Two New Blog Projects

Oil-On-Canvas-Abstract-ArtI’ve been writing this blog for just over five years now, and if I say so myself, I’ve covered a fair bit of ground: what started off as a way of exploring some of the more obscure corners of the Bible has started to encompass thoughts on disability and arts and politics and justice and current affairs and the environment and mental health and goodness knows what else. I’m a writer at heart, and this is how I process stuff, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon. However, it means that the blog has been subject to a bit of mission creep lately, and I wanted to address that.

So, I’m pleased to say that I’m launching two sister blogs. Bezalel’s Legacy is going to be an exploration of faith, creativity and the arts, with reflections on how we create and the ways in which the Spirit uses that to bring healing, justice, worship and beauty to the world. This is something I’ve always been interested in, and I hope Bezalel’s Legacy will be an encouragement for those who want to use their creativity to make a difference in the world and in their churches.

CSR_AU_Environment-HEROThe other is Out of the Waves, Out of the Dust. This will be based around faith reflections on climate change and the environment. I don’t intend this to be a scientific apologetic for the subject; rather its focus will be on how climate change is happening now, and how it affects some of our most vulnerable communities. In that sense, the environment is a justice issue, one that disproportionately affects the inhabitants of poorer communities. It’s also affecting Christians throughout the world in a number of ways, and as the Body of Christ we need to acknowledge that. Out of the Waves will be a space to explore what all this means for the Church.

Thinking about it, both creativity and climate change are often underappreciated in our churches; at worst, they’re viewed with suspicion and disdain. So maybe there’s another reason for these blogs – to remind those of us with an interest in these subjects that we’re not alone, that God whispers through our art and blesses us when we cry out for justice.

The Left Hand of Ehud will continue as well, capturing general reflections on faith and the Bible; I just felt that creativity and climate change were deserving of a more targeted forum.

Thanks for following me over the years, and I hope you’ll join me over at Bezalel’s Legacy and Out of the Waves.

Thanks,

Matt

Stories as Resistance

We walk this world, millions upon millions of us, billions of lives intersecting in cities and villages, deserts and tundra. We build cities and machines, form relationships and communities, make art and make babies, each one of us an individual interacting with all the other individuals. We flirt and fight, sing and dance, fall in and out of love, and all the time we talk and write and sing and paint, all in an effort to understand ourselves and each other, and in doing so we give birth to stories.

Sometimes that becomes history, the stories of the past, the acts of kings and prophets, builders and farmers and scientists, the conquerors and the conquered. We pass these stories down through the generations, sometimes forming identity and bonds, sometimes resuscitating old grievances, resurrecting in the present. And when times are bad, we can find hope in those stories of the past, inspiration, strategy, inoculations against atrocity. In those times, we tell those stories to forge a shield, to assert the humanity of those around us.

Sometimes we tell stories of the future, or sidestep somewhere else entirely, we transplant our world into another to gain a different perspective, to issue a warning, to paint metaphors and symbols and to use them as a vaccination against toxic memes and seductive propaganda. We create heroes who can battle the things we think we can’t, and in doing so learn how to fight, to learn how to help, to learn how to stand.

Sometimes we tell stories of the present, we report, we blog, we photograph, we preach, we check facts and dig dirt and bring the truth out into the light. We do this and we start to break the power of lies and falsehood and their corrosion.

Sometimes we tell the stories of the voiceless, we repeat and we amplify, we yield the mic and make sure everyone gets heard, and that stops the marginalised being ignored or forgotten, even when that’s deliberate, especially when that’s deliberate. And that reminds us that of our shared personhood, we rehumanise the world because the tales of those around us can make us into their neighbours.

Sometimes we tell stories of darkness and despair, descent into the direst of circumstances, the depravity of abuse, the deepest of addictions. We do that because there’s encouragement, even in these testimonies, a shared experience, a spark of hope to light the way out. Life is hell, at times at least, but telling tales of conquering hell is an act of scarred defiance.

So tell stories – tell them whenever you can, tell them as if your life’s depending on it, or someone else’s. Tell them because they’re often the only weapon we have to push back the dark, tell them because it’s harder to force someone to their knees when you’ve looked them in the eyes and heard where they come from. Tell them before we’re silenced, write them across the Internet and in notebooks and on walls and in songs.

There are many ways to fight; if you don’t know how to do so, maybe it’s time to seek the words and let stories be your resistance.

Launchpad: Arts and Crafts, Movies and Music

There’s a strand of imagination that runs throughout the Bible, a book overflowing with love songs and parables, craftsmen and outsider artists, music and apocalyptic eviscerations of Empire. This page serves as a launchpad for all my posts relating to the interplay of creativity and faith.

So start with The Importance of Art: The Story of Bezalel, which covers the Old Testament’s great craftsman, and how creativity is a spiritual gift. Bezalel’s legacy crops up again and again throughout this blog, including posts on creative approaches to peacemaking and turning swords into ploughshares, and the healing power of how art is used to treat PTSD. If our churches can release the gifts of our artists, we can have an impact beyond our imagination.

Part of this revolves around the stories we tell; we too often tell tales with no happily ever after, when in fact we need to use our creativity and our art to tell more positive, transformative stories. The different applications of this are also looked at in a multi-part post for National Storytelling Week (chapters onetwo and three.).

If you’re into cooking then there’s a post on building church community through food, and if you’ve got green thumbs, maybe take a moment to reflect on the intersection between faith and guerilla gardening. Our churches are full of people with practical skills, so maybe DIY and the maker/fixer movement may inspire some ideas to support our communities. However, art can also be problematic – what, for instance, is the spiritual impact of defensive architectureCartooning also has has a dark side.

There are reflections on painting in ‘The Power of a Portrait‘, while there’s also a post about fashion – or at least the design of clothing and how that can have symbolic value. The power of photography as witness is discussed, and while there’s not much on the practice of writing, there’s a meditation on grace as filtered through the story of a homeless man and a mobile library.

Sculpture is represented by ‘Homeless Jesus‘; comic book art by ‘José y Maria‘, which has become something of a Christmas icon for me. There are also digressions; a post on Joshua Norton for Christ the King Sunday also included a discussion on the outsider artist James Hampton, who built a throne for Jesus in his garage…

Pop culture also gets a look in, with posts on Pulp FictionGhostbusters,  Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. There are also posts on ‘Fairytale of New York‘ and Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road‘, and the Civil Rights campaign inspired a post on singing when you don’t feel safe. And while Psalm 137 inspired a disco classic, it’s actally the most metal song in the Bible!

Art, Healing and Bezalel

TED have recently uploaded a talk by art therapist Melissa Walker. She describes her work with war veterans, helping them to recover from PTSD through the use of visual arts.

See, art allows veterans to embody their trauma, turning it into something they can relate to, something that exists outside of them that can be safely left behind at the end of each day. And it’s a long, hard process, but art – particularly the creation of masks – seems to enable and empower those suffering with PTSD to find healing.

In Exodus 35 we read of Bezalel. He’s God’s craftsman, an artist responsible for decorating the Tabernacle and building the Ark of the Covenant. Bezalel has a clear spiritual gift, and we often see that in terms of worship – he’s making God’s throne and God’s dwelling place as a way of honouring and worshiping his Lord, and obviously that’s vital, but Walker’s talk got me thinking about how art is a spiritual gift with wider applications

For one, it seems to be a gift that can heal. PTSD is, I guess, an invisible wound, but a real one nevertheless, and art can serve as a vehicle by which healing can enter into a situation. It may be a long and difficult process, not the flashy, miraculous story we’d like, but there are people who have endured terrible trauma who, by painting and drawing and creating something with their bare hands, have been able to move on with their lives. That’s healing too, and in a world where mental health needs to be taken a lot more seriously, maybe Bezalel’s legacy incorporates art that can heal. The Holy Spirit is a healer after all.

Then there’s the idea of peace. Walker works with veterans, servicemen and women who’ve been to war and are still carrying the trauma of their experience. Now that trauma needs to be reckoned with, and if there’s opportunity to do that through art, if taking a situation, an emotion, an image and coming to peace with it through creativity and art, then that’s another facet of the gift, one that has echoes of shalom.

We have many artists in our churches. We need to be creative in how their gifts are used, but more than that, maybe it’s time for a wider vision of art as a spiritual gift. Maybe Bezalel’s legacy is more expansive than we think.

(More on Bezalel here.)

The Battle For Our Stories Will Be Won Through Our Art

Back in 2012, before I was married and before the world didn’t end, a group of us got together to watch the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. It was an expansive, unexpected event, weaving together a patchwork of Britain’s paradoxes. Two parts stick in my imagination even today: the Queen parachuting out of a helicopter with James Bond (because, well, it’s the Queen parachuting out of a helicopter with James Bond), and the moment in which Mary Poppins does battle with Lord Voldemort for the soul of the NHS. It was a strange mosaic of pop culture and social justice and political reality, and because of the imagery and the resonance it took things we take for granted and turned them into something mythological, perhaps even apocalyptic – not in the everyone’s-going-to-die sense, but in the sense of an unveiling of deeper realities.

And all of this is important, because as a society our stories are failing. We’ve seen, even in the course of the last few weeks, darker narratives take hold and dominate – stories tanked up on racism and prejudice and violence and exclusion. They take hold and people get shot and shops get firebombed.

The Church can’t stay silent in the face of this toxic storytelling, especially as we’ve told a few horror stories around the campfire ourselves. We can’t rely on people stumbling into our sermons, can’t rely on the fact that we get a bishop to say a quick prayer before an important occasion. We have to get out there and tell better stories, and while we’re doing that, ask forgiveness for all the times we’ve weaponised our own stories.

That’s where the gift of creativity comes in. We need to empower and encourage and unleash the artists and the poets and the song writers and the film makers among us; we’ve got good at doctrine and theology and apologetics,  and yhey’re important, but never forget that, when Jesus wanted to talk about the love of God he told the story of a boy who ran away from home, and when he wanted to talk about our love for each other, he told the story of a guy who got mugged.

So we have to pray that the Holy Spirit will bless and anoint those doing this work, because the world and the church need them out there on the frontlines. The Holy Spirit is our inspiration; let’s reclaim and remix and reimagine the Psalms and the parables and the lamentations and the testimonies. Maybe the time has come to be prophetic and apocalyptic, because that doesn’t mean that everything has to burn but it does mean that everything had to change.

There’s someone in the pews near to you that has a paintbrush. Someone has a digital camera and an eye for composition. Someone has a maker workshop in their garage, someone has a pen and a notebook full of ideas. And they also have the Holy Spirit.

Our job, as the church, is to help them present and reveal and embody a greater vision; our job, as the church, is to help them heal our broken narratives and to tell better stories.