Art in this world is an intrinsically selfish pursuit.
This is what we hear when we look at the leading minds in the arts and what we are told when we listen to lectures in college. You create for yourself, to become who you were always meant to be, to give this formless world meaning in the midst of absolute chaos.
Maybe not everyone looks at it this way, but it was the mindset I had in the summer of 2011.
I was working at a camera store in Austin and had just started dating a coworker. She attended The Austin Stone Community Church, and while I expressly stated that I had no interest in becoming a Christian, I did not mind attending services with her from time to time. I planned on catering to her without sacrificing my desire to be independent and agnostic.
After going to The Austin Stone a few times with her over as many months, the church began showing a film series called “Who Do You Say I Am?” The title alone did not pique my interest, but the moment a video started rolling rather than the preacher taking the stage, I was a bit more intrigued than usual. The film they played was of Matt Carter teaching about the Sermon on the Mount, while standing on a hill next to the Sea of Galilee.
They did not need to do anything more for the video than a two-camera setup while he taught from a chair in his office, throw in some music, and cut in a few clips from stock footage.
I knew all that sitting there as a jaded agnostic man watching this, but it impressed me that they had gone to so much trouble to make this film happen in this manner. It was richer than just a sermon video and communicated a story in a way in which I had never seen before. I saw something that seemed different from all the self-centered art that I had seen everywhere else in my industry. This was a piece of well-conceived and constructed filmmaking, that spoke of an excellent and awesome God, in a way that was convincing, without being forced.
After the service was over, I wanted to know more about the team that created this film and how they worked. Through providential relationships which allowed me to finally meet the team responsible for the film, God continued to use this form of art in the church to draw me even closer to him. Just a couple of months after seeing the film and being introduced through various communities to the character and nature of the Creator these people served, I found myself completely submitting to Jesus as my Savior.
As God has continued to develop me through the culture and relationships he brings into my life, I am continually shown how much better a person’s life can be when enriched through Christ. He loves taking selfish people, who cannot see beyond themselves, turning them around right where they are, and giving them purpose well beyond themselves.
I fell in love with the God who values artistry and excellence to display widely his glory and beauty—the same God who inspired the ebenezers of times long past in hymns, prayers, the written word, masterful paintings and sculpture. He is the God who cares about what I care about, the God who takes the dirt and fashions it into something beautiful. He created us as sub-creators who can offer the first fruits in our artistry and continually point to him in all things. He gives us a purpose larger than our own egos, to show us more and more of his character. All of this allows us to be patchwork vessels for demonstrating his boundless grace.
People want to know beauty and grace, and this is our time to show them tangibly and with excellence, that is exactly who our God is. This is an excellent time for us, as followers of Christ, to show our fellow artists and co-creators a better and fuller life in Christ, through art.
Let’s pursue this holy endeavor, as the body of Christ together, through excellent storytelling.
Images by Christian Rudman and Taylor King