Fans and Favoritism
As I prepare to release an album and film documentary in the next few weeks, two ideas have been walking across my thoughts. The first is, "Will anyone like the final product?" The second is, "How many people will these projects reach?" These are not new thoughts to my performance driven life, but as I near the promotion stage of my recent work, they have more tangible repercussions.
Artists desire to please people. An artist without a spectator or a performer without a stage is a terrible feeling. You cannot pursue being an artist without also simultaneously working to build audience. So it is no wonder then, that most people in the arts are obsessed with what people think about them.
It is incredibly easy for an artist to view their own value through the lens of their fans. If you have no fans, then you either start to view art as selfish expressionism or you give up and do something else. However, not only do we feel better the more fans we have, but we artists want to have the right fans. If my fans are old, fat, ignorant and "un-cool", then that reflects badly on my art. I want to have the hip and beautiful people like my work because it makes me look even better. In other words, the quality of fan reflects on my own personal identity. We are picky.
Essentially, we want to be favored above all else. Our assumption is that we deserve to be loved by other people, our fans. This is not reality though. The world is full of seemingly undeserved artists with huge adoring fan clubs. This often feels unfair and we become bitter.
See, we view favoritism as a bad thing. Even the word, "favoritism" is full of negative connotations. However, I suggest that favoritism is a good thing. Why? Because God is also picky.
"And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11
It was Christ, not me, with whom God said he was well pleased. God favors his son Jesus. God has chosen his favorite and it is not us. God's reasons for choosing to love Jesus are perfect and he is completely just in doing so.
Unfortunately, the teachers, professionals, critics, and fans that we try to impress are not also completely fair, like God is. The people we want to be our fans are flawed. We often work hard with no repayment, we create thoughtful work with no response, and we create original ideas with no recognition. And so we become jealous of those who never lift a finger but become rich, or those who produce philistine art with great response, or of those who plagiarize their way to stardom. When we seek the favor of flawed people, our satisfaction in those fans is only partial and leads to bitterness.
"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us." - 2 Corinthians 4:6-7
It is Jesus, not me that God favors. But God has chosen to put Jesus into our disposable jars of clay that we might benefit from Jesus' stardom. When God looks at our broken attempts to gain fans, he sees Jesus and becomes one. It is Jesus in me, that holds the glory of God. It is Jesus in me that wins the favor of God.
Instead of seeking to add value to ourselves through our fans, or the favor of critics, or the good graces of our professors, we perform and create in such a way as to illuminate the glory of God given to us, then we will avoid the bitterness and aggravation of building the perfect fan base. If God can store his glory in broken jars like us, then we can also serve our small, un-cool, fickle, broken fans too. See, God is not picky.
09/16/2013 11:13 AM
Holiness, Worship, and "Stuff"
Recently, the idea of "holiness" has been on my mind. As soon as I started thinking about it though, the quicker I realized I have a lot of misconceptions. I often think of holiness as "not doing bad things". Pursuit of holiness to me is often reduced to, "don't sin".
A closer look at how the Bible uses the word holiness reveals that it means something much more like "set-apart-ness". We are called to be set apart, or a "royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession" (1 Peter 2:9 a). In other words, God is wholly set apart and desires us to be his own set-apart adorers. Or put another way, we are called to distinguish ourselves from the self gratifying world and worship God alone.
But how does this "setting-apart" work? Certainly we are still human and look like other people. We eat, breath, sleep, talk, make babies, wear clothes, sing, dance, study…. In short, we are a part of and create culture just like everyone else. Culture carries much of our identity as humans beings, but culture is also made up of a bunch of stuff. We do not exist in a vacuum, and we do not worship God in one either.
I like to think of worship as a turning or obsessing of the heart towards something or someone. Jesus says in John 4 that God is Spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and truth. However, it is impossible for us to separate our spirits from our bodies, so the Bible is full from end to end on ways in which to discipline the body in order to enable our spirits to worship. This is worship, the disciplining of our bodies in order to turn our hearts towards God.
However, as soon as we involve our bodies, we also involve the eating, breathing, sleeping, singing… we cannot worship God without using our bodies and including other people in some way. Culture is the means by which we express our obsession, devotion and worship of the Holy God. The holiness, or "set-apart-ness", is the way in which we use culture, not the avoidance of it.
If this is true, we should be incredibly concerned with how our culture functions as a context and means of our worship. We exist in a world full of other people, their "stuff" and their priorities. God has made us holy, set apart, so that we "may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Peter 2:9 b) God sets us apart for his own glory and then sends us right back into culture to redeem it so that our worshipful expressions might reflect his glory even more than before. The measure of our worship of the Holy God will be echoed in the passion we carry to redeem the culture we use to worship him with. In other words, the fulfillment and satisfaction we find in our relationship with God is the source of our energy to include other people and their cultures in it.
The holiness God calls us to is an identity in himself and the expression he desires of this is a redeemed culture's worship in spirit and truth. Sin hinders us in this pursuit, so there is an aspect of holiness that requires a struggle against sin, but the struggle is not the holiness.
There are many things I could say about how I see the Arts being an important part of both Christian worship and the broader culture, but this will have to be for another day. I'll end with this though; what areas of life do you find to have a great influence in both the popular secular world and Christian worship at the same time?
10/14/2013 01:21 PM
"I Surrender All" Theology
I Surrender All is a famous hymn, but it is also in infamous hymn. Famous because of its accessible melody and passionate words, and infamous because of its bold acclimation of complete and utter surrender. Many people have come to me after singing it in church expressing frustration because, "I don't surrender all". Can we actually sing this hymn and not be lying to God?
My answer is YES! In much the same way that the father of a sick child cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”, so we can sing I Surrender All. Because of the substitution of our sin with Christ's righteousness, God honors our half-hearted cry of surrender.
The exclamation of “I believe" is echoed in the lines:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
And the plea of "help my unbelief" are sung in the last two stanzas:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.
The general context of this passage from Mark 9 is that Christ is King, he is setting up his kingdom and is going back to the Father to plead on our behalf. It is when we come to God with Jesus as our authority that we are humble enough to say, "help my unbeleif". It is when we plead with God to fill us with -His- love and power, that we can join in singing:
I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to Thee, my blessèd Savior,
I surrender all.
09/18/2013 02:30 PM
When I first started full-time campus ministry, I thought that I would get to campus and my days would be filled with answering questions that students have about life. If only that was the case. Instead, my hours are filled with trying to find ways to get students to even desire to ask questions. Unlike my own natural inclination to question everything and work myself into philosophical crisis, I have realized that most people zoom through life without ever challenging the status quo.
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make my Bible studies, discussion groups, and sermons a balance between "attractive" and challenging. If I let students know that we will be discussing ideas and asking questions, no one comes. If I make everything out to be a party, I mourn that no one was challenged.
However, there is anomaly in our culture in that we worship entertainment. Christians, including myself, often talk about the destructive "entertainment culture" we live in, but I have begun to see this less as an obstacle to the gospel and more of a chink in the armor of post-modernism. Entertainment is admittedly often formulaic and cheap, but it is also comprised of very good art.
This is something I celebrate, and the more I do ministry, the more I value art. Unlike discussion groups and sermons, art lets people interact with ideas and reality in a different way. It challenges the status quo, it doesn't let you get comfortable. In a sense, it tricks people into thinking deeply and asking questions without letting them know. And they love it! You don't have to pull arms and legs to get people to talk about and engage art… okay sometimes you do, but it is a whole lot easier than trying to start a conversation about existentialism and modern cultural assumptions. Through art, people can experience the hopelessness of postmodernism, the angst of romanticism and the hope of Christianity. It's one thing to talk about ideas, but experiencing them through art gives people the chance to know it in a deeper level.
This is not the same thing as being "seeker sensitive". Most churches use entertainment to try and create a comfortable enviroment for people to live in. This is the exact opposite of what art is supposed to do. Good art either challenges or redirects you to and idea or reality. Within a Christian world-view, it should not encourage you to remain selfish and comfortable. With good art, we are challenged in our faith and inspired to hope in Christ, not become apathetic and reactionary. This is why my value for art and creativity only increases with ministry experience and why I think the church so desperately needs it.
07/17/2013 10:53 AM
Why I Sing
For some reason, when I think only of Christ's death, I don't have a strong emotional reaction... maybe it's my hard heart, but when I read the accounts of the smaller side stories, I'm wrecked. What I mean is, the accounts of Lazarus' sister Mary anointing Jesus for burial, Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross, the small group of friends and family waiting beneath the cross, and finally the thief who repented on the cross next to Christ all leave me week in the knees. What gets me is how these seemingly small things are what encouraged Christ during his passion. Just like Christ's description of Mary's offering as "beautiful", I'm overwhelmed at the love of God for His son when I read these accounts. The man, Jesus Christ, knew what he was in for; the weight of humanity's sin and intense bodily suffering. God, his father, didn't leave Christ alone, but rather gave him human companions and friends almost every step of the way. These small side stories make Christ's passion real to me. I am human. I can't relate to bearing the weight of other's sin or being tortured to death, but I can relate to pain and being encouraged by friends and the beautiful gift that it is. God the Father, in His deep, deep love, gave Christ physical, relatable reasons to enduring his death.
This meditation on the love of the Father for His Son, and the relatable feelings of encouragement are what soften my heart. We really do have a loving God, and Christ knew this when he instituted communion. Christ, in his understanding of the Father, left us with a relatable, physical way to remember his death and be encouraged. Everyone knows the bread and wine of communion. In many ways, these are meant for us to be reminded of the death, suffering and sacrifice of Christ. But what gets me is the way in which Christ also left us with a way to understand and relate to him after his resurrection. We are all familiar with the words, "This is my blood... poured out for many". But his words that come right after are, "I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” - wait, you mean to tell me that Christ won't drink wine until we are with him in Heaven? Perhaps I'm reading it wrong, feel free to correct me. The last thing that Christ tasted was sour vinegar. I don't know about you, but all I want after tasting bad wine is good wine.
Not only has God showed His love to us by encouraging Christ in his death by relatable human means, but Christ has also given us a way to relate to Him in his wait for creation's consummation. I can't wait to be there when Christ renews his drink of the vine. It'll be one big party. However, in the meantime, we drink to remember his death. My response is much like the disciples' in the account of Mark, "...when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Upon reflection of the physical, relatable passion of Christ, I don't know what else I can do except also engage in the physical, relateble act of singing praise to my Redeemer - Glory Hallelujah.
04/10/2012 11:42 AM