Posts Tagged ‘ Art ’

DANIEL SMITH, CORNERSTONE, AND THE LIFE I HOPE TO LIVE

Last night at Dwellings, the new church that I’m a part of, we hosted the first of three movie screenings in a film series called Contineo. Contineo is a Latin word meaning “to connect or join together”. The heart of the Contineo Film Series is to connect people together through discussions on faith, art, and community as we explore some interesting movies together.

As I sat in the Flint Local 432 watching the first film in the series, Danielson: A Family Movie (or Make a Joyful Noise Here), I was reminded of the place that this idea was born. In 2006, my wife and I made our second trip to the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, IL. The festival was an experiment that began in 1984 by a group of Christian/hippy/rockers from a commune in Chicago called Jesus People USA. Cornerstone was created to provide a space for Christian music that fell outside of the mainstream by gathering annually to celebrate the diversity of God’s people. Over the years, Cornerstone added different elements to the festival experience including a film festival called Flickerings.

During our first trip to Cornerstone in 2004, I was so excited to see every band possible that we ran around like crazy people. While it was a memorable experience, it was exhausting! So when we went back to Cornerstone two years later, we realized that we wanted to have a more restful experience. It was out of this desire for restfulness and a slower pace that we stumbled on Flickerings. On the second day of the fest we crawled out of our hot, sticky tent and made our way to see a documentary about a quirky musician from New Jersey named Daniel Smith.

That morning I was struck by the beauty, creativity, and honestly that the filmmaker, JL Aronson, was able to capture. I remember being inspired to think of Christianity in new ways. I saw Daniel living out an authentic faith apart from the Christian subculture that so often seems to seek to shelter and protect people from the world around them. Daniel seemed driven to create art from who he was and share it with anyone who would listen. He was true to himself even though the sounds he creates aren’t always the most pleasant for casual listening. As a new Christian, the experience of Cornerstone and watching Danielson: A Family Movie were formational events for me. I began to dream about how I could live my life with the kind of integrity displayed by Daniel. I wondered how I could live my faith in a way that didn’t scare away those who had different ideas and desires than I did. I wondered how art could be used to build relationships and nurture productive conversations.

So six years later, these are still the kinds of questions I wrestle with. And I think with every new day and each step I take I’m moving towards the kind of life I started dreaming about down in Bushnell, Il. Now, that Cornerstone has called it a day (the final Cornerstone Festival took place in July of 2012), I hope that Dwellings will help to create that kind of safe space for people to question and connect with God that Cornerstone, and artists like Daniel Smith, have provided for me, at least did in my little corner of the world.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some experiences or pieces of art that have moved your towards the kind of life you want to live?

If you are interested joining us for the next installment of Contineo, can get more info here.

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ART ASKS GOOD QUESTIONS

I went to see some bands play this past week at Flint Local 432, the local  all ages art space in my city. I had been looking forward to seeing a band from Atlanta called The Wild. I’d been listening to their record, Set Ourselves Free, for the last year or so. The record is good but it didn’t really sink in all that deeply. Seeing them live really took their music to the next level for me. The energy and emotion came through in a big way even though there were only 30 other people in the room.

One song in particualr struck me in a powerful way. Here’s a snippet of some lyrics to their song “The Saddest Thing I Ever Saw”:

       on the corner there once stood a church full of sound, you could hear songs escape at night. they’d sing praise be to him for what we have built… a home, a community, a life. but it broke. now stands a high-rise. I can’t take back what I’ve done. so we danced around the room to an old familiar tune, and I looked deep in your eyes, and I thought about the fact that we are lucky for what we have, but I wonder what’s the price.

For me, good art asks good questions. It leads to reflection, about self and the world around us. The Wild helped me to ask some good questions the other night.

As I stood bobbing my head to the music, I wondered about the ways that our choices shape our world.How do our shopping habits impact our sense of community? How does the shape of the spaces we inhabit influence our thinking about things like security and safety? How often do we abandon something good for something quick and easy? Summing up the question that The Wild asks in the song; what’s the cost of what we’ve got?

Good art doesn’t always have to give you the answers. Sometimes just getting the conversation going is enough. It allows us the opportunity to search out the answers for ourselves. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m grateful for the encouragement to wrestle with them. I’m grateful for art that asks good questions.

How has art encouraged reflection about your life or community? 

A YOUNG REBEL JESUS, PART TWO

Click on the picture to listen to audio message.

The following is part two of a message given at Wildwind Community Church on January 29th, 2012.

Our new family and my relationship with Christ were beginning to blossom. I had a desire to continue figuring out where this rebel Jesus was going to lead us next. I remember being struck by reading the story of Jesus sharing a meal with his friends, but it wasn’t so much them sharing a meal together that struck me, but what happened afterwards.

John 13:4-5 (NIV)
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

To me, this is such a beautiful picture of who Jesus is. The king of the universe who was given all authority in heaven and earth humbled himself, not only to live among us everyday people, but to serve us. The way he lived his life was in tune with the words that he spoke. The conversations he had with people lead them to reflection and invited them to participate in living the kind of life that he lived.

John 13:12-17 (NIV)
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

This picture of Jesus as a servant became the picture I wanted to model my own life after. So Lisa and I began getting involved in ministries that were meaningful to us. My first ministry was putting away the folding chairs in the gym at Brendle Elementary in Grand Blanc where Wildwind was meeting at the time. Then, I started occasionally filling in on bass when Aaron wasn’t around.

Lisa and I got involved in Young Life, a ministry that is focused on building relationships with teenagers and sharing the message of Jesus with them. The first time I met Lisa’s family, I was in high school. Lisa invited me to a Young Life meeting at their house. At the time I still didn’t get the whole Jesus thing but I loved being around such nice people. We have always seen Young Life as an important part of our journey so we became leaders at their Grand Blanc club as our first ministry together.

On one occasion, I got to take a group of students to a camp in the mountains of Virginia and found myself keeping up with the superstar high school football players all week even though I was super out of shape at the time. I walked away from that trip with the sense that I was supposed to spend the rest of my life sharing God’s love with people.

Before long, I had left my band and quit my job and was headed back to school full-time to pursue my calling to ministry. Dave gave me the opportunity to take over the teen ministry at Wildwind, where I got to volunteer as the Student Ministry Coordinator for 3 years before coming on staff in 2009.

Early on, I remember Dave sharing his dream that Wildwind would be a church that planted other churches and it instantly resonated with me. So I had some bits and pieces of a dream to plant my own church floating around but I didn’t think it made a lot of sense for me to jump into so early, never having been a part of a church before, let alone work in one. My time at Wildwind has been beautiful. Working alongside Dave and the various folks who have served on the Leadership Team over the years, leading the youth ministry and small groups, coordinating service events, and getting to know so many awesome people, has been one of the best experiences of my life.

But all along, I had this sense that being at Wildwind wasn’t the end of the line for me. The dream of starting a church was continuing to grow. I kept thinking about this idea that early on, I felt like Wildwind was created specifically for me. What I mean is that Wildwind began at a specific time, in a specific place, with a specific group of people that connected with me at the right time in my life. If it wasn’t for Dave and Christy and that team of 30 people who stepped out to follow where God was leading, I would be a very different person than I am today. I’m sure that’s probably true for a lot of you guys, too.

The more I have gotten to think about that idea, that Wildwind was created just for me, just for us, I couldn’t help but think about those people in my life, in my neighborhood, that don’t have “their” church yet,  and I wondered if maybe, just maybe, they don’t have their church yet, because it doesn’t yet exist.

So here we are, preparing to create a new expression of church that is seeking to connect with people who might not have a sense that God is already working in their lives.

Looking back, I can see how my life has been splattered by encounters with God through art, music, coffee, relationships, and service. All of these encounters were not always as clear as the fluorescent pink and orange of “A Young Rebel Jesus” but they were all significant steps in my journey towards God. All of these themes are shaping where we are headed with our church plant.

READ PART THREE HERE!

A YOUNG REBEL JESUS, PART ONE

Click on the picture to listen to audio message.

The following is the text of a message given at Wildwind Community Church on January 29th, 2012.

In my teenage years, I often found myself walking through the doors at 432 South Saginaw Street in downtown Flint. I was drawn to this particular location because of the sense of community I found there. The Flint Local 432 was an all-ages concert venue space that specialized in punk rock. Everyone was welcome, but you didn’t often find just “anybody” within the walls of the club. The people that frequented the Flint Local 432 were different. They were people like me. Most people I met within those walls had feelings that they didn’t fit in with the status quo. In my school, I lived on the margins. I showed up and did as little as possible to pass my classes. At this time, I was only interested in my education to the extent that it allowed me the freedom to pursue my passion.

My passion was music. I wasn’t interested in music as it was written on a page, but the kind that poured out from the heart. I did my school work all week because I wanted to be able to go see a show at the club on the weekend. This community that surrounded the Local, or the 432, as it came to be known, provided me an opportunity to express myself in my own way while learning different ideas that spoke to subjects that I was interested in. As the 432 relocated several times throughout my involvement, one thread remained that always made it feel like home. While different people and bands came and went I could always count on “A Young Rebel Jesus” to be there.

“A Young Rebel Jesus” was a Velvet Elvis-style, color-by-number painting of Jesus kneeling by a stone and praying. It was very similar to this painting that Lisa and I picked up at a thrift store a while back.

Pretty classy, right? This painting would have fit nicely in a traditional Christian home in the 60’s or 70’s. I think we paid about seven dollars for this because it reminded us of “A Young Rebel Jesus”. Now, while this painting is similar, it’s not quite the same as the painting that hung at the Local that had been adapted by a local tattoo artist. The painting was transformed when this artist added a neon mohawk to Jesus and painted a daisy into Jesus’ praying hands. The title, “A Young Rebel Jesus” was scrawled across the bottom of the portrait in fluorescent orange.

To many people this piece of artwork might have been considered a sacrilege but to me it was something special. Observing this painting week after week cemented Jesus in the forefront of my mind. For me, religion and authority were not topics I was that fond of, but this picture of Jesus gave me something to chew on. Maybe Jesus was different than I thought he was. Maybe Jesus was more than the authoritarian that I had conceived in my mind. At the time I was a lot more comfortable asking the questions than I was with the hard work of seeking answers to those questions. When I look back, I see this unique artist’s rendition of Jesus as a metaphor for my spiritual journey. The painting kept showing up in my adolescent life. The painting was a presence that seemed to follow me around asking questions that were stirring in the depths of my soul. In the same way, I can see how God continued to show up in my life over time. This thread of consistency had put me on a journey that I wasn’t always aware of.

Although “A Young Rebel Jesus” is a prominent touchstone in my spiritual journey, it is not the beginning of my story. My story begins with my family. My parents did not stress religion or spirituality as a key value in our family. I remember going to church a few times as a child. I believe that my attendance was a result of my mother’s longing for community that didn’t stick. My family went to church for a few weeks, just long enough for me to start getting comfortable with the other kids and getting a chance to perform in the Christmas play, and then we stopped going. No explanation was given by my parents as to why we weren’t going anymore. We just quit. I didn’t think too much about it. I guess I considered it similar to playing little league. It was something that you do for a season and then it’s over. So during this time, a seed of the idea of God was planted but was left to wither out in the field as we moved on to whatever was next for our family.

As I grew older, I got involved in the music scene. The community offered in this involvement fulfilled the desire of my heart. I wanted to be in relationships with people who liked me for who I was. As it turns out, the punk rock scene was not the only place to find people who extended unconditional acceptance. There was a group of students in my high school who were strangely polite and interested in me for me. Something was different about these kids. Now I can see that it was their relationship with Jesus Christ and His presence in their lives that made the difference, but I wasn’t interested in that just yet. They offered me caring community and I welcomed it.

Several of these friends showed up in my life in the places where I least expected it. I remember a time when my friend Lisa came home from college and invited me out for coffee. I had dated Lisa in high school but things fizzled as she sought the freedom that senior year brings. Although she dissolved our relationship, I didn’t walk away empty-handed. Over the course of the three months that we dated I had gotten to know her younger brother, David. He liked punk rock, too. After I was dumped, the only question I asked Lisa was if I could still be friends with her brother. So David and I started a band. I became a regular at their house; having band practice, listening to music, and skateboarding in their driveway.

Lisa and David grew up in a solid Christian home. They really seemed to take ownership for their faith and this was encouraging to me. I thought that if David could go to church and still like punk rock, maybe there was some hope for these “Christians” after all. After high school ended, I continued to play music with David, and Lisa went off to a Christian college in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

One weekend, when Lisa was home from college, she came down to the basement, just as band practice was finishing up. She invited me out to have a cup of coffee and catch up. Surprised, I accepted her invitation.

That night, at Colonial Coney Island, we went deep into our seemingly bottomless mugs of cheap, burnt coffee. I knew that she was a Christian and I had questions. I was testing the water. I wanted to see her reaction to my ignorance about God. She did react, but not how I expected. I asked questions and she answered them with more questions. She wasn’t judging me. She was trying to get me to think. She was trying to understand what was going on in my spirit and how she could serve me best. I’ll never forget her patience and kindness during our weekend tours of Flint’s finest greasy-spoons. For the next few years, she kept popping up in my life and helped me to keep the thoughts of God floating around in my mind.

Lisa was a great companion on my spiritual journey, but I had one problem. I wasn’t sure if I was seeking to know about God or if I was trying to impress a girl. Now I can see that if I was really trying to impress a girl I would have considered finding her a better cup of coffee. My friend Aaron provided clarity. He was that kid in high school that everyone thought was stoned most of the time since he was so laid back. I could see behind his squinted eyes and bed-messed hair that he was a person of character. He was the kind of friend most people only hope for. He often went out of his way to spend time with me. Before the time that cell phones became fashion accessories, he would drive out to my parent’s house in Davison, talk to my mom, discover that I was somewhere in downtown Flint playing with my band, find the bar, and show up just in time to see my strap on my guitar and strike the first chord. Coffee would always follow. This was our routine three of four times a year.

Our discussions often ended up on the subject of God. With all of this coffee and God-talk, it sometimes felt like I was cheating on Lisa, but I understood that God was trying to get my attention. Aaron had met God a few years earlier at Young Life camp. When we talked about God, he shared ideas that were different than I had ever heard before. The idea that God doesn’t care about how people dress, and that he is more concerned with relationships than rules, were new concepts to me. The questions that were brought about by the velvet Jesus painting were being validated. This Jesus character seemed to be something more than what I thought he was. It seemed to me that my coffee talks with Lisa and Aaron were leading me to a new place. When Aaron told me about a church that he was helping to start, I thought that maybe it was the place that I was supposed to be heading.

When I walked through the doors of Wildwind Community Churchfor the first time, I was met with the same sense of welcoming community that I experienced at the Flint Local 432. Wildwind was a place where my questions were welcomed and encouraged. I had stepped into a new community that wanted me to feel safe while seeking to know and understand God.

By this time, Lisa had moved to Chicago for a teaching job so I knew I wasn’t attending church for a girl. We kept in touch and she was excited for me. We e-mailed often about what I was learning at church. I remember when I told her that I had committed my life to Christ. I shared about the Old Testament Bible prophecies that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus. I told her that Jesus’ death and resurrection finally made sense to me. I told her I knew that God had plans for me and that I was headed in a new direction to find out what those plans were. My joy became her joy, and a year later she became my wife.

READ PART TWO HERE!

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