religion

Francis A. Schaeffer on Christians and Art

From my Theatre Research and Aesthetics class at Regent University, I’ve obtained a compilation called The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. The assigned portions of the text were made free for the class, but I found what little bit we had to read all so compelling that I had to buy the book for myself.

I’ve yet to read anything else besides the assigned readings, but it has essays from J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, and so many others that have incorporated their Christian worldview into the storytelling. These writers let their worldview guide their artistry, and their work is acclaimed by those within and without the faith (well, except maybe that Jesus lion Lewis incessantly droned on about).

One author I want to focus on now is Francis A. Schaeffer. He was a prominent evangelical apologist in the last three decades of the 20th Century, and he had a lot to say about the Christian worldview and its confrontation with art. At times, he may seem legalistic and uber-authoritative, but he makes several fine points – one of which being this thought on regarding the “technical excellence” of an artwork as a criterion for discerning its greatness:

By recognizing technical excellence as an aspect of an artwork, we are often able to say that while we do not agree with such and such an artist’s world view, he is nonetheless a great artist. We are n ot being true to the artist as a man if we consider is artwork junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life.

The older me would not have seen the social and even spiritual grace reflected in these words. “If the artist isn’t a Christian,” I would often think, “then they can’t possibly make anything good.” And “if they are a Christian,” conversely, “then whatever they make will be good.” Growing up, that was the way I learned how to think. It’s how many of those in my circle and many more of those who share the Christian faith with have been raised and reared to think. Schaeffer addresses this phenomenon:

Christian schools, Christian parents, and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because [they] did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected with scorn and ridicule.

I don’t bring it up to shame anybody. In fact, I’m sure that whatever choices were made in my own upbringing regarding cultural engagement were made in my best interest. We all know of those movies we weren’t supposed to watch for Reason A and those songs we weren’t supposed to listen to for Reason B. It’s a fine line, though, between rightfully “guarding our hearts” and shutting ourselves off from the world we’re called to rescue.

I’m not saying everyone should go watch anything that would sear their conscience, but you can’t tell me that The Shawshank Redemption – in all its beautiful, horrible depictions of reality – isn’t a story teeming with the Gospel.

Schaeffer concludes his point on technical excellence thusly:

Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ with his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man. Technical excellence is, therefore, an important criterion.

I may not have been exposed to vastly different worldviews in artform had it not been for my collegiate theatre experiences. For example, I played Moonface Martin in Motlow’s 2010 production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes! Moonface was a gangster on the run from the law, and his only way to evade the coppers was to disguise himself as a priest while aboard the S.S. American (the setting of the play).

While the role was fun to play (one of my favorites to date), I remembered being slightly deflated when I learned that that was how Cole Porter perceived the Christian faith and those who believed in it: clumsy thugs and criminals disguised as priests and holy men. After researching some more about Cole’s personal life, I could only sympathize with him on his point.

TBB - Moonface Martin

I know what you’re thinking…pics or it didn’t happen…so here ya go.

The difference in worldviews didn’t stop me and the rest of the cast from enjoying our time together in the show, nor did it stop the audience from enjoying themselves as they watched it.

All that to say that one doesn’t have to be a Christian to make good art, and not everything that a Christian artist makes will be good art.

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The Devil At Work (a poem)

Most people think that the devil at work
is a creature with horns, a red cape, and a fork
that sneaks up behind us and tells us to sin
whenever we’re tempted to stumble again.

That could be the case if the devil were God
and was at one time everywhere and abroad
and actually used all the power we give him
instead of the fear in which he has been livin’.

But all our mistakes and the folly we live in
result from the chances we think we’ve been given
and choices we make when we try to be level;
the devil just doesn’t have time to be “devil.”

The devil at work isn’t worth the explorin’ –
our pride and our lust will do all the work for him.

This photo was taken by Michael Hull and is available through Unsplash.com.

Driving in the Moonlight (a poem)

my generation drives in the moonlight
of faith filtered by fallacious fear
of hope held down by hollowed histrionics
of love lost in the limbo of legality

illumination without demonstration
memorization without externalization
catechism without asceticism
reading a heap without feeding the sheep
knowing a need without sowing the seed
faith without works – and it hurts

we cry because nothing grows in the moonlight
we have just enough sight to see the path
and just enough height to hit the gas
but we can’t commit to letting God drive

we have to check our headlights and our tail lights
our engine light between every stop light
to provide new cars for our future security
never minding how hot the radiator runs
never minding the thought that rarely ever comes
works without faith – and it isn’t safe

my generation drives in the moonlight
we think we have to go somewhere nice
and we think we have to do something good
but we don’t want to wait for the Son.

City of Children Cold Water Challenge

Here’s my Cold Water Challenge video.

I was challenged by a friend here in town, and I’ve chosen to donate my $10 to the City of Children orphanage in Ensenada, Mexico.

But instead of nominating other people for the challenge, I’m only asking for prayers and encouragement as my mission team and I go down to Ensenada and serve at this orphanage.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” — James 1:27

city of children, ensenada, mexico, orphanage, game, girls

Year Four at the City of Children

This Saturday, I and several others will be leaving for the City of Children. We’ll be doing our best to obey the Great Commission, and we’ll need all the encouragement we can get.

It’s my fourth year going, and I still get jittery excited just thinking about it.

We as the Fairlane group will be joining a group from Southside Church of Christ – not the one here in Shelbyville but the one from Winchester – not the Winchester here in Tennessee, but the one from from Virginia. These guys are on fire, and I can’t wait to fellowship with and be encouraged by them.

The City of Children

The City of Children is an orphanage located in Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja peninsula. We’ll fly from Naahville to San Diego ans then load up on a huge shuttle bus, cross the boarder, drive around (not through) Tijuana, and end up at the orphanage just outside downtown Ensenada.

The orphanage itself is pretty well-cared for. It is maintained by people who actually care for the children living in it and show that care not only through loving the children but also loving and respecting their living space.

But it is surrounded by a world of dirt floors and plywood ceilings – a world of physical hunger as well as spiritual starvation – a world only two hours away from San Diego. It’s unsettling to think of how close this world is; it’s even more unsettling to think of much of that world has already leaked into our world.

A Typical Morning: Work Projects, Construction and Benevolence

Breakfast is served at 7:30 whether we wake up for it or not.

Then we’ll divide into three groups and set out for the day at 8:00. One group will stay at the orphanage and work on projects at the home. The other two groups will set out for the community. They then will split: one to do some kind of construction work and the other to do benevolence.

The group that stays at the City will work on projects around the property. Some years, it’s been repainting some of the boys and girls’ dorms. Other years, we’ve dug trenches and laid cement for future groups to build on. This year, since there is a drought in the region, we are setting up water collection stations (basically gutters and barrels) to help out the drinkable water supply.

The construction work always varies each year. In last year’s case, we built a house for a woman (whose name escapes me) and her grandchildren. She and the kids were living in a 9 x 10 wooden shack. Our team built her a fully operational house with electricity, running water, and a kitchen. And we did it all within a week. I usually don’t brag, but that is some hard work, and I’m glad it was for that woman and those kids. I’m honestly still kinda in the dark about this year’s project. I know it has something to do with rebuilding and repairing a local assembly house, but I’m don’t know what all we’ll be doing. #GonLearnToday.

My favorite morning activity is the benevolence work. We’ll carry food boxes and personal hygienic items to families in need. We’ll also talk to them a little bit, try to encourage them in their affliction as best as we can, sing and pray with them. This is personally the most uplifting for me because I feel my spiritual talents involve empathizing with and encouraging strangers. Hopefully they feel the same way.

Afternoon Nap Time…or naw

Once everyone is gathered together again, we’ll meet in the visitors’ dining hall for lunch. Throughout the week, different age groups of the children will eat with us…don’t eat the peppers, no matter what the kids say.

After lunch time…just when you want to take a nap…it’s PLAYTIME! It feels like a curse because we all want that nap, but it’s so much more a blessing because we want to play with the kids and the kids want to play with us. The game of choice is soccer (fútbol), and I usually end up being goalie (am I right?). But there’s also basketball, kickball, scavenger hunts, good ol’ “Yo Tengo” (which means  “I Have” …what we call “Keep Away”).

After playtime, we have an hour to rehearse for our Vacation Bible School skit for that day. We produce these skits ourselves, and we practice them here at home before performing them.

An Evening of Fellowship, Praise, and Discussion

At 5:30, we’ll all meet back in the kitchen for supper that we also share with the children.

Then at 6:30, we migrate over to the auditorium for the VBS singing, skits, and classes. Our theme this year is all about being “Fishers of Men.”

We’ll open with song. The fun part is singing in Spanish the songs that I have being singing in English my whole life. I especially like noting the differences between the English and the Spanish versions. Sometimes lyrics sync up, and other times they don’t; it’s interesting to me at least because even when they are different, they still give the same expression.

Then the skits go up. As much as I want to follow this typical day at the City of Children in order, I’m compelled to save the skits for last.

After the skits, we’ll break into classes divided by ages. I gravitate toward the teen and young adult classes because, once again, I feel that I can best empathize with these guys and gals, and hopefully encourage and be encouraged by them. And the discussion is actually engaging. One might think the language barrier would hinder most of the communication, but it doesn’t really matter. There are translators to help everyone understand each other, and the discussion actually flows at a normal pace.

Goodnight, Sweetheart

After classes have let out at 8:00, we’ll all meet up at the pavilion attached to the American dining hall for one last snack and a little more playtime with the kids. Then they’ll head up to their dorms at about 8:45 and get ready for bed.

We, on the other hand, will meet up for an American devo, fellowship, and encouragement. Because at the end of the day, we will all need that encouragement from each other. This is where we strengthen the bonds amongst ourselves so that we can be a better team. You’d be surprised how much irk and ire within the group can be lifted and carried away by the rising smoke of the campfire.

After our devo, we’ll go to our dorms and turn down for lights out at 10:00 PM sharp (yeah right…but for real, though).

Personally Fulfilled Via Drama

The reason I wanted to save the skits for last is because this is where I feel like I’m at my peak.

Storytelling is my passion, and I earnestly believe that people can grow closer to God through stories. Jesus did it through parables, and I feel like we can do it through these skits.

This year, I’ve had the privilege of writing, directing, and acting in the skits, so it’s hard not to be a little proud of them. This is, after all, what I want do for a living, and this is an opportunity that I have to exercise those creative muscles.

The Definition of Pure Religion

This all culminates into one Super-Objective: to help those who can’t help themselves.

I love how James puts it:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

“To look after orphans and widows in their affliction” is the phrase that always comes to mind when serving at the City of Children. Not just because it mentions orphans and widows but because it mentions their affliction.

We often don’t think of the word “affliction” because it’s a little archaic. A better understanding comes from looking at the Greek word Paul used, which is thlipsis. It means compression, pressure, and distress of mind. We better understand it as being between a rock and a hard place.

This affliction affects everyone in some way. And sometimes, we can’t realize our own affliction until we see it in other people.

And it’s in this affliction where we all meet each other. It’s a subterranean platform to which we’re all brought down, and we need each other to help each other get out of such slumps. I used to think that people could get out by themselves, but the suicide of a best friend convicted me to change that notion.

It reaffirms the fact that humans are tribal creatures and should rely on each other in the hard times. Instead of ambitiously climbing up the hierarchy, we find much more comfort in bearing each other’s burdens, carrying each other’s worries, and meeting each other’s needs.

That’s what I get from serving at the City of Children, and I pray that anyone who serves there with or without me can feel the same fire I do.