On Tongues and Art and growing Up in Him
(from an interview)
What was it like growing up southern baptist as an artist?
Well my mother is an artist and my dad a baptist preacher, so it was inevitable that I would have to figure out how to integrate the two somehow! So i sort of became an arts minister! Which means into the church ministering creative freedom, and into the art world offering a context spiritually for the creative process. It’s a dual ministry really. Firstly, to His Body of course, but then bringing the Kingdom out into the culture of the arts.
For an artist in the Baptist church, at least the variety I grew up in, it was like paint by numbers until i branched out. Artist were really only allowed to decorate the building or evangelize. I always felt like there was something more priestly in making art. That for it not to become just God propaganda, it needed to be valid and concerned with actually making art, not just using it as a front to trick people into Jesus. At the same time, i see the use in the arts as evangelism. But I still think it needs to be good art.
But there wasn’t really a place for artists to be artists in our church. That it was ok to just be in the image of God and create before Him. I didn’t get that until living at L’abri in Switzerland and sitting under the teachings of Francis Shaeffer—that Jesus was Lord of the arts also, and every other area, and we were free to just create. That teaching on the absolute Lordship of Christ, freed me up! I’ve seen a lot of creatives have to dualize their art self and their spiritual self—who make their own art during the week, then water it down for worship on Sundays. That’s sad to me. In fact, God is One and He wants us to be integrated also! When we consecrate or baptize our creative lives into His Name, we are free to just make art, sometimes its overtly religious, but often it is very human but consecrated.
When I was a boy, I met a painter named Noah. He made abstract black and white paintings, no representation at all. Most of the Christians didn’t get his work. I loved it. It had such direct statements of life in it. Well, he killed himself. I think that impacted me greatly, as I really got him and his work, and there really was no context in the church for him. So I wanted later to provide that context for artists. I even called my ministry “Noah’s other boat”-the idea being a place of haven or an ark for the artist and creatives, the mishaps and misfits who just wanted to create and express because God made them that way. I made a metaphorical boat for the Noah’s! That’s still in my heart.
But, in the church I grew up in, there were always the missionaries and the prayer ladies, and usually the music directors or worship leaders, who were actually bigger than the cultural boxes. In the South, remember, there is christian culture, and then there is actual Christianity—those in Christ. As Flannery Conner put it, the South is Christ haunted! I would add that when the Ghost comes into the house, its no longer haunted but occupied! Also there were the African American churches around, and the appalachian hill churches—all of which had more than what Dallas Willard calls the sacrament of the word alone; all these other churches had much more overtly manifest Holy Spirit. I was prophecied over when I was about 17 by a traveling woman prophetess up on pilot mountain.
How did that go down?
Well I felt like I was supposed to be up there and pray. And as I was, these two pentecostal ladies (you can always tell a good pentecostal) came up and said, God told them someone up here needed the gift of tongues and to be anointed. So they laid hands on me and I started babbling in tongues and crying a lot, i recall.
I don’t think i had spoken in tongues before that, but I had always seen and sensed angels and other spirits. I just grew up very sensitive to the spiritual atmosphere we live in.
How did tongues help?
Well, i think how they help is in prayer. We usually start praying thinking we know all about what the conversation is. But really prayer is more like contact improvisation (if you are familiar with that dance form), we make a phrase or gesture and God responds and the conversation has a life of its own, in the end. I think tongues sort of let’s you release faster into the conversation. As Paul says in the book, it certainly doesn’t really help others much, unless you interpret it. I asked to immediate understanding of my own tongues, and I got it.
Another cool use of spiritual languages happened to me in Paris when a man was trying to commit suicide. God had me walk up start speaking in some tongue i didn’t know, and just be in His Presence. God also told me to draw two images, once the man was listening. This man spoke only french, and at that time, i spoke no french. I just kept calmly talking in tongues and pointing at these images of a door and a church i think, and eventually the guy breaks into tears hugs me, and walks off. That was a cool use of tongues, or what I would call spiritual languages. You look at Babel, and you see the reversal at Pentecost! Everyone hears the praises of God in their own language when The Holy Ghost gets poured out! Good stuff.
You said you asked to understand your own tongues-how does that work?
Well He told me the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of understanding are always close by one another. And I took that by faith to be fact. So if someone is prophesying or speaking in tongues, we can understand with our minds if we ask and seek it. So i thought why not apply that to our own gifts. I’ve always been an advocate of receiving as many of the gifts as God is willing to give me. All the gifts are in Jesus, and reveal aspects of who He is. I feel the same with the five fold—they are all in Him, and reveal aspects of Him. So for me the gifts have always been about getting to know more of Jesus. That’s my mo. I’ll receive any gift if I get to know more of God. I’ve never just been attracted to the “magic” of the gifts themselves. Anyone can walk in any of them. We have everything in Him, as both Paul and Jesus said. But I do think we tend to gravitate towards certain gifts and certain aspect of Him depending on our personalities.
I like to talk and communicate, and carry messages and express them well. So I tend towards His prophetic aspects. I had a vision once, He and I were just endlessly talking, the way friends do! And then He handed me a message and I ran down a long hill and delivered it; along the way i had an adventure, and all the time, i felt His pleasure over how i would express that message. We talk endlessly still. And He puts up with what my dad would call a babbling brook personality. In fact He uses it.
Anyways, i wasn’t taught about the five fold ministries until England. They had that teaching, which i think the Pentecostals first downloaded, and it spread through the charismatic movement into the Anglican church, i went to there in northern England. The teaching was basically, that people basically tended to move in one of those five fold gifts, or could move in all of them at times. I was of course most attracted to the prophet, as the pastor was too much work for me…I’d rather roll on my side and talk to mountains—i like the eccentric Ezekiel like people, and have sort of always been one. Pastors have to like too many people, and too many people like them. That’s dangerous. But since then, i’ve fallen in love with that pastoral part of Jesus, so that changed. I appreciate His pastoral care of me now, and like to move in it for others. We need good food and basic physical care in this life. We are humans.
Speaking of too many people liking you for your gifts…
I think there is a danger at first when you are moving in the gifts of over-identifying yourself with your spiritual gifts. This is complex, and involves that passage from Jeremiah’s calling. I knew you in the womb, therefore, I called you to do this and that. So identity precedes calling. Now we are equipped for our callings. But if we don’t have that adored, beloved, inner acceptance of God down, we get into trouble. You see this with younger ministers a lot! They are put on the stage in the performance church and people adore them for their gifts. That’s not the reason to love someone. You love them, and your thankful they were Graced with some gifts that are useful. My dad for instance is a great teacher. But I like him not because he has those gifts. I like him for who he is, and i know who he is.
I think this is important especially in the church celebrity circuit you see these days with all the conferences and speaking and books. Lots of younger ministers are still trying to gain acceptance or to be liked through their ministry. And the gifts are useful, so you feel useful when you use them. I struggled with this when young lots. I still needed the approval of man as they say in the book. I still was afraid of being rejected. And the gifts are good and people do need them, but if we use them to gain approval of others, we aren’t motivated in a mature way yet. That’s why the bible teaches that the fruits of the Spirit are more important than the gifts! The fruits are basically Christ character embodied in us—or in our “embodied will or heart”, as Willard might put it. We are becoming more like and in Jesus—that’s our goal. As we are more “in Him” as Paul speaks of repeatedly in Ephesians, we start to bear the fruits of His Life. That is the Christian walk. That’s the sanctification process. The gifts conversely are for building up the Body into His full stature; so the fruits and gifts are distinct. But the fruits are more important in my book. In Corinthians, Paul puts it, if I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love, i am nothing. Love being the ultimate fruit!
In the end, if we have the fruits, we will want more of the gifts; but it doesn’t work vice versa…
Now I came from, to get back to your first question, a stream of the Body which didn’t really value the gifts of the Spirit. I don’t think i ever heard a sermon (and I heard thousands of homilies-at least 5063!!) on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in the Baptist church i grew up in. Most were around salvation as you can imagine. The life of the Spirit, the abundant life, the availability of The Holy Spirit, a fuller baptism into the Life of Jesus through The Holy Spirit, simply weren’t preached. Now I was raised under a great teacher of the word, but that life of the Holy Spirit was just not the Baptist focus. Now as Dallas Willard points out in his great article on spiritual formation, the Baptist were, and are great at the one sacrament of the Word; but there are more sacraments to be ingested as you go. I basically had to sneak off to the charismatic churches to get the fuller package of Christian life.
Talk about your involvement with the charismatic streams?
Well in short, it started with a woman from the Jesus People movement giving me a Keith Green cd, and I felt that intense anointing of the Holy Spirit on it, and of course Keith’s heart for the Jews, which I had always had from my mother. And I just wanted more. So I sought it out—went to Vineyards and Prophetic churches and sought out leaders, had hands laid on me; even went up to Toronto and met John Arnold who blessed me directly—so i got the Toronto blessing, and hung with the Harley Davidson prophets in North Carolina, where I’m from. I met them all—Rick Joyner and his great family, and many others. I wanted more and went and found it. I went weekly to Morningstar and those ministries to learn to move more fluidly in the prophetic.
Then i met an African Prophet who released the prophetic in me on another level. It was the right time, and I received it, then had my prophetic calling confirmed many times. I don’t think everyone needs to roam as far as I did to open more deeply into the Life of The Spirit, but I did. And I wanted to know it tacitly as they say—directly to be in contact with those previous developed pools of The Body. I wanted to touch the wells and get wet!
Then I went back into the Baptist thing, and traced the movements of The Holy Spirit back, and saw that most of our baptist revivals were also Holy Spirit moves.I studied revivals, and renewal movements within that history of His Church.
I went back and studied DL Moody’s life for instance, though I think he was methodist, and realized that He got filled with the Holy Spirit and he and Torrey had prayed, and the whole campus got filled with The Holy Spirit. One of my favorite books on the Holy Spirit was written by RA Torrey. Those guys were anointed heavily with an anointing that is still flowing! So there were people in my own tradition or connected to it that knew the more abundant life, but I had to trace them down. In my own church, it was the prayer ladies, and missionaries who seemed to carry the deeper abiding life. I became close friends with them.
Dallas Willard also mentions that at times the Baptist have been paralyzed by Grace, that we have to be active participants in receiving; we have to will to say yes to His Formation in us! I like how he distinguishes that we don’t earn grace but we do have to be active in receiving it!
Yes, I love that! I do think people have to seek to find. And I do think people need some experience or example of someone living a deeper life in the Spirit to stay motivated to keep growing spiritually. There was another priest I met in Cambridge when i was in art therapy school who was so filled with the Holy Spirit his eyes glowed. I always wanted that level of infilling. He would stand at the door as you left the building and something was always imparted when you walked by. Like Peter and Paul’s shadows healing people…So, I had seen it was obviously available.
Even in my grandparents church (a very small town baptist “Jesus Saves in neon” church) the Amen corner was clearly responding prophetically to the sermons. Once i got up to pray there, and all these old men, started chanting—voice of the prophets, voice of the prophets speak speak…it was intense and a little distracting, but I got that these men were intuitively in tune with The Holy Spirit, though they may have had no theological language for it.
My grandfather was also an amen-er and he would cry in the Holy Spirit—only times I would see him cry. But my grandparents church in some ways was more integrated like the Black churches—you just did what the Spirit was doing, and let it flow. And the preacher yielded to The leading of The Spirit. In some ways that was more charismatic than the more programatic approach in the church I grew up in.
I remember I was once in my own church and God put a heavy warning word on me—burnt all during the service, thought i was going to throw up actually! And I thought He would make room in the service for a word. Then the word lifted off me, and God said to me, “there is no room in the program for me to speak!” Now that made me sad. So my church was not always “bent” as Evan Roberts would put it; not always willing to yield to The Holy Spirit. And yet, much later I was at that church, and my own father got up, and said, I had a sermon fully prepared, but The Spirit has directed me instead to preach this. And He went on under a heavy anointing to preach. So things do alter even among the Baptist! We do have to take care that our programs and structures yield when The Holy Spirit winds in and wants to show us something.
Where are you at now in your spiritual interest?
Well prayer mainly. I had a dream that I had two cars—one was a european van which was harvest orange, the other a blue convertible Karman Ghia. The second represented open heaven in prayer and i was driving that one; the other was european leadership and community; that one was ready (keys in the ignition), but it wasn’t quiet time to jump in and drive it. I think my prayer life and study is where I’m mainly meeting Him now, but I have a true heart, His I think, for europe and that she see true revival-a new re-formation really! A heart to bless the parents basically—and i will turn the hearts of the sons to the fathers and the fathers to the sons. I also feel this burden for generational dialogue or reconciliation.
There are many unnecessary divisions between the generations now. When we switch to see them more as generations of His Purposes and not restricted to age, i think we do better for unity in His Church. Nehemiah’s wall of unity around the city, has been a recurring metaphor for me in my personal spiritual life and prayer burden. To be part of His unifying, to be a joint or bridge in the Body between her many parts, is where my heart is now whether in prayer or action in the world. I travel a lot, and usually feel i am connecting aspects of His life which are scattered globally.
To be people of prayer seems to me to be in our element. We hold with Him, the life of the Body in every nation, and through that the entire life of every nation. When we are in the Light, others around us can see. We are drawn to, led by His Spirit, the places He wants to co-labor with us in Egypt, Africa and in our neighborhoods. We are led to the part which is ours to co-cultivate! Mine right now is among artists globally and in europe with leaders mostly. But His Heart draws me and directs my prayer life, and as Dr Suess wrote: Oh the places you will go!
I think the spirit of His Testimony is prophecy. But also we need to know the specifics of our spiritual stories. Most people just tell about the initial salvation experience, which is usually dramatic. Mine came at age ten with trembling at a Baptist altar call. But that was just the beginning of the story! The real story is about His ongoing formation in us, and all the ways we die and are reborn again in each area of our lives. Then when we do have this new life, how we start to minister it outwards to others. The whole story is about Jesus—what He did, yes! But also what He is actively doing, both in us, and through us, out into the world. Our whole stories matter.
Yesterday, I had to sit in the DMV for a long time with a little number, waiting my turn. I looked around at all these people waiting, and felt His care for each of them. That’s Jesus. That’s the One who came down and dwelt among us. That’s the One who gave us all these gifts to bless us and one another. That’s where it all returns to, and all of earth and heaven are consumed in Him. All will bow before Him. It’s just a matter of time. He is who impresses me most, back then, and now. The God incarnate who leads us home into Him. And into His Father through His Precious Holy Spirit. We are to be baptized and baptize into all three, as Jesus taught us. That’s the Christian life. And that’s still my heart.
We all find Him in different ways. And each has its own challenges. I’m thankful for the textures of my own spiritual story. But mostly that He found me, and I recognized it, and said yes. He’s the best thing that ever happened on the earth, and certainly in my own life. I’m interested in cities and nations lots right now, but at the end of the day, I’m mainly interested in Him, this unfathomable friend of mine.