Archive for the ‘Thoughts on art ministry and life’ Category

I saw a Youtube video from one of my favorite artists, Neil Peart, drummer from Rush. It was called Neil Peart’s Top 10 Rules for Success. These ten points are definitely worth considering. My friend Craig Smith has often mentioned taking secular sources and “baptizing” them. This is one of those that applies to a broad spectrum of creatives. Consider this and see where it takes you.

Forgive me this morning, but I have to put my pastor hat on. One thing you may or may not know about me is I am not a huge fan of church signs. You know the ones that have those plastic letters that people usually use to make sometimes pithy, but more often corny, sayings designed to make people think. Often, instead, they make me cringe. The exception to this rule is my church, where Lucy Cascioli puts up some really thought provoking stuff.

Today, I was driving past a church and they had sign up that said, “When it gets to hard to stand, kneel.” As church signs go, it wasn’t horrible. It’s almost like a tweet, you only have so many characters to get your point across. I thought, “Yeah,that’s a pretty good sentiment,” but something was bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on it right away, but it didn’t take long. The problem with the message is huge and crucial in the body of Christ. It represents a major flaw in our thinking that could have been completely corrected with the change of one word. Instead of “When it gets to hard to stand, kneel.” it should say, “Before it gets to hard to stand, kneel.”

Here’s the truth. We can’t afford to make prayer the last resort. When we’ve tried everything else, when we can’t stand up under the weight of the problem anymore, then and only then do we pray. Ridiculous. We have 24/7/365 contact with the Creator of the universe. There are no brownie points in the Kingdom for not bugging God until the problem is so massive you can’t do any more. I’m not God, but as a pastor, I hate it when people don’t come to me for help until the problem is so big and out of control that it takes months or years to fix. Sometimes they even wait until it’s virtually irreparable. What happened? They waited until they couldn’t stand anymore to get help and by then the problem was huge.

What if instead, we went to God first? What if we prayed at the first sign of trouble or even before there is any trouble? What if we sought God on all of our decisions? I think this would radically change our lives.

The time to pray is always. “Pray without ceasing,” remember? Don’t wait until you can’s stand anymore.

If you’ve ever wanted to see what I do in person, I got a great new video clip made from my friend Mark Myers at Smoky Roberts Film and Video Productions. He did a great job. I really love this message because it really sums up my passion for ministry and Mark did a great job capturing it.
I really hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
but glittering prizes and endless compromises
shatter the illusion of integrity…”
-Rush, Spirit of Radio

Yes, I’m quoting Rush again… I can’t help it. i was listening to the radio and they came on and when I heard this line, it really stuck in my head. In their song they bemoan the idea of the music industry losing its integrity. That was 1980 and a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, but listen to any pop station and you will probably have to admit not much has changed. Integrity in the arts is huge and often lacking.

But let’s go further. Add faith to the mix and integrity becomes infinitely more crucial. After all, we are trying to honor God with the gifts He has given us. We are trying to communicate His message, and represent Him to the world around us and that is no small task. How can we create with integrity?

Well for starters, what is integrity? It’s derived from the same word we get “integer” from. An integer is a whole number and integrity also implies a kind of wholeness. A creative with integrity, will bring his or her best to every task. They will let their yes be yes and their no be no, as Scripture says. They try to live a life worthy of their call and they honor God and everyone else as best they can.

Integrity in the arts usually implies originality. That’s not to say we’ll never quote someone else’s work (see above) or expand on what someone else has done, but it’s never a “knock-off.” I’ll now use myself as an example. This is not toe say that I have arrived, but as a Christ following work in progress, these are the goals. I’m a cartoonist, but I’m not trying to be the Christian (fill in the name of your favorite cartoonist here.) I’m trying to keep my eyes on my own paper and create the things God lays on my heart. i try to bring my best to every project, having a consistent quality that others can depend on. I work every chance I get to try to learn and grow and try to give God my best. Add to that trying to walk the talk and you get a pretty good idea of how I see integrity.

Integrity also implies giving credit where credit is due. I believe my gifts and talents come from God and with that should come huge doses of humility. Integrity also implies that I will try to help another creative, and that I will never undermine or undercut someone else. At the end of the day, I am trying to do my small part in creating a better world, by being a blessing. When I achieve this in big and small ways, I am close to integrity.

Now truth be known I could have gone a different way. Several year ago I went to a conference for my denomination. I was frustrated beyond belief at what was happening and I did not want to make a scene, so I did what I usually do. I got out my sketch book and expressed my feelings in art. I then came home and posted some of my creations to this blog and a funny thing happened.

I posted them here not as a statement about what was happening but as a demonstration of constructive, creative venting, just for my tribe of creatives that read this blog. Someone from my denomination asked if they could post a fe of the cartoons to their website. I didn’t see the harm so I said yes. Well a group that opposes that group got wind of it and began blasting the work. This drove the hits way up. My blog that gets 30-50 hits on a good day, got 511 hits in one day. This showed me controversy “sells.”

Don’t think the temptation to keep that going with more and more controversial stuff wasn’t huge, because it was. I love getting lots of hits and having lots of people read my stuff but that’s not why I am here. I am here to get the church creating, and to help the church embrace creatives and creativity. The controversy wouldn’t get that done, so integrity demanded I return to what I actually feel called to do.

Integrity is hard won and easily lost. Guard your heart and guard your work. A certain level of worldly success can be found in dropping your integrity. The artistic landscape is littered with the bodies of those who have done it. Real success comes with being true to who God made you do be and doing what you are called to do. Work in integrity with an eternal focus. Ultimately you won’t be sorry.

There was a time when that question struck fear into the hearts of every young man on a first date. The father would look you in the eye and ask “What are your intentions…” Truthfully I have not ever had to face that question down in the dating world, but it’s a question I ask myself nearly every time I create. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with doing art for art’s sake, but as a Christian creative, I usually have a larger purpose behind what I create. I think these questions will help us focus our creative efforts:

What’s my motivation? We’ve probably all seen the movies and TV shows where some obnoxious actor will ask “What’s my motivation?” They always sound pompous when they say it but there is a valid point behind the question. What he’s really asking is “How should I be reacting in this situation? What is the stimulus that causes the action?” And so it is with our work. What is motivating you to create this piece? What do you want it to accomplish? Knowing why we are creating will help us to create with greater focus and help us to edit and filter the creation.

Who is this for? I truly believe that art is a gift we give to the world. Oh maybe only one person (or in some cases no one) will actually pay for it, but everyone who sees it should receive something from it. That being said we buy different gifts for different people. A gift I would give my nearly two-year old grandson is different than what I would give to my wife. Knowing who I am creating for helps me to zero in on how to create the piece of work, especially in the case of work designed to communicate a message (like the Gospel) or something focused on outreach. Different people are reached in different ways. It’s always been that way. “Who is this designed to reach?” is another way of asking this question. We need to create creations that fit our intended recipients while the rest of the world is also free to look in.

What do I want to accomplish?
Of course this could be followed up with the more important question, “What does God want this to accomplish?” The idea is the simple, we create to induce a reaction. How do we want others to react to what we have created? What do we want them to do as a result of seeing or experiencing this creation? What emotions to we want to trigger? How do we want them to feel? A great way to get a handle on all of this is to go to the greeting card aisle at your local store. Notice the different kinds of art created on the different cards. Some are serious, some are funny, some are touching, but all are trying to touch the emotions in some way. The best art does that. It makes us feel.

These three questions and all the related ones will help us all to be better more focused and as a result more effective creatives. What are your intentions is a great way of finding out why we are doing what we’re doing.

Now go create intentionally!

I know this probably comes off sounding kind of obvious. Of course you want to be a blessing, but have you ever asked yourself how? Specifically for he sake of our theme here, how an you be a blessing with your creativity? How can you bless others and even more how can you bless our Lord and His Kingdom. In the specific, there are as many answers to that question as there are people and the only way to get your own answer is to seek the Lord for it. There are, however some general answers.

What I just described above is known as finding your calling. The first step in all of this is to find what you are called to do. Again this involves seeking the Lord, but there are a few helpful hints. First calling is usually found at the intersection of ability and opportunity. What has God gifted you to do and be? This is crucial in finding your call. Also really important is to ask the question what do you love to do and what do you want to be? While these are not always indicative of call, for the most part, God loves us and wants to bless us, so often things like passion, especially in the realm of doing good are good indicators that God might be at work in an area of your life.

Next is to do whatever you do as if doing it for the Lord. This implies that you will do whatever you do to the best of your ability. This is the truest definition of excellence and if we always bring our best, sooner or late someone will be blessed by it.

Perhaps the easiest way to be a blessing is to serve others. The old adage that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care certainly holds true in this case. If you want to be a blessing use your gift to serve someone. In order to do that it’s a good idea to look for needs you can meet using what you have.

Now of course there are times where we simply need to do what must be done, whether we’re gifted for something or not. The trick though is to step out of the way when someone more gifted in that area comes along, whenever that happens seek the Lord to see where He would have you serve next. Chances are that area will be in your area of gifting.

One last thing, sometimes God moves into areas that are less than comfortable and where we feel like we’re in way over our heads. Why would He do that? Well first of all when we are in over our heads we become increasingly aware of our dependence on Him which is crucial to life on this planet. The other reason is really simple. Sometimes our areas of greatest gifting are found outside our comfort zone. I’ll use myself as an example. I have always been very comfortable working in visual art. I love it and it comes relatively easy for me, a natural gift. I could have stayed there forever. On the other hand, public speaking terrified me. The thing is both art and speaking are my calling. The two together seem to be where God has me at least of the moment. To get to that place, though I had to be stretched into speaking. I also never envisioned writing a book, but having to communicate and transmit ideas led to writing. Professional experiences in editing helped me to better understand good writing and before long writing books made sense. I’m not saying I’m the best in the world at any of this. but it does allow me to be a blessing.

The old adage says “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Of course that’s not really whether mean. What they mean is do what you love and you’ll usually work harder than anyone else to keep doing what you love. You just won’t mind so much because you’re doing what you love. I know this to be true and I live it on a daily basis. This life of creative arts ministry is a lot of work. Between my church and my traveling ministry I put in a ton of hours. There is no substitute for practice, and the continued development of your gift in a life in the arts. People act as if the creative lifestyle is impractical. It’s not, you just have to decide whether or not you are willing to put in the effort it takes to do what you love.

Look anybody can do something they hate, (or mildly dislike, or whatever) for the money. I’ve had to and I would again if it came to it. I have responsibilities to the people I love. That being said, if I have my way, I’ll put in whatever effort I must to keep having the opportunity to create.

Why do I post this? Because I run into too many people who want it all now and wonder why it doesn’t happen instantaneously. Heck, I’ve been that person too. The truth is (outside the blessing of God) the road to your dream is usually paved with a lot of hard work. So practice, practice, practice. Create, create, create and then (and this is often the hardest part) put your work out there for the world to see. Also, the Bible says me the most of every opportunity… and while that passage is largely about sharing the Gospel, I think it applies to every area of life, especially the creative life. Whenever you get the opportunity to do what you love, do it for all you’re worth. Bring your all to the project. Do it as if you were doing it for Jesus, because at the end of the day, if you care about glorifying God with your life, that is exactly what you’re doing.

I remember seeing Skillet live at the Creation festival. They had already been playing for years, working hard, building a fan base and all of those other things that are covered by that simple little statement “paying your dues.” Then one year they got an evening slot on the main stage. That night they would play before 80,000 people and they brought it. Their performance was superb and they had more pyrotechnics and other show elements than anyone I Christian band I had ever seen and all the secular ones except possibly Kiss. Why do I share this? The had played thousands of gigs to get to that point, including many I’m sure to small audiences and in tough situations, and then one night the faithfulness paid off, they got a golden opportunity and they did it for all they were worth. As far as I am concerned they had cemented themselves into the role of headliners in that night, but that amazing performance was the result of lots of faithfulness, putting their hearts into their faith and their craft day after day after day. If we want creative success, if we want to do what we love, that’s what we must all do.