Artists and the Global Church

For many in my circle of friends, our thoughts about art and faith tend to remain in the Western hemisphere. Perhaps they include the UK and the Continent. But my hunch is that few of us read essays on the arts from people in Asia, Africa, Oceania and Latin America.

How many of us can name our top ten favorite artists from the majority world? I'm embarrassed to say, not me. I might be able to generate a Top 6 for non-Western literary writers. Maybe. Would I be able to relay stories of churches in India or Paraguay who have boldly ventured into their local art communities? Do I have a sense of the kinds of questions they're asking? Are they different from mine in North America? Or what kinds of issues must an artist consider when communicating the gospel, precisely through the arts, to the tribes of the Kalahari Desert?

In asking these questions, I'm not asking about the experiences of Westerners in other parts of the globe. There are plenty of these and plenty instructive; plenty of self-sacrifice too. I'm more asking about our brothers and sisters from there. I'm asking about their indigenous experiences. My sense over the years is that we share a lot in common--more perhaps than we might initially imagine. But my hunch also is that an artist in Xinjiang, China or Kabale, Uganda is asking a different set of questions that I am, whether for philosophical or relational reasons, or quite bluntly for spiritual reasons.

Why does this matter? At a basic level it matters because Christ's church is a global
church. His church is one, holy, apostolic and catholic or universal, not parochial, and certainly not parochialist. While his church takes root in local settings, our ecclesial membership always encompasses the whole expanse of ethne. Practically I may live as if this doesn't matters. But it does. I have a responsibility to my artist brothers and sisters everywhere, and they to me.

There is also the issue of mutual enrichment. In our short visit to Thailand a couple of years ago, Phaedra and I were deeply encouraged by the artists we met there. So much to learn, we realized, so much to "taste and see," literally and figuratively. We both returned to the States inspired, each of us wondering, "How have lived our whole life without knowing these artists!"

To the end of encouraging a global conversation around the arts, the Mission Commission ofthe World Evangelical Alliance has produced a 100-page magazine that includes 47 authors from around the world. It's quite fabulous. My father so happens to be its chief editor. Coincidence? Yes. But I don't mind. I just so happened to have the privilege of participating in the project, for which I'm profoundly grateful. Here is a note my father wrote to friends in the global mission movement:

"We have designed this issue as a "teaching" instrument to challenge leaders in our local church and global mission movement to consider their own role in creating a space for the arts. We affirm the vocation of the artist as well as a significant place for art in the church's mission. We desire to spur churches, agencies, national and regional mission movements as well as other mission teams and networks to marshal people on behalf of this vision."

John Franklin, who founded Imago in Canada, and Robin Harris, who helped establish the
International Council of Ethnodoxologists, functioned as co-editors. Some of the contributors include Jaewoo Kim, Miriam Adeney, Colin Harbinson, Jean Ngoya Kidula, Heber Negrao, Art Santos, Roberta King, Stefan Eicher and Clyde Taber. These are names you may not recognize. That, of course, may prove my point. It's a world of riches in the global church. Titles include everything from Ethnodramatology: Using indigenous drama forms to The growth of arts among Tibetan Ethnic Christians in Nepal. I'm particularly looking forward to reading this one: Dinka Worship: Keeping Strong in the Midst of Persecution. The magazine includes a list of global training centers, an annotated bibliography, web resources and networks that bring together mission and the arts.

In a year when the Lausanne Movement will bring together 4,000 leaders from more than 200 countries, it seems appropriate that the arts should factor in. They do. And the MC publication, Connections, provides the church with an invaluable aid. Artists and art-lovers will not want to miss out on it. Those who care about global mission will want to purchase a copy--or a hundred. Myself, I look forward to the experience of having my horizons expanded--again--and again and again. After worrying mostly over issues in North America, I start to get restless. I start feeling stuffy. Seeing what God's people are doing around the world infuses me with new energy. I feel excited to belong to something this big!

If you wish to find out more about this project or to order copies in bulk, please contact the editors of Connections here.

And may God continue to grace the efforts of believer artists scattered all across the planet.


Unknown said…
Another great resource for the international conversation can be found at Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker and Laurel Gasque are charting the course on this endeavour.
Brian, that's great. I'm on their weekly email list, which includes thoughtful reflections on visual works of art of all sorts, from artists all around. I really enjoy reading them, even if they usually arrive in my inbox on Sunday morning. Very good stuff there.
Epic said…
I've been fortunate enough to travel around the world on a few occasions. I agree with you regarding the power behind a global view of church. When I went to the Philippines I was so encouraged by the wonderful people there. Africa is also amazing…

One thing that I’ve also noticed (in terms of huge generalities), Western church tends to view the world in terms of “us” and “them”, and the dividing line is most often economic status. I know it is shallow, but it is easy to look at people from different circumstances as being somehow different in other ways as well. It is easy buy the belief that Western Christian culture has more to give than receive. Such divisions of culture walk an odd line of pride, one fueled by ignorance. Yet, once you give “them” a face and name, all assumptions of superiority melt.

Just another reason to open the conversation…
Marc, thanks for your comments. You're definitely on to something important.
I should also add another helpful resource here. It's the book edited by Charles E. Farhadian, *Christian Worship Worldwide: Expanding Horizons, Deepening Practices*.
Art Roy Remy said…
Thank you for enlightening many through this post of yours. You are right. the truth is, there are many great arts done even here in our country. I went to a mountain in Northern Philippines and the ethnic tribes there was a rich culture of arts. I tried to interview some locals there why they are not joining some missionaries there. Their reply was alarming. They said they dont want to go to church because they are changing their culture, and their arts. I tried to enlighten them that Jesus loves them and we respect their culture and arts. I saw their arts in their clothes and stonewalls and it showcases their heritage, their history and their culture. There is no art that depicts evil or paganism. The church there wants to change their clothing into American way- shirt and tie, etc. It is my prayer that our church planters all over the world will be more compassionate in sharing the love of Jesus without prejudice to the culture of the local community.
Anneli said…
David!... thank you for this! this kind of conversation makes my heart leap! Another testament to God's movement... the kingdom advancing. Having only slightly touched the global arts community through YWAM, I am so excited to hear and see this kind of articles on the web. Being in touch with my international artist friends constantly calls me to look outside my box of where I live, what church I go to, the work I am doing... to lift my eyes up and praise the Father, of all good gifts, for what he is doing in and through us all. Thank you!
Hines Family said…
I'll tell you what the artists in Kabale, Uganda are asking -- $1000 USD for a painting of a couple of cheetahs. Muzungu price, I'm sure, but still...!
Anneli: thank you for your encouraging note. We're as excited as you are.

Hines family: you crack me up.

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