Tuesday night I was able to watch the first episode of Simon Schama’s documentary The Story of the Jews on PBS. In the beginning Schama makes an interesting point, and it becomes the theme of the series. The Jews have survived through numerous invasions, genocides, exiles, and wandering without a government or homeland because they have a story. This story is compelling, and it forms the Jews as a people.
I was gripped by this, in part because it was one of the themes of An Army Arising, and is going to be part of the foundation of my next book. I was also touched by my own grappling with the Jewish story, and how that grappling has impacted my ministry, and the way I approach work with creative artists.
All art tells a story. If you have no story, then your art will devolve into discreativity. Discreativity is reusing the creative ideas of others, often in a less creative way. It’s like an echo, each repeat is weaker than the previous one. What seems like creativity is only sampling–and will usually focus on the basest of human urges. We see this all the time in the mass media.
Art is about the story, and the best story gets the most attention.
Fortunately, we have the best story around. A Father is looking for a Bride for his Son, and the Son is willing to lay down his life for this Bride. Wow, what a story!
Sadly, most of the Christians I know do not know their story. I mean, they know the basics–Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and he will come back someday. Most Christians know that. Beyond that I am stunned how few Christians can’t tell you the basic plot of the Bible (there is one), or how the various Biblical narratives fit together into a cohesive whole. Even sadder, most Christian artists are unaware that the Bible has a symbolic system that is very cohesive, and that there are more symbols in the Bible than lions, eagles, and doves (or that there aren’t ANY Stars of David!).
And the greatest tragedy of all is that Christians are ignorant of their own history. The reformers succeeded in their propaganda, and many Christians honestly think that there was the early Church, then the Apostles died, Constantine made everyone Pagan, and then Martin Luther fixed it all. Never mind that 1200 years of the Christian story was erased–like how all you Europeans became Christian. Every artist needs to know how artists evangelized illiterate people. Every artist needs to know the horrors of the Iconoclast controversy, where artists were martyred and tortured. Every artist needs to know the stories of the missionaries in Northern Europe who confronted pagan priests with the power of the Holy Spirit, baptized thousands at a time, and converted kings, chiefs, and warlords.
What’s amazing is, those missionaries 1500 years ago employed the same methods modern missionaries employ with unreached people groups. They looked for images, myths, and symbols in the culture that form bridges to tell the Gospel story. When those bridges are built, people convert to Jesus. This isn’t syncretism, it’s evangelism. The missionaries learned the language of the heart, and then spoke that language. The heart language–the language of culture–is what converted Europe.
Currently the Church is suffering from amnesia. I believe just like at the time of the Renaissance, a rebirth will occur when people start revisiting their past. I think we are about to see an incredible flowering of culture in this current dark age. And I believe–because we have the best story of all–that this flowering will first happen among God’s people.
I guess this is fresh for me because Easter and Passover are approaching. I host a Passover Seder for my close non-Jewish friends. It is an amazing time to re-experience our story. I also get hit with a lot of anti-Easter propaganda this time of year. Every year this onslaught gets stronger, and harder to bear. This agenda is based on half-truths and false assumptions. Recently an Orthodox priest friend confessed, “I don’t talk to Evangelicals anymore. You cannot have a conversation when arrogance is married to ignorance.” It’s that sorry marriage of arrogance and ignorance that prevents a Renaissance from happening, and is feeding the cultural descent into hell.
The only way forward for us is our story. And for the story to make a difference you have to humble yourself and read it with an open heart and an open mind. That’s the only way your heart can change. In that humility and openness, you suddenly get to experience a flowering of creativity. The story will create a personal renaissance, and maybe it will become contagious.
Here are a few places to learn the story:
I highly recommend you spend time in the Bible every day. A regular ordered reading scripture helps you see the whole picture. Read the books like a novel and see them in a new way.
I suggest you get into some of the writings of the early church fathers. You have probably read Augustine’s Confessions. You might check out the Venerable Bede, and his Ecclesiastical History of England or the Confessions of St. Patrick. Look up the stories of Boniface, Nicholas, Cyril and Methodius. What you find will startle you.
A great connection to the past are the hymns of the past 2000 years–you can find hymns all over the internet. Try to find the original texts, later editors take out the good stuff and they can’t be trusted.
One awesome resource I have discovered is the Sourcebook series from Liturgy Training Publications. There is a lot in these books that can fuel your creativity.
God is calling us to a new adventure, to rebuild ancient ruins, and to restore places long devastated. We have something that the world is hungering for–a good story that gives meaning to life.