(excerpts from an interview on identity, culture and the arts from a Christian perspective)
Let’s talk about the inclusiveness of Christ’s Lordship–what does that imply to you?
The Lordship of Christ over every area of Reality, includes the symbolic dimension. There is, ontologically, a layer of Reality which is symbolic, because of who God is. He is a symbolizer, so His world has a symbolic component, and humans, made in His image have a symbolic aspect. My point here, is that God does not suddenly stop at the area of arts and culture or creativity. His Being is not suddenly halted or cut off there. He is one and wants to make us one, and to know and be known by every aspect of our own beings. The church has often made the mistake at stopping Him just after the gospel message. That addresses the mind, but what of the perception, does the gospel of His Life in us, not apply to the imagination of humanity as well. If it does not then God is not one.
The Shema then (behold Oh Israel, the Lord your God is one..) is perhaps the best place to start: God’s oneness has many applications, but one, is in the area of the symbolic or creative, and identity. Since, creativity is an aspect of identity and flows out from it, it is part of what God wants to know and be known by. We are to be wholly His, and our whole selves are in this redemptive process, and actively healing, including our creativity.
You would be surprised to see how few christians really know God in the area of their creativity. I’m not talking about being an artist here; I mean knowing this creative aspect of God Himself, and then by extension being lit up in that area of our own personalities. The church is dull in this area, because it does not know this aspect of God.
God is one, so there is no part of Reality which He is not Lord over. All the dimensions of Reality are His. There is no place where He is not God. David was saying this in his wonderful song–if I go to heaven, there You are; if I make my bed in hell, there You are also; if i cast myself upon the wings of the morning (the dream space), there You are as well. There is nowhere where God is not. He is Lord over all, and scriptures calls Christ the sustainer of all things. The substance and the sustainer.
Then later Paul writes, that he would labor until Christ is fully formed in us. When we minister to people, are we not calling from deep to deep; is Christ in me not talking to Christ in you–is eternal not chatting with eternal in that spiritual exchange?
When I am on a bus, I see people as they are eternally. I see them fully formed, or whole. I see them more or less whole; and then i can also see where they are at on their trajectory or journey. But perhaps the first thing the prophetic sees is this wholeness. He sees cities whole, people whole, the universe whole. Then there is the laboring towards this wholeness which becomes the particular calling of the prophet in his or her time. You prophecy into that fulness, that already true in the spirit, not yet actualized in the natural. Are we not prophesying into people whole, eternal selves?
You talk about identity, what do you mean by that?
Well, that is no small topic, but I have a simple way of putting it–it is who God says you are. It is the eternal name coming from Him which lands on you, and activates that particular expression of Himself, He intended you to be. Each of us has a particular shape and size. We have unique contours. We are distinct. And, here it is important to say, I believe in a God of distinctions. One who separates the sea from the land, and animals from humans. I do not believe in a “blob” God. One who is just sheer energy without distinction. In this sense I believe in a personal God with a personality, who is relation to the unique creatures He has made. We are not the everything. We are unique individually and collectively.
You talk a lot about cities as if they were people; of the personality of cities; how does this play out on a cosmic level?
Well in terms of the eternal identities of cities, we are given clues in scripture, but in terms of God’s relationship with cities, we see throughout scriptures, He relates to them as having personality or as people. I am of course, interested in the imaginations of cities; which is just one aspect of each person or city’s life. But one that I am drawn to. I believe that God ministers and relates to collective humanity as well as individuals, and that He cares about the imaginations of both.
In short, i think all things are mediums through which to know about and fall back in love with God; and this includes cities and nations. I think if you are not seeing them as a way to get to know God, you miss a crucial dimension of life. God can be known through nature, through the creation; but if humans are in His image, we also need to look at what they have created as a sign pointing back to the Creator. There are also cities in heaven but that is another topic.
So when it comes to the arts, i am saying there is a collective imagination, that is being made whole as is the entire planet, and what it symbolizes. God is reconnecting His OWN SYMBOLIC LIFE BACK INTO ITSELF, so that the universe is once again a full expression of Himself, which it was before Adam messed up. We were given dominion and we failed, and the rest is history; but then God comes up with this other way of showing Himself, through sending Christ to make all things new again. To reconnect the symbol to the true identity of His creation, so that it properly expresses His Own Identity. That is the planetary healing journey.
All things including this symbolic dimension. I think that in many ways, God is re-integrating His Own expression to reveal who He is. He is a revealer, and wants to be known. He is also able to make whole expressions of Himself.
I think the arts and culture are just one aspect of identity which God is redeeming, reintegrating, healing, making whole. But it is this aspect which I have been most drawn to as an artist and prophetic person.
When we talk about healing the imaginations of cities, we need to think about Oswald chambers idea of reattaching the correct image clusters to the true identities of people, places and things. Each thing has a true meaning cluster around it; God wants to reattach the proper associations or perceptual clusters around the right object.
Yeah, going back to that soil, sight, skin thing?
Well, when I was living at L’abri in switzerland as a student and artist, i noticed that the Christian tradition by and large-with a few exception like St Francis etc-had neglected to talk adequately about the earth itself. Francis Shaeffer had written a good book on the ecology, but this was not common even when he was teaching in the late 60’s. And you had a whole culture starting to think about ecology.
I was personally doing dance therapy before I came to l’abri, so was also interested in a spiritual orientation to the physical body. So those two categories came into the foreground for me–developing a spiritual approach to the earth, and the human body.
Then, it occurred to me that the imagination and perception had also been neglected by the theologians, outside, again, of a few like George Macdonald, and by extension, CS Lewis, not many Christians had written about what Christ Lordship over the imagination and symbolic life looked like. So I formed these three areas of the neglected Lordship of Christ: soil, sight, and skin.
These have been given more attention in christian thought recently, but still not enough in my opinion. I mean, what does it look like for Jesus to be enthroned in the human imagination–and what would be possible if He were. We say He is Lord over all, but what is it like to have Jesus as Lord over the imagination. How would it effect our cities? How would it effect advertising, magazines, or arts and culture in general? There is so much incarnation left to happen there on many levels.
You mentioned a few theologians who had developed thoughts on the imagination?
Yeah, there were a few early ones, but one of the most articulate in around our times was George Macdonald. He was able to articulate as an artist and teacher, somethings about the nature of the symbolic. He wrote of higher symbols and understanding how to read symbols. The church by and large, still cannot read symbolically. So you see all the controversy around Revelations and the book of Daniel. Half of the trouble is a poverty of imagination there.
That is a real hermeneutical problem for the church. We simply do not have His Eyes to see in many areas. Often because we do not know Him in our imaginations, we are even unable to interpret scriptures themselves, which are at least a third overtly symbolic literature, and as a whole, the bible itself is a symbolic outpouring or revelation of God.
I do think Shaeffer at least opened the door again for Chrstians to go into the arts, but the implications of Jesus’ Lordship over the imagination has not been fully realized. You could see the prophetic movement as an attempt by God to mature the church’s imagination. And this is a hopeful sign, especially as the prophetic movement matures globally. For prophets deal in symbol, and are proof that God is active there. So there is hope there!
But I see few who understand and move in God’s imagination as a primary modus operandi. Most are happy to use art to evangelize the message. But have not really met God in the area of their creativity and imagination. Yet, He is definitely there as He is in all other domains!
And I don’t think it is possible to interpret books like Revelation without entering some of God’s imagination. For it is written in symbols. But perhaps as practically, it is hard to understand human culture if we do not know the God of the imagination.
Jesus reprimanded the religious leaders of his time for having eyes but being blind. They could not read the times. He also earlier told Solomon that He would put His Eyes as well as His Heart on the temple, or place of His Name. And these three work together in Him–His Eyes, or perception; His Heart; or feelings towards, and His Name of identity. In us also they are meant to be becoming one or whole. For He is one, and wants to be known throughout our identities. To love God with our entire beings, and to be loved by Him in our total selves is to me what Christian spirituality is all about. God is one, and He is making us also whole.