Woody is an army chaplain in Hawaii as well as part of the leadership of Hillcrest Alliance Church, who lives in Roseville, CA. Shouldn't that be the other way around? Oh well. Needless to say, he flies a lot, which isn't his favorite thing to do - after all, he is Army and not Airforce! I always appreciate the opportunities for ministry God gives him as he goes. - Ray
It's here again, another flying day. You all know my feeling about airplanes by now, so I'll leave it at, "pray for me."
The Canvas Conference
I am headed back home from Portland to Roseville after an amazing few days at The Canvas Conference. Canvas began last year as an opportunity for Creatives to gather and discuss the theology of creativity. The conference features world class artists from hip-hop, spoken word, prose, digital design, videography, contemporary music, and other creative genres. I came as part of a Western Seminary class and had a transformational experience!
Creatives is a new term for me. I understand it to mean people who self-identify as artists, as lovers of aesthetics, and as free-thinkers. These are not what I'd normally consider "my crowd," and I expected to face some tension trying to translate between my right brain and my left. I was both a little right, and a lot wrong.
Setup to Standout
I was right in that I was setup to standout. Portland out-does Austin for "keeping it weird," and the purpose of the event was a gathering of artistic types. Thankfully, I had a goatee. Not everyone there had a beard, but it helped my otherwise conspicuous military bearing and mannerisms blend in as best they could. My friend Darby has also helped me understand that tucked-in polo-shirts are not "hip," so I left them at home. I suggest adding a few flannel button-down shirts for any engagements in the Pacific Northwest.
Beards and polo-shirts aside, I couldn't have been more wrong about belonging here. If there's one thing I've learned from spending the last few days and weeks studying Creatives like Francis Schaefer, Karen Swallow Piper, and Hip-Hop Genius Propaganda, it is that I was designed to be creative. Creativity is how we live into the Imago Dei. It is both our avenue for experiencing the Creator, and the path to seeing him in and sharing him with others.
How humans express ourselves speaks to what we worship. When we create beautiful things, we have the opportunity to share ourselves and our faith, with others. When we take time to appreciate beauty in the work of others, we have the opportunity to love them for who and where they are, just like Jesus.
Barnabas Piper shared with us his belief that, "curiosity is the fuel for empathy." As someone who struggles with judging others, this is a beautiful reminder that the great physician came not to heal the healthy, but the sick. Seeking to understand a person's art can be the greatest way for me to acknowledge the Imago Dei in them.
Studying the theology of creativity has also helped me understand the overwhelming beauty of God's love. Brett McCracken summed it up well in saying, "Grace is superfluous. Beauty is superfluous. [Both] condition our hearts to God." Appreciating beauty is appreciating creation, it is appreciating His enduring love in spite of my sin, it is appreciating the atoning work of Christ on the cross, and it is appreciating the hope of Jesus' return and reign. Appreciating beauty is appreciating the gospel, and it is helping me to see both beauty and the gospel everywhere I look.
A Window into Hearts
Looking at what people create as a window into their hearts is one of the greatest lessons I learned. People create from their world-view, from their beliefs. Understanding how people create and finding beauty in their work will help me serve them better. The saved person works from a place of hope, the lost from a place of hopelessness. If I am willing to try to discern the world-view of the artist, I will be better able to love them.
For many artists, their fear of Christians stems from being told that the church (little c) wants them to change. This is true in the sense that the Church (Big C) exists to provide a context in which the faithful grow into the fullness of their unique place in the body of Christ. However, in the most immediate sense, the fear of many in America today is that becoming Christian means giving up their identity. How tragic that we have allowed this to become a perception of the Church!
Barnabas Piper told us the other day, "Fear of loss is why people hate change. If you can figure out what they're afraid of losing, you can help them figure out how to retain what they valued from the beginning." Artists value their individuality. The transformation of the cross that waits each of us in the fullness of sanctification is not a relinquishing of our individuality. Rather the cross offers the removal of brokenness that is preventing our individuality. Dying to selfishness means that we become the fullness of ourselves!
As I said, this was a transformational weekend. I not only found my purpose for loving Creatives, I also found my own inner creative. I am excited to explore this long-ignored part of myself and hope to share more of what I find in the future. I also found my inner "fan-boy," and couldn't help from taking selfies with a few of the major artists at the event. Enjoy the photos, God bless, and thank you for your leadership.
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