A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

Christ Community has always been intentional about its mission and discipleship. A few years ago we began to think about how to be a more intentional influence on the culture of our communities and the world. What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation? What if, rather than critiquing or vilifying it, we became active participants; in redeeming it and creating redemptive work that influenced it?

Part of this shift in our thinking led us to the arts. We began to imagine using our creativity and talents to positively impact the world. We wanted to create art that was beautiful, thought-provoking, and redemptive.

What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation?

The Power in Art

Arts have the power to transform individuals and communities, and we were brazen enough to believe that we could impact the artistic culture in our city and around the world. Art can help us see the world in new ways, to understand each other better, and to connect with our shared humanity. 

We began to imagine using our own creativity and talents to create art that was not only beautiful, but thought-provoking and redemptive, and encouraging one another to embrace works of art and the artists who create them. The arts could be a powerful tool to actively engage and  steward the gifts of our congregants to influence the world for the glory of God by supporting artists, performance organizations, scholarship programs, and missional partnerships.

Looking at how far we have come in the past few years, I am grateful to see the fruit of those conversations. 

Serving the Artistic Community

The Four Chapter Gallery is a prime example of how we are putting these conversations into action. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the gallery is a beautiful space in the Crossroads District that serves Kansas City’s thriving artistic community. With regular gallery hours and a rotating selection of art installations, it has become a beloved presence in the city, especially on First Fridays.

More than just a space to exhibit art, the Four Chapter Gallery is also a community hub where artists come together for encouragement, collaboration, and deep conversation. Under the leadership of curator Kelly Kruse, the gallery is helping to support a new generation of artists who are creatively renewing the world alongside God through the act of generative creation.

A Storytelling Mission

Inspired by a similar mission, two other Christ Community congregants set off on a venture to engage the arts by creating movies that make a difference. Stephen and Mary Pruitt, an economics professor, and an up-until-then stay-at-home mom, focused on crafting beautiful art through the visual storytelling medium of film. Despite having no prior filmmaking experience, the Pruitts set out to make movies that would shape imaginations and spark better conversations. Fifteen years later, their fifth full-length feature film, State of Grace, is making the rounds at film festivals around the country, including two highly acclaimed festivals in Los Angeles and New York City, along with a Kansas City premiere at the Glenwood Arts Theatre (coming October 13-15, 2023).

State of Grace is a timely and beautiful film about a young mother who loses control of her life and the custody of her one-year-old daughter, Grace, due to a growing addiction to fentanyl. Inspired by actual events, it is a deeply moving film about the power of community and the price of love. Another example of how Christ Community is quietly encouraging artists to create art that sparks meaningful conversations. 

Consider Engaging

Creativity is taking place all around us in closer proximity than you could imagine, and supporting the growing impact of Christ Community in the arts is as simple as taking the time to view exhibits and shows being presented. In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation. Engaging locally, relationally, and intentionally moves this mission forward. And when we are relationally connected to the artists who created the work, we view and respond to it differently. 

In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation.

Join Christ Community in our mission to engage in the arts and influence culture. Start by supporting the opportunities for engagement right around you. Two ideas for this month include visiting First Friday at the Four Chapter Gallery and seeing State of Grace at the Glenwood. Maybe next month attend an art festival in the community, find an artist whose work resonates with you, and start a conversation. 


Illuminations of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets

How to Read the Holy Sonnets

by Guest Columnist and Artist, Kelly Kruse

The Holy Sonnets are admittedly a difficult read. Donne was a brilliant poet who was very honest about his spiritual struggles, making his poems complex and seemingly contradictory at times. One moment you think he means one thing, and the next you’re convinced he holds the opposite belief. Roz Kaveny wrote of John Donne, “Donne’s analogies between conversion and [the breaking of betrothal and rape] could seem trivializing, but that fierce urgency makes them powerful statements of psychological truth beyond his religious beliefs. To start to believe in something passionately that you didn’t consider seriously before hurts. That is a truth beyond religion and beyond God.” I believe Ms. Kaveny is onto something. Conversion hurts.

Each Holy Sonnet is written in Donne’s unique sonnet form, which is a blend of the Italian (Petrarchan) and English (Shakespearean) styles. Each sonnet has fourteen lines made up of ten syllables each. Each line alternates between unstressed and stressed syllables, always ending with a stressed syllable. This gives you an indication of Donne’s desired word stress. As Modern readers, we are tempted to impose our own stress upon Donne’s work, but the form is intentional and word stress is deliberate. Donne’s work had a specific meaning for him, and he did not try to obscure his intentions. For example, you can see the first four lines of Holy Sonnet II with the stressed syllables underlined:

As due by many titles, I resign
myself to thee, O God. First I was made
by Thee and for Thee, and when I was decay’d,
Thy blood bought that, the which before was Thine.

At times, Donne even sacrificed form for meaning by throwing the rhythm off. If there appear to be a wrong number of syllables or the rhythm gets off track, you see that Donne’s priority was in his theology or perhaps even in jarring the reader. Donne did not write these works to show off his technique, but to urgently examine his beliefs. When this happens, it should perk our interest. Why did Donne make that choice? It is up to us to contemplate this.

Donne crafted each of his Holy Sonnets with its own spiritual and theological debate. He mastered rhetoric during his study of law, and he used his skills to strengthen his poetry, making it more clever and serious. Today, we know Donne as a metaphysical poet, though the term was not used by Donne himself. Metaphysical poetry is known for its “excessive” use of philosophy and its tendency to teach the reader a lesson. One of the hallmarks of this type of poetry was the use of a device called a conceit, which is effectively an extended metaphor used throughout a poem that gives its argument a deeper impact. An example of this can be found in Holy Sonnet XIV, where Donne compares his heart to a city under siege for much of the poem. The bulk of the Holy Sonnets were written between 1609 and 1610, though scholars believe Donne worked on some of them as late as 1617, and they were not published until 1633, after his death. The years he wrote the sonnets were a time of extreme financial hardship for Donne, during which he was being recruited to take holy orders as an Anglican priest.

Many students of literature and some scholars question the integrity of Donne’s faith and his conversion, pointing to his early life of debauchery and the later circumstance of extreme poverty as the motivating force for his conversion to Anglicanism. If Donne converted, steady, lucrative, and prestigious work awaited. In the first decade of the 1600s, Donne was a man who had few prospects and no money with a wife who bore a child nearly every year of the first five of their marriage. At one point, three of his children under the age of ten had died, and Donne couldn’t even afford to bury them. In this desperate state of mind, he contemplated suicide, even going so far as to write a prose piece in defense of the act. It is not hard to imagine a man in those circumstances renouncing his faith to care for his family. It is important to note, however, that in our postmodern (and post-enlightenment) culture, we have no real grasp of the seriousness of apostasy (renouncing the Catholic faith) for an English Catholic in Donne’s era. Donne saw his apostasy not just as a matter of earthly life and death, but as a battle for his immortal soul. I submit that the Holy Sonnets are some of the best arguments for the integrity of Donne’s faith. One of his contemporaries, Bishop John Earle, is quoted as saying about Donne, “He has sounded both religions and anchored on the best, and is a Protestant out of judgement, not faction, not because his country but his reason is on his side. The ministry is his choice not refuge, and yet the Pulpit not his itch but his fear…and his life (is) our religion’s best apology.”

With all of that information, we are able to see how layered and unique these sonnets are. Donne used his poetic gifts to work through opposing philosophical and theological perspectives, asking very difficult questions in each sonnet. As you read the sonnets, try to look for tensions between these theological ideas. There are examples of these tensions in Holy Sonnet IV, for instance, where Donne compares the values of penance (O make thyself with holy mourning, black) and repentance (Or, wash thee in Christ’s blood). Sonnet form, which had previously been a place for Donne to cleverly expound on his sexual escapades (though in these, too, can be found a deep preoccupation with his spiritual unrest) became a place where Donne began to grapple with the true questions of his soul. Scholars believe Donne may have practiced Ignatian Contemplation, a Catholic practice that he likely would have been taught in young adulthood. This practice involved up to four weeks of spiritual exercises aimed at rigorous examination of one’s own sin combined with meditation on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This practice often resulted in heightened states of emotion and turmoil, and the grief and tension that can be found in many of the sonnets is likely a result of a spiritual practice like this.

At the time of his death, John Donne was best known as a celebrated preacher and the respected Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His poetry was forgotten until T.S. Eliot and other contemporary authors discovered his work in the twentieth century. It is arguably Ernest Hemingway’s obsession with Donne’s Meditation XIV and the line, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee,” that made Donne the celebrated poet and thinker we know today.