Baggage: When Did Art Leave the Church?
This last weekend I drove to Mckinney TX both to celebrate the accomplishment and fresh dream of my best friend of nearly 30 years, as well as to be a part of an international gathering of women celebrating their faith in what we know as the IF:gathering. It was a first for me on many levels, but it was an experience I will never forget! As I drove 3 hours home, tired as i was, I had plenty of time to process and unpack it all. Truly, I think there are more blog posts than I have head space to write at this point. Also, I tried to get up before the whole house was awake to write this, only to have tiny toes follow me for some fortnite--insert eyeroll.
At any rate, last weekend’s talks sparked several conversations in my heart:
When did art leave the church? And what is the point of church at all?
Yes, you read that right. I’m questioning the purpose of the American Church.
Now depending on what camp you fall in, I will have lost or gained many of you based on that last sentence, but if I may implore you to make it to the end...I sincerely think it may be worth your time. This is not really intended to be a faith-based blog, though I am a faith-based person, so obviously faith is going to be something I unpack from time to time
I remember when I was just a girl going to junior high church camps and spending my spring breaks doing missions in impoverished parts of mexico, always hearing statistics spouted about the “mass exodus” of young people in the church. I heard these stats echoed all the way through my days in campus ministry at Texas Tech. But if I’m honest, I never thought too much about it, mostly because church had always been filled with fun and friends. I couldn’t understand what would cause people to want to walk away.
Fast forward about 15 years and I can confidently say that I get it now!
Why? Because the last couple of years, I’ve questioned the concept of what we recognize as the “American Church”. <insert record skipping>.
Go ahead, read that again. I’ll wait…
This may seem a little out of left field since I am a conceptual fine art photographer, so let me offer you some background before we begin unpacking this heavy suitcase. I am what you could call “ well-churched” I’ve basically been a church-goer my whole life. I made a choice to follow Jesus as a very little girl. Sure, there are many gaps in my life where my devotion to my faith was questionable at best, but in my heart of hearts, I meant it. At any rate, Church is the place I found some of my deepest friendships--BUT--and it’s a big one-- it’s also where I experienced some of my deepest pain and biggest rejections. You see, church is supposed to be this safe space to go to when your broken. It’s supposed to be a place where you can be your most vulnerable and find healing. It’s a place that should carry the weight of who you are with ease. That is what Jesus offers us isn’t it? But if that is what the church is, why was there a mass exodus of young people? Why are more and more people, including myself, questioning whether the American church is worth investing time in?
The churches that I have tried to get connected to, seem to not have a room for me--the person from out of town--the non-college student--the girl who makes weird art.
And now we’re getting to the fun part, yeah? Relax. I’m only likely to ruffle a few feathers ;)
I don’t know about your church, but the last 5 years of my church-going experience, have made me question everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
This. This is where I begin to sort through this baggage. And I sincerely hope you’ll stick around for it.
5 years ago, the weatherman and I packed up and moved to the place we’d dreamed of for 11 years...
5 years ago, we left a brand new spacious 4 bedroom house on a quiet cul-de-sac and some of the best friends we’d ever had...
5 years ago, we left great schools and a great church full of great people to pursue a great dream of ours...
Also 5 years ago...
We landed in a tiny apartment in a unfamiliar place and half our belongings floating in a POD in the sky (as we called it).
In the midst of transition to the dream we’d steadfastly prayed and believed for--something in us broke. Completely. Totally.
We began experiencing crippling and devastating anxiety and depression. The kind that rules your entire life and threatens to strip you of EVERYTHING you know and love.
During all of this, we looked to do what we’d always done; the only thing we knew how to do...find our people (aka find a church). Find a community of people who would love us through this challenging time and transition. Find a community of people who could support us and walk with us through the darkest days we’d experienced in our entire marriage and maybe ever.
Do you know what we found? Not that.
It’s no wonder people are leaving the church by the droves if this is how it’s done.
Do I sound angry?-- I am. It grieves me.
We found a place where people already had their groups of friends.
We found a place where there didn’t appear to be room for us.
We found a place of impatience where coffee and conversation didn’t “fix us”.
Worst of all, we found impotence toward fixing real problems.
The Church did not appear to be able to provide healing counsel and/or support to us.
We found a place where people did not seem particularly interested in the inconvenience and longsuffering of building relationships with new people, but especially new people with baggage-not-easily-unpacked.
Cue the art…
Fast forward a couple of very miserable years and this is where art found me...okay sort of, but that’s a conversation for another day.
In 2015 I picked up a camera, learned how to use it, and started a business--the same way everyone gets into photography these days.
In 2018, my business was failing, I was bored out of my mind, but I had something unrecognizable burning deep within me.
You know the saying, “necessity is the mother of invention”? I believe necessity lives at the crux of boredom sometimes.
That’s when I started creating ART!
But not just any art...deep art. The kind that comes from the unspoken place. The place you forgot about. The places you buried 6ft under and planted fresh flowers over to mask the stench of death and decay.
I didn’t know what or how, but only that I HAD to.
Once I started--I couldn’t stop. I can’t stop.
And then a funny thing happened--people started watching.
Suddenly, I had their attention whether I wanted to or not. (Okay, maybe I wanted it--I’m building something here. Don’t’ judge me)
Suddenly, I had a unique group of people, including some church people, gravitate toward the thing I was creating. They didn’t seem bothered by it’s raw nature. They weren’t concerned that it screamed at them. Not even bothered that it made them feel things that were uncomfortable to speak of.
My art was speaking. It had a voice. It is as if it tapped into something people wanted/needed!
These people I found myself swimming with, were not the “religious folks”. No, I’m pretty sure I make those folks cringe and I’m okay with that.
These people were willing to look and say “This resonates”.
Art striking a beautiful chord in the hearts of a people.
That’s when it hit me--Art creates community! But not just any community--a community of people in process! These people, were people willing to acknowledge their brokenness! These people weren’t afraid to feel.
These people are my people.
I found my people.
Many of them are artists. Artists of their own mediums.
Do you know what’s great about artists? They make us think. They’re willing to face real issues--to speak of them in a universal language. They press our traditional boundaries. They ask the real questions. They explore and find truth. Artists are truth seekers, wave-riders, healers.
Do you remember the story of the tower of babel??? --Artist speak the only language we all understand!
In the last 6 months, I believe God has opened my eyes to see his movement. I hadn’t noticed it before. I believe there is momentum like never before-- a revival even--do you see it?
I believe God is raising a generation of artists to create ART.
Good art speaks...it moves...it makes connection.
It’s helps us experience our brokenness and deliver us from it at the same time (I think Brene Brown said that)
Art puts words to things only the spirit knows.
Art speaks a different language and the way you become fluent is simply by being willing to feel.
People!, I beg you to get this!.
Art draws people...did you hear that? ←-read that again.
And again. And again!
Art draws people. Literally and Symbolically.
Art Draws people. They are churched. They are unchurched. They are broken. They are whole. Some of them have deep disdain for the Church as they’ve known it--for many of the same reasons I do, but THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. They are your people. They are in process. And they show it through incredible works of thought provoking art.
And while we’re here….when and why did the church and the arts break-up anyway?
The early churches were covered wall to wall with frescoes and giant sculptures created by our artistic forefathers.
When was the last time you saw a piece of thought provoking art in a church?
So I wrote all of this crazy long drawn out not meant to be churchy blog post--to say. What if God is bringing a worldwide revival through the arts? What if He is calling out artists, creators, craftsman and maker’s to be his medium and carry out his work?
What if He is using art to show Himself in an unprecedented way? I believe He is. I believe you’ll see it too if you’ll only open your eyes to the movement of what’s going on around you...on instagram..in the media… people leaving their jobs to give way to dreams of creative entrepreneurship! It’s happening all around us! WAKE UP!
People! Let’s marry the church and art again! I believe this is a beginning revival, but it doesn’t look like we expect it to--guess what--that is art.
I’d pack my bags tomorrow and travel the globe to speak of this if anyone would hear me!!
So as I wrap this up, let me issue these final thoughts.
God is not limited to the confines of our 4 walls or our limited minds. He will find a people to align with him and do his work whether the American Church will see it or not. We do not know how many people were invited to follow before Simon and Andrew dropped what they were doing to follow Jesus to learn to fish differently in Mark 1:16-17. We don’t get to know that. All I know is that I believe Jesus has issued me this invitation to help bring arts back into the church and the church to the arts--it may not look the way you thought it would--but isn’t that the way God works?
“After all, He is not tame lion, No, but he is good.”
~ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis