Thursday, July 31, 2008

What role should a Christian artist play in the world?

These thoughts come from Jay Smith, Convergence member out of the discussion series this month. Jay is in the band Middle Distance Runner.

A question that I face often in conversations with people is: "What role should a Christian artist play in the "secular" world?" This is something that I have pondered for years and have faced everyday as a musician and a Christian.

The question always seems to revolve around the fact that artists are expected to communicate something they consider important. If you are a Christian then you must present the gospel, or put people on the road to knowing God, because that should be the most important thing in your life. This may work fine in some Christian circles, but for me the problem starts here: The expressions of the artist are about all of life, not just one part. For an artist to be forced to focus on one topic forever would be creative suicide. God made us full of emotions and the life that we face every day is complex. To me, expressing these complexities in life, gives a fuller picture of what God has made and how we interact with our circumstances as his followers and as humans. This makes art a lot more relevant as it speaks to things that we all identify with on very deep and common levels.

This also makes things more approachable to people that don't share our beliefs. If we are speaking someone's language, and they see that we "get it", then we are more likely to start a conversation with that person that is based in respect.
But how do we interact with the secular world as an artist? How do we play out our mission? I say, relationally, and a lot changes when you think of things relationally. Relational evangelism is about friendships and close relations. Sound bites and big events aren't as effective with relational evangelism because they are impersonal. Relational evangelism is also more dangerous. People will actually get to know us! We will actually be held accountable for what we are like on a personal level rather than putting on a show and disappearing do some dressing room without really talking to people. Relational evangelism for an artist may not be to the viewer, listener or "customer" so much, but more to the other artists, the gallery owners, the stage managers, directors, producers etc. This is different. We can make art that is true to us and have more intimate relationships with people as Christians.

I really think that part of the problem that many Christians have with this idea is that; sadly, they really don't have a strong foundation as a Christian, or in a Christian community or with close Christian friends. You have to have the backbone to go out there on your own and be stable in a group of people that may believe much differently than you. For me, I don't see being in a secular band any differently than working for AOL, Wal Mart or Budweiser. We all work with people at our jobs that don't share our exact values, and if we aren't strong then we will suffer as people regardless of anything we believe in.

Thinking about it from that perspective, I don't see the music I make as a ministry any more than I see the graphic design I do at my day job as ministry. My ministry as a musician is in loving my peers just like it is here at work. I think that if I got all wrapped up in our music not stating obvious Christian messages and decided to leave the culture, then I would really miss out on some major opportunities to have some very great conversations. More importantly, I would be contributing to the separation of the church from our culture, which I believe is a huge problem right now.

I think the trick is to really understand who you are and that, as an artist, you are in a special place therefore you have a special purpose and responsibility. I have worked hard to become a very integrated part of the DC music scene. Being in a respected band gives me a voice in our music community to help with causes or to help the community grow. Not too many people would question my sincerity and passion for the DC music scene or my place in it. At the same time they wouldn't question my faith either because I am honest about it without being pushy or trying to sell it.

I just say this stuff just to illustrate that we should not be victims of our environments but that we should take ownership over them. To have Christians involved in artistic communities is kind of rare. For people to see that we as Christians care as much, if not more than they do about these communities speaks to our convictions as a Christians as well as our passions for these arts. Once respectful conversations are had with us, then they will see that our passions are inseparable from our faith, and that gives glory to God, and, maybe more importantly, be a reminder to the world of God's relevance again.


Janice said...

Hi Jay,

I'm currently writing my final Masters paper on how Christians are showing leadership in the arts. I would like to post your comments on my facebook page, and if you're interested, check it out. (christians and the arts)


Moff said...

This is fantastic!!! This needs a wider audience. More, please...