Creativity and Cultural Power

by Stephanie Ward | May 6, 2016

written by Brian Shesko

I would like to expand on this previous post which looked briefly at Francis Schaeffer’s thoughts on the nature of a Christian’s art. Author Andy Crouch, in his work Culture Making, reflects on the lives of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa in order to state what seems to be the obvious: more people are drawn to the life of the celebrity princess than they are to that of the self-sacrificing saint**. This is despite the fact that hardly anyone could fill the role or have the international appeal that Princess Diana did, while nearly everyone is qualified and capable of doing what Mother Teresa did. Why is this?

His answer: Power. More specifically, he argues that the draw of “celebrity” is intoxicating because it assumes wealth, fame, and influence, which are all accompaniments to power. For American Christians, it seems that few things have been so desirable as a prominent, public figure, whether entertainer, athlete, or politician, who is willing to identify with Christianity. You only have to look at the parade of A-to-F-List celebrities of various kinds who have appeared at Liberty in the last 5 years to know that even The World’s Most Exciting University isn’t impervious to this seduction. But, he warns, pursuing power this way is futile because 1.) there’s no way to measure the amount of power one actually has and 2.) the pursuit becomes endless because no amount of power is ever enough.*

He offers an alternative. Rather than pursue power (which he defines as “the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good”*) through some form of notoriety, he suggests using power in service of the apparently powerless.*** That is, rather than seeking fame from our creativity as a means to attain power and influence, we should use our existing power, to whatever degree we have it, to serve those who appear to have less, or more rarely, none. Doing so “moves the horizons of possibility” for them, a phrase he uses throughout Culture Making; it is the opening up of opportunities, unlocking abilities, or otherwise empowering them to more fully realize their potential.

Applying this back to Francis Schaeffer, it casts the life of the artist who is a Christian in a new light. For one, it is probably the most effective way to ease the pressure to create any cultural good that is overtly “Christian”; using creativity in service to others is Christian to the core. Secondly, this type of service is a much needed, faithful witness, especially in contrast to any fame-seeking contingent that will undoubtedly persist among Christians. More often, we recoil at blatant fame-seekers, and in the current climate of growing skepticism surrounding truly evangelical Christians****, a Christian faith that serves the apparently powerless will have much more to offer than one that seeks only to impose its will on the broader culture.

Keep in mind, too, that even Mother Teresa, who was in a way both saint and celebrity, cannot escape criticism of her work, and neither did the Christian doctor who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia a couple years ago. Even fame achieved through honest, Christlike pursuits may be met with skepticism. But as Andy Crouch effectively argues, our creative efforts will produce much more lasting and powerful fruit if they are done not as a means of self-promotion or power-grabbing, but in true service to others.


*Culture Making, p. 219

**p. 222

***p. 230

****See David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ latest work for an extensive treatment of this

The Thing About Yard Sales

by Robert Johns | May 4, 2016

written by Erin Diaz

I wasn't a morning person as a young gal (sort of like today), so my alarm clock going off at 6:30 AM would immediately send me into a state of annoyance. This particular alarm clock was going off for yard sale day at my house, which meant I would have to participate in a sort of clothing catharsis. I don't really like getting rid of things, yet I have a mother who loves interacting with people and a father who enjoys nothing more than throwing things away, and that combination led me to being involved with putting on many yard sales.

A yard sale is an intriguing event - ultimately, you are selling items out of your house that you once bought for a much greater amount. Why not sell the clothes on something like eBay or through a store like Plato's Closet? That would be less effort on the seller in multiple ways.

While they could be more work, yard sales are important because aside from getting rid of things that need to be purged from your possession, you are able to interact with so many people. There is something exciting about seeing that an item you no longer have a need for is one that someone else is excited about receiving.

When it comes to buying and selling at yard sales, there is something important not only in being a seller, but also a buyer. I can remember distinct times from my middle school years when my neighborhood would have a community yard sale and I would ride my bike from house to house, finding trinkets I didn't really need and purchasing them. I still remember some of the people that I would see each year, selling their items and striking up conversations with the shoppers. This is what a yard sale is to me: interacting with people and realizing that they can pass something along to you that you never knew you needed until that moment.

With our Community Yard Sale being on May 4th, Student Activities is really excited. We aren't only excited about Mama Crockett's, Golf Park Coffee (love that cold brew), and the awesome items that will be sold. We are excited about the interactions that people will have with one another while they search through and share items. And that's the reason we do what we do - for the fostering of relationships through events, even in a busy time of the year. 

Summer Reading - 2016

by Robert Johns | April 27, 2016

written by Robert Johns

I don’t love to read. I wish I did, but I don’t. I love the idea of reading though. It makes you smarter and the books you have look cool on the shelf (probably not the greatest of reasons). But, every once in a while I find a book that I really enjoy and it doesn’t feel like such a chore. So as summer approaches, don’t plan on watching television all day - pick up a good book. Here are some of my favorites...

What books are you planning to read this summer?

The Music Festival DL

by Robert Johns | April 26, 2016

written by Erin Diaz

As Coachella is wrapping up its 16th year, the topic of summer music festivals comes to the forefront. Over the next few months, America has been #blessed with incomparable lineups, and this post is an encouragement to not only attend one, but to be as prepared as possible.

A music festival is an experience that I would encourage everyone to partake in at some point. This past September, me and a group of friends attended Landmark Music Festival in DC. We were able to enjoy a variety of our favorite musicians and bands, from Manchester Orchestra to Drake to Alt-J to CHVRCHES. There were a plethora of artists that we collectively wanted to see, and with the festival only being two days, we had to make a game plan in order to make the most of our time.

Here are a few pointers that I learned from Landmark that I would like to think could be applied to most festivals:

Eat whenever you can.

The lines at the food trucks inside the festival were so long that I wasn't able to eat inside the festival either day. I didn't want to miss any artists, so I was hungry instead, which takes away from the experience. Make sure you come to the festival on a full stomach and if you have any sort of gap between bands then eat, eat, eat!

Wear clothes that you won't overheat in.

You don't want to wear a turtleneck to these sort of ordeals! It's hot and crowded, so even if it isn't hot temperature-wise, it's still hot because there are a billion people around you. Dress appropriately to the atmosphere, but of course, keep it classy.

Prepare yourself for interactions that may take you off guard.

One of my closest friends and co-supervisor Drew is one of the people who attended Landmark with me. He wrote a review of the festival and has some really good insight into what it meant for him to attend Landmark, which could resonate with many Liberty students.

Make a game plan with your friends about who you want to see.

This was really good for my friends to do prior to the event because we figured out who we wanted to see, which stage each band would be at, and how long it would take to go between stages. We also broke off into groups or even went to a show alone that we were interested in seeing, and it was helpful for us to establish this plan beforehand so that we weren't stressed out during the day.

Landmark was an experience I'll never forget, and I guarantee you that if you go to a music festival this summer you will have a memorable experience as well. Firefly, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo...we're coming for you.

A Reminder, An Encouragement

by Robert Johns | April 25, 2016

written by Brian Shesko

A reminder, and also an encouragement:

“Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.”*

Francis Schaeffer said this 43 years ago in his book “Art and the Bible”, an exceptionally helpful little book (it’s just under 100 pages) and an essential read for its explanation of the Christian’s relationship to the arts, whether that person is an artist or a consumer. Ultimately, he is arguing that the themes in art produced by a Christian do not have to be specifically Christian, or even religious, in nature. It is a good reminder that the content of a creative work does not have to be explicitly, overtly Christian for it to have significance, beauty, or value.

Of course, the content or message of a creative work is important, especially when presented in an artistic medium. Schaeffer warns of the dangers of great art that has an “untrue or immoral message”; we tend to lower our defenses in response to artistic beauty, and so it can have devastating consequences in leading people astray.** His point, though, is that art’s value is not dependent on its Christian-ness. He puts it more bluntly: “Too often we think that a work of art has value only if we reduce it to a tract.”*** He simply points to the world around us, which shows that God did not deal only in “religious” objects, but in nearly unending variety and style****. Beauty is evident in nearly every detail in all creation, something we are able to imitate when we create our own works.

This idea of beauty in creativity touches on another idea that perhaps is more important: finding joy in creating, or the pure enjoyment of, works of art. But for now, we think this is an important point to remember as we watch, learn from, and discern our way through the various creative works we encounter, Christian or otherwise.

Schaeffer also offers a good encouragement to those of you who are Christians doing various creative works: use your imaginations to their fullest, and resist the pressure that is often placed on you to produce only that which can be rubber-stamped as “Christian”. As he argues, an active faith has already informed and continues to inform a Christian’s work, and that will show through whether the subject matter is a bowl of fruit or the fruit of the Spirit.



*Art and the Bible, page 88

**Page 66

*** Page 54

****Page 88