(Excerpt from Introduction and Chapter 1)
What do you experience as an artist in Christ, working in secular culture?
In my question, I’m not asking what people say about you being one.
I’m asking what you experience.
I was invited to lead a workshop at a worship arts retreat. After the session, a young man (let’s call him Michael) caught up with me as I was walking over to the dining hall. Michael is a hip-hop dancer. He told me how much he enjoyed the session and began to share about his love for dance. He told me how he feels so alive in the pure adrenaline of taking class and working hard on new steps and combinations. But he felt guilty for enjoying it so much because he didn’t understand how taking a Hip-Hop class glorified God. And if it didn’t glorify God, he didn’t know if it was something he should be doing, let alone enjoying.
I met another artist (let’s call her Amy) who loved fantasy gaming. Amy and I were having a conversation while enjoying the sun on a beautiful terrace in Spain after another session I’d taught. As we were talking, she began telling me about this fantasy world she started designing for Dungeons and Dragons. She told me how she loved being a Dungeon Master, and that she wanted to design worlds and environments for fantasy games. She actually wanted to create a video game franchise! Fascinated, I asked Amy what she was doing to work toward it. I asked her when she was going to finish the game world she had started. She went on to tell me that she’d stopped designing it because she was conflicted about being a Christian in fantasy gaming. She knew about other Christians who had ventured in fantasy, like Lewis and Tolkien, but she wanted to work in a different facet of the genre. She didn’t see how her faith could be integrated with the type of gaming she liked in a way that would be acceptable for a Christian. Since she couldn’t imagine how her faith and gaming career could coexist, she stopped. She didn’t want to dishonor God.
I could tell you about many other artists I’ve met who share similar stories and battle similar dilemmas. What did they all have in common?
None of them felt truly liberated to just be the artist they felt drawn to be.
They all loved God and wanted to live honorably before Him.
They were all artists with (or pursuing) careers in secular culture.
They were Christians, but they didn’t make art about faith or the Christian walk; nor was their art created to be used for evangelism, doctrine, or leading people in worship.
And because of this, they struggled with the place of their art life in their faith walk. They wrestled with the disconnection they believe exists between their faith, career, and artistry. And they wondered if these three could actually live and thrive in the same space. And if so, how?
I asked you about your experience. If you’re where I suspect, you, too, are wrestling in some way with the relationship between your faith and “secular” art career.
If that’s true, I’m way too excited about the opportunity to encourage you! I’m downright giddy that I get to let you know that is not the experience you should be having.
Yes, I know where you work.
I know the kind of art you create.
I know who you work with.
And yes, I’m aware of the absence of Christian reference and vocabulary in your work.
that’s not the experience you should be having.
Let me tell you why.
When addressing the seven things the Lord hates and finds abominable, Proverbs 6:19 (NKJV) lists one of them as being “he who sows discord among his brethren.” This phrase jumps out at me: discord among his brethren. The term brethren speaks to related parts, things in relationship, things related to one another, sharing the same parentage and origin.
As an artist in Christ working in secular culture, Christian, creative, and cultural participant are each a part of you that are related to one another within you. Not only are they related, but they originate from the same Source.
You are a Christian, an identity He gave you through your relationship with Him.
You create art, a gift and ability He gave you.
You work in secular culture, a context into which He drew you.
All aspects of your life, as an artist in Christ working in secular culture, have an origin and initiation in Him, and by Him. If that’s really true—and it is—then they do not exist in conflict. If they’re not in conflict, you shouldn’t feel conflicted about being all three of them at the same time, in the same space.
So, why do you feel conflicted? That’s what we’re going to tackle in the conversation that follows.
This book is part of a larger discipleship program I’ve created called the Kingdom Artist Institute (KAI). The mission of my work is to help you become unapologetic about your “secular” art career.
Not without accountability.
What do I mean by that?
Well, on a basic level, I mean being in a place where you don’t feel the need to justify or apologize for the kind of art you make, who you make it with, or where it lives. But on a deeper level, I mean being unapologetic as a Christian having this kind of career, working intimately with “those” people in this context.
How do you get there?
One, by being able to account for where God is and is at work in your career life. And two, by understanding how your kind of art career is a valid, God-honoring way to participate in Kingdom citizenship, building, and representation.
See, you don’t have to apologize if you know that your art is for your life, not just your Christian service.
You don’t have to apologize if you know your art life has relevance, how it’s relevant, that it makes a contribution, and what its contribution to the Kingdom is.
And, you don’t have to apologize for your art career if you know it, too, has a place in Christian community and Kingdom purpose.
Now, we’re going to tackle all of this through the KAI Freedom Formula:
Liberty + Harmony = an art life without apology
Basically, you have to be freed from some things.
You have to be rooted in some things.
And, you have to know how to walk in some things.
This is a conversation about you, my friend. So be ready to chime in, push back, and give an answer.
Well, let’s get to it.
In Our Defense
This whole idea of being unapologetic is only possible under one conviction: that any art life can be a vessel for worship, serve God, and leave a Kingdom footprint in culture.
Yes. You read that correctly.
ANY art life—no matter what you make art about, who you make it with, or where it lives.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
At least, I think I know what you’re thinking. How is that even possible?
Well, let’s answer that by first looking at why you think it’s not possible. Let’s look at why any of us feel the need to be apologetic about our “secular” art careers at all.
Why does anyone feel the need to apologize?
Essentially, one apologizes as an acknowledgement that they’ve wronged someone or committed some improper act.
I have two questions in response to that:
- Where have we gotten the idea that having a “secular” art career is wrong or improper?
- What wrong are we supposedly committing that would need an apology?
According to whom?
I believe there are several players that contribute to this apologetic narrative, but the root lies with one. Unfortunately, it’s the church.
Let me explain what I mean.
As religion has grappled with the place of believers in culture, it hasn’t always had the most gracious, informed, or at times, even Spirit-led response. The Spirit of God draws us out into culture. Yet, religion says if you’re truly His, your life and art belong in the church, and to the church. And oh, by the way, here are the only acceptable ways to use your art here. There’s an institutional fear of contamination and dilution—a deep-rooted, inherited legacy of dividing “sacred” and “secular” that has left many Christians ignorant about how to live out their faith in their everyday lives among people who are different from them. From that place of fear and dividedness, religion has marked out a very narrow set of acceptable ways to engage in faith, and in culture.
Even in churches where this isn’t an issue, the residue of that mindset excludes discussion about life beyond the church service from most of the conversation happening within the church. This beyond-the-church conversation is often relegated to the fringes, leaving scores of Christians who never hear anyone talk about engaging in secular culture in a spiritual and favorable way. Still, even when Christians are encouraged to seize their ambassadorship in culture, they’re rarely taught how to actually do it. This is problematic because our church experience heavily forms the norms and mindsets we carry into our individual Christian walks. In essence, our spiritual upbringings have made tension the default mode of interaction between our faith, our giftings, and the cultures in which we live.
That’s where the thinking comes from. Now, what are the wrongs artists with “secular” careers are supposedly committing?
But what did I do?
In answering that, let’s look again at the artists our conversation is referencing.
They don’t make art about faith or the Christian walk.
Their art is not created to be used for evangelism, doctrine, or leading people in worship.
They work closely with non-Christians.
Their art explores subjects that would most likely be deemed unacceptable in the local church.
They may even use bad language and their work is not always positive.
So, what are their offenses?
Well, according to the above mindset, they’re the following:
- Such an art life doesn’t fulfill our Christian responsibility to worship, honor, and glorify God, nor does it build the Kingdom.
- Such an art life compromises the Christian, who will inevitably fall into darkness by association.
- Such an art life taints God’s pure and holy creation by mixing it in “that world” with “those people.”
- Such an art life betrays God’s goodness to us by taking His gifts and using them for any other purpose than serving Him.
How’d I get pulled into this?
Now, I understand this is how our “secular” art careers can be perceived. But how have we, as artists, gotten sucked up into that perception?
How has it happened in your life?
How do you who, in your quiet time, so powerfully sense God drawing you further into the art path you’re on, get caught up feeling guilty and conflicted about what you know is true?
1 In Our Defense
Why do we feel the need to apologize for our “secular” art careers?
2 A Part, My Part
Does our art have a place in God if it doesn’t fit in the church?
3 Beyond the Talk
Can our art career really honor God if we don’t use it to evangelize or serve in the church?
4 The How of In, but Not Of
How do we build our art career in secular culture without adopting the ways, beliefs, and practices of the culture?
5 The Power of Good
How are we supposed to interact with non-Christians as we build our art careers in secular culture?
6 Places, People. Places
How do I know my art career is the path God has for me?
7 Walking the Line
How do we honorably navigate ambition, success, wealth, notoriety, etc.?
8 It’s All in the Eyes
Why do we struggle to integrate our faith and art?
9 I Do! To What, Exactly?
What kind of relationship did God invite you to? What kind of relationship do you think you’re in?
10 What’s Going On Here?
Are you in a full-fledged, life-long, all-in relationship with God? Or are you in something else?
11 Who’ve You Let into Your House?
Is God just along for the ride in your art life or does He have expectations of His own?
12 Happened, but Undefined
How has your relationship with God changed your art life?
Help Us Spread the Liberty
About the Author
Drawing upon her years of experience as both a dancer and teacher of dance, Marlita Hill exposes the lie that has caused so many Christian artists to feel uneasy–discordant even–in their artistry: that somehow, “secular” art isn’t appropriate for the Christian artist. Like the master dance instructor she is, she guides readers through a number of deliberate movements that liberate them from these unhelpful distinctions between the sacred and the secular. Defying Discord is a great read for artists of any kind who are looking for encouragement regarding the integration of their faith and their vocation.
Dr. Kutter Callaway, professor of theology and culture and author of Scoring Transcendence, Watching TV Religiously, and Breaking the Marriage Idol
Based on my reading of Defying Discord, Marlita Hill has written a book with an encouraging message that not only gives insight to questions that believers who make a career practicing their form of art wrestle with, but also challenges the insecurities that artists struggle with. Her conversational writing style makes reading her latest book feel like two people having an informal yet thoughtful reflection on what it is to be an artist led by the Holy Spirit in a secular environment. I strongly recommend this book.
Reginald Cole, dance educator and performer
I can’t give you Marlita S. Hill’s street address, but I can tell you where she lives. She lives at the intersection of art and faith. Her new book Defying Discord is a Manifesto for Christians with “secular” art careers, and it’s brilliant. There always seems to be this disconnect between the Christian faith and the culture and this disconnect seems to be amplified for the practitioners, the artists. Can we be artists in Christ, working in “secular” culture. I’ve always believed the answer is “Yes!” and Marlita Hill serves as an expert navigator. She is a professional dancer and choreographer as well as the founder of KAI (Kingdom Art Initiatives) a ministry that helps creatives of faith to work in the “secular” culture. This book will challenge your thinking, at times make you scratch your head, maybe even shake it once or twice, but I tend to believe those are less about the material presented and more about the internal struggle occurring in the heart of the artist. At least it was for me.
I’ve been on both sides of this proverbial aisle. I was the artist who had a big wall between my faith and my art and the result was a disaster. I had to lay my career down for a short period of time while God did some work on my heart, and called me to church ministry. Today, I feel most of my calling is to the church, serving as a Church pastor, as well as an itinerant painter, speaker and storyteller, through my ministry AMOKArts.com. Reading Defying Discord has made me question why I was “back-burnering” projects to which I was pretty sure God was leading me, but that largely didn’t fit my “ministry context.” I slowly began to see that even though Sunday after Sunday I tell my congregation to go beyond the walls of the church, and use their gifts and talents to the glory of God, I was passing on things that might take me to that very place.
While this book is for people in the arts, there are a lot of principles here that could apply across a much wider spectrum of the Church. Chapters 9-12 (which deal with the different ways we relate to God) alone would be worth the price of the book. As I read this book there was one thought that kept coming up, one for which I’m not sure there is a good answer. Why all this pressure on artists? No one expects a Christian mechanic to only work on “Christian cars” (is there such a thing) or even cars belonging to Christians. The expectation also doesn’t apply to most other fields. I think this thought alone is enough to release us. Why not submit our gifts to God, trust Him and go where He leads? Thank you Marlita. This is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read on Christians in the arts. It addresses a section of the topic that really needed to be addressed. Five stars!
Dave Weiss, AMOK Arts, Pastor and Artist
Through biblical principles and insight, Marlita Hill encourages a renewed and revived perspective for Christians who are artist working in a marketplace calling and career. Defying Discord’s pages are saturated with probing questions, nudging the reader to consider a liberated way of thinking about their relationships; with their Creator, their art and themselves. Through practical and relatable examples of everyday life, her words reassure us to step closer finding freedom, joy and purpose in one’s daily art life.
Cynthia Newland, MFA, Founder of Alible3: Nourishing the Body, Soul, and Spirit, and former Chair of Dance, Belhaven University
This powerful book is a freedom cry for the Christian who identifies as an artist who creates outside of traditionally Christian contexts or themes. Break free from the needless criticism and/or guilt that might have been placed on you as an artist by yourself or by those who share your faith, yet fail to see the value in your art. This work also calls for the perceptual unification of your identity as both an artist and a Christian: these parts of you are neither separate, nor unrelated. This work is full of relatable, real-life experiences to help you along the journey of becoming unapologetic in your artistry. This is a must-read for all creative professionals who seek to follow God while creating in “secular” spheres. However, the message of this work is universally relevant for any Christian who does any kind of work outside of the church. It reads as a relaxed conversation with a good friend who is seeking to encourage you in both your professional life and your walk in the Lord. DO NOT miss this incredible, encouraging work by an artist of faith for artists of faith!
Kristin Walti, Artist
Be prepared to be challenged. As someone who always thought that art created by a Christian should only be Christian-themed, Defying Discord was a paradigm shift. In reading Defying Discord, Marlita Hill affirms that there does not need to be such a great divide between the sacred and the secular. Defying Discord is well-researched and scripturally sound. Marlita Hill gives practical examples and speaks to real-world ideologies.
Defying Discord ends with a punch and although many of my questions and objections were answered in her book, I am left wanting to learn more and wanting to do more. I am left affirmed, changed, challenged, and propelled into action. If you are ready to break out of your self-imposed box of your gifting and your career, Defying Discord is a game-changer.