Why art matters at the end of the world

Healing nations through their cultures. This piece is about why culture matters as a means of discipling the whole person, city and nation. Culture is an aspect of collective and personal identity which can offer a true image of identity. By offering a purer or more whole image of true identity, we recall to a person or place what they are meant to become. I also touch on ministering into culture as part of the great commission which Jesus sent His Followers to partner in on the earth after He left.

I think creative and, by extension, cultural commissions come under both the dominion mandate in Genesis–to cultivate and make complete the creation; and the great commission, which Jesus commanded those in Him to participate in-ie that of discipling the nations and baptizing them into His Name–or Whole Identity. We are still in the era of the great commission, and we still have a dominion mandate–both include the creative or cultural aspects of the identities of people cities and nations. In addition, we are in times which require more holistic discipleship, or discipleship of the whole person. Even for artists themselves or cultural creatives, it is essential that they integrate their creativity into their spirituality and allow their art to flow from true identity in Christ.

Our art community, we started in Austin, years back, was founded on this need for artist to integrate their art with their faith, and bring both “under one roof”. This divorce between art and the church since the Reformation has really made it hard for Christian artist to bring both their art and their faith into the same House. We want to be part of correcting this both in the church, and then out into the general cultural spheres.

Looking at the cultural dimension of cities and nations in an end times context. By end times, i mean a quickening increase of both dark and Light as Jesus approaches His Return to Reign on earth. What does “His Kingdom come” look like in terms of the preparation for Christ’s return in the area of the arts?

Culture is one way into the core identity of a person or place. At that core, there is always the need for His Cross both to heal and to transform that core life into its true nature in Him. So, you have the core wounds of each person, people group, city or nation to deal with perhaps firstly. The particular sicknesses which need to meet the Healing and Whole-makingness of the Cross. But often especially with highly developed creative cities and nations, the arts is a way into that core identity. If the Cross can be applied to the cultural creative aspect, it often gives us an image (true image) of what needs to happen to the rest of the whole person or city or nation. So the arts in this way advertise the fuller healing of the identity. If we see ourselves more truly, we want to become that image, and are motivated to allow The Cross to work a deeper core work in us. This occurs also on a city level!

I think people get visual amnesia and need to be reminded of the image of their true self. If they never see it, they go on in cinematic darkness for years, unable to discern who they are any longer. The arts help offer a reminder of true self or identity. That is part of the reason, you will find some artists who are “downloading” God’s content, but who, in their minds, do not yet believe in Him. This often happens specifically in places which are having to reclaim or re-invent their collective identities–like much of eastern europe. There is a window to speak true image of self into these places, so that the amnesia can be lessened. This can happen through the arts.

When we hear a song which is actually imbued with the Holy Spirit, something in us recognizes this echo in us–this God shaped vacuum is temporarily activated and remembers itself. Oh yes, i am human, and came from a Great Creator who cares for, and deeply knows me as He is the one who knit me together (Psalm 139). Sometimes we need to see or hear or experience through art first before we are drawn to go deeper into the Truths of who God is. We need to see the symbol of our true self in order to be drawn towards becoming that self. For the “vision” set before Him, Christ endured the Cross. We also need to see what we truly are “in Him” in order to even desire to move towards that poem. There are many studies of those born in poverty who struggle intensely to see themselves as in any way royal brothers and sisters of Christ. And yet, that is what He calls us! And “He is not ashamed to call you brothers (and sisters).” Shame itself distorts our image of ourselves.

The sin nature in general gives us a very distorted image of what we truly are meant to be in Christ. Conversely, Christ comes as a human, and says in Him it is possible to be truly human, and to shine in your true identity. To become a whole image bearer of God again. Jesus did this for us, and ask us to receive this true new life. We, in this sense, lose ourselves and our false images of ourselves, to gain ourselves and a true image of who we really are–the sons and daughters of the Most High God. This is all accomplished through the Life of The Son, as it comes ever deeper into us. We start to see ourselves as beloved, beheld even adored beautiful creatures of the Great Creator.

This is especially true in a place like Europe which has forgotten her first love, or been deluded into thinking that this first love was actually pagan or Greek gods, or worse, the queen of heaven. Europe needs to remember that God intervened through Paul on their behalf to spread the truth to her; and that she was faithful in shooting out this truth globally, despite the sins involved in colonialism. She needs to reclaim her mantel and remember her true Glory. But first she needs to have a more clear image of herself. Not just a broken mirrored vision based on shame and guilt, but a truer image of how God sees her.

We are in a period of quickening. Both dark and light is getting more intense. As we draw closer to Christ’s return, the shutter speed is getting faster! This has been prophecied and is clear. Both the Light and the Dark will increase as He prepares to return. Now in this period of history, what is the role of the arts? I think primarily to hold up a true image of Him, and of who we actually are. What types of symbols does our true neighborhood or city desire to express. It is not just an expression of her wounds, but also of her true identity. Prague, for instance, would express graphically in specific fonts each with its own nuance and meaning, as spiritual scribes; Paris, in visually complex poetry. London in word and composition etc. But each should already be projecting from their true selves onto their billboards, subways and walls and rivers. We are those partnered with God in bringing forth His Image, and our own, and projecting these onto the earth! In short, by expressing a truer image of who we all are “in Him”.

Yes, we must deal with our core collective sicknesses; but also we need to be expressing from our healed state, so that many can see and know that we are God’s polymorphic poetry. God is able to cause us to pronounce ourselves through the arts, both individually and collectively. He will and is already redeeming culture.

If, as it teaches in scriptures, we are going to continue to be related to as cities and nations all the way until the end, then we also need to start thinking of ourselves as such, and start to mend our city’s and nation’s imagination. It is not just for evangelism, but it is also for integration of the true self of your city and nation under God Most High. And the arts have a role to play in this reconciliation of the true self process.

Also in our day, Christ is clearly incarnating more deeply in us. And this forces us to open our cultural dimensions to Him as well. As we dialogue with a city’s symbols and allow Him to enter that conversation, we are helping to heal the imagination’s of our cities; in doing so, we are drawing all men to a truer image of themselves and God. Art in this sense is not just about evangelism, it is about recovering a true image of what we are as humans, and who we are as a city and nation.
If we only look at pornography, we start to believe that life is like that. If we see instead our true beauty, we start to live up to that truer image of ourselves.

We do act as we see. If we see ourselves as a victim of “other”, we will act that out. As you can see in the recent marathon bombings. If you believe that America has victimized your people, you will kill yourself and others to attack them. If you see America portrayed as a victimizer of all muslim people, you will begin to act out from that vision. This is an extreme example, but it goes to show how important presenting a true image can be. Regardless, what i am saying here, is if one sees a false image long enough, we start to believe it, and act accordingly.

In our very day, God is integrating His Own Creativity in and through His People to make a new expression of Himself–the “new creation”. He is creative and will make His art. He is the Author of our poem, and the Finisher of it; and He will pronounce His Own poetry for all to enjoy and know. This art is what we are becoming!

So, we want to be the ones who see ourselves more accurately (through His Eyes), and start to perceive other cultures and nations more accurately. In this way, with cleansed perception, we start to be able to disciple one another in truth. Cultural healing of the imagination is a huge aspect to this end times work among all nations! It also fights racism to see accurately other cultures. When we allow this work to take place in us, and then when we are helping others express a purer stream of identity, we are freeing them up to project a truer image of who God has made them onto the earth. We are clearing a way for a more accurate image of who God is! In this sense we are evangelizing using the true image of God! In doing so, we also prevent hatred and unnecessary violence against them.

In this sense healing through the arts is part of the great commission to disciple all nations and baptize them into His Full Name. That is the church’s task, and the arts are a very important aspect of this mandate. We are to disciple the whole person, the whole city, the whole nation into The Life of Christ. This must include the arts. For He Himself is the Great Artist, the Great Creator, who made all nations and desires to bless teach and commune with them.

God is dealing with nations up until the very end, and even beyond, if we read Revelation carefully. Cities and nations do not just vanish. They were part of Israel’s commission and are part of the church’s as well. The nation’s will stream to God for teaching and eventually for judgement (Isaiah). In the meantime, it is our task to spiritually disciple them into His Name. City and nation were God ideas, and He is not done playing out these metaphors. Culture is one aspect where His Kingdom must come! To truly disciple a nation is also to bring His Light into her culture! This is where art meets the great commission. This is why art matters now, and its ultimate context.

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