Wednesday, June 28, 2006

[subversive underground] PROPHETIC ART


One aspect of the Incarnation which fascinates me is how God, in human flesh, manifested Himself as a common, simple person born into humble circumstances who traveled the countryside telling stories.

Jesus was a storyteller. He was a creative personality. His stories were allegorical snapshots of what life inside the Kingdom of God was like.

Only one of his stories, which he called “Parables”, was ever actually explained to his disciples. All the rest he left up to interpretation and discovery.

The Parables of Jesus provoked thought and invited those who were curious to explore for themselves what the Kingdom of God was really all about. By internalizing the search for Truth contained in his stories, Jesus entrusted the human mind with the task of working it out in due time.

Jesus was comfortable with loose ends. He didn’t feel any anxiety over how many understood the parable. He knew that those who were truly hungry for real spiritual sustenance would discover what they were craving after in their own time.

There was an organic quality to the ministry and teaching of Jesus that appeals to me in ways that are deeper than I can even comprehend at a conscious level. He had ideas that were subversive to the status quo of the culture and he transmitted the code of this social rebellion through simple stories about farmers, widows, travelers, sons, fathers, and fields.

Jesus was comfortable with unanswered questions. In fact, I think that many of us who call ourselves his followers could learn something from adopting his style of asking questions and telling stories without getting hung up on the answers.

Too often we in the Church are too quick to provide answers to questions we’ve never been asked. That is a serious problem, in my mind. It paints us as people who are more concerned about results than we are about other human beings. We provide answers without taking the time to really listen to the questions being asked. Often we are answering the wrong questions.

For example, no one cares about your answer to spiritual poverty if you have yet to address the very real physical poverty all around you. When you show an indifference to the very real poverty that is easily detectable with the naked eye, it doesn’t paint you as someone who is particularly skilled at relieving poverty. Your poverty-relieving skills come into serious doubt.

Those who have yet to embrace Christ are skeptical of the slogan- “Jesus Loves You” when those who claim to be transformed by this love look and act just like everyone else.

It matters, then, who we are and what we do. Our reputation has become soiled. This is what makes the pursuit of personal Holiness and ethical behavior essential to the Christian life. Not just for our own personal need for sanctification, to be transformed into the image of Christ, but for the purpose of demonstrating that Jesus does indeed change lives and make us a new creation.

It shouldn’t take faith to believe that Jesus has the power to set us free. It should not take faith to accept that Jesus is capable of making us into better fathers and mothers and employees and citizens.


Is a painting considered Christian if it includes a Cross? Or does the absence of religious iconography sap the spiritual impact from a work of art?

I believe that any art that is honest, real, raw, and true is capable of inspiring emotional and intellectual hunger for God. Much like the parables of Jesus invited further thought and inspired introspection, I believe that all of the creative disciplines have the potential for provoking and disturbing us. Yet, any artist or creative person who begins to pursue this sort of strategy will also inspire controversy as Jesus did.


When my oldest son turned nine years old recently I bought him a Bible to replace his “Kid Friendly” Story Bible. Soon afterwards we began to get up early together and read the Bible as a way to start our day. His choice was to start reading in the book of Genesis and it wasn’t long before I discovered that the Word of God is not a G-Rated book. It isn’t even a PG 13-rated book. It’s more like a an R-rated book, and in some places even an X-rated book.

The Bible is full of stories about murder, lust, rape, incest, mutilation, prostitution, and all the basest follies of humanity. More often than not, I found myself editing the Bible for my nine year old son’s ears.

So, let us suppose, for example, that you, as an artist, attempted to illustrate the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. Would such a work be accepted by the Christian culture, or would it be reviled and condemned?

My guess is that most of the Christian community would be up in arms about a film or an illustrated version of the Bible that communicated visually the same details available on the written page.

Simply put, telling the Truth may not be popular. However that should never prevent us from telling the Truth.


The thin line between art that communicates a scandalous truth and art that is sheer shock-sensationalism is something that takes time to explore and courage to proclaim.

When does art begin to confront the culture in the same way that the parables of Jesus perplexed and challenged and offended the culture of His day? When does art stop pandering to our basest desires and begin to challenge us to shrug off our complacency? Shouldn’t real art have the power to disturb and unsettle us?

The truth is, we don’t know the answers because examples of this type of art are so rare in this day and age. But isn’t this the sort of thing that our society desperately craves? Art that communicates to the soul?

Recently I came across a great quote from Steve Turner about artists as prophets in Image: Journal of the Arts and Religion: “One role of the artist is to provoke and even disturb us so that we can see in new ways. As the ancient prophets did, art frequently condemns the values and concerns of its surrounding culture-often in a loud, harsh voice. In consequence, the artist is often outcast, rejected, or unpopular.”

Maybe the problem is that, most of those whom we call artists today are in reality only entertainers. But a true artist, as defined above, is one who challenges the lifestyle, thought-pattern and behavior of a society, regardless of what anyone thinks—even if it means being unpopular.

Why don’t more artists take the role of prophet? Perhaps because it’s just a lot more difficult. Perhaps because we’re making some wrong assumptions, one being that to be evangelistic, we must somehow spell out the Gospel in plain English in a song or a painting.

But the world doesn’t want things spelled out. It doesn’t want the punch line. They’ve already heard the punch line (in regards to what the Christian faith is all about) numerous times. What they want to know is, How does it relate to my life? How do I actually “do” this stuff? What value are the teachings of Jesus to my life today?

Art has the power to ask these questions and to provide clues regarding the answers. But, the more important elements of the equation are the question and the clues, not the punch line.

The problem with a lot of contemporary Christian art is that it’s easier for an artist to look through an art magazine and take cues from what the rest of the world is doing. Maybe slap a cross here or a few nails there and, presto, you’ve got something that other Christians might call “Christian art.” But, if your hope is to communicate something more potent and effective to the culture we live in, then it’s going to involve submission to the Holy Spirit when you sit down to create your art.

The finished product might not look, on the surface, like something that God could or would use, but as you continue to seek God’s face in your work, you’ll begin to find more and more success at hearing His voice and responding to His direction.

If our art is ever to stray into the territory of the Prophetic, we must learn to hear the voice of God, like the Prophet. We must learn to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, like the Prophet. We must develop a heart for people and long for them to see the Truth of the Kingdom of God, like the Prophet. We must not be artists who are concerned with popularity, or legitimacy.


Art has the power to change people, but not overnight, and not of it’s own volition. Much like the deceptively simple stories from the mouth of an itinerant carpenter challenged the culture of his day, and won as many detractors as followers, our art has the same potential to disturb us and help us to see things in new and different ways.

My hope is to find more artists who are willing to step into the role of prophet to this culture we live in. My prayer is that God would raise up workers to step into this field of harvest armed with digital cameras, paint brushes, laptops and clay. My prayer is for creative human beings, touched by the heart of God, who would be willing to develop a habit of waiting on God and surrendering to Him their various talents and skills.


Friday, June 23, 2006

[subversive underground] GENEROSITY

[subversive underground] GENEROSITY
by Keith Giles

In researching the practice of the early church, I came across a startling testimony of the graciousness and radical generosity these first Christians exemplified.

As the early believers cared for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the leper, and the destitute among them, they also cared for the sick and the poor outside of the church as well. Tertullian and other early Church Fathers report that the reputation of the Church extended even to those who were pagan. One contemporary source hostile to the Gospel agreed that "to our shame they bury even our own dead.."

Yet even in this ongoing practice of transformational compassion, I came across something that really made me stop and consider my own internal defintions of compassion and mercy.

The chapter I was reading dealt with the daily gift to the poor administered by the Church and recorded that, in those instances where all the money had been disbursed to the poor and an unexpected need arose, (or if a traveling missionary should arrive and need shelter or food for the week), the pastors would immediately decide to fast for the week in order to provide the need from their own daily sustenance.

This simple and yet immediate act of generosity hits me where I live and breathe. Automatically I ask myself, "Would I ever do such a thing?" Honestly, probably not. I could easily see myself shrugging my shoulders and explaining that we'd already given out all our money to the poor...."Oh well.."

Yet those earliest followers of Jesus seem to have understood something that I do not yet apprehend. There is a joy in giving, especially sacrificially, to those who God brings to us with a need greater than our own.

These were the sort of Christians who would hesitate only to discuss which of them might be given the honor of going without food for the week so that they might be the vessel of God's goodness and blessing to this person in need.

It wasn't about evangelistic strategy or being seeker friendly or promoting their brand of religious expression. It was a simple, transformational response from a people whose hearts God had touched.

My prayer is that, one day very soon, it would be my first and immediate response to give even the food from my plate, and off my cupboard, in order to express the mercy and the grace of God to another human being.

"Conversatio Morem!"
ARTICLE UPDATE: My article "LIGHT VS HEAT" is online now at

ANOTHER ARTICLE: My other article "POVERTY LIGHT" is online now at


Thursday, June 15, 2006

[subversive underground] IDENTITY

[subversive underground] IDENTITY by Keith Giles

I've been thinking a lot the last few weeks about image and identity, as my previous underground article suggests.

You know how you can never tell anyone who you really are? You can tell them what you do for a living, or what your faith is like, or whether or not you're married or single, or a parent or a servant, but you can't tell them who you are, only what your function or affiliation is with something or someone else.

To some people I am a writer. To others I am a pastor. To some people I am a singer, or a teacher, or a comedian or a father, or a brother, or a husband. But, is that who I am? Am I just a father? Or am I a pastor? A writer? A singer? A husband?

Yes, I am all of those things, and yet I am none of those things.

If I ceased to be a pastor would I still be me? Yes. If I ceased to write, would I still be Keith Giles? Of course I would. In fact, if I stopped doing all those things I normally do I would still be who I am.

So...who am I?

Simply put, I am who God says I am.

My identity is found in Christ. Yet, honestly, discovering what that means is still a challenge for me.

What does it mean to be identified with Jesus? How do I think of myself as someone who is "In Jesus"?

The first letter of John provides some insight into this concept;

"We know that we have come to know Jesus if we obey his commands. The person who says, 'I know Jesus,' and yet does not do what Jesus commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys the words of Jesus, God's love is truly made perfect in that person. This is how we know that we are in Jesus: Whoever claims to be in Him must walk as Jesus did."
-(1 John 2:3-6)

Jesus had an expectation that those who would follow him (disciples) would obey him. The scriptures are full of blatant statements out of the mouth of our Lord about how he expects obedience from his followers.

(For reference check out Jesus in John 14:15-23 and Luke 6:46-49)

A.W. Tozer, one of my heroes in the faith, says, "Salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the scriptures".

So...what does this have to do with my identity? How does this help me to discover who I am?

I think the answer is that, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)

If I have truly died to myself, if I have become a disciple of Jesus (as Jesus expected), then I have a new identity in Christ. I am only who I am when I am found in him.

Todd Hunter (another of my heroes) has a great quote about how "..not having an ongoing reality of God's Kingdom isn't sub-Christian, it's sub-Human" because we are all made by our Creator to live in relationship to Him. To do any less is to fall short of what we were made for.

As I struggle to discover who I am, what I'm made for, where I fit in, etc., I have to orient my mind towards the reality that I need Jesus and I need to "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matt 6), and everything else will take care of itself.

NEW ARTICLE ALERT: My article "Jesus Is A Verb" is online now at "Next-Wave Magazine" here:

ANOTHER NEW ARTICLE: My article: "Poverty Light" is now published online at

NEW PODCAST SERMON: "CONVERSATIO MOREM!" by Keith Giles. Download issues are now fixed. Sorry for the technical difficulties...but all is working now!

MOMENTUM 06 - Friday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 24th at St. James Church, Newport Beach, CA
Don't miss this incredible two-day conference on the emerging church, worship, justice, the arts and missional life.
With: Mike Pilavachi, Todd Hunter, Brenton Brown, David Ruis, and several others.
*I'll also be leading a couple of workshops, one on Compassion Ministry with the amazing Crissy Brooks (MIKA), and one on Missional Gospel "The Gospel: For Here Or To Go?".
Student Rates and Couples Rates just added. Go online to learn more:


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

[subversive underground] IMAGE

[subversive underground] IMAGE by Keith Giles

I was at lunch the other day when my friend made a comment about how he wanted to see himself the way God sees him.

That made me stop for a minute and consider what he meant by that. For me, to see myself the way God sees me is to be made aware of my sin. Like David in Psalms 139 who says, "Search me oh God and know my thoughts. Reveal the wicked way in me and lead me in the path everlasting", I tend to lean to the negative side when it comes to my self-image.

What my friend meant by seeing himself as God sees him was more about the righteousness of Christ credited to him through the Grace of God.

In truth, we're both correct. God does see us as already justified in the blood of Christ, and He also sees us as weak, sinful children who desperately need His Mercy and Grace. The amazing thing is that He loves us in spite of our sin, and that He chooses to see us, and treat us, "as if" we were actually already made Holy.

What concerned me was that I automatically assumed my friend meant the negative aspect of "How God sees me" and not the positve side. I mean, yeah, I am a pessimist. But the definition of a pessimist is just an optimist with experience, right?

Still, I wonder why I didn't follow my friend's line of thinking? Why did I automatically assume he meant the worst?

Recently God revealed to me a hidden, prideful chamber of my own sinful heart. It was painful to realize my shallow, sick hypocrisy, and yet at the same time it was good to know that God loved me and wanted to reveal to me my sin so He could change my heart. Being aware of the truth about myself was a good thing. Painful. Ugly. Yet seeing it was necessary to my spiritual transformation.

Maybe I'm afraid that, if I walk around focused on how God sees me as a totally righteous and holy I'll become self-decieved. I honestly don't want to stray away from this more realistic view of my own heart. To me there's a bit of danger in meditating on the righteousness of Christ attributed to me through the cross of Jesus.

Yes, God looks at me and sees Jesus. He sees me "as if" I have already been fully and completely justified. But, I think that to follow Jesus I have to be daily aware of my own potential for sin. Otherwise I'm afraid I'll be setting myself up for a fall.

A few weeks ago another friend of mine pointed out to me that I've often spent too much time seeking affirmation from my various employers over the last few years, rather than receiving the affirmation from God in my life. That made me think. In fact, it was like a light coming on my head.

I really think this person has accurately summed up the situation. I have been seeking affirmation from my employers over the last few years, and in fact I believe that this desire for affirmation has often driven me to over-extend myself, to do too much, to try too hard.

I've often had an internal desire to find a job where I "belong". I've looked for a job where I could be accepted for who I am. When I don't get that from my job I begin to feel isolated and rejected. But maybe the real problem is that I'm searching for the right thing in the wrong place?

The other day I was praying about some of this very same stuff and my wife Wendy pointed something out to me that really hit home. She said, "You'll always be welcome and loved by us", meaning my family; herself and our two boys.

Have I been seeking affirmation and identity in my job? Am I looking to belong to an organization?

I think God is showing me that He intended me to "belong" in my family. He made me to "make a difference" in the lives of my sons and my wife. He did not intend for me to find meaning and purpose in my job.

A few years ago I went through a long stretch of time without gainful employment. About a year and a half, actually. During that time I clearly felt God saying to me, "I care more about who you are than what you do for a living". For a man, that's sometimes hard to hear because we get so much of our identity from our job.

Every guy knows what I'm talking about. Fifteen minutes into any conversation between two men and one will inevitably ask the other, "So...what do you do for a living?" or "How's work coming along?" We get so much of our self-image from our job, and I think that, at least for me, needs to change.

My self-image is not in what I do for a living. My self-image is not in how much I fail to live up to the image of Christ either.

My self-image is in who God says I am. It's about being who He made me to be, and nothing else.

Now, if I could just figure out how to be the person He's made me, and called me, to be I'll be halfway home.

NEW SERMON PODCAST: "CONVERSATIO MOREM!" by Keith Giles - The newest sermon podcast based on the early Church Fathers saying which means "Death to the status quo" or "Constant Conversion". Download the sermon mp3 over at the main website now:

MOMENTUM 06 - Friday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 24th at St. James Church, Newport Beach, CA
Don't miss this incredible two-day conference on the emerging church, worship, justice, the arts and missional life.
With: Mike Pilavachi, Todd Hunter, Brenton Brown, David Ruis, and several others.
Student Rates and Couples Rates just added. Go online to learn more:

HOUSE CHURCH NETWORK: I'm currently in discussions with someone about possibly starting an Orange County House Church Network that would involve a website, and possibly even a magazine down the road. More on this as things develop.

BOOK UPDATE: I've been "stuck" on chapter 6 for a while now, but just this week I've picked things up again and really want to push through these last chapters to finish up soon. I'll submit the final version to a few publishers and if no one bites I'll self-publish it. Might even offer it as a downloadable pdf file, who knows?