by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

A lot of us have worked hard to figure out how to use art to connect with the unchurched in our weekend services and we can point to lives that have been changed when God used that art to get past defenses, raise honest questions and speak powerfully into lives. Lately I’ve been stewing on the question of where we go from here. I think great art for our events is a great thing, especially when our events are part of the movement of the Kingdom of God. But what does art for the sake of the movement (as opposed to art for the sake of an event that is part of the movement) look like? A couple of brief thoughts:

  • People are drawn to a movement by its followers as much as its leader. People don’t emulate leaders. They emulate fellow followers. (See Paul’s line about following him as he follows Christ in 1 Corinthians 11.) If our art will serve the movement, it needs to elevate the stories of the movement’s followers. Old school testimony time might have more wisdom to it than we realize!
  • Movements are tied to places, times and people. They’re not static. They’re not floating in the clouds, like Platonic ideals that are detached from the blood and sweat of our everyday lives. And so art for the movement has to have a dynamic relationship with the place and time and people of the movement. It has to be responsive to the community and its needs. This is one of the reasons we’re pushing harder than ever to make original art a benchmark of our work at Granger. Original art can give a voice to the circumstances of the people right here in our neighborhood in a way that reproduced art cannot. If the incarnation is the moment when God wrapped Himself up in the circumstance of the people to whom He was sent, then original art is inherently incarnational.

What about you? Though there’s strength to be leveraged in the hegemony of popular culture, how do you think the Church can leverage art for the sake of a movement that is embedded in a certain place and time? What else needs to be true of our art if it will lend its full force to our mission? Check out an art installation Granger leveraged in a recent series called Before I Die... to capture and promote the heart of the topic being discussed on the weekend.

Bring your staff and volunteer leaders to the Creative & Communication Arts Workshop at Granger Thursday, May 19, to boost your impact with guests.Register by next Monday, April 18 to get the Early Bird rate of just $99 per person, or $89 for groups of 2–5, or $79 for groups of 6+. Attend both days ofworkshops (there’s a second day of additional workshops on Wednesday, May 18) and get a further discount: $20 off per day!

by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

Resolution talk exhausts me. It’s everywhere in the weeks surrounding New Year’s, and with the proliferation of life-hacking websites comes the threat that all this life-skills stuff may be like oars in the canoe without a compass.

“We can help you get where you’re going!”

But how do I decide where to go?

So, wary of how superficial the resolution thing can be, and because we’re fans of good questions here at the blog, I’ve foregone most of the typical New Year’s resolution making in favor of New Year’s question asking. And this year I’m asking two questions:

What’s the difficult truth about me?
What’s the hopeful truth about me? 

(If these questions seem narcissistic to you, you’re probably right. But maybe that’s part of the difficult truth about me. [See what I did there?] And I think the truths about us are often the hardest truths for us to see, so I figure starting there will hopefully lead to the discovery of lots of other truths about God and others and the world around me.)

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by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

Our bodies and souls are connected. Holy encounters are waiting for us in the things we taste, touch, see, smell, and hear. A table can be a temple. But how does that happen?

When I was in middle school, my mom had cancer. It shook me pretty hard. It shook all of us. It was the first time I remember feeling how fragile things can be, how one day your biggest fear is that you’ll get stuck next to the weird kid on the bus, and the next you find out your mom has this thing that could kill her.

She had a major surgery to remove the cancer. My grandpa took me to the hospital while she was recovering and left me alone in the room with her so she and I could visit. While I was in there, her lunch was delivered. Because of her operation, my mom couldn’t lift her hand to eat, so she asked me to help. I walked over to her bed, picked up a spoon, and began to feed her whatever passed for a meal in the hospital that day.

That was the moment when I lost my grip.

The whole cancer experience was one long encounter with my mom’s vulnerability. It was an extended confrontation with the fact that her body, like everyone’s, could be weakened or even destroyed. I had been doing everything I could to avoid that confrontation, but finally, after the surgery was done and she was essentially healed, it was the act of feeding her that finally overwhelmed my capacity to pretend I hadn’t been shattered by the experience. It wasn’t the diagnosis, the prayer times, the knowledge of what was happening in the operating room, or the worst case scenarios of what the cancer could do that brought me face to face with reality. It was a meal.

Whatever we eat, whenever we eat, we are faced with our need. Our contingency. Eating exposes our dependence. We can make ourselves strong and fit. We can shelter ourselves from the elements or build up endurance to face them. We can pad our checking accounts and build up our résumés and make ourselves impressive in so many ways. But then we have to eat. We can lie to ourselves about whether we need love and community by burying ourselves in isolation. We can live in myths about sex and work and a lot of other aspects of life, and we can persist in those myths for years without being confronted with their true nature. But our bodies will quickly disabuse us of any deception if we think we don’t need to eat. Every time we sit around a table eating together, we are acting out a shared confession: We are in need.

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by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

I’m an information fiend. I keep news radio on constantly. (Not the kind of endless opinionated pontificating that we call talk radio though. That stuff drives me crazy.) I like information about quantum physics and I like information about politics and I like information about wars and I like information about art. I like information about history and human nature and psychology and music and engineering and finance and economics and philosophy and law and biology and theology. I eat this stuff up. I feel like the books on my shelf almost audibly hum with promise because they have the potential to teach me new things.

For people who love information, this is a good time to be alive. One estimate says there are something like 14 billion pages on the internet. That’s a lot of information. And this study says that you can get from any one of those 14 billion pages to any other of the 13,999,999,999 pages in 19 clicks or less. That is some serious information access.

Sometimes people or companies act like information differentiates them. I remember seeing an ad for some company that allows you to be a do-it-yourself stock trader at home, and it showed a guy in his home office with two computer monitors, the displays packed with charts and graphs and tickers. The gist of the ad was that this company could provide you with a lot of information and therefore make you a better stock trader. All of that information is what makes that company’s product valuable. Supposedly.

But I don’t know if information sets anyone apart in a world where so many people have access to so much information.

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by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

When I was in high school, I was pretty sure music was my future. It was the only thing I had ever been good at, or at least it felt that way. I had been affirmed by my peers and my teachers, and I loved the way music made me feel: the stage was throbbing with electricity and beauty and connection.

With a lethal mix of presumed clarity and adolescent pride, I burned the bridges that could lead me anywhere else. I had signed up for Physics 2 my senior year because I liked the teacher and my friends would be in the class, but having discovered that it required some advanced math work (I like some math, but I’m allergic to the fancy stuff like calculus), I decided it wasn’t worth my effort. On the first day of class I explained to my teacher that I was going to play music the rest of my life and since that didn’t require physics, I would be failing his class. When we had an exam, I would write my name on the top, leave the answers blank, and turn it back in right away, thus preserving my precious energy for my artistic pursuits. It’s a good thing, too, because otherwise the world may have never been blessed with the prodigious accomplishments of my early musical career. (If you’re wondering why you’ve not heard of said accomplishments, you may have missed my sarcasm.)

I remember at the time feeling so certain about this future. It was a mostly untested plan; I had never successfully written songs, had never explored the music industry at a professional level. But it felt good to have a plan. It felt like I had found a calling.

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by Teaching Pastor Jason Miller

Awhile ago one of my roommates told me about a preacher he heard on the radio that day. The preacher had said, “Our bodies and souls are so connected, they catch each other’s diseases.” I think he was saying that if we do something destructive with our bodies, it will affect us in ways that go deeper than our skin. And if the deep parts of us are sick, that sickness may find its way to the surface of our lives. I think that’s true. But it’s sad that he only talked about the negative side of that connection. If our bodies and souls are really so connected, then couldn’t that connection work for good, too?

If our bodies and souls are so connected, then what happens to our souls when a singer, tapping into the joy of her heart, cries out a song, her voice traveling through the atmosphere to land on our ears, grabbing us, shaking us with the same joy?

What happens to our souls when our eyes take in some staggering beauty, like when the setting sun lights the sky on fire?

What happens when we are touched with love and care?

If our bodies and souls are so connected, then what happens when we stand in the kitchen together, smelling and tasting and talking for hours?

If the things we see or hear or touch or taste or smell have the power to lead our souls toward destruction, then maybe they also have the power to lead them toward life.

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by Jason Miller, Teaching Pastor

I have a print of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling artwork hanging on my wall. It’s the scene they call The Creation of Adam, and it shows God’s hand reaching out towards Adam’s. The details are interesting: God’s hand is stretched, making an effort, while Adam’s is limp and apathetic. But while the details of the image stir up a lot of reflection, they aren’t the main reason I bought it at IKEA a few years ago. The basic idea of the whole thing is what really gets me: God is making Adam alive.

I like this because Adam isn’t Christian or Evangelical or American. He predates all of that. He transcends all of that. His name can be translated “mankind,” meaning in some way his story is our story. All of ours. And in reaching out to Adam, God isn’t making him a denominational convert or asking him to sign a 10-page doctrinal statement. He’s simply giving him life.

Later in the Bible, in the New Testament, Jesus and Adam are lined up in a few passages, and the writers say that Jesus is a second Adam of sorts. This helps me, because if Jesus’s story has something to do with Adam’s story, then Jesus’s story might also be bigger than a Christian story or an Evangelical story or an American story.

I was praying recently, or at least I was trying to pray, and after struggling for a while, I expressed something to God that was true and from my heart:

I don’t want to be a Christian; I want to be a human.

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wrigley panoramic.jpg

by Jason Miller, Teaching Pastor

an homage to baseball (and bigger things)

The day my parents brought home the Chevy Corsica was a big day. We were living in a small town in southwestern Michigan, right by Lake Michigan, and I was five or six years old. A new car for the Millers felt pretty good (especially because it was a stick, which seemed cool).

My dad and I would ride around in that car as he listened to AM sports radio that we picked up from across the lake in Chicago. There was usually a sort of droning hum in the sound, like an electric buzz, probably because of the distance the signal had to travel. Sometimes I would notice my dad humming, too. Not a melody, though. He would just match the drone of the radio, every time he exhaled. I guess he was really into sports radio (still is).

Whether it was in the Corsica or our big white station wagon, I loved road trips as a kid. Thank God my generation wasn’t cursed with those built-in DVD players with flip-down screens like every third row of economy on an airplane. I’d let my mind get lost staring out the window as landscapes passed by. I remember doing a lot of daydreaming then. There was something about a road trip that felt freeing, like we were getting away with something. Whatever your normal schedule is, it has no claim on your life during a road trip. And your usual surroundings are replaced by bigger, more interesting scenes, like fields and highways and cities. I still love a good road trip.

I need experiences that help me pay attention to the things that seem insignificant and ignore the things that feel urgent sometimes. I want moments in which I disregard the clock and instead sense time moving through some other metric. I want to feel connected to other people by something other than email. Road trips with friends are good for all of that. But in the last few years of my life, I’ve found other ways of checking out on the urgent and checking into the transcendent, too. Like watching baseball.

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