From the President...
April 2, 2020
Seed Sown in the Storm
Seed sown in the Storm receives the most rain. I was listening to the rain, and these words came to me.
America…. several countries…. the whole world, actually, is in the midst of a pandemic. COVID 19. Coronavirus. The name of this life-threatening disease is heard probably 20 times a day--- 100+ times if you never turn off the news. We are, indeed, in the midst of a Storm or Storms. So I guess it’s a good time to Sow Seed.
Often we only think of money when the term “seed” is mentioned in Christian circles. But I’m not necessarily referring to money, in this season. I’m thinking of what every true Artist wants to grow, that is, their artistry or giftings. So, fellow Artists, I can think of no better time to sow, that your gifts might grow. Want your vocal talents or dance skills to excel? Sow. Want your dramatic or poetic gifts to elevate? Sow. Want your opportunities in the arts to expand? Sow.
I know Social Distancing has limited a lot of the ways we are used to ministering and expressing our arts, but as you take time to ask the Lord each day how you can sow during this storm—HE will give you ideas that may surprise you! He may even awaken gifts that have lain dormant for such a time as this. You know one little device that I have rediscovered during this time of social distance? The telephone—I mean for actual talking, not just texting. Through this amazing device, you can share scriptures, read stories, share a poem, or even sing a song. (You can’t text a soothing melody to a lonely friend). What a simple tool with which to plant a seed.
Seek God’s creative will. HE has made you a creative being, and He has entrusted you with gifts for such a time as this. So…. Sow! For when HE releases the RAIN upon your gift, sown in the soil of sacrifice, it will grow like never before!
W.A.R. Exists to Benefit its Members!
It happened again. A beautiful, creative sister was invited to join WAR, and thought it was $25/month. "No," I said for the 100th time to the 50th person."It's $25 for the YEAR." But guess what? The conversation did not end with this creatively-minded Christian joining RI's only nonprofit organization for creatively-minded Christians. And unfortunately, after 7 years of leading Worship Arts Restoration, this did not surprise me either. The biggest obstacle to membership is the fact that we are Christians. Let me explain:
Joining WAR for $25 a year is like joining AAA. There is no obligation. There are no requirements on your time, your talents or your gifts. At the most minimal level, it is an investment. Like AAA, your annual contribution assures you that if your car breaks down, AAA will be able to offer you a tow for free and other member benefits. And so it is with W.A.R. Your $25 investment assures you that if you need modest financial help from the "Paintbrush Fund"..... if you need volunteers for your arts event, or folks outside your sphere to publicize and support you.... if you need a free outdoor venue..... or help with purchasing props, materials, equipment, etc.... because YOU have invested in WAR, we are more than happy to invest in you! But after years and years of churches and ministries needing something from you--- it's really hard to wrap your mind around a Christian organization that doesn't require anything from you except $25 a year. After years or a lifetime of carving out time for church ministries and responsibilities, we Christians are not accustomed to a Christian organization that actually wants to give to us, more than receive from us.
But WAR is not a church or a ministry. WAR exists to benefit our members.
Yes -- we do Arts Outreach, and we invite you to share your gifts.
Yes-- we minister to prisoners, and the homeless, and to wherever the Lord opens doors for His Message through our Arts.
But 8 years ago, when God gave me the vision on this organization, a major part of the vision was that we would be "helpers one to another." That we who understand the challenge and blessing of navigating both the church world and the secular world as a God's Servants in the Arts would galvanize our strengths and our callings, and support one another in spiritual, practical and financial ways.
Those who get this, have trouble understanding why any creatively-minded believer would not join the W.A.R. I thank God for the 50+ who have. But I still wonder---- Have you?
Jesus must have known….. so He gave us Matthew 25:31-46
He must have known that one of the most common tendencies for us Christians--- for us "Ministers" in particular-- would be to fall prey to excessive and/or obligatory busy-ness, along with a human tendency toward the glamorous and impressive, and as a result, the Heart of our Savior would often end up glossed over with everything and anything we do "in the name of Jesus"......except Mathew 25, specifically verses 31-46. (yeah- a pretty long sentence, but a necessary one ;-)) Nevertheless, this mandate from the heart of God is inescapable. Apparently, there were some folks in the New Testament that did not realize how truly inescapable this mandate really was, because after being told by King Jesus to leave the premises, in verse 44 they come at Jesus again, questioning his indictment of them (which is probably never a very good idea). He itemizes it for them quite clearly:
“ ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Hmmm. Like I said: A pretty inescapable mandate. “But I’m saved! Heaven is my home! Jesus was talking to sinners!” Theologically speaking, I guess that could be argued. But this is Heart-Talk. I am writing to those who are yearning to please the heart of God and show forth His kind of love in a very lonely, love-less, “busy with busy-ness” world. I am writing to True Worshippers, who desire to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23) And the word worship, in the Greek, proskuneo, includes the act of submission to the laws, rules and mandates of a superior. One of the most consistent mandates of our Lord, Savior and King is to “Love One Another,” and most inconvenient to 21st Century Christianity, Mathew 25:34-46 is a direct manifestation of that kind of love:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
OK. I know this “W.A.R. President’s Message” that may not seem particularly apropo for God’s Servants in the Arts…. but, in fact, it is very, VERY apropo. We, artists in particular, are often involved in Drama Ministries, Dance Ministries, Praise and Worship Ministries….. the list goes on, and it’s all well and good. But as my daddy used to say, “If it’s not helping somebody, it ain’t ministry.” Yes, I know---helping others to find their artistic outlet…. helping others to learn how to worship God with dance and drama and painting, and music….. Yes, it is all an important part of edifying the Body of Christ. But it is not a replacement for Jesus’ inescapable heart’s desire: That we never overlook an opportunity to minister to the sick, the imprisoned, the poor…. the least of these. This is the Inconvenient Truth. This is Heart-Talk.
"Bootlegging the Gifts"
To bootleg: “to produce, reproduce or distribute illicitly or without authorization; to illegally copy.” ~Merriam-Webster
I have become increasingly troubled by a growing trend within the Christian Arts community. As we have grown more and more immersed in and infected by “American Idol-atry” and YouTube instant “celebrity-ism,” we have become more interested in being an actor, dancer, playwright, painter, etc….. than in becoming one. We want the quick product, the instant success, the effortless affirmation from others…… which too often means a weak, second-rate craft, just like --- you’ve all seen them—the “bootlegged” videos sold to the public without legal authorization (because doing it the right way would take way too long, right?). Now, before you laugh at the blurry, scene skipping flaws of that next flick purchased for $1.99 on the corner of Broad and Montgomery, let’s take a moment and examine the flaws in our handling of God’s giftings in us.
There are not too many arenas in the world where people actually boast of their lack of training in the very skill area that they purport. (“Oh no, I’ve never done a surgery before—actually never even went to school for this—but God has qualified me to perform your tonsillectomy- Praise God!”) As ludicrous as this sounds in other areas of life, Christian actors, dancers, directors, and the like, make statements like this all the time. Dance Ministry leaders dance, Songwriters compose, Actors act, Playwrights write, with almost prideful confessions of never seeking lessons, courses or training in their gifting. Now, please understand: The gifts of God are irrevocable. He, indeed, equips us and uses us beyond our human limitations, including financial or situational limitations that affect our pursuit of formal education and training. I am indeed a witness! However, the lesson of the Talents (Mathew 25:14-29) is to show us how crucial it is to use what you got! Invest in what you have been given with what you have. That bears repeating: Invest in what you have been given with what you DO have. Can you enroll in an online course? Can you attend periodic workshops? Can you be mentored by someone more experienced, or who has at least walked in the path you desire? Can you simply increase your level of exposure to the area of your gifting? I know Christian visual artists who have never visited RISD public museum. I know dancers who have never seen a professional level ballet or modern/lyrical performance piece. I know many actors, playwrights and directors who have only been exposed to church Easter and Christmas plays! My Dear Craftsman of the King—this ought not to be so! With all due respect, if a church production is your only mirror, then you are measuring yourself by yourself. Yes, it’s scary, after all those years of all that church folk applause, to step out into the “world” and risk hearing nothing but crickets. But the truth is, it’s hard to grow unless you know.
Please understand that I am not talking about “compromising” yourself or your gifting in the world. I’m talking about being so excellent in your craft, so skilled, so polished that you can get up on the stage of “The Voice” and sing “Break Every Chain”--- and blow them away! (henceforth, known as “goin’ Paxton on ‘em”)
One last nugget. I was talking to my dear friend Chaplain Joy about Prison Ministry, which often entails Christians coming to share a gift in song, dance, word, etc. She confessed that she has grown leary of well-meaning volunteers that say, “Oh, I’m going to just be led of the Spirit.” Again, with all due respect and reverance for the true leading of the Holy Spirit, she did say she wonders if this has become code for: “I didn’t have time to prepare,” or worst, “ I’m basically lazy.” I burst out laughing when she said this. First of all, because I was thinking the same thing, but didn’t have the guts to say it. And secondly, because I completely remember doing this! Years ago—many years ago!—when people would ask me to dance at various church and ministry events, I knew I could just “pull it off” rather quickly, so I would just get up there, hit the music and “be led of the Spirit.” The truth is, that’s just lazy. That is not disciplined or honoring of the precious gift that the Father imparted to me at a very young age. As I’ve grown in ministry and age, I’ve learned that, yes, at any moment in ministry, the Holy Spirit may take over, and my choreography takes a back seat. But note – it takes a back seat. It does not leave the car completely. It bows, as the Holy Spirit takes the Lead, and my dance both submits to and partners with the Dance Leader. But if I had no training, no technique – nothing with which to bring before the King, I would be stumbling over my own feet as the Master takes the lead.
Dear Servants of God in the Arts: No More Bootlegging. Bring your best gifts to the Master. Take the time – yes, TIME --- to shine up, hone up, elevate, educate, stretch, expand, challenge yourself beyond your familiarity and comfort level. Then---THEN---watch the Father turn what could’ve ended up as just another boot, into a Crown worthy to be laid at His Feet! (which, after all, is the final destination of all these precious gifts.)