(This is one of a series of posts recounting my experience at Story Chicago. Read Part I here.)
Erwin McManus shared his story next.
It blew me away. Many of you, like me, might be aware of Erwin as “a famous church guy.” I was familiar with his books and that he pastored a church (Mosaic), but I had no idea what the last five years of his life has been about. Essentially, he had a “crisis of faith.” It’s the classic story of doing so much for God that you lose your relationship with God. But, with Erwin it was on such a grand scale due to the influence and impact of his church. Erwin shared that he got to a point where he said, “God, if you’re out there, I need You to show-up, because I’m done.” He was hanging by a thread…and that thread was Jesus. That was all he had. As he was walking along the beach, he felt God say to him, “I want you to absorb the beauty of the Universe and make it known to the world.” With that, Erwin’s life changed. He’s now fully immersed in film-making and fashion, among other artistic endeavors. He’s finally embraced what God has for him and is living-out that call.
In what was one of those “Dude, that’s totally true!” moments, Erwin explained how we’ve been conditioned to accept the mundane as beautiful. Our taste buds are so used to blah, that we have accepted blah as the best and don’t know how to see true beauty anymore. He gave the example of how he grew-up loving his steaks burned to a crisp. One day a chef made him a medium-rare steak and, as he said, “I met God.” He was awakened to what could be rather than what he was used to; what he had accepted was the best. We need to retrain the taste buds of our souls to discover true beauty.
Erwin also started what seemed to me to be an overarching theme during the conference, which was the struggle Christian artists have with incorporating their faith with their art. We want to be “accessible” to all people and feel like bringing God into the picture will somehow disqualify us from being considered true artists. Or that people will be turned-off by our faith and thusly, disregard our contributions. And while it’s true that people will feel that way, we must not create our art to please people only. We must make art to glorify God. We make art because we were made to create by the Creator. To shut Him out is to cut ourselves off from the ultimate Mentor.
Next, Isaac Rentz took to the stage.
Isaac is a filmmaker and has created some amazing videos for some incredible bands. His video for Cage the Elephant’s “Shake Me Down” made me cry. Now, Isaac wasn’t the best speaker, but he might have been my favorite. What I mean is that, Isaac wasn’t polished. He said, “I want to say…” a lot, which speakers aren’t supposed to do. He said “um” a lot and walked around and was wearing a hat. But, let me tell you (hehe) why I loved Isaac. He was a young man up on stage sharing his passion. He was speaking from the heart, transparently. There was no doubt about it, this was the real Isaac. My favorite part was when he shared the new global GAP ad he created and said, “I didn’t really have a good place to put that in my talk, but I’m proud of it and just wanted to show it to you.” We were his friends.
He also had some fantastic insights. He talked about how creating art is “really, really hard.” It’s supposed to be. It’s not some easy, magical process. He also shared about how he thought things would get easier once he got more famous; once he “made it.” That things would just come to him and he wouldn’t have to work as hard. That’s false, as many other speakers attested to. And I loved when Isaac said, “Sometimes when you think things are going wrong, they’re really going right.” What a powerful idea. One that you can only really see in retrospect, which makes it difficult, but helps to give you a better perspective when you think things are going badly. Isaac also gave his perspective on the idea of “Christian art” and how he feels it doesn’t exist. In what might have been the line of the day, he said, “I’ve never seen a piece of art that has accepted Jesus as its personal savior.” Touché, my friend. That said, he proposed that all art made by Christians should be to the glory of God; another theme which permeated the conference.
Tomorrow I’ll wrap-up day one with my thoughts on Anne Lamott. Stay tuned!