Monday, February 07, 2011

Synchroblog: Creativity and Christianity

Surprisingly one of the best parts of our move to New Brunswick was the lack of really, consistently good restaurants available to us. There are a few, but far too often we would get frustrated with their lack of variety, hit-or-miss menu or just the unfamiliarity of it all. We had favorite foods that we couldn't find or weren't up to our hopes, so we determined to make them ourselves.

I could have never known how much joy and satisfaction cooking and hospitality has brought to our family. We really love to create meals together, be bold and experiment with tastes and new foods. It's been an amazing surprise for us all. We're all healthier and far more adventurous than we could have dreamed.

One of the motivators for our culinary quest was a celebration meal we had at a highly recommended restaurant in our area. The menu was vast, every type of food available, so many options. We each ordered just what we wanted and it was set before us, attractively prepared, but when we tasted the food it was like eating left overs. Keith and I looked at each other, not wanting to wreck Ali & Jake's enjoyment of a night out, but very disappointed in the amount of money we were spending for such unappetizing food. As we left the restaurant we saw into the kitchen things we could not see in the light of the finishing day. Microwave upon microwave. The chef was a very talented cook. His original creation was probably wonderful. Unfortunately his vast menu was the downfall of his service. Trying to keep up with all of the items required him to make in bulk and freeze items for later use. Creativity in the can. Freeze dried moments in time.

I find I have much of the same experience when I come in contact with things labeled "Christian art", "Christian music" and "Christian fiction". I am not saying that it is all bad, there are many talented musicians, authors and artists that produce within the evangelical mainstream. What feels pre-packaged to me is the desperate need to over explain, direct and homogenize the "message".

I am re-reading Madeline L'Engle's Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art as I prepare for the largest art project I've ever undertaken. She draws the distinction between overtly religious books she was given as a child and the story of The Secret Garden. She says:

"The Secret Garden is probably the most successful and most read and re-read of Burnett's books; it is also Christian, though I don't remember whether or not it ever mentions Jesus. And it is more successful than Little Lord Fauntleroy, for instance, because it is a better piece of storytelling, less snobbish, and the message doesn't show, like a slip hanging below the hem of a dress. I think we can all recognize ourselves, at least to some degree, in Mary Lennox, who is as spoiled and self-centered a child as one can find, thoroughly nasty and unlovable, basically because she's never been taught to love anybody but herself. The secret garden is as much the garden of Mary's heart as it is the walled English garden, and we watch Mary's slow growth into the realization of other people's needs and then into love. Mary's journey into love is, in fact, her journey into Christ, though this is never said and does not need to be said."

"Like a slip hanging below the hem of a dress" - that metaphor says it all for me. Can we tell the story and allow those who receive it to meet it in their own gentle way? Jesus always allowed for this. Story is portable, I carry it with me when I go, unpacking it at my leisure, retrieving from it what I am able and returning to it again and again for something new. When we over-explain or feel the need to only tell ONE story over and over again, recycling the "come to Jesus" moment in every script, story and song the only people left listening are those who no longer need that story.

Redemption is found in the most elemental of places. When something that is lost becomes found we all connect with that emotion and depth. When things are laid bare like a slip below the hem line there is no mystery to unpack, no resonance to echo, no unpacking left to do. Those are the stories, the songs and the scripts that leave me cold, like that re-heated meal at the restaurant. Instead I am warmed and I find a deeper satisfaction by the cooking of our own meals, our kitchen filled with steam and laughter, sometimes even chaos and frustration, but most of the time love and connection. Creating teaches me about God. Becoming a co-creator engages me in the story, in the majesty, in the redemption.

I was raised in a rather sparse corner of the faith kingdom. Bare walls, few instruments and little story. It nearly squished all of the life out of my little bohemian heart. There were life guards along my path though, teachers engaging me in great literature, explaining the stories behind the music, fanning the flame that was my soul. How sad that so little of that happened within my faith structure, that most of the stories I did hear there were of fear and conformity. I felt like an outsider even in the club, and at times, especially in the club. Nothing in me ever wanted to rebel. I possessed a deep longing to glorify God and bring joy; how unfortunate that there were so few channels to do so within the church.

Instead I changed, I conformed and I did my level best to live in a way that fit. It was obvious to everyone including me how little I understood the rules, knew the script and could follow the directions, I truly never did fit in. It was never out of a sour heart, just a total lack of instinct. So I shut down. I withdrew. I projected a persona that could maintain a small social interaction, but did not allow for my inner person to be seen. It wasn't safe, I wasn't sure.

It has been years of healing and growth that has finally brought me to a place of beginning to own my co-creator-ness in a more public manner. Some of my art hangs framed on the walls of my home. I make gifts from time to time for others. Each risk in turn brings the capacity to take a larger one. And it has finally come to the time when I must throw caution to the wind and try for all I am worth to own this bohemian soul I have been given. Hippie to the heart, grace to myself and others, storyteller and redemption junkie. I am going big or going home.

This Friday is the 2nd deadline for our entry in the Kingsbrae Garden sculpture contest. We have cleared the first hurdle, and are prepared for the second. I am sending in the photos of the maquette we have created. It is a miniature of a 50' long mother humpback whale and her 15' calf. The mother's blow hole and the calf's fluke will be done in cement mosaic, the rest of the form will rise,out of the sod, as if you were standing on the edge of a whale watching ship - go big or go home...

I am terrified, electric, overwhelmed and excited. None of this necessarily fits into the "Christian Art" category, but it is the most deeply spiritual exercise of my life.

L'Engle likens the setting aside of Christ's power to become a man to that of the artist. Loss of control, becoming a servant of the work is what each author, composer and artist pray for. Annunciation is the most Christ-like act on the face of the earth. Setting aside our power for the sake of another. She says:

"But the reality of the outcome of all annunciations is a reality which is scoffed at by most of the world. It is one of the great triumphs of Lucifer that he has managed to make Christians (Christians!) believe that a story is a lie, that a myth should be outgrown with puberty, that to act in a play is inconsistent with true religion."

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, "Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me." And the artist either says, "My soul doth magnify the Lord," and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary."

"Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music, a story is a story. If it's bad art, it's bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it's good art...and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade."

Creativity & Christianity should never be enemies. Profanity yes, but engaging as a co-creator with God is the highest calling we all can have in any sense of our lives.

We have been approved for a Kickstarter application - if we make it over the next hurdle we will be broadcasting our need of patrons here very soon. We would love for you to be co-creators with us in this endeavor. We will also be documenting this process - nearly 25 years of marriage has taught us that even the most simple things can bring out the worst and best in us - we can imagine how something this huge and creative could really become a spectator sport, so we'll track our progress of the whole process here:


Ironically - it is currently very IMPERFECT - as we are having horrible problems with images and css - if any of you are code wizards your help would not go unrecognized - we have a great wordpress theme, but are really struggling with all of the tiny bits of customization.

This blog post is part of a communal synchro-blog effort - you can find more on Creativity & Christianity here:

February Synchroblog - Creativity & Christianity

here are the link lists so far for February synchroblog:


Erin said...

I'm calling Kincade and telling him you're breaking the rules ;)

So happy that the Kickstarter proposal went though! Yeah! Looking forward to hearing how this goes :)

Heidi Renee said...

I've been up since 4:00 this a.m., so I'm not sure who Kincade is and if I really am breaking rules Erin... can you please clarify.

Anonymous said...

Imperfectionists! Beautiful. L'Engle rocks, doesn't she? And to say that you grew up in a sparse atmosphere is putting it lightly.

You are really growing, flourishing and I have to say it is exciting to see, Heidi.



p.s. I think Kincade is that pop culture figure who cranks out endless low-brow paintings.

Kel said...

whoot whoot whoot
rahrahrahrah - yeah!

do you see me wildly waving pompoms and jumping like a starfish to cheer you on?


this is an excellent piece of writing too

Heidi Renee said...

Thank you Troy - I thought he was like the synchroblog rule setter or something and I wasn't following the rules - see you can take the girl out of the sparse world, but she never stops looking behind her :)

Thank you all for the encouragement and blog love - such a huge help!

Heidi Renee said...

Kel - jumping up and down like a starfish :) great L'Engle link :) I can hear you all the way from Oz!!!

Bethany said...

This is a wonderful post and sums up so well why I am often so bored with "Christian art". I have been meaning to read that book by L'Engle for a while - loved the quotes you shared from it - I'm going to really have to go find it and read it now. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with the synchroblog this month - I'm so glad I read it!

Jeremy Myers said...

"I find I have much of the same experience when I come in contact with things labeled "Christian art", "Christian music" and "Christian fiction"."


Thanks for this post. I laughed when I read about the restaurant that uses row upon row of microwaves for their food. Yikes!!!

Thanks for joining the synchroblog!

Anonymous said...

Whoooo hoooo!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! I AM SO IN!!!!!!!

Erin!!! Heeeeey!!!

Erin said...

Sorry, luv. I was being a bit of an ass. You totally know Thomas Kinkade (I spelled his name wrong earlier lol!) by his work, even if you don't know his name.

Kel said...

Erin I totally got your Kinkade comment, and I thought you were very clever!!!!

Heidi Renee said...

bhah - the houses with lights guy - I understand now! clueless I am...

Liz said...

Heidi - Thanks so much for joining the synchroblog. I love what you wrote and have felt the same kind of frustration and pain about the way art and artists are treated within the Christian faith during my lifetime. Hopefully things are starting to change. Good luck on your grand artistic adventure.

PS Sorry about the delay in commenting. I was out of town when the Feb synchroblog happened. I had written my post early but am just now getting around to reading all the great posts.

Heidi Renee said...

Thanks so much Liz! Glad to participate, this subject was really close to home.