This is the Second in the a Three-Part series exploring the three core tenants of New Church “Authentic. Artistic. Adventurous.”
So here we are, back from Spring Break, and in the middle of this three week series where we are exploring the three “A’s” of New Church—Authentic, Artistic, and Adventurous. Last week, Alvin led us off with “Authentic”. Today is “Artistic”. Next week, we’ll explore “Adventurous”.
You know, it not difficult to understand why a new church in a community such as ours—intown Atlanta—would value an authentic faith. The church, with some degree of culpability, has earned the reputation of being inauthentic—saying one thing and then doing another, espousing high ideals and then getting wound up in petty differences. To be part of correcting this is not only laudable and noble. Its necessary as more and more see institutional religion as inauthentic and something to be suspicious of. An authentic faith leads to a more enriching life—one that doesn’t feel like our various parts of our lives are segmented and walled off.
This leads to this week—Artistic. We want to be a faith community that celebrates and supports that artistic spark that is in each of us—yes, all of us.
Why have Artistic as a core value? Well, God is an artist. Whether you want to begin from natural theology and consider the beauty and majesty of creation or you want begin in Scripture, this is a solid claim. John Muir, the man who inspired Teddy Roosevelt to create the National Parks said this about the Bitterroot Mountains, “Wander here a whole summer, if you can. Thousands of God’s wild blessings will search you and soak you as if you were a sponge, and the big days will go by uncounted.”
We’ve all experienced this at some point. Whether it be standing on Cumberland Island, on the beach, staring out at the water with no one around, lingering at the rim of the Grand Canyon, marveling at the beauty, standing in the middle of a redwood forrest having your mind blown that trees can get that big, or scuba diving and seeing such color and detail underwater. Words, when in prose have their limits when trying to describe such beauty. Sometimes we need a poet because they, like preachers believe words can change the world (so says Anna Carter Florence). I believe God is an artist.
If we look at Scripture, it begins by exposing us to God’s love for humanity not by telling us the beginning of Creation as if we were being lined out IKEA instructions. Rather we have a ritual, a litany, a dramatic procession of creation. The Books of Psalms tells us every human emotion… all of it, poetry. And we can’t seem to go very far in Luke without someone breaking out in song.
All of this to say that there is a creative nature in each of us. And if we are going to live into our God-given potential, this needs to find expression. For me, I used to find it in music. Today, I find it in writing. I don’t think I’m very good when I try to write a poem but that’s not the point. Its not excellence its expression. I’ve invited a few others to share….
If we are created in God’s image and the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives is restoring us to something more akin to what God envisions for us and hopes for the world, then our response as human beings is to create… make something as that Image of God in each of us becomes more apparent to ourselves and to others.
But back to our first question: why is this important, as Christians and as a Christian faith community? On the one hand, if we say this is part and parcel of who we are as being created in God’s image, then it should just happen, right?
If we don’t have intentionality behind this celebration of the arts as an expression of God’s presence in our lives, then other, more dominant strains of thought will become the default—like you aren’t worthy unless you produce and consume, preferably in large quantities.
But also, if we don’t have intentionality around celebrating the arts and helping people find the expression that resonates within their soul, then we’re missing out on a great way to communicate the Gospel of Jesus. We’ve long held forth that part of this endeavor that we’re in the very early stages of is being taken on in order to help people connect to a larger narrative for their life and we think that narrative is Jesus. And this is vitality important in our context where people already do many of the things we espouse as followers of Jesus—everything from intentional groups to volunteerism. We simply want to come alongside and help wrestle with the question of “why?”.
I believe one of the best ways we can do that is to help and encourage each other to sing, draw, sculpt, dance, make something, or tinker with something until it is new and better…. all of this and more so that the love of Christ may find expression in what you do. It does not matter if you consider yourself a master, you think of yourself as void of any creativity, or anywhere in between—we claim in our core vision that this is a community that helps people find and embrace that. We believe practicing your art can be considered a form of spiritual discipline, if approached with a mindset of finding an outlet for God’s imprint on your life. This edifies your soul, helping you to grow in grace. But it also becomes an avenue to communicate the Gospel. Maybe this is communicated in ways we aren’t entirely comfortable with yet—we might not readily attribute our art or ability to make as something that is gift from God. But growing into this awareness is a good thing. Then, as we will tell people—or better yet, they experience what we believe about God.
Let me close with this image. Back in 2013, NPR quoted research done in Sweden. What they were trying to get at is “is there some physiological component to attribute this ecstatic feeling we get when we sing or play music in a group.” They found answer. But they also found something else: when a group of people sing together, their heart rates synchronize. Their hearts literally begin to beat as one. I can’t think of a more fitting image than if we could not just literally sing together as a church but teach our community to sing so that our heart for God, for each other, and for our community could beat as one.
Image from Flickr, God Save the Green under CCL, some rights reserved by artist.