Monday, September 23, 2013

The Intersection of Art & Faith

***The podcast for the arts & faith panel I spoke at is now up here***

I've meant to write this post for a long time, but there are few things as effective for losing friends and alienating people as discussing religion or politics on the Internet. I'll leave politics alone. Promise.

A few weeks ago, my pastor asked if I'd be part of a panel discussion on faith and the arts. Because I'm such an extrovert (not) and am so good at speaking (not), I agreed and it seems like the perfect timing to share some of my journey to reconcile my faith with my art. Since I'm much better at writing than I am at speaking, I want to organize some of my thoughts here before the panel next week.

I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a Christian. My faith is a huge part of my identity. I (try to) read my bible daily and am part of a great church I attend (almost) every Sunday. My faith is not perfect and I don't always walkout my convictions (hooray for grace!). I've known enough hypocrisy, my own included, that I want my actions, my behavior and the way I treat others, to speak louder than my words. So I don't talk about my faith unless I'm asked.

I am a Christian and I do not write Christian books. Sometimes my characters swear or make bad decisions or do things that violate my own moral sensibilities. Because I feel that an honest reflection on life has more value than presenting perfect characters who never struggle. I have no problem with inspirational fiction, but I have no desire to write it. I feel no calling to that arena. But oh, did I feel guilty about that for a long time.

For some reason, the Christian church has placed this extra burden on artists, a higher calling to produce Christian art, as if the very act of creating doesn't bring glory to God. We don't expect Christian accountants to produce Christian spreadsheets. We expect them to be ethical, to do good work, to treat coworkers with kindness and employers with respect. But we don't assume their output must include a gospel message or they are betraying their faith.

Yet the minute a musician or film maker or artist professes faith, the expectation arises that they will include X number of references to God/Jesus/prayer in order to keep up appearances. Write a straight-forward love song and WHOA! Sellout! Never mind the entire book of the bible celebrating love. Never mind that God designed us to seek out romantic connections. Never mind that true faith colors everything it touches, even when it isn't explicitly stated.

There is absolutely a place for Christian music, for worship (here's looking at you, Aaron Gillespie), but there's also a place for art for the sake of art. One of my favorite examples is Mumford & Sons. Their first single includes a pretty prominent f-bomb right in the chorus. Yet that album is a more honest, meaningful explorations of a faith journey than anything I've heard from a strictly Christian artist.

I write about teenagers kissing. I write about identity and friendship and the struggle to make sense of life. I write well - or at least as well as I can. I work hard and diligently at my craft. Because I believe that telling honest stories in a beautiful way is pleasing to God. I believe that the quality of my work is of equal importance as the content. That how I live out my talents has value.

"In the beginning, God created..." and I believe that every time we create, we join with him in a divine work . Have you ever seen pictures of the creatures living in the deepest reaches of the ocean? They're beautiful. And why? No one sees them most of the time. Their beauty serves no purpose. How about snowflakes? They're impossibly small, yet so incredibly detailed. Or the range of sounds and colors humans will never experience. Creation is filled with senseless beauty because beauty alone is worthwhile.

By Edith Widder from

What is beauty? Is a song with an f-bomb beautiful? Is a photograph of a hungry child beautiful? Is a book about teenagers falling in love beautiful? I think anything that reflects the human condition and helps someone understand some kind of truth is beautiful. Because sometimes we do eff things up. Sometimes a picture can deliver conviction words never could. Sometimes we need to hear our struggles - as frivolous as they sometimes are - are valid.

My faith is so ingrained in who I am, it informs every aspect of my life, even without conscious thought. As a Christian who creates art intended for more than just Christians, I've had to trust that this is enough. I believe that God is pleased when I use the gifts he gave me. That the extra burden placed on Christian artists is a human burden, not a divine one. That beauty is important because it's beautiful. Because for me, anything less is too narrow. It puts God in a box I don't believe he belongs inside.

I don't have all the answers. I don't even have a lot. I only have my own thoughts and experiences, gained from a life-long pursuit of truth. I'd love to open this discussion to anyone who would like to join in. I only ask that we all keep this respectful and encouraging. (And if you're around LA on Sept. 29, I'll be speaking around 11am in Santa Monica. Gulp.)