An Open Letter To Jon Foreman and Switchfoot

Dear Jon and Switchfoot,

At the time of this writing, you are in the midst of your Fading West Tour, and a band of protesters has been dogging you from date to date. They have screamed at you through megaphones that your vision of the world, of being human, and of faith is simply wrong. Dead, and dying, wrong. Ouch-you’re-corrupting-everyone wrong.

At the time of this writing, you Jon have sought to approach them with love, affirming this in personal contact with them, in your words to concert goers, and by tweeting things like:

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I wouldn’t categorize myself as a “fan” (that word feels somewhat frenetic), but rather as an “affinity friend” of you and your work. I.e. I’m one who has found great affinity with your art and spiritual ethos, and would like to see more like it perpetuated in our generation and beyond. Your imperfections as human beings, I assume – only because I happen to be human myself. But your art has deeply affected me; especially your solo work, Jon.

Like many of your “fans,” I would like to demonize the bad guys protesting your work, and give a high five to those whose spiritual rocket launchers who might put an end to such misery – for you and all of us.

But they are us, and we are them. Human beings.

In some ways, the protesters are a caricature of us. A cartoon, depicting the extremes of a faltering vision of what it means to love and be alive. Like Da Vinci’s grotesque studies, each theme is just a bit overstated – and we see how strange we can look.

And I agree, Jon – #LoveAloneIsWorthTheFight.

And yet, there is another reality brought up by these incidents we must all struggle with.

Those protesters? They come by their worldview honestly.

In fact, we gave it to them.

In a basket, with a bow.

We Gave It To Them
We all gave it to them. Not intentionally, but we did. We didn’t spoon feed it to them like some of their misguided (but well-meaning) hate-the-world teachers, but we helped to create the environment within which they struggle and fight and spew.

By we, I mean us, collectively, as those who seek to follow Jesus.

We should own this together.

Two Buckets For Art And Vocation – Sacred and Secular
We affirmed, in word and program, over millennia, that there are only 2 buckets for life and art in a biblical, Christian vision of the cosmos:

Sacred and Secular.

Just two buckets for reality. For meaning. For life. For art. For vocation. For passion. For hope. For a God who just a few years ago invited a star to explode in a neighboring galaxy – which spawned off 200 solar systems our size – the world must be bigger than our buckets.

I feel the darkness set in every time I write just those two categories, Sacred and Secular, together. We set ourselves up for confusion with severely limiting categories for vocation and art, and now Christians are compelled to pick one bucket or the other for all of life’s nuanced, enigmatic, transcendent experience.

One or the other.

We don’t even agree what the terms mean, and the Scriptures give us little clarity as they don’t clearly use the terms. But when Switchfoot and other artful faithfuls show up, we have to wrestle with our terms. And like Jacob, the resulting limp will mean we met with God.

This truncated vision of reality has influenced countless generations, including our protesting friends. The terms themselves we came up with, inter-marrying with popular culture over time, distilling a weak, negative biblical anthropology (a subversion of the majesty of our birth in Genesis 1-2).

Who we are begins with God-breath vivifying our dust; not with our fall into ourselves.

We fed angry fundamentalists with our forgetfulness of who we are, and we fed evolutionary atheists with our spiritual amnesia. We did it.

And only we can fix the feeding frenzy.

One change could turn the whole tide and open up the world. The ancient Celtic Christians felt the seed of that change in their bones, and it drove their creational theology. Rome kept dividing the world up into little categories, while the Celts kept seeing all of life as sacred.

There is only one category in the world, and everything fits within it. You, my friends from afar, embody it in all your imperfection (we only know the half of it), fussy lyrics, and wayward hairstyles.

The category is “Creational,” and I’ll talk about it in a moment.

Our Interview At Trevecca University Solidified This New Category
You may not remember this Jon, but a few years ago I interviewed you at Trevecca Nazarene University, with a group of students sitting on the floor, lounging on couches, and turning their attention to you as a hero of faithful, artistic freedom.

Unfortunately, your marketing group wouldn’t give me permission to video or audio record the interview; that is unfortunate because it was solid, 24kt, re-humanizing gold.

It was gold because it evidenced a reality that most of the faithful of our generation sense intuitively to be true – the world is bigger, and more nuanced, than the two-category world of modern Christian imagination.

It affirmed something I’d been wrestling with for years, and have discussed with biblical and theological scholars in my own spheres of friendship. I’m a worship leader, devoted to nurturing the Body of Christ with music of faith. But I’m also an artist, as a writer, musician, and thinker. I needed a fresh way of thinking, and I saw artists everywhere who needed the same.

We needed a new category. And here’s why we need it now.

Implicit And Explicit Art & Vocation
Common speech among many Christians (pastors, leaders, colleges, industry leaders, radio djs, and artists) suggests that for art (or vocation, or occupation) to be deeply Sacred, it must be explicitly Christian (fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity :  leaving no question as to meaning or intent) and linked to a vocational life of explicit “ministry.”

I.e. Worship music is Sacred. So is Youth Pastoring. Other music is usually Secular. All of it that’s not explicitly Christian. So is a woman’s job as an Astrophysicist.

My goodness.

Implicit art is relegated to the world of “Secular” activity – a metaphysical world where God tolerates what goes on, but doesn’t love it like he loves the explicitly “Sacred.”

Occupations that innovate, create, administrate, bake, decorate, teach, do science, and reams of other fruitful work – outside of an explicitly Christian institution – have been called “Secular.”

In fact, today the implicit is suspect; in fact, it many not be “safe for the whole family.” As a matter of fact, if an expression is not literally understood by the whole family, that compels us to mistrust it. I’m painting with a broad brush, but it’s a brush worth painting with.

C.S. Lewis is the farthest afield many Christians ever get, and if they knew what he really believed as a self-professed “Christian Humanist” (in his day, a follower of Jesus who thought human beings were actually quite majestic, rather than worms of the dust)? Boy oh boy – there would be heaven to pay and a lion to pull off the Secular screen. Wait, or is it Sacred screen when a Christian metaphor is portrayed?

Art about marital love, the hells-on-earth created by abusive relationships or addictions, or the joys and corruptions of technology are simply, off-handedly, and matter-of-factly relegated to the world of the “Secular.”

Work as a Molecular Biologist or Waste Management Specialist is lumped into the “Secular” category with pimps, despots, and perverse celebrities.

We sigh a corporate sigh when we realize our folly, in fleeting moments.

And then we keep perpetuating the silliness with unchanging language.

Creational Art Is What Switchfoot Creates
We forgot that category that “rules them all.” That’s all. We forgot. Madeleine L’Engel and others sought to help us find it again. They tried. And maybe they succeeded.

It is the category that describes all of what you do, Jon and band.

It is a category I call…

Creational.”

It is the category in which our visions of the sacred and secular all fall, and it is the category in which the full scope of human activity takes place and is weighed.

Some Creational art and work leans toward the celebration of a rich spiritual world in which intimate friendship with God can occur. We call it Sacred.

Some Creational art and work leans toward just making life happen. There is no explicitly Sacred or Secular intent. It’s on a continuum, and Creational is a word to describe it. Songs by my favorite artists live here, no matter their faith perspective. The work of a teacher or accountant lives here, and that of the metal-bender and the seamstress. Many artists who make music and film from a faith base have work that lives here. It is what it is – Creational.

Some Creational art and work aggressively leans toward the minimizing of God and the maximizing of humanity. We call that, for lack of a better word, Secular.

We misuse this word all the time in popular Christianity. And we can fix it.

Creational Is What We Love, And Know, Is Good And Right
Creational is the category that could set those of faith free to find beauty everywhere, and to embrace its gift to us with discernment and wisdom as to its origins and trajectory.

It leaves the world nuanced, instead of chopped up into categories. Discernment is messy business; it’s easier to just have buckets. But we can courageously refuse the limited categories. We can choose to see a big, wonderful cosmos.

Guys, all of your art and vocation is Creational, all of it is Sacred as it flows from your heart, and some of your work leans toward what we would call explicitly Sacred (in use and form). I would especially say this of much of your personal solo work, Jon.

Creational is the big category for our human activity as God’s image-bearers,
and Sacred and Secular are ways our expressions can be directed.

Creational Sacred Secular

According to the anthropological narrative on the creation of human beings in Genesis, human beings are created in the image of God – the imago Dei. Some suggest this is simply a vocational statement (we are God’s vice-regents on the earth), and others suggest this is a nature statement (we are like God in the areas of our capacity to love, exert will, benevolently order creation, etc.).

We All Do It
As every person is “created” in the image of God, we all operate from a “Creational” foundation. The music of the symphony, the beats of the producers, the skills of the master gardener – regardless of their faith perspectives – shimmer and shine with the glory of God.

We can run but we can’t hide. God’s magnificence and ingenuity is shining through our expressions. God’s dream, incarnated in Christ, is that all of us return our creational voice to him in worship, adoration, and a yielding to his love that heals us from the inside out.

So, the insertion of the new third category, Creational, alters the definitions of Sacred and Secular and gives us a fresh context in which to see our lives flourish.

Human love, creativity, friendship, art, worship music – everything – all lives here.

It’s Creational, man. We all do it, and are designed to make it all sacred. And Jesus showed us the new way to be human – the creational way – the sacred way to make our lives a response to the Beauty of God.

And we need two stories, a Creational story and a Redemptive story, to give life its birth-to-death-to-beyond meaning. One unifies, and sometimes the other divides. But we fight for the tension to bear the fruit of Love.

So, Jon and Switchfoot? You’re helping to lead the way. Keep Fading West. Keep searching for new musical inspiration and perfect waves. Keep doing that thing you do.

And keep your hearts true. Fight for it. Build in spiritual rhythms that will keep you oriented in the fray of celebrity culture. Keep those rhythms together, and call each other to hidden greatness. We need you to finish well in your private and public life. We really do.

Thanks For Modeling Creational Art & Vocation For Us
Thanks guys. As for the rest of us, we have work to do.

Because the sound of Hope is pounding on the soft sands of the human shore,

Dan

EBOOK THAT ADDRESSES THIS
Worship White Noise

AND BECAUSE I THINK YOU SHOULD CONNECT WITH THEIR WORK
Jon’s Site
Switchfoot’s Site
Fading West Movie Site
Jon’s Huffington Post Blog
Jon’s Twitter Feed
Switchfoot’s Twitter Feed
Switchfoot’s Facebook Page
Jon’s Facebook Page

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Disclaimer: My blog writings represent my personal perspectives on spirituality, faith, art, worship, and culture. The opinions expressed are my own, and not those of the organizations for whom I work or have worked. My goal is encouragement, and my hope is that you find that here on your journey.

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