WOW - what a time we had. I saw God answer every prayer in a way that far exceeded my hopes for the trip and I am so grateful to Him. I also can't thank you enough for making this trip possible for all of us. It's hard to choose what deserves mentioning here, when there was so much that happened.
Given this trip was a first of it's kind for David Durham (from World to the Wise) and I, we had to remain remain flexible throughout the 2 weeks as we navigated a lot of unknowns. The photo shows David and I having one of the many conversations we had to have as we made minor adjustments to what was planned. This time it was near Notre Dame in Paris, while the artists were working through an exercise I'd given them before we experienced Mass at the cathedral...
Actually, quick side note, during the mass we had police storm the cathedral with guns making arrests, due to an unexpected protest. A group of catholics disrupted the mass because it was being done in an orthodox manner. And the Parisian police don't muck around when it comes to anything that sniffs of terrorism.
I'm grateful for moments like this, where eyes were opened to a different church world that is in desperate need of God's healing and restoration. In Italy we found out only 1 out of every 10 towns has a minister of any kind. This part of our world is in desperate need for God to revive the Church, and for the culture at large to see His glory. Given these difficulties, it's not surprising to see the way God used the Christians we met in ways that deeply moved and inspired us.
I could tell story after story of God at work throughout the trip (including Him using the Notre Dame protest, especially for one artist). While difficult to choose, the events below are some personal highlights that I trust will capture just a little of what was experienced.
We went to 3 different cities: Paris, Lausanne and Florence. In Paris we met with 50 to 60 artists in different settings, including formal gatherings, the artist’s home and local parks/cafés. Of particular note was the coming together of the arts community I started called the Journey Arts Collective and an arts community in Paris called The Foundry.
I’m still amazed to think about how God connected me to David Durham who goes to another church community here in Nashville. David started and ran an arts community called The Crucible for 11 to 12 years (back in the 90’s). He invited his close friend Jim Beise to join us and he said yes. Jim started The Foundary artist community in Paris almost 10 years back. Jim has since moved back to the U.S. and is a pastor who lives 3 hours from Nashville. The Foundary community is now being run by a man called Benoit-Régis Pons (everyone calls him B.R.).
So there was an amazing coming together of like minded leaders. Getting to spend 12 days with David and Jim was incredible. I asked them lots of questions about their arts communities and learned a lot, and they greatly encouraged me in what I’m doing.
B.R. spoke on the night we had the Arts Collective and The Foundry together and Jim translated for us english speakers. The photo shows B.R. (on left) and Jim (on right) speaking at The Foundry. I couldn’t believe it, but when B.R. shared his vision it was almost word for word what I have been sharing with artists in Nashville.
I’m praying about an invitation that has come to me as a result of this trip - B.R. and his fiancée have invited me to sit on a leadership council to organize a conference for artists in Paris. The plan is for us to gather in 2017 as a leadership group, to then launch an international conference in 2018. B.R. is also welcoming our Nashville arts community back, should I do another trip like this, including having me speak next time, and he’d like a couple of our artists to share their work.
It was wonderful to see the Journey Arts Collective artists interacting with The Foundry artists. One of the conversations happened between a guest artist who was being exhibited in the space we met in, a lady who is a visual artist and part of The Foundry community, and Brian who was traveling with me from the arts collective. The guest artist visiting Paris is muslim, the lady from the Foundry recently converted from being muslim to Christianity, and Brian who grew up in the southern church experience. What a combination! They got talking about where our art comes from and the source of our creativity. It was a long passionate discussion that eventually resulted in the lady asking the guest artist if she could pray for him... and he said "yes". So Brian and the lady laid their hands on the guest artist as she prayed in Arabic. Brian said he felt such power as she prayed. Going home on the train the guest artist said to me that this was the best night for him since being in Paris. I love this story!
On a personal note, I was able to speak to a friend of Keren’s who happened to be there. I met her when I met Keren and I hadn’t seen her for 11 years. I couldn't believe she was there! When we met she was exploring faith and art for the first time, and now she is a successful mime and dance artist and passionately following Christ. She spent a long time talking to me about the Paris terrorist attacks last year and this giving rise to a wrestle with her own mortality, something she’s never had to deal with before.
There were some amazing conversations.
The Lausanne Arts Community
In Lausanne we met with about 40 artists at a local church community. I had an opportunity to speak to the artists, we shared some of our art and enjoyed small group discussion. The photo shows me speaking with David Durham translating into French.
When speaking I talked about something we had been looking at on the trip - the myth of utopia. Most travel agents when striving to get customers are promoting a 'utopia' holiday experience. Over the centuries we have also seen most sects and some religious groups strive to create utopia. Dare I say it, the church has not escaped the temptation to strive for utopia in our approach to faith. The word utopia is from the Greek ou, which means "not or no," and Greek topos means “place”. So a literal translation means "no place." Utopia promises ideal perfection and something that does not exist. I talked about the aim of our trip to connect us to 'actual place' - where there are real lives, real stories, real laughter and real tears. We were grateful for the artists in Lausanne, and every community we interacted with, for inviting us into their place where we experienced something very real.
After the small group discussion, during a time of some food and conversation, I had the pleasure of talking to a pastor who had recently felt called to shepherd artists in the city. We exchanged details and are going to stay in touch with one another. I asked him what his job looks like week to week, and the first thing he said was "I do a lot of listening." Very wise words.
I also spoke to a young man named Dan who is a talented pianist and professor. He is starting an arts community in Lausanne called Crescendo, but finding it very difficult to find financial support. Apparently the church community are struggling to see the value in helping artists who create outside the walls of the church. My experience has shown me this is common in many cities around the world, Nashville included. I was also able to talk to him about The Foundry and the international Paris arts conference being explored. A fun connection was found when I mentioned my studies taking place at WAAPA in Perth. Dan mentioned Andy Vance, a jazz pianist in Perth who had mentored him and taught at WAAPA when I was there. It's a small world after all.
Giorgio and The Florence Gospel Choir
I had the pleasure of meeting a beautiful Italian family who run the Poggio Ubertini Retreat Center in the countryside of Tuscany, where we stayed while in Italy. They also oversee a small church community in the local village, which we attended on the Sunday.
One of the sons of this family, named Giorgio, is an incredible singer and vocal trainer. He also formed a gospel music choir in Florence. While there are very few who have a relationship with Jesus in Florence (like Paris, it’s a spiritually difficult city), to my absolute surprise, the people of Florence have a real love of gospel music. As a result, Giorgio decided to form a choir as a way of sharing the gospel, both with those who come to the concerts and those in the choir. As you can imagine, there are some interesting conversations with choir members about what they are singing and the experiences they are having while they sing. We got to see the choir perform on the streets of Florence while there, as seen in this photo.
I hope to bring Giorgio to Nashville at some point in the future. We talked a lot about faith, art and the cultural differences between USA and Italy. It was insightful.
Giovanni Sermon on the Mount - Vinyard and Olive Trees
Giovanni is the granddad of the Italian family we stayed with in Tuscany. One of the highlights of the trip was when he took us on a tour of his vineyard and olive trees (he has 1,600 of them). He turned this experience into a sermon on the mount as he made scripture come alive, describing his life as a farmer, pointing out what he has to do with the olive trees and vineyards, and connecting these back to scripture. The imagery that Jesus was using is just so powerful and we loose this in our city lives.
This led to the final session which I directed. Using the wine of the vineyard and the oil of the olive trees, we took communion together, surrounding ourselves again to our Lord, and then each artist was anointed with oil and prayed for, as a commissioning for what they were going back to in the United States. It was powerful.
Seeing God At Work In The Lives Of The Artists
It is difficult to capture in words the amazing work of God in the lives of the artists who I led on this trip. For each one it was a different outcome. I created a book with 1 or 2 sessions for each day. It provided history, scripture, quotes, questions, thoughts, activities, etc. for them to work through, connecting with each place we were in. The picture to the right shows us working in groups of 3 or 4 on one of the sessions at a cafe up the road from Monet's house.
Some of what I celebrate and give praise to God for includes::
- Awakenings to God’s purpose
- The cutting out of 'stuff' from our lives (which leads to growth... one of things Giovanni talked about)
- Repentance and healing
- A surrender of dreams
- An emerging passion for outreach
- Dormant longings of the heart turning to anticipation
- Restored attention to marriages/families
And for everyone there was the building of deep friendships. These friendships are now leading to each one asking me how they can be part of establishing the arts collective into the future together. For us to create more opportunities for the experiences we had to happen to other artists... and this not limited to Europe trips. What at times has felt like a ministry I was driving on my own is now a small team of artists ready to partner with me.
As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words". Below is a series of photos for you to see a little more of our experience on this trip. Many of the photos capture our interactions with the artists and families we stayed with while traveling.
We're excited to see what God continues to shape in and through us as an arts community, as we go and share the love story of Jesus to the world.