Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Engaging People through Art

Recently, I featured an article by Paul Nethercott about Missional Art. We recieved a great response of click-throughs and some good comments. I also recieved this excellent example of missional art. Kathy Trim (another TEAM missionary in Japan) shares how she is using art to engage the Japanese culture. Take a few minutes to read this and think about how art can be a part of your missional outreach:

Scrapbooking. The word alone raises many eyebrows as a large number of people believe it is just an expensive hobby. And in the United States, I do believe that, for some people, that is probably an accurate definition. However, I prefer to think of it as a form of art, particularly one that passes on a heritage to the next generation.

How can the art of scrapbooking be missional art? Japanese tourists are often stereotyped as people who travel in groups with cameras around their necks. In actuality, it isn't just the tourists from Japan who are taking photographs. Photography is very popular with nearly all Japanese people. What are they taking photos of? Just like you and me, they take pictures of the people, events, and scenery that are important to them. Building relationships with Japanese people takes lots of time. It is hard to get past the surface topics and become trusted enough that they will open up and share what is really in their hearts. However, through the sharing of photographs, relationships can be effectively deepened.

This is where scrapbooking comes "into the picture". (pun intended)

Scrapbooking can be an individual activity in the privacy of your home. But, the real fun of scrapbooking comes when people gather together in groups and share ideas and tools, and work together on their individual projects. I've begun hosting scrapbooking events in our church hall which is so suited to this with lots of tables and chairs. There is no preaching or evangelistic message. There is just a leader who cares; a leader who will walk around and ask the guests to tell them about the photos; a leader who will give words of encouragement and hope; a leader who will offer ideas to help the guests create photo albums that will be filled with cherished memories for themselves and their families. I am not very artistic...Yet, with the tools and supplies available for scrapbooking, I am now able to express my creativity in an art form that will hopefully bless others as they see my albums and hear my faith-stories that are journaled in the albums. The Japanese women that are now attending these events are excited about what they are doing. They enjoy showing their photographs to other people and talking about them. These women are bonding with each other, as together they create their own art.

Missions begins with relationships. As we build relationships and develop trust, opportunities to share our faith will open up. The innovation comes at the beginning. How do we meet new people? How do we develop relationships with them? How do we help them recognize a need in their lives that up until now, they may not have realized they have? Very few people will intentionally seek us out. It is for us to go and seek those whom are lost. We certainly aren't
going to stumble over them sitting on the church steps waiting for us to open the doors.
Scrapbooking is a type of art that even people who are not "artistic" can do. It opens up the doors to interact with people on a deeper level. It is also meeting a felt need in their lives (shoeboxes overflowing with pictures that need to be organized and preserved for the future).

To me, scrapbooking is missional art.

K.J. Trim
church planting with TEAM in Kobe, Japan

Monday, May 19, 2008

Linking Christ-centered Innovation to Prayer

There is a direct and essential link between Christ-centered innovation and the discipline of prayer. Our success in innovation demands that we be connected to God and communing with Him. We need His heart to know what problems or challenges to address.

I used the phrase "Christ-centered innovation" on purpose because much innovation that exists in our world is focused on ourselves and our needs. That does not mean it is bad. But it does mean that it was done with the basic human gifts and talents that God has given to all of humanity.

But there are innovations that are Christ-centered or Christ-focused. These are innovations that come out of prayer and knowing the mind of God. These innovations are big in God's economy, but they may or may not register in the eyes of modern man.

Of course, the challenge with understanding which innovations come out of this posture is that it is all about motivations. And that gets me to my point. Those Christ-centered innovations are only birthed out of prayer. If we are to reach beyond ourselves and create innovations that will impact people for Christ, they will come as we pray for breakthroughs.

This is easy to say and very hard to do. Innovation is a practical and energizing event. Prayer on the other hand, can seem very impractical and without energy. Of course, we know it is not, but it is hard to get beyond that perception. So many times we think of prayer as the thing you do to kick off the effort. It is like smashing the bottle of wine against the hull of the ship before it sets sail.

But prayer is most of the work. To continue using our last analogy. Prayer is the building of the ship and the actual innovation work is only the sailing of it.

So how many hours should we put into prayer if we truely desire our innovations to be Christ-centered? I don't think there is a formula, but I can probably guarantee that we should spend more than we are spending today!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Innovation in the Arts

As people interested in being on mission with God, we are always searching for new tools that will help us share hope. Everything considered a potential teaching tool isn't it? You use movies, events, holidays, music and the list goes on.

One of our faithful Innovation in Mission members on facebook, Paul Nethercott (TEAM missionary in Japan), has shared a new perspective on art and its potential for missions.

I love how Paul has brought up the concept of redemption in art. Our creativity has a way of bringing a message of hope home like no other. So please take a minute to read this innovative approach to art and see how it can be a part of your ministry toolbox:

Missional Art
The Heavens declare the glory of God: the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)

"Missional” refers to outwardly focused actions that share Christ with the world.

"Missional Art" is any creative expression that intentionally illuminates God and the hope found in Christ.

Missional Art is modeled after God’s revelation of Himself in creation, in Scripture, and in the incarnation. All aspects of God’s revelation are creative masterpieces that originate in the heart of a loving God who wants to be known by those He created to be like Him (“in His image”). One aspect of God’s image in us is the capacity to express ourselves by creating art that is missional. The phrase “Missional Art” is new, the concept is not. And, it is not confined to the West; we can discover it throughout history, in a vast number of cultures.

The first biblical example of Missional Art is when God empowered Bezalel to build the temple in ancient Israel (Exodus chapter 31). According to theologian Francis Schaffer, this is the first time the Bible mentions that the Holy Spirit indwelled someone for a specific purpose “… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.” The Jewish temple was missional because it was intended not only as a place of worship for the Israelites, but as a witness to all the nations; it is a stunning example of Missional Art.

Throughout history, gifted artists, believers filled with the Holy Spirit, have been creating missional art that is often far more effective than mere words at drawing people towards putting their faith in Christ. What aspects of missional art are important in making it effective? Four key elements of Missional Art are Hook, Honesty, Humanity, and Redemptive Content (The concept of Hook, Honesty, and Humanity are by songwriter Darrell Brown)

Hook is one reason Amazing Grace is such a memorable and well-loved song. A song with Hook “sticks” in the mind, unconsciously it replays itself in your head. Writers of pop music are well aware of Hook but the concept is applicable in other areas, including the visual arts -- the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa being one of the most famous Hooks in the history of Western art. Art that has no Hook fails to connect, fading from consciousness like a plainly dressed person in a large crowd.

Honesty is hard to define, but critically important. We sense when it is lacking, but it is difficult to articulate what the difference is. Several years ago, I heard one of my female acquaintances sing for a church service. Something didn't sound right, so I asked, "Was that your real voice today?" "No," she responded, "that was my church voice I used my real voice many years ago when I sang rock music with my band, but I don’t use it when I sing in church.” One of the main reasons adults enjoy watching children perform is their transparent Honesty. But, adults who perform without shame or pretense are rare. Johnny Cash is an example of someone with this kind of authenticity; he didn’t have an exceptional voice, he even wandered off key sometimes, but people responded to him, he was incredibly genuine as he sang what was in his heart.

Humanity touches our emotions, what Darrel Brown calls “the physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual sides of Humanity. The big themes — the brokenness and the triumph of it all. So people can relate to what I am writing and singing about.” Ironically, many Christians seem to fear being human, calling it immoral; while the Bible abounds with tasteful Humanity; weddings, celebrations, parties, the sweat of Jesus, violence, family dysfunction, drunkenness and yes, sexuality (it isn’t gratuitous, but it IS there). It appears that many of us are more comfortable with the divinity of Jesus than we are with His Humanity. This is one reason for the scarcity of Christians who are creating art that is full of Humanity. Since everyone experiences the human side of life, people of all nations, races, and cultures can relate to Humanity, it is universally understood.

Redemptive Content includes, but in no way is limited to, clearly identified symbols connected with Christianity. Beauty, goodness, metaphors, stories, allusions, abstract forms, and colors can all be redemptive. Makoto Fujimura’s paintings are abstract, most have no explicit Christian content, but they are Redemptive. It would be a huge mistake to understand “Redemptive Content” to mean that a photographer must insert Scripture verses into all her photos. Or, that a dancer has to wear an outfit with a cross on it. There is a place for worship art, for symbols, and for words, but Missional Art does not have to be explicit or obvious to be effective. But, being “clothed” in Hook, Honesty, and Humanity is very important.

Some Christians make the mistake of dictating that Crystal-clear Redemptive Content (the gospel clearly stated or pictured) is the only important criteria for judging art. In their zeal to communicate the gospel, they ignore Hook, Honesty, and Humanity. Art created with the one criteria of Redemptive Content in mind is often created by zealous, sincere people who really aren’t gifted in the arts. What they are gifted in is preaching, and there certainly is a place for that, but it does not mix well with art. The results of the “lets use art to preach” approach are generally unappealing, not even connecting with Christians, and alienating to those who have no knowledge of Jesus.

Examples of effective Missional Art:

  • Handel’s Messiah
  • The Passions of Bach
  • Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son”
  • C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia
  • The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson’s Movie)
  • The novels of Ayako Miura
  • The paintings of Makoto Fujumura
  • Black Gospel Music in Japan (Halleluiah Gospel Choirs)
  • The Bible Manga Series
  • The music of U2

Amazing examples abound of effective Missional Art with clear Redemptive Content that is loved and accepted, even by cultures that reject Christianity. The crucial factor is quality, how it is done is critically important. However, we must never forget that God can work through totally unpredictable and surprising ways to draw people to himself. He can use “sappy” songs that really don’t have much by way of artistic merit. He can take a movie like Sister Act, and make it a means of communicating his love to the nation of Japan. This Hollywood movie is one of the catalytic factors behind the popularity of Black Gospel in Japan and has resulted in large numbers of Japanese paying to sing in black gospel choirs. It is thrilling to witness Japanese singing the gospel, with passion, with movement, from their hearts and hear about a significant number who are meeting Christ.

Missional Art has had a huge impact on the world, and will continue to be one of the primary avenues that people around the world, in a wide variety of cultures, will become aware of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There is much left to be said on the subject --- I would really like to get input from readers of the Innovation in Mission group on how to improve and expand on this topic. I also want to thank Scot Eaton, Graham Fleming, Jon Hirst, Roger Lowther, Nancy Nethercott, and Robin White for their invaluable input on this paper.

Two Relevant Books:
imagine by Steve Turner
Unceasing Worship by Harold Best

What Comes after the Innovation?

After you innovate . . . then what? Do you break out in a victory dance, fall flat on your face in exhaustion, go on with your life as if nothing has happened . . . really what do you do?

I think it is different for everyone. The reason you haven't heard from me in a week or more is that I just finished my second book project - this time with my wife Mindy. We have been working on an exciting innovation. It is focused on taking a very complex concept presented by Dr. Paul Hiebert and sharing it in a simple yet compelling way. It was a lot of work but the book was handed in last week.

So after our major push, we collapsed . . . if that is possible with three kids. Actually we spent time doing things we hadn't done in a while - watched a movie, took care of the lawn, you know how it goes.

But this highlights a good point. When you reach a key milestone in your innovation work, you need to have a plan. Do you need rest? Do you need a change of scenery? Do you need to go out with some friends? Do you need a vacation on a beach somewhere? Whatever recharges your batteries for the next push . . . DO IT! If you don't, the next idea will be harder to bring to life.

As for our new book - more to come soon. It will be released early 2009.