Archives For The Arts & Culture

Fiction writers create characters. By putting words on a page, the fiction writer makes these characters come alive in the imagination of readers around the world. The fiction writer also creates plots, weaving these characters together into intricate storylines that reveal the unique personality of each character, revealing and growing each character in the minds of his or her readers.

Sculptors take a raw mass of material and shape it into something purposeful. The shape becomes the art, the form is the beauty. A sculpture speaks of intent, of realized potential. When we look at sculptures, even putting our hands on them or at times standing within them, we get a sense of spatial awareness, of carefully designed form, and of the features of the material itself.

A musician takes the physical stuff of this world, manipulates it into making the sounds which that particular matter is capable of projecting, and combines those sounds in ways that resonate with both body and soul. A musician carefully shapes sounds and lyrics, where every tone, every syllable, every phrase carries more meaning than we might think possible.

A painter takes colors in a variety of mediums and combines them in ways that are pleasing to the eye, provoking to the mind, even moving to the body. The painter spreads his or her colors across the canvas and creates a window to a world that is often simultaneously familiar and odd.

The poet uses sounds and syllables to wring every ounce of meaning, connotation, and suggestion out of the words we use every day. By juxtaposing phrases and drawing on rich imagery, the poet creates through language and draws us to contemplate, to enjoy, to rethink.

The dancer uses movement to communicate. In a language that no mouth speaks, the dancer moves his or her body in ways that call attention to our physicality even while pointing beyond it. Beauty in motion, beauty in using the most practical of instruments—a hand, a leg—for the most impractical and meaningful of displays.


All of these human artists are mirrors. In their artistry, they call attention to the ultimate Artist. Each art form in its unique way points us to the God who stands as the Master and Originator of that form, who has taken that form of art infinitely farther than is strictly possible.

The Artist in His Studio (Rembrandt)

God creates characters—not purely on pages and not merely in imaginations, but in reality. We bump into these characters daily. We are these characters. God makes use of plot, but his version of plot is far grander, encompassing all of human history as it does, and far more intricate, making brilliant use of each boring daily detail of each of the lives of each and every character—even those who seem the most incidental to what we would consider to be the main plotline.

God sculpts bodies out of dirt. He shapes trees and oceans and canyons. His sculptures come alive and swim, run, fly. He breathes life into his sculptures and they live and act, displaying the unique properties of the matter from which they are formed and pointing infinitely beyond.

God made the possibility of sound itself by ingraining musical qualities into the raw materials of this world. He gives each human a unique voice, ensuring that his creation will be filled with a diversity of musical tones and timbres.

God paints in colors every day, as the light he creates refracts through water in the sky, a brand new water-color masterpiece for literally every second of every sunrise and sunset. He adorns us with irises and skin tones and hair colors, paints in flowers and vegetables and fruits, splashes color across the skies and oceans and plains and valleys and canyons. His combinations and juxtapositions are endless, most of which will never be seen by human eyes.

His poetry creates worlds. He spoke and the then-nonexistent world obediently came into being. His words fill the Bible with more meaning than we can imagine, which every generation mines for meaning and comes to the end of their lives seeing the infinite depth of suggestion, connotation, and imagery still to be discovered.

He fills his world with meaningful motion, from the everyday dances we do with friends and families, embedded in hugs and acts of service, to the flight of the hawk and the rhythm of the ocean and the unexpected shift of the breeze. Each movement calling attention to the physicality of the world God made and pointing beyond.

God has filled his world with art. He has shown himself to be infinitely skilled in each art form. He constantly demonstrates his capacity to mix these forms, to transcend the boundaries that we place around specific disciplines. God is the ultimate Artist, and he has ingeniously created humanity with the ability to work within and continue his artistic endeavors. Each human artist is a mirror, each work of art a reminder that art is possible because God is the Artist, a fresh vision granted by the One who created sight, a testimony to the meaning injected in every corner of this world by the Creator.

Every day we encounter his artistry. Every day we are his artistry. We are his characters. We move within his plot, traversing his canvases, traveling as his sculptures, speaking according to his meter, moving as his dancers. We seldom notice the art we inhabit, the art we embody, but the art is there nonetheless, and it is magnificent.

Resonate Mark BeuvingI’ve already said plenty about Resonate (here, here, here, and here) but Zondervan has provided us with 5 copies to give away, so here we go! For a chance to win a free copy of the book, enter your email address at the bottom of the page. [Sorry folks, the contest is now over, but you can still find the book here.]

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, or if you just can’t get enough promotional material for it, I’ll just say a few things about why I wrote the book, and why I think it might be important for you to read.

Music is everywhere. Everyone experiences music often in a variety of capacities and settings. Since it’s such a familiar part of your everyday experience, it may seem like a waste of time to think about it more deeply. But that’s exactly why I wrote Resonate. Music is everywhere. We do interact with it every day in a variety of capacities and settings. And for that very reason, we ought to think more deeply about it.

First, there’s the dangerous side. Music is powerful stuff; it can affect us in ways we haven’t begun to understand. And much of the music our there can be harmful to your soul. So if you’re hearing this music—at work, in movies, on the radio, at the coffee shop, in the mall, in the car, in commercials—and you’re not thinking about what this music is saying, what it’s doing, and how it might be affecting you, then you’re crazy. Music is one of the most powerfully mysterious phenomena in this powerfully mysterious world. Passively listening to whatever sounds good or happens to be in the atmosphere is a dangerous game.

But then there’s the beautiful side. Music is powerful stuff; it can affect us in ways we haven’t begun to understand. We all know what it’s like to be deeply moved by a song in a way that goes beyond logic. We have all been moved to dance or tap our feet or sing aloud purely because the right song started playing. We have all (or is this just crybaby me?) cried as a song perfectly expressed some longing or fear or disappointment that we haven’t been able to express ourselves—whether the song expressed this lyrically or through a combination of sounds and silences.

HeadphonesMusic is God’s gift to us, and he intends for us to enjoy it to the fullest. For that reason, we would all do well to take some time to think more deeply about it. Where does music’s power come from? Why do we like it so much? The reality is, we know of no society that has ever gone without some form of music. Why is that? We know of societies without alphabets or currency—what makes music so universal?

I can’t promise that Resonate will satisfy all of your curiosity about music. But I wrote the book because I want to push people deeper into the mystery. I want people to acknowledge how miraculously beautiful music is, how amazing it is that God has given us instruments and ears and creative gifts and creative inclinations. I want people to look beyond lame distinctions like sacred/secular or pop/indie/classical and simply enjoy the gift of music with discernment, awe, and appetite.

So if you want to give it a shot, enter your email address below. If you’re one of the lucky winners, your life will be changed (because you will own a book you didn’t own before).

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If you’ve just stumbled across this page, you’re too late! Which means that five lucky people now have an additional book to read. But don’t worry, if you still want to read Resonate, you can find it here.

How Music Works

Mark Beuving —  April 29, 2014 — 1 Comment

Resonate Mark BeuvingToday Resonate releases. If you’ve missed my almost subtle promotion of the book this month, the book is entitled Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music, and it’s essentially a theological look at and a appreciative exploration of music: what it is, what it does, how it works, what the Bible says about it, etc.

In my experience, just about everyone appreciates music. I know a few who don’t seem to care, but almost everyone knows that music is truly amazing. Why? What makes music so special? How is it that music can sometimes lift our spirits, speak more deeply than a sermon, heal more profoundly than medication, and comfort us in some of life’s most difficult moments? (As an example of that last point, have you ever been to a funeral that hasn’t involved music? I haven’t.)

One of the most remarkable aspects of music is its ability to surprise us with the ordinary. Truly, all music is about being human. All songs are about some aspect of the human experience. Music is a means by which people in all cultures throughout all time (we have yet to find an example to the contrary) have wrestled with what it means to live in this world. By its nature, music takes the ordinary stuff of life and presents it to us in a way that makes it look different so that we can think about and experience it in fresh ways.

This is actually a characteristic of all art. Madeleine L’Engle says,

“Perhaps art is seeing the obvious in such a new light that the old becomes new.”

J. R. R. Tolkien said,

“We need…to clean our windows so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity.”

By artistically crafting her reflections on life in this world, a musician shows us the world we’ve always known as we’ve never known it. By embedding these thoughts into carefully crafted poetry and mixing that poetry with complex sounds, the musician speaks beneath the surface of our lives. Music enters through our senses and cuts into our souls.

As a simple example, I love these lines from Death Cab for Cutie’s song “You Can Do Better than Me”:

“I’ve been slipping through the years
My old clothes don’t fit like they once did
So they hang like ghosts of the people I’ve been”

Death Cab 1I’ve always appreciated Death Cab’s ability to turn a phrase that captures something that I take for granted in such a way that I see how significant it truly is. The clothes you don’t wear anymore do stand (or hang) as reminders of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’ve been like. They are a visual representation of growing up and growing old. For the Christian, a closet can be a reminder of God’s faithfulness through the years. When I first heard this song, Death Cab surprised me by reminding me of something that is happening literally every second of my life: I am growing and changing. This what good music does for us.

Music works by indirection. Rather than giving us a bald statement like, “Feel love,” music miraculously conveys love in tones, sonic textures, chord structure, melodies, lead lines, dissonance, resolution, and poetry. It’s impossible to explain precisely how this works, yet we all know what it’s like to feel love as we listen to music. I’ve felt it through the songs of Norah Jones, Sufjan Stevens, MxPx, Switchfoot, and the Beatles. A love song says less than an essay on the subject of love, but conveys more through poetic phrasing and carefully managed tones and melodies.

One thing we can’t forget as we talk about the power and mystery of music is that this gift comes from God. This unbelievable gift, deeply treasured and skillfully exploited by everyone from Bach to Beck, was thought up, engineered, and made into reality by the Creator. It’s his gift to us. He gave us the capacity to hear music, to enjoy it, to find meaning in it, and he gave us a green light to explore this gift to its fullest potential. All of iTunes is evidence that we have taken God’s gift seriously, and it speaks to the diverse and wonderful nature of this gift.

Music speaks to us because God designed it to. I have spent my life enjoying this gift and contemplating its ability to enrich and challenge, to deepen and soar. Lord willing, I will finish my life with a much greater understanding of and appreciation for this gift, but no closer to a clear explanation for how music does what it does. And I will glorify God because of it.

If you enjoy thinking deeply about this kind of thing, and if you want to grow in your appreciation for music (asking what the Bible says about it, how a Christian can enjoy religious and secular music with discernment, how music ties in with the life and mission of the church, etc.), then I invite you to read Resonate.

Art Night 051This weekend we hosted our annual Art & Music Benefit. You and I both knew I would say this, but it was an amazing night. Many of our students, graduates, and other friends of the school displayed and sold their art for the event. Three great bands featuring some of our students and alumni played. We had great crafts and baked goods. And we had a great turnout!

So I’m posting to thank everyone who took part in the event, because an event like that matters. It matters because art matters. Nothing connects us with our humanity like good art. It reminds us that while we’re on this earth, we find this world meaningful, and we explore that (often elusive) meaning in passionate and creative ways. Art reminds us that others are wrestling with the human experience as well, and it offers us an opportunity to see with their eyes. It allows us to step into their joys, sorrows, and questions. So thank you to all of the musicians, artists, bakers, and crafters who made Friday night a deeply human experience.

Friday night’s event also matters because Eternity Bible College matters. As we shared at the event, our passion is to see this generation trained to discover the riches of biblical truth and to creatively apply that truth in every area of their lives. Art Night 052We saw a taste of this played out in the art on display, and we shared about other students and graduates who are pursuing God’s glory and furthering his kingdom in traditional ministry and in a host of other creative ways. So thank you to everyone who came out to support the school and to affirm that art and music created by Bible students matters! We believe that it matters, and we were encouraged to discover that you think so as well.

If you’d like to see photos from the night, including some of the art on display, click on the images in the gallery below. If you’d like to see the videos we played during the event, scroll to the bottom of the page. And if you would like to invest in what we are doing with Eternity Bible College, click here. We charge our students roughly half of what it costs us to train them because an essential part of our mission is sending them out into the world without the shackles of student debt. To make up the rest of the cost of fulfilling our mission, we depend on the sacrificial investments of people who are also committed to the mission.

 

John Piper PreachingChristians—evangelical Christians—are those who have a sense of urgency about spreading the gospel. So when a Christian is handed a microphone, he or she knows what to do with it. That microphone, that platform, that position of influence, is to be used for the sake of the gospel.

That’s as it should be. You might say that we know what a microphone is for. And yet, unless we ask how a microphone is to be used, we could be making a big mistake in our zeal for witnessing. In fact, I think we do this very often, and it’s the Christian musicians among us who suffer, it’s their witness that gets restricted and/or diminished, and it’s their place in the mission of the church that gets called into question. All because we don’t know how to use a microphone.

If you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted and called you to preach, then you’d better preach. Speak the work of God clearly. Proclaim it with passion. Too much preaching today skirts the real issues, shrinks back from declaring the full character of God, and minimizes Jesus’ call to die to self, take up one’s cross, and follow. Preach it like it is.

But if you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted you as a musician and called you to glorify him through your music, how do you use that mic? Do you act as a musical preacher, laying your three-point sermon atop four chords? Many Christian musicians have taken a route similar to this, and some have been effective. But is this the only way our Christian musicians can use their God-given gifts to his glory?

How do we ask other types of Christian professionals to use their crafts in their Christian witness? Dorothy Sayers challenges the typical approach:

“The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

If you want to serve God in your carpentry, then make excellent tables. That’s the first step toward honoring God with the skills he has given us. Yet for many Christians, the first demand we make of Christians with musical skill is that they function as preachers.

Joylissa

Joylissa.com

Truly, the first step toward honoring God as a Christian musician is to make great music. This is an overgeneralization, but too often Christian musicians have sacrificed the quality of the music for the sake of more preachy lyrics. I have seen many great examples of excellent music paired with deeply religious lyrics (here and here, for example). But I have also seen Christian musicians badgered, rebuked, even accused regarding their devotion to Christ—all because they skillfully crafted songs about many important aspects of God’s world; they simply fell short on the “Jesus” quota.

Nobody is questioning the salvation of Christian police officers who don’t insert the Apostles’ Creed as they read a criminal their rights. Nobody is questioning the devotion of a plumber who falls short of his quota of cross-shaped pipe junctions. Yet the presence of a microphone causes us to misunderstand the nature of music and to hold our musicians to the same standard as our preachers.

Music isn’t preaching; it’s art. Preaching is about clarity and conviction. Art is about seeing the world in fresh, challenging, and inspiring ways. It intentionally and powerfully works through indirection. Obviously there is an overlap between these two forms of communication, but until we are ready to appreciate the true artistic nature and value of music, we’re missing the point.

If God has gifted and called you to be a preacher, be a good one. Preach passionately and clearly. If God has gifted and called you to be a musician, be a good one. Stretch your creativity to the limits of God’s gift. Explore his world and the people he made with joy and sorrow. If you’re ashamed of Jesus, that needs to change. If your only goal is to gain popularity, that needs to change. But if you’re singing to God’s glory regardless of the subject matter you believe you should explore, then don’t listen to those who think they know how to use a microphone. Glorify the Giver by enjoying his gift to the fullest and helping others do the same.

And if you find this kind of thing interesting, you might want to check out Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music, which releases next week:

 

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