Recognizing the decrease of traditional media among college students, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has boosted its social media, becoming a presence of Truth, Beauty and Goodness in our culture to further develop its mission and promote SEEK2019.
I’ll admit that when I saw the words “New Renaissance” the first time I went to the Catholic Creatives website, I thought it was, at best, harmlessly quixotic; at worst, prideful and unattainable.
To me, the word “Renaissance” evokes thoughts of a time long-passed, when society and creators and the Church held similar ideals. Institutions actually valued artists—I’m pretty sure Michelangelo didn’t win a design contest to paint the Sistine Chapel for “exposure.” Everyone moved towards the same goal: beauty and renewal.
I picture musicians and scientists and philosophers attending Mass and having breakthroughs each day. I picture well-dressed commoners spending their time in lofty conversation between shifts of idyllic farm work. I picture city squares where people gather, constantly brimming with new ideas. Not exactly the monotonous-40-hour-work-week-then-Netflix-binge model we have. Not the isolation and echo chambers. And definitely not the political infighting, the struggle for arts funding, the shallow values in media, the never-ending timeline scroll that consumes us.
It seemed silly—even arrogant—to claim we are the harbingers of a New Renaissance when the world looks anything but ripe for renewal.
How would we gain momentum to shift a society and even Church members that are continually opposed to the upward call of beauty and creativity? Don’t get me wrong: I know we’re onto something important here; I just didn’t see it expanding to that same level of historical magnitude, because it seems like there are so many obstacles around and within us.
So when I was tasked with reflecting on Matt Meeks’ talk from the 2017 Summit, “The New Renaissance,” I was somewhat skeptical. He began by pointing to moments in history where renaissances took place (it wasn’t just Italy in the 1500s, btw) and examining the “ingredients” for that level of artistic, intellectual, and cultural renewal to happen.
It made sense on a rational level. Each historical renaissance checked the boxes: systems in need of renewal; a specific space; a new level of societal connectivity; the union of people; fervent prayer and faith. And when he arrived at the New Renaissance that’s supposed to be taking place now, he showed the fertile soil we currently have. We exist in a new space that connects us like never before—the digital sphere—and are in desperate need of both systematic and personal revitalization. If we capitalize on this connectivity and hunger for newness, it could be historic.
But we aren’t seeing a renaissance, at least not yet, because we lack essential ingredients. It’s not because we’re facing newer, tougher obstacles or because we’ve lost our talents as a species or even because technology has rendered us less capable of creativity. It's that we are lacking the union of God’s people.
Yeah, no shit Sherlock, you might be thinking. Of course we need people to be united. That’s like, the whole point of having a “common goal.” And that’s what I was thinking when I neared the end of the talk, until Matt mentioned John 17:21, when Jesus prays “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”
That verse has been nagging at me since a silent retreat back in March. I’d always seen unity as a bit “kumbaya.” I thought the word “fellowship” was a cute excuse for a lack of substance; community-building seemed so shallow compared to the moral and theological formation people clearly needed. I definitely wanted to treat others with respect and kindness, but I cared more about getting close to God. I just didn’t see the point of emphasizing relationships beyond what human virtue requires.
But one of Jesus’ last prayers was for unity, and not just a hold-hands-around-a-campfire unity. He prays for Trinitarian unity among us, His disciples. “That they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”
I took John 17 into my Holy Hour on the last day of that silent retreat and could not get over this verse. What are you saying, Jesus?! Why does it matter that we are one with each other? Isn’t our goal oneness with You? And of course, that is the goal—to be one with God. The Lord assured me that the aim of life is to be united to Him in everything, and that He wants to be united to me. Divine love desires union.
But here’s where I think Jesus was heading: divine love desires union, so we participate in and incarnate the love of God when we establish real, dynamic, boundary-destroying union. When we come together while retaining our individuality, we become more and more an image of the Trinity, which is simply and mysteriously a perfect union of distinct persons. That sort of human community leads people to the ultimate community of the Trinity. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are one, so too does Jesus want us to remove divisions and become one in order to return to Oneness Itself.
God urged me to lean into this truth during and after that Holy Hour, but it stayed tucked away in my journal, a lovely spiritual moment that I had no idea how to enact in my life—until the verse resurfaced in a talk I had almost written off. I went back to the beginning and listened again, and I realized I’d been doubly wrong in the best way. Renaissance was not far-off, and unity was not shallow. In fact, it has been my own unbelief in both that has prevented this fertile ground for the New Renaissance from being tilled, planted, and harvested abundantly.
I have been fighting for my own success for far too long, not realizing that sowing into real community with fellow creatives would bring the momentum I was looking for all along.
My internalized biases and stereotypes about who others are or should be don’t just prevent me from seeing the image of God in them; I can’t become the image of the Triune God without them. When I mask my fear that I’ll never become the writer I want to be and pretend I have it all together, I take myself further from the union Jesus prayed for. Not honestly addressing my shortcomings (most notably, procrastination and paralyzing self-doubt) or judging others for theirs allows division to enter into my heart: my community won’t see me as I really am, and I won’t see others in their full dignity. I also fall short when I turn away from the Trinity, when I rely on myself to “be productive” instead of relying on God to bear fruit.
The New Renaissance will come out of the community of distinct persons that mirrors the Trinity—each person different and whole, yet united in purpose and love, creating as the Triune Creator does. When I let cynicism destroy my faith in God to initiate renewal, my trust in others, or my own vocation to bring beauty into the world, the renaissance stalls. I am recommitting to authentic relationships, fostered by honesty and the grace to love beyond myself, because I believe it is how we will create what the world desperately needs. Oneness is the upward call and challenge; it is the only way to continue forward.
Blog by Courtney Kiolbassa
Poet, prose painter, crafter of words.
We don’t always know the impact we’re having.
Liv Nino made bold choices in organizing last year’s Friday night CC Summit liturgy. We prayed solemn Vespers with a lucinarium, in which participants chant while holding individual candles, and prayed with iconography. It was outside most people’s experiences, and she knew it. She knew it would encourage people to face unfamiliarity, to take a risk, and find a deeper sense of unity beyond the liturgy battles we’re so used to fighting. She knew this community—which had barely even spent time in-person together, much less prayed together—would have to leave their comfort at the door in order to encounter the divine.
Like most of us when we’ve poured ourselves into our creations, she picked it apart, knew all of the problems, and wasn’t able to appreciate her own work.
Throughout the liturgy, she was a little preoccupied with the priest who got confused and the music minister who came in later than she’d wanted. She hoped everyone was experiencing God in a new way but had no idea how to tell if they were. Even as she held the icon so Catholic Creatives could approach the altar in prayer, her “sacristan eyes” blurred the beauty in the church, in the soft candlelight, in the faces of her fellow artists.
It wasn’t until the Summit had ended and she was back home that she truly saw herself, the liturgy, and the CC community…through the eyes (or rather, lens) of photographer Elissa Voss. The photographs struck her, giving her a new view of the church architecture, the unity of the attendees, and the depth of their prayer. Everything came back to her in a totally new light.
In the photos, she saw a unified community—people who used to be profile pictures on a computer screen were now faces illuminated by candles and singing as one. She saw others encountering God through her creation. It took another artist to give Liv a view of the beauty people were experiencing, and in so many ways that beauty confirmed God’s anointing and His delight in her. It was as if He was speaking to her, “Look, my daughter, your work is special, and it matters. Keep going.” In Liv’s words, the photos “gave flight to a reality that is at once startlingly honest and an upward call to who we can be.”
We are sometimes unaware of the goodness we bring into the world and the goodness of God’s call in our life. All it takes is another artist to reframe our perspective, revealing the truth and urging us to become what we are.
This week, we’d love to hear from you: how has the Catholic Creatives community provoked you to see something—yourself, God, beauty, others—in a new light?
I came out of college in pieces and had no idea how to put myself back together.
I had helped start a household that had collapsed in on its own rigidity, climbed the ladder of campus leadership only to plummet like a chicken from a tall building. I left ready to try my hand at a career and instead landed a part time youth ministry job that had me living with my parents, carpooling with my brother, and working in a packaging warehouse to make it work. I was really broken when I met Mike.
I had been pursuing this beautiful Palestinian girl who happened to play in the worship band at Mike’s church. I showed up ready to disregard these foolish protestants and instead found myself sobbing on the floor after the first worship set. I wiped myself off the floor and promptly crashed into someone’s car in the parking lot, because sometimes when God decides to walk in the room you're motor skills stop working.
I knew it wasn’t a fluke when I went back the next week, committed to finally making my move and asking out that girl after the service. Again I had to mop myself up after melting into a pool of tears in front of these silly heretics. I never did end up asking that girl out, but I did keep making the hour drive from the suburbs into east Dallas despite my family’s protests. There I experienced a level of care and hospitality I’d never encountered in the Catholic Church before in my life. The second week I was there, I was invited out for coffee by the pastor. The third week I was there, I was invited to a lifegroup, which I joined, and the fourth week, I went up to the pastor for prayer at the end of the service and he told me that he felt that the Lord was calling me to be “discipled.”
"Discipleship" before it was a thing.
This was before Sheryll Waddell’s book on discipleship came out, so it was not plastered on the cover of every new Catholic book or added to every new parish mission statement. I had no idea what that word meant. Jordan, the pastor of that little church, did not seem phased, and simply began pointing out random guys in the congregation. The first dude looked a bit too wild, the second man was too much of a salteen craker. The third dude was bald, tall, and reminded of me of a Franciscan brother without a beard, so I said “sure” and I let Jordan introduce us. That was how I met Mike. He was just some random dude picked out of a crowded little non denominational church in east Dallas.
We met up for dinner at his place the following day. He was paleo, so dinner was more or less fermented nuts and flax seeds. We shared our stories with each other over this strange meal when we were done Mike asked me what I was doing at 5am the following day. Needless to say I was a little taken aback. I told him I was a youth minister so I shouldn’t be expected to get up before 11am. He said he wanted me to come and do his morning prayer time with him. I made the 45 minute drive.
No one had ever done that before. I’ve been in the thick of it. I went to one of the best youth groups in the great country of Texas, I went to seminary, I lived at Ave Maria, and no one had ever asked me to do anything like that before.
Part of it was just the sheer audacity of the dude to ask me to drive 45 minutes to his house and pray with him at 5am, but the rest of it was the fact that I’d never been invited into another man’s most intimate prayer space before. I went, and what I saw totally transformed my prayer life. I learned more about prayer in that one hour than I had at all four years going to Catholic college, and all he did was let me into his life to see it from the inside.
And that was just how Mike always did things. For the next two years, I met with Mike and my friend Jarrad every Monday night while my soul was slowly eviscerated. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was leading us through a 12 step program for the emotionally broken. During that season, I was known and seen by Mike and Jarrad like I’d never been known or seen before. My junk was out on the table, and they could sort through it and point it out to me in total honesty and love. I realized that I had never been so wrong about so much in my whole life. I saw for the first time my own selfishness and pride and my wounds and how they colored every intention and action and experience I’d ever had. It was unbelievably freeing.
Mike's Rules for intimacy
When we met every week, we started with two guidelines that made it safe for us to be that open. The first rule was that we would never share anything that was said in the group to anyone outside of it without permission. That one is sort of an obvious one that a lot of small groups try to employ to make intimacy possible. The second rule was much more rare. The second rule was this: No giving advice unless it’s asked for.
Seems simple, but try it out. I’ve been trying to follow it for 6 years now and still can’t do it.
I asked Mike why that rule, and this is what he told me: “We’re not here to fix each other. That’s God’s job. We’re here to work through our own junk, and to do that we have to deflate our need and desire to place ourselves above each other. Our pride being crushed is more important .” I feel like that principle is one that we need to do a better job of applying with each other. Often time in forums or discussions, when a person surfaces an idea or a belief, our first reaction is to try to fix what’s broken. The problem is we’re not the fixers.
I was a punk ass kid all my life with a tape that played in my head all day every day “no one understands you, you just don’t fit, no one gets it.” Over and over again those thoughts would run through my mind until one day Mike finally told me “Bro, you can be understood if you go deep and commit.” He was right. He created a space for me where I wasn’t judged, where my experiences and emotions and opinions were accepted and heard. Once that happened, my heart softened and God did most of the work of transforming me in the secret place of payer. All Mike had to do was listen and share from his own experiences vulnerably.
We need to believe that our God is big enough to work on ourselves and each other. We don’t have to fix each other, we don’t have to fix ourselves, we don’t have to fix the Church. God will move through us if we are faithful to letting him move in us first.
I want to offer this as a principle that I’m going to try to follow in our dialogues with each other. I promise not to try and fix you. I promise not try to educate you. I promise not to give you advice that you didn’t ask for. I’m going to listen to you and just ask that you do the same for me.
For Daniela Madriz, what made the Catholic Creatives Summit in March 2017 so different from other “networking” events was how beautifully people’s lives aligned beyond just sharing a career or interest. She described the personality of a Catholic creative—the entrepreneurial spirit, the depth of character, the curiosity to discover God in beauty—and how unique it was to be around people who clicked with her, who “got” her.
Unbeknownst to Daniela, one of those people aligned so well that she’d get engaged to him less than a year later.
One for the Storybooks
The story of that Summit-initiated relationship has become a Catholic Creatives staple. Ringmaster Marcellino D’Ambrosio chatted with Daniela and her fiancé Alex Quintana about how their relationship unfolded. Over and over, they mentioned the serendipity of it all, the alignments and connections that seemed pre-ordained, and we thought you’d enjoy swooning over their story with us. If you want to watch the interview yourself, check it out rough and unedited below.
Alex, ironically, wasn’t totally sold on going to the Summit at first. He was making a film in Austin, focused on his projects, and only had a few small connections with other Catholic Creatives in the Facebook group. Likewise, native Guatemalan Daniela was in the U.S. for about a month to develop her marketing and design work and visit her then-boyfriend, and though she loved being part of Catholic Creatives, she didn’t know if getting to the Summit was worth the hassle.
They both finally decided to go—Daniela, at the encouragement of said then-boyfriend, and Alex, mostly because he wanted to get more involved in the faith-art intersection. And it didn’t hurt that he had noticed (read: Facebook stalked) a cute girl from Guatemala who was going to the Summit as well.
The Summit began properly, at a bar, and Alex found one of Daniela’s mutual friends to see if talking to her would mean he’d eventually get to talk to Daniela. Things didn’t go exactly as planned: Daniela saw her friend Corina talking to Alex and decided not to interrupt Corina’s conversation with a handsome Catholic guy. She even told Corina to date Alex, but Corina was on a dating fast at the time. In Daniela’s words, that was a “perfect misalignment.”
Alex took some more initiative and, throughout the conference, kept “winding up” in conversations with Daniela, where he learned that she was dating someone else and decided to simply foster their friendship. Their shared faith was a great jumping-off point; they admired each others’ talent and passion. At the end of the Summit, Daniela left to Tennessee to spend time with her boyfriend. Alex was somewhat disappointed that there couldn’t have been more, but figured whatever was supposed to happen would happen.
Unforseen Endings and Unexpected Beginnings
It took another misalignment before Alex and Daniela’s stories started to intertwine again. After only a few days of being together, Daniela and her boyfriend mutually and cordially ended their relationship, which left her with two weeks in the U.S. and nothing to do over Easter weekend. She posted on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to meet up while she was in the States, and after some short comments and messages from other friends, nothing was working out.
With true Catholic Creatives flair, Alex went out on a limb: he commented a long paragraph with a detailed itinerary for sightseeing in Austin (somewhere Daniela had always wanted to go), a visit to Schoenstatt shrine, hangouts with others who had been at the Summit, and plans for Triduum in Dallas—which is where Daniela would be flying out of at the end of her trip. Some quick messages back and forth, and she was off to hang out with Alex and his family and friends. Everything was aligning.
Said Alex, “She just arrived on my doorstep. It was kind of a miracle.” His family shamelessly initiated the conversation to see if she was still dating her previous boyfriend, and Alex took a leap of faith in revealing his feelings for her early on. Daniela found her feelings grow for him, too. He checked all the big boxes, of course—the shared worldview, the passion and spontaneity of a freelance life—and the little alignments delighted her all the more: his family’s enthusiasm, the fun they had together exploring Texas, and, admittedly, “his Latin last name.”
Daniela flew home with butterflies and, though worried her whirlwind trip would cause “a PR fiasco back home,” she knew that things had clicked in a way they never had before.
She was right. In February of 2018, Alex proposed to Daniela, surrounded by mountains and rose petals. They’ll be married in January, and are incredibly grateful for the way the Summit impacted their lives in multiple ways. Catholic Creatives has been instrumental for Daniela’s career in freelance design work. Being able to collaborate, learning from Creatives’ initiatives, getting to see people really invest in quality design: it’s motivated and encouraged her. Alex sees Catholic Creatives as “a sign of hope, of reaching people who need to be reached,” and credits a lot of his personal and professional growth to the relationships he built at the Summit.
Obviously, this relationship is one for the books. We are thrilled for more serendipitous alignments and connections to emerge from the CC Summit on September 13-16, 2018!
By Courtney Kiolbassa
Poet, Writer, and Love Story Aficionado.
So I decided to give Anthony a break from pouring out his deepest darkest stories and inspiring the crap out of us all to try my hand at being way too vulnerable for people I barely know online. Just kidding you’re all better friends to me than my real life friends cause #2018SocialLife amirite?
Recently we had an admin get-together to talk about how we welcome people to the group, how we approve or deny posts, and various other Facebook admining tasks, but strangely enough, as I’ve grown to expect with the D’Ambros, we didn’t start there at all. We talked about moments. Moments when the community was at its best and touched us most deeply… moments when we felt a spiritual tribe… moments we felt alive and fully ourselves. At the time, I told a story about when I took the bull by the horns and decided to lead the DFW Meetup… as a way to sort of strong-arm my way into bribing people to learn the kinds of skills an Aerospace Engineer might bring to a bunch of artists and videographers and apparently even hairdressers. In the moment that I felt that tinge of insecurity that I was trying to fit my square peg into the triangular hole, the community responded, showed up, enjoyed themselves, and spent the wee hours of the morning drinking on my back porch asking way too personal of questions and bonding in ways people who just met IRL for the first time mere hours ago shouldn’t normally bond. People drove from all directions and some even flew across the country to find their place in this tribe. Every room in my house was completely full of new friends crashing overnight so they could drive the 5, 6, 7 hours home or catch their flight the next day. DANG. Even if I knew that it wasn’t me or my Lockheed tour offer or my engineering design methodology powerpoint that made them come, I was a part of something so much bigger than I realized… and I wanted to keep trying to facilitate and support and play my role in this movement… this renaissance… however I possibly could.
If you don’t know me, you may not know that I’m the guy who typically learns lessons the hard way once or twice before anything really sticks… and as one of the first generations to begin to grow up with this new internet thing I learned ALL the lessons about internet use the hard way. I even got my account banned in middle school when I thought researching online was as simple as visiting whateveryourewantingtolearnmoreabout.com because disney.com and espn.com and all those things worked! Why wouldn’t blackholes.com work when I was doing my 7th grade science report?! (Spoiler alert: it was much more graphic back then than it is now). So we join the story again in my early days of high school. I had a collection of AOL free trial CDs on my wall and my AIM profile was my key to social interaction as QuinnyJ or CrazyCloudMeteu or who knows whatever other dorky names I made for myself when I needed to start over and redefine my friends every few months.
I was in an advanced placement English class learning about poetry and the teacher encouraged us to find a topic that we were passionate about for our poetry writing assignment. I couldn’t think of any words that rhymed with NASA so I decided that I was a high schooler now and I needed to be more of an adult in my faith and write something to share morality. You see, my high school was undergoing this strange phase of suicide-envy. One of the kids in the grade below me committed suicide and it rocked the school pretty bad… people wearing pins and dedicating yearbook pages to memorialize the guy… he was really loved by a lot of people. I didn’t know him very well but it seemed like everyone I knew was friends with him.
Not long after, a female student at the school committed suicide, and then about the same amount of time later, another male committed suicide. It was becoming an epidemic and rumor was that there was some sort of secret group that all decided to stick it to the man and kill themselves one by one until none of them were left to graduate. This was incomprehensible to me and it really shook me that kids my age would feel this way about their lives… that they wouldn’t understand their value or see that they were loved enough to want to stick around or who knows why they were doing this… but it was clearly a pattern and I had to do what I could to help stop it! I know my Catholic faith says that life is sacred and I need to use this poetry assignment to make a statement to the class that suicide isn’t the answer. I painted the words into a story of a dystopian society called Suicide City where everyone was killing themselves, of course seeing myself as the next [insert famous poet name here] that was going to use my art to reshape minds.
The first half of the poem was pretty hard-truthy and the second half was uplifting. We had peer reviews before the assignment was to be turned in and a friend of mine reviewed my poem and said to me (before it was cool or even a thing, mind you) “Dude… this is really good! You need to share this online so people can see it and spread it!” This was my first lesson in “going viral” and my last attempt at poetry. You see, we didn’t have Facebook or even really Myspace yet… we had AIM profiles. Character limited profiles that didn’t always warn you when what you thought you typed in was what it accepted. So I put it on my profile and only about the first half of the poem posted. Within hours I was magically getting messages from screen names I didn’t recognize with all sorts of death threats and accusations. I was disrespecting their dead friends, I was somehow indirectly telling these grieving people that their perfect deceased friends were in hell and I shouldn’t be talking about suicide in any negative light. I turned off the computer assuming it would just fade away and be forgotten. Of course not, J.P. This is high school. I walked into school with evil glares and print-outs of my poem on the floor with James Quinn attached to it (they had to look up who QuinnyJ could be and the yearbook said James). I was a bit freaked out but there was nothing I could do. Lunch rolls around and a guy comes up behind me with his posse of angry kids, tapping my shoulder asking if I’m James Quinn. I asked him why he wanted to know and he told me something to the effect of, “Because James Quinn is gonna die for what he said about my friend”. I had a teacher friend sitting at the table across the cafeteria who noticed a potential altercation and quickly came to clear it up. I tried to continue eating my lunchable pizza but as soon as it had all gone back to normal, he came back with a bigger group of friends and went on some sort of tirade I’ve since blocked from my nightmares about how he was going to make me pay for what I said about his dead friends. The teacher saw what was happening and decided this time to remove me from the situation to stop the threepeat.
I went and sat in the counselor's office while they pulled in each of the people from the posse to investigate why they were upset at me. The counselor put the piece of paper in front of me, with a few fierce lines highlighted asking if this was my work. I told them the story of my english assignment and my AIM profile and they told me that it was safer if I went home for the last 3 days of the semester because these kids were serious. I could come in before school to take my last exams and we’d just hope over the break that people would move on. The principal walked me to my car as some sort of bodyguard and I started driving home. My friend who recommended I post this poetry assignment got on AIM later that night to warn me that he overheard stories that these kids had plans to come burn my house down. I was freaked out so I stayed up all night hiding in the window of our game room watching the front of my house, clutching the key fob of my dad’s Honda CRV thinking if they showed up that I would use the lock or alarm to scare them away. They showed up. I scared them away. We reported it to the police who could do nothing because it was all still very much the wild wild west trying to link AIM profiles to real people, but I spent the rest of my high school days feeling very isolated, paranoid, and silenced. I didn’t know who I could trust, and I continuously got reminders and threats year after year that they hadn’t forgotten what I had done. At one point months later, they chased me through the record store of the mall with a knife. These people were psychos.
So why do I tell our community (and probably, with my luck, the world since I’ve learned how unpredictable these internet postings can be) this strange story from my teenage years? Anthony’s done a great job of sharing the parts of his past and how its formed his outlook on life, how it’s helped form this amazing online community, and how it’s impacting the direction and desires we’re trying to set for this community’s future. Anthony also went to high school with me and has told me he only vaguely knows of this happening. We weren’t really friends or part of the same friend groups––strange how life weaves paths sometimes, eh? Nevertheless this story has been a large part of who I am and how I interact online. I’ve learned to be meticulous sometimes and I’ve been forced to re-examine every word I put out there to try to be as cognizant of how it might be taken or construed in any possible context as a self-defense mechanism. A big part of that CC DFW meetup was about risk identification and mitigation, which was a big part of my time designing at Harley in my day job before I got to Lockheed where again I seem to latch to process improvements and design changes that prevent unforeseen consequences. I aim to write to be direct and (most of the time, yes even on Facebook) have very intentionally crafted words. It seriously pains me when I see someone write something flippantly and not realize they probably just offended a group of people. I take offense for others when they probably wouldn’t take offense themselves because I want to believe the person writing it didn’t mean to say what they said the way they said it and I want them to see how it could be taken in an effort to somehow prevent what happened to me from ever happening to anyone again. I’ve looked through comments in some of our more heated anime icon type discussions and just poured over them to find the right words to convince people to act like the community I see this as, instead of playing the typical internet card and shutting out people that are wrong because they need the tough love that, let’s be honest, the internet just is never going to effectively provide. I get so lost trying to figure out how to admin these conversations, how to approve post suggestions that might be controversial… if I delete something am I censoring a valid opinion even if it might offend someone else and be written in poor taste? What standards am I supposed to hold others to if we as an admin group still haven’t been able to agree on expectations for conversation ourselves enough to post some sort of rules or guidelines?
Sometimes I wish I could just give up Facebook and social media because it’s so bad at doing what it's meant to do… but I can’t just run away from my fears or from my opportunity to set an example of what this is all supposed to be. If you’re friends with me, you’ll know half of what I post is just funny memes, photos from my ridiculous world travels, or cool science links anyways. At the heart of social media, I see it as a driving force to connect, discuss, and share love. Show people your life, celebrate with them, ask them for help, figure out how to feel about things, keep up with what’s going on in a world where it’s apparently weird to actually talk on the telephone. The core of Catholic Creatives was never meant to live wholly online… we humanize and experience connections in person at meetups and at summits and at random airshows where you run into Jacob Popčak.
But we can’t neglect or deny the potential for good that can come from Facebook. Despite it being 99% of how we interact, this Facebook group does not define who we are.It is still however an invaluable tool and I’m convinced we can use it to achieve our goals. If there was no Facebook group, I’d have no way to tell the random Canadian radio producer and Canadian priest that I met in Israel that they were both very Catholic and very Creative and needed to join our community. Without Facebook, said priest wouldn’t have been able to join and browse the members within 2 minutes of my invite to realize he knew several people already in the group and feel he might agree with my assessment of his need to join. (#CCCanadaMeetup anyone??)
So you’ll notice Anthony’s last blog didn’t have the golden solution to anything about our identity as Catholic Creatives and my blog post isn’t going to solve, once and for all, how we’re all supposed to use Facebook to build a genuine tribe of creatives seeking to spread truth and beauty through our random menagerie of gifts. I think we do a lot of things right––sharing our creations and hobbies, connecting with opportunities and needs, sharing our wounds in hopes that our stories can weave themselves into a beautiful expression of living art somehow––and I think we can do a lot of things better, e.g.growing while maintaining personal connections, reminding ourselves to humanize the name we don’t know who just threw down an unpopular opinion, and supporting others even when our business sense or artistic knowledge tells us we could have done it better ourselves.
How do we utilize this gift of online connection for the good we seek? How do we unite despite our distance and our inability to actually make friends with everyone who wants to contribute to our mission? If we’re going to solve these things and be the difference on Facebook… we’re going to solve it together. Thanks for being a part of this tribe and giving me and countless others a place to find purpose and belonging. Let’s sharpen this iron together so we may find our crossed paths taking us to the eternal reward we all seek so deeply.
-J.P. "QuinnyJ" "jptheaggie" Quinn
First... There was AOL Messenger. My handle was dudeisk8214 because I belonged to the subversive tribe of skateboarders who only gave shits about having perfectly sculpted sidebangs and being the first to watch the next DC skate video. I was also a recovering Catholic homeschooler, trying to figure out how to reconcile the savage world of public middle school with Jesus. I would scratch the anarchy symbol on concrete underpasses with my punk friends and then skateboard home after school, wait thirty minutes for my desktop to turn on and connect to the internet… and then log on to AOL and find chat rooms where I could defend the truth of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. (And Republicanism).
I couldn’t sustain the split identity for long. Soon it was the mid 2000s: Coheed and Cambria, Garden State. It was senior year of high school and I was in a emo band with a local following. The internet had grown with me, hitting its awkward puberty stage with Xanga and then turning 16 with MySpace, and by this time, I was using all these new tools to facilitate hookups with girls or to get people to listen to my band’s demos. The awkward homeschooler was all but exorcised.
But around that time was invited to a Life Teen retreat at a local church. On Saturday night they had Adoration. It was like the gym was transformed to some dark ancient cave, with 300 youth kneeling on carpet squares in freakish silence around a pyramid of candles. As I kneltin the flickering candle light, the band began to play and a priest with shimmering vestments and a host in golden monstrance processed between us. Music poured over me, and it moved me more deeply than any emo show had ever done. Somehow it opened me to God. I can’t describe what I felt now, I can only say that I experienced Him - not as an abstract ideology - and it blew my mind. I went to confession and returned to my carpet square with hot tears in my eyes, feeling like a total supernova of beauty was exploding inside of me.
I wanted more of that. So that summer, I left the band. As they loaded up the band van and headed off to play on the Warped Tour, my brother and I went shopping for khaki pants and dress shirts, preparing for seminary. I cut my bleached sidebangs into the typical spartan seminarian hair-cut in anticipation of re-entering the philosophy dojo so that I could have better comebacks for all my liberal and protestant friends. Then, I thought, they would see what I could see.
By November the winter had frostbitten everything, and I was in a vertigo of depression. I was constantly afraid of being perceived as gay or effeminate. It seemed that a brother seminarian was always watching, waiting to pounce out and fraternally correct me for being late to holy hour or forgetting to observe our Friday lunch fast or for being seen studying alone with a girl. One night, desperate to connect, I stayed up late with a couple other brothers in a dorm room. In usual fashion, the conversation devolved into a passionate debate about the merits of praise and worship. I remember the pain inside of me was crippling- I had hundreds of “seminarian brothers,” but felt irretrievably alone. I spent my 21st birthday drinking some apple juice with a friend who was on night watch duty for another dorm.
There was such a dichotomy between the "truth" that we were learning and the experiences I was having there that my foundations cracked. On some frozen evening in February, I was doing my homework and I had what I realize now was a panic attack- I felt heavy, even nauseous each time I tried to work on the paper, and found myself watching talks by Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, horrified by how convincing I found them.
My solace was the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and fiction by Flannery O’Connor or Evelyn Waugh, and I clung to them like a rope hanging over the edge of a cliff. I was almost ejected from my senior capstone course because I was caught multiple times reading Flannery O’Connor rather than listening to my teacher’s lecture.
The seminary gave me many amazing things that I haven’t highlighted here. But it was also place where truth and beauty were very divorced. With all of our studies we were learning how to argue and to correct, but we weren’t learning how to create experiences of Him for each other.
What we were lacking was Beauty. Beauty is a sensual experience of the truth. Beauty is the truth made tangible. The lights, the candles, the scent of incense, the whispers of the priest giving me absolution, the shimmering swells of music, these were the rungs of the ladder that I could, if but for a moment, ascend to heaven. Beauty is also a birthday party, with cake and the happy birthday song (and Irish Car Bombs- Thanks Isaac Huss for Introducing me to those) because these reveal abstract truths, and someone has to create them.
I share this because I think many of us in this group have had similar experiences to different degrees. Catholic culture has been so defensive, so focused on defending its treasure trove of truth that we haven’t done the deep work of learning how to create experiences of that truth for each other or for the world. A defensive culture can’t be a creative culture, and creatives especially struggle to flourish under such conditions.
This, to me, is why I’ve thirsted so much for a different type of community, and what I have found in so many of these friendships with you all. In our most shining moments. I was looking for a space where the Beauty was constantly being created, not for the world but for me. I needed a space in the Church where I could be freed from defensiveness and encouraged, so that I in turn could do the vulnerable work of creating.
Making the Space
In November Jason and JM from Glass Canvas invited us and some other CCs up to Vancouver to spend a few days digging deep into what Catholic Creatives was called to be. From the airport we drove through the most Hallmark town you could ever see, with historic pastel colored shops bordered with mustard-tinged trees, all overlooked by distant white capped mountains.
We found ourselves being served perfectly crafted cappuccinos from the office industrial coffee maker and whiteboarding out all of our core wounds with the Church. During the first day of the “strategy sprint” I saw developing before me an honest dream that I had always wanted but didn’t know how to ask for. My deepest desire wasn’t to raise the level of design in the Church so that we could compete with Hollywood or with Protestants. It was to have a place to belong, a place where I could be free to be myself, where I could have support in the difficult and scary work of creating something new.
So between the whiteboarding sessions and all the crying, we wrote out a why statement.
It’s still a work in progress: but this is what we have. What it means to us is this: The New Renaissance is all of us set free.
From isolation, from fear, from our trauma, from shame, and all the shit that keeps us from our Creator and our own creativity. Catholic Creatives doesn’t have to teach the Church to be more beautiful. That will happen on its own, as all of us find a place in it where our identities as creators and our identities children of the Father can converge.
Crowd Sourced Community
This vision is not one that I or any other person alone can create or own. It is a place that every one of us must create by giving each other permission to share hard things, to have hope, and to create.
As creators we have the power to give each other the freedom to be strange, to be different, to make mistakes, to take risks, to show our weaknesses and to let others touch our scars.
What if Catholic Creatives were itself a collaboration, a piece of performance art, where all of us participated in creating experiences for each other of hope, belonging, or unity? What if the network itself was the sum of hundreds of thousands of little creative acts of relationship? What if this was simply an on-going, crowd-sourced, spiritual (AND MAYBE LITERAL?) creative home that we were all building for ourselves and for each other?
With this vision set out, we would love feedback from all of you to sow into the articulation of this vision. We are very serious about making this an “open source” project, and thus we are working hard to create systems and ways for many more people to participate. As we go, we will be releasing some other blogs and videos that articulate how we see CC growing in the future, and how each platform fits into it. We can say though, that though we started on Facebook, our direction has always been towards fully incarnated human relationships.
Thus, while the Facebook group is going to keep going, our focus as a team is going to be shifting towards facilitating deeper and more direct communication and relationships. We are also grappling with how to overcome the challenges presented by growth, and some new rules of engagement for our Facebook conversations and for our admin team so that we can better live out these values online.
Thanks so much for all the love that you are each showing to each other, and that you have all shown to me. Thanks especially to those of you who have continued to speak into me to tell me that I am not alone, who have also labored beside me to see our community grow. I am especially grateful today for JP Quinn, Kate Hazen, Cory Heimann Marcellino, Christopher Duffel, and Sid O’Neill, who somehow wandered into our Admin Channel in slack and have since found themselves spending many many hours admitting and messaging new members, approving or coaching members on their posts, or messaging hurt or angry members to help facilitate conflict resolution between them.
When we began our online relationship 2015, CC and I stumbled into a strangely unintentionally committed relationship with each other. I was (and in so many ways still am) a nobody who just left a youth ministry job and moved back in with his parents in order strike out into the wild west of entrepreneurship. I started a FB group so I could ask my friends advice, and all the sudden thousands of people were in it and I was in charge.
When we started, I had some very core wounds with the Church and was really launching my business with the hope of escaping the gravitational pull of the institutional Church. When we signed our first clients, a Tex-Mex restaurant and a sports tech startup, I called my brother, completely exuberant at having gotten out of the Catholic bubble in which I had felt so unaccepted and misunderstood. Somehow, sacramentality was core to my artistic inspiration, but in every church organization I always felt squelched, stifled, and shut down. It felt like I was the only one, and now I was happy to be free of the constant reminders of how different I was than the others around me.
Then we had the bulletin meetup, and the Facebook group happened, and I found that there were hundreds, maybe thousands of people who were like me. It was the strangest experience. It felt like I found my people––like they had always existed, and all of a sudden a portal opened in the universe and I could just beam into a conversation with anyone of my heros on any topic of my choice. It was the dream buffet:
“Ahem, yes, I’ll take Cory Heiman and Chuck Kinnane about Art vs. Catholic Propaganda at 2pm, and then jump into a vulnerable conversation with Erica Tigue about yoga and addiction in the evening over tea.”
So naturally, having newly quit my jobs, I basically spent all the time that I should have been looking for clients just doing Google Hangouts with generous strangers from the internet. We recorded some of these conversations and called them podcasts. Every day, I couldn’t wait to go back through that magic portal via Facebook to talk to these people who had, until that moment, just been the faceless people behind the badass life teen posters and the Blessed is She blog, but who were now my friends!
So we did the CC Summit and invited all these internet friends together and we met at a bar in Dallas and everyone discovered that I am much shorter than my internet personality had led them to believe. In fact, we all discovered that at least 30% of our impressions of each other had been completely unfounded. And we found that we actually liked each other a lot more in person than online. And, that none of us were as intimidating as we thought. (Except for Jared Zimmerer. He is actually as scary as everyone thought.)
We also experienced something that had already been present in the online versions of our conversations, but that we didn’t realize would become so potent. We had real love. Enough to dive into a crazy film collaboration where our money and reputations and beliefs were all on the line and in each other’s hands. We had so much love that JM’s bunkmate, Patrick, moved his family to Canada to join the Glass Canvas team (pretty cool, eh?). Some of us even had so much trust that they just decided to marry each other.
So that was a nuts weekend. One night after everyone left, while Marcellino and I were crashing, trying to polish off the full keg of Shiner Boc that was leftover from the Summit, we lit a fire in our backyard. As we stared in silence at the burning branches, we both felt a deep sense of omen. I searched to describe the feeling. It was like the sense of vertigo that comes after a date that was too good… one where you realize that you’ve fallen in love far too quickly, before you’ve gotten a chance to really know them, and now you are helplessly all in on something that could just evaporate in a second.
“We are all really friends now. Not like, just-discovering-each-other friends… real life friends.”
“Real life friends get in fights.”
“What if we get into a fight, and then it all goes away?”
“I don’t know, man.”
Our thoughts faded into the sound of cicadas and the crackling fire, and I went to bed that night with that omen weighing in my chest.
Since then, through some hard lessons and some hard conversations with Jason Jensen and Jm Boyd, I realized that fear of not belonging has been with me for years and years, and has driven my insatiable desire to work on admining the FB group or working on collaborations; I felt like I finally found a place where I could belong after many years of feeling so alone, like such a misfit. This energy has been both the wind in my sails and my Achilles heel. It leads me to overreact online when I feel my own belonging threatened by some unsuspecting girl posting about her logo design contest, or the… well… let’s be real I’ve shit on like every logo design contest post that’s come through the group.
We were in the impossibly white and modern offices of Glass Canvas (imagine officing inside macbook pro packaging) when Jason Jensen said to me, bro, you are dealing with an orphan spirit. You don’t trust God the Father has already accepted you, so you are going online to fight for your acceptance. To which I became very righteously indignant and angry, and horrified that someone from the freaking internet could see about myself more clearly than I could.
I’ve been unpacking that spiritual truth for many months, and I realize how culpable I am of this more every day. And I am not alone in the orphan spirit issue- I see the dynamic present in almost every person in this group. Perhaps it is why we have all been brought together. But for whatever cause, each of us has triggers- topics that we care so much about that as soon as we feel like someone doesn't value the thing that we do, we think, “I am so done with this FB group,” and turn off notifications, or (this is more my cup of tea) “He said what? Hell no. I am going to get out my sword…. Alright bro, get ready for the comment of your life.”
So many of us have experienced the pain of being rejected by the Church or by certain groups in the Church. The natural response is to crave to carve out a place where we can belong. Whether it’s via the discussions about liturgy, or an anime style icon, or a conversation about World Youth Day’s (God awful… see?) Logo, or architecture, or a post about diversity in the Church, we all have moments where we question whether or not we are really going to be accepted in this group, where our most immediate response is to either check out, or to pull out our guns and fight for our belonging.
In this past post about race, I can see that dynamic still incredibly present in many of us, including myself. Strangely, because I happened into starting the group, I happen to have the keys, the power to say who belongs and who doesn’t, and yet, somehow, even I still feel afraid of not belonging too. How screwed up is that?
The paradox of this all is that when we engage in conversations in order to fight for our belonging, we often destroy what we hoped to create in the first place. The fear of not belonging becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, where the overreactions and regrettable public denouncements (or pronouncements) that we make because of our anxiety works in others the same fear and anger that caused us to over react. And so they get their guns and fire back, and we find that our deepest fears were confirmed, and get even more incensed... and so we are both driven further and further away from each other while fighting for the same thing that we both wanted in the first place. Belonging.
So what is the way forward? The admins all realize that we can’t police members of the FB group into being friends, or caring for the other real life people on the other end of those undulating ellipses at the bottom of the FB thread's. Is the dream dead? Are we too big, too divided, to immature to enter the promised land of Belonging? Was the belonging that we felt when we started the group back in 2015, and tasted at the CC Summit just a mirage?
The answer is, if we are willing to trust that there is actually a God, and that He is actually our Father, and that He is actually good, the dream of true community isn’t just possible, its His will for us. But the only way to enter it is to empty ourselves and walk through the narrow gate of holiness.
I don’t say that in the pius, “everyone just pick up your rosaries more,” sort of way. I mean it in the way of the mystics- of separating from the rest of the world to dive deeply into the ugly, brambled self, where our most painful memories are manufacturing weapon grade fear-gas, and where our pride raises walls and turrets against love-- where the child in us still resides and cries for love, and further, to invite God and his people into that place as well.
The Call of The Creative
I truly believe that the call of the creative- the call of every artist, is to usher in a New Garden- to turn back the work of sin, to show the rest of the world how to remove those protective but prickly fig leaves by being the first to do it ourselves. What makes this community (when we are at our best) distinct, is that we have largely despaired of the analytic, apologetic, and rhetorical, and instead have placed our bets on communicating with beauty- by opening up and MAKING, and therefore offering others concrete experiences of our innermost landscapes.
After that exchange on Saturday I was up all night, stewing in my anxiety, and on Sunday, I hiked into the creek where I spent so much time when I was growing up. I followed a shard of the creek that I had never explored, up from the suburbs into undeveloped land. After going for hours I was exhausted, cut up by thorns, poisoned by hundreds of bushes of poison ivy, and I stumbled unexpectedly upon the most magical space I think I've ever seen. In the middle of a forest, with no other house or path or road in site was a bench, and a blue glass star hanging from the bough of a tree over a statue of St. Francis and a nine ft tall cross.
Awestruck, sat in the bench, keeled over by the completely unexpected and undeserved gift of little Catholic shrine in the woods, and after a few moments I began to cry. The sun was setting into gold behind the towering trees, crowning their edges with a copper gleam, and I knew that my belonging was never in a facebook group. It was here, in my God, and it wasn’t up for grabs.
If I am going to be able to participate in community that doesn’t evaporate, or avoid devouring others in my own ravenous hunger for belonging, I have to learn how to venture into the brambles of myself, and find the Father who loves me. Only then can I mount the grace of those monstrous words, “I am sorry,” and “I forgive you,” and “I just want to understand,” and ride them out of the freaking facebook platform, out of dms, and into real life friendships with strangers who crave belonging just as much as I do.
Ill part with a poem from Hafiz:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear?
P.S. I learned how to talk about these things from so many of the people here.
Sam Sorich, Erica T, JM, Cory, Matt M, Chuck and the countless others have called me into the scary but beautiful place of vulnerability and have forgiven me through my mistakes. This facebook group is far more valuable than a place to show off your work or get other people to side with you on something you are annoyed about. It can be a place where you start lifelong relationships with people who can teach you how to love. Maybe remember this next time you want to talk about something. Try getting on a google hang with someone you want to meet. Don’t be surprised if you stay on the call for two hours longer than you planned. Or want to marry them. Haha.
If you don’t know me, and you have been offended by something I said back in 2017... or three days ago- you may find that IRL I'm more accommodating than my fb writing style might have suggested. #iammorethanmyfacebookprofile
And finally, if you don’t know the people who I have mentioned in this blog, maybe try reaching out to them. Three years ago I learned that they will talk to just about anyone- because they talked to me, and if they were willing to talk to me then, you’ll be just fine.
"An excerpt from The Mindful Catholic, available on Amazon from Beacon Publishing"
Chinese Finger Traps
Have you ever used or seen one of those Chinese finger traps? They are braided tubes that you stick a finger in each end of, and as you try to pull your fingers out, the tube narrows and grabs your fingers even harder.
This is a good image for what happens when you try to solve problems in your life with the Doing mind. As you wrestle through a situation trying to come up with a solution, your brain is firing away as if you are in danger, and this in turn narrows your sense of creativity. Creativity is an essential element to problem-solving, but it doesn’t work very well when anxiety is increasing. This is also why people will often “sleep on it” when trying to figure out a problem or coming up with writer’s block. Letting the problem go for a time is like releasing your fingers from the pulling movement of the finger trap. If you relax the fight to free your fingers, the tube lets go and you can actually slip them out. When you let go of the “problem” disposition towards something that actually needs to be figured out, your brain relaxes the Doing mode and you can open up to solutions you never thought possible.
The problem is that we have been trained from day one to solve problems, think critically, and work until we figure out that we have to work harder. Our society rewards this type of hyper-productivity and hyper-achievement. At first glance, it seems that relaxing, “sleeping on it,” or letting go is just laziness. No matter how much we accomplish, many of us always feel that we haven’t done enough.
Business- Your Archnemesis
That mindset is the arch-nemesis of mindfulness. It is the reason for why it is so hard for you to find the time to practice the exercises. You simply can’t wrap your head around the notion that pausing your day to spend 8 or 10 minutes doing nothing can be a good thing. The real irony is that we end up wasting many times that amount of time getting caught up in email, something online, news, or many other frivolous distractions. We never set out to waste that time, it just happens. To actually plan to do nothing “productive” though is almost inconceivable.
The secret here is that practicing mindfulness will actually make your day more productive. I am not against productivity. Quite the opposite actually, I am trying to help you to be more productive. The research, along with the experience of countless business executives, entrepreneurs, and men and women trying to get more out of life, shows that spending time each day reorienting your mind with mindfulness changes positively how you relate to everything and everyone, making you more efficient and productive.
We can also sense this in our spiritual lives. Sometimes we become frantic when we don’t know what we are supposed to do. Discernment is a process that requires gentle peacefulness, and we need to slow down in order to hear the voice of God. Elijah met God in the “still, small voice” of a gentle breeze. God was not in the storms. We allow those storms to rage on in our minds and hearts and grow even more disquiet when we can’t figure out where God is in the midst of it all. This is why St. Therese said about Jesus that she would “let him sleep in her little boat” no matter how bad the storm got and how much the waves crashed. She knew that there was peace to be found in that storm, and she could simply quiet her soul knowing Jesus would take care of it if he needed to. This peace is necessary for you to be able to truly hear the voice of God. This interior quiet is the fruit of learning how to slow down and let your mind settle into the reality of the present moment instead of looking for God in the midst of the frantic thoughts and feelings.
Doing Mode and Creativity
One study researched two groups of students completing a maze. One group had to move a mouse through a maze to escape a hawk flying overhead that wanted to eat it. The other group had to move a mouse through the same maze to get to a piece of cheese at the end.
The maze was simple enough and there was no significant difference in the time it took the students to complete it. On the way out of the study room, however, the students were asked to complete a second, seemingly unrelated, task. (College students are often getting tricked by Psychologists.) This task measured the degree of creativity that was employed to finish it. Remarkably, the group of students who had solved the maze to save the mouse from impending death-by-hawk exhibited 50% less creativity in the second task than the students who were simply moving the mouse to the cheese.
Simply solving the maze, which meant spending 15 seconds with the thought of a hawk eating a mouse on a piece of paper, was enough to affect the group’s brain chemistry and reduce their creative ability by 50% on a different task. Our brains are incredibly sensitive to thought patterns we spend time with.
Think again about being in a physically threatening situation. If a bear were chasing you in the woods, your brain would not waste resources on creative thinking. The SNR triggers automatic, autopilot actions. We conserve energy by being less creative when we are threatened. This is why it is so important to override the SNR when we are not actually being physically threatened. In many situations, it helps to have control of this response so that we can come up with creative solutions to solve our problems. Most military training involves desensitizing this stress response for exactly this reason. Even when a person’s life is actually on the line, thinking creatively and “outside-the-box” usually proves to be a useful skill.
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A group of people were having an exchange on the Catholic Creative’s Facebook feed surrounding the current state of the Catholic Church’s art patronage. The initial question posed was: "The Church used to be the greatest patron and supporter of art in the world, so what happened?" We were referring to “art” in a broad sense, meant to include architecture, film, and design, as well as fine arts such as painting and sculpture. Fr. Steve had made a few comments that we thought were worth some elaboration, so in this article we interview him to dive deeper into this conversation. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful. If you are a part of the community, you can read that conversation here.
(1) The New Values of Patronage: Functionality, Practicality and Cost Efficiency
Do you agree with the premise that the Church is no longer a leader in the arts?
In comparison to previous epochs, my answer is yes. The Church’s influence on and patronage of the arts has diminished considerably. The reasons for this diminishment are complex and discerned through realities that are political, cultural, and economic. In terms of the political, the Church no longer possesses the territorial sovereignty or influence that it once did, the effect of which its access to monetary resources has dried up. In terms of culture, in the contemporary Western milieu, there has been a shift away from the narratives of Christian revelation as a source for artistic inspiration. The Christian narrative no longer provides the primary source of identity and the interpretation of the self and the world. Finally, there is the economic reality (which I alluded to in my reference to the political). Bereft of the monetary resources that came with territorial sovereignty and political influence, the Church no longer has the kinds of resources available to it that enabled its great artistic patronage in the past. Further, pious patrons willing to support artists on behalf of the Church have dwindled as the perception of social benefit of such patronage has also changed. Supporting the work of the Church in the past meant building up its architectural and artistic patrimony. But now, for the most part, patronage exclusively means supporting the Church’s charitable and institutional endeavors- education, health care, disaster relief, and concerns related to the alleviation of poverty.
How would you explain the main difference between today’s system of art patronage and that patronage at the height of the Church’s influence?
The Church has less money for the arts and therefore the primary patrons are not holders of ecclesiastical offices, like the pope, bishops or abbots, but instead these patrons are wealthy laity and some Catholic institutions (like a university or a hospital). The commissions that are offered often place art as an addendum to overarching values of functionality, practicality and cost efficiency. These values mean that the art that is commissioned often seems decorative rather than integral and if the Christian narrative is presented in these artistic representations, it often appears abstract or diluted, so as to conform to secular sensibilities. I have noticed that many examples of modern and contemporary art commissioned for Catholic universities and hospitals leave me with the impression that the Christian narrative influencing these commissions has worn thin or has been accommodated to secular interests.
(2) Modern and Contemporary Art in Catholic Culture
You mention Catholic universities and hospitals, what about parishes?
The character of parishes as public institutions has diminished and has been replaced with an emphasis on the domestic, with its emphasis on fulfilling immediate need, group consensus, practicality, and budget. These values will not position the parish as a patron of creative artistic endeavors and certainly not produce art or architecture of broad cultural significance or lasting value. Further, as so much of the modern artistic sensibility places an emphasis on the abstract and subjective as a bearer of creative expression and meaning, it has a tendency to be uninspiring or off putting as devotional or liturgical pieces. Commissions of this kind in parish churches usually fall flat and fail to produce much affection in the faithful.
In this regard, Blessed John Henry Newman’s distinction between real and notional assent comes to mind. So much of modern and contemporary art and architecture tends towards the notional. However, in my estimation, art and architecture that supports devotional and liturgical experience is reliant on the real assent in order for it to be efficacious. This difference, between notional and real assent, creates the cognitive dissonance so often characteristic of the experience of modern forms and styles in church art and architecture. This is what I believe generates at times a reactionary mindset toward what is perceived to be novelty in religious art and fosters a retreat into kitsch. Unfortunately, this also means that modern or contemporary art is pilloried or caricatured as incapable of being a bearer of religious experience or theological meaning, when it is actually capable of profundity at a different level of religious experience- the subjective or the notional.
What many fail to appreciate about modern art is that it can be the bearer of a different kind of religious longing or perception. An example would be certain forms and styles of contemporary art that seeks to evoke ordinary experience, rather than limiting the devotional or liturgical, as a legitimate bearer of religious meaning. This might provoke a reaction in some believers as it seems to displace the privileged place the devotional and liturgical can legitimately claim in the life of faith.
(3) The Primacy of the Secular Narrative
However, this reaction seems at times overstated and just too much as ordinary experience and subjective experience are legitimate bearers of Christian truth claims and routes of access to transcendent meaning and purpose.
I get the necessity of privileging real assent in terms of the Church’s liturgical and devotional rites, but there must be room for more than this in terms of the Church’s creative engagement with the arts. Why? Because real assent is not simply about how Christians experience devotional or liturgical realities, but how the Christian understands, and therefore accepts, common, everyday experience as being, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “charged with the grandeur of God”. And further, notional assent can direct direct our minds and hearts towards God in a different way, complementing real assent, and at times, purifying its intentions.
Can you elaborate a bit on the role of the arts in society at large and how it has changed in relation to a time when the Church had more influence and resources on the arts and artistic patronage?
Pressed, I would answer this question as what we see now is a diminishment of the Christian narrative regarding the meaning of the world and in terms of its cultural priority and significance. I believe that the prioritized narrative of Western culture is now best summed up in Justice Kennedy’s articulation of his reasoning in the “Casey vs. Planned Parenthood” decision- the right of individuals to decide for themselves not only the meaning and purpose of their own lives, but of the universe itself. This is, of course, absurd, but it is the prevalent cultural narrative and it is a narrative that positions the Christian narrative, indeed all other narratives that propose a meaning and purpose to life and the world. I identify this narrative as the secular narrative. The prevalence of the secular narrative that insists that meaning and purpose is individually constructed has been a driver of artistic expression for some time- artists often serve this narrative because it is the only narrative they know or because they truly believe in it, as artists once served the Christian narrative because it was the only narrative they knew or believed in.
(4) Conservation vs Innovation
The other characteristic difference is a sensibility that all the great Christian artistic and architectural forms and styles have already happened and the purpose of the Church has become custodial of these past forms, dedicating what resources it has to conservation, rather than creation. There seems at times an inability to appreciate that forms and styles like the Gothic, or the Baroque, were in the context of their own time groundbreaking and new, a departure from past forms and styles. A conservationist attitude is helpful inasmuch as it can preserve what is truly significant for the future, but when it results in a reactionary disposition that refuses to accept difference or the new simply because what is different or new can represent a departure from the familiar, Christian artistic expression will inevitably become kitsch and decline in its significance.
You mentioned cinema as the premiere media form of our time. Why cinema and not architecture, art, theater painting and sculpture? What does the Church need to realize about cinema that it doesn’t seem to get?
All art and architecture represents visual storytelling. But it is my impression that the most significant form of visual storytelling in contemporary culture is screen based, cinema, television. This kind of visual storytelling has the broadest reach and the deepest cultural resonance. For the most part, I believe that only cultural elites know who the architects, painters and sculptors are and the forms of theater than capture of culture’s attention do so because they imitate the spectacle and narratives of cinematic production. However, more than the elites know the creative artists of cinema and television.
The Church realized early on the impact of film and television, but lacking the ability to produce quality examples, it sought to leverage its cultural influence as a moral authority whose role was to police content. This authority has been rejected, the Church is now neither an arbiter or popular taste or a creator of popular culture. The result of this is that the Christian narrative has little to no impact or influence on the primary, contemporary form of artistic expression- film and television. The Church is, quite frankly, missing in action.
(5) Ideology vs Inspiration
Well-meaning Christians may enter into cinematic storytelling with projects targeted almost exclusively to a Christian market, but these films, some of which are presented with high production values and are financially successful, miss the mark. Why? Because their broader cultural influence is negligible. It seems to me that it is not merely a matter or money, for monetary patronage alone cannot change this situation. The real problem I think (and this is hard to say) is that the depth and profundity of the unique Christian narrative has been positioned not so much as a source of creativity or inspiration, but as ideology.
This often expresses itself in an emphasis on moralizing in Christian storytelling rather than an emphasis on the revelatory or the Incarnational. The impression left with viewer when moralizing is central to the narrative is that one is being corrected, rather than inspired; one is being introduced to ideology rather than finding a route of access to the transcendent. Creativity and inspiration produce great art. Ideology produces propaganda.
The Christian narrative, densely textured and radiantly humanistic, produced Chartres Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel, some the greatest examples of visual storytelling that humanity has to offer, but the Church has yet to produce great art in the cinematic form and style?! Why is this the case? Christians should not evade responsibility for this discrepancy by directing attention to factors external to the Church as the reason, but should look at ourselves and consider what we have done and failed to do.
Do you have a closing question or provocation for readers to think through or carry on the conversation?
There will be no great Christian art without sacrifice. My question is this: What sacrifice are you willing to make so that the Church can do more than just conserve its great artistic patrimony, but also to support and utilize the creative potential of humanity to proclaim, represent and teach the Christian narrative- the revelation of God in Christ, a revelation that is ancient and forever new.
If you struggle to figure out Christmas Presents for all of the white elephant gift exchanges you've got coming up, look no further. The PAL Campaign's got your back.
Those of you who know me, know that I grew up rocking Blink 182 albums in my beat-up old homeschool minivan on the way to some skate spot while I was playing hookey and killing time between rock shows. Needless to say, my Catholic retreat t's have mostly tended to serve as workout shirts, rags, and dust collectors. Thankfully, the Church has picked up it's t-shirt game since I was in high school. Joe Kim of the PAL Campaign (Peace and Love) has been on the front lines of this t-shirt design revival. Take a gander:
Joe's design is super fresh, minimalist, and worthy of wearing by any twenty one pilots fan. His shirt's range from the subtle "Peace" shown above, to more explicitly Catholic designs, but even those are so edgy that you almost put them in a totally different category.
I also love how attentive Joe is to his brand. All of the mockups show good looking artistic people sporting PAL merch the way you'd want it worn. It's quirky, fashionable, and interesting. When I asked Joe what inspired his design style, he had an interesting answer:
"Because I believe that this universal faith we call ours is the most attractive thing in the world, PAL Campaign's products never pander to fleeting trends or desperate attempts to stay relevant. That is the difference. Industry experts assert that the average t-shirt is read about 3,000 times before it gets discarded. Because of this, a core value behind the design process is to allow the t-shirts to solicit questions about their meaning. It's my prayer that the dialogue created from curiosity can lead one from beauty to goodness, and eventually to truth. "
It's not enough to me for faith based t-shirts to simply be designed according to the current trends. I really need any shirt that I wear say something about the faith that's interesting or different. I love the Verso Alto, Donna Nobis Pacem, and More than Flesh and Bone shirts for that reason.
PAL Campaign. Do it.
By Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creatives Founder
Ascension has been seriously upping their game over the last few years, and I'm not just saying that because my sister works there. The team has been producing stories with stunning visuals and really rich meaning. They've recently updated their Joy-Filled Marriage series, and thank God they did because speaking as someone currently in marriage prep, let's just say that the gap in production value is noticeable. I've never seen something done by any Catholic organization on marriage that's beautiful, artistic, and shareably short.
Tell people all you want that sex outside of the vision God created for it is wrong. Anyone can do that. But to make someone want the vision that God has for sex, now that is a task for an artist. This video is awesome because it points to God's vision, and lets you feel the difference between that vision and the one the world gives us. The man and the woman dancing are in sync in all of their innocence, strength, and passion.
The team told me that they were given the challenge of addressing sexual honesty in a way that wouldn't be preachy or trite. They said that they instantly knew they wanted to tackle this piece from the perspective of a dance. They couldn't have been more right. There's something so real about how dance shows the complementarity of man and woman, you need only draw attention to it. That's why this can be so powerful, but only 4 minutes long. Christopher West only needed to point to set the stage for the dancers, they did the rest.
The dance is art worth commenting on in and of itself. The choreography captures the dance of man and woman so well. At some moments, the dance is noble, they waken each other's hearts to life, they learn one another, delicately. They embrace with the desperate childlike glee of young love and then chuckle at the jokes that come only with the dignity of years. It makes my heart yearn for marriage even more than I already do. This kind of art should not be an anomaly in the Church. It should be the norm.
My fiance and I did our marriage prep weekend last week. All of us were more or less forced to be there. We watched a talking head video of a Catholic speaker who did a great job explaining to people why they should save sex for marriage and not look at porn. It was fine. It probably didn't do a great job of changing anyone's mind. It is so much harder to create art that lets you taste and feel God's vision for marriage. It's much more costly, but the truth is that it's not worth doing it any other way. We are the only ones who are going to champion the sacraments. Where else are people going to see a glimpse of the beauty God has stored up for them? It has to be us.
We're proud of you guys for the work you're doing over there at Ascension. It always amazes me how many people and how much intentionality is involved with video. Nick DeRose directed the film, Matthew Pirrall produced it, Sean Boyd ran the lighting, Matt Longua did all of the close-ups, Kate Camden and Christopher West visioned the script, and Felicia Cruz choreographed the dance.
For that many people to all work in harmony with each other to create something this effortless is amazing. Nick and Matthew pointed out the light sweeps as a particularly difficult part of creating this. They had to block out their own movements as cameramen so that their angles would be perfectly in line with the light reveals and that they wouldn't get in each other's way. According to Matt: "Our dancers, Felicia and Alrick, were amazingly professional and danced this difficult piece over the multiple takes and nailed it every time. For me personally, moving with them with the camera felt like being a participant in their dance, and was a dynamic that I had not experienced behind the camera before.
That's some next level artmaking right there. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the rest of the series and all that you guys at Ascension have in store for us this year!
This Creation of the Week by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creative and Cofounder of Sherwood Fellows
Brave Love is doing some powerful stuff for the cause of life and William Price III of Whiskey Ginger Please is helping to show it.
Video is a powerful medium to work in, but that's part of what makes it tricky. Because it engages three senses at once, video grips us in a way that still images on their own simply can't. It's almost too easy to make the viewer watch and illicit at least a semblance of an emotional reaction if the subject matter has any substance. Because of this, it's (sometimes) easy to set up space for an interview with good lighting controlled sound, grab a mostly surface level interview, cut in some stock b-roll, and post a video on youtube and still get some good results.
But no one remembers those videos. We remember videos that tell stories, where characters experience life-changing events and we learn the lessons they learn. We experience delight, elevation, insight, and achievement with characters in videos offer us a story and not just ideas. William Price does an awesome job of capturing these impacting moments on screen and allowing us to experience some of the journey these two women took as their story intersects.
One woman yearns for a child, the other discovers she's pregnant. One woman prepares to give birth, the other prepares the baby's room. One woman delivers, the other receives the child and holds him.
The task of video, and of all art is to draw us into an encounter with the specific. To take us out of the realm of ideas and submerge us in the small moment that matters in all its reality. Not every line of this video feels like that, but the line at 2:20 just hits me in the heart with its unpretentious smallness. It's so authentic. "I wonder, will he have my nose, my sweet tooth, what will make him laugh?" In that line, the difficult choice that this mother is making becomes real to me as I'm drawn into her experience and feel the heartache of that decision with her. Well shot, William.
by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Catholic Creative and Creative Director at Sherwood Fellows
It's always such an honor to get to recognize one of the community members whose doing work out there in the real world. Our members have done some amazing things, from designing the titles for Wonder Woman, to launching a kickstarter that made 200,000 in a day. Will's work in "The Long Road Home, a National Geographic mini-series that chronicles the events of April 4th, 2004, when a platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in an attack that came to be known as "Black Sunday."
Will was one of the assistant art directors for the series. They work with the production designer and art director to create a vision for all the locations and sets, which is saying something considering that the set was the largest working set in America during it's filming. Will and his team's work on this is beyond a shadow of a doubt a massive undertaking that ultimately lead to this series' unique visual identity. I mean, honestly, to get a handle on what kind of set design we're talking about just look at this picture:
Learn more about The Long Road Home.
Will, keep up the good work, brother. You're making us proud.
Blessed is She never ceases to amaze me. Those ladies are such incredible pioneers in every non literal way possible. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Blessed is She circles got started on mars in the next 10 years. Their Advent calendar this year is another example of how consistently they reinvent themselves and push the boundaries of what they offer to women through their ministry.
Blessed is She is known for beautiful design. Many of us know this. But many organizations that start there find their one look and stick to it for 20 years. That doesn’t work for anyone. First it’s cool, then it’s a fad, then it’s cheesy. It also takes what once gave voice to some deep guttural utterance in the spirit of an artist and turns it into a disembodied commodity. That is how many organizations approach design. Blessed is She embraces the significance of art in a way that so few ministries do. Good art doesn’t subtract from the meaning of its content, but rather it emphasizes that meaning, allows it to breathe, and gives it a dwelling place.
That is exactly what this design does. It's sophisticated, it's fresh, it's alive, and it opens up Advent to the viewer to look at it from a new and different vantage point.
Jenna Guizar led the charge, Laura Fanucci wrote the gospel intros, Erica Tighe designed the calendar and prints, and Katie Haviland Waldow took all of the amazing product shots that show off all the inside details. Every single lady involved in this collaboration deserve special shout-outs for breaking new ground. We're proud of you guys!
One of my favorite things about Cory is how fascinated he is with the creative spirit. It's his obsession to understand the spiritual nature of creativity, how it functions, and what it's role is in our lives. The Created book is just one amazing fruit of that obsession, and it is awesome.
The Created Book is a beautiful book about beauty from the wells of wisdom found in the creative expertise of so many amazing creators. If you haven't already pre-ordered a book through the kickstarter, do it now. It got fully funded in one day and the stretch goals are pretty epic, so help him out!
What I love about this book is the most is that Cory inadvertently is fighting a battle against a certain set of beliefs that we hold as Westerners. We think that creativity is some handicap that only a select few oddballs get saddled with. For us, creativity is a great added bonus, but productivity and responsibility are absolute necessity. Our western, american view of human natures says that there are some kinds of people who are creative, and others who are not.
This book flies in the face of those assumptions.
A lot of people tend to think that Catholic Creatives is really for the art crowed, that it's for hipsters with round glasses who own wacom tablets and use macs. Creativity isn't just about art. In the words of Sam Sorich: "Art isn't just about art, it's about being human."
This book isn't just about sharing some wisdom from a bunch of creative folks or showcasing some beautiful design. It's a manifesto for the regaining of a creative Church. It's a blueprint for a revival of Catholic culture because it stakes a flag in the ground and says "we are ALL called to be creative."
The first five words of the Bible are also about creation: “In the beginning, God created.” (Genesis 1:1). That is the beginning of all things. According to Cory: “I realized that's why it's so innate in us to create – because we're sharing in the first thing that God shared that He did,” he said.
Cory didn't just find sacred artists or designers for this book. He called together Catholic architects, chefs, musicians, calligraphers, podcasters, painters, theologians, and teachers. He talked both to artists who are doing specifically Catholic work, and creators who are Catholic but working in the secular world. That’s because, as Catholic author and philosophy professor Peter Kreeftsays on his page: “We're artists because God is.”
Pope John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists he wrote: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”
If we want our Church to be the creative masterpiece that we know God intended her to be, we need to take up the mantle of creativity. We need zealous visionaries on fire for their prophetic love for the world to join our God in his ongoing work ofco-creation.
Cory, more than anyone else I've ever met has taught me by example the love of the act of creation as a participation in God's generative being. There is no one better to draw from such a well of wisdom as Cory, so I'm grateful to him and to all of the community members who participated in this awesome collaboration. I can't wait to put the prints I'm getting with my book up on my wall.
If you guys have not already watched Cory's talk from the CC Summit, do it now. It'll change your life.
Blog by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
CoFounder of Catholic Creatives
This year Life Teen is creating a new series on what it means to value life. Life Teen knows the value of art for both attracting and challenging young people to and with the faith. They got Ryan McQuade on it because we all know that Ryan doesn’t disappoint, and sure enough he blew it out of the water. He designed a collage for each life issue in the series that both sparkle in your eyes and punch you in the gut.
This year Life Teen is creating a new series on what it means to value life. Life Teen knows the value of art for both attracting and challenging young people to and with the faith. They got Ryan McQuade on it because we all know that Ryan doesn’t disappoint, and sure enough he blew it out of the water. He designed a collage for each life issue in the series that both sparkle in your eyes and punch you in the gut.
The primary message behind the series is that being pro-life is much more of a mentality you carry through life than a just a political cause to rally behind. Each life night in the series covers a marginalized group or life issue. Just looking at the collages will tell you that this is not the same kind of ProLife series many of us probably had in our youth groups. This series is going to feature ever so popular topics like immigration, the poor, the death sentence, and assisted suicide. Most of us that are working in the Church know that on the ground in parishes, those topics are not the safest to break open. I’m proud of Life Teen for pushing their youth ministers to talk about these issues and equipping them not just with teaching, but with art.
I asked Ryan why he decided on collage as his medium for this project. This is what he said:
Collage is particularly powerful in that it gives the artist the ability to build metaphors into the creation of a single image. Take this image of the prisoner for example.
The orange wall behind the prisoner’s prisoner’s head is cut out to resemble a halo. A blue cloth is draped over his orange jumpsuit, which is often how Christ is portrayed in traditional icongraphy. A hand in the gesture of blessing in traditional completes the icon, inviting us to see this prisoner as the image of Christ. The symbolism deepens as you notice the white space and numbers behind the prisoner’s head. This recalls the mug shot, a particularly unsettling moment of condemnation. To his right, the arm of a crucifix protrudes and above it the words “death sentence.” Below his arm, the plaque that marked Jesus’ cross is placed. “The King of the Jews.”
We cannot help to see Christ in the image of one of our culture’s undesirables, a black felon condemned to death row. This relationship between Jesus and the prisoner created through the collage leads us to contemplate both the prisoner and Jesus in a new way. We tend to think that “these people are get what they deserve” and are happy that “they are off the streets.” But when I look at this collage, I feel challenged by the question: is that not how people thought of Jesus? A trouble maker? Got what he deserved?
It puts the rejection that Jesus experienced in a whole new light, doesn’t it?
It also makes us consider the death sentence in that new light as well. How can we be so quick to condemn another human being to death when we condemned the most innocent of men, Jesus, to a brutal torturous end. The prisoner and the Christ are drawn together and made one in this image. It’s powerful, it’s beautiful, and it’s alive with meaning. Great work, Ryan. Keep on creating!
Blog by Marcellino D'Ambrosio
Cofounder of Catholic Creatives
Elissa Voss is an incredible photographer. I keep realizing this every time I see one of my friends get married. Chances are if you want to FSU or Ave Maria, she probably took all of your friend's wedding shots. So, hi five Elissa for cornering the Catholic wedding market. That's probably the best wedding market to be in since we tend to do a lot of them. Incidentally, now that I'm actually on my way to getting married, weddings photos are starting to look a lot less alike, so I'm actually beginning to really appreciate what all of you go through that brave the harrows of wedding photography. In any case, Elissa has always been awesome, but her most recent shoot for Verily was definitely some next level stuff.
Elissa's style is beautiful, nostalgic, and real, She captures something so deeply of the feminine genius in her work. When I asked her what she was trying to accomplish with the shots, she said: "My focus was to capture the happy and healthy Verily woman through lifestyle images. My hope was to capture the beauty of womanhood and how we interact with others in everyday life, fully alive and loving well." In these shots you don't see some dark brooding woman, sensual and mysterious, you see women just alive and living their femininity in a real way. You really see that with the dinner party shots. "For the female friendship part," she said, "I really wanted to show the beauty of community/intimacy in friendships and how important it is just to 'be' together." That's exactly what Verily is about, women just "being," not trying to impress, not trying to put on a face, just being as they were meant to. Mission accomplished, Elissa!
That style is not so easy to capture, however. There's a lot that had to go into planning this thing, which is one of the biggest reasons I admire this work. If you go through the whole gallery on Elissa's site, you can see just how many sets, models, and wardrobe changes, and props that needed to be worked with. She had to think about light and time of day, which location to hit first, hire models, and work with them to get authentic looking moments. A shoot like this with so many pieces can very easily fall apart. All it takes is some random unexpected detail to get dropped and you're screwed. Your battery runs out and you realized you left the spare at the last location, your SD card is full and you only bought 5 and you needed 10, you get stuck in traffic on the way to the sunset and by the time you get there its dark... so on and so forth. You get the idea. It's not exactly a cakewalk.
Elissa had to have spent countless hours in the planning for this shoot and it shows. We're proud of you, Elissa! Keep up the good work.
This shot needs an honorable mention. Erica Tighe volunteered her house and studio for Elisa's shoot. That should be #lifegoals for all Catholic Creatives. May we all create our spaces so beautiful that professional photographers ask us to set up photo shoots in our homes.
If you want to see more of Elisa's work, go here. If you want to reminisce on last year's CC Summit, or get really really excited about next year's CC Summit, go look at her CC Summit Gallery. It's amazing.
Creation of the Week by
CoFounder of Catholic Creatives