How To Discourage Artists in the Church

From The Gospel Coalition Blog

Many Christian artists live between two strange worlds. Their faith in Christ seems odd to many of their friends in the artistic community—almost as odd as their calling as artists seems to some of their friends at church. Yet Christians called to draw, paint, sculpt, sing, act, dance, and play music have extraordinary opportunities to honor God in their daily work and to bear witness to the grace, beauty, and truth of the gospel. How can pastors (and churches) encourage Christians with artistic gifts in their dual calling as Christian artists?

As a pastor and college president, I have made a sad discovery: the arts are not always affirmed in the life of the local church. We need a general rediscovery of the arts in the context of the church. This is badly needed because the arts are the leading edge of culture.

A recovery of the arts is also needed because the arts are a vital sign for the church. Francis Schaeffer once said:

For a Christian, redeemed by the work of Christ and living within the norms of Scripture and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts. A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God—not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.

In this article, I am taking a fresh and somewhat contrarian approach by seeking to answer the question, “How do you discourage artists in the church?”

In preparation, I asked some friends for their answers to my question: an actor, a sculptor, a jazz singer, a photographer. They are not whiners, but they gave me an earful (and said that it was kind of fun).

Here is my non-exhaustive list of ways that churches can discourage their artists (and some quotes from my friends).

Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality. See the arts as merely decorative or entertaining, not serious and life-changing. “‘Humor’ artists by ‘allowing’ them to put work up in the hallways, or some forgotten, unused corner with terrible lighting, where it can be ‘decoration,'” David Hooker told me.

Embrace bad art. Tolerate low aesthetic standards. Only value work that is totally accessible, not difficult or challenging. One example would be digital images and photography on powerpoint as a background for praise songs. Value work that is sentimental, that doesn’t take risks, that doesn’t give offense, that people immediately “get.”

Value artists only for their artistic gifts, not for the other contributions they can make to the life of the church. See them in one dimension, not as whole persons. Specifically, discount artists for leadership roles because they are too creative, not analytical, too intuitive.

Demand artists to give answers in their work, not raise questions. Mark Lewis says, “Make certain that your piece (or artifact or performance) makes incisive theological or moral points, and doesn’t stray into territory about which you are unresolved or in any way unclear. (Clear answers are of course more valuable than questions).” Do not allow for ambiguity, or for varied responses to art. Demand art to communicate in the same way to everyone.

Never pay artists for their work. Expect that they will volunteer their service, without recognizing their calling or believing that they are workers worthy of their hire. Note that Old Testament artists and musicians were supported financially.

When you ask them to serve through the arts, tell them what to do and also how to do it. Don’t leave room for the creative process. Take, for example, a children’s Sunday school mural: “Tell them what it should look like, in fact, draw up plans first,” David Hooker said. Discourage improvisation; give artists a AAA road map.

Idolize artistic success. Add to the burden artists already feel by only validating the calling of artists who are “making it.”

Only validate art that has a direct application, for example, something that communicates a gospel message or can be used for evangelism. Artist Makoto Fujimura answers the following question in an interview at The High Calling: “How then do you see art as evangelism?” He says:

There are many attempts to use the arts as a tool for evangelism. I understand the need to do that; but, again, it’s going back to commoditizing things. When we are so consumer-driven, we want to put price tags on everything; and we want to add value to art, as if that was necessary. We say if it’s useful for evangelism, then it has value.

And, there are two problems with that. One, it makes art so much less than what it can be potentially. But also, you’re communicating to the world that the gospel is not art. The gospel is this information that needs to be used by something to carry it.

Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.

Do not allow space for lament. The artist’s call is to face the darkness while still believing in the light, to sense God’s silence and sorrow. Ruth Naomi Floyd asks, “How can artists of faith trace the darkness and pain of Good Friday to the joy of Sunday’s Resurrection?”

I could go on. Here are some more ways to discourage artists in the church:

  • Not setting reasonable boundaries.
  • Not allowing artists to experience creative freedom.
  • Asking the input of artists and deciding not to use it without an explanation.
  • Not giving artists the gift of real listening.
  • Not preaching and teaching the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ.

But the last item on my list is, in general, make artists not feel fully at home in the church.Most of the items on my list reflect a failure to understand art and to let art be art as a creative exploration of the potentialities of creation. This is a crushing burden because artists already know that as Christians they will not be fully at home in the world of art—they don’t worship its idols or believe its lies. N. T. Wright comments:

In my experience the Christian painter or poet, sculptor or dancer, is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

So will you make a home for Christians called to be artists?

Please do what you can to accommodate them, because they are pointing us toward eternity. As W. David O. Taylor writes in For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts:

Whether through paint or sound, metaphor or movement, we are given the inestimable gift of participating in the re-creative work of the Triune God, anticipating that final and unimaginable re-creation of all matter, space, and time, the fulfillment of all things visible and invisible.


Coach Hal Mumme’s 2.0 Air Raid Offense Comes to BU

From The Clarion Ledger (1.22.14)

When the Belhaven job opened in late December, Hal Mumme wasn’t planning on leaving Southern Methodist University.

The 61-year-old, who was the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator at the Division I school near Dallas, knew good things about Belhaven through a former assistant and Blazers coach, Dennis Roland. But Mumme hadn’t been in Jackson for years.

After talking to coaching contacts and friends in the Jackson area, the “Air Raid” innovator found the head coaching job at the NAIA school more appealing. The school announced Mumme’s hiring last Friday and introduced the former Kentucky coach at a Tuesday press conference.

“The allure of being a head coach and being able to run the program was really important to me,” Mumme said. “I felt, in talking to (president) Dr. (Roger) Parrott, (vice president for athletics) Scott (Little), that Belhaven felt right. It seems like a great place. I look forward to winning a lot of football games and representing Belhaven in all the ways they want to be represented.”

When news first leaked that Mumme was leaving the Division I ranks for Belhaven, it stunned numerous football pundits. The natural question was: Why would Mumme leave a major FBS coaching position at SMU for Belhaven?

Mumme saw the reaction. But he said that those who know him best weren’t surprised by his decision. They knew how much he loved coaching small colleges. He got his first head coaching job at Iowa Wesleyan, another NAIA school. He had considerable success at McMurry (Division III) and Valdosta State (Division II).

“I’ve always enjoyed (small colleges),” he said. “It’s probably the most gratifying coaching.”

Mumme’s most famous pupil wasn’t surprised by the move, either.

Tim Couch, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, remembers Mumme liking to call all the shots when the two were at Kentucky together. It was there, in the SEC, that Mumme took his Air Raid offense to the masses and made Couch a household name. Mumme guided the program to two bowl games and wins over top programs like LSU and Alabama before later resigning after an internal investigation revealed recruiting violations.

Couch, who now works as an analyst for Fox Sports South, appreciates his time under Mumme.

“He’s cutting edge,” Couch said. “He’s an innovator in the passing game. He’s always a step ahead of defenses. He’s always on the attack. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win. He’s very confident and very aggressive. He’s the type of guy whose system is proven. Wherever he’s been, his offense has put up big numbers. As a quarterback, that’s what you want to be in.”

At Belhaven, Mumme promises to unveil “Air Raid II.” He wouldn’t give any hints about it Tuesday, but Couch expects it to incorporate some of SMU coach June Jones’ run-and-shoot offense. Mumme has also kept up with some of his Air Raid proteges like Washington State’s Mike Leach and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen and tweaked his offense over the years.

But the offense will still be heavily predicated on short passes. The Air Raid is Mumme’s bread-and-butter, and he isn’t changing that at his seventh head college coaching job.

The coaching nomad does hope to stick around for awhile, too.

“I’ve been fortunate to be the head coach at a lot of places,” Mumme said. “I’d like this to be the last one.”

Academy Award Nominated Singer to Speak (and sing) at BU March 1 – Joni Eareckson Tada

From Christianity Today (1/17/14)

A Hollywood nod to a Christian film has come as a shock to the entertainment world, as the song “Alone Yet Not Alone” (from the movie by the same name) was nominated for an Oscar.

The song beat out Coldplay, Taylor Swift, and Lana Del Ray to join the other four nominees for best original song: Frozen’s “Let it Go”; U2’s “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” from Despicable Me 2; and Karen O’s “The Moon Song” from Her.

What’s more surprising, however, may be the person who performed the song in the end credits: Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic Christian author and speaker, and one of CT’s “50 Women You Should Know.” (A video of Tada singing the song is below.)

The Los Angeles Times reports the song may have been nominated because it played a crucial, recurring role in the film. Bruce Broughton, a winner of multiple Emmy awards and a previous Oscar nominee (Silverado), was one of the composers.

Broughton also is a previous music branch governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a chair of the music branch. (Deadline claims Broughton made phone calls to his connections within the academy to consider the song). William Ross, composer of the film’s score, has been a past music director for the Academy Awards as well.

Vanity Fair interviewed Broughton, who said, “I am not known as a songwriter—most composers don’t get a chance to write songs. Because it is a faith-based film, it is probably the first one of its sort to get a nomination. And because it is for my song, it is particularly sweet.”

The nomination has received negative reactions not for its quality, but for the film’s endorsements by James Dobson, Rick Santorum, and Josh Dugger, executive director of Family Resource Council Action, among others. framed the movie as endorsed by “anti-gay hate group activists,” while the Boston Globeheadline reads, “The Oscar nomination that stinks to heaven.” Hitflix writes: “There were audible gasps and chuckles when Cheryl Boone Isaacs began reading the list of nominees in the category, and first off the bat was “Alone Yet Not Alone” from, er, Alone Yet Not Alone…It doesn’t seem a stretch to call this Christian drama the most obscure feature film nominated for an Oscar this year.”

But Ken Wales, one of the producers of the film, told CT that the nomination comes “by the grace of God,” and that regardless of the outcome, “to God be the glory.” Wales, who also produced Amazing Grace­­—the acclaimed film about William Wilberforce—as well as Christya mid-90s TV show—said the song will be performed live during the March 2 Academy Awards event.

The film, based on the book by Tracy Leininger Craven, recounts the story of a German family immigrating to America in mid-1700s.

In 2010, CT discussed Alone Yet Not Alone as a film that “recognizes the power of hymns,” specifically in reference to the Oscar-nominated song. The film will be released in theaters nationwide this June.

CT regularly reports on the Oscars and Christian films, including why a Christian film received an R-rating.

CT also interviewed Tada and her husband about their marriage following the release of the couple’s book, Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story.

Additional reporting by CT editor-at-large Mark Moring.

Below is a video of Tada performing the Oscar-nominated song:

Belhaven Students Launch Video Game for iPhone


From the Clarion Ledger:

Video games are not just for kids anymore, and app games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush on Facebook have opened the doors of gaming for an older generation and women.  With that in mind a couple of Belhaven University arts majors are taking their love of art and video games and diving into the growing market of mobile gaming.

Chadwick Harman and Joey Nelms, who are seniors at Belhaven and Logan Grandberry, who attends Southern Mississippi University, started Cryogenic Studios and they hope their debut title will be available for download this month.

Cryogenic’s puzzle game “Rails”, can be played on any Apple or Android device, which includes smartphones and tablets.  Harman, is the president and founder of Cryogenic and he describes his company’s initial effort.

“You’re a wheel and you pick-up little orbs and it gets harder-and-harder to collect the orbs as you go,” Harman said. “It’s a very low commitment game, you can sit down if you have two or three minutes, play a level or two.”

For these full-time students this is not some mid-term assignment, but their first taste of real world business. The trio does their best to balance their business and school, and they say they are fortunate Belhaven has provided them with plenty of resources and support.

“There’s some direct influence of people actually working on the projects, as-well-as people being mentors for us through the projects,” Nelms, Cryogenic’s CEO, said.

The aspiring entrepreneurs found that a good way to break into the video game industry is through smartphones and tablets.

“The whole mobile sector has opened video-gaming up to everybody,” Harman said. “My mom plays videogames. I thought that would never happen.”

“Mobile projects aren’t as in-depth or complicated as the big XBOX titles,” Nelms said. “Those things take five years, with 400 employees and a few million dollars.”

By contrast, “Rails” was produced with about 10 people and a few thousand dollars. With “Rails” about to hit app stores they still have their sites on XBOX and Playstation, and taking their art to the blank canvas those consoles provide.

“We’re taking it much more from a creative standpoint of story-telling of art making,” Nelms said. “We take it from the standpoint of art-making, not game-making.”

Their next project is already in the works and it tells the story of Lenny, a mail delivery robot.  It’s an adventure game that the Cryogenic crew hopes will be available for download on XBOX Live in spring 2014. That is the same time Harman, Nelms and Grandberry are scheduled to graduate, and they are excited about transitioning from full-time students to full-time video game developers.

Bettye Quinn Remembers Newt Wilson

Miss Betty Quinn sent me a touching memory she had of Newt Wilson,

Proabably, Newt and Betty worked together longer than any other faculty or staff member did with Newt.

I told Bettye, today:

“If you’re able, you should go to the funeral, I know it would mean so much to Becky. Newt loved you so much. I remember when he first told me about Belhaven, you were the only faculty member he told me about. I thought they were all just like you!”

He’s been a great friend, and I’m so glad you can go to the service.  We will miss you at commencement but you’re needed there.

I asked Bettye if I could share some of her notes with you, and most of it is included below.

I’ll remind you again that the service for Newt will be at Hattiesburg First Presbyterian Church on Saturday at 11:30 am. Becky will be having a family only internment tomorrow.

Becky needs our prayers.

Here is Betty’s note:

Dr. Parrott,

I have not missed a graduation in 47 years….as you know. This is a dilemma for me, But I feel that I should go to Newt’s funeral. He and Becky have been my friends for so many years.

When the soccer team won the NAIA championship last fall, I sent him one of the shirts. He wrote me the most wonderful letter back. I made cheese straws for him every year and sent them or he came for them. We knew him on so many levels…fellow alum, co worker when he taught Bible, Dean of Students, Vice-president, President and then as Board Member. He was always the same sweet caring person.

I helped Becky cook and entertain many, many times. She was the ultimate hostess. His birthday was September 22 — the same as the Hobbit… so many times we had a Hobbit party… everyone brought a gift but not for him… the gifts were exchanged… that was the Hobbit way. He loved that everyone got a funny gift instead of him.

Newt really loved Belhaven and all its activities.  As a student he sang in the choir. He loved that Belhaven was into all sports. And of course, the Bible and Christian Education Department was his forte. He really had a wonderful life accomplishing all he wished.
I would have called but I can’t talk without crying.

Love and prayers,
Bettye Quinn