Friday, February 05, 2010

T-minus 3: Book: Joshua Banner -- Nurturing Artists in your Local Church


My friend Joshua Banner lives in Holland, Michigan. As you can imagine, the town of Holland, with its modest nod to all things Dutch, is a cold place. It's especially chilly in winter. Josh finds himself there because he is the Minister of Music and Art at Hope College. To say that he is a "Minister" at this liberal arts college (alma mater, to wit, of Sufjan Stevens) is another way of saying that he is a genius with students. His weekly responsibility involves, among other things, leading chapel services for two thousand kids at a time. I have to say I am impressed. Anybody who can lead four worship services a week--week after week--is überstark.

I met Josh through his music. It's beautiful, by the way. We liked it so much at Hope Chapel that we invited him to be our co-guest artist, along with Charlie Peacock, at our 2003 arts festival in Austin. With our shared interest in art, church, theology, beards and cooking, Josh and I immediately hit it off. Susanna (née) Childress, I have to admit, hit it off better. She earned her PhD in poetry and then married the boy. But I've always appreciated Josh's heart. I've known him to be a man, as the Psalmist puts it, "tamim" of heart: a man of integrity.

A number of years ago, Josh was the arts pastor at a church in Oklahoma City. Before that he studied literature and philosophy at Wheaton College. Before that he worked with his father and grandfather in the cornfields of central Illinois. That makes him supremely qualified, in my mind, to write a chapter on the similarities between farming and pastoring. "A good farmer," he writes in his opening statement, "loves the land." In the same way, a pastor of artists must first and foremost learn how to love, nurture, attend to and exercise a great deal of humble patience in the care of artists. I love Josh's chapter in our book, For the Beauty of the Church. It is so wonderfully written. It is wise. It is hopeful. And--perhaps best of all in a book full of ideas--it is supremely practical.

I offer you an excerpt as a foretaste of what is to come.

The Importance of Intentionally Pursuing People

As a pastor, I understand that the initiative to bridge the distance is my responsibility. Artists can be shy and self-effacing, or brusque and unresponsive. More significantly, many have not imagined what a relationship with a church might mean. The arts and the church seemingly exist in different conceptual worlds. In order to break into the world of an artist, all I need is sincere curiosity and interest in sharing in the artist’s world.

Rachel was something of a loner. She was acutely independent with a strong personality. I remember watching her stomp to the beat of the worship music in her hiking boots, dreadlocks flying. She enjoyed participating in our worship services, but came only when she felt like it. I met her after leading a Bible study at an apartment near the University of Oklahoma. Something I’d said betrayed my interest in the arts, so she approached me afterwards to say hello. Our first conversation began something like this:

What is your medium?

Printmaking? Oh yeah? What kind?

How long have you been making prints?

What subjects interest you?

Which artists are your influences?

What inspires you?

And the most important question: When do I get to see your work?

I invited myself into her studio space. We met with some of her friends for lunch and then she took me to the art building. She pulled her work out of a locker and let me spend an hour looking over them. Fascinated by her sense of color, I asked to borrow a few pieces. The next time I saw her, she called me her new best friend. In time Rachel became one of my most regularly featured artists.

If an artist doesn’t have a concert scheduled soon or a gallery opening, I invite myself into their studio space. Songwriters often have a couple recorded songs they will give me on a disc. Sometimes I invite them to sit down with a guitar to show me a new song in person. With visual artists, I especially like to visit their creative space and see works in progress. Writers email me drafts of this and that. We don’t need to be experts in each artist’s medium. We simply need to be curious and demonstrate that we believe what artists are doing is important—to call their creative risks “good” just as the Creator blessed his own handiwork in the first seven days—and to bless that work by giving it our attention and sharing in it. If Christians should excel at anything, it is sharing with each other deeply.

Pastoring, I suggest, should be understood as synonymous with nurturing. All Christians are called to nurture and care for others. Yet those in leadership, whether pastors or lay leaders, should be distinguished largely because they are capable of extending care to others. A nurturer possesses the initiative necessary to penetrate the outer shell, the crusted topsoil, of a person’s life. A nurturer is able to till the soil. A nurturer moves past layers of presumption and self-reliance in order to earn a person’s trust so that she will receive love. Each of us will have particular types of artists that we are drawn to and who are drawn to us. The question is: How do we earn their trust?

8 comments:

livingpalm said...

Thank you for this excerpt. I've been learning a lot from Joshua already at his blog site and hope to meet him in person(retreat, perhaps?)
It's encouraging to see that some of what he is sharing is instinctual. I also feel a strong need to reproduce this kind of care; others in addition to me who will "learn how to love, nurture, attend to and exercise a great deal of humble patience in the care of artists." A community of artists as caregivers to each other's lives and work is one of my greatest desires. Always learning...

OKC Herbivore said...

i am grateful to be among the artists that Josh has pastored, by creating alongside as well as discipleship-exampling. so glad he is a part of the book project, and i am excited to see all of it in a few months!

w. david o. taylor said...

Tamara, I'm trying (gently muscling is more like it) to get Josh down to the retreat at the Laity. He threatened to come, and I'm going to keep him to his threat.

Dustin, great to hear of the connection between the two of you. I do hope Josh gets a lot of good feedback from the book. His suggestions are just the kinds of things artists and pastors, I think, will be looking for. And it's great to see what you're doing in OKC.

Dominic M. said...

i enjoy this blog.. hope you don't mind I added you!

-Dominic m.

Courtney Kay said...

I cannot wait to read the book! Banner is one of those quality people.

w. david o. taylor said...

He is indeed!

Steve Morris said...

I remember Josh from the ole Wheaton days when he and Paul performed in a friend´s house...read the book and really appreciated his section. Finding myself in very similar shoes, loving & mentoring artists, and artist myself and often feel alone. Not true!

Thank you for this book...after living many years abroad and soon to return to the US, I feel hopeful.

w. david o. taylor said...

Steve, thanks for your comment. I'll pass it along to Josh. I'm sure he'll appreciate reading it. Blessings to you.