37. Imaginative Expression Specialists — A Conversation with Byron Spradlin

November 13, 2022 - Roger W. Lowther

Welcome to the Art Life Faith Podcast. This is the show where we talk about art, what it has to do with your life, and what has to do with the Christian faith. And I'm your host, Roger Lowther.

In the previous episode, I interviewed author Bruce Young and his wife Susan about his latest book, Living in Full View of the God of Grace. Thank you so much for your support of that book. We hit number one on Amazon in a number of categories, and it's our hope that this book will be a blessing to many as it helps all of us see more and more clearly the God of grace.

I'm also excited to announce that my latest album, Covenant, has just been released. It's available wherever you buy music, Apple Music or Amazon. You can also listen to it on Spotify and YouTube, so I encourage you to check it out. It was definitely a labor of love with some pieces I've been wanting to record for a really long time. On one of my trips to the US, I started by flying to Nashville, where I stayed on the Japan time zone for a few days so I could record all night long when the building was quiet and sleep all day. At the end of the week, I gave a concert. It was a pretty cool experience, and I'm really happy with how the project turned out.

I've been playing music my whole life. It's not just something I do. It's part of who I am. And like a lot of artists, the lines are a bit blurred between this “being” and “doing.” When you spend every waking moment focused on one thing, you kind of get rewired that way. But it's also one more way that COVID hit particularly hard. As an organist, I depend on other spaces to play music and on people to gather to hear it. And here in Japan, things were shut down a lot harder and a lot longer than in the US. But even in the US, it was difficult. I had a terrible time finding places to practice because of COVID concerns, and concerts were basically out of the question during that time. But of course, some of my friends had it a lot worse than me. At least I still received a salary as a missionary. They, on the other hand, still depended on every single gig for a paycheck. And there weren't many gigs. I know musicians who had to entirely give up their performing careers.

Yet, some of us could turn to other ways to share their creativity, and today I'd like to share one of those stories, about a dance company here in Tokyo, the Minato City Ballet Company. Because of COVID, they were forced to move online. Prices for cameras and livestreaming equipment skyrocketed, and for a really long time, a lot of things are actually sold out, not available anywhere. So they invested in what they could find and managed as best they could. The biggest challenge of all, though, was continuing to teach, which is the bulk of their income. And they didn't give up. They figured out which platforms to use, how to collect payments, and all the rest.

The assistant director of the company, Natsko Goto, an award-winning ballerina, also took up photography. And then, she started entering those photographs into competitions and won numerous awards, especially for the picture titled How Beautiful are the Feet. It's based on the scripture verse from Romans 10, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” It's a pretty popular verse at foreign missions conferences. The Apostle Paul says that people around the world will not know the gospel unless they're told, and that they're being told through all things that are made by God and by man. And this includes the work of dancers and every other artist from every nation and culture.

How Beautiful are the Feet

The message of the gospel is beautiful, but so are the feet of the messengers, the means by which that message is communicated. And so this ballet company, run by Christians, actively seeks to communicate the message of the gospel through their art, through their dance. In the photograph, How Beautiful are the Feet, we see a circle showing only the feet of the dancers. On one foot, they wear a point shoe. On the other, the foot is completely bare. One foot is dressed for being on stage, beautifully presentable. The other, not so much. It shows evidence of the blood, sweat, and tears—the bruises, pain, and injury. Feet are the means by which the Minato City Ballet Company brings the good news of the gospel to people. We pray that God continues to bless their efforts.

If you want to learn more about this company, I wrote a blog post about them on website for The MAKE Collective, a network of missionary artists I lead. If you'd like to hear more stories like this, please subscribe to our newsletter. You can send an email to info [at] communityarts.jp.

This week I sat down with Byron Spradlin, president and CEO of Artist in Christian Testimony International. He heads almost 700 missionary artists serving around the world, what he calls “imaginative expression specialists,” people unusually wise at imaginative design and expression. He also leads the Lausanne Arts Movement, which is all about connecting artists around the world to encourage us in the role of artists and the arts for global missions.

He has been a huge encouragement and influence on me over the years, really a lot more than I can say. I first met Byron during my first few months in Japan when he was a keynote speaker for a conference, and I remember some of the things he talked about that day, even now. That began a friendship which has lasted all these years. Since then, we keep meeting up at different conferences and gatherings all over the world. I've been following him all these years as Artists in Christian Testimony has grown tremendously under his leadership, and the various talks he's given and the things he's written. So I asked him to sit down for this podcast and share some of these with you.

So, Byron, thank you so much for being here today.

Byron

You're welcome. And I have been actually following you because I think you are one of the great imaginators and innovators of church planting and church effort on the planet today, particularly as an artistic kingdom servant. So deal with that, my friend.

Roger

Thank you. I mean, it is so exciting what God is doing around the world, and I feel privileged to be part of it.

But yeah, there's so many things that I want to talk with you about today. And let's go back to the first time that I heard you speak. You were talking about why is it that missionaries can be artists and why artists can be missionaries, that's probably a better way to put it. What is the foundation that we find in the Bible for this kind of ministry?

Byron

Well, you know, Roger, that's a big question, and you got to keep me disciplined to make short answers here. But really the question would be, can we actually do God's mission without artistically inclined people, without imaginative expression specialists?

Roger

A lot of people would say we can.

Bryon

Well, they're wrong. And having been a church planter and a senior pastor, a worship pastor, a youth pastor over many years, and been to 50 countries, and then studied it three or four times in seminary on different degrees and such. It is clear when we think about the purpose of the expansion of Christianity, we have to take into consideration the fact that God is the one who's created the various cultures in the world. And these cultures are not the same. And therefore, we know that we need to have what I call indigenous Christian community formation in every tongue, tribe, and nation. And so the church will not look the same in Japan as it looks like in Fiji and such.

Roger

Yeah, but why do we need missionaries for that? I mean, there are nationals around the world who are artists, and they can be involved in church planting.

Bryon

Every nation, tongue, and tribe is supposed to be sending missionaries. So the Fijians are supposed to be sending them, and the Japanese are supposed to be sending them, and the Israelis are supposed to be sending them and such. So that's part of our ethnocentrism, our self-focus, as if Europe and the United States are the only ones who actually send missionaries. In 2021, you know that there are more Christians in the global south who are not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. We are the minority, and that's a good thing, to tell you the truth. And remember, Christianity is not a white European and North American faith. It's a Middle Eastern Asian faith. So all that said, Christian ministry must reflect God's image to be fully and truly Christian. And one dynamic of God's image is creative. He is extremely creative. We fight about denominations, but denominations really are the creativity of God, where different folks are bringing different correctives to the worldwide body of Christ.

Roger

Well, he made the heavens and earth in Genesis 1. But is there more to it than that?

Byron

Absolutely! Frankly, when we take a good look at, for example, the Hebrew expressions related to imaginal creativity and understand that the Hebrew culture was far more holistic than the modern, Western linear kinds of thinking, we realize that imaginal I almost like to call it not artistic expression, but imaginal expression. These kinds of expressions take what is observable and also take the revealed propositional word of God…remember, it was God's idea to put the Bible into print media. Okay? He told Moses, write it down…

Roger

"Print media." Interesting.

Byron

Yeah. Why is that? Well, even though the Bible is not primarily prose and intellectual dialogue, it's mostly narrative and wisdom literature, story, poetry, song, narrative. And there are parts that are instructional, but not the majority we draw from the revelation of God. I mean, we do have the Ten Commandments, but you can't understand, for example, the Ten Commandments without imagining into the realities that the Ten Commandments explain. It's not just don't murder, don't commit adultery. You have to imagine into the sanctity of life. And that's not something that you're making up. That's a reality of the way God made human beings the sanctity of life and for the whole creation, for that matter. But he's placed human beings at the pinnacle of that.

Roger

Okay, but some examples of that would be what? Like, what were the prophets? Like, for example, I remember you talking about the most powerful one was Moses and the plagues that hit Egypt. And what is that? Well, that was a multimedia presentation. I'm like, what? And you went through a whole list.

Byron

Sure. Matter of fact, part of that list is, “In the beginning, God created.” We have the creation or creativity as the initial dynamic of God speaking out creation. And at the end, God will create a new heaven and a new earth, Revelation 21. Then we see immediately he sets up a garden. In creation, there was gardening. Adam and Eve didn't just sit around. They tended the garden. I think they delighted in it. I'm sure they worked hard and all, but there was no negative dynamic to that. In Genesis Chapter 6 with Noah, we see carpentry. People may not have known what a boat was. I don't think there had been rain exactly before that time. We get symbolic expression in Genesis 17, for example, circumcision. What was that all about? I can make jokes, but I won't.

Roger

That’s probably best.

Byron

It was a symbol of God's covenant with his people, right?

Roger

Visual reminders of this covenant.

Byron

Big time. We have culinary ministry in Genesis 18. Abraham entertained his three visitors to Sodom and Gomorrah, and they interacted over a meal. Well, some people would say, that's just sort of like going out to lunch with each other. Stop. There is something deeply creative that expresses the transcendent reality of community, hospitality, sacrifice, honor, all of these kinds of dynamics that go on in presenting a meal to someone. It's not just eating food. It is utilitarian. We got to eat food to live, but there's something aesthetic about that. And there's something deeply human, which is more than, “Here is hot dog. Eat hot dog. Put ketchup on it.” No, there's all kinds of creativity that goes into it.

And isn't it interesting. Dogs have instinct. Mooses have instinct. People have imagination. Whales don't have imagination from what we can tell. They get from Alaska to Lahaina Maui in some phenomenal dynamic of instinct. It's really amazing. But when we see it, we paint pictures and sing songs and develop sonar to trace their way and hopefully enter into creation care because we are the stewards of all of creation and need to take care of these beautiful mammals in the deep.

That's a human phenomenon. Sometimes I've said human beings have never been satisfied to make a pot to carry their water. They have made the pot to carry their water, but then they've made it beautifully. They've painted it. That is a human dynamic, even in a fallen world. How about that? Amazing.

Roger

All right, so you're talking about imagination. Yes, humans have that. Animals don't. But how does that help us with the way that God has spoken to us?

Byron

Well, I know you're being the devil's advocate here, but you're being that because you and I have come out of a modernist, Western, Protestant, actually Christian community which has been so focused on rational intelligence and intellectual discourse as the two dynamics or the two things that are that are prime. I submit to you that though there are historical reasons why we have done that, moving to let the pendulum swing to those emphases is incomplete and ineffective, inadequately biblically communicating to human beings. And secondly, seeing created or nurtured human community in intimate involvement with the community of the Trinity. We're not just setting up a philosophy here with a set of didactic or dogmatic principles. We're dealing with life, life with God. So we need to understand that there are two other dynamics of intellect. There certainly is rational intellect, but there's also imaginal intellect and emotional intellect. Right there, I'm sure some of your listeners are going, oh, man, this guy's really a heretic. Well that's because all of our life…in my background I'm an ordained Baptist minister. I've heard as you think, so you are. Well, I've known a lot of biblical Christians who think one way and then are disobedient another way.

It's really what we love is who we are. Who we love. Matter of fact, James K. A. Smith and younger philosopher now at Calvin College, he’s been pointing out that what we worship really is what we love. So you figure out what you love and I often say what you admire, desire, pursue, and serve, and that will tell you what you really love and what you really worship. Now in that C.S. Lewis even says imagination is the organ of meaning. That is, you can be told something but you don't know what it means unless you imagine into the realities that it is explaining. I mean we know this from scripture. “As the deer pants after the water so my heart pants after you.” That's an age-old way of comparing something that is less understood or more difficult to understand with something that's more familiar to understand. It's a metaphor, and we have seen that you can't understand facts without an imaginal dimension. Now, part of the problem is, I know I got to be careful not doing a lecture, but part of the problem that we see is that we think if we say something, if I explain A plus B equals C that we understand it, but we don't.

Roger

Okay, so let me stop you there. I want to ask you to give more examples of prophets using the arts to convey their message. You just mentioned poetry and song, all these different things, but the things that come to mind is that part in Isaiah where he walked through town with “buttocks bared.” I still can't imagine. I'm not sure missionaries should do that nowadays…

Byron

But there are cultural ways of doing that same kind of outlandish thing to help people wrestle and be jolted into the realities of what God is speaking into their lives. Remember drama and theater? Jeremiah 13, the linen belt. Jeremiah 19, the clay jar incident. Jeremiah 27, making a yoke and wearing it around. Poor Jeremiah. Yeah, it was Jeremiah. He lay on his side...

Roger

I think that's Ezekiel.

Byron

Ezekiel, he had to lay on his side for, like, an incredible amount of time.

Roger

Yeah, he was going to use his own excrement to cook his food, and he's like, no, let me use cow dung instead.

Byron

Yeah, that's right.

Roger

I'm just imagining missionaries doing this nowadays. It's hard to imagine, but this is in the Old Testament. This is in the Scriptures of how prophets actually communicated God’s word.

Byron

A lot of the missionaries who have broken into the preliterate societies have done exactly this. Look, we are not talking just about artsy fartsy strategy here. We are talking about the need to encourage nationals to have the validation of or the permission to create indigenous liturgy, indigenous expressions. What is liturgy anyway? It is metaphors and symbols and various kinds of activities, when infused in faith and arranged in a human engageable manner, somehow human beings step into the presence of God and touch his transcendent reality, which is a dynamic of mystery. It's not just an intellectual exercise.

And we need artistic expressions. Everything in a worship service is an artistic expression, except maybe a dull sermon.

Roger

Yes, I agree with you. But also, why the role of missionaries? Why is it so important to send people over—all the money, support raising from the United States and from every country to every other country as you said before—

Byron

Sure.

Roger

Won't it just happen naturally? Why…

Byron

Apparently not. Number one, Jesus commanded it as you're going, wherever you're going, be making disciples. And then he said, this gospel shall be proclaimed to all of the nations, and then the end will come.

Roger

So that includes artists? We have to make disciples?

Byron

Yes, it does, quite frankly. We see that with Bezalel and Oholiab, first time the Holy Spirit actually filled individuals and gave them the ability to teach or we could put that “disciple.” Any teacher, particularly teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade, know that if you're going to teach real understanding, you cannot just say it. These kids have to participate in it. You have to capture their imagination.

Roger

Are you saying that that's what God did with Israel and us?

Byron

I teach worship in the Old Testament and one of the key things that I press in this deal is what in the world has got up to with the sacrificial system, 1500 years of a whole lot of life liturgies that just touch every aspect of life. Well, in that for 1500 years, he was trying to help people understand. Number one, he is in the middle of everything in life, every process of life. The way we use the bathroom, the way we have involvement with our spouse, the way we deal with our family, the way we wash our hands. These were not just religious things. These were how humans ought to live in a fallen system.

Roger

Well, just the way you're talking about this too. It's so clear that God is Lord of culture, that he is intimately involved in how we interact with each other. So arts and culture, the way and the why it looks different in every single culture around the world is so exciting that God is intimately involved in that and how we interact with each other.

Byron

Absolutely. And maybe that might help in Japan. I mean, I've been going to Japan since 1966. I've been there maybe 15 times. And I've had the great privilege and honor of actually learning from many Japanese Christian leaders and have had the joy of explaining the role of worship in church growth and how if we can make that more indigenous, we will literally see God touch the hearts of people outside the church. Well, now, if that's the case, and if worship is more than singing songs, God forbid that that's your dull definition of what worship is. Worship is reverencing and responding to the person and the work of God 24/7. Worship is always personal. Sometimes it's public in a gathered setting. And all the time it's personal. And even when you're in a gathered worshiping thing, you have come there to together with the body of Christ, reverence him and revere him and acknowledge who he is and rehearse his sovereignty and his supremacy and his primacy and his beauty and his love and slowness to anger and compassion and all of those things. And that's why we celebrate communion oftentimes.

The Lord told us when we gathered together to rehearse the story of the gospel, not just to remember it in one sense, but to interact with the life-saving, soul-saving work of Jesus. We are not just satisfied because of God's desire for us to go, oh, that's nice. No, we need to write music like the Hallelujah Chorus. We need to write the greatest music in the world. We have the greatest paintings in the world, the greatest celebration in the world. Matter of fact, human community when it breaks out in song, whether they're specialists or not. So part of the reason that we need artistically gifted people, people who are as the Hebrew words for craftsmen and artisans mean, people who are unusually wise at imaginative design or expression is wise.

Roger

“Wise.” That's an interesting word to use there. Not gifted, but wise.

Byron

That's right. A matter of fact, you'll see, whether it's in the artisan and craftsman—there are 19 craft industries that we see in the scripture, in the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament and such, we see those plus musicians and singers. And if you look, these guys aren't entertainers. These are part of the fabric of the community. Worshiping God and leading the community into the life of community, which is supposed to be in Israel's history, centered around the reality of God's love and faithfulness and compassion and restoration and such. That's the meta-narrative. I mean, the Exodus and Passover and the Day of Atonement and all of these feasts, they demonstrate that God is in the middle of the community. They demonstrate that sacrifice is important and that sacrifice, where is it culminated? In Messiah. He is the Passover Lamb. He is the Great High Priest. That's what the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament is all about, trying to explain this and such, but who is best capable? I submit to you that God has given not a special class of people, but he's given a specialized class of people, imagination specialists who are wise at imaginative design and expression, so that we take metaphors and symbols and human expressions or there are twelve human signal systems that every culture has, but they each have different meaning in that particular culture. So it's not one size fits all, right? And we rearrange those in ways that provide environments like a celebration or a worship service or a pageant or a circumcision celebration or…

Roger

And before we started this recording, you were telling me about “yatsar,” that Hebrew verb, because you were just talking about imagination quite a few times there, but what that means in the Hebrew scriptures I thought was fascinating.

Byron

Sure, now, the term “to imagine” is “yatsar.” The term, as I understand it's pronunciation for “imagination” is “yetser.” You see these terms used 79 times in the scriptures, maybe six, seven, eight times…I've got to count it again, so I could be wrong…but seven, eight, nine times it's translated “vain imaginations.” And we think of imagination as this dynamic where we think of something that isn't true and pretend that it is true. So idolatry, for example. That is a vain imagination. That's a good example of it. We have thought something up that isn't true, and we have placed faith in it as if it were true. But most of the usages of imagination or to imagine are in the context of reality, that is, it means to form in your mind before you fashion it in time and place.

Protestant Christians particularly haven't liked that idea since the 1500s when the Reformation began. And these Protestants wanted the word of God in the vernacular, which is good. It's essential to say we want that today. And they were sick and tired of religious humanism, religion without Jesus. And so they wanted to expound the word of God and understand it more deeply. And that is very good. We should not back off on that at all. But to understand how human beings actually learn and embrace, inculcate, digest, assimilate, that psychomotor reality of interaction with life and with others. That's not just a formula, there's a mystery in there. And part of it is we have to imagine it.

Roger

But what you were saying before, too, is that imagination is not something that's just unique to humans, but that has come from something. It's part of the image of God. And you were even referring to a scripture passage that said…

Byron

For example, Isaiah 26:3. In the King James it says, “He is kept in perfect peace whose mind is staid on thee.” It's not the Hebrew word for mind. It's the Hebrew word for imagination. But we don't like that word in English, so we don't translate it that way. Actually, I checked it in Japanese too…

Anyway, we generally translate imagination in scripture as mind, form, or fashion. But those three words do not catch the fullness of the edgelessness, the bigness of what God has given human beings to enter into interaction with the infinite realities of his nature. As J.I. Packer said, the infinite perfections of who he is, his attributes. We have to have a design feature that allows us to move into the bigness and the greatness, which we will never exhaust. Paul said, “Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the knowledge and the wisdom of God. How unsearchable they are. How unfathomable they are.” And then he goes on, “Who has known his mind? Who's become his counselor? Who has done anything to obligate him to pay that person back? No, all things are from him and through him, and go back to him, to him be the glory forever.” That doxology, which happens to be a first-century hymn, by the way, that he just lifted out of the culture, he didn't make that up. It was a hymn that was being sung. It's a didactic hymn that he plunked in the middle of this letter to the Roman Church and to others. He's coming off of having explained this phenomenal reality of the atoning work of Christ.

Roger

Let me just go back to the scripture passage you just quoted. It says that God basically had imagination. So it can't be a bad thing.

Byron

No, it cannot be a bad thing. Isaiah 45:18 is another passage where it says God created the word God, “bara-ed” the earth. Okay? He made it out of nothing. That “bara” generally is assigned to only God because he makes all things from no thing. Humans don't do that. But then he said, he did not imagine it to be empty. Then you go into the passage, you see he meant it to be full of people. Now, just think for a minute. If imagination is only making up something that isn't true and pretending like it is true, then God would not have that particular attribute or that particular capacity, right? So God's imagining people is a big deal. And he imagined people before he created us. And then when he created us, even the psalmist in Psalm 8 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him? The Son of man that you care, and yet, you've made him a little less than God.” The human creature, men and women, male and female, are phenomenal. We have imaginality. That's why I suggest in looking at how the word imagine, the terms—“imagination” and “to imagine”—are used in the Hebrew scripture, along with forming in your mind before you fashion it in time and space, I see there are two other dynamics that I suggest. One is imagination is as we see it in scripture, seeing what could be before it is in terms of reality. God imagined human beings before we were and then in eternity past came to a place where he created. And then the highest of his creation was the human creation. And here we are. And he breathed on us and wanted special relationship with us. That in itself is creative and it's far beyond a propositional statement or a piece of dogma as an intellectual philosophical statement.

Roger

Right. And that to me, I'm thinking about that's the whole foundation of missions, church planting in other countries, planting churches where there are no churches. You're first imagining it. This could be. We could have a church here and then working to make that happen.

Byron

That's exactly right. As a matter of fact, you say, why should we? You know, I've been praying where some of, for example, Japan has different diaspora groups all over the world. And those groups have become bilingual and they have also become bicultural as believers. I am hoping that there will be Japanese believers passionately in love with Jesus. Whether they're Baptists or anybody else, Presbyterians or Pentecostals, doesn't matter. They're in love with Jesus seeking the will of the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, in line with the word of God, Jesus. That's pretty trinitarian solid, isn't it? And in doing that, they reach out to people. As a matter of fact, you can't just blab about the gospel. The currency of the kingdom is relationships.

Roger

Right. Exactly. Community.

Byron

Alright, and community cannot live without imaginative expression. Every community in the world…

Roger

The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the shelters we gather in…

Byron

Everything. And you cannot deal with the unknown without metaphors, symbols, and expressions within the known that help us by faith connect with the transcendent reality of God. And then you can't be human and live without beauty. For example, you know, we have truth, beauty, and goodness. Or truth, beauty, and virtue. You can't have those without God. Matter of fact, Jonathan Edwards points out he believes that the ultimate beauty is God's moral beauty, that's primary beauty. And then he sees that secondary beauty is created beauty. Have you ever noticed that when you actually stumbled into something beautiful that strikes you as beautiful? It’s not passive.

Roger

It changes you. It impacts you.

Byron

That's right. It's life-giving. It's energizing. It's hope-giving.

Roger

Yeah, and we've really experienced that in the earthquake, right? There was the brokenness and the mud and the darkness. Electricity was out and it was cold.

Byron

That's right.

Roger

And I had no idea that in that environment, beauty would be important. But it's exactly what you're saying. It was hope-giving in ways that I had not foreseen. Maybe I believed intellectually, but then I was really experiencing it.

Byron

And see, that's not an intellectual discourse. That's actually narrative experience or wisdom experience. Now you look back whenever you see words in the Hebrew scriptures—wisdom, knowledge, ability, skill, and understanding. All five of those words are wisdom words. So we're dealing with capacities of wisdom, and we're seeing that people with artistic…Do you see how I'm actually even shying away from using artists because most people, their idea of an artist is so incomplete, it doesn't make any sense in real life. And plus, modern art says that art is useless. It's only for sort of esoteric objects and activities of contemplation. Well, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. You can't live the love affair between a husband and a wife is very functional, procreation in most cases, and it's also very beautiful. And frankly, I mean, Elkanah and Hannah, the father and mother of Samuel before she was able to have children, he said, “Is not my love for you greater than the love of ten sons?” Oh, that's not sentimental. That's substantively beautiful and life-giving.

Roger

But going back to this word wisdom, I find fascinating because involved in that is not just intellectual knowledge, but it's a way of understanding the world around us that we interact with, how we interact with each other, how we interact with God. And so for you to say that the artisans in the Bible that are always referred to as having a certain kind of wisdom is really interesting to me.

Byron

Well, I think we had to take note. I mean, even when Nebuchadnezzar captured Israel in the final captivity in 586, 87, whatever, and the preoccurring, there were two or three other times in that before he finally wiped everybody out…notice who he took from the community. He took the government leadership, the political leadership. He took the military leadership, he took the religious leadership, and he took the craftsman. Now, that says something about the status and understanding in probably a semi-literate community of the importance of the artisans and the musicians and such. And they were doing something way more than just, you know, singing in a bar. They were actually bringing a facilitation of community to bear. Now, there's always generalists and specialists. My understanding is that specialists are not bad. Their job is not to be focused on themselves, but to facilitate the generalist into touching the transcendent realities of what they're focusing on. Now, we still do that right now at a football game in our Americanism religion that we have. We've got our liturgies that we do and such, and we bring in a musician to sing the national anthem. I think they do that in most every country in their own cultural things.

Roger

Even a more basic example is how do you wish someone a happy birthday without singing Happy Birthday? I mean, that’s the whole experience.

Byron

That's right. And without something metaphorical, which people say that there's nothing beyond what we can observe. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life. You can't walk down the street and feel happy. Show me happiness, you know? Come on.

Roger

I can draw a smiley face for you.

Byron

There you go. And that might bring a smile to someone else if it's your kiddo who's four years old, and that deepens your bond together. Look, that's why I often quote C.S. Lewis. Not many people know Barfield, but Barfield was even more, who was a colleague of C. S. Lewis. Everybody is happy about C. S. Lewis's cognitive ability and his rational intellect, but even he says that without imagination, we don't know…we don't understand what we think we know.

And think about this. This is not just a religious and esoteric deal. To get a person to outer space and get them back again in an ordered universe, you have to imagine into those realities. They're not non-realities, they're real realities. Math is beautiful if you understand it, and it's marvel-filled when we send up SpaceX or something else like that. So all that to say, if we do not have artistically inclined people here, we are going to, number one, be absolutely ethnocentric. I don't care who is going to whom. And it's not just an American thing or Western European thing. I've run into all over Asia, I've run into one culture group saying, my way is Yahweh (or your way is Yahweh) and that is not correct. Yahweh's way is Yahweh. And he manifests himself differently. We need artistically gifted people to go and be a catalyst to the nationals, to the leadership there.

And we are often what I call the imaginable and emotional intellect specialists. Now, we can't leave rational intellect, but we've got to have more than that to make sense, because we are not building a philosophy, we're building a community. And there again, whether we're Presbyterian or Pentecostal, we are relying on the supernatural work of God to move through our frail and dull selves and manifest himself, strike other people's hearts and begin to build that human community, which is a mysterious but marvelous interaction, one with another.

Roger

I think that's a great place to end. This ethnocentricity…we don't want that. We want to see God reflected in these different communities. Thank you so much for your time.

Byron

You're welcome. And I just want to say one more thing, Roger. I'm so happy for you and Abi and the way that you're giving such phenomenal leadership, servant leadership, in how artistic specialists are absolutely central to church planting. I talk about you around the world.

Roger

Oh my...

Byron

Thank you so much.

Roger

Yes. Thank you, Byron.

Byron

You're welcome.

Roger

This is Roger Lowther, and you’ve been listening to the Art, Life, Faith Podcast. Don’t forget to check out my website, rogerwlowther.com, for a transcription of this podcast and various links. As we say in Japan, “Ja, mata ne! See you next time!”

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