Blog author: Mindy Hirst
by on Monday, June 18, 2012

This week we feature an interview with Joseph Tenney, an arts pastor at Park Community Church in downtown Chicago. He is passionate about the integration of art and theology and has helped to encourage art in the church by having “Immersion Nights” which is described on the church site as “an evening filled with images of art and discussion around what they mean and how we can learn to look at art through the ‘Lens of Christ.’” You can follow him at his blog and on twitter.

How did you come up with the idea to do the “Art Immersion” events?
The Immersion night came up in one of our meetings as an art team. We were throwing ideas out and someone mentioned, “We should have a night where we get together dozens of paintings, clips, sculptures and just wow people at re-creation!” I loved it and said, YES! Thus, “Immersion Night.”

What are you hoping will be the result in the people of Park Community Church as they engage with these events?
A few things for the people of Park, 1) pedagogical. I’m hoping it will educate and inspire our community. You have to create a “need” for something for someone to know it’s important/significant/etc. Right now in the western church, generally, Art is not seen/experienced as needed. Rather, it’s compartmentalized, something other than the concreteness of sciences, math, law, etc. So one aim is to educate and create a need. 2) cultural/communal renewal. I’m hoping that through the various events and gatherings we hold, our artist community will deepen, new relationships will form, the degree of our people’s influence will increase as a result of contending with some of the issues and conversations we hold.

How can an artist be On Call in Culture as they represent their faith? What does that look like?
Artists (among all Christians) are to till the soil, EXIST in the very fabric of culture. They should be creating and communing with the culture around them in a winsome, compassionate, loving, thoroughly-thoughtful way. And this MUST be done as an extension of a community of faith around them. That’s one thing I’ve learned about from being married to an artist for a decade – artists cease to function in a “whole” sense without two things in place: community/relationship and creation. BOTH need to equally exist and flourish. So I think to be a “whole” artist representing their faith well in culture, they need to be thriving spiritually, relationally, emotionally and physically – in the context of community and creation. They should be sitting on boards at the CSO and Lyric, volunteering their time at various art festivals around the city and rubbing shoulders with those engaged in the politic of the city and artistic involvement.

Are you seeing any exciting examples coming out of your congregation?
You know, on the music front we’re seeing a lot. We’ve seen some great songs come out of our church, both for communal and non-communal use. We’ve seen some musicians NOT take certain jobs that would move them across state or country because it would mean losing the rich community found within their band. That’s amazing! In the broader art sense, we’re young. We have some tremendously gifted artists doing some very cool stuff. There’s one guy who’s a comedian and creative writer getting his MFA in the Creative Writing Program at Seattle Pacific University. Super talented gifted writer…and hilarious. Does shows with the Chicago group BLEWT Productions. He’s a great example of being that kind of winsome, redeeming, compassionate presence in the city in a sector largely untouched by the Church. We’re pretty young though and our community is growing!

How has art changed your community / your church?
I’ve thought about that question a lot lately. Does art change us? Should it change us? Is the function of art to change us or make us better? I think while art isn’t here necessarily to make people better people, we do believe it has a transformative power, like what you’re asking. I think by simply creating space within the church for dialogue, processing, questioning, learning and experiencing art on as many different levels as one can, we impart a vision of reality. That’s important, because we’re to be truth-tellers as Christians; honest and truthful about the world around us—otherwise we compromise authenticity. By imparting an honest vision we’re in a sense inviting people into that vision. I think that’s one place where “change” begins to take effect. De Gruchy talks a lot about that in Christianity, Art and Transformation. A unique quality of art is its ability to embody and incarnate this vision – thus revealing the perversion and degeneracy of the world around us while at the same time revealing the immense beauty and splendor in the world. Good art stirs the affections and imagination to create new possibilities for transformation. Obviously, these are art’s positive effects So I think at Park, we’re seeing a vision of the world around us, in all of its honest and true facets, slowly emerge. This is a good thing! I think we’ll only experience deeper transformation and growth the more we can honestly and faithfully impart this vision.

Thank you Joseph for your insightful answers! We appreciate what you are doing to help Christian artists be On Call in Culture.