“Gospel Artists”, pt 1

We have too many maps.

In general, maps do a great job of (a) telling you where you are, and (b) telling you where you need to go. Some of them even tell you the fastest route to get there. Maps are efficient and effective.

But what maps can not do, almost by definition, is how to discover something unexpected. They cannot tell you how to find that beautiful accident: a scenic highway, the fruit stand with amazing  peaches, the funky old barn right beyond the turn of the road.

It’s the job of maps to be accurate and efficient; that’s their nature.

But sometimes, I think we need to acknowledge that we need something “beyond” (or “short of”) a map.

As human beings, disciples, and ministers in the 21st century, I think we live in a time where “Gospel Maps” abound all around us. Books and conferences, CDs and Podcasts abound, all sharing the best ideas from around the world. We are inundated with information about how to find out what God is doing in the world, and then how to translate that into gospel activities.

But they are all maps. And maps inhibit discovery; they inhibit serendipity; they give us the easy way to get from Point A to Point B.

And I’m not sure that “efficiency”, and even “accuracy” is the point of living the Gospel Life.

What if the point is “creativity”, “innovation”, and “love”.

Maps can’t really tell you how to ultimately do that.

In Linchpins, Seth Godin writes, “The reason that art is valuable is precisely why I can’t tell you how to do it. If there were a map, there’d be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.”

From 1997–2001, I was a part of a ministry that was attempting to connect with a new generation of believers that saw the world slightly differently than their parents and grandparents. In the early years of Axis, finding any other “partners” in ministry was difficult. In fact, we only knew of two other ministries in the entire U.S. that seemed to be speaking our language.

In other words, there were no maps.

There were no conferences to go to.

There were no minor ministry celebrities to follow on Twitter.

There were only three widely-released CDs of worship music that sounded like “us”.

Let me say that again: there were only three widely-released worship CDs that resonated with what we were doing. 

No maps.

We had no choice, but to try and innovate. We looked at each other, and called out the best of our creativity and imagination and will. We experimented, we implemented, we corrected, focused and re-focused.

I think that our history as believers is chock full of innovators, people who found themselves in places where there either were no maps, or the maps they thought they had were incorrect:

Brennan Manning…

Henri Nouwen…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

Karl Barth…

Thomas á Kempis…

Martin Luther…

Augustine…

Paul of Tarsus…

John The Beloved Disciple…

James the Just…

… and, of course, Jesus Christ.

All of these artists innovated fearlessly and creatively. Their imaginations were fully engaged, and though (save Jesus) they made mistakes (yup, they made mistakes) they kept forging ahead rather than retreat to the map.

Today, maps surround us. You can follow any number of ministry blue prints and worship styles. Hundreds of “new” ideas/maps are thrown at us—daily—through Amazon, Lifeway, Catalyst, Passion, Willow, Hillsong, Twitter, etc. etc.

But is this your best? Is this the best imagination that you can bring to the table?

Understandably, sometimes we need a map. Sometimes we need to get from Chicago to Richmond quickly and efficiently. But if we never got off the major interstates, would we ever discover the farmer’s market outside of Winchester? (The most amazing apple pie, ever, btw.)

I think our Gospel—our Good News—deserves more than a map. It deserves all of our imagination and effort.

Where are you relying too much on Gospel Maps?

Where do you need to learn—or what do you need to throw away—in order to become a Gospel Artist? 

One Day in 1999…

I was driving in northwest suburban Chicago, listening to the radio. I stumbled across this crazy radio show that was … just … stories. Just people talking and telling the stories of their quirky lives.

I couldn’t turn it off.

Next week, I went back to the team of folks I used to work with, and said, “I found this weird show, called This American Life. It’s amazing, and here’s the thing: if you’re a preacher/teacher in the church, you really need to listen to this, because it’s gonna be huge. What’s more, I think that this show tells us about the power of story in the church.”

Whether or not they listened or not, I stand by that statement. If you teach/preach in the church, I hope that (a) you realize that we’re entrusted with the best story out there; the most powerful, effecting narrative in existence, and furthermore, (b) you’re learning how to tell it in the best, most creative, most memorable way possible.

Start by watching these (in particular part 3)…

 

There’s no reason we shouldn’t try to be as creative and extraordinary as the Story that we’re trying to tell, is there?

Words from a Father…

I love, love, love chipotlé salsa, specifically this particular brand. (I’m pretty convinced that Jesus would’ve dipped his bread in it at the last supper, if Rick Bayless was in his posse.)

Unfortunately, it’s pretty difficult to find in Tallahassee. The only place I know for certain that has it is World Market. A few days ago we were right in the neighborhood, so me, Levi, and Emily popped in to get a jar.

On display at the cash register were these odd candy bars. They said, “No Girls Allowed” on them, very prominently.

Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out the significance of the branding, so I finally asked the cashier, “Why no girls allowed?”

“Oh because of how many calories! 350 calories! We wouldn’t want a girl to eat 350 calories, right?!?”

With my 13-year old daughter standing there, I was pretty horrified. Though childhood obesity is very troubling, body image issues hit home for me a bit harder. We work hard to make sure she doesn’t have to compare herself with other girls, to try and understand what it means to be “healthy” rather than “thin” (or whatever other adjective you care to describe).

Yet here is this company (and/or the cashier; I understand that there’s some debate about why the ad agency went with this tagline), in plain sight, throwing it right in our faces.

I couldn’t help but think of the young women in my life who have struggled with eating disorders in order to try and conform to the standards of a world that makes unrealistic, even evil demands from them. All of these beautiful daughters of God who struggle to love them the way the Father does, because of silly, “offhand” taglines of candy bars and random retail employees.

This morning, I was listening to a beautiful piece of music when the weight of this—and many more issues—all crashed down on me. I sat in my car and sobbed, weeping for the tragic brokenness of the world. Yet no one weeps more than God.

The west has found a gun / and it’s loaded with ‘unsure’

Nip and tuck if you have the bucks  // in a race to find a cure

Psalm one hundred and thirty-nine // is the conscience to our selfish crime,

God didn’t screw up when he made you … //

He’s a father who loves to parade you …

To the daughters out there, may you receive the blessing of a Father who wants to proudly parade you today, who is smiling because his little girl is wonderfully and beautifully made… perfect in every way.

(This is 7 minutes of excruciating, beautiful, powerful prayer through music… the lyrics above occur at 2:28)

Checking in at the Wall, Pt 1

My church is in the middle of a series on the book of Nehemiah. Throughout the series, we are asking folks, “What happens when God grabs hold of a man or woman, and they choose to respond in obedience?” Nehemiah’s story is a great portrait of how someone responds and navigates life when their heart is broken for something that is breaking God’s heart.

To be blunt, I am so excited to see what God will do during this preaching series. I think whenever God’s children open themselves open to what God might want to do through them and in them in the world, amazing things can happen; entire worlds can change; history can get made. It’s my prayer that someone may open the door of their heart just a crack to see a new reality: that God wants them to be a part of changing their world in some way, big or small.

In other words, I pray that God might guide someone to their own wall. 

When someone finds “their wall”, things change in their life. As we’ll see in the book of Nehemiah, struggles and challenges are put into perspective when we have chosen to let God guide our steps. We attack life with a new energy, with new focus and purpose.

In short, we know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I interact with so many amazing people, week-to-week, who are hungry to find “their wall.” Some of us wait years (or longer) to find it; some of us find it when we are quite young. Some of us know intuitively what the wall in our life will look like; others of us have to go through a longer period of discernment and/or questioning.

A helpful process to go through when searching for that “thing” in your life is the search for “vocation.” “Vocation”, or calling, can lead us clearly to the walls in our life, to the thing that will motivate, guide, and put our time and resources into proper alignment.

Parker Palmer writes extensively about vocation; in Letting Your Life Speak, he says that vocation—your “wall”—occurs at the place where your deepest joy meets the world’s great need. This is a clue for the place where you can find your wall.

So what about you? Can you take 30 minutes this week and journal through those two questions?

  • What is my deepest joy? What are those things in my life that I would do, regardless of a paycheck?
  • What is a great need of the world? What are broken things that I see that just seem so glaringly obvious?
  • What does the intersection of those two things look like? Does it look like a new work of art? An entrepreneurial venture? A relocation? Getting involved in a new ministry? Changing jobs?

Journal through those questions (it may take minutes, hours, days, or even months to get clarity on, but the journey is nevertheless helpful). As you find clarity, share with friends and ask their perspective on your findings.

Peace.