This past year has been difficult in the life of our church. We’ve seen our fair share of pain and suffering. A young man named Jake came close to death as his heart failed him. God’s mercy has sustained him and though he is home and has been able to experience the birth of his daughter, his recovery is just beginning.
Then, this past week we received troubling news about a dear friend of mine Matt. The initial news I heard was that he had stopped breathing, but that they were able to get a pulse back. That was it. That’s all we really knew. We knew he was on way to the hospital, but our minds were swimming with what could be going on. It was shocking for me because I had literally just hung out with Matt a few days prior. He was preparing to head to NY to attend the funeral of his sister. We shared in stories and laughter, it was a great night. I couldn’t believe it. What an awful week for him and his family. My wife kept mentioning the timing. Thankfully, the news of Matt’s health is improving as the days go by. He had suffered a heart attack, but the doctors were able to place a stint. He is weak, but is recovering.
(Above: Matt and his incredible family)
Matt is the best. I love that guy. Alongside of others, Matt has been a massive encouragement to me. Matt is an incredible artist and an Associate Teaching Professor of Painting and Drawing at The University of Missouri where he has taught since 2007.
(Above: Cosmological (Constant) from The Dodecahedron Series by Matt Ballou)
When I first arrived at Karis Church it became apparent that I was surrounded by artists. There were incredible musicians and gifted visual artists. While I myself dabbled in music and enjoyed aspects of visual art, I honestly mostly felt lost. At best I felt deficient, I’m not an artist at least not a legitimate one. I was suddenly surrounded by a world I was unfamiliar with.
It was guys like Matt, someone who loved their craft so much, and loved teaching, that helped me reconstruct my view of art and culture. In the past I had always assumed art was something additional, not substantial or of most importance. It was helpful and wonderful even, but not the most valuable. It has only been in recent years that I have seen how that thread is woven in with my theology. How the glories of God are proclaimed in each string plucked and in every brush stroke.
Almost two years ago Matt invited me to participate in his “Becoming The Student Series” (You can read more about that here). I went over to his studio and after trying some positions and holding a mirror, he finally stopped me as I sat normally and had me hold that position. For the next couple hours we talked about art, maintaining an awe of God, and metal. It was awesome
(Portrait of Billy (Fruit of the Vine), Pastel on Stonehenge, 19 by 22 inches, 2014. By Matt Ballou)
The above picture hangs in my home. For me it tells a story. A story of understanding. Understanding that I really don’t know anything. While I continue to be aware of the fact that I don’t always speak intelligently about art, I am also aware of my new found appreciation of creation. Whether it be deconstructing a documentary or attending a Ryan Adams listening party (which actually happened this past week) or admiring incredible paintings, photography, sculptures, etc. around our city, art has become a regular rhythm for me.
My challenge to anyone reading this is to embrace the culture of your city. Listen to the artists. We as Christians often down play art or create cheap imitations. There is so much that has been written on this very concept (You can investigate more here). Rather than tackle this, I will say that all around you creation is revealing the glory of God. Are you paying attention?
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
Here is what you should do. Ask questions. Go to galleries, concerts and studios. See how others are seeing the world. Be broken with the broken, rejoice with those who are taken aback by beauty, and in all of it see the glory of God.
To Matt, you once asked me how I maintained my awe of God. Well, in a large part it’s because of friends like you. Friends who see beauty in the places I overlook. Friends who stretch the imagination, who point to a new color or shape in the pain of life. It’s in these moment of artistry that the immense beauty of God is showcased to my heart again. How he loves us. Thank you for teaching me as you have taught so many.
Soli Deo Gloria.