DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Art as Mission

Written by: on October 18, 2018

“Come in and find a station”, the teacher said, “we are going to make Halloween cupcakes.” The parents and their kids came in, sitting around many tables ready to work together on this Saturday cooking class. After everyone washed hands they began to mix, mingle and make and only is done when dealing with adults and kids learning how to cook. Twenty minutes of putting the right (and wrong) ingredients in their bowl, working with kids, talking with their neighbors and having a great time brought a sense a community that had not been seen before. While the cupcakes cooked, games were played with the kids and while adults talked laughed with one another. When all was done, each cupcake was a artistic expression of both parent and child. I remember thinking how cooking and creative ministry went well together.

Artistic expression within the decoration of a cupcake or even sculpture replicating something in nature seems to drop the walls humanity has made to keep themselves safe and isolated. I have found that art not only draws people together but also draws us closer to our creator. People historically have had a desire to express themselves in unique ways. Dyreness, in his book Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue, writes, “Contrary to what our tradition may have taught us, I believe that making beautiful forms is theologically connected to our call both to listen and respond to God in prayer, praise, and sacrament.”1 God can be encountered in our creative expressions especially when they are shared.

Barriers seem to disappear when working together on an artistic project. The rational mind seems to lower its barriers and allow the unity and community that God intended to develop. I could have spent time, like Dyreness did, talking about the historical side and the importance of art in our worship, or artistic expression in our lives. However I believe art is missional and has a way of crossing cultures, languages and obstacles we make ourselves. I have been in a museums and began talking with someone near me about the painting we were both looking at. Art has a way of drawing people together; possibly allowing us to realize that we need to experience it in community.

“God pulls art out of the soul in recognition of the beauty of salvation and creation.”2 What a wonderful picture of God drawing out the beauty of salvation and creation from those that the world desired to break. I am a self appointed cynic and critic of many things, people and places. I have walked through a handful of Eastern Orthodox churches and wondered at the extravagance inside while the the populace suffered outside. Yet this last summer sitting in some of the largest churches in Rome, I felt awed at the not only the history but also the presence of God. The way art is shaped with our worship times and locations help move those barriers and draw us together recognizing our need for the One true reformer.

The Chinese educational system does not lend itself to free expression and creativity. Almost always information in given, the student receives in a traditional Confucius master and servant type structure. Art and reform have traditionally gone hand in hand. For a country that has risen from revolution, creative expression can be seen as anti-governmental. Creativity can be found in certain pockets of this society but unfortunately that usually isn’t with the church. House churches tend to not have any outward expression of worship (for obvious reasons). So usually do not have anything displayed other than a removable cross. This is sad for a culture that has a recorded history of 4000 or more years. They are drawn to dancing and singing as a substitute for the visual arts. These expressions have become their creative forms of worship.

Dyreness said “The special calling of the artist is to call the world to a kind of rest or remind it of its restlessness” 3 This tension that art creates should move us to an understanding that change and growth are natural. We like change and growth as much as we like rest and restlessness. Yet godly restoration comes from true community with Him and with others. One critic said that, “Dryness’s underlying approach to art method and critique seems to emerge from the perspective that art is (or should be) mostly a vehicle for delivering the Christian narrative.”4 Though this was written as a critique, I see it as fundamental for this world. Art should lead us to to be challenged to see something greater than our lives. Truth should be seen artistically in expression of creativity. Even when I have been in temples with what I consider satanic pictures drawn on the walls draws me to see the truth of this life. The restless nature of the truth that life without our God, leads to separation of community and the benefits that brings. If art can be seen as missional, than through it God can bring community out of diversity, restoration out of brokenness, and truth out of darkness.

 

1 William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 21.

2 https://www.teloscollective.com/the-missional-movement-of-art/#_edn2. accessed October 19, 2018

3 William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001)

4 http://civa.org/civablog/on-theology-and-art/ accessed October 19, 2018

About the Author

Greg

Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

8 responses to “Art as Mission”

  1. I laughed when I read this: “The Chinese educational system does not lend itself to free expression and creativity.” You’d think it would be quite different in France, but I’m not sure it is. When we first moved her I was shocked to see that in every coloring book, for every page, there was a “modèle” or and example of how the colored page should look. For me, that took all the fun out of it. When I was a child, I didn’t want to color a page in the same way another person had already done it, I wanted my page to be unique!

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    “I have walked through a handful of Eastern Orthodox churches and wondered at the extravagance inside while the the populace suffered outside.” I felt the same irony in the Vatican when I visited. Such beauty, even extravagance, in the midst of countless beggars outside. Thank you for highlighting this fact.

    You were in Rome, too! What was your impression of the art in the Vatican? Was it worshipful, or was it bordering on idolatry?

  3. Great post, Greg!

    You drew me in right away and captured my attention. You mention, “I have found that art not only draws people together but also draws us closer to our creator.” Art seeks to create community. It dares us to risk rejection for the sake of inspiring one. You state, “…art is missional and has a way of crossing cultures, languages and obstacles we make ourselves.” This is so true. Christian art reveals the diverse voice of culture, language, generation and preference, but it dares us to stand as one for the sake of ONE. How can art serve to be unifying within the church? How do we create spaces of visual presentations that reach our audience without excluding others?

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Greg,
    Such an excellent post, and I really believe your cross-cultural experiences make you more of an expert in “living” this topic. I loved this statement: “However I believe art is missional and has a way of crossing cultures, languages and obstacles we make ourselves.” Your observation about Chinese education denying creativity and art is so accurate and should make us all question the untapped potential and expression in students. After all, different parts of our brain have different capacity! You seem to love art? If so, how do you nurture your creativity in your cultural context?

  5. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for your excellent reflection on art as mission.

    It is interesting to consider art as a way towards more fully considering spiritual realities. I think this can happen for anyone who is thinking or doing theology with whatever is at hand. For some it may be art. For others, perhaps a potluck meal with a group of friends. For others, a walk in the forest. (Jean writes on this in her post this week.) So, I wonder, could we therefore also consider eating together as mission, or solitary walking as mission? I think so.

  6. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Greg, I couldn’t agree more with your statement about how barriers disappear when people come together to create. I have seen this over the last week and especially remember Troy telling me about how when he was on a music tour in Japan that the music they played with the students there allowed them to connect in such deep ways even though they could not communicate using words. How cool and meaningful. I am sure this could be a really important aspect of your work as you create bridges with people and open them to new ideas as they create with one another. Also, how freeing and daunting as they are exploring a world that is often not the norm, namely creativity. Thanks for sharing the cupcake illustration. It was a good tangible reminder of God’s creativity and comedy in us.

  7. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Greg,

    It’s difficult to know whether or not dance has become a substitute for other forms of art because of governmental influence and unease regarding art or if you think the Chinese are less expressive in these forms because they are less individualistic. How would you respond?

  8. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Greg good job. I like how you hit art on all levels and generations! I am surprised to learn about China and its lack of arts. So many things are so “ornate” that I did not think they were resistant to art.

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