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Get six months’ free listing in the new Christian Creative Directory

Our friends at Christian Creative Network have been busy for the last 18 months building a new directory of UK Christian creative professionals.

At Sputnik we tend to draw a distinction between ‘Christian’ work and work for a wider audience; but many artists in our network will have done both. Whether it’s professional graphic designers doing church promotion, or musicians deciding to cover some favourite hymns, we all contain multitudes! Likewise, there are many Christian organisations who want to hire creative people who know their world.

A big part of our mission is to see churches take the arts seriously, and pay them responsibly. Organisations like the Christian Creative Network are doing great work putting all this together: helping freelancers to get work, and lifting the status of the professional arts in churches’ eyes.

With the new Christian Creative Directory launched, we spoke with founder Josie Gamble about the process involved, how she hopes the directory will serve artists, and how to get involved.

Can you tell us about how the idea came about?

The reason I launched the Christian Creative Directory is because I believe we are moving into a new era of creativity in the UK church and I wanted to create a way to championing that creativity in the body of Christ.

There was a time when the church was leading the way in creativity with stained glass, architecture, fine art, sculpture, song. But during the Reformation, when the church went back to basics, there was a stripping back and many creative practices and values were lost. Ever since then we have been playing catch up with the world.

During the Reformation, there was a stripping-back, and many creative practices and values were lost.

I have over 25 years’ experience in the creative industries: graduating with first class honours in Industrial Product Design; 7 years as a university lecturer; and running a design business for over 13 years. Through my design business, I have helped hundreds of businesses and organisations create their brands and website, and I am pouring all of that expertise into this directory.

As well as my creative experience, after graduating Bible school I became a founding member of my local church, which I have been involved in leadership with for over 23 years.  

In 2017, I launched the Christian Creative Network, which is a growing national network made up of local branches, connecting local like-minded Christian creatives: connecting, equipping and encouraging. We currently have 8 branches, from Torquay to Durham, and branches host monthly meets, workshops and events. However, during Covid the monthly meets have been online, and workshops and events have not been able to take place. 

When I launched the network, the vision was always three-pronged: a network, a directory and recognition awards. With the network and directory launched we are one step closer to the awards – well, we might give it a few years yet!

And how did that idea become a reality?

In 2019 I attracted seed funding from The Lions, a Christian entrepreneur program that offers business development and mentoring. It was with this seed funding that I was able to build the directory. It’s taken 18 months to develop and I had to pull together a talented team of creatives to work with me; a web developer, videographer, illustrators, a brand specialist, marketing specialist, photographer, copywriter and SEO expert, voiceover artist and I gathered together an advisory board.  

I have spent years networking and connecting with some of the most amazing Christian creatives which enabled me to pull together the team that built the directory, but where do businesses, organisations and churches go to find these services? Now there is a directory! A place to find Christian creative professionals and services, all under one roof. 

I’m passionate about creatives supporting creatives. I stared my business offering graphic design, however I’d always wanted to build websites. But with the restrictions of a young family I was limited and didn’t know where to go or who to ask. Then in an amazing God connection, a Christian web designer offered to teach me for free. Building websites revolutionised my business and ever since I have endeavoured to pay it forward where possible and have sat with numerous creatives since and shared my time and experience. The Christian Creative Directory is another way of sharing my experience and creating the opportunity for others to do the same. 

How might the CCD serve artists in our network? 

The Christian Creative Directory launched Wednesday 21st April, and is the No.1 place to find Christian creative professionals and services in the UK, all in one place.

This online directory gives creatives, such as the artists in the Sputnik network, who want more visibility online, a high-quality directory listing, resources and expert advice, so they can get found by business owners and organisations UK wide, work on creative projects and grow their businesses.

How can they get involved?

You can sign up today at using the special launch offer coupon cdlaunch6 before 21st May to receive 6 months free listing. Start getting your creativity noticed, engage with an incredible wider creative community, post projects, find jobs and opportunities. Plus, there is a wealth of FREE expert advice and high-quality resources that will guide and help you in every area of your business.

My hope is that the directory will play a part in strengthening of the creative culture in the UK church. 

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Which Artists Did Sputnik Fund in 2018?

Sputnik Faith Arts Funded in 2018

When we started Sputnik, I decided to ask as many artists as I could what the church could do to support them more effectively. The top answer was always the same. Money!

The first time I heard this, I thought they were joking (I mean, what about all of the important pastoral care and encouragement churches could give instead?)  The second time I still thought this was a bit basic (wouldn’t you prefer the occasional chance to have your work profiled in a church meeting or your church leader coming to one of your performances?) By the third time, I began to think through how we might be able to help.

Thus, the Sputnik Patrons scheme was born.

2018 has been our tester year, both in terms of working out what kind of projects we should fund and also how we can start recruiting patrons. And we’re getting there. We now have a small but trusty base of patrons and we managed to help fund 4 exciting projects this year…

Minor Monuments (Huw Evans’ first poetry collection)

Huw Evans is part of City Church, Newcastle and has been honing his craft as a poet, novelist and playwright for many years. Over the last 12 months, there has been a particular explosion in his creative productivity and we had the pleasure of helping him to publish his debut poetry collection in May. The money from Sputnik Patrons has gone towards the art direction and printing of the publication, featuring original illustrations from Brum based printmaker Luke Sewell.

It is a fantastic collection split into four sections, my favourite of which is called Discourses of The Severed Head. It features the reflections of the severed head of an ancient mythological British king which gets dug up in modern times and shares its wisdom on, among other things, Walt Disney, Tabloid journalists and the British political system. Hopefully that whets your appetite to investigate further…

Huw Evans Poetry Minor Monuments Sputnik Patrons

Strange Ghost (Neo-soul group from Birmingham)

Strange Ghost had an excellent 2018. The Birmingham based neo-soul outfit, pulled together by Chris Donald and fronted by his wife, Wumi (both members of Churchcentral, Birmingham) released their debut EP, Stagger in 2017. They started gigging in February 2018 on the Brum local gig circuit (in which they were billed 3rd on a cold Tuesday night) and were immediately snapped up to headline at The Hare and Hounds, one of South Birmingham’s premier venues, a few weeks later. As if this wasn’t good enough, they ended up supporting renowned Scandinavian pop act MØ at the Birmingham Academy that same week.

What was behind this sudden burst of exposure? Strange Ghost’s ridiculous skills, obviously. God’s favour too, I imagine. But, also a fund injection from Sputnik Patrons to help them get their name out there more effectively. It really worked.

Our original intention was to continue this support to help them book some spots at key summer music festivals, but a creative side project derailed that scheme (the birth of Erin Donald in July!) Do not fear though, Strange Ghost will be back, and you never know Erin may get on BVs!

Strange Ghost Birm Acad

StageWrite (New writing festival, Bedford)

StageWrite is LifeBox Theatre’s annual new writing festival based in Bedford. It is a platform for emerging and published writers to see their work up on its feet, in front of an audience and performed script-in-hand by professional actors  It has been running since 2013, and this year was its biggest year yet. They received 63 scripts, and put on 4 of them at The Place Theatre, Bedford over 2 nights in May, with each performance followed by a Q&A session with the director, actors and writer.

The money from the patronage scheme allowed LifeBox to pay the actors involved in StageWrite for the first time and enabled one of the plays 42 Times around the Sun to be taken to a scratch night at OSO Arts Centre in London where the piece was performed in full production.

Life Box Theatre is run by Phil and Harri Mardlin, who are part of Kings Arms Church, Bedford and help lead our MK/Bedford hub. As well as funding new art to be produced by Christians, we also want to encourage Christians to serve the artistic communities in their local areas, and StageWrite is a fantastic example of how to do this.

To find out more about this project, check out Phil’s reflections on the blog.


By The Lovely Shores (EP by Brum singer songwriter, Joanna Karselis)

Joanna Karselis, of Oasis Church, Birmingham, is a film composer and singer songwriter. Her latest release, By the Lovely Shores is an intimate EP documenting the journey of watching a loved one struggle with dementia. Though often heart wrenching in its honesty and passion, it’s also a vibrant and hopeful collection of songs and it’s been a Sputnik favourite for months.

While our Patronage Scheme provides funding for projects, we also provide practical help as well, and on this project, through the support of our patrons, we were able to contribute the artwork for the EP and provide assistance with print production.

Joanna Karselis By the Lovely Shores Sputnik Faith Art

For those of you who are wondering what happened to Benjamin Harris’ exhibition that we promised you in our Patrons Scheme video, well that has been moved back to April 2019, and will be one of several new projects that we’re hoping to fund in the coming year.

We’re so pleased to be able to support Christian artists who are looking to create powerful art and serve their local communities, but this is just the beginning. We are receiving some very exciting new applications for funding and we’d love to be able to assist these artists even more, but this will only be possible with your help.

Why not become a patron of Christian artists through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme in 2019? You can sign up for as little as £5 a month and, as well as helping Christians’ artistic projects, you’ll receive a bi-annual anthology of art from the network, and more besides. Sign up here and let’s support Christians in the arts together.

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Christmas Art 2018: More cheeky, joy filled carols from Christ Church, Manchester

In my family, we have a carols’ playlist that we update each year.

It has traditionally relied on the output from the sadly deceased Zang record label (especially the brilliant Zang Christmas album, A Zang Christmas) – however last year, it got a healthy injection of new material. The Blood Magnetic’s Epiphany EP features heavily, but all the other songs originate from one church: Christ Church, Manchester. Sputnik favourite Mike Lawetto is part of CCM and has two stand out tracks (Captain Pinball’s I Love Christmas and Well Done You’s Christmas Time’) and then the remainder of the playlist is last year’s excellent Christmas Carols EP which the church released under Mr Lawetto’s watchful eye (or ear).

Not happy to rest on their laurels, this year, Christ Church Manchester Music have released Carols, Pt. 2, a 3 track EP that acts as a worthy successor to 2017’s endeavours, and has forced us to update the family carols playlist yet again.

Now that his church are responsible for almost half of our family’s carol consumption, I thought I’d get hold of Tim Simmonds, who leads CCM, and find out the deets:

Talk us through Carols pt 2- How did it come about and who’s involved? 

TS: Simple really, we had fun last time and we wanted to have another go!

We have Mike Lawetto, Dayna Springer Clarke, Jake Woodward, Jamie Semple, Phil Grant and Andy Wells involved. Carols are a great opportunity for creative people to let their hair down and try something a bit unusual. Mike Lawetto is the producer and he worked with Dayna on Joy to the World. The Wise Men was especially fun – Jake just decided he wanted to write his own Carol. We used it at one of our carol services this year and it worked really well.

O Holy Night is just Mike Lawetto having fun! He wouldn’t actually play me the song until it was up on Spotify etc. I think he thought I’d hate it because it’s a reggae carol! The idea of a reggae carol sounds awful to me but I think it’s a brilliant tune and Jamie Semple sounds fantastic!

What advice would you give other churches regarding how to motivate and mobilise creatives well at Christmas?

TS: Have some fun and spend some money on a producer! I know a guy….

We release music because we want to invest in our musicians. We want to bring through more worship leaders, we want to sing our own songs and we want to give our musicians confidence.


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Christmas Art 2018: Alternative Stained Glass Windows from St Pauls Auckland

If you want a taste of high quality Christmas art any year, you’re probably best to start by casting your eye towards St Pauls, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Every year, James Bowman and the SPAM (St Pauls’ Arts and Media) team pull out all the stops, and for about the last decade they have set something of a benchmark for churches regarding how to creatively and innovatively enjoy and express Christmas.

This year, the team eschewed their usual Christmas video for an even more ambitious project instead. We caught up with James Bowman to find out what they’ve done.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Stained glass imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Hi James, what’s your 2018 been like?

SPAM’s year was mostly centred on STAINED, our multi-faceted community arts event that drew from, and gave to, St Paul’s Auckland’s 31 historic stained glass windows. We started with three Historic Stories presentations where we looked deeply into what was behind the glass. This was followed by an eight week Art Course, with the course art being added to works from our wider community for our weekend-long Exhibition. There was such a wonderful range of involvement and we raised more than enough money to restore our existing windows. We also sowed the seeds for future stained glass windows to be added to our building.

What has SPAM done for Christmas this year?

We wanted to create something non-filmic for this Christmas. Alt Carols is a show St Paul’s puts on for people keen on an alternate take on Carol Services, especially aimed at high schoolers, students and 20-somethings. Our last two films were created to play at Alt. This year we wanted to project imagery during the musical reinterpretations of five existing carols. As we’d been focusing on stained glass, we decided to reinterpret familiar window themes. In addition to the scenes slowly revealed on a huge screen above the five bands or artists, Thomas Bilton projected STAINED fluid art pieces with gentle animation directly onto the church interior.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Live imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Can you talk us through the new project?

We chose five traditional window scenes that linked to the songs: the Annunciation, the Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, the Nativity with the Holy Family and Angels, the Magi following the star, and the Holy Family Travelling to Egypt. Inspired by the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, we came up with scenes that would have familiar historic window compositions and content, but be cast, dressed, propped and located in unexpected contemporary Auckland. We needed visual clues to look like stained glass, but aimed to surprise our audience, inviting them to reconsider the familiar narratives, in the same way our carols do.

ALT Carols Windows

We cast from within our church community and Eleanor Calder photographed them around our city with producer Lauren Aitken. Using techniques I developed for my editorial and advertising photoillustrations, I re-worked the shots into their final compositions, with additional imagery, like wings created from a single feather. The frames contain parts of St Paul’s historic windows, the halos are a design created for a STAINED artwork by E. Kim, inspired by our rose window, and put back into our church building in the final image. Historically, Jesus’ halo contains a cross, so we used St Paul’s new logo symbol for him (resulting in pretty cute ears in the Travelling image). The colour palette also draws from our new identity and its symbolism, the colours of our Advent Candles and twists on traditional stained glass palettes.

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Christmas Art 2018: A Christmas video from Jen Rawson and Kings Church Edinburgh

Kings Church, Edinburgh certainly know how to mobilise their artists for the Yuletide festivities!

They started with Threadbare in 2016, continued with He Draws Near the following year and now have made it three exceptional Christmas videos in 3 years, with Translation.

Each project has revolved around the creative partnership of poet Jen Rawson, and director George Gibson, and for Translation, they pulled in a further 20 or so people from their church to pull together their most ambitious and visually arresting project yet. We spoke to Jen to find out more about the project.

How did you come up with the theme for the video?

JR: Last Christmas, I began thinking about how God translated himself into human form. I can’t remember what sparked the idea — a sermon I heard or a passage I’d read — but the analogy of the invisible God translating himself into a form we could better know and understand at Christmas resonated with me. At the time, our church had also become increasingly diverse. There were people representing dozens of different nationalities in our congregation, and I loved the idea of using their voices and languages in a project. With these two ideas in mind, the title “Translation” was born. The text of the poem came much later.

What were the challenges of executing such a project?

JR: The audio was much more complicated this year because of my idea to layer several different voices together. This meant coordinating 9 or 10 different people to record, finding times that worked for them, finding equipment that could record to a high enough standard, and then much more technical editing to put their voices together. Our usual audio guy was also having surgery on his ears a few weeks before the project deadline so he wasn’t as available. (Despite this, he still composed the stunning music you hear in the video.) All of these factors meant collaborating with more people, which meant more organisational and admin work and also meant a greater need to communicate ideas very clearly.

Some artists struggle to work to briefs set by their churches for specific events and projects. What advice would you give to church leaders and artists to help more churches produce such high quality creative projects?

JR: Our church leaders have been great at allowing us the freedom to be creative. Aside from asking us for an artistic piece for the Carol Service, they never gave us a specific idea or theme we needed to stick to. They also recognised that what we were creating was an artistic work rather than a preach, and there was never any pressure to put in a blatant Gospel appeal or message. The video was always considered an element of the overall service so it was okay to use it to ask an unanswered question, for example. Because other elements in the service would provide the more overt message.

That said, we involved our church leaders in the process. They read over the poem, made minor suggestions, and gave their approval before we continued with the project. They also previewed the final video. At the end of the day, this artistic work was commissioned by the church, and it will reflect on the church’s reputation and beliefs. So it was only right that the church’s overseers were able to have input on the final product. For the artist, humility is key. For the church leader, trust the other parts of the body that God has placed in your church and encourage their God-given gifts. I’ve been immensely blessed by the leaders at King’s Church Edinburgh who do this so well, and hopefully, others will be blessed by the art that’s created as a result.

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When good intentions create bad art

A while ago, I hosted a retreat with a group of Christian art students. I taught at a number of sessions, showed them some art I liked, and we spent lots of time discussing questions we had about our faith and our art practice. One of the most common of these revolved around why we make art.

Sometimes this was asked directly, but more often it came out in explanations of the intentions behind individual pieces of work or certain areas of practice. The assumption that several of the students had was that the primary purpose of their work was to communicate the gospel.

This was mostly due to a creditable evangelistic zeal, which I in no way wanted to dampen, but when one student shared her feelings in a time of open Q&A, I couldn’t help myself. This student expressed her frustration that her tutors kept telling her to stop making art about Jesus and asked me what she should do.

Now, please understand that my response didn’t come with a completely clear conscience and I’m sure I could have phrased it better, but whatever my internal wranglings, what I said probably wasn’t what the room expected.

My answer: Perhaps you should stop making art about Jesus.

I have reflected on this answer at length since then, and this post in a way is an attempt to flesh out this answer a bit more helpfully than I did at that event.
You see, while I should have said more, I broadly stand by this answer, and would encourage more Christian artists to get hold of the sentiment behind it.

I’m of the opinion that it’s exactly the kind of good intentions that those students had that hamstrings so much artistic output by Christians.

Why do we make art?

So, let’s zoom out a bit: Why do we, as Christians, make art?

No, that won’t do, let’s go a bit further: Why, as Christians, do we do anything?

Followers of Jesus have a worldview that provides a foundational answer to our ‘why?’ questions. In our cultural setting, this is both one of Christianity’s most attractive features and its most controversial claims. Jesus leads us to believe that our lives have a fundamental and objective purpose and we can know what that is.

So what is our purpose? Now, the phrasing may be slightly different for different Christians, but ‘for the glory of God’ will probably cover most angles (Ephesians 1 seems to be quite a handy touchstone here, particularly verses 6 and 12).

Okay then, we’re alive to delight God, to enhance his reputation, to glorify him. But what does this look like in practice?

Well, this is a little more contentious, but for many of us, I guess we’d say that an important reason we’re alive is to help people follow Jesus more closely and particularly help people who don’t know Jesus to become his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). This is certainly where the students I mentioned earlier were coming from.

Now, I reckon that this, while possibly a tad reductionist, is a pretty decent reference point when it comes to purpose. I wholeheartedly believe that a life lived purposefully and deliberately to lead more people to become disciples of Jesus is a very good life, very much in line with what we were created to do.

So, if you agree with me, have we answered our question then?

Why do we, as Christians, make art? To encourage people to become Christians.

Well, in a sense ‘yes’ and in a sense ‘no’, and which way I’d lean at a given time will probably depend on how quickly we move from this ‘why?’ to the all-important ‘how?’

The Purpose Driven Life

To see what I mean, consider the difference between someone who has a purpose and someone who has an agenda.

A purposeful person is motivated, enthusiastic and makes good use of their time. A person with an agenda is often seen as sneaky, driven and calculated.

We, as Christians, should relish our purpose and the meaning and direction that God fills our lives with. However, I don’t think we should therefore become coldly utilitarian and robotic in how we live out our purpose.

Salt and light have a purpose, but they couldn’t be described as having an agenda.

This is, I think, why the New Testament’s teaching on evangelism is not just about how we speak, but also about how we live.

Jesus told his disciples to ‘preach the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:2) but he also said that they were the ‘salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’. Salt and light have a purpose, but they couldn’t be described as having an agenda. Peter puts it slightly differently in his first letter:

‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, although they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

1 Peter 2:10

Being salt and light

When I was a secondary school teacher, I found out pretty quickly that while your typical good deeds (honesty, kindness, patience, etc) were important here, another one was simply taking my job seriously and working hard at it. In fact, if I’d chosen to intentionally shoehorn the gospel into my lessons or pastoral care in a way that was to the detriment of me being a good teacher, I would have lost the respect of my colleagues and probably caused very few people to glorify God.

This is generally understood when it comes to most professions and disciplines. To use another example, a plumber could live out their evangelistic purpose in their job without carving Bible verses on every U-bend they fit. By doing a consistently good job, probably unthinkingly most of the time, they are potentially speaking volumes about Jesus’ ability to cause his followers lives to flourish.

If I chose to shoehorn the gospel into my lessons to the detriment of being a good teacher, I would cause very few people to glorify God.

But when it comes to art, we seem to get this all muddled up. I am living proof of this. Time and time again, I have overthought artistic projects and dwelt for so long on ‘why I should be doing this?’ or ‘how should this song communicate the gospel’ or ‘how can this story glorify God?’ that I’ve created work that didn’t communicate anything and only glorified God to those who were willing to overlook the clear inadequacies of the work (ie., Christians).

Purpose driven lives are to be commended. Purpose driven art doesn’t work.

Making art should be like making friends

It sounds kind of twee, but I think that making art should be like making friends. I’d imagine that most of us are friendlier people because we are Christians, and at least part of this is because we believe that we have something good to offer other people. Our friendliness is purposeful. However, friendliness that has an agenda is a totally different thing. If we set out to make friends purely to convert people, it would quickly become something quite ugly. Our ‘friendships’ would be conditional, one sided and somewhat inhuman.

If you recoil from the idea of such an approach to friendship, consider the similarities with our role as artists. Hopefully, in both cases, we’ll have opportunities to explain ‘the reason for the hope that we have’ (1 Peter 3:15), but both as friends and as artists, our default position is to show people love and serve them the best we can. As artists, we do this by creating the best work we can, not by advertising our worldview to them.

Stop making art about Jesus?

So maybe if I’d had more time, I’d have put it a bit more like that on that student retreat.

I definitely don’t think we should all stop making art about Jesus. I’d hope he is the subject who fascinates, excites and invigorates us most, and if so, we won’t be able to keep him out of our work. Nor should we.

But for anyone who is overthinking their work and finding that their good evangelistic intentions are stopping them from creating work that is authentic, generous spirited and full of life, it might be a good place to start.

Let’s glorify God together in every way we can, and my prayer for many people reading this would be that one of the ways we’d live out our God given purpose is by creating the very best artwork that we possibly can.

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Everything Conference 2018

Everything Conference 2018 Faith Arts Sputnik
Everything Conference 2018 Faith Arts Sputnik

As David Stroud will often say, the gospel should promote spiritual, social and cultural renewal.

All Christians support spiritual renewal: seeing people born again and spiritually awakened. Most are on board with social renewal: working against the causes and effects of poverty and social injustice. However, David and his wife Philippa’s efforts are most focused on encouraging Christians to pursue the more controversial of the three: cultural renewal.

On Saturday 17th November at St Mary’s Church in Marylebone, London, the Everything Conference trumpeted this message loud and clear.

What is cultural renewal?

Part of the problem people have with cultural renewal is that it is a somewhat slippery phrase. Culture itself is difficult enough to pin down, and when we combine it with the rather open-ended idea of ‘renewal’, we can be left with important questions like “which bits of culture need renewing?” or “what would a renewed culture look like?”

For us as Christians, these questions can multiply exponentially: How much should we expect to renew a culture that is in many ways under the direct power of spiritual forces? (1 John 5:19) How can we differentiate between biblical ideas of renewal and political visions of the future? Should we even bother putting our resources into a world that is, in some sense at least, passing away? (1 John 2:17). Etc, etc.

We could argue ad nauseum on these questions, but the Everything Conference is not designed to enter into such disputes. What David and Philippa and their team do each year is simply bombard us with example after example of Christians who are very clearly renewing the cultures they find themselves in, and doing so in effective, winsome and undeniably Christ like ways. The Sputnik team enjoyed it last year, and personally, I found this year’s conference even more helpful and inspiring.

Quite a line-up!

Michael Ramsden of the Zacharias Trust provided the backbone of teaching for the day in four TED-style talks giving some incisive cultural critique and outlining some appropriate Christian responses.

Around these perceptive observations, we then got to hear from a whole host of people who were putting this into practice.

So Elizabeth Oldfield, director of the Theos Thinktank, talked about how we can all be bridge builders with people who think differently to us. Ici Butcher spoke about the children she and her husband have fostered and adopted. Award winning chocolatier, Will Torrent, spoke of the importance of serving others, doing things excellently and being wise and ethical consumers. Alexander Maclean opened up about his fantastic work helping prisoners on death row in Uganda to get law degrees with the African Prisons Project. And Mark Maciver, otherwise known as SliderCuts, shared about how, as a barber in East London, he looks to act as a counsellor to his clients, who are made up of celebrities, gang members and everyone in between.

And I haven’t even mentioned the artists yet!

The arts were represented by comedian and writer, Paul Kerensa, film director, Stuart Hazeldine and street artist, Lakwena Maciver. Paul Kerensa is an excellent example of a Christian at the heart of the entertainment industry, whether writing for Miranda, Not Going Out or Top Gear or as a regular contributor to Pause For Thought on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show. Stuart Hazeldine is most well known for directing Exam and more recently the film adaptation of The Shack – and warned us that waiting around for God to speak to us can simply be a spiritual excuse for doing nothing, encouraging us instead to keep our hearts good and push on in our projects and plans. (Sage advice.)

If you’ve been following this blog, you may well be familiar with Lakwena, who we featured as our artist of the week in September. She shared her desire to tell a better story through her work. It was fascinating to hear her speak about how her mother, who was an active campaigner and protestor against media excesses, had birthed in her a desire to have a voice, which itself showed itself through her striking, hope-filled street murals.

Lakwena Mural Visual Art Ferdinand Feys
Photo by Ferdinand Feys

Refreshment for the soul, peace for the mind

I hope that gives a picture of the mind-boggling range of contributors at the conference. If you got a bit lost in the last few paragraphs, consider what it was like to have that crammed into 5 hours of interviews and presentations!

However, while I am yet to process much of the information I heard and really dwell on what I can learn from each of these pioneers and role models, there were a few things that instantly hit me from the day and for which I am truly grateful.

It was genuinely refreshing to my soul to be exposed to so many Christians who are applying their faith in Jesus, to do people good and show love to the people around them. We live in a society where the church is under the microscope, from within and without, and my Twitter feed and news apps are more than happy to expose the mistakes and foolishness of Jesus followers daily. Much of this criticism is valid and necessary, but I don’t know about you, I find this barrage of critique and calling out exhausting and dispiriting, as someone who believes that the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.

With that in mind, I left the day encouraged to be given fresh reminders and evidence that the good news of Jesus really is good news. Not just to those inside the church, but also to those outside it. There was nothing imperialistic or colonial about the contributors (which is not always the case when Christians talk of renewing culture) – they simply loved Jesus, and were responding with an entirely appropriate generosity to the people around them in whatever field they were working in. Whether that was to their family, their friends or the faceless (but still infinitely valuable) inhabitants of the wider culture.

It was genuinely refreshing to my soul to be exposed to so many Christians who are applying their faith in Jesus, showing love to the people around them.

And this connects with the second thing I took away from the day. I am not sure that I am entirely on board with every aspect of ‘cultural renewal’ as it is sometimes laid out, but at this Everything Conference I saw it at its best. I think that we need to keep asking difficult questions about the extent to which the church should expect to shape the culture around it and the manner in which we seek to do that, but I was personally challenged that I can overthink this stuff sometimes.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbours. Some of us do that by being friendly to our work colleagues or doing good to strangers or serving the marginalised in society. Others do it by making excellent chocolate or empowering wrongly imprisoned women or making colourful, eye-catching street art. Ultimately, it’s the same thing, and it’s the thing that should be number one on the agenda of all those who follow Jesus.

Of course we have a responsibility to introduce people to Jesus, as the one who can do them the most good of all, but the Bible’s quite happy to intersperse instructions about ‘making disciples’ (Mt 28:19) with ‘living properly among unbelievers’ (1 Peter 2:12), and just we are called to be ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are also called to be salt, light and yeast in the world we inhabit. In other words, just as Everything contends, the gospel should promote spiritual, social and cultural renewal.

Whether you were at the conference or not, I’d encourage you to take that calling seriously, and make art in that mode, as a generous, loving overflow of all that God has done for you.

Book in for next year’s conference here – if it’s anything like this one, you won’t be disappointed.

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Give someone a bundle of mind-bending faith-soaked art this Christmas

This year, we fully launched our Sputnik Patrons project: with the help of our Patrons, we funded several artistic projects by Sputnik practitioners. Midway through the year, our Patrons received the first-ever Sputnik Anthology, which is our bi-annual gift to those who support the arts this way.

While we work on the new Anthology for the New Year, we’re giving a one-off opportunity for you to buy the original Anthology package – a killer Christmas gift for your loved ones!

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol. 1

Poetry + Visuals Vol. 1 is a tasty coffee-table book featuring poetry from a variety of Sputnik-affiliated talent, as well as 11 pull-out postcards of visual artwork from around the network. For the next 3 weeks, it’s £10 to buy. Get it here.

Sputnik Sounds Vol. 2 is a blast of electronic pop, rock, ambient and hip-hop: eclectic cuts from some of our favourites in the Sputnik community. If you snap it up now, it’s £5. Pick that up here.

You can also grab both together at a package-deal rate of £12. Of course, if you really want to spread some Christmas cheer, why not pay for somebody’s Sputnik Patrons subscription for a year?


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Filmmaker Luca Papa’s journey towards faith

Artists Pray One Hopera Rome Sputnik Faith Arts

I am an artist.

Before I came to know Jesus, I was already fighting against social injustice; but I was always the centre of my life, and self-centred in my aspirations and my desire to control things. I really liked the figure of Jesus, but only at the historical level. I was the artistic director of a company with my wife, Serena, who was an interpreter and took care of the organizational part.

Luca Papa Sputnik Faith Arts Hopera Rome
Luca and wife Serena Ansidoni

At the age of 26, I started to follow my very experimental artistic research, and this gave me some notoriety. But it also exposed some problems with my ego, as I started being very demanding with my students and interpreters. I began to shut myself up in my art more and more. Art was my God, and I lived in the continuous frustration of seeking results.

After my first film “Revolution” (a work of experimental video art made against abuses of power in Italy), stains began to emerge on my body. We thought it was a dermatological problem, but after a week, there was a big black bruise on my stomach. We went to the hospital and I was told that it could be leukemia. You are meant to have 240,000 platelets in your blood: it turned out that I only had 2,000!!

The doctors could not explain how I was even still alive! I was given a week to wait for further results and that week of waiting was crazy. I started thinking about my life, the things I took for granted such as walking, drinking, my wife’s eyes, her kisses, eating. I was letting my life pass without fully experiencing it.

I told the artists I was closest to that I wanted to create a work to thank God. They were incredulous

But, when the results arrived, I was told that it was nothing serious and after a short period of treatment, my blood levels were stable again and I was out of hospital. Incredible! The first thing I did, once I was out, was to cry for joy with my wife.

Immediately, I called all of the artists that I was closest to in my company and I told them I wanted to create a work to thank God for giving me a second chance in life. They were incredulous, they could not believe I was doing a work of thanksgiving to God. I completed the piece in one night and there, for the first time, I had an experience of God. After that experience I was like a different person. People did not recognize me anymore; I wanted to help people and my art took a very social turn, focusing on the suffering of the most needy.

We continued taking our art in this direction, and this led us to move to Tenerife for 5 years, where we partnered with a high school to develop an educational project. It was at this point that I decided to create some work that was more explicitly spiritual, focusing on Jesus. I wanted to find people with real faith for this project, and I spoke to our neighbours about it. Our neighbours were a 60-year-old couple, Raul and Olaya. Raul told me that he wasn’t religious, but he knew God personally and invited us to go with them the following Saturday to their church.

On 13 September 2014 we entered the church for the first time and were very perplexed. We were used to Catholic rituals, but at this church, the music was played in a modern style and the people prayed for their friends with ‘a free voice’. After the service, we met the pastor and talked to him about our proposed film project. He was immediately interested and put his church at our disposal both to use their space and to involve people from the church in the various roles.

After that time in church, I started to ask my neighbour Raul a thousand questions about God and about Christianity. He was a retired former Civil Guard agent, responsible for training the recruits, and even in the kingdom of God he was starting my training!

One day, Raul and Olaya invited us for dinner. Serena did not want to go because she knew that faith would be talked about the whole time, so she pretended to have a sore throat. When she found this out, Olaya asked me if she could go and talk to Serena and she ended up praying for her. Although we found this a bit strange, when she prayed, we felt an indescribable feeling of peace. Later that night Serena found herself crying for no reason, which was very unusual for her.

I had thought that the whole thing was a theatre, that it was all fake. Then, to my surprise, I saw my wife charging towards the preacher

During the time of worship, I realized that Serena was crying again. I did not understand. I said to myself: but she is an atheist! The preacher spoke in Spanish and I only understood about 25% of it, but at one point in the talk, he asked if anyone needed prayer. Many people started going forward and as he prayed, there were many strong reactions, people crying and falling over. I had seen some things online about extreme charismatic experiences and I thought that the whole thing was a theatre, that it was all fake. Then, to my surprise, I turned to see my wife charging towards the preacher. When he prayed with her, she started crying in a way I’d never seen her cry before.

It was clear that something extraordinary was happening, so I said to God: “if you are there, show me!” and I too went forward to the preacher. When he prayed for me I felt a great fire inside, I fell on the ground and began to laugh, full of joy. Looking up to the sky, I had the feeling that I had finally found it, that now I understood everything!

René Breuel Hopera Church Rome Sputnik Faith Arts
Artist believers meet at ‘One’, an offshoot of Hopera church

After all of this, Serena and I prayed with the pastor and we both accepted Jesus into our lives. I don’t think I even knew what I was saying, but I know that from that day, our lives have completely changed. I left behind my biggest fears and my obsessions. Serena and I looked at each other differently – our love was growing and improving every moment. After only a month I was baptized in the sea, and I was actually born again, to a new life.

A year later, we returned to Italy and began to talk about our experience to our friends, family and our entire artistic group. Many, seeing our passion and the real change in our lives, have decided to believe, and many young artists have come to the faith. Now we have a group called One, which started because we felt we needed to live out our faith in a completely new and fresh way.

At One, we aim to make God known to young artists. We do not use religious terms, we do not have a denomination, we focus on three things: Jesus, singing to him, and prayer. This has generated a unique love for God. Now in the group there are about twenty young people, some of whom also come to Hopera, our church. They still remain artists, but with a very healthy and passionate Christian imprint and their enthusiasm has a positive effect on the whole community.

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Removing unnecessary obstacles with Marlita Hill

Marlita Hill Faith Art Career Sputnik

Two weeks ago, we spoke to Los Angeles-based choreographer and teacher Marlita Hill about gracefully dismantling the expectations facing artists in churches. In part two of our interview, Marlita explains in more detail the groundwork that she works through when tutoring artists.

You can read the first part of this interview here.

Jonny Mellor: You talk about the importance of an artist’s whole art-life, rather than just the work they produce, could you explore this topic with us?

Marlita Hill: In the Kingdom Artist Initiative (KAI), one major question we answer is how do you serve God and build His kingdom working “out there” making “that kind” of art with “those people”? There is still a very present belief that Christians should only make art in church, for church, about God, and for worship. Any activity outside of that should be focused on evangelism; and the only reason to associate with non-Christians is to get them saved.

Well, I don’t share that belief. Church is wherever the people of God are. The Kingdom of God is bigger than a building and consists of so much more than evangelism. And, worship is practiced and offered up by what we do, as much as it is by what we say.

As an artist in Christ, you have a life in art, not just a message in art. Your life in art is a valid, God-honoring way that you participate in Kingdom citizenship and Christian community. In KAI, I teach about this life in art as three parts: Person, Process, and Product.


Person is who you are. The Bible says that you are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14). You are the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:14). You are the way that God diffuses His fragrance throughout the earth (2 Cor. 2:14). And you are an exhibitor and dispenser of His love. Before you ever do anything, and regardless of what your art talks about, this is who you are. This is how you show up in every space you enter in your art career. You are the representative and ambassador of the living God and of His Kingdom in the earth. You don’t have to do anything extra to accomplish that.


Process is how you do things: how you go about creating your art, how you make career decisions, and how you interact with the people around you. You honor God, make Him known, and demonstrate the Kingdom at work by the way you go about making these decisions, by your disposition in executing them, and by what leads and influences you in making them.


Product is the actual art work. A lot of us struggle trying to figure out what we can make art about. And we shouldn’t. Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.” 2 Peter tells us that God has “given us everything that pertains to life and godliness.” If this is true, what could there possibly be that we cannot talk about? Nothing! It’s all fair game. It doesn’t matter what you talk about in your art. What matters is the perspective you present on what you talk about.

Marlita Hill Class Combo Dance Sputnik Faith Art
Screenshot from Marlita’s Int/Adv Modern Class at Cortines High School

JM: But surely any Christian in any profession would share the first two of these in one respect. Focusing in on the product then, do you think that an artwork has any special value, beyond, say, a fruitful business deal, a well engineered bridge or a successful operation?

MH: As far as what art can uniquely do, I believe its singularity lies in its qualities of being stealth and efficient. Art operates on a frequency that cuts right to the essence of things. It communicates so deeply, so intimately, and so quickly, that people find themselves impacted before they’ve found the words to articulate what just happened to them. We can react to art once we’ve reoriented ourselves back in our intellectual fortresses; but we cannot deny that something got in. Art cuts right to places we would have to ask permission to enter through any other means.

We talk about salvation, but the salvation experience is an unrealistic to our actual faith lives as romantic movies are to real relationships. Where’s our mundane Tuesdays?

This is what’s so powerful about Christians being present and active in our art careers. As Kingdom citizens in the world, we have the opportunity to contribute the Kingdom perspective to cultural dialogue. We’re always told to focus on the salvation experience. But this is as unrealistic to our actual faith lives as romantic movies are to real relationships. The whole movie only goes up to the point of two people getting together, but we never see the reality of their mundane Tuesday. We talk about salvation, but what does life look like as a Christian once you’ve gotten saved? Where’s our mundane Tuesday?

Even though we’re Christians, we’re still sexual beings, we still have feelings, we still deal with loss and grief, have awe, fall in love, make mistakes, feel confused. We still engage in the human experience. So, what does that human experience look like from a Kingdom perspective? How do you address, confront, and look at being human and living in this earth in all its messiness from the other side of being saved?

Sputnik Faith Art Marlita Hill

JM: You specifically serve artists who have careers in the arts. What do you think are the key challenges that Christians who are professional artists face, and what advice would you give them to overcome these challenges?

MH: Three things artists of faith struggle with are liberty, identity, and fragmentation. I believe every artist struggles with these in some way but they manifest uniquely in the faith community. As the arts are slowly being accepted back into the church, artists of faith working in secular culture still have so few champions to tell them that all parts of who they are (as Christian, creative, and cultural participant) are from God, to assure them that they (right where they are, doing what they’re doing) are a needed and contributing part of the body of Christ, and to show them how to victoriously navigate their art life in God’s purpose. Without this, they’re left constantly struggling for permission and validation, constantly struggling with who they are and how they want to be seen and known, constantly feeling like they have to make the impossible choice about which part of themselves gets their attention. But none of these struggles are necessary.

This is why KAI focuses on the artist’s relationship with God, and between their faith, art, and career. To deal with these struggles we have to do three things:

One: We have to remember that we cannot necessarily equate our experiences with the church as being how God sees and feels about us. We have to go to Him for ourselves to find out how He actually sees us. That’s where true, unshakeable identity comes from.

Two: We have to forgive the church and other Christians for not knowing how to tell us who we are and where we fit. We just have to.

Three: We have to release the internal divide we’ve perpetuated, which most likely exists for good reason. Still, we have to allow them to coexist and thrive together in the same space because God never intended our faith, art, and career to be fragmented within us.

Read more about Marlita Hill’s work at

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Marlita Hill helps artists to flourish

Marlita Hill is a dancer, teacher, choreographer, author – and much more – based in Los Angeles. We had the pleasure of talking to her about some foundational questions around her practice and approach to the worlds of faith and the arts.

Jonny Mellor: Hi Marlita. Could you introduce yourself to Sputnik’s illustrious readers?

Marlita Hill: Hello Sputnik! Thank you for having me. My name is Marlita Hill and I am a choreographer and author. I have a program called the Kingdom Artist Initiative that mentors professional artists of faith in building a healthy, undivided relationship between their faith and art career. I also produce a podcast called The Kingdom Art Life and in January, I published my third book, Defying Discord: Ending the divide between your faith and “secular” art career.

JM: There is an ongoing conversation about faith and art in the church at the moment, and in the UK at least it seems to be gaining some momentum. While this is good, I sometimes find that people are missing each other in this conversation and it can lead to churches supporting some forms of creativity, but at the same time actually alienating artists. I’ve found it helpful the way you frame this conversation to bring clarity to the different aspects of faith and art – could you share some of your thoughts on this?

MH: In the faith and art conversation, I believe it is important for us to recognize that when we say ‘artist,’ we are speaking to a remarkably diverse group of people – who are involved in different forms of art, who function in different contexts, who make art for different reasons and different audiences, who are in different seasons in their art life and have different needs. The artists in our churches have different experience levels, different expectations, and different ways they desire to be cared for and supported.

When we don’t acknowledge all this difference, we end up alienating artists. And while it is impossible for any one organization to serve all the needs of such a diverse group of people, acknowledging this diversity can help us approach the infrastructures we build to serve and support artists through a more inclusive lens.

Kingdom Artist Initiative Sputnik Faith Art
Kingdom Artist Initiative

JM: Not only are the arts often misunderstood in churches though, they are often simply not valued. Why do you think this is?

MH: I believe that the undervaluing of the arts in the church is due to several factors: value and usefulness, personal conviction and comfort level, and capacity.


In the local church, there’s generally a three-pronged focus: worship, evangelism, and doctrine. The church readily embraces activities and expressions that directly serve these three areas.  Because they are where the focus lies, most everything that is done in church is a means to these three ends. And with that, usefulness becomes the measurement for value.  So, if your activity is not a clear means to those three ends, the church struggles to find them useful. In struggling to find them useful, they struggle to find them valuable. If they have no usefulness and therefore no value, then the question becomes why should we engage with it?

Most everything that is done in church is a means to worship, evangelism, and doctrine.

This raises a question; because some artists of faith engage in their art in ways that do directly serve those three areas. They want to partner with the church in serving the congregation, using their art to lead and engage people in worship, to help illuminate Scripture, and to share the Gospel and make Christ known. Why, then, doesn’t the church embrace them? That, I believe, is where we get into the other two factors.

Personal conviction and comfort level.

Despite the presence of creativity and artistry in the Bible, and despite there being evidence that God communes with His people in and through the arts, there are those church leaders that simply don’t agree and don’t see the arts as a suitable activity for the church. They don’t see the arts as a credible medium for facilitating or engaging in the worship experience and spiritual growth.

Or, they only see certain artforms as credible mediums. Dancers face this a lot. Where pastors are comfortable having musicians and visual artists active in their churches, they are not comfortable with a dancer. Actors are only acceptable for Easter and Christmas plays. Even with musicians, only certain instruments, musical forms, and even musical notes are acceptable in different congregations.

But this has nothing to do with the artist. And it has nothing to do with God. Still, we both are subjected to the comfort levels of those in leadership.


There is the reality that you need infrastructure to incorporate any activity in the church, including the arts. Some church leaders don’t believe they have the capacity (time, resources, know-how, space, etc) to include the arts in their congregational life. Of those, some view the arts as a nice addition if it’s convenient; but it’s not a priority so there is never any real motivation to find a way to make it possible.

Very few artists are ever included in planning and infrastructural conversations, so their possibilities to contribute are never heard.

Also, it rarely seems to occur to leaders that their artists are very capable of expanding that capacity when they are empowered to do so. Very few artists are ever included in planning and infrastructural conversations, so their possibilities to contribute are never heard. As leaders feel like they already have much on their plate, it is much easier to exclude the arts than it is to take the time to work through how they can be made an integral part.

JM: Coming back to your own experience, how do you think your own art life has deepened your relationship with Jesus? What have you learnt about God that you wouldn’t have done if you’d never been a dancer?

MH: My life as an artist has been an integral part of my relationship with God. In fact, I’ve gotten to know Him as I’ve pursued this life in dance.

There are two huge things I’ve learned that have liberated my relationship with Him. The first thing I learned is that the church’s way of seeing and interacting with me as an artist is rarely representative of the way God sees and interacts with me. I learned not to try to understand how God thought about me as an artist through the church. I had to get that straight from Him. I love the church. I appreciate the church. But I also understand they don’t often know how to care for me.

The second huge thing I learned is that God is not in relationship with me because I’m useful to Him. Nor is He in relationship with me because my gifts are useful to Him. He is in relationship with me because He loves me, and He has gifted me as an expression of His love.

I have learned that He gave me art for my life, not just my Christian service. My art is something He’s given me to engage with, and take space in, this world. He gave it to me to shape and form me. He gave it to me to release and receive. He gave it to me to commune with Him, to learn about Him and learn from Him. He gave it to me to enjoy.

I’ve learned that there’s not one thing about my artist-ness that I have to apologize for. I’ve learned that He takes great pleasure in it and gives me so much liberty to live in all the fullness of these things He’s gifted me to do. And this is what I hope to help other artists experience from their relationship with Him.

Read the second part of this interview here, or read more about Marlita Hill’s work at

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Escaping our siege mentality and sharing the richness of the world outside

Sputnik Siege Mentality Faith Art Bible Werner du Plessis

In 2 Kings 7, there is a story about the people of God in a spot of bother. Samaria has been under siege for a while and it’s taking its toll. Inflation is through the roof, women are eating their own babies, you know, standard Old Testament siege stuff.

Finally, four lepers decide they’ve had enough – they’re going to die anyway if they stay in the city, so they decide to surrender to the Aramean army. It can’t be any worse than eating overpriced donkey heads and living next to cannibal mothers.

So they go over to the Aramean camp – and find, to their surprise, that the enemy camp is deserted. There are tents; there are horses; there is food, and there is even plunder from previous battles. But the army has fled.

The lepers do a fair amount of revelry, eating and drinking and stashing away some gold and silver; but finally, they decide this is too good to just enjoy themselves. They go back into the city and report what they’ve found. As a result, the plunder is shared out to the people of Samaria. The famine is lifted. People stop eating babies (presumably). All is good.

Strangely, as I reflected on this year’s Catalyst Festival, and particularly the things we were involved with, I started thinking about this story. I wondered if it could be taken as a parable for the church, and how we can potentially relate more fruitfully to the culture around us. I imagine that it’s not immediately obvious what I mean, so I’ll explain.

Siege Mentality

I grew up in a context where I was encouraged to think of the church being in a similar position to Samaria in this passage: we were a people under siege. Inside the church community (and wider than that, the Christian sub-culture) we were God’s holy people, set apart and distinct. Outside, ‘in the world’, everyone was out to get us. The culture at large was populated by godless heathen, trying to attack the church with every weapon at their disposal. Scientists conjuring up half baked theories to undermine the Bible, politicians passing laws to erode biblical values, and – the most devious of all – artists, trying to seduce innocent Christians with their libertine tendencies and coded satanic messages.

Every now and then, we might forage out on a bit of an offensive (picketing an abortion clinic or writing a strongly worded letter to our MP), but on the whole, we responded by shutting the city gates and getting on with life on our own.

And actually, we kind of liked this set up. I mean, wasn’t this what heaven was going to be like? Christians hanging out, thinking about Christian stuff, and not being bothered by annoying others who didn’t share our core beliefs.

But, over time, our isolation started to bite. We found out that we weren’t made to live in isolation, and the culture we created couldn’t sustain us. We became culturally impoverished. We were chewing on the bare bones of Amy Grant, Frank Peretti, Ken Ham and Thomas Kinkade and we were starving.

Eventually, some people in the city decided that they couldn’t take it any longer, so they decided to leave and take their chances with the barbarians at the door.

We found out that we weren’t made to live in isolation, and the culture we created couldn’t sustain us. We became culturally impoverished.

However, to their surprise, they found the situation outside the city was not quite what they’d expected it to be. The fearsome army they were expecting simply wasn’t there. In fact, there was much of benefit outside the camp. There were riches in almost every sphere of human learning that, while by no means perfect, bore the watermark of the same God we allied ourselves with. Ingenuity; creativity; wisdom; understanding.

Rather than getting mowed down by machine gun fire, or being waterboarded till we recanted, these happy adventurers found that, as they explored outside the city, their love for Jesus grew, and their joie de vivre was intensified.

What’s more, their identity as God’s people remained, so they realised that they couldn’t keep this to themselves. They wanted to bring these treasures back into the city and make a way for the people of God to share in the good things they had found.

For example, at the Catalyst Festival…

I think we saw a microcosm of this at the Catalyst Festival this year. On the Saturday evening, Strange Ghost and Mr Ekow skillfully channeled years spent neck-deep in the work of the likes of Lauryn Hill, Hiatus Kaiyote and Outkast. On Monday evening, Huw Evans reflected on his journey with cancer, drawing solace and inspiration from Plato, Thomas Browne and the proliferation of skulls in Renaissance portraiture. And throughout the festival, Alastair John Gordon’s Travels in Hyper-Reality exhibition was on display for all to see. The title of the exhibition is taken from an Umberto Eco book, and the write-up quotes French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard.

Now, this may all sound pretty unexceptional, but it caught my attention because it was unusual in this specific context. In my experience, Christian conferences are events that are, in terms of the above parable, ‘for the city, by the city’ – celebrating the things of the city. Catalyst Festival has always veered from this model to a degree, but I think we went a bit further this year. We had a number of people contributing who seemed to have ventured out of the city gates and survived. More than that, they brought us back stuff that was of great benefit.

Treasure hunting outside the city

I’m sure my analogy is imperfect, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that this is what the author of 2 Kings was trying to communicate when he came to record this episode. However, I think this picture contains something helpful for those of us who are trying to think through the difficult question of how we, as God’s people, can relate to the world around us, in all its glory and corruption.

As Paul writes in Colossians 2:3, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus. I’m pretty sure that Jesus, in turn, has hidden quite a few of these treasures a little further afield than the church has reckoned on in recent years. My encouragement would be to keep your guard up and tread carefully, but to go and have a look outside the city to see what you can find.

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Heart-Expanding, Mind-Stretching: My Year as a Sputnik Intern

Sputnik Intern Year Birmingham Faith Art
Sputnik Intern Year Birmingham Faith Art

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.


This is one of my favourite quotes for many reasons; it’s a challenge to take risks, find the adventure, and leave your mark. For me, spending a year as the first Sputnik intern was exactly that – as I explored spoken word poetry, made connections and pushed myself further into my craft.

Learning the Basics

The first of my three terms was spent exploring different art forms, by shadowing and meeting other artists. I had a guided tour of Birmingham Museum with visual artist Luke Sewell. I shadowed Birmingham’s former poet laureate Giovanni Esposito (known as Spoz) as he taught spoken word poetry in local schools. I observed Anna O’ Brien, a skilled storyteller, engaging young children at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts through painting and craft. All of these were great learning experiences.

At the same time, I was learning the basic forms and structures of poetry from my accomplished tutor, Huw Evans. Every fortnight, I tried a new form in a poem – with mixed results! It was a challenge, but it was good to try, to learn and to build a good foundation, since I had little training in poetry.

Watching & Writing

The second term consisted of writing new work of my own, receiving valuable critique and – most importantly – editing my work. I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time. It’s imperative to be dissatisfied with your initial drafts, to fine-tune again and again to get to the core of the work, where the best writing and ideas live.

I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time.

That term, I was also privileged to attend Birmingham’s Verve Poetry Festival, a smorgasbord of poetry and artists from different forms and diverse backgrounds across the world. Highlights: Tomomi Adachi – a Japanese sound artist and poet, who invented an infrared jacket that produces eerie sounds when he moves and performs poetry. Or the sublime and mesmerising The Sea-Migrations by Asha Lul Mohammed Yusuf, an outstanding Somalian poet who now lives in London.

Across the whole festival, I saw poets who had mastered their craft over many years,writing and performing at the highest level; from the eclectic collective Nymphs and Thugs, to local legends like Spoz himself, who was powerful and entertaining to witness.

Performance & Publishing

Finally, in the last term, I was able to take my work to Catalyst Festival – a true highlight of the year. I performed some of the poems I had been working on, led a spoken word workshop, and of course I helped with the Sputnik stand, engaging with people at the festival. I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience; on top of this, it was wonderful to share this art form through a workshop and get people to engage with it.

I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience.

Throughout this, I’d been working on my debut collection, On Praise and Protest – a book of ten poems exploring themes of defiance, protest and celebration. It’s now available through the website that I also created during this year – Check it out!

Broadening Horizons

Alongside the time working on poetry, I completed the Impact course, in Bedford – one of the best parts of my internship. To be able to engage with the Bible, with the help of church leaders and teachers; to ask questions and gain wisdom for life, was invaluable. On top of that, my fellow Impact-ers were outstanding, and it was a privilege to hear what God was doing in them, and through their projects at various churches across the country.

The sense of family between us was incredible, and crucial in supporting each other through the year. But the highlight of all this was our mission trip to Albania. It was an honour to meet the church in that nation, and especially touching to witness how God was working powerfully to save his people there.

This year has been such a heart-expanding, mind-stretching and horizon-broadening experience! It was an honour to work with Sputnik – especially with Jonny and Jemma Mellor, who gave me endless encouragement and support to grow, push past my comfort zone, and become an artist that speaks into culture with relevant, risky and kingdom-minded work.

In many ways, this year was just the beginning of that journey as a poet, but I have that goal in mind going forward, as I dedicate myself both to the craft of writing and the community of writers.

As I do that, I hope I can leave a trail…

Tanyaradzwa’s book is available from most major outlets or through her website. If you’re interested in starting the next Sputnik internship in September, get the application form here – but be quick!

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Artists: How to Get Involved with Sputnik

Artists Get Involved Sputnik Faith Art Joshua Coleman

1. Join the Online Conversation

Nothing beats real life, face-to-face camaraderie, but joining the online conversation is a good place to start with Sputnik. We update the website at least once a week with thinkpieces, features and news from our network and beyond.

We’ve been writing for a while – so there’s plenty in our ‘Think’ section to sink your teeth into. Try our series on ‘Beauty & Art’, or Sputnik founder Jonny Mellor‘s thoughts on whether Christians are called to influence culture. If you’re a writer of any kind yourself, why not join the conversation by writing something for us to share?

We keep things updated on Facebook and Twitter too, so be sure to follow us.

Sputnik Hubs Faith Art Visual
Birmingham Sputnik Hub

2. Get Involved in a Hub

Our Sputnik Hubs are opportunities for like-minded comrades, co-conspirators and collaborators to meet: an essential thing for any artistic practitioner, and perhaps even more so for Christians, who can feel particularly isolated in their creative activity.

Hubs meet on a termly basis. Usually, guest artists present their projects, we discuss issues of faith and art and we all get a chance to showcase what we’re working on. Our hope is that genuine friendships form to help you in your practice more broadly.

Join our mailing list to get a monthly email about Hubs and any other meetups. Our Hubs are in Birmingham and Bedford, but many more are in the pipeline. You can register your interest based on your location here.

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol. 1

3. Get Hold of Work from Sputnik Artists

Finally, as well as getting to know one other, we think it’s important to provide an audience for each other too. To be part of Sputnik really means to be soaking in, getting challenged by and ultimately supporting the exceptional work being made in and around our network.

To this end, every 6 months, we compile some of the music, poetry and visual art from artists connected to Sputnik and put it together into a coffee table book. These are not for sale, but are available to anyone who subscribes to our Sputnik Patrons scheme at anything from £5 a month.

The funds all go towards supporting artistic projects, in some cases with direct funding, in other cases by paying for design, promotion, print/film/music production or more. Of course, you can apply for this support yourself, but we hope you’ll also spare a fiver a month to support fellow practitioners this way. And if you want a better idea about who’s out there in the network, start with our ‘Discover’ page.

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Hey, Artists: You Don’t Need to Justify Your Desire to Make Things

In Sputnik circles, some things go without saying: but occasionally, we ought to clarify those ‘unsaid’ things for people’s benefit. One of those is that artists don’t need to justify their desire to make things.

We’re taking you at face value. We take your artistry seriously, in and of itself. Some of you may shrug, but we so often have conversations with artists who feel the need to place their art in a ‘worthier’ context, like social justice, mental health, worship, or of course, evangelism. The conversations at our gatherings so often seem to revolve around permission.

I fully endorse having a good framework behind our art. But maybe we need a mental palette-cleanser from time to time: to be reminded that art is a human good, and that it has a function without being pseudo-spiritualized.

Art is a Simple Good

On one very simple level, as Christians we are free to enjoy making art. Think of it like food: God has created a vast map of gastronomic variety, and we’re free to combine things, roast things, explore things and to enjoy the delicious outcomes. He didn’t have to make food to be good; it could have just been functional. Similarly, there is a vast spectrum of visual and sonic possibility in our world, and God allows us to mess around with sound and light and enjoy the outcomes, simply because they are good.

Our favourite Scottish hyperrealist painter Ally Gordon puts it like this:

Creativity is the first thing God chooses to record about his character: “In the beginning God created” (Gen 1:1)… From the beginning God is interested in the aesthetic dimensions of living, declaring that the trees are not only “good for food” but first, “pleasing to the eye” (Gen 2:9).

As those made in God’s image, the act of good creativity is merely a very human experience and the artist should not feel a need to justify his art by scribbling bible verses in the bottom right hand corner of her painting or crow-barring a gospel message into his script.

And like anything that is good, art is good for sharing – or as Ally puts it in Beyond Air Guitar, “gifts are given for communal benefit and not just for individuals”. It seems to me a fitting part of the Christian life, to make things that deepen our experience of God’s creation, and share them with people. I was avoiding saying ‘beauty’ here; but, assuming we see beauty as more than a superficial aestheticism, it is a good thing to bring out the beauty and the mystery of life. Not just a good thing – it’s part of our call to stewardship of the world.

Yes, if we concentrated on this to the detriment of all else in our life, it might be unhealthy. Yes, art can be much more than this too. Yes, we will have other things we’re hoping to provoke or accomplish through our art. But on the other hand, we can take simple joy in making, the same way you can take joy in eating (and sharing) food that you’ve cooked, or grown.

Art has a Function Already

So the act of good creativity is a very human experience. And if you put humans together in the same space, the fruit of that human creativity is culture. We don’t even have to try to make it; we just can’t help ourselves. Practical needs lead to cooperation, and then BOOM: dancing, football, metaphysics, whisky, architecture. These things are all our way of figuring out what we mean to each other, rituals of belonging, a yearning for the oneness of the Godhead; our way of digging deeper into this weird thing called existence, and community.

Some churches love to talk about being counter-cultural, drawing the battle lines between us – the exiles – and ‘the culture’. But those lines can be incredibly unhelpful, too, because we are part of our culture, no matter what we do. Culture isn’t a top-down, passive enterprise. It’s the sound of neighbourhoods, of contribution and collaboration and compromise. And we are not outside observers. If we dislike what we see in our culture, we are complicit.

Good creativity is a very human experience; and culture is simply the fruit of human community.

No group of humans alive has ever not made culture, even when the immediate needs are still pressing, if cave paintings are anything to go by. Culture, and art, is far from peripheral. After all, ‘belonging’ is bang in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and in practical terms, that means shared culture. Dutch art historian and jazz critic Hans Rookmaaker puts it this way in the spectacularly on-the-nose Art Needs No Justification:

Just as plumbing is totally indispensable in our homes, yet we are rarely aware of it, so art fulfils an important function in our lives, in creating the atmosphere in which we live, in giving us the words to speak, in offering us the framework in which we can see and grasp things… even without our noticing it.

If we need to talk about the function of art, it already has one. What art means to us is not really found in the individual maker, the auteur or the prophetic genius. It’s found in the receiving of art, in the shared cultural experience. There may well be a ‘message’ that comes through it, but that is not in the artist’s control. As Rookmaaker puts it, “even the best art makes for bad preaching.” I might equally say, good preaching makes for bad art.

Art Works, No Matter How Small

At most Sputnik events, aside from those who are longing for permission, we also meet people who have discounted their own gifts altogether, or feel they don’t know how to pick up their craft again, or who are discouraged that pursuing art won’t lead to worthwhile success.

Many of us set high standards for ourselves, ultimately doing nothing rather than risking something mediocre. Maybe we’re aware that, if there are elements of Christian faith in our work, we won’t be taken seriously in the wider world unless we’re ferociously good.

Sputnik exists for these people, who want to pursue excellence in their craft. But sometimes we need to ditch the weighty expectations and loosen ourselves up to just create. Making culture is what we do. The only ‘wrong’ way to approach art is to not make it, or to keep it entirely to yourself.

I keep coming back to the food analogy, but you don’t stop cooking food just because you won’t get a full-time chef gig out of it. Don’t deny yourself the joy of making, and don’t deny other people the chance to be blessed by it. Even if it’s just for your friends, even if it’s never commercially viable, art does what it’s been created to do: it announces we’re alive, it expresses joy in God’s creation, and it reminds us we belong to each other.

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Remember when Churches made Great Art? This!

People often hark back to bygone ages when churches were the driving force behind the highest calibre of art. Art that affected you after you thought you’d left it behind. Art that perfectly complemented its content to warm your heart to Jesus and the Good News that he entrusted to us.

This year, King’s Church, Edinburgh have crafted a Christmas video that can give us confidence that those days are not entirely behind us. Following on from their excellent 2016 piece Threadbare, this year’s video is a collaboration between poet Jennifer Rawson,  composer Stu Kennedy and video maker and graphic designer George Gibson and features a load of peeps from the church. The visuals, sonics and lyricism are all exceptional, but the fact that they interplay so harmoniously is deeply impressive and creates a profound and powerful piece of art.

The poem is certainly the centrepiece though, and while it was written to be performed, it stands up as a very effective written piece too. Therefore here it is (reproduced with permission):

He Draws Near

A hymnal wind.

The quiet oratorio
sung by our common existence.

Earth’s heaving,
churning pulse
drew its breath
when Jesus came.

He is music.

He is the long silence
between stars
draped across the night
like fairy lights
like the heavens shout —

He is infinite.

He is galaxy upon galaxy,
a tapestry, the spark
that lit the sun.

Open your eyes and see—

The ridges of his fingertips
in every heather-dusted hill.

His voice in the roaring ocean—
constant and deep.

His reflection in the faces
we pass — His image

The very stones cry out
“He is with us.”

He draws near
to our daily rituals —
the baptism of cutlery
in soapy, sink water;
the crackle of oil
anointing kitchen surfaces;
fire smoke in winter
like incense offerings;
our commuter engine chorus
singing with angels.

All the while,
the carpenter King
knocks at the door
and waits.

His birth was just the beginning.


Jennifer Rawson


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Reflections on the Everything Conference

Christian mission often focuses on spiritual and social renewal, but what about cultural renewal? That was the question raised at the Everything Conference, at St George’s Holborn, on Saturday 18th November. This was a day packed full of so much goodness that it would be hard for one person to adequately sum it all up. Therefore, we asked three. Here are Jess, Tanya and Ben’s reflections on a great  day out in the Big Smoke.

Jess Wood Artist Sputnik Poet
Jess Wood.

Jess Wood (poet)

“London is only bearable for a few days for a northerner. Taking a one day trip down, for the purpose of a conference on culture shaping seemed well worth it. The event consisted of a series of short talks from cultural influencers from all walks of life, from artists to politicians, rugby players to business men. Through this wide range of practitioners I was encouraged to broaden my understanding of the places in which culture is located and can be shaped by Christian influence, beyond just art and creative expression. The conference helpfully challenged my presumptions that politics, finance and business can’t be spheres of influence.

“Throughout the day, there was a continual call to push ourselves beyond the realm of our own comfort, by stepping into either places of power or places of oppression. For me, the biggest take-away came from Andy Crouch’s second talk of the day, in which he encouraged us to work through the ‘contingencies’ of our lives. He encouraged us to work through the circumstances in which we’ve been placed, and work to restore the image of God in these places. As a final year university student, thoughts of what I’ll be doing next year have been continually spinning in my head. One of the biggest things I’m coming to grapple with are the choices I could make. Will I go for the seemingly logical decision, a job or grad scheme which will allow me to live comfortably? Or will I take risks in my art form and push through with things that God has placed on my heart? Either way this conference has encouraged me to know that wherever I am and whatever contingencies I’m placed in, God has given me the potential to influence culture around me.”

Tanya Chitunhu Artist Sputnik Poet Intern
Tanya Chitunhu. Photo by Sputnik

Tanya Chitunhu (performance poet)

“The Everything conference was an interesting experience for me. Set in central London, it was an early start for us as we drove down. However it was worth it, if only to hear the smorgasboard of culture creators from artists to athletes, politicians to peace makers. It was a lot to take in but I was hugely inspired by them all as they seem to be at the top of their chosen fields. I was particularly encouraged by their honesty about how difficult it is to create culture.

“The main speaker, Andy Crouch, in one of his talks during the day said that the world requires that we are excellent. However, he went on to explain that excellence is not merely skill or achievement but ‘skill plus patience plus risk plus suffering’. Patience is required to create something that lasts beyond having an immediate impact. Risk is also necessary as there is no guarantee of success. Finally, suffering is a crucial part of creating culture, that is, to be willing to go to the pain and to be uncomfortable in the process. These things together usher in true transformation. I think what I took away the most from the conference was that as Christians we can partner with God to create culture that restores the image of God in the world. However, this will cost us and we must be willing to embrace both the joy and the pain in order to leave a lasting legacy.”

Benjamin Harris Artist Sputnik Patrons
Benjamin Harris. Photo by Murmuration Films

Benjamin Harris (fine artist)

“The Everything conference was a little bizarre for me: an intimate gathering in a medium sized church of no more than 200 believers, yet headlined by some heavyweight speakers, from Sputnik favourite Andy Crouch to Nims Obunge MBE DL, CEO of The Peace Alliance.

“There was so much content to muse on that I feel a little pre-emptive writing this reflection so soon. I think that what stood out to me most was how diverse the speakers were. Despite working in different sectors, the guests all had a unified vision of changing and cultivating culture for the better.

“It is most natural for me to speak of Hannah Rose Thomas, artist and peace activist. Thomas presented a recent collection of works in which she painted the portraits of persecuted Yazidi women. These stunning paintings utilise early Renaissance techniques in order to reference the Virgin Mary while depicting the plight of these Kurdish women.

“Thomas is creating compassionate and sincere work to a high quality. Her portraits have received positive press, including an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. I found it refreshing to see work which is, at the same time, considered, crafted and Christocentric.

“If the Everything conference achieved one thing it was to get me itching to create some new work. And also to don a cravat in the style of Nims Obunge.”

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Keir Shreeves sees the arts as a journey of Faith

Last week, we posted about Keir Shreeves’ excellent booklet ‘Art for Missions Sake’, a helpful introduction to some of the points of intersection between the arts and the church. Behind the booklet is not just the author though, but a husband and wife team, who are well experienced in these matters and we thought it would be great to catch up with both of them to pick their brains further. Today, we’re starting with Keir, and next week, we’ll let Jessamy have her say.

So, Keir, introduce yourself…

I’m on the clergy team at St Peter’s Brighton and pursuing doctoral studies in theology. I previously studied theology at St Mellitus College and King’s College London. I’m also Chair of Shift ( Before ordination, I qualified as an Industrial Designer and had a career in manufacturing management. I’m married to Jessamy, a painter, and together we have two young children.

The ‘Art For Missions Sake’ booklet is concise but packed with a great depth of understanding about the arts and their place within the church. What has your experience been of art and the church and the mysterious place where the two things meet (or perhaps don’t!)?

My background is Design and Dieter Rams is my favourite designer. I studied Industrial design being part of the last cohort to train at a little campus of Brunel University in Runnymede, Surrey, which closed in 2004 and which we all considered to be our own Bauhaus. After graduating I project managed the acquisition and relocation of a company that makes the London Underground signs, re-designing the manufacturing process. Whilst I was on the Senior Management Team of the company, God called me into full-time Christian ministry. After studying theology, being ordained and on the back of conversations with my wife Jessamy (who is a great thinker and practitioner of art in mission) I became fascinated about theological aesthetics. The booklet is one of the results. It’s a recapitulation of my Master’s dissertation. I’m grateful that I’ve always been in churches that haven’t been suspicious of the arts but I’ve also been aware of a general lack of theological confidence; it’s that, which I hope the booklet might spark in some small way.

What I really like about the booklet is that it contains both why and how the church should engage with the arts. If you could deal with the ‘why’ first: in short, why do you think this is such a big deal? 

The wonder of the arts is that they can take us beyond conventional or established patterns of reason, drawing with a subversive quality. When words might bounce off, image, music or drama can impact in a different way with evangelism coming as something of a surprise. However, the arts have been a neglected theme in the life and mission of the evangelical church because of its Protestant roots and its residual mistrust of art, especially the visual. William Dyrness, Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, warns: ‘It is possible that we might actually win the battle of words but lose the battle of images. And losing that battle could well cost us this generation.’  Thankfully, the evangelical church has increased its engagement with the arts over the last fifteen to twenty years and this booklet seeks to help support this by offering theological foundations, a consideration of the role of the artist in the church and the world, and examples of how the creative arts are faithfully contributing to Christian mission.

“whilst the arts are non-utilitarian, they are also a wonderful starting point for many in a journey of faith”

As regards the ‘how’ then. If you could outlaw one common practice in churches and enforce one new practice, both in a bid to improve the church’s engagement with the arts, what would they be and why?

I would outlaw treating the arts as purely decorative because whilst the arts are non-utilitarian, they are also a wonderful starting point for many in a journey of faith, something Hans Urs von Balthasar and Tom Wright affirm. One thing I would encourage is artists and church leadership teams working together to evoke wonder because in doing so we bear witness to the deep reality of something more.

How can we get our hands on ‘Art for Mission’s Sake’ and who is it specifically for?

You can purchase a print copy or digital copy for only £3.95 here.

It’s aimed at artists in the church and those in leadership positions in the church. Whilst, the booklet seeks to encourage artists by affirming their value, it also urges church leaders to support a fresh generation of artists in expressing passion, pain, hope and glory in both the church and the world.

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Book in to the 2017 Everything Conference

The Everything Conference 2017

The Everything Conference is a day of thought-provoking TED-style talks for Christians concerned with calling, culture, and ‘everything’ – taking its name from Psalm 24: “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”. Its aim is to break churches out of the confines of Christian culture, erase the secular/sacred divide and inspire Christians to serve God anywhere – in everything.

The 2012 Everything Conference was a massive encouragement and significant inspiration for us in the formation of Sputnik. We’re anticipating this year’s Conference will be equally inspiring again: keynote speaker Andy Crouch is already a firm Sputnik favourite; other speakers include an opera singer, a slam poet, and a rugby player.

Mostly, though, we’re looking forward to sharing a room with Christians who are passionate about affecting our culture with the hope of Jesus, and sparking new initiatives, projects and ideas off the back of it. Click here to book in to the conference – and come and say hello.

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But What Exactly Is Arts Patronage?

So, we’ve just started our patronage scheme, and hopefully we’ve filled you in on what it is and how it works. However, I recognise that it may be worth taking a further step back and delving a bit more into patronage itself.

We’d love to encourage the church to take up a significant role in art patronage again, and when we get a handle on what patronage is and why it is important, it should become clear that this is not just a call for the more creative part of the body of Christ to get our day in the sun. This has potentially huge ramifications for the whole church and for the world we’re called to be salt, light and yeast in.

What is patronage?

The arts have always been underpinned by a system of patronage. In short, this means that artists have traditionally not just received financial support through units sold, but certain individuals or organisations have taken it upon themselves to personally back artists, providing them with opportunities, encouragement and also financial support.

In the Middle Ages, artists were seen essentially as skilled labourers or tradespeople. Patronage then would often take the form of an artist being commissioned to produce a piece of work to certain specifications. So a rich 14th century noble man may have commissioned a portrait, a fresco or a sculpture in a similar way that today we might order a bespoke bed or a birthday cake for a special occasion.

Modern patronage

But times have changed. Since the Renaissance, the image of the artist has shifted dramatically. No longer simply craftspeople, artists have become seen as important thinkers and innovators within society. However, systems of patronage have continued.

Of course, things are now a little different. In modern times, a more diverse range of artists operate under this sort of system. Whereas painters and cathedral builders would have been the main beneficiaries of patronage in days gone by, now there are grants and subsidies for a far wider range of artists- from poets to DJs, fashion designers to documentary makers. Arts funding today is not just given to commission specific pieces of work either, but to develop the arts more organically, for example, helping young artists to develop their potential or developing programmes to help specific groups to express themselves creatively (eg people with disabilities).

The government is probably the major arts patron in the 21st century.

Another key difference (and I’m sure you’ve seen this one coming) is that the Christian church are no longer at the forefront of arts patronage.

The government is probably the major arts patron in the 21st century. In the UK, the Arts council intends to invest £1.1 billion of public money (plus £700 million of lottery money) between 2015 and 2018 ‘to help create art and culture experiences for everyone, everywhere’. However, the role of individual rich patrons is also important. Charles Saatchi was a key patron of the Young British Artists from the late 1980s, and was largely responsible for the rise to prominence of Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst et al. Going back a few years, Paul Durand-Ruel did a similar thing for the Impressionists. ‘Without him, we wouldn’t have survived’ was Monet’s verdict.

Why should the church patronise the arts again?

So, the arts still get patronised. Art still gets funded. What’s the problem? Is the church simply sour that it isn’t needed as it was in days gone by?

Actually there is more at stake here than prestige. Patrons directly affect the content and tone of the work that is produced from their support.

Historically, this has been taken to some reasonably silly extremes. For example, patrons in the Middle Ages often liked to be included in the paintings they commissioned. For example, in Jan van Eyck’s ‘The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele’, the titular canon is depicted kneeling on the right before the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.

However, it is easier to miss the more obvious way in which patrons affect the work they patronise. Take Van Eyck’s masterpiece above as a case in point. Canon Van Der Paele was a clergyman. The painting he commissioned as a memorial may have shoehorned himself rather anachronistically into the scene, but he is far from the main character! When the Christian church was the key art patrons on the scene in Europe, the paintings tended to be very heavily focused on biblical content and the tone of these works would have shown a deep respect for this content. I suppose it’s common sense that if you pay for artwork, the artwork will likely reflect your values.

To use a simple example, imagine I was to commission someone to paint my portrait. It’s unlikely (though admittedly not impossible) that my painter would go out of their way to accentuate the size of my nose, my receding hairline, or the bags prematurely congregating under my eyes. They shouldn’t ignore them, but it would be fair to expect that there would be a measure of generosity they would show me as the one who is footing the bill.

This may seem a little off to you. Some may accuse this kind of arrangement as stifling artistic freedom. However, it’s important to recognise that this situation cannot be avoided.

In our day and age, people often cherish the view that they are totally objective and biases and prejudices are things that other people have. This is especially likely to be the case for those who would have no religious or political commitments.

I remember when I was training to become an RE (Religious Education) teacher, and a friend of mine reacted dismissively, bemoaning the fact that I wouldn’t be able to give the students a balanced take on religion because of my own personal faith. I doubt that he would have made the same complaint if an agnostic (or probably even an atheist) friend had chosen such a career path – and this is where the blindpsot lies. Everyone has a set of values and philosophical commitments, whether they are a Christian, a Buddhist, an anarchist or a typical post modern agnostic. And these worldviews will affect how we live and how we interact with others, whether we acknowledge them or not.

This is true of every artist, and it is true of every patron of the arts. I think that for some, they look back in horror at how the church influenced the art it paid for years ago, as if poor old Michelangelo would have much preferred to have decorated the Sistine Chapel ceiling with obscene imagery, mythical creatures or even just a simple vase of marigolds, but was forced to tow the line by the man paying his bills. Now who knows what the great man would have done if the chapel had not been a chapel and Pope Julius II had not been a Pope. However, we can say with some certainty that if Michelangelo was around today, he wouldn’t be getting Lottery money for decorating the Bristol docks with pictures of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel either!

It is not only the artists of yesteryear who produced work that reflected the worldviews of their patrons. It is how it always works. In Britain nowadays, art is largely patronized by a government that operates upon secular humanist principles. And what kind of art is in the ascendancy? James Elkins professor of art history at the Chicago Institute of Art, put it quite bluntly in 2004, when he wrote:

“Contemporary art is as far from organised religion as Western art has ever been and that might be its most singular achievement.”

What a coincidence!

Now, I know that I am simplifying things hugely. There are plenty of other non-financial factors at work in this whole picture, but with that said, if you ever want to find out why people do things, ‘follow the money’ is never a bad place to start.

So what?

What do we learn from all this then?

Well, perhaps it shouldn’t have taken 1,500 words to come to this conclusion, but the main thing I glean from all of this is that if the church would like there to be more art that reflects the Christian worldview, then it’s probably going to have to pay for it.

Or let me put it another way. Think of the effect of Charles Saatchi’s patronage. Whatever you think of dissected sharks and unmade beds, through his financial support, he propelled an entire art movement into the public eye that otherwise would have fizzled out completely. Think of Paul Durand-Ruel. Without his patronage, we would never have heard of Monet, Degas or Renoir.

If the church would like there to be more art that reflects the Christian worldview, then it’s probably going to have to pay for it.

Patrons don’t just get to support artists. They can shape entire arts movements. And as we keep underlining on this blog – art shapes life.

Now, I know that very few readers of this blog would have the expendible income of Charles Saatchi, but the church would. The church would have it many times over. In fact, if every church in the UK gave £10,000 to the arts each year, we could match the Arts Council funding goals.

I know that sounds like a lot, but it would only mean about £200 per year per Christian.

Is that likely to happen any time soon? Not really, no. But we’ve been out of the game for quite some time and I’m very interested to see what happens if we get the ball rolling again.

Perhaps you can join us in doing just that.

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Broadcast From The Clubhouse

It’s February 2017 and my friend asks me if I want to go and see Hacksaw Ridge. I’m not sure. The film has been getting some rave reviews amongst my Christian friends – a friend-of-a-friend has claimed it’s one of the best films they’ve ever seen, but I can take a guess as to why.

I suspect a key reason for its popularity is that the protagonist might be a Christian. Which is to say, those who love Hacksaw Ridge are pretty certain he is, but when the topic is raised in a group there are usually others who aren’t so sure. These people are often less enthused about the film.

So I ask Google. Turns out that Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a medic who served in World War II and received the Medal of Honour, despite being a pacifist. His non-violent stance, manifested in a refusal to even carry a firearm, was inspired by his Seventh-day Adventist faith. Ah…

I look up Seventh Day Adventism on Wikipedia. They’re annihilationists. Is this a problem? As Desmond Doss watched the unsaved masses perish on the field of battle, he did not imagine that their souls would endure conscious, eternal torment in hell. Is that a deal breaker? Basically, I’m trying to establish whether Desmond Doss is a ‘real’ Christian. And this is very important. Because if he was, then the film is a triumph, validating the wonderful propensity of God to glorify Himself through the sanctification of His children, allowing them to live in a radically Christ-like manner. For the same reason, this movie should also be earmarked as a crucial tool for witnessing to non-believers. However, if Desmond Doss is not a ‘real’ Christian, this film is the story of a nice man, whose stirring and heroic actions nonetheless represent a futile attempt to buy his own salvation through good works. To elevate it any higher than that would be to suggest that Christ-like actions may genuinely arise from sources other than theologically-sound Christian beliefs, something tantamount to anti-evangelism.

For right or wrong, as Christians we tend to judge on the level of the individual, rather than the action. It’s a little silly to create theoretical scenarios based on the lives and actions of real individuals, but permit me this indulgence – if Desmond Doss was an atheist (or professed another religious belief) would Hacksaw Ridge have garnered the amount of acclaim that it did amongst the Christian circle. Given the significant numbers of American movie-goers who identify themselves as Christians, would it have grossed as much at the box office? And if not, is this justified?

Sometimes it’s tempting to view Christianity like a clubhouse. We love established figures who operate within the clubhouse (Tolkien, Lewis etc.). We also love it when established figures poke their heads into the clubhouse from outside. These are the people like Kanye West, when he asked Jesus to follow him around, or Chance the Rapper and his cheery prosperity gospel. Sure, they may curse occasionally and their theology may be a little ropey, but we’re a welcoming bunch and, more excitingly, we get to lay claim to these people who we previously had no idea were one of ours. That’s why it’s now cool to like Justin Bieber. It’s also the reason a large number of Christians suddenly developed a keen interest in boxing before the 2015 Pacquiao vs Mayweather fight. [Footnote 1]

What we’re less keen on, however, is people bridging the gap between ‘church’ and ‘world’ by poking their head out of the clubhouse. That’s why it’s disquieting to hear Sufjan Stevens [Footnote 2] sing about masturbating, or say the f-word, or to question the degree to which faith really provides any comfort in the wake of bereavement. After all, he should know better. Besides which, Sufjan is one of our hottest properties, and the last thing we need is him leaving the clubhouse to stretch his legs and never coming back.

Anyway, I digress. None of this is answering the question as to whether I should take up my friend’s offer to see Hacksaw Ridge. I return to Google to seek more answers, but am distracted by today’s Google Doodle. It’s in celebration of Abdul Sattar Edhi. I have no idea who he is and I silently chastise myself for my Western-centric knowledge of influential figures. Clicking through to his Wikipedia page, I discover that Edhi was a Pakistani philanthropist whose prolific humanitarian career involved the nationwide establishment of hospitals, homeless shelters and a highly-efficient volunteer ambulance service. ‘Now here’s an inspiring individual’ I think. ‘Given my ignorance, I wouldn’t mind seeing a biopic of this guy’. But my interest is short-lived – I scroll down further and discover that Edhi was ‘often critical of the clergy’ and ‘had never been a religious person’.

Ah well, nevermind. Not one of ours.

Footnote 1: In case you missed the result, God didn’t let the inferior sportsman win just by virtue of being an evangelical Christian.

Footnote 2: For the uninitiated, check out Sufjan’s album Seven Swans. A lovely collection of gospel-infused folk ballards, Seven Swans cemented Sufjan’s place in the tiny slither of the Venn Diagram where ‘traditional Christian beliefs’ and ‘hipster-approved’ overlap. Hipsters much prefer a more poignant, subtle narrative of someone struggling with and eventually losing their religious faith, because faith, although comforting, is ultimately childish and a bit silly.


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Pip Piper on Art, Faith & Church

Following on from last week’s introduction to Pip Piper, today we continue our interview with the Birmingham based film maker, focusing on art, faith and church and how the three can combine.

What lessons have you learnt about living out the duality of being a Christian and being an artist?

The simple answer is, there is no duality.

I am not a Christian filmmaker nor am I a secular one.

I am a filmmaker period. I am also a follower of Jesus and that creates a life defining, distinct and deep DNA in who I am and how that outworks in what I do and say and engage with. Those two dynamics are intertwined and co-existent. There may at times be inner conflict but that is more the reality of the spiritual walk in this world rather than defined by being a creative, it’s just a reality in my opinion!

In many ways I think artists and creatives have been misunderstood at best and largely ignored and even ostracized by the church, particularly the evangelical segment. The focus on the rational and mechanics of faith have over time in certain quarters pushed creativity away from the mainstream Christian experience.

You also see creative people who have faith being “boxed” and defined by having to create within the context of a narrow world view on what is relevant “Christian” art and that is very damaging.

I believe that at His core, God is super creative, dynamic and diverse. Simply look at the world around you. In this created diversity is a multiplex of paradoxes and dynamics at work that can make us struggle, question and even doubt but ultimately if we commit to the quest, it is beautiful and life giving.

Our creativity should be no less.

Your relationship with church has been interesting through the last few years. Can you talk us through the journey you’re on with the local church?

Well, like many I began to question the reality of just what is core to faith and what is a manufactured and a culture based interpretation.

This was borne out of hurt, which I think is often the case and at the time can be very destructive. Yet in many ways I am very grateful for it, how it has shaped me and also looking back aware of my culpability in the reality of just what was happening. As a passionate and dare-to-take-risks youth pastor I was probably a little difficult to manage!

One of the areas I was struggling with was the focus on the church as a “machine” which I often feel it ends up being rather than the upside down world changing kingdom Jesus was ushering in.

The “machine” consumes all around into its shape and making rather than releasing and empowering its “people” to be partakers of the revolution that is Jesus.

I guess in that questioning I ended up on the margins and at times way outside of the mainstream Church. At times it was a very lonely and painful place. To be honest having to fend for myself outside of regular church attendance meant I had to find ways to journey with my faith and in that I found some very positive ways to connect with God and have an honest and open journey with Him.

I certainly went on a journey! And it continues, but in many ways I have come to a place of peace and self-awareness of what matters most in my faith walk. My wife and I currently attend Oasis church in Birmingham. I still struggle, but in Oasis I have found a very honest and transparent space. A church full of people, all aware of their own struggles, and helping one another to find the most positive way forward.


Thanks again Pip. Next time, we’ll find out what Pip is up to at the moment and how we can get involved, but for now, check out the trailer for Blue Hippo Media’s ‘Last Shop Standing’, which Pip directed (and which you can purchase here)



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It’s Time To Knit Ourselves In Again!

The other day, I was perusing the comments on a facebook post that my good friend Ben Harris had posted.

A few comments in, one of Ben’s friends from his church had questioned the suitability of the piece of art that Ben had posted (something to do with Ben’s appropriation of some Eastern symbols in the work). Ben replied by linking his digital conversant to his excellent Sputnik article on pagan art and Christian art. There was a pause in the thread, and a few minutes later, Ben’s friend replied with continued wariness. There was some back and forth until the friend brought the online sparring to an end with the comment: ‘… as with much of art we must agree to disagree. love ya Ben’. Ben reciprocated the love. There were xs. There were smiley emoticons. It was beautiful (if I’m still allowed to use that word 😉 )

I’ll be honest, I thought this was one of the best things I’ve seen on the interweb for a while. To see people having a cogent, polite and meaningful discussion on social media that ends in disagreement but open displays of respect is so rare. What improved it further though was talking to Ben a few days later. Conversation veered on to church and some of the misunderstandings that can arise in a church towards those of a more artistic persuasion. Ben, unaware of my aforementioned stalking, mentioned this post as an example, but there was no sense of frustration or annoyance or even righteous indignation. He loves his church and is deeply committed to it, while recognising not only that people won’t necessarily have the same perspective on things that he does, but that they may not really understand his artistic calling at all. His intention was to pull more closely into the community and serve, rather than to pull back because of these differences.

It reminded me of a passage in Colossians that I have recently been meditating on. In the church in Colosse, there were a bunch of false teachers who Paul wasn’t very keen on, and in Colossians 2:19, he reveals their main flaw. They were…

‘not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.’

Obviously, Paul is expressing here his view that Christian growth comes from close connection to Jesus (the Head), but if you look closer, you can see that there is another element here. For the nourishment of Jesus to come to members of the body they need to be ‘knit together’. Growth comes from Jesus, channeled through close relationships within the local Christian community: the church. Actually, he uses the same expression in 2:2, making it clear these close connections are not just being members of the same club or sitting next to each other each Sunday morning, but his desire was for the members of the Colosse church to be ‘knit together in love’.

As artists, such verses can be quite painful to many of us. For many of us, we have tried knitting ourselves together with others in a local church, and we’ve found that it caused us hurt. People didn’t get us. We felt devalued and neglected. Sometimes even leaders have led us in directions our consciences wouldn’t allow us to go in. And so we’ve unpicked the stitching and unknitted ourselves from our churches. It is no secret that Christian artists are one of the groups of people who are most known for moving away from local church communities. Some start their own creative communities, others simply try to live out their faith, loosely connected to other friends, who may or may not follow Jesus.

I completely get it. I’ve avoided unknitting myself in the past, but not for very noble reasons. I was so arrogant when I was in my late teens and early 20s that I didn’t respect anyone else’s opinion in the church, so when I concluded that they looked down on me and thought I was a weirdo, I simply secretly despised them and didn’t let their view of me affect me. My attitude was terrible and I’m now very sorry for it, but it meant that it gave me something of a forcefield against rejection and I persevered with church in my own, partly oblivious, but mostly extremely conceited way. For those who have a bit of a better attitude than I did and truly value their church community and respect the people in it, such rejection can hit very hard and is difficult to bear. However, there is a cost from clocking out of church. Our connection to the Head will most likely be hindered. We will end up undernourished and our spiritual growth will be stunted.

Perhaps Ben Harris offers a third way. I know that this will embarrass him hugely, but as far as I can see, Ben is confident in who he is, both as an artist and as a child of God, and he is, at the same time, pushing forward in his artistic practice (seriously, this man is a machine!) and knitting himself tighter and tighter into his church community.

I think his example is really helpful for all of us. I’d appeal to every artist to resist the pull to unknit yourself from your church. If that bird has already flown, I’d encourage you to think about whether it’s time to fly it back! One of our explicit aims as an arts network is to facilitate relationships with other Christian artists of a like mind, to make sure you are connected to people who are like you, who understand you, who will value your creative self and hopefully help you to improve in your artistic practice. Sputnik is here to link you to people who ‘get you’. Is this then to replace church or to lead you away from your church? Quite the opposite! The plan is that, through connection with the other Sputnik artists, you will no longer need your friends at church to do the same. Even the leaders.

I’m spending more and more of my time communicating with church leaders and Christians who aren’t artists to try to help them to stop doing things that make our lives unnecessarily difficult, and, in the Catalyst churches most of our work is focused in, there is a real desire to learn and serve artists better. However, we’ve got to all settle on the reality that, if you are an artist, the majority of people in your church will never understand you as you may want them to. They will always glaze over when you talk excitedly about your new project. They will continue to be tempted to look at you with suspicion, like you’re up to something dodgy, just because you want to be excellent at what you do.

However, with all this said, unless you deliberately and proactively knit yourselves in with these people, there is very likely to be a disconnect with Jesus himself. This is a terrible price to pay and we’ve been paying it for too long!

My appeal would be to knit ourselves in again to our churches. With people who may well disagree with us, but who love us and ultimately will help us know Jesus better.


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Sputnik’s Long-Term Approach to Christianity and the Arts

About a year ago, I put aside a day to pray. I don’t know how you do it, but for me, if something is particularly on my mind, I like to skip food and pray for a day (the skipping food bit frees up a good amount of time to do the praying bit). On this occasion, the focus of my praying was Sputnik, and more particularly for God to steer back this nation towards his wisdom and how artists could play their part in that.

As often happens on these sort of days, as I talked to God I got an impression that God was talking back. I felt God speak to me about what Sputnik was called to do with a bit more definition than I’d had before. That definition involved the two areas God is calling us to work in, or to put it another way the two landscapes He is calling us to help change: one being the church, the other being the wider society.

A Change in the Landscape(s)

A change of landscape in the church would involve the church generally having a more welcoming and encouraging attitude towards artists, such that churches become known as communities within which artists become better at their art, not worse. (Just to underline, yes, I am saying that at the moment, generally, for most artists, commitment to church, as commitment is presently defined, leads Christian artists’ output to deteriorate regarding quality and importance. Just putting it out there!)

A change of landscape in the world would involve Christian artists operating with a higher profile and more influence in the wider culture, to such a level that when you put together the words ‘Christian’ and ‘art’, there would be a general expectation of quality and excellence, not poorly executed kitsch (Just to underline, yes, I am saying… etc, etc).

A long term outlook

As I prayed I felt a confidence rising that God wanted to do these things and we had a part to play in that. I also felt him encourage me to take a long term perspective in looking to see that happen. I’m not prepared to die for this particular date, but I felt him tell me to not expect that any significant landscape rearrangement until 2050. However, alongside that I also felt him encourage me that while it’s going to take some time to see substantial progress either in the church or in the world at large in this regard, I should expect to look out for noticeable small, but positive changes in each area each year up to that point. This may be slight- more of a shifting of contours, than a wholesale rearrangement of the horizon- but it would be noticeable without having to look too hard.

I know this all sounds very grand, but in reality, while I felt these things reasonably strongly at the time, I’d forgotten about all of this completely until the other day when I started reflecting on 2016. The reason being that one year in, things are very much following the pattern just laid out. Progress is slow, and to most, things would look very much the same both in the church and in the world, but I can look back at a year of subtle, but very interesting changes and feel encouraged as we push onwards to something much more significant.

A year of small encouragements

In the bit of the church we’re involved with- Catalyst churches- there has been a growing sense of favour towards the arts as the year has worn on. Alan Scott’s messages at the Catalyst festival helped in this regard, and wherever I go in church-ville there seems to be a sense that ‘the arts’ are generally seen as an area that is important. It is true that most people don’t seem to have any idea why, and for some, I fear that it’s a bit of a case of chasing after the next fad, but it certainly opens a door to what we’re doing and gives us an opportunity to start chipping away at the landscape and genuinely changing the church’s approach to the arts and to artists. This is most noticeable in the fact that I’ve started to get speaking requests to talk to churches and groups of churches about this sort of thing. That definitely wasn’t happening at the beginning of the year.

In terms of the world, culturally it’s been a very interesting year regarding Christianity and the arts. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know I’ve developed something of a man crush on Scott Derrickson! The fact that a Christian was able to take the helm of the potentially least Christian film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and do something even slightly interesting with it (Dr Strange was no Brothers Karamazov, but I’d argue that it had some points of genuine and helpful theological reflection amidst the upside down fighting) is important as far as I can see. Switching attention to popular music,  Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book mixtape was utterly baffling, probably in a good way (yeah, yeah, I know, rap’s my thing. But this was one of the most critically acclaimed music releases of the year of any genre). It is almost a straight up gospel rap album, but clearly by someone who is not a Christian, at least in the way many of us would understand that label (best exemplified by the moment 2/3 of the way through when “I’ve been drinking all night, I’ve been drinking all night, hey!’ moves seamlessly into a cover of Chris Tomlin’s ‘How Great is Our God’!!!!) Finally, throw into the mix Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ which hit multiplexes a couple of weeks ago (and which will probably get much more treatment here in the future. All I need to say now is- you must see this film!)

I know that culture on the whole seems to be drifting in a direction that is deeply disturbing for those who love Jesus and value his views on human flourishing, but there are subtle shifts in the arts world that can be noticed that I take as pretty encouraging.

Being completely honest, there have been a number of ‘is this really worth the hassle?’ moments this year, but I think those will be much fewer and farther between if I remember to keep a long term perspective as God seems to have encouraged me to do, and to look out for the small but encouraging shifts within the church and the wider culture.

I’d love it if a load of you guys will join me patiently applying ourselves to what God has called us to do, showing patience with other Christians who have different callings to us, and not giving up hope for our lemming society. The arts aren’t the most important thing in the whole world and artists aren’t the most important limb of the church body, but I’m increasingly convinced that God has an important role for this particular body part in the good things he has ultimately in store for the human race.

In the words of Paul, ‘God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it.’ (1 Corinthians 12:24). I think that God is doing just that with artists at the moment, and while I imagine there’ll be some of you reading this who still feel that lack very keenly, let’s dig in for a change.

Who’s with me til 2050?

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How Should The Church Patronise Art? A Thought Experiment.

Let’s imagine together an undesirable, unhealthy but intriguing situation.

Let’s imagine that Christians temporarily stopped paying artists to make art for the church and ploughed all this money into artists who are making art for those outside the church. I’m not suggesting this money would go to any old Christian artist making art outside the church (many would be getting paid for this already in their jobs). I’m imagining the church diverting funds from resourcing artists who are making art that blesses Christians in order to patronise (providing patronage, not condescending) artists who are creating provocative, engaging, high quality art that is likely to stimulate conversations about faith and warm people towards Jesus.

Okay, parentheses and convoluted sentences out of the way- do you get the thought experiment?

Well, assuming that you do, the first thing to say is that there would be a pretty healthy stash of cash freed up by this. I have heard several artists recently calling for the church to re-establish itself as a patron of the arts as it did in bygone years, but I actually think that the church is still taking on this role today, investing healthy amounts of resources into creative projects and practitioners. It is just that it is only patronising Christian artists who are making art within the church community.

This came home to me recently when a friend of mine went to check out one of the largest Christian worship organisations in the UK. It puts on training opportunities for people who’d like to develop as worship leaders specifically- training days, courses, internships, that sort of thing. He asked the guy who was running it how they helped musicians who wanted to make music for people outside the church and he simply replied that they didn’t cater for them at all. Now, in a sense this was always going to be beyond the scope of the organisation in question which is focused on developing the worship life of local churches (a thoroughly decent aim of course). However, the problem is that there are loads of organisations like this, but very few (as far as I’m aware) seeking to help Christian musicians like my friend who wants to engage with people outside the church.

So, in my crazy thought experiment, let’s imagine all of these musical, worshipful organisations are suspended for a period of time. So, all full time worship pastors are given a hiatus and all the money that churches give to improving the quality of their gathered times of sung worship (smoke machines, lighting rigs, etc) is put on hold. While we’re at it, let’s suspend activity in the whole contemporary Christian music scene as well. Rappers who rap theology. Rock bands who aren’t quite as angry as their secular contemporaries. Dance groups who replace references to illegal stimulants with references to Jesus. All given a break for a few years. (I know it’s a stupid suggestion, but bear with me).

But why stop there as I’m building up a bit of a head of steam! What about the performance arts? Well, this may not be such a significant pot of gold, but there are a good number of Christian dramatic companies who put on plays largely for churches. Let’s free up a few quid there. And writers? I suppose that fiction writers would be the ones to get the chop. There are a few Christian publishing houses you could asset strip, so let’s throw them in too.

As regards the visual arts, we’re not going to save a lot of money from the professional fees of banner designers, flag makers and church hall interior designers, but there may be some cuts we could make to communications budgets. Graphic designers and video makers who make sure that our internal comms are up to date and eye catching could be replaced by amateurs who’ve watched a couple of youtube videos on Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. Again, this would add to the general pot.

Okay, as I’ve been at pains to emphasise, I’m not saying that this should happen, I’m just asking you to imagine if it did. Well, what would happen? As I’ve noted, lots of money would be saved. Harry Enfield quantities of money in fact. The church does have a budget for the creative arts when it comes to creativity towards Christians. But obviously there would be a cost to this madness.

Here’s the question though: what would that cost be? What would be the negative impact of these draconian measures? Would Christianity crumble in the western world? Would our churches fall into apostasy, heresy and idolatry?

Or would Christians simply be less entertained?

Would we have to put up with a few slightly older songs in our worship times for a while?

Would people just have to do a bit more work to find things out about what is going on in the church programme?

Thank you for indulging me for this long everyone. Much appreciated. I’ll leave you to think that imaginary one through in more detail as it is not impossible that I’ve missed a couple of things. However, as you’ve made it this far, I’ll just throw one more crazy, awful, distressing, imaginary world at you.

What if, on the other hand we took all of our resources away from those artists who are both highly skilled and wanting to create work to subtly and authentically turn our society back to Jesus and reach into people’s hearts and minds to soften them to the Christian worldview? Imagine we cut them completely. What if we refused to give any resources to such artists and just left them to make culture shaping art in their spare time, off their own backs, paying for it all from their own pockets?

Just imagine!

We’d risk removing a compelling Christian voice completely from the heart of our culture.

We’d risk only ever being able to reach out to people who are already on the verge of faith, because most people would have no credible Christian voices speaking into their lives from their music collection, from their gallery visits, from their Netflix viewing list.

We’d risk our worldview (and in turn, Jesus himself) being discredited as being lifeless, dull and impotent as we’d be unable to produce more than a handful of people who can create art that expresses spiritual vitality, depth of thought and an honest appraisal of our human condition.

Seriously, just imagine…

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Alan Scott and Swimming Against The Whirlpool

So, to finish these Catalyst Festival reflections, let’s turn our attention centre stage- well, to the main stage anyway.

The single most encouraging thing for me at the festival this year was Alan Scott’s message on the Tuesday morning (although perhaps just Alan Scott in general!) Alan is the lead pastor of Causeway Coast, a Vineyard church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. I heard him speak at a leaders’ event a couple of months earlier and felt very encouraged. This was partly because he bigged up the arts and artists in a way that seemed like he knew what he was on about, but even more than that, he managed to hold on to two extremes that seem to polarise many modern Christians. He (like Errol Brown) believes in miracles and was passionate in encouraging us to do these supernatural, crazy sort of things today.  At the same time, he also believes that the church should serve our communities and engage meaningfully with our culture, and to that end look to encourage, empower, equip and propel outwards teachers, doctors, businesspeople, artists and anyone else who has the potential to leave a church building! (Evidence relating to Errol Brown’s position on the mandate for Christians to culturally engage is sparse, but he seemed like a sensible fellow, so I’m sure he would have concurred on this point too!)

He continued in this vein at the festival and articulated a very clear challenge to our family of churches to take these things seriously, emphasising the second side most provocatively.

It’s not like this is new to us. I remember Dave Stroud bringing a similar challenge at the first festival, Andrew Wilson prodding us in this area in 2015 and Dave Devenish is always banging on about this kind of thing. However, it’s not an easy one. Church seems to have its own sense of inward pull, drawing everything into the church meeting and programme like a whirlpool. Unless we vigorously fight against this, whatever our theology or missionary convictions, we continually end up prioritising full time Christian ministry over other jobs, seeing church as defined by a series of meetings and valuing people disproportionately regarding their contributions to those meetings.

I personally felt that while what Alan Scott brought wasn’t novel or original he articulated it in a way that really hit home and seemed to incite faith in peeps (always a bonus.)

My hope then is that as we take a break from the Catalyst Festival (we’re giving 2017 a miss) our churches can reflect on all that God has taught us in the last 4 years and practically wrestle with how to put this into practice. When the festival returns in 2018, I’d love to see our family of churches learning how to swim against the whirlpool even more effectively and increasingly making a difference to the people who need it most (who, just to clarify, are not in our churches).

I’m so pleased that over the last 4 years, we’ve started to model something in the arts that embodies this outward motion, and it’s been a great privilege being involved in the first chapter of Catalyst Festival (and indeed Catalyst full stop). If you’re an artist in a Catalyst church, you’ve got a huge part to play in chapter 2, so I hope you feel encouraged too.

So, to finish, here is Alan’s talk from the Tuesday morning. Well worth an hour of your time methinks. (Ignore the slightly maniacal video still, even the first minute or two will convince that Alan is not a crazed criminal mastermind as his picture below might suggest).

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Interview with Colin Veysey of The Wick Trimmers

One of the most instructive moments for me at this year’s Catalyst Festival was when, during our live music afternoon, we segued from Prestwood based folk band, The Wick Trimmers, to Birmingham rapper, Mantis.

In many ways the two sets couldn’t have been more different: from Tin Whistle refrains to grubby Wu Tang beats, from jaunty acoustic guitar to a direct and confrontational verbal assault. But if you listened carefully, it was hard to miss the fact that the two acts, while sonically poles apart, were almost identical in their goals and intention. They were both artists drawing on deep musical traditions to engage with their local audience- one speaking into a rural village setting, the other into the inner cities.

As a city dweller for two decades, I often allow my environment to dictate my view of what art is engaging and relevant, but as I watched ‘The Wick Trimmers’ perform, I realised again that to do so is a serious mistake. To that end then, I decided to catch up with The Wick Trimmers’ Colin to pick his brains about what he’s up to in Prestwood and learn from how he, and his church, connects with his community through the arts.

Hi Colin, can you introduce yourself…

I live in Prestwood, Bucks and planted a church 20 years ago after a  fascinating three years at London Bible College. Before that I spent many years as a clinical chemist running a pathology lab in the NHS, whilst helping to lead a Baptist church. In terms of artistic influences I suppose my little old violin teacher at age 6 – Miss Dowding, and an history teacher who submitted my first (atrocious) song to some competition, and a protein specialist from The Westminster Hospital who taught science as an art. Oh and Mendelssohn, and The Barley Mow folk club on Burton, and The Beatles.

I really enjoyed your performance at the Catalyst Festival- you and Philippa did a great job. I know that you both normally play with a larger band, The Wick Trimmers- could you tell us about the band and how they came about?

We are now a six piece folk band. Gerard plays accordions, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, his wife Pauline plays the bodhran, Ken on fiddle, Philippa plays flute, whistle and fife, I play guitar and mandolin and John plays bass. The band originates from the Lighthouse Christian Children’s holiday club which began in 1988 and we played as a Barn Dance band for many years. When the King’s Church Prestwood was planted the majority of the band were part of the plant and were the basis for the worship team for the church. That was 1996, and my ministry in worship, song writing and role in outreach led to the band growing in the local area and developing a good reputation for dances and entertainment. As a church we developed song writing in worship, in other musical genres and developed younger musicians too. It was probably after playing as a support for Wendy Craig on one occasion that we began to develop a concert repertoire, writing songs and dance music in the folk tradition.

How have you continued to use your musical skills to serve your local community?

Well, again, it’s not monochromatic, there was the creative process, of writing, arranging, rehearsing, learning as well as the invitations to go and enable communities to celebrate in music and dance. Realising that dancing together is a counter-cultural statement – yet with profound theological and spiritual meaning is quite a revelation to many folk – God’s intrinsic being dances together in a multicoloured dynamic of rhythm, melody and perfect harmony. Then, we realized that whilst we were helping build community and church in other places – we were not finding it easy to make relationships and start conversations within the community where God had placed us. So we set up a monthly folk club in our own village in 2011, with The Wick Trimmers as the resident band. We have a faithful following of around 80-100 meeting either in the local pub, or the local micro-brewery, and encourage other local musicians too and play and sing about places and happenings in our locality. One great thing is that around 10-15 of my neighbours come along regularly.

In what other ways does your church seek to serve Prestwood through the arts?

In terms of the arts we found that some of us were playing regularly in elderly care homes and for residents with acute dementia – playing songs, hymns and storytelling God’s word. We developed a community choir with village people singing worship and positive songs, now the choir includes members from 5 local churches and others with no church connections. One particular work, a song cycle, written here is a celebration of what scripture says about heaven – the choir will be performing the premiere of this, called  ‘A day is coming’ in one of the local Anglican churches in October.

Another part of our serving the community is to transform culture – to change the direction of people’s thinking. Anyone who’s read the Bible knows that isn’t a quick fix, and when we were challenged by God that people in the area didn’t know what was going on around them we got involved in the setting up of a social enterprise newspaper, The Source. We only print good news (gospel!) about people. Art, education, clubs, charities, etc. 5 editions a year, 6000 copies free to every home – and we set the values, do the editing, get local people to write, proof read, photograph, and celebrate the good stuff that’s around. We have a team of around 100 – probably half with no church connections and the people of the area love the paper and read it cover to cover.

 Audience and context are vitally important in art, and you are clearly making art specifically into a smaller rural environment. What do you think are the specific challenges and opportunities that Christian artists face in a village that may be different from those encountered in a town or city?

The population of villages is much more static and stable than in urban or city settings, and there is a huge gap in the age profile. Young people cannot afford to continue to live in the rural setting once they leave home. This has a massive effect on the amount of energy that is available to the arts. This has the tendency to make art drift into entertainment, pleasing aesthetics and hobby rather than developing challenge, cutting edge and beauty in depth. What’s more, the stability of the population tends towards a suspicion of the new, a rejection of anything unless it’s exceptional and a tendency to intellectualise art – not helpful. Add to this the lack of resources for art, the lack of stimulating iron sharpens iron communitas (see Alan Hirsch) and the lack of venues that are appropriate or big enough…. ‘nough said.

There are very few Christian artists in Catalyst churches at the heart of their local arts scenes, but you guys seem to be among them. What advice would you give other Christian artists seeking to serve their communities in villages, towns or cities?

First of all keep talking to all the people in the church, and particularly the leaders… keep talking… ask questions… encourage them… meet with them, eat with them. They may not understand you, but you and your art can be immensely valuable in building the Kingdom of God. You may not understand the church and its worship and its ways, but by being gracious and keeping on offering your creativity in worship, a generation of love and grace will emerge. Second, stay close to God and filled with the Spirit, listen to the prophets for inspiration (not instruction) – and look around for the ‘man of peace’… ok what do I mean – there are people who create structures that bless people, individuals who simply gather others and promote harmony in a community. Get alongside them as friends, and look for the least likely audience – God loves to surprise even us!


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Artists Are Awesome!

I’m in reflective mood, and this year’s Catalyst Festival is the immediate object of said reflection.

Before I get into the chin stroking, philosophical observations, let’s start with something that is of utmost importance. It struck me at this year’s festival and it’s been striking me with increasing regularity since starting doing Sputnik. Artists are awesome.

Before I shed light on your collective awesomeness, a few definitions. I do feel free to use the term ‘artists’ in a fairly blanket and stereotypical manner. I usually shy away from the term ‘creatives’ as I don’t think it conveys the level of craftsmanship necessary to make work of real value (anyone could technically be described as a creative, but to be an artist, you have to put in the hours, years and decades- my next post may explore this a bit more). Having said that, I think what I mean here is what most people mean when they talk about ‘creatives’. You can define this group not just by their artistic output, but by what makes them tick.

I’ve found two things that artists/creatives most typically have in common. They almost all seem to take Euripides’ approach to dogma and tradition (‘Question Everything!’) They also seem to be massive geeks! Just to clarify, I don’t mean geek in a perjorative sense, akin to nerd or boffin (although I would take all three of these terms as compliments if you chose to apply them to me!) I mean by this that they have an almost fanatical interest in things that many people, especially Christians, consider to be totally irrelevant. At the second Catalyst Festival, I remember exposing Joel Wilson as a massive geek in the q and a, following the showing of his film ‘The Quickener’. This was noted in a conversation afterwards by another colossal geek, Huw Evans, whose omnivorous geekiness takes in anything he wants to write about, but usually comes back to 17th century English author Thomas Browne! This year, I was reminded of this again by filmmaker Pip Piper, whose love for two wheeled transportation methods and independent record shops shine through his back catalogue of documentaries.

A possible third observation is that the artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with often don’t like neat boxes and categories, but I won’t dwell on this too much, as I’m presently defining a neat box to put them all in and don’t want to own up to the trouble I’m probably getting myself in already!

If I am not just wildly stereotyping here I think it should become more comprehensible why artists and church haven’t always got on. Our churches (I’m still speaking from Newfrontiers-land) tend to have a reasonably thought through approach to leadership (apostles- tick, elders- tick, democracy-cross, deacons- question mark) and while again this is a strength, strong, godly leadership and  the ‘my way or the highway’ approach can  look, at first glance, quite similar. Artists would be reasonably adept at telling the difference though and for the rest of us, we can tell them apart by surveying the number of practising artists left in their churches!

Perhaps the second observation is even more telling. Everyone who has read any Christian paperbacks in the last twenty years will be able to roll their eyes and gnash their teeth at the secular-sacred divide that we’ve now all exposed and risen above. However, as with most things like this, it’s easier to shake your head at this aspect of Christian culture than actually address it. Most Christians I speak to recognise that secular employment is a valid option and may even be a spiritual call. However, it’s still assumed that when it comes to our deep interests and passions, they must be contained within the Christian culture bubble or there is probably something untoward going on. Therefore, if I catch 3 different legs of The Rend Collective tour and get a t-shirt at each show, that’s basically a pass to miss Life Group for a couple of weeks. However, if someone asks why I’m not at church one morning, and it turns out that I’m at Download, Glastonbury or the local folk festival- I’d better be going with a ‘non-Christian friend’ or else eyebrows will be elevated! But it’s not just our artistic interests that this affects- in churches, I think it is fair to say, people who are really interested in aspects of our world that are not overtly ‘Christian’ and put considerable time into those interests are viewed as a bit odd. Especially if they’re young. Older people can do their bird watching, stamp collecting and book binding, but for the young and energetic in the prime of their lives, why waste your time studying classical civilisations, ancient mythologies or etymology? (I’m so glad that Tolkien was a Catholic!)

Or for that matter, bicycles, independent record shops, Thomas Browne, 1990s East Coast hip hop, etc, etc.

Oops. I seem to have drifted into chin stroking, philosophical reflections after all. So back to my original (simple and non controversial) point- while these artistic foibles have often hindered church/artist relations, as far as I’m concerned, it’s made my last 4 years an absolute delight.

Hanging out with you lot is one of my favourite things to do. I feel reluctant to name names as I’ll miss people out, but I want to make this specific so please forgive me if I haven’t spent enough time with you to feature in the following fond reminiscences. What could be more fun than spending time with Josh Whitehouse watching videos of cars driving round European cities and discussing My Little Pony? Conspiracy theories with Mantis? Fonts with George Aytoun? Bees (Huw Evans)? Middle aged women in cinema (Joel Wilson)? How could time be better spent than laughing and laughing (and then laughing at the fact that we’re laughing) with Jane Rosier? Or trying to invent new genres of music with Jo Cogle, Leanne Salt, Andy Gordon, Rod Masih and Collin Wallace? There’s an indescribable energy that’s released when Rob Cox starts waxing lyrical about painters he loves and who he assumes that I’ve heard of! If I wasn’t involved in Sputnik, how could I have spent a whole evening with Benjamin Harris reciting spurious and largely unattested ‘facts’ from one of the worst, but coolest looking old Christian books that’s ever been published (superbly entitled ‘Biblical things not generally known’)? And my life would be so much poorer if I’d never had to politely interrupt a particularly animated Kim Seymour in full flow, to suggest that stealing a statue from a Catholic church to exhibit at our first festival would not go down well with the Catalyst leaders (or the police). And I don’t know whether it was more enjoyable that she promoted her artists’ talk at the second festival by pretending to deal drugs to festival go-ers or that Adrian Hurst actually gave his explicit permission that she could do it! Seriously guys. I thought that ‘the ministry’ was supposed to be a sacrifice. Aren’t I risking losing treasures in heaven here!

Joking aside, you guys are an absolute pleasure to know.

There’s a million reasons why artists should be welcomed into our churches with arms wide open. Some may even refer to actual teachings of the BIble. One that is often overlooked though, is that you guys are awesome.

Thank you for your awesomeness.

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A Bit Of Context…

Sputnik began about 5 years ago as a local church based arts ministry at Churchcentral in Birmingham.

After 7 years working as a secondary school teacher, my friend and church leader, Jonathan Bell, approached me about working full time for the church. A quarter of the job role involved a very open ended brief, exploring something to do with the arts and artists in the church. It was an intriguing offer and my wife and I responded by kicking off Sputnik to support some of the artists in the church.

It was the Catalyst Festival that began to widen our scope though. Catalyst is a network of about 70 churches in the Newfrontiers church family (probably what Ezekiel had in mind  with all that wheels within wheels stuff) Our first annual gathering was in 2013 and Sputnik was asked to do the arts stuff. As we began to cobble some plans together, it became clear what our main challenge was going to be- how would we actually find the artists in churches? There were lots of people who liked to paint or draw or play covers of worship songs, but we found out pretty quickly that artists who were pursuing their work outside of the church context with a level of seriousness and a respect for their craft were a group that few had ever really taken very seriously in our churches and therefore nobody knew who they were. So I spent about 4 months simply trying to unearth enough visual artists and musicians who were making art outside of church to produce a half decent gallery and CD.

One of the most telling moments in this whole process was a conversation with one particular church leader. ‘Any artists in your church? I enquired. My friend responded with a few names, all of whose creative efforts were being plumbed very squarely into the Christian community. Then, just as the conversation was tailing off, Columbo-esque, he added enigmatically that there was one other person, but no, she probably wasn’t really what we were looking for. My curiosity piqued, I thought it was worth hearing more. It turned out that the person in question was a conceptual artist who’d just got back from America, where a secular gallery had just shipped her over to display one of her projects! To my friend’s (and apparently a large proportion of evangelical church leaders in Britain’s) surprise, this was exactly the type of person we were looking for.

I love being part of the Newfrontiers church family. I’ve been in a Newfrontiers church all of my life and I love the emphases on the Bible, grace, church, the work of the Holy Spirit and all that good stuff. However, it became very clear during my somewhat ponderous attempts to showcase some artists at the first Catalyst Festival, that our movement has not done particularly well with this specific demographic. It appeared that all of the serious artists had either left our churches or were so undercover that nobody knew their dirty secret. (Poets are especially covert in this regard and at the first festival almost all of the poets who came out of the closet did so with furtive glances and whispers).

This may sound like a criticism, but I mean it more as an observation. I’m very pleased that our churches are led and overseen by people who put the first things first. In my opinion, the Newfrontiers foundations have been laid very carefully and faithfully upon things that are probably on close examination a little more important even than the arts. I’m glad that we don’t take a particularly creative approach to theology for example! However, I guess foundations are there to be built upon and since the debut festival, we’ve taken great glee in exploring how we can try to do this a bit better. We’ve been given more than enough rope to hang ourselves many times over by the guys who lead Catalyst as well and that has been a real privilege (the permission that is, not the possibility of self-annihilation).

Now, having just finished our 4th festival, and with a year off festival duties (the next Catalyst Festival is in 2018), I thought it was time for a bit of a review of where we were up to. Therefore, for the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting about this year’s festival. There’ll be some posts about pieces from the gallery, but I’m also going to be taking this opportunity to summarise some of the key lessons we’ve learnt from the last 4 festivals and all the much more important stuff in between.

Hopefully this will be more than an exercise in navel gazing. I hope it encourages all you creators out there and I’d love to hear your feedback and get you involved in the next chapter. Mainly though I wonder if this is for Christians, whether artists or not, who would like to start something similar in their churches, church streams or Bible weekends.

So come back later in the week and we’ll get the ball rolling…


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Sputnik Zone at Catalyst Festival, 2016

Catalyst Festival is now just days away, and the SputnikZone is ready to rock. We’re really excited about running the artistic side of things once again this year and I thought I’d let you in on the grand plan. For those who are coming, it’ll help you plan your programme, for those who have decided not to come, it may sway you to book a day ticket or two, and for those who simply can’t make it, I’m afraid, I’m just writing to rub your noses in it. So, what’s the plan?


This year, there will be, not one but two, art exhibitions. In the main foyer, we’ll be putting on our madebymotive exhibition. Last year, our friends at Creative Arts Network, initiated an open submission project focusing on the motives that lie behind creative work. We’ve taken some of the work from this and thrown some other artists into the pot to showcase a fantastic collection of fine art painting, photography, music, film, sculpture and poetry. And through all of it, the artists exhibiting will be explaining why it is they do what they do.

There’ll be some Sputnik regulars, but we’re delighted to include work by new friends such as:


Luke Tonge


Jon Doran

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Ruth Naylor


Stewart Garry

As if this wasn’t enough, Catalyst Festival is putting on Rob Cox’s ‘A Walk Through Isaiah’ too. Over many years, Rob has created a print for every one of Isaiah’s 66 chapters, and for the first time ever, the whole collection is being exhibited. Rob is a personal inspiration and I’m delighted that his work will be exposed to such a great audience. He will be something of a resident artist throughout the festival, and I’m hoping that his sense of craftsmanship, passion for his artform and carefully thought through synthesis of faith and practice will set a precedent for all of the artists in Catalyst’s family of churches.

Live Performances


The live performances kick off from the get go. Go and visit the main hall on Saturday afternoon and you’re likely to hear Brum’s finest folk quintet, Midsummer.

CATALYST DAY 1 aft-eve-115

On Sunday afternoon, Dieks Anthony will be hosting an afternoon of spoken word and performance poetry. It’s brilliant to see so many poets coming out of the woodwork for this year’s session and you can expect performances from Tajhame Franics Bill Gordon, Jess Wood, Dieks himself and many more.

Monday afternoon switches to live music. We’ve got a cracking line up, featuring:


Benjamin Blower, showcasing his new album ‘Welcome the Stranger’,


Pythagoras the Praying Mantis’ gritty boom bap hip hop,


and the heartfelt and powerful sound of Joanna Karselis

and that’s just scratching the surface.

As well as focusing on motive this year, we wanted to highlight something of the process behind the work too. Therefore, Rob Cox and Chaz Friend are going to be creating live throughout the festival. Rob will be painting and Chaz creating a large willow sculpture in the main festival square (if the weather holds out). You can go and watch them at work or even help Chaz out. For those who have seen the latest Radiohead video, don’t worry, he assures me that the final reveal won’t be a wicker man!

Film night

Two years ago, Joel Wilson came and hosted a showing of his film ‘the Quickener’. That evening is still one of my favourite festival moments, especially because of the q and a at the end. This year, as a late addition to the bill (not in the programme), we’re delighted to introduce you all to Pip Piper  of Blue Hippo Media. Pip has almost 20 years behind him in film making, and has a string of award winning documentaries and dramas to his name, including The Insatiable Moon and Bicycle. On Monday evening, after the main meeting, we will be showing his documentary, Last Shop Standing, about the rise, fall and resurrection of the independent record shop. Then he will be answering your questions.


If you have any interest in film making, or just in films, or you simply want to meet a Christian who is living out his faith in this challenging yet hugely exciting industry, then. Don’t. Miss. This.

Actors’ Meet Up


Unfortunately we’ve had to shelve our grand plans for an evening of plays, rehearsed and performed at the festival. However, we are still very keen to gather actors and anyone involved in the world of theatre together. At 2pm on Sunday in the main cafe, Phil and Harri Mardlin, of LifeBox Theatre and Stagewrite, are going to host an actors’ meet up. As a church based arts network, we want to learn from you guys in the dramatic arts as to how to serve you better and how best to connect actors together, especially in Catalyst churches. Therefore, if you’d like to explore this or simply just want to meet some likeminded people, drop in and say hello.


And I haven’t even mentioned our workshops yet! We will be running art workshops on each afternoon from Sunday to Tuesday, 2-5pm. The plan is thus:

Sunday- willow weaving, story telling (to children with additional needs) and jewellery making.

Monday- jewellery making, print making and a workshop exploring how to start creative projects.

Tuesday- willow weaving and a workshop for creative writers exploring the use of metaphor.

All the details will be in the handbook, but please book in as early as possible (preferably on Saturday afternoon) as places are limited.

One last thing…

We always want to focus on creating rather than talking about creativity, but every now and then it’s probably worth explaining a bit about why we are so keen to promote artists, the arts and creativity. Honestly, there is some thought behind this! If you don’t believe me, come along on Tuesday afternoon to our SputnikTent, where I’ll be doing a seminar entitled ‘Communicating into our culture through the arts: How and why?’ Not the snappiest title, but to be honest I thought it up just now and need to get back to preparing the gallery, so it’ll have to do! Basically, if you’re a creative person considering which direction to take your work or someone who is simply puzzled as to why so much time and energy is spent on the arts at a Christian festival, then it will be an hour and a half well spent.

See you at Stoneleigh.

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Would you like to share your work with 5,000 people at the Catalyst Festival?

This year at the Catalyst Festival, we are looking to provide a platform for artists from within the Catalyst sphere of churches (and beyond).

The Catalyst Festival is the annual gathering point of the Catalyst sphere of churches. It will be happening at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, from 28th May to 1st June. There will be up to 5000 people there and every year the SputnikZone is given a fantastic platform to showcase the arts.

Sputnik has essentially grown from out of this Festival. Each year we have met new artists in all fields and it’s been a pleasure building on these relationships and starting to work together. However, we know there are more of you out there and this year we’d love to give you the chance to display your work. We’d like to do this in two ways:

1) Live performances

We are looking for performers for the festival! If you are a…

… musician– we’re looking for artists/bands of any musical genre to perform on the Saturday and Monday afternoons at the festival.

…poet or storyteller– we are looking for performers for the SputnikZone’s poetry and story telling afternoon on Sunday afternoon.

If you are in either of these categories, all you need to do is send:

  • an example of your work (for poets, ideally this would be a video of a performance)
  • a brief description of your involvement in your art form (how long have you been writing/performing/recording? Previous releases or key performances? etc).

Please send this to by Sunday 1st May.

On the other hand, if you are an…

…actor or a writer– we are looking for scripts and actors for a project during the festival that will culminate in a performance on the Monday evening.

For writers scripts can be of any genre, up to 20 minutes long & for no more than 4 actors.

Please send these to by Sunday 15th May.

For actors, you will need to be available on Sunday and Monday afternoons from 2-5 to rehearse, and on Monday evening to perform. The whole process will be overseen by experienced directors. If you’d like to be involved, please email by Sunday 1st May. We will consider all applications, but are particularly looking for actors with experience, so please outline any experience in your correspondence.

2) Main Gallery

For our Exhibition at Catalyst Festival this year, we are looking to explore the different motivations that drive artists. As part of Creative Arts Network’s ongoing MadebyMotive project we will be considering submissions in five categories:

  1. Images
  2. Film
  3. Poetry
  4. Music
  5. Sculpture/installation

We would simply like you to send us the piece of work that you have made that you think best embodies why you do what you do and accompany it with a written explanation of what motivates you in your practice (it could be relating to this specific piece or to your art in general).

The final selections will be made on the basis of both skill of execution regarding the piece you submit and the perspective you give on your work through the write up. As always with Sputnik, we will be looking for work that is capable of communicating to a broader audience than just Christians.

Please send all submissions to by Sunday 1st May, alongside:

  • a short description of your entry (no more than 100 words)
  • an explanation about what motivates you as an artist (no more than 200 words)

All artists that are selected will need to arrange the framing of their work and both bring their work at the beginning of the festival (Friday afternoon/Saturday morning) and collect it at the end (Tuesday evening). There may be an opportunity for you to help hang your work as well, and we can discuss this once the final selection is made.

We look forward to seeing what delights you lot send my way!

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Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Exploring Our Tradition

Christian artists ‘have not only an amazing heritage, but also a tradition’.

When I read that line in Jeffrey Overstreet’s interview with Terry Glaspey, I knew I had to see if I could reproduce the interview for you guys.

Glaspey has recently released the book 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know. The book is an introduction to the stories behind a whole load of artistic creations made by Christians over the years and a chance to get inside the minds of artists such as Rembrandt, Bach, Bunyan, Flannery O’Connor and loads more. What a result!

Overstreet’s interview with Glaspey is packed with such helpful insights that I hope it will tide you over until you get round to buying the book yourselves here! We’ve included an extract from the interview below, with permission.


I imagine you learned a lot in the research process. Which entries gave you the greatest sense of discovery and enthusiasm?


There were so many fascinating discoveries I made along the way. Of course I knew a great deal about many of the artists, writers, and painters going into the project. But as I was trying to narrow my list (while at the same time as I was trying to expand the diversity it contained) I got a chance to find unexpected depth of faith commitment in a number of artists.

For example, though I had long admired her novels, I really didn’t understand the depth of Jane Austen’s faith until I began to read some biographies and discovered references to some prayers she had written for use in her family’s devotions. When I tracked them down I found the prayers to be not only beautiful (as would be expected), but also very confessional and heartfelt and self-revealing. In fact, when I discovered that these prayers were not widely known, I contracted with a publisher to print a small volume of her prayers, to which I added an introduction and biographical sketch. It has been published as The Prayers of Jane Austen.

“We are too easily satisfied with fast food entertainment and diversion when there are gourmet meals of creativity available from the master chefs of the imagination.”

Other discoveries, such as the stories behind James Tissot’s collection of paintings of nearly every event in the life of Jesus, the profound spirituality of the great African-American painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and the quirky delight of Howard Finster’s folk art were among my favorite new encounters.


Did you find, when you started out, that you had a list much longer than 75, and had to narrow it down? Or did you have to build your way toward 75?


Well, it was never a problem of finding enough masterpieces to include. The hard thing was to decide what had (sadly) to be left out. My general ground rules for inclusion in this particular project were that:

  1. The creator self-identified as a Christian. Some of them are Protestant, some Catholic, some Orthodox, and some rather unorthodox. Some, like Emily Dickinson, struggled between faith and doubt, but seemed to be people for whom faith ultimately got the upper hand!
  2. I only included one piece by any one artist. It was very difficult in some cases to make that choice. You could have chosen other representative masterpieces for Rembrandt, Chesterton, El Greco, and others which would be just as good a choice. But I had to pick one, and my reasons sometimes had to do with the wonderful stories behind particular works.
  3. The work needed to be a work that has been acclaimed outside of the Christian world. I was looking for works whose greatness was not due just to a message, but to the quality of their craft and the creativity of their vision.

I have actually, just for fun, created a second list of 75 more masterpieces, which maybe I’ll post on my website at some point. I want to explore some of them in the same way in the months and years to come. I’ve written a piece on the painter, Emily Carr, and have done extensive research on Arvo Part. I’d like to explore faith in the tradition of the blues, the connection between the theology of the Franciscan movement and a new realism in early Renaissance painters, and add another icon or two to the list. That is just the tip of the iceberg. So much worth exploring!


Today, those films, books, albums, and paintings that tend to be labeled as “Christian art” are critically maligned. But these selections you’ve made seem to be appreciated across cultures and generations. Why do you think that is?


The problem with much “Christian art” in our time is that it veers too close to being merely propaganda. Preaching has its place. But that place is in the pulpit, and not so much in creative expression. The best art is not primarily about delivering a message but in evoking the right kinds of questions from those who view or read it or listen to it.

Also, I think a lot of faith-based art is so concerned with driving home its message that it neglects to be realistic about the human condition and human motivations. It is either an imagining of what we might wish the world was like (the saccharine little villages of Thomas Kinkade, which are pretty as decorations but tell you almost nothing interesting about the real world) or the triumphal art that aims to show the superiority of Christianity over every other way of viewing the world (such as the bombastic preachments and uncharitable dismissal of all competing worldviews you’ll find in a movie like God is Not Dead). I’m not saying that someone might not get a bit of comfort from a Kinkade landscape or a bit of confidence from a Christian movie, but it isn’t going to offer the depth of insight that a great painting or a great film might.

“A lot of faith-based art is so concerned with driving home its message that it neglects to be realistic about the human condition and human motivations.”

We are too easily satisfied with fast food entertainment and diversion when there are gourmet meals of creativity available from the master chefs of the imagination. Nothing wrong with a little fast food, but I think our palates are enriched by better fare and our souls are more nourished by more complex fare. And much of the great art is a little more demanding — it demands closer attention, more thought, and even a little patient contemplation. The question is, are we willing to expend such effort?

My take is that if a creative person has laboured long over their masterpiece, we should at least be willing to expend a little effort in trying to open ourselves up to it. Sometimes we’ll still walk away shaking our head. But sometimes, with just a little effort and patience, a work of art will open itself up to us and maybe make a last change in us.


I recently saw a quotation of Emily Dickinson challenged by a Christian who pointed out that Dickinson’s poetry reveals doubts about, and dissension with, Christian faith. That person responded saying that we should not waste time “slumming it in secular minds” when we have the beauty of the Scriptures available to us. You’ve included Emily Dickinson in this collection. How might you respond to that rather critical response? What are the rewards of meditating on the work of artists whose ideas about faith may not align with our own?


What I love about Emily Dickinson, Graham Greene, and several others whose work is featured in my book, is that they are fellow-strugglers. They do not traffic in the much-too-easy triumphalism that is the limitation of many Christian artistic creations. They knew themselves too well to try to sugar coat their writings. They are honest about the struggle of believing and living out the demands of the life of faith. Sure, we need works that provoke celebration and worship, but we also need works that are honest about the dark night of the soul, about our doubts and struggles and our wrestling with God.

Frankly, the Scriptures are not at all hesitant about letting us see the struggles and failures of the great people of faith. As “people of the book” we know that the real human story is one of dogged pursuit of God while at the same time battling with our own sinfulness, failure, fear, confusion, and the complexity of our mixed motives. This is a world of darkness and evil, while at the same time a world of wonders–a world filled with what Bruce Cockburn has called “Rumors of Glory.” The best art reflects these tensions.

We need works that are honest about the dark night of the soul, about our doubts and struggles and our wrestling with God. Frankly, the Scriptures are not at all hesitant about letting us see the struggles and failures of the great people of faith.


There is such a wide variety of works represented here. Are there common ideas, though, that the collection as a whole might impress upon readers to help them discern the art that is worth meditating on from the art that might not be worth so much attention? Are there common ideas that come from this collection that might influence artists as they think about their own work?


One of my deepest hopes for this book is that it will inspire today’s creatives. We have not only an amazing heritage, but also a tradition. Today’s artists, writers, musicians, and film makers can nourish themselves with the work of those who have gone before them and then bring forth their own unique take on that tradition. The tradition should inspire, not inhibit.

I remember hearing a live concert recording from Neil Young in which a frustrated audience member, who had evidently heard one too many long guitar solos for his taste, shouted out: “It all sounds the same.” Without missing a beat, Young responded, “It’s all the same song.” In a certain sense, all creative artists are playing variations on the message and the human experience that is part of the tradition to which they belong.

This interview was originally posted on Looking Closer on 14th January 2016 and Jeffrey Overstreet has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here. For the original unabridged version, click here.

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What Was It To Be Human? Another 3 Reasons Why I Loved Our Last Art Project

Last time, I started explaining why I was delighted with our ‘WhatIsItToBeHuman?’ Art project. Today, I’m going to continue in a very similar vein.

As far as I’m aware the project served a load of artists really well and served a few of our churches really well, but that’s not all. Here’s another 3 reasons why I loved our last art project.

3) We’ve served our local communities

I think Christians often undervalue the importance of simply doing good for our localities. Jeremiah was told to seek the welfare of his city. And he lived in Babylon. However rough your area, this probably trumps you regarding levels of godlessness! (Jeremiah 29:7)

One of my favourite moments of the project was when I checked on a little Facebook event I’d created for our Birmingham exhibition launch night to see that it had gone kind of crazy. Apparently, over 1000 people were going or interested in the event. This was weird in that I’d only invited 500 and more than that, it posed us a few problems considering the venue’s capacity was a little more than 100 as far as I could tell! A couple of days later, a Christian friend messaged me to tell me that her boyfriend who wasn’t a Christian had suggested going to the event. When she pointed out that it was a Christian event, he told her that she was mistaken because he’d found about it from another friend who definitely wasn’t a Christian!

I still don’t know which promotional network we managed to tap into, but what I do know is that on one Friday night in Digbeth, Birmingham, over 150 people turned up to an art exhibition launch, music and poetry  night that was clearly put on by Christians and were subtly introduced to the Christian worldview, through the creative grapplings of a whole load of Jesus followers. The vast majority of the crowd were totally unknown to me and they all seemed to have a really good time.

We served our city. Result!

4) We helped Christians who aren’t artistic to understand the importance of art and artists (I think)

This may sound funny, but I wonder if this will be shown to be the most important impact of this project. Church and art haven’t had a rocky relationship in modern times for no reason. There are all sorts of potential pitfalls that could arise from letting us artists actually be ourselves in churches, and I’m really thankful that David and the other Catalyst leaders are willing to take that risk.

One of the key stumbling blocks is misunderstanding on both sides. Yes, artists can be elitist and obtuse (I know this because I have been these things). But, it’s equally true that church members or leaders can be insensitive and judgemental (I know this because I have been these things- as a church member and a church leader!) Often these problems arise from a lack of mutual understanding. I’m always keen to trumpet the importance of the local church to artists, especially to those who have written off the church’s relevance to their own spiritual lives. At the same time I’m equally keen to help people in our churches who wouldn’t call themselves artists, understand the immense contribution that artists can make to our churches and the mission our churches have been given.

Therefore, it has been so encouraging to hear loads of people approach me over the last year to say that they ‘get art’ for the first time and they see why it’s important. This project, coming as it has from within a family of churches, has really helped that happen.

The thing is, it’s not that artists are any more special than business people, mums, teachers, social workers, politicians, doctors or accountants. We’re just another limb of the body that needs appropriate honour, like all the rest. And a body with this particular limb working properly will work better than one without. I think that this exhibition, in its own way, helped the body of Christ start to function a little more healthily, and for that alone it was well worth all the van hires, framing and bubble wrapping.

5) We hooked up with Creative Arts Network!

One more thing that happened that may have gone unnoticed by most people was that Sputnik ourselves made a new friend: Creative Arts Network. Creative Arts Network is the arts community based in the New ground part of the Newfrontiers family and more specifically at New Community Church, Sidcup. You can find out all about them at

We’d had a few chats and exchanged a few emails before, but when it came to this project, they have really helped us get it off the ground. They’ve helped us in connecting with new artists, with our new website and with most things remotely technical.

In short, thanks guys (Chris and Hannah in particular) for all your help and we really appreciate being art network buddies with you guys!

Well, I’m sure there’s more I could say, but that’ll do for the time being except to say that if you didn’t visit any of our exhibitions, although in a sense you’ve missed it, don’t panic, as you can see, hear and read the work that featured in our exhibitions at and you can buy the pack that features all of the work featured here.

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What Is It To Be Human? 2 Reasons Why I Loved Our Last Art Project

5 exhibitions. 39 artists (from at least 22 different churches). 45 pieces of art. 55 days. Over 30 set uppers and downers. Over 10,000 visitors. Enough bubble wrap to mummify a large suburban semi.

It was only just over a year ago that Sputnik kicked off our WhatIsItToBeHuman? project and at the end of January we set down our final exhibition. I’m delighted with how the project has gone and I thought I’d put together a couple of posts summarising what went on and also, with the dust now settled a bit, whether it was worth all the effort.

So, getting down to brass tacks, has it been worth the effort? Well, I can think of at least 5 reasons why I’d say yes. (I’ll include two today and two in the next post)

1) We’ve encouraged and motivated a load of artists (I hope)

Sputnik exists to serve artists, primarily in the Catalyst family of churches. We’ve been reasonably convinced of the ‘why?’ from the beginning. The ‘how?’ however has proved a little more tricky. We didn’t want to just sit around, talk about art and stroke our chins. At the same time, providing a forum for feedback and technical help is also not always constructive before proper relationships are formed. However, it’s hard to build relationships and network unless you have a discernible purpose to gather people to. So what do you do?

Well, art is about making stuff, so we’ve decided to underpin everything we do with an element of creation. Our primary activity, then, has been encouraging people to create and themed art projects have seemed to work so far in this regard. First of all it was ‘God.With.Us’ (2011), then ‘What are you waiting for?’(2013), then ‘Kingdom’ (2014), and in 2015 it was ‘WhatIsItToBeHuman?’

For some of the artists who’ve got involved, this has provided a helpful impetus to dust off creative talents that have lain dormant for some time, for others it has provided a creative project that allows a bit more freedom than the briefs they’re paid to work on, for almost all of us, it has provided a better platform to get our work seen, heard or read.

Therefore, these projects have served artists in a number of ways I hope, and I’ve personally benefited hugely from getting to know artists who I’d just never have met if we’d not put on this project. Win win!

Thank you so much to all you guys who got involved and submitted work, I really do hope that we served you well in this, but I also hope that you are encouraged by the impact your work had through this project, which moves me on nicely to my second point…


2) We’ve helped churches engage with their local communities in new ways

Local churches have historically been central to their local communities in this country, but now this is not usually the case. Instead they are often marginalised in their villages, towns and cities, and in turn churches can choose to deliberately hide away from a world that seems hostile to them. This obviously is not what Jesus had in mind when he inspired the invention of the world changing machine that is the local church and so in our churches we’ve got to find ways to connect with our local communities. Traditionally, there are some tried and tested ways of doing this like toddlers groups, work with senior citizens, social action projects, etc. Art is a great way to do this as well. There are loads of practical ways to do this and I know of churches who run very successful art classes, open mic nights and writers’ groups. However, exhibitions can be effective in this way as well (as long as the work is of a decent standard. Sorry but it needs to be said!)

So, it’s been great seeing City Church, Newcastle connect with The Holy Biscuit. Churchcentral, Birmingham get to know the great guys at Centrala and dip their toes in the thriving Digbeth art scene and Jubilee Church, Coventry continue building relationship with Fargo Village (although these guys are a model in this area, already helping to run a city wide motor show each year!)

The results of such link ups are sometimes hard to pin down, but each relationship built and connection made cannot help to warm people to our message and break down popular misconceptions about people who follow Jesus.

Those two things alone would have been enough, but I’ve only just begun. Keep your ears to the ground for our next post and the next 3 reasons why I’m very happy with how this project has gone.

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Lamentation: Should Heaven Know I’m Miserable Now?

Probably 40-50% of the songs, raps and poems I’ve written are melancholic. My 2002 album Gondwanaland with Michaelis Constant has the theme of lamentation running through the whole album.

Like many of you, I also connect deeply with other people’s melancholia expressed in songs, poems, classical compositions and raps. These engage a hidden, vulnerable part of my spirit. The catharsis of weeping/praying/raging as I listen to, for example Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, is important to my spiritual, emotional and mental health.

However there’s a distinct lack of acknowledgement or dialogue amongst modern-day Christians about the potency and human necessity of lamentation.

Why aren’t lamentations, which make up the bulk of numerous biblical books, part of our ecclesiastical life? I’m not exactly suggesting a discontinuity-creating a dirge in the middle of an up-beat Sunday morning service- but I am suggesting the need for creative engagement with the unspoken shadows that are a part of everyday human life. A friend of mine observed: ‘the depression of Psalm 88 is given voice rather than cut off and not heard. Why don’t psalms like this make it into our corporate worship?’

Some assert that lamentation has been rendered unnecessary, a part of the old pattern that has been swept aside. I disagree wholeheartedly

I said a few paragraphs ago that lamentation is a necessity. Can I back that up? Some Christians would assert that since death has been defeated and we have found what the prophets and patriarchs were searching for, lamentation has been rendered unnecessary, a part of the old pattern that has been swept aside. I disagree wholeheartedly. Look at what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

For indeed while we are in this tent (meaning earthly bodies), we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.

A part of our melancholy is the recognition that though some time in the future God’s Kingdom will be fully realized we only get little glimpses of it now. Essentially this sort of lament is not unbelieving despair but rather the visceral pain that believers experience precisely because they believe.

Lamentation is the oil that massages the sore muscles of the Body of Christ. Although I’ve been drawn into the recorded melancholia of David Eugene Edwards, Nick Cave, Radiohead and Chelsea Wolfe, the place where that lamentation oil has been most effective is within a local community context.

I have been fortunate to have friends who have shared their beautiful, sad songs and sound art within living room gigs, local festivals and other community settings. We come together for a moment to lament the loss of innocence or the sins of our nation or the death of a young mother or the loneliness of depression or the ‘Sehnsucht’ in the soul for the fully realized Kingdom. This, I believe, is an underappreciated way we bond as believers and as communities. I also sense that when people who aren’t Christians see Christians lament properly it invites them to approach Jesus honestly.

The band Everything Everything have written some incredibly sad songs. Recently I’ve been meditating to their song The Peaks. It embodies the violence, destruction and sorrow of the age we’re living in and at the end appears to ask a judge/observer/God-type character for answers. It is a song, which echoes the horror and desolation witnessed by the prophet Jeremiah. Laments are a prayer language. You see ‘The Peaks’ leads me to sorrow and anger AND vulnerable, tearful dialogue with God.

And I’ve seen more villages burn than animals born,
I’ve seen more towers come down than children grow up…
Come now, Decider, sit down beside me
Tell me my world is gone

Do you spend time lamenting? Should lamentation be a normal part of Christian life? When we neglect it do we lose a vital form of prayer?

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Dirty Words: The Need for Christian Criticism

Last year I wrote a review of a prominent worship-genre album, for a Christian magazine. I thought the album was very predictable and too safe, and gave it two stars out of five. On the way to publication, however, the score was bumped up to three stars, and some polite qualifiers were dropped into my prose.

A bit unusual; but it got stranger. A glance on Wikipedia showed me that all other publications (all Christian) had given this album a minimum of 9 out of 10. The only album I was aware of that had gained better reviews in 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s frankly blinding ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. Meanwhile, a flick back through the Wikipedia pages suggested this Christian artist is on the longest unbeatable streak since the Beatles.

There’s always room for disagreements in journalism, but it certainly struck me as odd that this merely-alright album gathered such runaway praise. Where was the hunger for good music? Where was the criticism?

Worship can’t be critiqued. Music can.

Let me be clear. One individual’s moment of worship shouldn’t be critiqued. Worship is vulnerable honesty, an act of humbling ourselves; whatever form it takes, the aesthetics are irrelevant. ‘Music’ and ‘worship’ are far from interchangeable anyway, but it’s still valid to say: God is not elitist about who sings to him, or how. We should mirror that.

Unfortunately, we often extend that critical immunity to people who write and record songs, when in fact, critique and deconstruction can raise the standards of art as much as they deepen our own understanding of what we’re listening to. Of course, if the music is intended for churches to pick up and use easily, there are questions of function as well as form. But on every level, when we don’t hold artists to high expectations, we condemn them to mediocrity. And it is a fact often acknowledged, yet to be solved, that popular Christian music is aesthetically mediocre.

Face-to-face criticism is a pastoral art.

Offering critique to the artists and musicians that we know personally is another matter again. There is a place for it, mind you; any teacher or parent would tell you that constant affirmation does not breed maturity or skill. When they know their child or pupil well, they can criticise them in tact and love, knowing it will do them good.

It’s ‘knowing’ that makes the difference. Many artists are given criticism that is way off-the-mark because it just doesn’t understand the person behind the art. If that’s the case, even positive feedback can fail to be constructive. Despite what you might think, artists are not sensitive flowers that need to be constantly encouraged; but if our opinions aren’t well-informed and trustworthy, they aren’t worth sharing.

Published critics have an influential role to play.

With that all said, when facing a published, lauded songwriter, we should be ready to say “impress me”. Not because we want to tear down successful people, but because these artists define trends, and have the capacity to open minds and shape aspirations. Intentionally or not, what these artists do sends a message: “this is what a Jesus-following musician sounds like”.

That message isn’t untrue, but it’s not the whole truth, and critics can crank that statement open to allow a little more colour in. They can be tastemakers, champions of pioneers and scourge of the easy-riders. That sometimes means harsh (and/or hilarious) reviews, out of disappointment as much as anything: calling out artists’ mistakes when they’ve sold themselves short.

Christian music in the UK is such a small world that nothing can change overnight. There is talent out there in the wings, but it’s not as if it’s fully developed, just waiting to be acknowledged. We need to challenge and raise the bar for artists, especially nationally. If we don’t speak what everyone is thinking, we can’t expect things to ever change.

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Our Annual Art Project for 2016 is here…

So, after the success of this year’s WhatIsItToBeHuman? project, we have another open submission art project for you guys to get involved in and it’s a little earlier than you may have been expecting.

As we did with our last project, we are partnering with the brilliant Creative Arts Network on this one and want to get as many of you guys involved as possible. The theme is ‘madebymotive’and it is looking to get a glimpse at what is going on behind your work- your motivations. Submissions should explore either what motivates you to create in your chosen discipline or the journey shaping the motivation of an individual project. The full brief is here and the deadline for submissions is 10th January 2016.

If you’re struggling to get started, the latest edition of Hue magazine will give you a very good starting place. It features 12 creatives from different disciplines, exploring the trigger behind their creative practice. You can get it here.

Selected work will be displayed in a series of exhibitions- both online and physical- and details of these will follow. Creative Arts Network have a growing reputation and reach and this project gives you a great opportunity to explore what fires you as an artist as well as offering the potential of a fantastic platform for your work.

I recognise that this is a little different to what we’ve done in previous years and while there may be links with the Catalyst Festival for some of the final work, the festival will not act as the focal point of this project as before. However, do not fear, we have something quite different up our sleeves for the festival this year regarding how we will get you guys involved and creating, but to find out more about that, you will have to wait until the New Year…

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More from Catalyst Festival…

Finally, I’ve had a chance to see Steve’s performance from the Monday night meeting at Catalyst Festival and I can see what all the fuss was about.

Lyrically excellent. Authentically and skilfully delivered. Worship inciting. Mind engaging. This is great. (The band provide very sensitive and helpful accompaniment too- online high fives all round)

What I think I like most (and remember I’m just going from the video as I didn’t see him perform it live) is how he moves seamlessly from ‘eyes closed-lost in worship- it’s just me and God-Sunday meeting contribution’ to ‘eyes open- whole body- performance’. He mixes this up perfectly and gets the balance between all eyes on me performer and all eyes on God worshipper just right.

I think this is a balance we need to learn to live with. Traditionally, the type of church I’ve been involved in (Charismatic evangelical) has been very suspicious of performances creeping into our ‘worship times’. The minute someone contributes to a meeting in a way that seems to attract attention to themselves,  people often get a little tetchy. Are they wanting to steal glory from God? Do they want to break the worship spell and make me open my eyes and recognise that this meeting is not actually just me and Jesus? Aren’t only prophets allowed to do that?

That depiction may be slightly cheeky, but it’s probably not massively wide of the mark for many in churches like ours. The thing is- the biblical mandate is that people should contribute to Christian gatherings in a way that strengthens and builds up the church (1 Corinthians 12:12, 14:26) and that does not preclude unapologetic performance pieces in the times when we gather. I’ve personally found some times when, while lost in worship, if you pardon that expression, a public prayer or prophetic word has acted as a kind of soundtrack in the background of my personal connection with God- that has built me up and strengthened me. At other times though, I’ve also been built up, strengthened, and inspired in gung ho, sing your heart out worship, by someone interrupting me from my pious worship pose by doing a performed piece that demands my attention and the exercise of my intellectual faculties (which is as true if someone reads out a lengthy chunk of Romans as if they grab the mic and perform a 2 minute song/rap/spoken word piece/dance).

So over to you guys. Performances in worship times?