Transitions: Reflecting on First Semester

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Read the other posts in the Transitions series:

Learning to Trust God Through College Applications

Thoughts After Graduating

Moving In and Settling Down

Making Friends in College

How I Stay Organized

On Tuesday, I completed my first semester of college.

That’s weird for me to say. I still haven’t quite comprehended that I’ve moved into this season, especially because adults always talk about college as if it was the best time of their life.

And now that I’m there, I’m starting to understand why people talk about it like that. Because overall? My first semester was awesome. When I look back on the experience that I’ve been given and look forward to the experience that is to come, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. The friendships that I’ve made, the opportunities my program offers, the community at my school, the late-night conversations about the things that really matter in life, the late-night conversations where we laugh so hard we can’t breathe, the assignments that feel like they have a purpose rather than being busywork, the roommate who is one of my best friends…

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges. I am so blessed to be studying English and dance, two things that I love, yet I still went through a stretch of time where it was very hard to stay motivated and get out of bed in the morning. Because of that, I’ve started to worry about the future: will I ever find something that makes me excited to get out of bed? Or will I spend my whole life looking forward to the next season as the time when I will finally find fulfillment? When my thoughts go down this path, and I start to second-guess all of my career plans, I’m learning to trust that God has a path planned for me, and that He will sustain me through the inevitable times when the daily grind weighs heavy.

Homesickness is certainly real, too, and there were times throughout the semester where I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to see my family and my dog and go to my church. Honestly, church was one of the hardest things. For the first few weeks it was fun to visit new churches, but after a while it got really stressful to have to decide on a church and find a ride there every week. I knew it was time to decide and settle in when, one Saturday night, I reached a point where I would rather have stayed home than visited another new place. Thankfully, one church easily stood out as a place that could become home, and I’ve been going there with a few of my friends ever since. Even though it’s not the same as my home church, it’s been a wonderful home away from home. It’s the only church we visited that I felt really welcomed us (that’s harder to find than you would think, which is sad). The teaching is Biblical and solid, and even though I differ slightly with them on a few issues, the community matters far more to me.

Overall, I love my school. I’m blessed to go to a Christian school that is very strong in the arts, and both of those things have proved to be exactly what I need. First of all, being constantly surrounded by faith and worship has been vital for my spiritual growth. I didn’t realize how much I was missing by being at a public high school, and while I wouldn’t trade that experience, my faith was ready for this next step. Yes, maybe we’re in a bubble. But I’ve been outside of the bubble already, and being in a bubble is turning out to be a wonderful, healthy reprieve before I likely enter the public school system again as a teacher after college.

Being surrounded by the arts, too, is amazing. There are constant performances and events to go to, and being able to see art done in excellence and used for the glory of God is incredible (it’s something I’m pretty passionate about, as most of you probably know).

And truly, even if I did get a little tired of the daily grind by the end of the semester, I can already feel myself making so much progress. I’m glad that I have both English and dance: English comes much more easily to me, and dance forces me to push myself. I can already see my skills improving, and more importantly, my mindset has changed in some significant ways. There is a constant focus on reflection, goal setting, and self-awareness in my program, and I feel slow but sure growth happening in every area of my life.

I think that’s what most defines college: growth. It’s a time for you to figure out who you really are, on your own, without your family ties. A time to grasp your faith for yourself and let that inform your daily choices. A time to change and improve and become the person you will be for the rest of your life. And the best part? Most of this happens so naturally, and I’m so excited to see who I’ve become at the end of these four years.

That’s a wrap on first semester, and on this series, although I’m sure I’ll be posting more about college in the future! Let me know if that’s something you would like to see, and if so, what specifically I should write about. And if you’re in college, or applying to college, or graduated from college, share your experience in the comments! I’d love to hear.

love, grace

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Christian, It’s Okay to Dance.

Woman Wearing White Dress Dancing on Brown Sand

Of all performing arts, I think dance is one of the most misunderstood by Christians, considered to be totally sinful by some (perhaps more historically, but still a little bit in the present day as well).

Full disclosure: I am a dancer. I’m going to school to be a dance major next year. So obviously there is some bias in this…but I feel like that also makes me qualified to address it.

Dance as Worship

I don’t debate that some dance is inappropriate. Certainly, there are dance moves, and even whole styles of dance, that Christians should stay far away from; costumes can be risque, music can be edgy. (There’s a reason I’m planning to study dance at a Christian college!)

But I feel that very conservative Christians, as they so often do, have run too far in the other direction and become overly legalistic in ways that God never intended. Because dance, just like all of the other arts, can be a form of worship. We see this all throughout the Old Testament:

“Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.”

-Exodus 15:20

“And David danced before the Lord with all his might…So David and the house of Isarel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn.”

-2 Samuel 6:14-15

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!”

-Psalm 149:3

Think about it: the concept of dance only exists because God created it. He made us with bodies that can move in graceful and beautiful ways, and minds that can appreciate and create that kind of movement. The way the fall has marred parts of dance doesn’t invalidate its capability to express God’s beauty.

I’ve been lucky enough to study dance with a teacher who gets this. When we perform, it is ultimately for God’s glory. And that makes a huge difference! There is a kind of worship that I find in dancing that I can’t really get anywhere else, a unique kind of communion with God that happens on stage and in the studio.

Dance in Worship?

I do want to clarify that I don’t believe in having dance performances as part of church services. This is because a church service is not meant to be a performance, but a participatory act of worship. Sitting in chairs, passively watching other people dance, is not church.

Watching a dance performance can be a kind of worship, certainly, but it doesn’t belong on Sunday mornings (and for the record, this opinion extends to musical performances as well).

(If the entire congregation was dancing, I think that would be okay, but that’s a little awkward, and it probably isn’t a great idea to make people uncomfortable by forcing them to dance in church, either!)

The Purpose of Dance

Ultimately, dance is just one more means that God has given us to express His beauty, understand Him more fully, and worship Him in a deeper way. Christians who ignore the beauty of dance and only focus on its ugly aspects are missing the point of art, and missing out on a way of worship that can be incredibly meaningful, whether you are an audience member or a dancer.

What do you think? What has your experience been with dance, and how do you feel about it? What is your opinion on dancing in church? Share in the comments below! 

love, grace

Read more:

Why Christians Should Care About the Arts

Guys? Swimwear? Common Modesty Questions

When You Don’t Know Your Purpose (and the Future Seems a Scary Thing)

 

Should Christians Read Fiction?

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For the past little while, we’ve been exploring what it means to use the arts well as a Christian. I’ve argued that the arts are important for Christians to pay attention tothey are a valid career path for Christians, and that as Christians, our art should be of the highest quality.

Today and next week, I want to look at two very specific types of art, ones that I am personally involved in, ones that I feel some Christians look askance at. I want to explain why I believe they are important and why I believe God created them.

First up? Fiction. Storytelling. The art of writing, of crafting plot and characters and settings to explore themes. I write fiction, although I don’t talk about it much on here, and I believe that it is such an important element of the human experience as God created us.

Whatever is True?

I remember stumbling on one of my mom’s homeschool books when I was much younger, a book where the author talked about her family only read nonfiction or fiction that could be real. They didn’t allow fairy tales, fantasy, mythology, talking animals, etc., using Philippians 4:8 (“Whatever is true…”) as their reasoning.

Even at a young age, that bothered me. Partially because I had already fallen in love with fantasy stories and stories in general, and I wondered if it was wrong to read those things, if I should give them up.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized why it really bothered me even then.

What Fiction Does

As Christians, storytelling is one of the means God has given us to reveal his truth. When we limit this storytelling to only representing things that happen in the “real world”, we lose a hugely powerful avenue of witnessing to truth and beauty.

Different genres have different purposes, but all fiction serves several important purposes.

Through fiction, we see the world through different eyes and gain the ability to empathize with people who are different from us.

Through fiction, we get to see how the universal truth of God’s Word plays out in a variety of situations that we will never actually experience.

Through fiction, we gain a more well-rounded understanding of God’s character than we would in the course of our everyday lives.

What About Fantasy?

I want to look at fantasy specifically for a second. Even though so many Christians avoid it like the plague, I think fantasy is so important. Through made-up worlds and magic and epic quests, truth and beauty find one of their best representations.

The best fantasy books are those that look seriously at real issues. By taking those issues into a made-up setting, we can consider them detached from the baggage they carry in the real world. Because of that, we can see the problems and their solutions more clearly.

The other thing fantasy does really well: illustrate the clash between good and evil. In fantasy, we see over and over that good always wins, that evil will ultimately be defeated. There is an ongoing battle between good and evil in the supernatural realm of the real world; in fantasy, without the limitations of the natural world, it is much easier to represent the truth of this fight in the way that does it justice.

The Impact of Fiction

Ultimately, fiction and nonfiction must work together. Nonfiction expresses the truth, and fiction illustrates the truth. Fiction takes nonfiction’s ideas, adds dimension, and makes them beautiful. Fiction shows the truth to us in the light of people and places and stories.

Fiction has the potential to impact the world for incredible good. The truths we learn through fiction often stay with us forever, changing our lives more than the most helpful self-help book. That is a power that Christians need to be harnessing and using for the glory of God.

And as for Philippians 4:8, there is often more truth in stories of talking animals and magic wands than there is in the most realistic of contemporary novels.

What do you think? Do you read fiction? Fantasy? What impact has fiction had on your life? 

love, grace

Read more:

4 Ways to Read More During the School Year (+book recommendations!)

Writing for Building Up (or, I’m Tired of Depressing Stories)

Why I Don’t Limit Myself to “Christian” Entertainment

We Need Higher-Quality Christian Art.

quality art

Today’s Christian media needs some help. Granted, there are some good Christian artists out there. But for the most part, Christian music is shallow and repetitive. Christian books are cliched, and Christian movies are cheesy.

Christian art should not have this reputation. We have so much to share, so much truth and beauty to express in the things we create – so why do Christians continue to recycle cliches and chords and characters to give people a fuzzy feel-good moment rather than a teary-eyed sense of God’s majesty?

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:23-24

God demands our best, our diligence, in whatever we have been called to. And this extends to the arts, certainly. If we feel called to a life of creativity, we must then seek to do our best, to learn our craft, to produce things that honor God by showing His excellence. In order to do that, our art has to be objectively good.

A Christian message is not enough. If something is badly written or badly made, it doesn’t matter how many Christian messages it has crammed into it; those messages will not make it automatically good. And the art will not have the impact that it could have.

Our art could be an incredible witness to the world. But if we want it to show the excellencies of God, it has to first be excellent. So, Christian, learn how to do your craft well. Practice often. Don’t be a perfectionist; that’s not what this is about. But put effort into your creativity, knowing that we will never make an impact with books and movies and music that are forgettable and poorly-made.

 

If you are an artist, how do you seek to improve your craft in order to better serve God? Who are some of your favorite artists who create both high-quality and Christian media? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Why the Arts Are a Valid Career Path for Christians

arts career

“It’s impossible to make money doing that.” 

“How on earth are you going to support yourself?”

“Maybe you should find a real job.”

Those are all reactions that many young people get when they express their dreams to be a writer, or an actor, or a dancer, or any other kind of artist And sadly, this happens in both secular and Christian circles.

But this is such a problematic way of thinking. If God gives us talents, He wants us to use them for His glory. Shouldn’t the church be encouraging that? God gave that girl a passion for singing, and He doesn’t want to see it wasted. He gave that guy the ability to paint beautifully, and there are so many ways that talent can be used. Telling someone to let go of their God-given passion and ability (whether that’s the arts or something else) in order to get a job that will earn them more money is not Biblical or healthy.

Because the Christian life is not about money. The Christian life is about bringing glory to God with whatever we choose to do. For the Christian, choosing a job should be about several things: What am I good at? What do I enjoy doing? What will make the most impact for the kingdom? What will allow me to continue pursuing God first and foremost in my life?

It should not, ever, be solely based on how much money we will make.

Here’s the thing, too: the arts are not nearly as unrealistic a career path as everyone makes it sound. With the Internet, it’s easier than ever to create a platform, gain a following, and reach people with the things you create. You might not ever be a celebrity, but so many people are finding small success through YouTube or blogging or self-publishing. You don’t have to reach millions of people; you just have to faithfully use your gift and trust that God will cause it to have an impact somewhere.

This is not to say that everyone should go quit their jobs. This is not a call to be irresponsible. We should make wise life choices that allow us to live responsibly and support ourselves, but we can trust God to take care of us, and we can trust that He has a plan for our lives. By having that trust, we can step out in faith and use our gifts if that is what we feel He is calling us to.

For the artist, that could look like getting a part-time job to ensure a little bit of income, and then devoting the rest of your time to creating. It could mean intensively saving money for a year or two, making a solid budget, and only then quitting your job and dedicating yourself to the arts full-time. Whatever you choose to do, do it prayerfully, seeking God’s will. It might be hard. It will take perserverance and faith. But why do we always look for the job that will make us the most money with the least work? If something is hard, that means it will be worthwhile in the end. If something is disappointing for a while, the success will be all the sweeter.

And ultimately, the world’s vision of success is fundamentally flawed. We can’t let it blind us to what God cares about. If your writing causes one person to come to faith, that is success. If your song heals one person’s heart after a terrible tragedy, that is success. Those are the successes that bring glory to God. And those are the successes that the world needs more of.

Seeking to spend your life using your gifts for God’s glory is not stupid. It’s not reckless. It is, in fact, what we are designed to do.

Even if your gifts aren’t considered a “real job”.

 

Have you ever had people say things like this to you about your passions? How do you plan to use your gifts to glorify God, both now and in the future? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Read more:

Why Christians Should Care About the Arts

So I Got Deferred from Princeton This Week.

When You Don’t Know Your Purpose (and the Future Seems a Scary Thing)