Artists Explore the “Freedom to Be”

StoneWorks/InterVarsity Arts Leaders Training 2009

By Johanna Middleton, Natalie England, Bianca Washington, Tramaine Frank, and Kyle Williams

“I love you Lord, and I lift my toys!”

The piano bellowed out the familiar tune as a chorus of voices sang the lyrical twist. The worship leader had just told us an amusing story about a little girl who had innocently misinterpreted the second line of the popular worship song. Little did she know what a powerful statement she sang! Despite our laughter, we saw the truth that God wants us to offer up everything we have to him, whatever that might be. The challenge remained after the song ended: What can we offer to God?

For five days in June 2009, fifty-three InterVarsity Christian Fellowship arts students and staff, along with several Belhaven College arts faculty, came together to learn how to lift their own “toys” to God at the Stoneworks Arts Leaders Training Conference (SALT), at Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi. Co-sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, the conference gave attendees a greater understanding of their identity as artists and Christians and equipped them with practical resources for outreach and discipleship, creative approaches to Bible study, and ways to develop authentic community on their campuses. There was time for vision casting, dialogue between campus arts leaders and other emerging arts leaders, personal artistic development, creative worship, and prayer.

Freedom and Healing

The theme of the conference, “Freedom to Be,” truly expressed our time together. We experienced the freedom to be ourselves as artists, but more importantly, the freedom to be sons and daughters of the Original Artist. StoneWorks director Colin Harbinson’s teaching opened our eyes to the distortions within our own arts communities—places where darkness reigns and artists compete rather than connect, destroy rather than create. We learned that artists must remove the “stones” that cause us to stumble—including pride, idolatry, impurity, and insecurity.

The SALT conference allowed us as leaders to recognize our own brokenness and the importance of recognizing and dealing with areas of our lives—and our thinking—that have been damaged and distorted. We began to identify common stones in our lives and worked together to construct a highway to freedom (Isaiah 62:10).

Dick Ryan teaches at the SALT conference.

“SALT created a safe, indescribable place with no inhibitions. It lifted off the burden, freeing us to create and participate . . . almost like playing,” said Erin Foster, an InterVarsity staff worker at Columbia College in Chicago. This safe haven freed us from the competitiveness usually found among artists and allowed us instead to focus on one another’s needs. We were refreshed by open, honest fellowship where we could exclaim our joys and confess our sins. Many artists who have had to walk alone experienced a true sense of Jesus’ cleansing power.

In between powerful times of instruction by Colin Harbinson and Dick Ryan, InterVarsity’s national director for the arts, we were able to pray with each other. “It’s not worth attempting ministry as artists without prayer” commented Foster. We affirmed each other’s callings and committed to support each other as artists and children of God dedicated to expressing his truth.

According to Carolyn Malloy, a rising sophomore and theatre major at University of Illinois-Chicago, SALT gave her the opportunity to accept her role as an artistically gifted child of God, and she now feels the freedom to express herself fully on her campus and in the world. “Chains have been broken this week!” she exclaimed.

Steps Forward

Most importantly, SALT challenged all of us to take what we had learned and experienced and put it into practice on our campuses, at our jobs, and, above all, in our artistic studies.

SALT attendees

In daily small groups, made up of a variety of artists and leaders from across the country, we painted the artistic dreams we have for our campuses and our churches. Not only did we cast visions, we exchanged ideas and offered each other advice about ways to carry out our visions effectively.

Students were able to strategize with fellow members of their own campus ministries and plan to keep each other accountable in the coming fall semester. Staying connected and active in a campus ministry is vital to a student’s relationship with others and with Christ.

Everyone is asking, “So what next?” Even though we may not have all the answers, at SALT God clearly reassured us that if we obey him and adhere to his calling, he will give us the strength and the wisdom to carry out what he wants us to do.

Johanna Middleton is a theatre major and creative writing minor at Northwestern University. Natalie England is a nursing major and Spanish minor at Millikin University. Bianca Washington is a graduate student in acting at Penn State. Tramaine Frank is an English major at Saint Augustine’s College. Kyle Williams graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with an English major and art minor.

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