On a calm, gray June morning I was driving to work. The contemporary Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi was bursting through the dainty speakers of my little car. About a month prior I had found myself in a ritual of listening to his pieces in my car. There were two songs I would listen to in the morning and two songs in the afternoon, everyday. Einaudi’s music is full of life, woes and worries, joys and ecstasies.
On this particular morning I was down, saddened by the events of the previous days and arrested by the dreary morning haze that had been slung over my heart. Suddenly, I became aware of the songs movement. It caressed the flight of birds and padded the passing pavement with soft glimmer. I was reminded of this God that we are united with, I was reminded of who I am and why I am here. During moments of sneaky, dark despair Einuadi’s music had found a voice in my life over the past months. But, this time I thought, “I am so happy that he wrote this. I am so thankful that he spent so many years in training and hours at the piano all to compose this piece…. He’ll never know. He’ll never know how thankful I am.”
This was a redemptive moment in my life. Our lives are full of minutes where God reaches into our physical reality, and through his various agents, grants us healing, joy, courage, love, and much more. We are recipients of God’s restorative work on the earth. We are recipients, but we are also participants, co-creators with the Spirit and co-actors with Jesus. We call this ministry. The ministry of Christ is deep, wide, simple and complex, grand and mundane. It is the good news of the gospel, the voice and hand of healing, and a gesture towards the full restoration to come.
The ministry of Christ that we participate in is personal. Tragically, we have condensed the word “ministry” to represent only one type of relationship, style of life, type of task, and with this restraint we have solidified the restraining order on our artisans.
Ministry is at home.
By ‘home’ I mean those people that are closest to us, both our dearest family and friends. In these relationships we give and receive. My purpose in my best friend’s life is to draw her deeper into the tapestry of God, and pray her unto wholeness in him. But, I am also the recipient of her love, forgiveness, knowledge and sustenance as she blesses me in the same way. This is the ministry of Christ.
Ministry is in the neighborhood.
Our neighborhoods include those persons that we brush into regularly. Think small group; think an outreach Bible study in your apartment building, a mentoring relationship or the barista that serves you coffee every morning. We are bearers of light in the normal happenings of our daily lives. These relationships may not be as intimate or intricate as those with our dearest friends, but these face to face, often longer-term relationships give room for the free exchange of knowledge and opinion, and the opportunity to experience life side-by-side. This is the ministry of Christ.
Ministry is on the bookshelf.
Communication does not necessitate face-to-face verbal communication, but there are a variety of visual, verbal, instrumental and other sensical experiences that communicate. The work of the artisan is not limited to this category, but most often resides here. The painter, poet, academic researcher, the composer and so on are craftsman who create works that are, at a later time, observed by another. God, the artist, and the viewer are united in a complex exchange of speaking and listening. Though this relationship is not face to face it is remarkably unifying and affective in the life of each person. This is the ministry of Christ.
Contemporary Christianity, especially Protestantism, has by and large exalted the middle tier of relationships, ‘the neighborhood’, as the primal extension of Christ’s ministry. This relational idolatry has both decreased the value of the ‘dearest’ relationship, friends and family, and also excommunicated the ‘bookshelf ’, the life of the artisan, deeming it not even as valid ministry. Therein, gospel-sharing, the foundation of evangelicalism, has been reduced to the verbal communication of knowledge. This is certainly a way that Christ restores the world, but it is not the only way.
The church had once often ordained and commissioned artists. Those that commissioned them were not performing a do-good task of parishioner involvement. But, they recognized their work actually meant something. It was not merely giving people a place to “exercise their creativity,” but a recognition that the work itself was valuable, even if the artist was not present and would not remain present.
There is a time for fasting and a time for feasting. It is true that the church was marred by her own idolatry in the arts, academics and fine arts alike. For many the arts became either a relic of political domination, or a gem of divinity in themselves, rather than in the transcendent God who breathed into them. The stripping of the church walls and abstinence from the arts was a necessary fast for the times. And, because of this fast we may now rightly rejoice in the arts. Let us now give the church back her senses; let us give the gospel melodies and colors. Let us participate in Christ’s restoration by the crafting of prose and the elegance of dance. Let us welcome the artist back to her studio. Let us commission him to his ministry once again.
Revelation was at hand in my experience with Einaudi’s music. The Spirit of God worked in those tunes to remind me, heal me, and transform me. The work of an artist takes patience, sometimes solitude and certainly time. But in this he or she participates in the work of Christ, the revelation of the Father and the restoration of the world. Let the artist, preacher, missionary, social worker, and professor stand side-by-side.