Sunday, September 30, 2012

Restoration and Worship

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
   and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
   Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
   that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:4-6, ESV)


Wow. When’s the last time we sang something this powerful, this emotional, this desperate in a church worship service? I dare say we’ve never known this kind of sheer desperation for God to act on behalf of his people and that because of that, we have probably never seen this kind of longing in a worship song or hymn. Besides, that kind of display has no place in a formal, organized and tidy service, does it?

Bah. Yeah, you heard me. Bah.

To the Jewish people, God was real, very real, so real in fact that he was just the type of king they could complain to like we might complain to a local political leader or educational bureaucrat when we don’t like something going on in our children’s schools.

Equally real was their sin and the depths and punishment they faced because of it. Experiencing political and geographical slavery served as a rather intense reminder or how serious God was in dealing with sin. In our post-Jesus’-death-and-ressurrection age, I think we may take that more lightly than serious. And the current sermon series will, I hope, cause us to reflect more on the effects sin can have on our ability to have a close relationship with God and thereby to really, honestly, truthfully worship him.

Maybe we need more of this attitude in us when we worship, the kind of desperation that would plead with God to restore and revive us, that we may rejoice in Him.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What kind of choice is that?

Another old one, but one of my favorites.

What kind of choice is that?

Nope. Wrong Jonah.
Okay. Here's the scenario. Jonah's hanging out with his friends at the Dead Sea Beach Club discussing the current headlines and why the resident priest needs to be impeached when all the sudden the conversation shifts to the free will of man. Well, Jonah (still wearing big fish belch marks all over his body, not to mention the amino acid scars) can take no more of this banter, and cuts in:

"Choice? Free will? Let me tell you guys a little bit about that. I know all about it -- first hand, me and Moby Dick out there swimming around. Here's the choice God gave me -- Jonah, go to Ninevah, or Jonah, go to Ninevah. Some choice, huh? Well, right off the bat, I'm thinking 'No way am I going to Ninevah! Surely God can respect my decision in this matter. I mean, what's He going to do, make me go?' Some stooge I was.

"Well, anyway, the whole point is this -- I didn't really have a choice, did I? Do it, or wait until He pushed me into doing it. What kind of choice is that?"
* * *

Just to what degree is God in control of history? What is the difference between His permissive will and His perfect will? Is there indeed a difference? What's the point in telling me to choose whom I will serve when the same Bible tells me that all of my days are already mapped out and known? If God is omnipotent, then why can't he make things happen just like He wants them to?

Well, to be perfectly honest, he does. History is always under the power of god. God is never under the power of history. Not a single event has happened without passing under God's careful planning and scrutiny. Communism, the Roman persecution of Christians, stillbirths, tragic accidents, slavery, all are a record of history. Surely God didn't approve of these things. And yet, they are a part of history.


Yep. That's the one.
To understand, first we need a more accurate understanding of God's will, both permissive and perfect, active and passive. We must never think that God's will can be deterred. When we speak of God's permissive will, He permits it because He wills to permit it, knowing full well that it will also accomplish His perfect will. And when we speak of God's passive will, we must never think that God is being passive, for God is actively passive. In other words, if God chooses not to act and let events take their natural course, it is because by allowing things to happen on their own, they accomplish His plan.

Too often, we apply words like can't and not able to to God's abilities. One thing we must never forget is that God is omnipotent. According to Webster, that means having unlimited power or authority. and that leaves no rooms for can'ts and not able tos. Sometimes God doesn't do things, but that never means He is unable to. For example, have you ever heard that God can't work in your life if you don't let Him. Sure you have. Well, what about Pilate? He wasn't exactly what you'd call a model Christian, and yet God used him as a key player to accomplish His will for the redemptive work of the cross.

How can things like accidents, murders, poverty, abuse, gang fights, wars, affairs, terrorist attacks and even hunger accomplish the will of a holy and loving Lord? Because He told us so.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NIV).

Read that again. Whose purpose? Which things?

There is so much we can't yet see through our glass darkly. But God cannot only see the big picture, He's the Creator who made that picture. He, and only He, knows what's best. Our job is simply to draw closer to Him as He goes about His business of keeping the universe in order and working out His plan.

And guess what? He made us another promise, that if we draw near to Him, He will also draw near to us.

© 1994 Sean Taylor

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mike Yaconelli was a genius...

If you've not read Mike's book Messy Spirituality, you've missed out on something amazing and genuinely life-changing. Mike had a way of cutting through the garbage to get to the heart of the matter of what it means to have and live faith. These are just two quotes I found this morning as I was looking at some of the stuff he wrote. He died a few years ago, and the world is so much poorer for the loss.

I post these here because I think they have particular relevance to the issue of how an artist who is a Christian (note I didn't say the phrase "Christian artist") can and perhaps should approach his or her creative life.

=============================

For the Christian, there is no distinction between the sacred and secular. Everything a Christian does is an expression of his faith.He does not make choices based on the religious significance of the alternative. As a Christian he makes the choice that is a logical extension of the values he has derived from his faith…

=============================

What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the categorysmashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear,who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?

I’m ready for Christianity that “ruins”my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and …well…dangerous. Yes, I want to be “dangerous” to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered “dangerous” by our predictable and monotonous culture.


=============================

Predictability and faith cannot coexist.What characterized Jesus and His disciples was unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising the disciples by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners), hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the Sabbath). There was no Day Timer, no strategic plan, no mission statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were.His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable.When Jesus is present, everyone is uncomfortable yet mysteriously glad at the same time. People do not like the surprises—even church people—and they don’t want to be uncomfortable. They want a nice, tame Jesus.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Makes Comics "Christian"?

I'm curious because I've had this discussion with pastors and youth pastors starting from way back years ago when I worked as a music buyer in a Christian bookstore. Of course, back then the discussion was about Christian music. What made it Christian?

The distributor?
The words?
The attitude of the artist's heart and his or her faith?
Was DC Talk Christian and Bruce Cockburn not?


Now I ask the same thing of Christian comics. What makes them Christian?

Is it that they're advertised and marketed as such?
Is it that they're published by Christian publishers?
Is it that they're blatantly evangelistic?
Or can mainstream comics written by Christians like Chuck Dixon and Roland Mann be included?
It is the attitude of the writer and/or artist's heart and faith?


Admittedly, I'm a bit liberal in my definition.


But I feel that almost any story, no matter the language or content (to a large degree) can be a story of redemption. Taking my cues from the Bible, it seems that almost no subject is taboo, from revenge, bloody wars, genocide, sex, incest, you name it. It's all in there, and I'm hoping that gives us earthly creators a grace-filled free reign to tackle almost any subject redemptively. 


I guess that's my definition at the heart. If it's a genuine redemptive story, it can be called a Christian one, because that's what Christ came to do, redeem.

But feel free to differ.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Creative Corner #2 -- Old Fall


Old Fall

When old Fall winters himself
Eagle-like, bold, and swiftly
Gliding, wings adrift,
The eyes ahead,
Something splinters inside me,
And vanishes like old Fall himself,
Replaced by the arrogance
Of Winter, unstoppably fixed,
Immutably stable,
Coating and covering
With a blanket of frosty rest
The thin, haggard, barren limbs --
Old Fall's pretense is my own:
Calm and cunning, but never
More than a moment's
Whisper, unspoken,
From the pallorous
Death that subdues his illusion --
We are broken, pulled
Crying, led away by the hand
Of a harsh governess,
From the dream
That we are more
Than a composite of breath and dust.
 

My poetry and early short stories are available in Gomer and Other Early Works.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

GCB -- Must See TV? Maybe.


I'm going to have to check out this show even though it's not my usually preferred fare.

Christians Can Find Humor in 'GCB'
by Sandi Villarreal 

It’s a television show that 1) follows “Desperate Housewives” and 2) only got “meh” ratings for its Sunday premiere, so I was slightly taken aback by the mini-firestorm over ABC’s new “GCB.”

The show, based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin and starring Annie Potts and Kristin Chenoweth, is getting heat from conservatives and Christian groups for portraying Christians in a poor light for their cattiness, opulence, and overall … well, bitchiness. (Don't worry; I'm female. I get to say that.) ...


If you’re offended by this show, you’re probably taking it too seriously. It’s basically Mean Girls 25 years later with big hair, accents and Sunday School. These Botoxed beauties are no more an accurate representation of Christian women than the ladies of Wisteria Lane are of suburbanites. Let’s give the public some credit in understanding that.

Continue reading: http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/03/08/christians-can-find-humor-gcb

Monday, September 24, 2012

the view from... Brian McLaren

Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is an ecumenical global networker among innovative Christian leaders. He is primarily known, however, as a thinker and writer. His first book, The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix, (Zondervan, 1998, rev. ed. 2000) has been recognized as a primary portal into the current conversation about postmodern ministry. His second book, Finding Faith (Zondervan, 1999), is a contemporary apologetic, written for thoughtful seekers and skeptics. (It was later re-released as two short books, "A Search for What Makes Sense" and "A Search for What is Real.") "More Ready Than You Realize" (Zondervan, 2002) presents a refreshing approach to spiritual friendship. "Adventures in Missing the Point" (coauthored with Dr. Anthony Campolo, Zondervan, 2003) explores theological reform in a postmodern context. "A Generous Orthodoxy" (Zondervan, 2004), is a personal confession and has been called a "manifesto of the emerging church conversation." (For Brian's official site, go to http://www.brianmclaren.net/)

Tell us a little about how you became a Christian. What experiences led you to believe that there had to be something more than just this life?

Brian McLaren: I was brought up in a committed Christian family, and like a lot of church kids, I had to reach a point where I either rejected the faith or made it my own. That happened for me in my teenage years. Right at the point where I had the opportunity to walk away, God brought into my life several friends my age or a little older than me who lived a life of radical discipleship, and they challenged me to join them, and I did. During this time, I had some very powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit which led me to the conviction that God was real.

How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?

Brian: Interestingly, the first thing that I remember was a desire to get along better with my parents, and the second was to "cease and desist" from some of the crude and hurtful behavior that a lot of my buddies were part of. The third was to begin sharing my faith with some friends.

What does your faith mean to you? Why is it crucial to you?

Brian: I think that life boils down to a choice between running my own agenda (or some other agenda created by human beings) or seeking God's agenda. My own agenda will focus on my personal interests, pleasure, prosperity, security, and so on. God's agenda will focus on love, joy, peace, justice, character development, and so on. One will make me part of the problem in the world, and the other will make me part of the solution.

What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

Brian: I'll mention three. First is the importance of staying in close contact with God. It's so easy to keep up religious activities but not actually be "abiding" in God. So, disciplines or practices like prayer, practicing God's presence, solitude, silence, Scripture reading and meditation, and so on, have been central to my life. Second, I've learned how important it is to see Christ in the people most often rejected or forgotten by others. The Holy Spirit always draws me to find the loneliest person in a crowd, or the youngest, or oldest, or most different to befriend them and connect with them - and this has been very important to the direction my life has taken. And third is the need to keep learning. I'm in my early fifties now, and I feel that I have more to learn than ever. I've seen some acquaintances become complacent or even proud - as if they have all the answers - and I don't think this is a good sign. So I try to keep learning, keep asking questions, keep aware that however old I am, before God I'm just a little kid who knows next to nothing.

Many Christians seem to have retreated to a subculture where they can recreate the world into a "safer" version of reality, with Christian TV, Christian music, Christian fashion. Do you feel this retreat from the world has helped give the impression that Christians don't really care about people but instead care about protecting themselves from the "bad" influences out there?

Brian: Yes. Sadly, there's a dangerous religious impulse - I read where someone called it a "religiously transmitted disease" - where people create us/them, in/out groups. They become culture warriors and exluders instead of healers and peacemakers as Jesus was. Jesus' movement in the incarnation was downward, to come among us, to bring God to us, while the Pharisees movement was upward, to place themselves above others and look down on them in judgment. This whole movement into a Christian subculture and parallel religious universe, it seems to me, is both understandable and problematic for people who want to be followers of Jesus, not modern-day Pharisees.

How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as a writer and established "Christian thinker"?

Brian: I remember feeling this very much when I left my first career as a college English teacher and became a pastor. I had to take intentional action or I would have been isolated in a religious parallel universe. What I did back then was to get involved in community soccer and start doing volunteer work in an area of interest for me. Just yesterday, my wife and I organized a picnic for all our neighbors and we had a great time getting and staying connected with everyone.

Because my works are considered controversial by some people, I could easily get sucked into intramural arguments with my critics. But I've chosen instead to focus on issues that are common to all humanity - not just religious folks - so I'm increasingly focused on what the gospel says to global crises like the environment, peace and war, and the gap between the rich and poor. This puts me into increasing contact with people in the society at large who care about these things.

The notion of separating the sacred (that spiritual existence) and the secular (the "real" world of jobs and flat tires) -- what's your response to the person who tries to divide the world into these simple divisions?

Brian: This shows the degree to which we've become devotees of the Greek god "theos" instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. The Jewish concept of God was not dualistic -- God was the creator of the physical world and all its stuff, and God called it all "good" and "very good." The Greek god "theos" was interested in spirit but not matter, souls but not bodies, eternity but not history, and escape not incarnation. So, I would encourage the devotee of the Greek deity to reconsider how different Jesus was, and what he reveals about God - a God who "became flesh" and "dwelt among us," who ate with tax collectors and sinners, who immersed himself in our world of dust and dirt and sweat and tears.

In your open letter to worship songwriters, you address several concerns that could be leading to a lesser level of spiritual depth or at least to a less well-rounded faith that goes beyond just "me-nes." How has recent spiritual songwriting contributed to generating Christians that don't seek to engage the world with the mystery of Christ?

Brian: I think that "the worship industry" has great intentions, but sadly, it begins to function like the mass media of which it is part. TV, radio, video games, even the internet have a way of sucking you out of "real reality" and into "virtual reality." You watch "Animal Planet," but you never get out and see an osprey diving for fish, or ride a real horse, or make friends with the neighborhood squirrels. In a similar way, we can become addicted to a "feeling" of "God's presence" which we experience "in worship" - maybe like Peter wanting to stay on the mount of transfiguration in the Gospel story. We want to build our tents there. But Jesus always leads us down the mountain and into ministry. I love to be on the mountaintop and have those intense experiences, but I find that they go stale. As Jesus said, he is is the kind of shepherd who leads us in and out to find pasture ... he doesn't lead us in and in.

Who are the thinkers, artists, and writers who have influenced your understanding of the life of faith?

Brian: There are so many, it's hard to know where to begin. In my early years, C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer were a huge influence. Then, Walker Percy's writings really helped me. In the last decade or so, Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, Walter Brueggemann, Wendell Berry, and N. T. Wright have helped me so much. In the last few years, I've been tremendously inspired by African, Asian, and Latin American theologians - like Alan Boesak, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff, Rene Padilla, and others.

I'd have to say that the music of Bruce Cockburn, David Wilcox, Carrie Newcomer, Mike Blanchard, and others like them has been the kind of soundtrack for my spiritual life. The poetry of Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver mean a lot to me, along with William Wordsworth and William Blake and John Donne.

What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to make an impact in the world at large, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?

Brian: Lately, I think it's the culture war mentality that has swept through Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity. I think its long-term effects will be so negative. Put that together with the Prosperity Gospel, and I think you have a religion of power, aggression, selfishness, and greed ... hardly what Jesus intended. Much of this is made worse by the "left-behind" eschatology that encourages Christians to dream of evacuating or abandoning the earth rather than incarnating the gospel into it and seeing it transformed by the good news of the kingdom of God. Some of this comes from a theological assumption that God hates the world because of its sin, and that God wants to destroy it as soon as possible. So, I think the causes of these problems are deep, interconnected, and highly related to some bad theology.

What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a today's generation and its culture?

Brian: This is really the subject of my newest book, which is called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I try to understand the world's most serious crises and see what the message and example of Jesus teach us about how to respond. In the book, I describe four crises - the prosperity crisis, the equity crisis, the security crisis, and the spirituality crisis. I'm very hopeful that the book will get people thinking about the question you raise - and help us focus on deeper issues than we've been preoccupied with.

Suppose I'm an honest skeptic standing before you at this moment. What's the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?

Brian: First, I'd want to say I'm sorry for all the confusion and aggression that religious people create in the name of God. I would want you to know that I can see why, in light of crusade and jihad, in light of religious scandal and hypocrisy, you would feel that being a skeptic is a better option than being a religious bigot or hypocrite. But then I'd say that there are many of us who are devoting ourselves to seeking a better way, and we believe that this is the way God showed us in Jesus. I would want you to know that you're welcome to come along and see what we're up to, what we're learning, and whether there is good reason to move from honest skepticism to honest faith. I would want you to know that we're not perfect and that you'll see a lot of problems and failures in our lives, but that we won't expect you to be perfect either, because in the end, we believe that God loves and accepts us all just as we are.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Mixed-Up Worship Songbook of God

"Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
"But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
"For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield." (Psalm 5: 10-12)


I chose this verse simply because I appreciate that the ancient songbook (the book of Psalms) understands that songs used in worship went beyond just simple adoration and "good feeling" songs. If you read the book of Psalms with an open mind, you will quickly find songs dealing with praise and adoration, but not only that. You'll just as quickly also discover songs filled with repentance and regret and sadness. And it gets worse. You'll also find songs demanding retribution against enemies, songs expressing doubt about why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, and songs about fond memories of being able to worship freely that were written during the Jewish captivity.

Why is this important to me? For me, this knowledge enhances my experience of worship. It means I can worship in doubt and misunderstanding, as well as in joy and praise. It means that worship songs don't always have to be upbeat and happy. It means that when God demands that we worship him in spirit and in truth, he means it. 

Sure, our modern, contemporary take on worship likes to highlight the adoration and praise elements, but if we are going to worship in the way that scripture's songbook guides us, we will have to be sure that our definition of "worship music" is always open to be changed by the truth of God.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Jesus Circus

words and music by Sean Taylor
(from my time with the band 22FIVE)

Sunday morning USA
We kick things off in the usual way
Dress it up or tone it down
To prove we've got the biggest show in town
We don't need a Shepherd
When a ringmaster will do
'Cause being clowns and acrobats
Beats dying to ourselves for you

Come to the Jesus circus
Have we got a show for you
Come to the Jesus circus
And dig the tricks we do
Here at the Jesus circus
We'll bring out the dancing bears
Here at the Jesus circus
We hope the Lord won't care

Sunday set up, here we go
Time for the Holy Ghost magic show
Watch as we jump through hoops
It's easier than living the truth
We make a bunch of clanging noise
But man we have some high tech toys
We like to say we know the King
But miss the reality of the thing

Come to the Jesus circus
Have we got a show for you
Come to the Jesus circus
And dig the tricks we do
Here at the Jesus circus
We'll bring out the dancing bears
Here at the Jesus circus
We hope the Lord won't care

Sunday morning USA
Let's kick it off in a brand new way
Let's really get to know the King
Live the reality of the thing

We may be a Jesus circus
With a long, long way to go
But here with the Lord’s anointing
We’ll move beyond the show
No longer a Jesus Circus
We’ll pack up the dancing bears
And live like the Lord’s own children
And seek His will in prayer


It really is shocking to me how often we Christ-followers miss the main idea of church -- we can have a relationship with God and he loves us enough to interact with us no matter how undeserving we are. We tend to do all we can to turn it from something that God does with us to something that we do for God, or sometimes, something we do to others to show how 'Christian' we are. We are creatures of 'things' and 'actions' and as such we're far more comfortable with doing stuff than being something new. That's why I think we condense our faith into things to do or not do and rituals (every church has them, even the churches who market themselves are being contemporary and unchurchy) instead of really focusing on loving on God and being loved by him and sharing that love with others as we seek to follow his ways.

For me, this has to be one of the most frustrating things about the church as I've always known it, this dividing people up into clergy (or even professional denominational workers) and laity (or "consumers"), and then expecting each to meet different models of "behavior" instead of realizing that they're all the same.

As my pastor and I were talking the other day we both brought up the point that the church model we use today isn't based even loosely on the New Testament. It comes from Constantine. It comes not from a fellowship of like-minded believers hanging onto their faith in a time of persecution. It comes from the politically powerful, suddenly safe, no longer under siege, watchdogs of morality that became institutionalized.

That's why I think Christianity is growing so quickly in other countries and is so insanely stale here in a so-called Christian nation. Because it hasn't been turned into an institution. It's still just people. If you want to kill the spread of Christianity, give it power and structure and the authority to enforce something (morality), not just dispense something (grace).

Every Sunday for a year I have run away from home and joined the circus as a dancing bear. We dancing bears have dressed ourselves in buttoned clothes; we mince around the rings on two feet. Today we were restless; we kept dropping ont our forepaws... A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks...week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, that God, for reasons untathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right--believe it or not--to be people. Who can believe it?"
           -- Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone To Talk

Going through the motions doesn't please you,
      a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship
      when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love
      don't for a moment escape God's notice.
(Psalm 51:16-17, The Message)

"In this dichotomy you have the essence of our religion
— Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise — in a nutshell:
the clergy are paid to give and the 'laymen'
pay in order to receive."
from Christian Counter Culture online

Okay, rant over.

Friday, September 21, 2012

the view from ... Kim and Jim Thomas of Say So

Tell us a little about how you became a Christian. What experiences led you to believe that there had to be something more than just this life?

Say So: We both became Christians at an early age and grew up in the church. Later on, during our high school and college years, we began to understand that being a Christian is about more than just sin management.

How did those experiences and that decision to follow Jesus Christ impact your life and the relationships you had with others?

Say So: Discipleship means integrating our faith into all the other areas of our lives. Because we have decided to follow Christ, it means we look at life in a completely different way than we used to.

What does your faith mean to you? Why is it important to you?

Say So: The Christian faith begins to answer all the BIG questions of life i.e. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? How can we know the difference between right and wrong? Where are we going?

What lessons have been the most valuable to you during your experience of following Christ?

Say So: Understanding the importance of seeking hard after God and studying the scriptures which reveal God's thoughts.


While many Christians today seem to retreat into a subculture of Christian music, Christian books, Christian TV, your music seems to speak openly and honestly about faith and life in fresh ways, not just telling Christians something they want to hear or repeating the same old things over and over again, but speaking so that anyone can listen and wonder. Do you feel that this retreat into the subculture has kept many Christians from being able to have a real voice in the world?

 Say So: Perhaps. American evangelicalism has on occasion fallen into the trap of trivializing and sloganizing the Christian faith.

How do you avoid that retreat, particularly as songwriters and artists?

Say So: In the lyrics of our songs and in the books we've written (Jim: Coffeehouse Theology and Streetwise Spirituality, Kim: Simplicity and Living in the Sacred Now) we've tried really hard to speak in a language that anyone could understand. We try to think more in terms of worldview and less in terms of a Hallmark card approach to our faith. We feel we should sing/speak/write about all of life from a Christian worldview.

How do you perceive the state of Christian music today?

Say So: It's probably fair to say there is some very good, some okay, and some bad. But that's nothing new.

One of my favorites songs you've recorded has the line: "water and blood and flesh and bone ... mysterious jewel in a plastic box." That line has always stuck with me since. What was the genesis of that song?

Say So: The first part speaks of our solidarity in physical terms and the second of our solidarity as creatures made in the image of God. The mysterious jewel is the image of God that sets us apart from the rest of creation and gives us the capacity to know our creator as a heavenly Father.

Who are the thinkers, artists, and writers who have influenced your understanding of the life of faith?

Say So: C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Dallas Willard, John Stott, Alister McGrath, Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard, Madeline L'Engle

What do you see as the biggest hang-ups keeping Christians from being able to make an impact in the world at large, or becoming what Bob Briner refers to as "roaring lambs"?

Say So: I think we are doing better than we were in the past couple of decades. But there are probably several things that still hold us back at times. Our use of "Christianese" or, insider language. The arrogance we so often display. Our lack of unity. Our lack of social responsibility. etc.

What do you see as the real issues Christians should be addressing to a postmodern generation?

Say So: One thing is that we need to rethink evangelism. I think we need to approach it on more of a relational level. This takes more time and involves more listening and less talking which we aren't used to. But that is definitely what it will take if we're going to make more Christians and better ones at that.

Okay, supposing I'm an honest skeptic standing before you at this moment. What's the one thing you wouldn't want me to leave without hearing?

Say So: That the Designer of your brain (God) really does exist or you wouldn't even be able to think your skeptical thoughts. That the ancient scriptures reveal how this Designer desires to be in relationship with you, so much so, that in spite of your doubts, He loves you and is in hot pursuit of you.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Disgusting Worms , the 77s, Daniel Amos, Steve Taylor and a Life of Authentic, Honest Creativity

Welcome to truth custom made
Come in and have some lemonade

Reality will readjust while we evade
I discovered the 77s and Daniel Amos in the early 80s and used to go to the store every payday for a new Christian cassette. I started with Petra and Rick Cua, which were great, but when I picked up Ping Pong Across the Abyss and All Fall Down, I knew I'd found something different, something with spiritual "brass ones" so to speak. "Some people preach and they do very well, take all your money and you could go to hell, and that's all" jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat.

As I grew up in faith, a lot of the more cutesy turns of phrases in Christian music got old and trite, and even worse, the constant targeting of it all to the teenage listener so that it was all milk and no meat, no real soul searching, just repetitive stuff we all learned in the first year of two of youth group just to placate the "but we want to listen to some rock and roll and still be Christians" type of listener (the kind who actually enjoys the premise of “why should the devil have all the good music” – which does imply that church music throughout the ages hasn’t been good – but I digress).


So I moved on from a lot of the music but couldn't let go of 77s, 88, or Pray Naked because they said something to me as an adult believer who had grown beyond summer camp spirituality. The same went for DA's stuff like Doppelganger, Fearful Symmetry and Darn Floor, Big Bite -- and Steve Taylor's Limelight and I Predict 1990. These held songs that spoke about bigger issues than just coming to Christ. They said something about what it meant to live by faith in a culture that thinks we're fools to believe such "myths" and in a subculture that wants to hide away from the world at large instead of be salt and light. These were songs that flew in the face of culture but also had the respect to address it with honesty and authenticity.

In not-quite earth, in not-quite heaven
I'll imitate love like lovers do
In not-quite art, in not-quite living
I'll pray that writing it down is part of loving you
Flash forward a few years to when I'm working at national denominational missions agency. After five years there, I began work on a comic book (I'm a writer and a musician on the side of holding down full-time jobs on the side as needs necessitate, although this was the instance that started me on that path; up to then I simply wrote on the side and worked at the missions agency) that hit a PG-13 market. The story addressed the idea of what one person is willing to sacrifice in order to do good for the masses, even to the point of sacrificing his very identity, which is a Christian act of humility. However, the PG-13 content bothered my employers, and we came to the decision mutually that if I was called to impact culture and be salt and light, I needed to have the freedom to take risks and write the next Matrix which had all kinds of real people talking about spiritual symbolism and the role of Neo, etc. rather than preach to the choir by writing the next Left Behind or Christian “thriller” complete with sanitized cops and robbers to avoid offending the churched sensibilities.

So I left and have done just that for several years now, even to the point of writing a “vanity of vanities” type story for Gene Simmons of KISS in his comic book line that shows the emptiness of certain lifestyles. Not an evangelistic message I know, but most assuredly a biblical one based in truth. Everything I write is filtered through my faith and beliefs, even a zombie short story I just did for DAW books about a man and wife trying to honor their promise before God in marriage when one dies and comes back. How selfless is that love? *grins*

I’m currently working on a Tarantino-esque retelling of the Book of Hosea in which a preacher is commanded by God to marry a hooker and rescue her from the mob where she has been lured back into her old life. More on that as I find a publisher willing to take that kind of risk.


One pile waits with their god in a box
The other pile nervously mocks heaven
Misfits lost in the dryer, take heart
Maybe there's a place up in sock heaven
Even as a fan of horror films, I’ve applied my faith as I watch them and write scripts to pitch for new ones. I even maintain a list of horror flicks (and other films too) with redemptive story lines and/or themes that demonstrate biblical principles. I couldn’t see those themes without the foundation I learned through music and scripture that helped me see things honestly rather than through rose-colored stained glass windows (thank you, Petra). And the ones I write always focus on the way good will always conquer evil because good understands the beauty and power of a sacrifice so that others can live. (“While we were yet sinners… one might say.)

I’ve also applied all this during my time as a bass player and singer for the band 22FIVE. After several years of doing the Christian music thing in the late 80s and early 90s it would have been easy to just settle into a comfortable role of just happy pop songs about how wonderful it is to follow Jesus, and by-the-numbers praise and worship songs, I tried really hard to keep the music we wrote honest and authentic. It was a battle sometimes, with others and within myself, but it was a fun one.
 

Perhaps the most honest thing I’ve been able to say with our music so far is that God is incredibly, unfathomably huge and perfect, and I'm just a disgusting little worm in the grand scheme, but He picks up that worm and says, “You’re My son, and I’m your Father.” Without Christ’s photo inside me filling me up, I’m just an empty frame still (great metaphor, Mike!). And as long as I have a background of that kind of honesty, I can’t help but thank the folks like Mike and crew, Terry and crew, and Steve Taylor, who helped me look beyond church stuff to see what real faith looks like and sounds like in the real world instead of the fluffy warm subculture.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Time for a Little Music #1 -- "Hometown, Population 144,000"

My thinly (very thinly) veiled attempt to be Bob Dylan. Still need to put the bass and electric guitar tracks on this one day (and fix the timing on the last verse's vocals -- darn digital glitches).

"Hometown, Population 144,000"
 Words and Music by Sean Taylor

St. Francis up on top of the hill
Twelve dirty breadcrumbs in his hand
Casting them all upon the waters of the river
But poor St. Francis, he is already dead

Old Martha Peterson runs the dollar store
She sell you lots of junk for a buck, no more
But dear old Martha, she is no man's whore
She may be cheap, but she is honest

Sweet Tony Peters with the biggest mouth
He'll tell you stories 'bout the Glorious South
But watch him stop and cry when his luck runs out
Then blow his nose and start all over

Miss Mary Pickens never wore the white gown
Or tried a ring from any man's offer
She bragged about it in the beauty shop
Still no one asked her about the coffins

Mayor Albert Smith, he sleeps alone till noon
Then counts the coins in his big glass jar
Washes his hands, scrubs them with a pad
Before he takes his pills at supper

Town poet Arthur Johnson with his gun sitting in his lap
Says the world he writes of is a fat load of crap
And that nothing rhymes now, and not there's not meter enough
To understand, to understand, to understand anything truthful

Thinker Bill Williams rolls his cart down the alley
Sleep in the street with a cap for a pillow
He rails about peace and equality and justice
Couldn't tell you a damn thing about them

Preacher John Heller at the bottom of town
Irons his collar tabs up and button flaps down
Walking back and forth often he rails with a frown
Knowing God will find him deserving

Find him deserving...

The newest resident, a child with no name
Will soon bear his marker and will live with its shame
He only goos and gahs and passes gas in his diaper
Still wet with his morning's discourse on relativism

It's my hometown...

To listen, visit http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=8120834

Yes, that's blatant symbolism all throughout the song. No, it doesn't make much sense in a literal interpretation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Yam What I Yam

I'm a product of the American postmodern culture. Not just plain ol' anybody's postmodernism, mind you, but the specialized blend of red, white, and blue postmodernism.

I'm not ashamed of it, mind you.


I take liberally from all eras to define myself. A fan of classic films. A devoted Capra nut who realizes that Capra's heroes are now cornball and outdated. I value flappers and go-go dancers equally. I find something attractive in most women I meet. I can't help it.

I love that little spot of female skin between the bottom of a knee-length skirt and the top of a tall, zippered boot. To be honest, I think about sex more than I think about faith. I know my long-suffering wife wishes that weren't the case, and hates when I post about that much-loved little spot of female skin.

My DVD collection already has outgrown my storage unit (and we're talking a larger than average storage unit). I have more CDs than I'll every be able to listen to and enjoy (and I still buy more). I have more books than I have space in my house to put them, and had (before I moved) seven boxes stored in a metal shed in my back yard above and beyond those I've already donated away.

I crave honesty, even when it's not easy. I enjoy the fact that my wife can admit she's attracted to other people just as I find myself attracted to other people. I sometime use "foul language" in my prayers and my communication, but I think God's and other people are big enough to handle my true feelings.

I have more relationships with people far away from me that I may never see than I do with people in my own neighborhood. I want a future, but not at the expense of really enjoying life today also. I love being infatuated with new gadgets.

I crave entertainment more than security or safety. For me, a life without something to keep me occupied and having a good time just sucks the life of living. It's a sort of "live for the moment, carpe diem mindset that seems to be at odds with my chosen faith (that tends to put all the focus on the hereafter instead of the here and now). Don't ask me to rationalize it. I'm not sure I can. (Although, the guy who started my faith did say something about life more abundant, and that has to mean more than just waiting for the big party later. It has to.)

I've somehow become a living contradiction.

A postmodern believer in an absolute truth.
A community-focused individual who won't let go of his individuality.
A socially liberal political conservative.
A Protestant who is more comfortable around non-religious people or people of other faiths than with members of my own.
A person who longs to be remembered in history books but strives to serve others and see them as better than myself.
A person happy with who I am, but hope my children will be better than me.
A person who believes in black and whites, but lives in a shade of grays, and doesn't seem to mind it.
An American dreamer who doesn't feel the patriotic twinge of Americentism.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Great Moralization

Here's another old one. In this case, a really old one. But I think writing this one so many years ago really helped begin shaping my understanding of my life of faith. So, in essence, this one's one of my formative ones.

A man walks into a doctor's office with a knife stuck in his back. Of course the receptionist sends him straight in, and the doctor leaves his other patient to check the wound. But... When the doctor reaches to remove the knife, the patient protests, "You don't understand doctor. I just wanted some medicine for the pain. You can leave the knife where it is."


"Can I has aspirin?"
Most all of us would say that this idiot is crazy. If he'd just let the doctor remove the knife the wound would heal, and the pain would eventually go away for good. It's a classic case of deciding whether to cure the symptoms or the disease, get rid of the cause or the effects.

What a stupid story, you may say. But did you know that Christians do that very thing? If abortion was made 100 percent illegal, vague prayer allowed in schools, and homosexuality pushed back into the closet, would Christian groups be satisfied? I think that by and large, they would, and that is a sad commentary on modern Christianity.

Are we attempting to help the world be redeemed or are we simply trying to moralize society? Sadly, the time spent in "moral" activities vastly outweighs the amount of time in "redemptive" activities.

It would seem that we are more interested in subjecting a world of various beliefs and non-beliefs to our own Christian common sense of decency and morality than in helping people find God. Just as the pain was a symptom of a knife in the back, all those things we fight against in culture are only symptoms of a greater problem -- sin, including and particularly our own! It would have been foolish for our doctor to focus only on the pain and not on the knife. It is equally foolish for us to focus only on the symptoms and not on the sin that causes them.

A moral society does not equal a redeemed society. A redeemed society will become a moral society, however. But the order is reversed. See the difference?

Perhaps the problem lies in the Christian's escape from the real world. As Christians, somewhere along the timeline, we saw that the world was going "bad." So we retreated into the ordered Christian subculture where we could have as little contact with the big, bad world as possible. But then the big, bad world started to encroach into our territory, so we fought back by organizing political groups and launching publicity campaigns. Even though the world was going to hell in a handbasket, it didn't bother us until it rained on our parade.

© 1994 Sean Taylor

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Inspiration from the Bulletin Board

I keep a quote I clipped from a magazine (along with its illustration of a man holding a guitar and staring at the earth from a point far removed from it) pinned to the bulletin board above my desk. I've had it there for years, and even when I do a periodic cleaning of the clutter, this clipping stays put.

It simply reads:

"Is there anyone out there fool enough to think they can still change the world with their guitar? I don't think anything's going to happen until there is."

That quote almost haunts me as I go through life. Can my pen or my word processor or my guitar or my bass or my harmonica or my keyboard or my looping program change the world?

I hope so.

That's the goal anyway.

If I fail, so what? I tried. And if nothing else happens, the effort at least changes me for the better.

Right?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Great Religious Poety (and Bob Dylan)

There is no great religious poetry that does not raise-as crucial to its enterprise-the question of whether it is open to the charge of blasphemy, even as there is no great erotic art that does not raise the question of whether it is open to the charge of pornography.

--Christopher Ricks, Bob Dylan's Vision of Sin

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tom Petty’s Theological Extravaganza

So I was listening to Tom Petty the other day, and it got me thinking about church.

Yeah, I know church isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when I listen to Tom Petty (actually it’s usually that image from the “Don’t Come Around Here No More" video in which Alice has been turned into a cake and is being eaten by the partygoers at the Mad Hatter’s un-birthday gala), but somehow the song “Listen to Her Heart” really struck me yesterday as a perfect picture of how the story is presented in the Bible.

No, really. I mean it.

It was the chorus in particular:


She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

Even with all the rules and regulations and religiosity we Christians have built up around and through and within the common canon of writing typically referred to as the Holy Bible, those writings taken in total are simply one of the coolest love stories ever told. Ultimately it boils down to this simple plot. 


(Disclaimer: This story could just as easily be told from the perspective of a female creator who created a groom, but I’m too lazy to type it twice. I wasn’t trying to maintain any stereotypes of the “woman ultimately as whore” that, believe it or not, some people actually try to use the Bible to support. But not me. Phew.)

A lonely creator decides to create himself a bride. That bride falls head over heels in love with him for a while, but eventually gets the urge to try other men.

But each time, after sharing the beds of others, she comes back home, and he takes her in again and lavishes his love on her. Because he knows something she doesn’t – he knows how the story ends, with her at his side, finally realizing she is his and he is hers (fated, one might say).

Still, she can’t resist the urge to stray each time some hunk of a boy-toy turns her head, and sure enough, she often ends up back in bed with another man, and eventually gets herself so deeply that she is taken as a whore and is sold into slavery.

So this lonely creator who wants nothing more than for her to love him back the way he loves her decides that the only way to prove it is to show her, and he offers not his money to buy her out of slavery, but his life, because he knows her price is far above any sum of cash. Only his love for her is too much to let him remain dead, and he comes back to let her know that never again will she have to be a slave. They can be together forever, and for a time she returns home.

Only, although her head is still easily turned, he told the truth – no matter what she does or who she sleeps with, she is safe from the slavers because her slave contract has been paid and destroyed forever and for good.

But here’s the kicker, even though it breaks his heart to know the she still wants to “see other people” from time to time, he knows that ultimately they’ll be together, just the two of them. Because he can see the future. (Some might even say he planned it in advance.) and he loves her enough to wait and let his heart get trampled on in the process.

So he waits -- and smiles inwardly despite his outward tears.

Now, with that story in mind, here are the rest of the lyrics (with hopes that I don’t get sued by Tom Petty for reprinting them here):

"Listen to Her Heart"
By Tom Petty
Copyright © 1977 Skyhill Pub. Co., Inc.
All rights reserved.

You think you're gonna take her away
With your money and your cocaine
Keep thinkin' that her mind is gonna change
But I know everything is okay

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

You want me to think that I'm being used
You want her to think it's over
Can't you see it don't matter what you do
Buddy you don't even know her

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

And you just can't creep up behind her
And you can't understand that she's my girl
She's my girl

She's gonna listen to her heart
It's gonna tell her what to do
She might need a lot of lovin'
But she don't need you

Petty has perfectly summed up my thoughts on the church at this point as the “bride of Christ.” She’s just a lover who can’t settle down… yet. But she’s like the proverbial diamond in the rough,” just waiting (without knowing it, often) to be polished to the jewel that she is inside.

Or to quote Petty:

You want me to think that I'm being used
You want her to think it's over
Can't you see it don't matter what you do
Buddy you don't even know her

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Obama and Romney Respond on Poverty

"What happened today was unprecedented. Christian leaders from across the theological and political spectrum came together to demand that the presidential candidates directly address the issue of poverty.

"And because of the faith community’s witness, the candidates responded. Check out what President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney had to say.

"Election seasons often sow deep divisions within our churches. The political pundits focus on the most contentious issues. Super PACs are spending millions of dollars on negative advertising. Sadly, we are often 'One Nation, Divided Under God.'" -- Jim Wallace, God's Politics Blog
 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Creative Corner #1 -- More of the Same


More of the Same

He loosens the tie clutching his neck,
The extra pounds squeezed into rolls by the net of cheap silk.
He hates this place, these people,
The pettiness, the way they lock him
Into their definitions-not his, never his.
A shepherd? Ha! More a fool.
And he secretly hates them more as he rises
To the pulpit
And preaches love.

And the same…
And the same…

She glares at the toddler,
His face and clothes strewn with the smudged
Colors of strained carrots and peas.
She sits, turns away, stares at the wall,
Counts to ten backwards, but her anger grows.
She would like nothing more
-- At this moment -- than to add to the red streaks
Across his legs, his back, his buttocks,
But she only sits and wishes.

And the same…
And the same…

He lies alone, watching the circle-once-circle-twice,
Then up-under and pull-tight as his lover dresses for work.
He is a pariah, an evil thing,
Not deserving of such love as his lover gives,
Told worse, much worse, by the ones
Supposed to care, to embrace, to forgive.
And he hates: them, their religion, their hypocritical piety,
Their words that tell him he is less than human.
His solace is his lover's warmth.

And the same…
And the same…

She is a fraud, she tells herself,
And she files the thought away
With the oath she studied, practiced, and abandoned
When the money became more important,
When the people became names and numbers,
When the practices became mundane exercises.
She has killed, she fears, but what can you do?
You can simply obey the rules and tell yourself
You are doing the best you can.

And the same…
And the same…

The same grace blankets them all
If they care or not, if they admit it or not,
Freely offered, freely given, freely wasted.
To the liars, to the regretful, to the unredeemable,
Wrapping itself around the shoulders
Of pariahs and frauds, preachers and role models,
Salving wounds deeper than acknowledged,
Cleaning cuts more jagged than admittable.
Anything less could not be grace.

And the same…
And the same…

© 2004 Sean Taylor

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I get this a lot. (Dominatrix vs. God soapbox)

I got this from a fellow writer once, and I still get asked it a lot at conventions or online:

Do you mind if I ask you a slightly touchy question? I've noticed from a few of your posts that you are a Christian. Furthermore, I found a link that you had posted on your wall to the Christian Comic Art Society (which I promptly joined). Here's my question: How do you reconcile your Christian beliefs with writing the Dominatrix comic? I admit that I've never read the book so it may be rated G; but based off of the covers and the few things that I have read about it... I don't think that's the case.

I'm asking not to attack you; but out of genuine interest. I am mostly into art and there are a lot of jobs that I could go after if I were willing to do more graphic or sexual illustrations.

How do you reconcile the disparities in your mind? Or is it that you don't try. Just look at it like a job kind of thing and leave the morality for Sunday morning. Again, I'm not trying to attack you. I'm trying to understand and maybe learn something that I could apply to my own life.

My response:

I love that question actually. I used to work for the North American Mission Board, and no longer do. Was asked to leave for my PG book Fishnet Angel, actually. They'd freak if they read Dominatrix. I tell folks at cons the book is not porn, even if the marketing points that way. It's like a Tarantino film. Very modern pulp. And ultimately it has a redemptive message in it that is subtle. As for any language, violence, or nudity, my take is that the Bible I read is filled with violence, genocide, infanticide, incest, rape, holy sexual love, and yes, even course language in the original Greek (Paul, no less). To make the Bible into a literal film would be rated X not even NC-17, and so such topics are not off limits for Christ followers, when pursued with obedience and faithfulness.

If they cause other Christians to worry about me, I can live with that. If they cause non-Christians to worry and stumble, then that would be an issue, but honestly the fact that I choose to write redemptive tales in subjects the contemporary church would probably prefer to ban has only opened more doors to real relationships with people who would never darken the door of one of our churches.

The very question you asked is the one people ask me all the time at cons and particularly in online interviews and such.

My morality is a 24/7 thing, though many do "treat it as a job" and leave morality "for Sunday." I just choose not to ignore "dangerous" topics that the contemporary church has issues with.
 

It's like the art question for me. Is nudity okay? Sure, great art is filled with it. Is it appropriate for all people or all ages? No. But then again, neither are certain parts of Scripture, which is why you don't see Bible stories for kids based on Song of Solomon or Lot's nieces seducing him. Still applicable though. The modern church just has a view that everything should be sanitized and "kid safe" by and large, and I simply disagree with that based on my reading and understanding of God's Word.

I don't profess that all Christians should follow my take. There's still a place for Max Lucados and the Left Behinds. That's just not my calling.

I'm called to travel the most dangerous path that causes all kinds of misunderstanding and potential condemnation by the church. But I can live with that. I have good role models from Christ to Bonhoeffer.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Christian Comics?

What advice would you give to other Christians who are considering making comics?
-- Justin Martin  (from an upcoming interview with R-Squared Comicz)

I get this question a lot, actually, and I used to get it even more when I used to work for one of the major worldwide Christian denominations at one of its missionary agencies.

My response today is the same as it has always been.

If you are a Christian who is considering making comics, then be a Christian making comics. Don't make Christian comics. The world doesn't need more Christian comics. But it does needs more Christians making comics.

It's the same thing I'll say to musicians, artists, and actors. The world doesn't need another Christian band, or Christian paintings, or Christian movies. It needs more Christians being salt and light in the real world who are musicians, painters, and actors.

Just like it doesn't need Christian plumbing or Christian network installations or Christian stationary sets.

For all authentic believers in my chosen faith, it's impossible to hide what you really are through any art your create. (Ask Billy Tucci, for example. His new book "A Child Is Born" is a global big deal, thanks in no small part to his amazing Shi work) Trust that your nature will come through your work. Don't force it in order to fit into a certain market.

So I say: address topics about faith and forgiveness and grace as a writer and tell redemptive stories, but don't hide your stories and art in a Christian bushel (to flip the phrase over) in a subculture where only other believers will see it. Be Christian in all that means (not just the political involvements) in the world. Feed the poor. Help the helpless. Forgive others. Extend grace. Live an exemplary life. Be like Jesus. But for heaven's sake, please don't create any more so-called Christian stuff. We've already got stockpiles of it, both good and the lackluster and the blatant attempts at cashing in on Christians' dollars, filling up our subcultural landfills.

To put it in a more "spiritual" way, don't ever assume your art is your ministy. YOU are your ministry. What you say, what you do, how you live, how you treat people. You art is your art. It is not a means to a religious propaganda end. It's an outgrowth of who you are as the child of a Father who is also a Creator.

A caveat, if I may... If you are creating a comic book format to make a more effective teaching tool (i.e,. as in -- don't get me started on -- Chick Publications) , go for it and make the best tool you can, but don't call it art. You're creating a tool for a particular purpose, like a hammer or screwdriver. Art is more expansive than that. Art opens itself up to interpretation and takes chances that open it up to be misunderstood as often as understood. Just ask Jesus how many times he had to re-explain his parables.