J Scott McElroy

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Little Justification for Art

In Art, Arts Conferences, Christian Art, Church Art, Creativity, Family on March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Rookmaaker in the classroom.

In 1977 noted Christian philosopher Hans Rookmaaker wrote a small book titled Art Needs no Justification. His premise was that art, creativity, and beauty have inherent value simply because God gave them to us. In a general sense, art doesn’t need a reason to exist, any more than a tree needs a reason to exist. (I included a larger quote from it here.) It’s an inspiring thought.

But it is nice to have a little justification; an occasional confirmation that our artistic endeavors are on the right track.

Scott speaking at Bethel ’11.

Last spring, during a speaking trip to California, my daughter and I were at the Bethel School of Supernatural Creativity in Redding to lead a workshop. One of the interesting  things they do at the school is set up an “Encounter Room”, where attendees can experience a number of forms of creativity that are designed to be led by the Holy Spirit. I’ve written before about the prophetic culinary table, where chefs create a delightful treat in front of you while interpreting the meaning of each ingredient.  There’s also an area where dancers will do interpretive prophetic dance as you sit and pray, and a booth where children from the Bethel elementary school will pray for you then ask God to give them a picture or a word about your life. It’s amazing how powerful those innocent little crayon and colored pencil pictures and words are.

This kind of risky, out-of-the-box creativity is at first disorienting, then thrilling to watch. “What if it doesn’t work?” you might think. Well, what if it does! These people trust that God will inspire their creativity so that others can experience a unique personal encounter with Him. It may sound downright strange to the uninitiated, but it’s certainly not any more unusual than much of performance art you see in the world, some of which is designed to shock and disturb. This is designed to spread God’s love.

One of the encounters at this event involved a roving drama troupe that would walk around the “Encounter Room” looking for people whom God seemed to highlight. The actors would address those people and perform a little improv drama. When this troupe came across my daughter they gave her some encouraging words, then handed her a branch from a bush that they felt God had led them to collect earlier. It was some sort of holly I think, with shiny, thick leaves. This was a meaningful experience for Hailee, for reasons she couldn’t fully explain, and she kept the branch, carrying it during the last leg of our trip in California then on the plane back home to Indiana.

Somewhere along the way we noticed that the branch actually had a strange growth on it, like a very hard and reptilian-looking cocoon. At home we decided to put the branch in water and see how long the leaves would stay green, and then we pretty much forgot about it.

A couple of weeks later my wife started noticing dozens of pesky little green bugs around the kitchen. There’s nothing that Danielle hates more than bugs in the house, so my mission became to eradicate them and find the source of the infestation.  As I took a closer look at the little pests, I realized that they weren’t gnats or average, run-of-the-mill bugs; these were actually baby praying mantises! Yep, that odd cocoon had a little rip in it. They were Northern California praying mantises that had survived the multi-day journey home and a couple of weeks in our kitchen, to hatch when and where God intended!

This little miracle was a confirmation for Hailee of how God loves and cares for her and of His appreciation for her unique personality.  She loves random and odd occurrences and this turn of events brought a sense of joy and wonder to both of us.  When she looked up the meaning of a praying mantis, what jumped off the page is that they can be interpreted as a symbol of direction, to point your way home. As a 20-year old in a confusing world, she needs direction, and this was God’s confirmation that He will bring it. That He sees her.  It also served to affirm some personal things He’d been speaking to her.

This special message for my daughter started with a group of young artists, many Hailee’s age and younger, who were nurtured and encouraged by the ministry of a risk-taking church. They asked God for a little inspiration and stepped out to make an unusual improv performance art piece, hoping that it might have some impact on someone. It did, and neither of us will ever forget it.

Dear Artist of faith, keep working in the areas, on the projects that God is compelling you to. Keep seeking Him, asking for ideas and inspiration. Keep aspiring to collaborate with Him, keep taking risks. The making of art may need no justification, but sometimes, in surprising and whimsical ways, God gives it.

A baby praying mantis on Hailee’s finger.

J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity (Destiny Image), and Founder and Director of The New Renaissance Arts Movement. Reach him at: Scott@TheNewR.org.

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Art Needs No Justification

In Art, Christian Art, Church Art, Creativity, Uncategorized on March 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This quote is lifted from Hans Rookmaaker’s 1978 book, Art Needs No Justification. I’ll refer to it in an upcoming post, and thought you might find it inspiring. I know I did.

“God gave humanity the skill to make things beautiful, to
make music, to write poems, to make sculpture, to decorate things. The artistic
possibilities are there to be actualized, realized by us, and to be given a concrete form.
God gave this to humankind and its meaning is exactly in its givenness. It is given by
God, has to be done through God, that is, through the talents he gives, in obedience to
him and in love for him and others. In this way it is offered back to him.
If in this way art has its own meaning as Gods creation, it does not need
justification. Its justification is its being a God-given possibility. Nevertheless it can
fulfill many functions. This is a proof of the richness and unity of Gods creation. It can
be used to communicate, to stand for high values, to decorate our environment or just to
be a thing of beauty. It can be used in the church. We make a fine baptismal font; we use
good silverware for our communion service and so on. But its use is much wider than
that. Its uses are manifold. Yet, all these possibilities together do not justify art.
Art has its own meaning. A work of art can stand in the art gallery and be
cherished for its own sake. We listen to a piece of music simply to enjoy it, a kind of
enjoyment that is not merely hedonistic; it surpasses that even if in some cases it can give
great pleasure. But it has the possibility of a great number of functions that result from art
being tied to reality with a thousand ties. It is exactly this last element that has been
underrated by those people who spoke of high Art as autonomous, for its own sake.
As art does not need justification, nobody has to be excused for making art.
Artists do not need justification, just as butchers, gardeners, taxi drivers, police officers
or nurses do not need to justify with clever arguments why they are doing their work.”

The Art of Not Taking Offense

In Art, Christian Art, Church Art, Creativity, Uncategorized on March 8, 2012 at 3:39 pm

"I do not think it means what you think it means."

One of my favorite lines from the Princess Bride comes when Inigo Montoya addresses Vizzini about his constant use of the word “Inconceivable!” saying, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That came to mind today when God led me to read me the story of Jeremiah and the Rekabites. In Jeremiah 35, God instructs the prophet: “Go to the Rekabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the Lord and give them wine to drink.” So Jeremiah got some special cups and bowls and set them out nicely before the clan, doing exactly what the Lord told him. I wonder if he had some idea of God meant to do. Maybe he thought, “It’ll be nice to get to know these folks. I hope they notice I used the good wine.”

But when the Rekabites arrived and Jeremiah invited them to drink, they actually seemed sort of angry. They said, “We do not drink wine, because our forefather Jehonadab of Rekab gave us this command: ‘Neither you nor your descendants must ever drink wine!’” Duoh! “This is awkward,” Jeremiah might have thought, “Did I mishear you, Lord?”

As an artist, I’ve had this happen several times. Times when I’ve felt like God clearly instructed me to do something; to make a piece of art or work on a particular project. I’ve prepared everything just right, like Jeremiah did, only to have the whole thing seemingly jump the tracks. Maybe the reaction is the opposite of what I expected, maybe someone drops the ball or the project implodes, maybe my execution doesn’t come together or the presentation falls apart. I’m left shaking my head, wondering if I heard God right. My natural reaction is to get offended; at others, “They have no appreciation for how hard I worked!”, or God, “How could you let this happen when I’m serving you!” And if you work in any creative capacity in the church, you know that satan will bring along endless opportunities to get offended.

I heard Patricia King say, “Offenses aren’t given, they are taken”. It’s true. It is our choice whether or not to agree with satan’s suggestions to get offended about the “raw deal” we got. And taking an offense is a great way to hinder the progress God is making in your life and work. You can get stuck as you brood on it. That old artist’s lie that “no one understands me, it’s me against the world” can pop up.

It’s important to immediately give these thoughts and feelings to God when they appear. Forgive quickly, if that is needed. Remind yourself that your identity is in God, not in your work or what you can do for Him. Actually, Jeremiah was probably pretty good at that; being a full-time oracle of God he was used to the Lord’s unusual methods. For us it can be more of a challenge.

In the case of Jeremiah and Rekabites, God’s plan for the encounter was more than just a little wine tasting with the nice family from down the street. He used the Rekabites negative reaction to highlight their faithful obedience in following a generations-old command to their forefathers to not drink wine (and a list of other things, as well.) It was a perfect juxtaposition to the extreme unfaithfulness of the Israelites. In spite of having generations of prophets to guide them, the Israelites continued to rebel against God’s good plan for them.

In my case or yours, when we encounter an unexpected twist in following God’s leading, He may just be cooking up something that we couldn’t imagine. We may never know exactly what He was doing. Or it may be about our personal growth. Either way, if I choose to take offense at how things seemingly turn out, I miss out on the joy of the adventure God is including me in; that joy of letting go of control, going with His flow, and trusting Him with the results. If things happen to go south, refuse to take the offense. Things probably do not mean what you think they mean. But we can trust that God’s plan is better than anything we could come up with.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration: Working with the Holy Spirit in Your Creativity (Destiny Image), Founder and Director of The New Renaissance Arts Movement, and Director of Arts at Vineyard Community Church, Indianapolis, IN. He blogs at https://jscottmc.wordpress.com. Reach him at: Scott@TheNewR.org.