Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Underground^Open 2020 | An Invitation into the Creation, Innovation, & Improvisation in the Big, Beautiful Artistic Mystery that Jesus Shares with Us




"Without the risk of failure, art cannot be as spectacular as it is." + Sereen Gualtieri, artist who fights human trafficking by excavating into the depths of God's heart in search for the authentic, the wild & the beautiful 


The Underground Network has 15 sister movements in different cities and countries. Each is unique, and each leader throughout has a unique story and a unique skill set, which leads to each missional expression having its own uniqueness because of the curiosity, context, and collaboration. The prayer and hope is that these unique expressions of what Jesus has invited them into with Him will provide multiplying glimpses of what He called the Kingdom of God across the continents. And I continue to pray and hope for what God might stir underground in Wormtown.

At the beginning of February 2020, I had the joy of spending some time with some Underground people and participating in their Underground^Open: A Call to Create conference. There with others from multiple continents, I enjoyed "insightful talks on the connections between ideas like imagination and faith, beauty and holiness, creativity and mission" with painters, improv comedians, spoken word poets, singers, directors, and producers (like Michelle Lang, creator of the Art of Tough Talks).

Below are some of my takeaways from the beautiful artists who helped inform us how to be better ministers, innovators, missional communities, servant leaders, and friends:

10 Underground^Open 2020 Reflections + Calls-to-Action


1 | Failure Can Be Beautiful: Failing is part of the human life. And failure can make the next attempt more beautiful because it allows for refining and refocusing. In painting, there are no mistakes that can't be used in the final piece. A painter makes a mistake with a line in a painting, yet after completing the painting, she discovers the "mistake" bringing more beauty out of the piece. Without the risk of failure, art cannot be what it is.

| 2 | Be Brave. And Stop Saying, "Don't Mess This Up ... " Work Hard at Playing. It's Frightening and Fun: Joining Jesus in His work involves blood, sweat, and tears. There is gravity, and yet as the One who creates and sustains all things through resurrection, there is also levity. Without play, life tends towards being shallow, limp, and flat. Following the play that brings us joy shows us something of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

| 3 | Create to Inspire More Awe ... Not Merely for Others' Approval: We are called to create and will be creating because we are called. Some of what we provide will be received and appreciated. Some will not. Some will applaud. Some will deride. Some won't care. Be faithful anyway.

| 4 | It's Better to Be Sorry than to be Safe. Embrace Spontaneity!: We are never going to be perfected experts this side of death. Accept this and you will continue to learn, challenge, fight, and create. Don't settle to be a “professional.” Push to be consistently curious. Keep trying, failing, learning, etc. Safe can be not living your life, but just passing the time.

| 5 | Embrace the Process, Not the Product. Make a Mark. Then Make Another and Another and Another ... and Give Up Knowing the Results: It's not up to you what happens when you create something. Progress comes through the process. You will grow in the stretching and the strengthening in repetition over time. Keep going and keep creating. In David Bayles' Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, he shares about how one group was charged with making as many (quantity) clay pots as possible while the other group was charged with making the best (quality) clay pot. Those who made as many clay pots as possible also produced the best pot.

| 6 | When You Stand Up to Be Vulnerable, It Will Feel Like You're Going to Die: Just ask the spoken word poets and hip hop artists. So embrace the wonder-filled now. Face death. Then do it again. We need your voice.

| 7 | Be a Sacrificial Artistic Missionary Like Jesus: The power of the the cross was to give victory to the enemy and then defeat the enemy through the victory. Our cruciform work is to show up to our "studio of life" whether we feel like it or not ("Is there any other way ... Yet not My will, but Your will be done") and create. Release your unique potential in weakness and see strength come.

| 8 | Be a Team and Mean It When You Say, "I Have Your Back": Just ask the comics who do improv together. "We enter into this vulnerable space together so we have to trust each other. And in order to trust each other, we build relationship off and on the stage. We rely on each other as we are working together towards the same goal." But if we don't show up, we can't grow together.


| 9 | Resource & Empower Other’s Creative Ideas, Passions, and Missions: Instead of merely telling people what to do in their vision for God's work in a neighborhood or city, we join the privilege of discovering what God is inviting them into that He is doing. Trainings, workshops, classes, messages, and coaching can then provide spaces, resources, networking, and Gospel unveiling for people to become the image-bearing artists God is transforming them to be.

| 10 | Unleash the Ever Ancient Ever New Song in a Bludgeoning Soundscape: The work of sharing and showing the Gospel of Jesus can cause some to disdain, but others to lean in. Are we joining the harmony that provides a sweet chord progression that people notice and begin to hum? Do we catch some in the busyness stopping to take a second listen that begins to quiet the other songs and voices? Are we leaning into the One who is so beautiful, awe inspiring, unexpected, and counter cultural, that we along with others continue to ask “Why?” and "What for?" 

Bonus: Draw people to the ever ancient, ever new Creator's art, and share why Jesus is the only One who can bring it to life.

+ Where is your canvas (i.e. bar, apartment, residence hall, classroom, gym, YMCA, etc.)? 
+ What are your art supplies (i.e. vocation, hobby, skill, passion, community service, talent, etc.)? 
+ Who will you join ... Jesus is inviting you to uniquely engage with people in these places among names and faces. There is light to ignite, darkness to flee, creativity to inspire, and failures to blossom into persevering beauty. 

Go with Jesus with others. Take a risk. Say "Yes and ... " instead of "But wait ... " and see what He invites you to create together.

"If you don't feel butterflies or nausea before you go about doing something for Jesus, you're most likely doing it wrong. Creativity brings surprise. And creativity that leads us to see a glimpse of the Creator unveils a wholly holy beauty. Be an artist who shows a more beautiful way. Do something so compelling it turns faces away from the mundaneness of selfishness and evil we too often settle for." + Brian Sanders, executive director of The Underground Network, author of Different, Underground Church (hear more from Brian about his work with others in Ireland on their podcast Mission Disco)

All the artisans who were at work making everything involved in constructing the Sanctuary came, one after another, to Moses, saying, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing this work that God has commanded us to do!” + Exodus 36:4-5, MSG

David continued to address Solomon: “Take charge! Take heart! Don’t be anxious or get discouraged. God, my God, is with you in this; He won’t walk off and leave you ... He’s at your side until every last detail is completed for conducting the worship of God. You have all the priests and Levites standing ready to pitch in, and skillful craftsmen and artisans of every kind are ready to go to work. Both leaders and people are ready. Just say the word.+ 1 Chronicles 28:20-21, MSG

For we are His workmanship, His own master work, a work of art, created in Christ Jesus, reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used, for good works, which God prepared for us beforehand ... so that we would walk in them, living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us. + Ephesians 2:10, AMP


So come on, let’s ... get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on “salvation by self-help” and turning in trust toward God; baptismal instructions; laying on of hands; resurrection of the dead; eternal justice. God helping us, we’ll stay true to all that. But there’s so much more ... + Hebrews 6:1-3, MSG


P.S. Here is a glimpse of a rough draft of a chorus for a song I scribbled down in the song-making workshop:

Jesus, when You speak 
The water turns into wine ... (3x) 
But do we believe? 
Have we truly received? 
Are we offering Your cup to others  
With fears of unchanged viscosity ... 
When will the water turn into wine?

Next post: Underground^Open 2020 | Being a Servant Leader + Benefitting More Servant Leaders

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan


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