This is the complete talk I did for the Mosaic Conference on Saturday 21st June 2014.
TEARFUND MOSAIC CONFERENCE
What I am about to present is only three minutes, but it represents tens and thousands of hours of my life in giving myself to something I believe God called me into.
Justice is a big word, a vast arena for creativity. My focus is the need for a fresh outpouring of God’s creativity in the arts. Within this I include visual arts, sculpture, theatre, dance, installation, film – in fact any medium which an ‘artist’, or perhaps ‘maker’ might be a more user friendly word, uses to create work. The arts can provide a way for the ‘eyes of our hearts to be enlightened’ as Paul prays in Ephesians 1:18. They can shed prophetic light as well as deliver a prophetic future revelation of the way God sees things.
There are more and more Christians who work in the arts which is fantastic. They work for others realising the vision of others. They contribute and they can influence. However, I think we need to see an army of artists/makers, creating the work that carries the imprint of God’s eyes and heart that speaks into people and causes a seismic shift within them.
Let me read a sentence written by the noted journalist and theatre critic Benedict Nightingale. He is talking about playwriting, however I think it serves equally well for the work of the artist in general.
The artist is someone committed to “A trade which can change hearts, mould minds, worry the entrenched, upset the tyrannical and nudge history”
Interesting that Nightingale calls it ‘a trade’. When we think of the word trade we might think of becoming a plumber, decorator or an electrician all excellent and potentially lucrative jobs, certainly more lucrative than the arts for most! A trade is about becoming a skilled worker. It is about taking yourself seriously, committing yourself to learning from others, possibly becoming apprenticed to someone. How much time are we prepared to give God to learn? 10,000 hours is often quoted as the minimal amount of time needed for mastering a craft. It takes time, commitment, energy and courage for the long haul.
So I am here today to call out the artists/the makers. Those with a story to tell and who and want to tell it through the arts. Perhaps God is speaking to some of us right now. God touching some of us afresh with His calling.
Why is creating something of beauty important?
In our society much of what is on offer to us in terms of 21st century arts bombards us with a sense of disquiet, anger, profound sadness and at times disgust. It is too easy to get carried along by a series of the moment and fail to see the underlying intent of the creators. ‘Friends’ on the tv for 10 years from 1994-2004 – I watched it, rushed home to see the next episode, loved it, and yet one of its deeply costly messages was that pornography was fine; it was normal; it was simply like eating ice-cream when you felt down. It could make a disgruntled Joey happy, the boys could be taken to a strip joint as a ‘treat’, free 24 hour pornography was a bonus and the women all endorsed it and saw nothing wrong with it. No mention of objectifying women, of women being used and abused, of its’ profound dehumanisation of both the watcher and the watched. This is the polar opposite of what Jesus came to do, which was to show us how to be completely human in the most perfect way.
A felt need, I am convinced, in everyone, is a longing for our souls to be fed, to be inspired, to eat ‘food for the soul’. Why else does nature inspire, lift our spirits, become a go to place for so many of us?
Beauty inspires – beauty hopes – beauty points to Him – beauty is full of worship. Not that we should end up worshipping beauty itself as so often happens reducing it to something that can be purchased and owned. Rather, beauty can be a signpost to Him who is beauty. Beauty is awe-inspiring and can and should be reclaimed for Him.
I cite as an inspiring example the PassionArt Trail curated by Lesley Sutton. Lesley created a pilgrimage this year in central Manchester during the season of Lent using six iconic venues. It offered a personal journey, culminating in the National Football Museum to reflect on the human condition through extraordinary works of art. My personal favourite was Last Meal on Death Row, Texas (Jonathan Nobles) 2011 an astonishing photograph, so easily mistaken for a painting, depicting a glass of wine and a wafer. Jonathan died on death row, but his choice of final meal having asked for forgiveness for all he had done, is deeply moving. Such a picture lifts our thoughts to heaven; to God Himself.
Our challenge is to create such beauty that embodies something of heaven. A creativity that acknowledges the spiritual dimension that exists, inhabited by Perfect Love which is available to all. We must discover ways to reveal that which is the true heart of everything through every medium in the arts possible. Some of us in this room are called to this.
We should also not confuse creating art with the need for ‘success’ in our 21 century society. Artists down the centuries have created, been misunderstood, their voice perhaps unheard. If we are called as a maker, we should concentrate on serving God and allow Him to deal with the arena of our voice. The journey of the artist/maker is as taxing as all journeys in life. It requires patience and determination, too often dealing with rejection by unrelenting gatekeepers. Our egos and the need for success are things that must be nailed to the Cross. It is not about us, it is about Him. Creation cost God everything can we expect it to cost us less?
Let me tell you the story of Rodriguez, a mysterious American singer-songwriter of the late 60’s/70’s. His story is told in last year’s Oscar winning documentary film Searching for Sugar Man: Storyville. Rodriguez, made two records produced by the best producer in the business who counted Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye amongst his musical luminaries. This producer described him as “A wise man, a prophet, way beyond being a musical artist” In his opinion Rodriguez was equal to Bob Dylan. His fame was certain but nothing happened to his records. He sold literally six copies of the album in the USA and was dropped by the record company. Rodrigues got on with his life, he married, had a family and worked as a builder/decorator, a blue collar worker, who when he had time still played his guitar. What he didn’t know was that in South Africa his songs had given voice to those who wanted a different South Africa, one without apartheid. Everyone had a Beatles album, a Simon & Garfunkel album and a Rodrigues Album because Rodriguez and I quote, “set us free as oppressed people and made you think there’s another way”. The film’s Swedish film-maker followed two fans determined to find out how he died. They discovered he was alive and brought him to South Africa for a concert. Astonishingly Rodrigues simply took to the stage in front of a hugely emotional audience of thousands completely calm. He had no idea what his work had inspired. He stood for a 10 minute standing ovation. Then he played. There is more. Watch the film.
As artists/makers we probably won’t know who we will inspire or what it will birth.
My challenge today is, will you give God ten years to master a skill? The 10,000 hours principle. It is a commitment to a difficult and challenging road but one that is completely essential. Jesus is alive, He is full of beauty, and we must create the work that allows His voice to resonate prophetically. What a calling – to make that which is beautiful for Him.
Ravi Zacharias says in his book ‘A Shattered Visage’ “The moods and indulgences of a nation have been generated by the popular writers, entertainers and musicians of the day. Those who harness the strength of the Arts, mould the soul of a nation to an extraordinary degree, affecting and changing the way people think and act to drastic proportions.”