Obviously one of the hardest things about art is that is it subjective. Unlike math, with all its absolutes, in art, what is beautiful to one is not so beautiful to another.
Unless of course, you are God.
There is no possible way I could even begin to understand what art is beautiful to God and what is not. Sure, I could project my own opinions on Him, and maybe even hit a few dead on. But to truly know what pleases Him artistically would be a rather unimaginable process to say the least. And you can be sure, God indeed likes art. For a good talking-to on that subject, might I suggest Art In The Bible by Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer.
But while His thoughts on the subject might be elusive, He has given us a means to begin to tap them. As Christians who are connected to God through the Holy Spirit, we have a rare opportunity to tap into the divine nature of Christ, used not only for the redemption of our sinful selves, but also for the display of His glory. And collectively speaking, this gift is a responsibility of the Church. The Body of Christ.
Today we stand on the shoulders of those Believers who have gone before us, those who pioneered the way into a place of cultural influence. And while there are pot-shots I could take at the Christian artistic community, particularly the CCM community, they are mostly derived from personal railings, do not reflect a Christ-like attitude, and subsequently do absolutely no good in advancing the cause of the Kingdom. There is only one Accuser of the Brethren and I have been convicted as of late to distance myself from finger-pointing lest I be counted among his number. As the Body of Christ, we are called to encourage one another and I refuse to throw the savage beasts of manipulation and gossip one more piece of meat from another Christian brother or sister in the name of self-righteousness. A Religious Spirit masks its motives of superiority in the guise of a passion for purity and excellence; the Spirit of God displays its power in those who are flawed and consistently in need of grace.
Why such heavy words when speaking on the subject of art all of a sudden? Because whenever I or anyone else is about to analyze the current state of affairs with regard to a current paradigm in the Christian world, it is of paramount importance that we do so with a sobriety of thinking. And if it smells of anything other than grace, let it not be said at all. I’ll let you be the judge.
In the past three decades, specifically in the world of music, we have seen a massive surge of Christian artists promoted within a Christian record industry. And it has been received, even cherished and revered, by the American Christian community. The current populars have their tour routes and loyal fan bases all set up. And honestly, I’m thrilled for them. Christians are being encouraged and the lost are being saved.
But a significant portion of the Christian music industry is a Christian response to a secular product. No stone throwing here, just an analysis of the past 50 years. Long before Christian artists started drawing crowds as far back as the ’70’s in my parents’ day, their was Led Zeppelin, Three Dog Night, Pink Floyd and Santana (yes, he really is that old). When Christians were finally able to gather at large events that promoted Jesus but still used concert staging, massive speaker towers, and dancing, a new “context” was born…an artistic context that would shape the next thirty years of a new paradigm. Christians who bought Christian branded products. Music. Books. Even clothing. And in doing so, segmented themselves from the greater world-culture.
As I’ve illustrated before, one only needs to hit Time Square in NY or Pier 39 in San Fransisco with a clipboard and a pen and ask people on the street a few questions. First, ask if they’ve ever heard of Chris Tomlin or Third Day, then ask them if they’ve ever heard Steve Morison or U2. Contextually, Christians have created a huge amount of success…among themselves…but not among the world as a whole.
Art that stands out in its own context is always deemed “new” or “cool” or “the next most amazing thing.” But it does not last the test of time because its success is based upon the supporting presence of its context. It is only cool because of its proximity to other expressions that represent the status quo; once those standards are forgotten, the art, too, becomes a bygone. Sure, people will have their memories forever imprinted with “our song” or “remember the first time we heard that?” But relative to a global influence, the kind that we have access to now afforded by technology, it will be just another 3-minute-wonder-song made for Christians.
So am I saying I don’t like Christian songs or books? No, I do like them; in fact I create them. And I’ll be among the first to tell you that they have their place, encouraging the Body of Christ and even reaching the lost. But what I’m talking about is an even higher goal. A new paradigm, if you will. Something that will require us to lift our gaze higher than we’ve grown accustomed to.
We need to start creating art within a new context.
I hear a clarion call erupting from somewhere in the heavenlies, summoning the Artists to the forefront of humanity. I feel new giftings being awakened, new concepts that mankind has never thought of before emerging, new means to promote by those in places of power, position and wealth, and new methods being tapped which will stun centuries of orthodoxy. These Artists are not simply song writers or painters or writers, they are Divine Dreamers, dancers who tap the movements of God and photographers who are in prophetic locations at opportune times.
There is a whole new standard being raised, an entirely new level of expectation for those that are in Christ. Not that we simply copy what the world has created, making a Christian version of their style, but that we transcend the human unction and speak with a heavenly one.
And why all this importance on the arts, you say? First of all, why not? If there is art to create, why not let those who have come face-to-face with the meaning of their existence set the pace? But secondly, throughout my travels across the globe, I have found that art has a direct bearing on a culture’s overall perception and quality of life, as well as their connection to the divine. Create beautiful things and you will be drawn closer to a beautiful God.
Lastly, I am tiring of bloggers who rant, even with purpose, and then give no suggestions on “what to do about it.” As you will recall from my earlier postings on blog etiquette under Ranters Beware, I believe that blogs are a powerful tool that need to offer practical steps for change, not just be a person’s personal whine portal for the masses. That being said, I think there are a few very simple, down-to-earth things that we Christian Artists must start doing.
1.) Get Alone With God. If we are bound in our relationship to God through prayer, then receiving divine ideas will come only through time spent with Him. If God’s heart is to continually transmit His heart to humanity, to truly bring heaven to earth, then we must discipline ourselves to get alone with Him. There is no excuse for time in His presence, no substitute for relationship. Ideas that grip mankind and shake the heavens will come through no other means.
2.) Perfect Your Gift. God will not anoint what you do not set apart to Him with reverence. And when we revere something, we are dedicated to making it the best we can. Do everything within your immediate means to better your God-given talent. Study. Learn. Apprentice. Invest. Practice. And then do it all again. If there is always someone out there “better than you,” then you should never stop applying yourself to excellence.
3.) Join With Those Around You. I have really come to adore the Body of Christ in recent days. While many Christians I meet are hell-bent on pointing fingers, “alerting,” “guarding,” and tearing one another down all in the mask of “being a watchman,” (which is actually completely opposite of a real Biblical Watchman’s job), I have fallen in love afresh with the Father’s invention of the Bride. He seems to think pretty highly of her, not because She is perfect, but because She is imperfect. Because She is in constant need of Her Bridegroom. And in that same way, we Christians are in need of one another. This should be yet another harbinger of things to come as the world’s system always says, “You don’t need anyone else but yourself,” God’s Kingdom system says, “Not only can’t you do this alone, but I’ll resist you if you do.” One of the best things I ever did for my writing career was to get together with other writers. No writing group in your area? There wasn’t for me either. So I found one other friend and started one. Now we’re four strong. The fellowship and loving critique I have found has greatly increased the product of my proverbial pen (because it’s a keyboard now).
4.) Affect The Culture Around You. Sure, I want to change the world, too. And I believe I will. But first, God has called me to affect the culture I live in. For me, that’s Northern New York State. God has planted me and my family in Jefferson County and I plan on dominating it for Christ. Yeah, you heard me. Dominating. I’m not sure where it became politically incorrect to use such terminology, but it’s high time we start taking back our God-ordained role to bring the Light of Christ to our regions. This means affecting every aspect of the culture. As Artists, I believe it’s much easier than we think. Find those around you throughout the Church of your region (not the specific church you attend) and start encouraging one another and promoting Godly work. Start an Artists Guild and meet regularly. Have a time of corporate worship and bring in a guest speaker. Then break off into your respective disciplines and put your works on display, share about them, critique them, and combine your efforts. Come up with strategies to beautify your area; donate paintings to banks and other businesses in your region; write songs for your county and sings them in church, or buy time on your local radio stations and let the radio declare them over your county; create new animations or advertising and put them up in your local movie theater (we have gotten a number of new church members through Cinema adds!); choreograph dances or plays and put them on in the local community colleges or rent out a venue; put art in the newspapers, or better yet, create your own newspaper or website! I was just in Tacoma, WA and heard of some Christians (visit Beautiful Angle) that hide a limited number of prints of their newest work in undisclosed locations throughout the city once a month; it has a huge thing now in the city to the point that if you can find the art, it is a collector’s item! The possibilities for you to affect your region’s culture are absolutely endless!
5.) Allow God To Open Up The Nations To You. I believe that scripture is true; if we are faithful with few things, the Lord will make us ruler of many things (Matt. 25:23). Notice the two distinct points of emphasis in that scripture. The first is that we must be faithful in something; those are the first four points I just offered up to you. But the second part is that God Himself does something. He exalts. He glorifies. That’s His part. I am absolutely convinced that old machines and locals of Christian production are being usurped by pockets of Christians who are being faithful to affect their regions for Jesus. In doing so, He is making them epicenters of productivity that will shake the nations. There is a new wineskin before us, brought about not only by advances in technology, such as the internet, computer aided audio & video recording and graphic design, but by a prophetic drive in the Father’s heart to express His Divine Nature to His Creation. For such a time as this.
So I call out to the Divine Dreams of my generation. Come out of hiding. Stop living under rocks. Prophets were never meant to live in caves. The Holy Spirit is calling us to be creative and strategic. This is your day. Do not compare yourselves to the status quo. Your art is to be affiliated with that of a different breed, a divine context, a sound that all the nations will know is Christ-like. Change the priority of the content that occupies your valuable heart-space, and fill your spirit with the songs of the King. This is your day to fly.