“For The Beauty of The Church”
What does God say about art and artists? Throughout history, the arts in all their forms have mirrored cultural change and even injected voice into our theological understanding. This talk examines the convergence of art, culture, and faith from a Biblical perspective.
Charles David Kelley is Latvian-American, citizen of both countries. Born in Los Angeles, he has lived in Oregon since 1980. His professional training is in Bible, theology, and missiology. He began ministering in Latvia in 1985. Before founding Bridge Builders International, an Oregon based mission that focuses on Latvia, in 1994, Charles served in pastoral ministry in California, Texas, and Oregon for 21 years. He is chairman and director of BBI’s Latvian affiliate, “Partners.” He serves as Dean of International Relations at Baltic Pastoral Institute in Riga. Charles is founder of the Imago Dei Artists Network in Latvia and co-founder of the imagiNATIONS Annual Art Festival for Estonia and Latvia. He is a member of the Arts Centre Group in London and is the LausanneARTS Advocate at Large for Europe. Charles is an author, pianist, and painter, having studied at the feet of two masters, professors both, from the Latvian Academy of the Arts. He lives in Latvia 4-5 months per year. He has been married to Nancy for 40 years and has four grown children and nine young grandchildren.
In past days I had a quote above my desk that generally states that “. . . success is piloting ideas with small, bootlegged budget.” And it goes on to say the ” too many ideas are grandiose and far reaching at the beginning . .. and appear to have only a ‘shot in the dark’ possibility’ of being achieved.
On the other hand, Moses reminds the Israeli’s they must move forward toward their objective, little by little. Inn Dt. 7: 21, 22 . . as they prepared to take the Land their father’s had wimped out over, Moses reminds them that they should . . . “(21) not be terrified . . . for the Lord your God, who is among your, is a great and awesome God. (22) The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, (but) little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or (if, in fact you did drive them out all at once) the wild animals will multiply around you (and eat you up–[Byron Spradlin’s. translation])
My point here: You must keep you long range mission in view, while at the same time focusing on one piece of it at a time—yet you must keep doing at least one piece of it at all times.
Which piece are you working on right now?
My overall point: If what you are hearing is really from God—you will pursue and do that CALLING no matter how you make your money; especially if you throw off the Metro, first-world notion—popular but incorrect—that occupation IS identity.
Bi-vocationalism is a viable and biblical status—with many benefits. May you strive with all your heart, mind and soul to move into a full-time occupation pursuing your ministry calling. Most will need to at least press for that objective at some points in their lives. But if it doesn’t happen, release that reality to God and look for and allow Him to release you into your calling through other, and just as creative—but different—avenues of His provision.
If you are not ‘doing’ ministry—for free at first—not only will few ‘normal’ Christians take you seriously about being called by God for some sort of specific Kingdom ministry, you will rarely raise donated support. And what’s even more likely in question is the reality that you are responding to a true call from God for ministry.
Scripture assures the believer that one approaches God through the work of Jesus. So when one prays, there is help by imagining Jesus on the Cross; picturing Him on the Cross; picturing their self bowing before the Cross; seeing with the eyes of their imagination His blood running down the beam, flowing right around their knees. This kind of ‘mental’ exercise—combining the objective historical truth of the Crucifixion with the eyes of the imagination—helps one draw near to God. Bowing the head, kneeling down, closing the eyes, holding a Bible, lifting an arm, looking up to the sky, or any number of other inward/outward practices helps look through the eyes of their imagination into the unseen realities of God. The mystery is that none of these practices provide in themselves any spiritual merit. But, when worshipers allow their imagination to join their intellect when they worship, they may indeed engage more fully with God.
When people worship in public, their worship is more fully facilitated by their environment, the influences of worship leadership, their understanding of theology, and the cultural contexts surrounding them. People come together, . . . in some sort of “environment,” . . . to participate in human activities, . . . that involve metaphors and symbols. When the experience is genuine, fused with reverence and focused faith on God, the worshiper often comes to a point where the ”whole” of the experience is greater than the sum of its parts. When genuine worship is experienced, something goes on larger than all the parts of that gathering. It is at this point that Imaginative human expression takes place. And, imaginative human expression is always present in any public worship context.
Additionally, public gatherings will often be more successful if . . . someone endowed and skilled with more-than-average abilities in artistic human expression . . . are released to plan and help implement the gathering’s process.
Whether in private or public worship settings, 1) imaginative expressions help the worship experience; and 2) human expression specialists are strategic in facilitating worship. Therefore we can be sure that God designed artistic expression to be a central part of the fabric of human life and community.
Along with being spiritual, cognitive, and moral, humans are also imaginative. Animals have instinct, but people have imagination in a highly developed way. And that imagination reflects, in a small way, our Creator. It’s no wonder that Paul reaches the limitations of language in describing the vastness of Christ’s love for us—its width and length and height and depth. He leans into the poetic to more fully express to us that this love “surpasses knowledge,” and Paul struggles to articulate his prayer for us to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19 NIV).
So when it comes to the activity of worship—worship that must make sense to us in the context of our culture if it is to have meaning at all—that sort of worship demands more than just propositions of fact. It requires symbols and metaphors and rituals that help people connect with the invisible realities of God Himself; the sort of worship that moves people to press toward the edges of one’s human capacity to express. Those kinds of worship activities—private or public—demand that one take the realities of God and His truths beyond the languages of the head into the languages of the heart. And that realm is the realm of artistic expression.
Evangelical author and philosophy professor Dallas Willard writes, “Sometimes important things can be presented in literature and art that cannot be effectively presented in any other way.” Given the way God has designed the human being and human community, people need all the capacities He created—reason, emotion, imagination, memory and language, all working together. As mysterious as that transaction is, they need all these capacities so that they may “know” God and not simply know about Him.
In fact, the Bible reveals that people are to know Him so intimately that they ultimately live every minute of each day in a companioning-worship-walk with Him. Jesus pressed this very issue when explaining to the woman at Jacob’s well that, “. . . God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, NIV). The Apostle Paul presses the same mandate when he urges Christians to, “. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your logical, reasonable worship-way-of-living (latreian)” (Rm12:1, author’s rendering).
The Bible reveals that the essence of worship is to find one’s satisfaction in God above all and everyone else. The Apostle Paul boldly declares, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21, NIV).
But based on these submissions, there exists one important question: If humans and human community are to engage in an intimate and interactive involvement with God, how does this interactive transaction actually happen?
Most would say that the goal and essence of worship are both wrapped up in a relationship with God. But still, how do finite people have relational interaction with a Divine God? Is not God unique from humans? Of course. He alone is Divine, Holy, Supreme. But how; or in what way, or in what realm, has God created humans to ‘experience’ in transactional reality, relations with Himself?
At this point it is important to note Bible Role for Imaginative Expression. God designed finite humans in such a way . . . that the mystery of transactional engagement with God happens through environments of imaginative human expressions.
When people go to worship, whether in groups or alone, God designed them to need to exercise their imaginal intellect as much as any other dynamic of their being—including their rational intellect.
When people worship God alone, they “practice” focusing their faith toward God through the gate of their imagination. As they couple their imagination with their intellect, they will imagine the unseen realities they ‘know’ are true in Scripture.