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Saying it New at the Festival: Art and the Christian

Jake Slaughter

Jake, Jesus, and the Bear Post-Festival Blog Post: In which Jake looks back on his experience, and likes what he sees.

  • Artists should seek to have the “courage of risking respect for all those who they encounter.” – Marilynne Robinson
  • Artists ought to “provoke the possibilities of how we live in the world.” – Shane Claiborne
  • Artists create stories. “Stories make you more humane, and more human.” – Gary Schmidt
  • "You will never love art well, until you love what it mirrors better" - Ruskin via Gary Schmidt

Do you sense a theme there? Throughout my time at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing I sure did. What does it mean to be to be an artist? A Christian? A human?

I’m not going to claim to have a profound new insight from my time at the festival, but I am certainly feeling challenged, inspired, and eager as a result.

Tania’s previous post describes the atmosphere of the event well. In our daily lives it may be rare for us to find people excited about the same things we are. Our Christian friends may not care about our art, and our artistic friends may not care about our faith. It was different at this festival, though. I felt a strong connection with everyone I interacted with. Those people care about the things I care about. And if you’re reading this, odds are you care about many of those things too.

I’m still processing some of the things I heard from the sessions I attended, but there remains in me a general impression of two qualities: eager hope and earnest humility.

Art is not something we should use to impose our beliefs onto others. Rarely does that effectively communicate anything valuable and rarely does that us that allow us the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way.

Art is about connecting with people. Art is about challenging preconceptions of difference and allowing us the opportunity to love others unconditionally. Art spurs us on to action in a broken and frightened world. Art is about humbly suggesting an alternative to the way we currently live.

When you look at art this way, are we not simply saying that art is part of the function of our communicating the Gospel? Jesus, after all, spoke in brilliant little parables. In fact, in Matthew 13: 34 -35, it says that: “All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.’”

Jesus' parables weren’t about saying something new, but about revealing those things that were established at the beginning of creation.

Similarly, our art should not be about saying something new for our advantage, but about somehow showing others that we care about those truths Jesus spoke about. We don’t have to do this explicitly (Jesus’ parables were often subtle, ambiguous, and misunderstood), but we do need to do this intentionally and graciously.

If all of us were willing to write with the kind of courage that allowed us to risk respecting all we encounter, as Marilynne Robinson describes, think of how effective could we be in our creation of connection to a desperate world.

Jake Slaughter is an editorial intern with Relief and will graduate from Trinity International University with a degree in English and English/Communications this spring.