Don’t miss Part 1 of our interview, where Makoto Fujimura talks about God’s invitation for us to create with him, what we can learn from the powerful and profound Japanese art of Kintsugi, and what it means to be part of God’s “new-new” creation.
It strikes me that a message like that cannot be fully understood rationally. Like wabi-sabi, you can see it and know that is beautiful. But if you try to explain that beauty, it melts away a little, right?
Yeah. The analytical part, which is kind of a Western mindset, is a rationalism that has kind of taken over theology. A good example is an omelet. The test of an omelet is not the recipe, but how it tastes. I feel like we often argue over the recipe while rarely tasting the fruit of what we have made—whether it be in church planting, our lives, our theologies, pro-life issues, anything—these things have to be fruitful if they are true. It’s not enough to plant a seed to grow a tomato. You have to till the soil, water the sprout, raise it, nurture it, right?
But Christians often have kind of an exclusively pragmatic mindset. Recipe knowledge. We rarely talk about the fruit of what that belief is, or enjoy the simple taste of life in Christ. As an artist, my work is tested by the works themselves, I’m not there to defend them. They have to speak on their own. If the work doesn’t “taste” good, no one will want it. Given that, I feel a lot of our effort and preaching deals with information, and is not necessarily embedded in fruitfulness, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is the final test. The ultimate test of our community is culture. Culture should be fruitful in that way, filled with love.
This reminds me of a conversation with Esther Lightcap Meek, whom you reference in the book. I was struck years ago when she discussed how this type of knowledge is often dismissed as subjective. But it’s actually objective knowledge, just impossible to communicate rationally. What can leaders do to reclaim those ways of knowing for their community?
Esther is such a gem. A Little Manual for Knowing is the one book I always give to people to begin that process. But as an aside, this kind of knowledge is not strictly Eastern. When you look back on Aquinas or Dante, there are plenty of Western models for this integrated path. It’s actually the basis of liberal arts and education in the West. Now, we have left that for a more pragmatic, transactional model of education. And that is decimating humanity because we don’t fully understand that the rational flows out of the intuitive. It’s not right brain or left brain. Intuitive knowledge is at the heart, the core, of the human knowledge base. The rational side, the analytical, flows out of that.
“Don’t think of the church as something static. Church ought to be a movement of the Spirit. We should be serving those who are seeking truth, as the Holy Spirit is.”
My friend Curt Thompson, a clinical psychologist, observes that when we are born into the world, we learn through touch and taste and smell. Then that travels into the affective part of our brain. We begin to feel things out of that knowledge. And then, later, words will come out of those experiences. So the analytical, rational side comes last. If you force-feed that side, you might be able to get some results, but it’s not a very good model for education.
By and large, we have been trying to ignite our imagination by having the right recipes. What we should actually be doing is simply making the thing that we want to make and failing over and over again until we finally figure it out. It’s not Western or Eastern—it’s fundamental to human knowledge.
“A lot of our effort and preaching deals with information and is not necessarily embedded in fruitfulness, or the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is the final test.”
We have an epistemological default going on because we have created an idol out of certainty. We want to make sure that we have the “right” recipe when we haven’t really tested the recipe in the world. Our faith becomes disembodied, almost in a way that is more gnostic than really Christian.
The key question is not whether we as a church understand the “right” way of doing things, the question is, are we even tasting what we’re supposed to be feasting on together in this more holistic way? Is the fruit there?
So how do we get there? We start by valuing this communal way of knowing, certainly. We start by understanding that we can share our brokenness with each other in some way that is healthy. By understanding that our faith is not about winning culture wars, but is about sharing vulnerabilities and our experiences in a world that is in desperate need of healing. We start by not formulating a recipe, but we start by making. The beginning question is not whether we understand the right theology (and trust me, I love good theology), but how we are tasting and experiencing goodness and truth and beauty.
“Our faith is not about winning culture wars, but is about sharing vulnerabilities and our experiences in a world that is in desperate need of healing.”
How do we enter into that experience? Everybody has different modes of doing that. Some people are more kinetic, so they need to dance. Some people are more visual, like me, so they must paint. Some people need to listen to music or read. Some people need to cook, right? The list is endless. These are all various ways that God has given us to experience the world and test the world through the fruitfulness. I think we must develop the senses for that. What I call “sanctified imagination” comes through our senses by developing awareness and by listening, by looking, by tasting, by feeling, by touching.
When we talk about something horrible, an incident, some shooting happens and we say it was “senseless,” and that word is true. We haven’t cultivated a sense of those sanctified imaginations so we do senseless things. Our education and home life needs these sorts of sensory experiences—the tasting of good things. Then we can formulate our recipe to make and describe those good things.
I imagine that process of feeling will be recognizable to many church leaders, or anyone who does creative work. So often, the best masters of their craft are those who are able to turn off, even just briefly, the analytic to simply be present. Can you talk a little bit about how this renewed way of relating to all things can impact Christian outreach?
The “none” generation are makers. They are integrative makers because of technology. Everybody is a filmmaker. Everybody is a musician. Everybody is a rapper. Everybody is a dancer. So there’s a huge opportunity. But they come to our churches, and they don’t see any of that being cultivated well. They are largely asked to sit down in cold pews and listen to a lecture, then asked to apply that.
But they’re feelers, looking for somatic experiences. They want to skateboard and serve and hike. And you know what? I think we should go with that. Rather than waiting for them to come into church buildings, we should be hiking with them and maybe joining them in their crazy creative ways and then sharing that in some way. Don’t think of the church as something static. Church ought to be a movement of the Spirit. We should be serving those who are seeking truth, as the Holy Spirit is.
“We start by understanding that we can share our brokenness with each other in some way that is healthy.”
I always joke that the Holy Spirit doesn’t read labels. Just because you advertise that you’re a Christian plumber, it doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is going to join you. The Holy Spirit looks for a good plumber who has a good heart, and an open heart, who loves people. The person could be an atheist. I think that’s how the work of the Spirit manifests itself in the life of the world. Instead of trying to patch up the old wineskin to try to hold the new wine, we should be creating new wineskins. And our young people are already doing it. They may be misguided. They may twist creativity to create an idol rather than what might be true of God. But don’t we do that too? Let’s be open to the possibility that their impulses have significant reality behind them, and that we can learn something from them.
How should Christians relate to the cultural darkness that surrounds, or the darkness they fear might be uncovered in their own honesty and creative work? What words would you have of wisdom for working with holy darkness?
When I read the opening chapters of the Bible, there’s a sense of Genesis talking about the sanctified reality of darkness. Darkness is not the boundary—the light is the boundary. So we start with holy darkness. We start with God’s presence in that darkness. It’s no longer about what light’s not there; it’s about if there is any light. If there is, then that’s grace and that is almost superfluous to the origin of creation. When Christ says, “I am the light of the world,” I take him quite literally to mean that. The Quakers are right in a way, that there’s truth in the light. And for us, without light we can’t see. There’s more understanding of God than we might realize. If we are in the light, then what we are experiencing is sheer grace.
“The beginning question is not whether we understand the right theology (and trust me, I love good theology), but how we are tasting and experiencing goodness and truth and beauty.”
When we are no longer able to see or hear or have lost our senses, God is there because that’s precisely how God started his creative work. But since God is God and God is love, there’s no way that we, either on this side of eternity or next, are going to end up with sheer darkness. That’s why David can say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” and “The darkness is not dark to thee.” That’s the beginning place, I think, of our faith, and so the origin is really a reality that opens up when we begin to understand that.
How do we make church a haven for artists?
One thing for sure is that all of us are artists of the kingdom. It doesn’t help really to isolate artists into their corners, you know. Instead, we must ask, how does the church become an artwork of God—the masterpiece of God? We were created in Christ Jesus to do the hard work of creation. If we can begin to think of the whole, the brokenness, the imperfections, the extraordinary challenges we face as a church body, how fractured we are, how limited and weak and traumatized and scandalized we are, then we can begin to believe how God can take all of that and create something new out of it.
It is easy to make this too complicated. I feel like all we have to do to begin is to be honest, to not pretend like we have the answers. As I wrote in my book, I think of the kintsugi master who sat with me holding broken pottery fragments from 5,000 years ago, telling me that sometimes as a kintsugi master, the greatest thing he can possibly do is to just behold the fragments. Not try to mend them, not do anything with them, but admire their shapes and think about somebody who made this precious thing a long, long time ago and how we are still connected.
“The ‘none’ generation are makers. But they come to our churches and are largely asked to sit down in cold pews and listen to a lecture, then asked to apply that.”
I think how amazing it would be if our churches became places where a new person could come with their fragments. What if we didn’t say, “There’s a program to fix you.” What if we simply welcomed the person and said, “Thank you so much for bringing your fragment, because we need your fragment. We want to simply behold, because all of us are broken here. Your fragment kind of fits into this place where God is doing his kintsugi with us. You matter because your shapes, your sharp corners, your edges are exactly what God will need to create something new, something grand.”
I pray for our churches to become that—safe places where we can bring our vulnerabilities and where we simply learn to behold, tenderly. Where we can learn that we don’t have to fix ourselves or strive to fix ourselves. Where we stop trying to leap over our hurdles and remember that we were made with wings. Healing will come, and the kintsugi Master will put our fragments together, in the new newness he himself has experienced.
But the first thing to do is to simply behold. Behold each other. Behold the fragments.