Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christians: Artistic and Entertaining

The 7th Annual Evening of Arts & Entertainment certainly offered a unique experience. I first heard about Arts & Entertainment Ministries back in the summer of 2006 when Joel Pelsue spoke at one of David Bahnsen’s Southern California Center for Christian Studies conferences here in Orange County. But as schedules go, I didn’t have a chance to attend the organization’s annual event until this year, meaning earlier this month. It was definitely a lot smaller and more intimate than I expected. But it was nice to have the opportunity to leisurely browse the gallery art and actually have conversations with many of the featured artists.

When it comes to art, many Christians focus on how Scripture inspired them. William Butler, Jennifer Kimbrough, and Glen LaMar were three such artists, using paint to convey poetic messages about God’s power and care for His people. Think of soothing lines and abstract work.

By the exit, however, was a very different approach. Kevin Rolly showed highly controversial paintings on not-so-pleasant Bible stories such as Jephthah’s sacrifice and Judah’s affair with his daughter-in-law. He spoke about the importance of depicting evil in art and offering something relevant to the suffering world around us. Although his pieces aren’t what most middle-class Americans would envision in their livingrooms, I felt that they were the most powerful ones exhibited in the gallery.

Last was Kengsen Chong, a Malaysian preacher who enjoys incorporating ancient Chinese characters into his paintings that add very subtle theological meaning. His work might be thought of as “Sir Edward Elgar meets Pablo Picasso.” Although restricted by the Muslim government, this artist apparently has managed to touch his community through his work and arts programs.

For the performance part of the evening, the sanctuary of Vineyard Christian Fellowship-West turned into a theater. First up was Yolanda Tolentino, singing two numbers from her musical Spirals, Boxes, and Clocks with the AEM House Band. I hope the musical eventually gets performed; I’d like to know the story behind “Back to Holding” and “Still Sadness.”

Another vocalist, Kelda, sang “Puzzling” and “I Hear You Now” from her Free album. She had a sweet voice, so I really enjoyed listening to her. In contrast, hiphop artist Jahmal Holland (aka “One Truth”) showed the music video Cannot Close My Eyes, telling a story about the plight of teens (but I wasn’t sure about what exactly). His “He Brings Change,” in my opinion a better song, was performed live along with a shorter work where he rapped about men taking responsibility (from what I could make out). (Next time I’ll have to bring along a baby sister or brother to translate!)

The evening wouldn’t have been complete without spoken word. Kristin Weber, a homeschool graduate who opens for Christian comedians, talked about moving to Los Angeles and informed the audience that she, age 26, was actually 90 in single-homeschool-girl years. (Guess that makes me a centenarian!) Later, poet Aaron Belz read excerpts from Lovely, Raspberry, adding more laughter to the night’s program.

Two films made the cut: The documentary In a Still Small Voice (site) by Steven Holloway featured interviews of Christian artists talking about their work and what being an artist meant to them. Closing the program was Jeffrey Travis’ animated film Flatland (site, imdb). It’s been more than ten years since I’ve read E.A. Abbott’s “romance,” but I remembered enough details to both appreciate and dislike Travis’ modern retelling. I was pleased that the overall point of the story remained intact.

Far cry from a church talent show, this event showcased professionals and their serious work. Not all of it was “Christian” in the sense we might generally use the term, but it was “Christian” in the sense that Christians were doing what they loved and glorifying God in the process. AEM is a small organization, so the evening wasn’t exactly a smooth run. Patrons had a disadvantage since seating was dividing into three categories: reserved for artists and performers, reserved for volunteers, and saved-two-hours-before-curtain-by-family-and-friends. However, I’d still encourage everyone in the Southland to try to make a future show if possible. You probably won’t like everything featured – I sure didn’t! – but it’s worth one trip to see what’s going on with Christians in the secular world of arts and entertainment.