35

At this point this becomes an argument for a more robust type of church community. Because while artists may be one of the more visible contributors to the church, no one in the church should be in need, if we’re aiming for that ideal set for us in Acts.

So perhaps patronage (top-down) isn’t the answer.  Maybe community (side-to-side) is.

With communal finances, there’s good possibility of repaying artists in the church fairly through the financial gifts given to the church. And if there isn’t enough money in the coffers to support the artists in the church, churches can be honest about that instead of blowing steam about “sacrifices of praise.” Flipping the tables, if there isn’t enough money, artists can be humble enough to make sacrifices for their congregation. But mostly, if there isn’t enough, the community of the church can take up the slack.

It doesn’t have to be monetary and it’s not a solo endeavor.

Within the concept of communal patronage of the arts in churches lies some seriously awesome possibilities.  Allow me some what-ifs:

  1. What if a church sent several aspiring song-writers on a yearly collaborative retreat, fully-covered by the church, with the goal of writing new hymnody for the church?
  2. What if a church commissioned several painters in its ranks to create a series of works for church holy days, and rented them out to other churches and organizations?
  3. What if a church developed a series of worship arts workshops that allow kids to explore what it means to worship through other mediums besides music?
  4. What if a church bought a sizable shipment of an aspiring author’s new book to give as gifts to the congregation?

These are large-scale ideas, and I know of churches who have made these things happen. On the smaller scale though, there are everyday options for all of us:

  1. Buy albums instead of streaming them. Give actual money to those who give their music away at any price.
  2. Go to concerts, open mic nights, poetry slams, and art shows in your community, especially if someone in your church is involved. Bring friends.
  3. Share posts and events on social media. Create buzz for things. Act as an amplifier for their voices. Get beyond the like button and engage more deeply.
  4. Make the way clear for them to create – babysit, put some seed money toward equipment, cover their shift.

The truth of the matter is that communal patronage in the church is a commitment that lasts longer and requires more sacrifice than single large expenditures of money. Some of the questions we have to ask are:

  1. How do we form in young artists a theological framework for what they create for worship?
  2. How do we encourage artists that may not be fantastic to pursue their work diligently?
  3. How do we find places in the church for art that is heartfelt but not excellent?
  4. How do we form in church members the concept of sharing everything with the body, and encouraging each other day in and day out, as if they were family?

Essentially, the health of the church doesn’t just depend on the bigwigs up top developing us as congregants. It means us supporting those around us – in big and small ways, in truth and in love, and in a very daily fashion. We need to find those barriers to true community and break them down for the sake of a thriving body. I think the art of the church will be better for it.

Just think: what would we be able to create in that kind of community?