Series 1, Episode 1
The first episode of Redeemed Imagination: a mini-episode introducing the hosts, the story behind Redeemed Imagination, and what to expect in this special podcast designed to facilitate the reunification of the church and the arts.
Prefer to read? Transcript is below.
"When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous. The tensions of being a Catholic novelist are probably never balanced for the writer until the church becomes so much a part of his personality that he can forget about her."
This is the Redeemed Imagination podcast, a podcast of the ANSELM SOCIETY on “Reenchanting the Church.”
BRIAN BROWN (HOST): Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Redeemed Imagination podcast. My name is Brian Brown. I am your host and the director of the Anselm Society, an organization based in Colorado whose mission is a renaissance of the Christian imagination.
With me are the members of the Anselm Society Board who will be regulars on this show: Lancia Smith, Heidi White, Matt Burnett, and Joel Clarkson.
The story behind this podcast and what you're getting yourself into here is a long one, but the short version goes something like this.
Five, six years ago now in 2013, Father Matt and I sat down and said, "What could we do to improve the life of the mind in our church?" And a few months later, we hosted a lecture, and then another, and then another. And it was almost a coincidence that the first few were Michael Ward on CS Lewis, and Peter Lightheart on Dostoevsky. We wondered if anyone would come, but we figured, "Hey, these are great speakers. We'll come."
And next thing we knew, 250 people came out for Michael Ward, and we had to use the backup room. We still had overflow from there. And what we found was that person after person, after person, exceptional people, people who had incredible gifts to offer the kingdom of God were saying to us, "Where have you been? I thought I was the only one. I thought I was alone."
And we had teenagers who came in armed with their well-worn copy of a Dostoevsky story saying, "I didn't know that this stuff related to church. I didn't know that my love for Lord of the Rings had more than a passing impact on my faith."
And so, the Anselm Society was born out of that. We helped start an Arts Guild to support local artists. More churches joined, and it grew. We're fortunate to live in a time when more and more churches are passionate about spiritual formation in a wholistic sense, who are thinking deeply about what does it mean to form a whole person. What does it mean to surround someone with the best stories and songs and images? What does it mean to teach ourselves our own story? What does it mean to inhabit our part in the greater story? What does it mean to move beyond not merely a Sunday morning Christian-type dynamic, but to be able to approach our role in the world?
Not as someone who is 95% formed by the world and get some good morals and training here and there on the side, but someone who is formed so thoroughly by a vision of the kingdom of God, so thoroughly by a sacramental imagination, so thoroughly by the notion that he or she is a participant, not only in the work of God but in the very character of God in the here and now and for all eternity.
Next thing we knew this thing kept growing, and we started a podcast, “Believe to See Podcast”. Just in the last few weeks, I've met half a dozen people who found us through the podcast. We were fortunate enough to add a second podcast, “Speaking with Joy.”
The first podcast, “Believe to See,” is about art and faith. It's conversations with artists who are trying to integrate their craft with their faith. The second, “Speaking with Joy”, is about integrating art into your life, about approaching art in such a way, approaching life in such a way that not just the good and the true, but the beautiful inhabit you and affect in a beautiful and thorough way, the way that you are able to see the world.
And the piece that was missing, and the piece that increasingly become the focal point of the Anselm Society in an increasingly large and exciting international tapestry of organizations that are working towards a renaissance of the Christian imagination, is that our space is really reconnecting the arts and the church; helping churches to learn to better be places that know how to minister well to artists; that know how to engage artists as partners in ministry for the formation of every soul, everybody in the church.
There are many organizations that focus on community for artists, many organizations that focus on theology, many organizations that focus on publishing or promoting beautiful art. Our niche that we've evolved into is specifically the space of working with the churches on their end of this puzzle, and working with the artists to reengage the church.
Those who have been hurt, those who have been burned, those who maybe have had wonderful church experiences, but just feel a little bit on the fringe of things, or feel that this huge part of who they are is not as connected as it could be to their life, or to their life as a part of the kingdom of God.
So, this podcast is oriented towards that end, towards helping those of you who are pastors and church leaders to tackle some of the toughest questions, the toughest, most practical questions. Where do I start with this stuff? What do I do? How do I start? If I'm starting from square one, what does that look like? If I feel like I've been doing decently well, but there's this area or that that I could be doing better ... You're not alone in these conversations. You're not alone in these wonderings, and we want to be a resource for you and engage you in an ongoing conversation, a two-way dialogue. We're pretty easy to get ahold of on Facebook or Instagram or on our website.
Those of you who are artists, we want to show you a vision of a church that is open to you, that needs you, in which you, like every other member of the church, every other member of the kingdom of God, are a sub-creator created in the image of the great creator.
And for those of you who don't see yourselves as either category, church leader or artist, we want to show you that on some level you are both, and allow you to be a steward of the kingdom of God in the role that God has called you to, and a patron of the arts, and to help you rediscover not only perhaps your own creative side, if you feel that you don't have one — which is a myth by the way — but also rediscover a role as perhaps a redefined 21st century version of the role of patron of the arts, in which you can provide the kind of relational, spiritual, maybe financial lifeline for an artist that a renaissance patron might've done with just their money or just their prestige.
That's what you've gotten yourself into. I'll take a moment and allow you to meet the rest of the team. And then we will look forward to joining you for a more substantive conversation in our first full- length episode.
To my right is Father Matt Burnett. I've mentioned him already as the co-conspirator who started Anselm with me at the beginning, and I will let him introduce himself. Father Matt?
MATT BURNETT: Thanks, Brian. It's pretty simple. I'm the senior pastor at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. I love Christ. I love the church. I love giving glory to the Father through the Son, by the power of the Spirit in worship. And I love the arts. And so this, a confluence of those things, just tickles me pink. I love it. So, thank you.
BRIAN BROWN: To Father Matt's right is Heidi White. And I want to launch straight into telling people cool things about all of you, but I'll let you do that. I'll let you do the talking. Heidi?
HEIDI WHITE: Hey there, I'm Heidi White. And it's interesting, Brian, that you talked about the people who don't necessarily identify themselves as either church leaders or artists. I would put myself in that category. And I love the Anselm Society. I love being part of casting the vision for it and seeing it play out in the lives of the church and the artists who are involved.
I'm a literature teacher, a book girl. So I talk, I speak, and lecture, and teach about books and literature, education, the Christian imagination. That's my niche. And so, I think that education and the arts are like peanut butter and jelly. They belong together. And so, I love being involved with the Anselm Society. So, thanks for the opportunity to be here.
BRIAN BROWN: And Lancia Smith. Lancia?
LANCIA SMITH: Hi, everybody. I'm Lancia. I'm the founder of Cultivating, which is an online magazine dedicated to encouraging Christians everywhere, but especially those who are engaged in the creative arts. I'm also the founder of the Cultivating Project, which is a discipleship initiative for people who are working as writers and artists. And it's one of the things that I am most deeply passionate about.
BRIAN BROWN: Thanks, Lancia. And calling in from Scotland today is Joel Clarkson. Joel?
JOEL CLARKSON: Hello, I'm Joel Clarkson. I am a composer. I have work in music. I work in sacred music, in film music, in concert music, all sorts of different things, and have especially been focusing on sacred music for academic work that I'm doing here in Scotland while I pursue a PhD at the Institute for Theology Imagination in the Arts at University of St. Andrews.
BRIAN BROWN: Thanks, Joel. And fun fact: part of where this podcast came from was that we had a board retreat probably six months ago now. And we had an agenda. I swear we had an agenda. And we actually got through every item on that agenda. But we did so by ... completely out of order ... by organically following the flow of our conversation.
And what we found was that as much as we talked about details and logistics and what we need to do with this or that program, a ton of it was vision. A ton of it was, why do people need this stuff? What are we doing here? And we got to the end and we looked at each other and thought, "Why didn't we have a microphone on the whole time?" And thus, the seed of this podcast was born.
Brian Brown: I'm going to wrap up this introductory episode and allow you to get on to the real stuff. For the Anselm Society Board of Directors, I'm Brian Brown. Talk to you soon.