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Archive for November, 2009

Cultivating and Creating

As part of our internship at Redeemer, Chad & I are reading a book called Culture Making by Andy Crouch. His main point is that Christians (and everyone else) need to be involved in culture as creators and cultivators. Christians have tended to see their involvement in other ways (condemnation, critique, consumption, copying) and in certain instances each of these is valid (condemnation:sex trafficking — critique:fine art — consumption:coffee! — copying:music…but hopefully not only copying!).

But what we have lacked is earnest effort to create and cultivate.

As some of you know, I started a job at Blacktop Creative last week. No, they don’t lay asphalt. Rather they are a creative branding agency that seeks to use great design to connect their clients’ brand messages to their audience, industries & the world. Just as the blacktop we drive on connects us with people, so great design connects a client with the people who would want his product or service.

It is owned by three Christian men who have done an amazing job living out what Andy Crouch writes about. First of all, they each spent years cultivating the culture that currently exists, working as employees in other creative firms. I don’t know this, but I imagine during that time they learned to be faithful caretakers of someone else’s vision and creative offering to the world. They learned the industry, and in the midst of that came creative inspiration of their own to build an agency that contributed something new to the culture of advertising.

I’ve just been at Blacktop 1 week, and here is what I perceive to be their creative contribution:

Humble collaboration.

Though Shawn, Mike & Dave are clearly the owners and final decision makers, they make every effort to keep Blacktop a place where everyone’s contribution matters. And it doesn’t just matter, it is essential. Everyone is expected to offer what they have to the projects they are working on, as well as to the company as a whole. Since I’ve been here I’ve heard several times that what makes Blacktop great is the people who work here, and the synergy that is among them. Their sum is greater than their parts. They are careful to choose employees who have both amazing talent and the right personality/temperament to fit well with the other 20+ creatives who make up Blacktop.

And since I’ve been here I’ve heard the owners say several times that anyone is welcome & encouraged to come by their desks – whether to say hi, share about a joy or challenge in his/her personal life, or voice a celebration or concern about their work at BTop. And even better, I see Shawn, Dave & Mike do that very thing to the employees, approaching them, asking about their weekend, etc. They have even taken an interest in me, the temp receptionist, which I think says a lot.

I’m also impressed by how the architecture of their building supports this value. They moved into this location a year & a half ago, and were personally involved in the remodeling. No one has a full office, including the 3 owners. Everyone has a very hip-looking cubicle, adding to the collaborative, open feel. The conference room has 2 glass walls, which in my mind reveals that there may be private conversations here, but no secret ones. And finally, the break area. They have a full kitchen, which I LOVE because I don’t have to use a microwave ever. And a humongous picnic table with 2-ton wood benches taken from an old barn and transformed by Shawn into our lunch seating. Most days a good number of the staff eat their homemade or restaurant-purchased lunches at the table with lively discussion.

But in the midst of creating a unique culture of humble collaboration, they have maintained a high quality of work that has won them around 50 awards in their 8 years of existence – and this in city that ranks 4th in advertising dollars spent, with only New York, LA & Chicago out spending them, so the awards carry significant value. The point being, they didn’t undervalue the culture that was already existing by pursuing a Christian value of humble collaboration but accepting mediocre work. They valued the culture of their field, and added an element to it that has brought greater integrity.

So yet again, I am amazed at God’s power and intimate concern to give me a hands on, real-life experience to solidify a lesson he is teaching me. I’m not just reading about culture making, I’m seeing it lived out well. Thanks be to God.

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Why Art Matters

Last Sunday was a great day. Each week Chad & I run crazily around the church foyer trying to find the people who are supposed to help serve communion. But Sunday, for the first time, everyone came of their own free will to the determined meeting spot on time. Amazing:) Even better, my sister, Teri, came to visit!, leaving her 2 little ones & her hubby back in Seattle.

Teri_Traci_Nov09

My sis, Teri, and I

In the midst of all of that, God gave me yet another lesson on why art matters.

 

At church, Kevin preached another vivid sermon on our compulsion toward and the futility of idolatry (See sermon titled Idolatry #1). By idolatry, I don’t mean bowing down to a wooden carving (although it could be that). Idolatry is much broader. I can “bow down” to anything in life. My husband, my own image, my desire for a perfect marriage or kids, control, money, comfort. Anything we sacrifice for and find ourselves constantly thinking about is likely our idol. As Kevin pointed out, we devote ourselves to these things thinking they will deliver for us, that soon our sacrifices to our idols will bring peace, prosperity, etc, but they never do. Instead, our idols end up controlling and destroying us. Just like addictions.

That evening Teri & I, filled with nostalgia from our former dancing days, attended the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Sprint Center. I loved it, in spite of the cheesy “between dances” commentary they added in. The performances communicated so much, especially Addictions by Kayla and Kupono. It was a brilliant display of the power addictions have over us. I’ve watched it 3 more times this morning as I write this blog and find myself weeping every time, longing for greater freedom in my own life, and for those I love.

As we walked home afterwards, my sister insightfully noted that anything can have addiction-like control over us, it doesn’t have to be a substance. A few days later, as we drove her to the airport, she & I noted how “task accomplishment” can often be our addiction. We see there is so little profit in it at times, and yet we can be driven to finish. For myself, the approval of others can be a huge idol/addiction.

And here is one reason why art matters. Though Kevin’s sermon was amazing, the unfortunate truth is that I will forget much of it within a matter of weeks. But because God connected that sermon with this performance, I won’t forget the deception of idolatry/addiction. Though my idol may promise me the world, it will leave me empty and despairing, like Kayla in the performance.

And here is why preaching matters. Though the dance solidified a truth about addiction in my heart, it didn’t give me a solution. Is there any hope to be free?

Absolutely. Listen to Kevin’s sermon for the full answer, but here’s what God gave me yesterday as I was reading my Bible. Acts 17:16:34 is also about idolatry, but verse 25 nails it.

“nor is he (God who made the world) served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Do you see the difference? Every idol we serve promises the world, gives us nothing, and takes our soul. But God gives. He gives LIFE! He gives breath. He gives everything. If you keep reading, he even gave his own son to die on a cross in our place. We all worship & serve something/someone. But only One is worthy of our worship. Only One keeps his promise to give life. When we serve him, we receive life and can shed our idols.

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