In my travels around the world, I’ve witnessed excruciating suffering and pain. When I see a baby dying in Mathare Valley slum of Nairobi, Kenya for lack of a $20 medication, I don’t think about painting a picture. I just need to get the money to the child’s parents so she can see a doctor.
And yet, Byron Spalding, President of Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International, asserts, “We can’t save the world without artistic expression.” And I agree.
On Friday evening, I attended an event inviting Colorado Springs artists, art lovers, and culture care advocates to engage the question: Can the Arts Change the World?
The discussion, held at local coffee shop 225, was sponsored by Fuller Colorado (represented by Will Stoller-Lee), First Presbyterian Church, and Flourish (founded and represented by Maria Pompea), with special guest speaker, Dr. Byron Spradlin of Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International. Maria Pompea and I exhibited artwork.
The question intrigues me. For years, the urgency of the world’s trauma kept me running too fast, too busy to unpack my paints and brushes. And then came the day when the darkness threatened to overwhelm me, and I painted to survive.
I don’t think I’m unusual. There comes a time when the monotony and the pain of what this world can offer becomes too much. The questions break through our busyness and distraction. Our hearts cry out for something more. Our souls scream: Surely, I was made for so much more than this.
We were made for transcendence.
The dictionary definition of transcendent: going beyond ordinary limits; surpassing; exceeding.
Art, exploring the realm of the imagination, busts open the confines of what we can see and touch, it activates our hunger for the eternal. It opens the possibility of pressing beyond ordinary limits imposed by every day life. It invites us to surpass and exceed mere survival.
Yes, there is a time when we just need to pay for the baby in the slums to see the doctor. But the world also yearns for a long-term lens, an eternal perspective.
As the presenters discussed, art invites the human spirit to interact with transcendent reality.
Maria Pompea, catalyst and organizer of the event, founded Flourish in Colorado Springs to “engage the confluence of beauty, faith, and justice.” I’m lucky enough to know Maria in real life, to attend art openings and talk face-to-face, to witness her grounding of these lofty ideals into scrappy, tangible living. She lives what she preaches. Her mentoring of me fortuitously collided with my decision almost five years ago to create full-time. Maria’s book, “Flourish: Engaging the Confluence of Faith, Art, Beauty, and Restorative Justice” (find it on Amazon by clicking the title) offers the next best thing to discussing her ideas over a cup of coffee at Rico’s.
Matt Meade, a Colorado Springs videographer, shared his current project as an example of this powerful intersection of faith, art, and justice: https://www.facebook.com/TheStrangerMoments/. It is no secret that my home city, Colorado Springs, can be a place of extreme polarization. Matt, working with other local artists, brings together completely opposite strangers (culture, age, gender, race, beliefs, etc) into dialogue in search of the common humanity underlying all our differences.
Byron Spalding, guest speaker for the evening, serves as the President of ACT International, mobilizing and equipping Jesus-followers around the world in artistic endeavors. As he spoke, he invoked the title of “imaginative expression specialist” and commented on the church’s great need for those who “are unusually wise at imaginative design and expression.” He called upon artists to fulfill their God-given role of creating environments in which people experience the transcendent reality of God. He challenged artists to rise up and use their imaginative gifts to lead people into spaces where God can be felt and experienced.
Sitting next to me, my dear friend, artist Penny Taylor, was called upon to share informally during the open dialogue session at the end of the event about her creative endeavors. She rescues old wood (like the many fences blown down in Colorado Springs’ recent epic windstorm) and transforms them into stunning art. Re-find Restoration captures the essence of the Gospel in a powerful metaphor. we who are ruined and cast aside are transformed into masterpieces in the hands of the Master Artisan. She recorded her reflections about the evening in her blog post: Transcending Reality.
It is true that around the world, people desperately need food, water, shelter, and medicine. But when medicine is given and the baby in the slum still dies, her mother desperately needs a reason to keep going. She needs to know she is not alone, that someone else sees, recognizes and walks with her in her suffering. In the emptiness of her shack buried in abject poverty, it is the power of imagination which affirms these truths to her beyond what she can merely see and touch. It is the power of imagination which mobilizes other people to visualize another alternative for her, and to work together to alleviate the poverty that binds so many.
Artists, I believe, are the aching visionaries who paint, dance, write, design, (etc), tugging invisible ideas out of the abstract spiritual realm into expressions we can see, touch, and experience through our senses.
The artists shout into the chaos, in voices we can hear, in expressions we can see: there is more, so much more. And they invite us to make it so.