Hope College, David Keep

Holland, Michigan

To deepen worshipers' theology and spiritual life by creating an online Advent calendar that features visual art and music, and by holding art interpretation events and panel discussions in which participants engage theological truths—particularly the incarnation—through the arts.

Project Summary

This project explores how challenging one’s artistic comfort zone can deepen one’s theology and spiritual life. Through development of an online Advent Calendar that features visual art and music, congregational art interpretation events in local churches, and collegiate panel discussions we will engage theological truths—particularly the incarnation—through the arts. 

What questions about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?

How can challenging and novel forms of art and music help worshipers expand their conceptions about God and a life of faith? Can supplementing traditional Christmas celebrations enrich the engagement with the holiday? Can expose to bizarre art deepen a congregation's understanding of the historic event and its many aspects that are difficult to fathom or understand? Are there commonalities between understanding abstract art that is difficult to interpret and understanding an omnipotent God that human minds cannot fully comprehend? 

How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?

Both Dr. Keep and Professor Lookerse have had valuable and formative experiences with music and art that have shaped their faiths. Many Christians do not engage with challenging music or art, and perhaps do not see how such areas might be able to positively impact their lives of faith. In bringing challenging music and art to congregations we believe we can help congregants in the following ways. First, teach them how to encounter art in a manner that is edifying. Second, help them value and respect challenging artwork. Third, help them value their traditions and enrich their current worship practices through exposure to new forms, potentially building greater tolerance for multiple styles of church music and avoidance of division based on preferences for particular musical styles. 

What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

We are asking congregants to engage with things that are uncomfortable. We are asking that they do this voluntarily. There is the likelihood that some may argue that we are not actually engaging with "real" art or "real" music. The main challenge of our events will be to lovingly and gracefully help open the hearts and eyes of congregants to artworks that may seem bizarre at first. The main challenge of our online material will be marketing. That is, how will we make our work compelling and attractive to Christians who are not already interested in contemporary art and music? Without forcing specialized knowledge, how can we open new avenues for encounters with the Holy Spirit that exist only in artistic realms, especially for laypeople that are not trained artists or musicians? 

What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

We are always seeking to expand our forms of worship in order to further connect with our infinite God. We will be actively seeking advice regarding our main challenges mentioned above. We are hoping to understand how to humbly present our work and our ideas to congregations without the cultural superiority and pride often associated with the arts. Our ultimate concern is to glorify God through our work. We will be seeking wisdom and advice on how to best achieve this so that the same value we have found might be experienced by as many congregations as possible.