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

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!

What Bezalel and Isaiah Would Do With Nasty Emails and AK47s (Isaiah 2:3-4)

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So, over at The Simple Way community, Shane Claiborne is learning to weld so that he can make farm equipment out of old guns. Meanwhile, Rachel Held Evans is learning origami as a way of creating something positive out of hate mail.

I guess that illustrates the transformative power of the “swords into ploughshares” idea seen in Isaiah. The concept of taking weapons and turning them into tools or art isn’t just an act of repurposing or recycling, it’s an act of transformation – transformation of attitudes, transformation of the world.

Bezalel is one of the earliest people said to receive the Spirit of God and he wasn’t a leader or a priest, he was a craftsman, an artist. He was the guy responsible for transforming a desert into a place where God lived, a tent into the throne room of the Lord. Maybe he’d have a few imaginative ideas about what to do with swords and slings.

In that sense swords into ploughshares is a work of art – it forces us to reimagine the assumptions we’ve held for so long. That letter isn’t a venom-soaked missive, it’s a swan; that AK47 isn’t an assault rifle, it’s a rake.

That cross isn’t a tool of execution, it’s an act of grace and reconciliation.

The fundamental creativity that’s part of God’s character is seen there on Calvary’s hill as he transforms Rome’s most brutal deterrent into a message of peace, hope and forgiveness. Empire’s sword became a ploughshare and no-one even saw it coming.

As we head down that Lenten path towards the cross again, I pray that I’d have the creativity to transform the weapons I wield into something more constructive, more beautiful, more holy.

Update: It turns out that someone has coined a name for a gun that’s been transformed into a guitar – Escopetarra. Invented by Columbian peace activist Cesar Lopez, there’s a video of his work over at Cultures of Resistance.)

The Importance of Art: The Story of Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-10)

Yesterday’s post wasn’t the most pleasant Bible story, so today’s is a little less…gastric.

One of my biblical heroes, and an unsung hero at that, isn’t a household name, like Moses or Peter or David; his story is hidden towards the end of Exodus, where it’s overshadowed by a lot of technical details about construction and woodwork. But he deserves to be remembered by anyone who loves the arts or craftsmanship.

The context: God has liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt; now, lead by Moses, they’re out in the wilderness, grumbling and homeless and prone to building themselves idols. Therefore it’s decided that a portable dwelling place, the Tabernacle, should be built for God. This is major: the presence of God – the Shekinah – living among his people is a crucial theme throughout the Bible. That’s why, in the opening of John’s Gospel, the coming of Jesus is directly linked with God’s presence in the Tabernacle. God is with us.

But if you’re going to build a dwelling place for God, you want to put your best people on it:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, or the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.”

That passage from Exodus 31 pretty much sums up who Bezalel is – Israel’s genius craftsman, the guy who has the ability and talent to build a home for God himself. He, his assistant Oholiab and a whole bunch of apprentices, build both the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, the holiest items in Israel’s inventory. Bezalel had a crucial role in the development of Israel’s religious life and he’s a craftsman – not a priest, not a warrior, a craftsman.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise – look at that quote from Exodus. Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God, giving him all those artistic talents (and Israel needs help with this, given that their time as slaves was mostly spent making bricks, not tabernacles). Okay, where is the main reference to the Spirit of God before this? Right at the start of the Bible, in Genesis chapter 1:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

The Spirit of God is intimately linked with the act of creation, so when we talk about Bezalel being given the Spirit we’re really looking at the artistry of God as well. This is where some attempts to read the Bible as a scientific textbook fail – the act of Creation isn’t described as the interplay of atoms and fundamental laws of physics, it’s described in terms of art, architecture, creativity – look at Job 38, for instance, or Psalm 139. And, when Ephesians 2:10 talks about us being God’s “handiwork”, it has connotations of us being God’s works of art.

(Just a few verses after that, Paul also talks about us being “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Which again ties in with Bezalel’s story.)

The language used isn’t trying to tell us about science, it’s telling us that God is a creator, and artist, and while the creation has been spoiled and broken, a major theme of the Bible is that it will be restored. (There’s a Jewish tradition that Bezalel’s grandfather, Hur, was murdered during the incident with the Golden Calf, and therefore Bezalel’s gifting were to both honour Hur and his family and show how art and craft should be used by Israel – ie, not in the cause of idolatry.)

And so Bezalel reminds us of this, as well as reminding us of the importance of art and beauty when connected with worship. Too often in modern churches, the arts are represented near exclusively by music, which is a real shame – many people sitting in the pews have gifts in arts and craft that aren’t allowed a forum in which they can be used to worship God – even though healing. This is in contrast with the biblical story, where the people can’t support Bezalel and his crew enough.

And so, maybe Bezalel’s legacy is that we can find ways to raise up these artists, give them the tools and the teaching and the spaces they need to worship God with talents that are knit into their very bones. I suspect it’s what Bezalel would have wanted.


(This post led to a whole new blogging probject for me – check out Bezalel’s Legacy!)