For seven weeks in January and February I was part of a Center for Faith & Work Artist Intensive called In the Living Room.The curriculum of the Living Room consisted of seven different themes, all tied to the role of the artist in the church.
One week we learned about “The Artist as Creator.” Among all the wisdom I received through the Living Room, one of the things I heard that night has rolled around in my mind most actively. The facilitator explained Andy Crouch’s idea from Culture Making that Christians tend to approach culture in three ways.
First, they may shun it entirely. Second, they might attempt to co-opt it, absorbing trends into the “Christian” subculture (for example, the website GodTube). Third, believers tend to embrace secular trends and artifacts that uphold biblical values, e.g., the 2012 movie musical Les Miserables and its Christlike hero Jean Valjean.
But Crouch offers another response. Rather than shun the culture, rather than absorb it or consume it, our most feasible outlet for changing culture is to create a new culture. The artists of the Living Room were forcefully charged with this task. It is artists who so often define the values of a particular group in a particular place at a particular time.
Jesus himself started a culture, albeit a small one at first. He defined a new way to pray, a new way to fight evil and injustice, a new way to approach work, a new way to approach disease, a new way to approach sin. This culture did not leave earth when He did. What a joy: the church carries on in the legacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus promised new and abundant life to us, and that life is for the group as well as the individual. We can, like Him, live outside the idioms of our humanistic Western culture without condemning them.
The Living Room represents a step in that direction. As we learned and shared together, we formed a community. We shared our art with each other—no small feat. Visual artists brought in work or displayed pictures via PowerPoint; actors offered monologues; writers read; one woman danced an unaccompanied flamenco solo! It was a peaceable exchange of gifts, a way for all of us to participate with and encourage each other in the surprising, often painful process of creation. That’s where culture starts: finding and developing common bonds with others.
The less certain part comes next: our creative lives outside the Living Room. I hope all of us can sustain the spirit of creative innovation and excellence those seven weeks inspired. I hope we can find ways to maintain this culture of artists within the larger culture of the Church. We have an email chain going, and certain participants have continued to meet every Tuesday night. That’s a start. But I also hope we take time to consider how the Lord can advise our art. As members of His society of “peculiar people” (1 Pt 2:9), we can avoid trafficking in existing, secular trends. We can start something new, because He can start something new. He has given us the Word of God, the example of Jesus, the immanence of the Holy Spirit, and of course, each other.
Registration for the West Side iteration of In The Living Room is now open to artists of all disciplines. Please visit www.faithandwork.org/livingroom for more details.