The Church and the Art of God

finger of god

God creates.

He is the ultimate artist.

We are made in God’s image.

The Church should do more to reflect God’s artistic nature.

There. That could be my entire post in four lines. So you can stop now if you want. But I will continue.

I’ve been reflecting on the role of the arts in our corporate worship and church community. Certain events have spurred my thinking on this, events such as a Gungor concert (which was an amazing event in itself), a recent letter from our church eldership addressed to the youth committee, my work in the studio for Chasing David and similar work with my quickly-growing children (now 18 and 20) as they pursue their artistic endeavors through music and video.

I was raised in a church community that was cerebral-oriented. Sure, we had pretty good singing (it was an a capella church), but for the most part the focus was on teaching. Education was king.

Don’t get me wrong. I think a thorough examination of scripture and growth in the Word of God is of utmost importance. The trouble is, our church (and I feel 90% of the rest of the churches in America) spends an overwhelming majority of their corporate worship and bible class time catering to those who need some form of spiritual mental exercise… or at least those who think they do because that was the way they were raised.

With the notable exception of a few churches like Willow Creek (Chicago) and North Point (Atlanta) and their associated churches, our church experience on the whole seems to neglect the creative arts. Yes, we may have a few good songs during our worship time and they are meaningful and moving. And often formulaic. Maybe that’s not bad. Maybe musical liturgy has a place. But I digress.

The depth and breadth of what God has created is astounding. He paints such beauty across the sky in a west Texas sunset or sunrise that it’s almost breathtaking. The mountains that stretch across our continent are sculpted with a dramatic precision which nothing can come close to matching. The movement of weather patterns across the world is an intricate dance of material that is at once impossible to hold and powerful enough to level towns. The ebb and flow of ocean currents crashing against our beaches and shoreline create movement and flow that is simply mesmerizing.

And this is only what we can see. Until relatively recently, there were a multitude of astounding works of art that were only visible to the eye of God. The Hubble telescope has opened a vista of majestic art millions of light years from our tiny world, art that boggles the mind. For whom was that created? The flow of blood within our own bodies and the way it interacts with our musculature and skeletal systems… for the most part, this is still beyond our view without massive disruption of living tissue. Who gets to see this amazing interplay? The dance of uncountable atoms bouncing off each other in everything… the essence of all existence… who gets to stir that paint? Who gets to mix that clay?

Don’t even get me started on the music of creation. It is everywhere.

Again I say, God is the ultimate artist. We are made in the image of God. We are a people made to paint, mold, draw, dance, flow, interact, sing, and play. The ultimate offering of praise is to return our painting, molding, drawing, dancing, flowing, interacting, singing and playing to One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

What does that look like in our church community? I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear you tell me…

Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church

I ran across an excellent article by Manuel Luz, the Creative Arts Pastor for Oak Hills Church in Folsom, CA. I thought my readers might find it interesting and applicable. I hope you enjoy it. Please look at his bio below. He has much to say on this topic and more.

keep-calm-and-practice-7-habitsMy last blog post, 81 Things You Can Do To Be A More Artist Friendly Church, is easily the most popular to date. Thousands of you hit that post, and I appreciate the many reposts and comments and likes. I think it’s because it hit a nerve for many artists of faith, as well as those who lead them, both inside the church and out.

I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a short list of principles and practices that drive the list. I’m not big on “How To” books and articles without also understanding the deeper, more substantive “Why” issues. Because without a proper understanding of the foundational tenets, you can just as easily misunderstand, manipulate, and abuse the artist of faith instead of encourage, disciple, and applaud them. So here’s a short list of driving principles and practices behind becoming an Artist-Friendly Church.

1. Don’t Treat Artists of Faith Like Commodities

I was talking to a friend recently and I mentioned that I often mow my neighbor’s lawn. We both agreed that it was a good thing to do, one of those simple acts of being Jesus to those around us. But then he added, “So do you think you can get him to go to church?” I replied kindly, “I don’t mow his lawn because I have an agenda for him. I mow his lawn because it’s the right thing to do.”

The evangelical church, steeped in centuries of pragmatic modernism, is utilitarian by nature. It is often results-oriented and agenda-driven—which are not necessarily bad things in and of itself—but as a result, it has a tendency to value the arts not for the sake of beauty and as an personal expression of faith, but as a vehicle for a message. In other words, the arts are seen as a commodity to be used, not as an expression of life lived in Christ.

If art is commodified in the church, so then is the artist. Too often, the church treats the artist of faith as someone who can be put to use. As a result, artists often feel used, taken advantage of, or valued only for their ability to further the agenda of the church. Musicians and visual artists are valued only to the degree that they fit into the worship service. Theatrical artists are only valued when the Easter or Christmas play comes around. And poets, dancers, sculptors, etc. often find no place at the table. Clearly, something is askew when artists of faith aren’t able to express themselves in their own faith communities.

But something different happens when you simply validate the artist that God made him or her to be, and encourage that person to dig deeper into that calling. Acceptance and approval is the two-faceted language which speaks to artists of faith.  The Artist-Friendly Church accepts artists for who they are, not for what they can do for the church. (Hit it here for a more in-depth discussion of this.)

2. Create and Lead Authentic Arts Communities

The calling of the Artist-Friendly Church should be threefold. One, be a venue for the art (a place, a way, and a time). Two, be an audience for the artist, for the church needs artists to fulfill their God-given role in the body of Christ, to reflect, to interpret, to express, and to inspire. And three, be a Biblical community with the artist, offering friendship, encouragement, training, and discipleship.

I really do believe that you must have all three of these to have a fully functioning arts community in your church. It is important to allow your artists to express themselves to the church, to give them venues and opportunities and audiences. At the same time, you can’t give artists carte blanche in your congregations either—That would be disastrous. Artists can be temperamental and self-absorbed and be quite demanding of your time. Artists are messy. But then, simply living in community is a messy thing.

Artists need grace-filled leadership in order to thrive, both artistically and spiritually. The Artist-Friendly Church has leadership that patiently and lovingly validates and encourages as well as grows and disciples the artist. Such leadership understands the importance of inviting artists into inclusive and authentic Biblical community.

3. Understand and Teach a Theology of Beauty and Creativity

When you think of the word “Creative,” do you think of God? For most, the answer is yes. Now, think of the word “Creative” again—does the word “church” come to mind?  Why not?

Deeply imbedded in the DNA of an Artist-Friendly Church is a foundational understanding of our place before God as creative beings. The first five words of the Bible describe God as the Eternally Creative One, and as we are made in His image, we are both endowed with a creative disposition and charged with a creative mandate. There is far too much here to cover in a blog like this, but let’s simply say the the Artist-Friendly Church has a well developed theology of the arts, and it undergirds all of it’s programs and ministries, from what happens in children’s classrooms and youth assemblies to what goes on in the worship service to what adorns the walls of the lobby. The Artist-Friendly Church indwells a vibrant expression of this theology, teaches it from the pulpit, models it in the services and programs, and spills it out into the community.

4. Uphold Excellence While Ruthlessly Ridding Perfectionism

No one doubts the power of the arts to emote, elicit, and engage. And sitting here at the beginning of the twenty first century, the modern church is once again beginning to see the importance of Excellence in the Arts. (See this link if you want to read more on the dangers of Christian art being mediocre, derivative, out-of-touch, overly sentimental, or propaganda-driven.) “Excellence,” as stated by Willow Creek Community Church, “honors God and inspires people.”

But there’s a huge difference between excellence and perfectionism. Excellence is an understanding that you are doing the best you can with the people and resources God gave you. Perfectionism is the unrealistic drive to try to attain an unattainable standard.  Excellence honors those artists of faith who seek to be excellent. Perfectionism dishonors artists of faith by creating unreasonable demands. Excellence is fueled by grace; Perfectionism is fueled by legalism. And some artists of faith, those who are already driven by these demons, often find themselves in an abusive relationship with the church when the church strives toward perfectionism.

We need to understand what the true product of ministry is. The product of a creative arts ministry, just like any other ministry, is the hearts of the people. Great art then is a by-product of hearts which are growing in Christ. The Artist-Friendly Church focuses on the hearts of the artists, not the art. But here’s the thing—it’s only when you focus on the hearts that you have the potential for ridiculously great God-honoring art.

5. Encourage Artists Of Faith To Go Out Into The World

One of the questions often asked to me when I speak on faith and the arts is this: “What do I do if there’s no place for my art in my church?”

And my response is typically not what they are hoping or expecting—for me to criticize the church. Instead, I remind that person that the church is not the end game. In other words, as Christ followers, we should always see ourselves as being called out to make a difference in the world, and that extends to our roles as artists as well. If that is the case, then we should also view our artwork as subversive expressions of the Kingdom of God.

Writer Andy Crouch rightly asserts that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.” In other words, it is not enough to critique or copy or consume our culture.  To change culture, to make a difference in the world, we must also create culture. (For a more in-depth discussion, I encourage you to read this blog, Being IN the World.) So one of the roles of the Artist-Friendly Church is to be outwardly focused—to encourage artists of faith to boldly take their artistic expressions out into the world and let them shine.

6. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Churches are often hotbeds of criticism. You can never please everyone, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for senior pastors and elder boards, who naturally just want everyone to get along. So some churches adopt an unspoken culture of risk aversion. They avoid things that might elicit controversy or change. But a culture of risk aversion is a killer to the Artist-Friendly Church.

Artists are risk takers by nature. Whether it’s in the way they dress, or the way they express their art, or how they see the world, or even how they make a living, many artists are risk takers. Artist-Friendly Churches create a culture where it is safe for individuals and ministries to take calculated risks and originate change.

7. Finally…

At the expense of appearing self-promoting, much of this is discussed in greater detail in my book, Imagine Thatwhich I recommend as a resource for the Arts Leader, Artist of Faith, and especially for Small Group Study.

Also, I only had Six Habits, but I thought that sounded strange.

Manuel LuzManuel Luz is passionate about worship, coffee, the Oakland Raiders, and the intersections of faith and the arts.  A songwriter, author, speaker, and creative arts pastor, Manuel’s first published book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (Moody Publishers) is a practical and personal theology of the arts. Check out his blog, “Adventures in Faith and Art” (Manuelluz.com), or his four solo CDs (iTunes or CDBaby.com).

The post, “Seven Habits of the Artist-Friendly Church,” is a follow up to the blog post, “81 Things You Can Do To Be a More Artist-Friendly Church.”

Choosing My First Concealed Carry Pt.2

As I mentioned at the close of Pt.1 in this series, my search was on for smaller options… a gun that could easily be concealed under my tucked-in shirt or in my pocket. I began researching the .380 caliber.

There is a plethora (love that word) of “pocket carry” .380’s out there. The more I looked, the less I liked. Every .380 I looked at or actually had an opportunity to hold seemed more like a pop gun. In some cases, even a toy gun… until I laid my hands on the Sig Sauer P238.

Sig Sauer P238

sig_p238_hdThe P238 is heavier than any of the other .380’s I’ve seen. That’s great, because it significantly lessens the recoil. The .380 may be a small caliber, but it can still kick pretty good in a lightweight gun. The P238 takes it without hardly a bounce.

It’s also the only single-action .380 pistol on the market (that I know of). All the other options in this line have double action-only triggers, and some of them have quite heavy pulls with a long draw. No fun for firing. Being single action, the P238 shoots like a dream.

On top of all that, this is Sig Sauer. Pretty much everything they put out is of extremely high quality. Even though the P238 is a small gun, it just feels right. It’s based on the Model 1911 and sits in your hand with that same substantial feel… even though it could disappear in a big hand pretty easily.

Needless to say, I was very impressed by the P238. Imagine how I felt when I found out there was a Sig in 9MM that was almost the same size?

Sig Sauer P938

SigP938Not much more can be said about the 938, as it is very similar to the 238. The frame has been increased in size to accommodate the larger 9mm round, but if the two guns sat side by side on a table, you’d be hard pressed to see the difference. Internally, the recoil spring is a flat coil, not wire, which allows for more coils and better energy handling. The only time you’ll see that is when you break it down for cleaning.

Otherwise, there’s not much difference. The 938 is slightly longer, but not noticeably so. Still, there is enough difference that a holster molded for the 238 will not work with the 938. The biggest difference comes once you pull the trigger. The 9mm packs a bit more punch than a .380, so your recoil is a bit more noticeable… but not overly so.

The P938 is almost the perfect marriage in pocket-size and power. You will pay for it though. This is Sig Sauer, after all.

At this point in my research, I realized I had made the circle back around to considering 9mm, so I looked at few more, including the Kahr CM9. It was October and time for the annual Lubbock Gun and Knife Show at the Civic Center. I thought that maybe I might be able to find a good deal.

The Choice

P238 DesertAnd so I did. After considering all the options available, I went in looking for either a Springfield XD-S, a P238 or a P938. There were hundreds of booths and thousands of guns available. The deeper I walked back into the displays, the more willing the salespeople were to make you a good deal.

I ended up with a Sig Sauer P238 Desert model. Since I was at it, the same dealer gave my wife a good deal on her gun. She prefers revolvers, but that’s another post. I’ve been carrying the P238 for months now and I absolutely love it. It makes the rounds from my pocket to my ankle to my tuckable holster with ease.

If you are in the market for a small concealed carry weapon, I highly suggest getting your hands on a P238 or P938. It may make you a true believer, as it did me.

The Acappella Show on Chap Radio

LCU-logo3I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on Lubbock Christian’s Chap Radio. Shawn Hughes brought me on for his program, The Acappella Show. We had a great time talking about the group Acappella, their history, how I became involved, my influences, the state of a capella music in general and many other passing thoughts. He sent me a copy of the show and I present it here for your listening pleasure. At least I hope it’s a pleasure. Save 30 minutes and give it a listen. Let me know what you think.

Choosing My First Concealed Carry Pt.1

Over the past 3 months, I’ve gone through the process of obtaining my concealed carry license and my first firearm. It’s been a long and laborious procedure.

Getting the license itself was not problem. I scored a 245 out of 250 on my shooting proficiency test and the written test was not a challenge. The extended length of the process was due more to my inability to make a decision and choose the gun I want to carry.

The weapon that I utilized to train and certify was a borrowed Springfield XD-M 9mm. I loved the feel and performance of the semi-automatic handgun, even though it had one FTE (failure to eject). Because of that experience, my research began centered on small, 9mm semi-automatics. I had no idea how dizzying the experience would be. I believed I had narrowed the field to three guns. In reality, it was only the beginning.

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Old Tech Ain’t Always Bad Tech

LG220CI consider myself to be slightly behind the bleeding edge of tech innovation. I’m not one of these guys who will jump on some new gadget the day it comes out, but I know about it and I’ll probably have my hands on it before too long. Being 50+ in age, I’ve seen my fair share of new gadgets. I remember well how amazing it was to have a fax machine and sit around staring at it waiting for orders to come in. And I fully realize that the smartphone I carry has more technology in it than Apollo 11 carried, and has had for several years.

That’s why I am slightly surprised how much I’ve enjoyed my new 5-year old clamshell flip phone.

“Le me splain. No. There is too much. Le me sum up.” My contract with AT&T has passed the two year mark, so I am free to either upgrade and get stuck for another couple of years, or go elsewhere. As I was considering my options, Google lowered their prices on the Nexus 4 by $100. That made the Nexus basically the same price as a new phone with new-contract pricing. I jumped.

I love my Nexus 4, but that’s another blog entry. As Inigo Montoya said, “there is too much.” I began to research options other than AT&T. They’ve been good to me and I’ve been with them almost a decade now. Still, they are pretty pricey in the grand scheme of things. After some research, I settled on Straight Talk as the best option for me, but I did not want to just jump and port my number into their system without some further testing.

Which led me to my clamshell. Straight Talk’s lowest level of service is called “All You Need” or something similarly silly. It includes 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and a pitiful 30MB of web access for only $30. That’s the equivalent of one meal at Montelongo’s for my family. I figured it’s worth a test.

I did not want to buy a new phone just to try their service. As I looked through their offerings, I ran across a refurbished LG 220C. It was free with the $30 one-month plan. Why not? I can try out a 2nd line for a month just to see if Shallowater and Straight Talk are a good fit.

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How I Lost 23 lbs and 4 Inches (and Counting) in 45 Days

dietI’ve had a lot of questions from many people regarding my weight loss (and my wife’s as well – she’s down 11 lbs). I thought it would be a lot easier to just blog about it. So here goes.

Before I dig into this, let me state up front that this is not something I am trying to sell, nor do I wish to sign you up for an MLM system. I just figure if this is working for me, maybe it might work for you. And by the way, the plan is FREE.

Who Created It?

My wife found the program online. She’s not even sure how she stumbled across it in the first place. It’s called the 21-Day Diet from BioTrust. BioTrust is a nutrition company and they sell all kinds of supplements for diets and healthy living. Some of these products are suggested in the diet, although we did not purchase anything from them. I’m sure their stuff is good. We just chose not to purchase any.

How Does It Work?

I’m not a nutritionist or a diet guru, but here’s my understanding of how this thing works. Most diets function in such a manner that, after a while, the body begins to figure out what you’re doing and start storing away fat for reserve. The 21-Day Diet intentionally mixes things up from day to day so that your body won’t have the chance to store anything.

In case you haven’t figured it yet, 21 days is 3 weeks. Each week follows the same pattern, but the pattern itself is varied regarding what you’re eating. The diet requires you to eat 6 meals per day. None are big meals, although the way it’s structured, we generally had a pretty big evening meal anyway.

For each week, you have 5 days of meals, 1 day of protein shakes and 1 day of fasting (clear liquids are allowed). The meal days are mixed up so that one day you eat only proteins and fats, while the next you eat only proteins and carbs.

The shakes are sold by BioTrust, but we found a nice (read: cheap) alternative at Walgreens. The fasting day is really not so hard, if you’ve never done it. We would use bullion cubes in hot water at meal times so we felt like we weren’t going bonzo on water and tea.

The meal requirements are pretty structured and it takes some planning and commitment. BioTrust gives you a listing of everything that falls under each heading: protein, fats and carbs. You have a wide choice of foods from which to choose. Basically, we ate what we normally eat, but in specific portions and combinations. Also, all veggies are free. Anytime. We would load up on zucchini, broccoli, green beans, carrots, etc., oftentimes adding soy sauce or teriyaki and throwing it in the wok.

After the 21 days, they have a program called Day 22. It’s basically an ongoing thing that’s very similar to the 21-Day Diet, just a lot more loose. I’ve honestly felt like we weren’t dieting. Most of the time we felt full and really didn’t want to eat. Supposedly, six meals each day keeps your metabolism going and you burn fat faster. Whatever it does, it works, and works well.

You can download the PDF that explains everything from this link. The PDF is free and it lays everything out for you.

Let me know if you try it. I’d love to hear how it works for other folks. We’re still going on Day 22. I started at 275 lbs. I’m down to 252 as of today (Aug 25, 2013) and my first goal is 240 lbs. by mid-November. After that, we’ll see what happens.

Good luck!

Update:

As of Christmas Day 2013, I am down to 230 lbs. That’s 45 pounds lost and I’ve never really felt like I was dieting. I am looking for ways to add exercise to the mix. After 4 knee surgeries, my options are somewhat limited, although I feel like a new man and walking across the room is no longer painful. I’m seriously considering a stationary bike.

Also, since this was first posted, BioTrust has started charging for their diet info. The link above has been changed and you must register and pay a small fee (less than $10, I believe). They make it kind of hard to figure it out. Let me know if you need help. Good luck!

Dispersing Acoustical Myths

Today’s post is by a good friend of mine, Greg Jackson. He uses his humor and dry wit to present an otherwise dusty topic… handling acoustical issues in your room.

Cave ArtThe arcane science of acoustic design can be dated back to the earliest cave-dwellers, who have been found, through archeological excavation, to have hung animal pelts from the walls to keep their domiciles from feeling so “live.”

That’s not true. It was an allegory. About a cave. But it sounded good, no? Such is the case with a lot of the information floating around out there relating to acoustics: it sounds great, but it’s malarky. We see it a lot in regards to studio design, but it reaches a lot further than that. I had a guy call once that had a large, noisy piece of machinery in a room, and was wondering how many absorption panels he needed to buy to keep it from being heard outside. Answer? However many you need to stack under it to raise it a foot off the floor.

We’ve all experienced bad acoustics, whether we knew it or not. Gyms are an obvious example, but consider the restaurant that is so reflective, you have to shout to get your wife to hear you over the sound of utensils clanging together, or the doctor’s office where you can hear his conversation with the guy in the next exam room (that’s why the people in the waiting room were snickering when you left). The best way to dispel myth is with a little education, so, armed with the sword of truth, let’s hack to pieces the enemy forces of ignorance and let forth the battle cry “Scientia Potentia Est!!!” (Hey, I didn’t know GI Joe spoke Latin!)

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Choosing a Projector

projectorSee if this scenario sounds familiar to you in any way: Mark needs a new projector for his facility but he’s not sure what to get. To avoid buying the wrong equipment, he talks to one of the people in charge of “tech” at his organization. The suggestion comes back that surely a 3500 lumen projector will be plenty of oomph (a good tech term) for the room. An order is placed and two weeks later, Mark has a new projector. Not only that, they also purchased a shiny new ceiling mount to hang their oomphy projector.

Mark and Mr. Tech get into the facility on a Saturday afternoon to install the projector. The first thing they do is try it on a cart to see where it should be installed. After turning it on and waiting for it to warm up, they begin to wonder how long it will take to get to full brightness. After a few moments, they realize it IS at full brightness, which will be somewhat dim for this room. Ok, they can deal with that. They roll the cart back to the spot where they would like to install the ceiling mount, only to find that they cannot zoom the projector to fill the screen completely (or it is too big and they can’t get it small enough). When they find the spot that actually works, they find they cannot install the ceiling mount because there’s a big (you fill in the bank… light, beam, etc) in the way. So… now what?

This scenario is, unfortunately, all too familiar in churches and businesses everywhere. How do you know what kind of projector to look for? Where do you start?

Considerations

There are many factors that come into play when choosing a projector. Let me address just a few that will get you pointed in the right direction. Here are a few questions you need to consider:

1. What is the intended use or application? Is this for a classroom or boardroom? Maybe it’s a portable church. Is this an established room that needs a permanent install? Each application calls for a different solution and it’s all too easy to grab the wrong projector, pay too much money for too much power, or undershoot your needs.

2. What is your screen size and ratio? Do you need 4:3 (standard) or 16:9 (widescreen)? While most projectors will adapt to what signal your sending, it’s always best to have a projector that’s native to your ratio. Otherwise you’ll end up with wasted screen space in the form of letter boxing or columns. You’ll also need your actual screen size for calculation as we’ll discuss in a moment.

3. What is your distance available for projection? This will be a major determination for your projector concerning brightness and throw ratio.

4. How much ambient light is present in your room? Do you have a large number of windows? What about projected light? Are your lights suspended from a low ceiling, forcing your lights to be lower than a 45 degree angle and possibly throwing light on your screen?

5. Are you planning front projection or rear projection?

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Melodyne: Tuning Vocals… and Tuning Guitars, Keyboards and Other Things During the Mix

melodyne

This post will most likely find a much smaller interested audience than my last post, which topped half a million readers (craziness!). This time I’m talking to that unique demographic of people who spend countless hours in the engineer’s chair at a recording studio. So, for the 12 people who will read this, I’ve discovered a wonderful program called Melodyne.

For years, I’ve been involved in vocal production for studio projects. I am always striving to get the best sound, as any engineer would do. Some musical styles call for that slightly out of tune floating-around-the-pitch sound. I am not involved in much of that. My stable of projects either have a full band with a lead vocal and background vocals that need tuning, or a complete a capella song where everything needs tuning.

For years, I’ve used a program called Autotune. Most people have heard of this, since it was popularized by its overuse, resulting in robotic voicing. I believe Cher was one of the first to do this back in the 90’s. It’s so popular it has resulted in a slew of iOS apps that achieve the same result for the fun of it. Too much.

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