Every year, Reality Church Stockton sets aside an intentional time to reflect on where God has brought us and where God is leading us. As we looked forward with hope and anticipation, the vision of the prophet Isaiah framed our time:
“The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”” Isaiah 56:8
During our time, I posed the questions “Who are those individuals that don’t necessarily fit a cultural mold, but contribute to the lives of those inside and outside the church in such unique and priceless ways? Who are those willing to cross over borders to gather those from without?” I suggested that one group of people, among many, is the Art Community.
Because time didn’t allow me to explain, I want to suggest a few reasons why I stated that art plays a significant role in the mission and vision of the church.
THE SPIRIT AND ART
An extremely inspiring question that was presented to me a few years back was Who is the first person in the Bible described as being ‘filled with the Spirit’? They had a point behind the question. So I searched. To my surprise, it was not a significant leader like Moses or a prominent patriarch like Abraham. It was an artist commissioned to contribute to the tabernacle construction project:
“The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” (Exodus 31:1–5)
A Creative God who longs for us to experience his beauty gives a special place within the covenant community for those who creatively unfurl the beauty of God’s handiwork that has been buried in the brokenness of a sin-stained world and gifts them with his Spirit to do so. Bezalel’s today contribute to life and vibrancy of the living temple, the church as well. They contribute artistry that seems to transcend economic boundaries that exist in our world and has the ability to speak across cultural lines.
THE CONTRIBUTION OF ART
In the past, we have highlighted our love, appreciation, and support for educators in the church. I would put this idea about supporting artists in a very similar category. Artists are those whom God has given distinct gifts for contributing to the community. Just like education can contribute to breaking patterns of poverty, art can break other sin-burdened patterns that hold particular people groups down. For instance, music was integral for the black community, particularly during the 20th century, helping give rise to a pushed-down people. When MLK presented his famous speech on the monument in Washington, his famous “dream” was not what he planned on sharing. Toward the end of his speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted to Dr. King from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” King departed from his prepared speech and started preaching his famous “I have a dream”. The artists have their part to play in moving justice forward.
THE COMPELLING NATURE OF ART
I recently read two books that opened my eyes to how beauty and compassion for human life are intertwined. One titled ‘Culture Care: Reconnecting Beauty for Our Common Life’ and the other titled ‘On Beauty and Being Just’. One is written by an artist and another a professor. One is from a Biblical perspective and the other from a sociological one. The common thread is that art and beauty foster inclinations toward justice and compassion.
Reading through these books, I was reminded of a study I read a few years back in the New York Times titled “Why Do We Experience Awe?”. A Professor named Dacher Keltner concluded that awe is an ultimate collective emotion, that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. “Through many activities — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.” They set up a little test at the foot of a grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees at UC Berkley. Students were asked to stand in a specific location where they could look up at the trees. Some looked up at the 200 ft. trees and others were told to stare horizontally to the side a science building. A small accident was then staged where a person would drop pens or papers nearby. What they found was that those who spent as little as a minute or two staring up at the trees were far more likely to walk over help the individual that dropped their items than those who had been looking horizontally. They continued to do small studies showing the same results. The study stated: “We have sought to understand why awe arouses altruism[selfless concern for others] of different kinds. One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger. Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another. In the great balancing act of our social lives, between the gratification of self-interest and a concern for others, fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us… You could make the case that our culture today is awe-deprived…To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe.” – Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner, “Why Do We Experience Awe?”
Somehow, someway, God has wired our hearts and minds to feel compelled to move outside of ourselves and towards helping others as a result of beauty. We pray that we can align our worship gatherings and community rhythms with this mysterious pattern in life in a way where saints are awestruck by the creative nature of God and moved out into the world to be agents of peace, care, and justice. I’m convinced that artists and their gifts have a significant part to play in this.