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For a long time in the early years of my Christian walk, I felt quite schizophrenic. I was generously discipled by older believers, which meant that I learned huge amounts and grew rapidly. As a result, I came to love the Gospel and the Bible deeply. This led in turn to ministry opportunities, Church of England ordination, and service in two UK churches and at a small seminary in Uganda. It was a fairly tried and tested evangelical (of a British kind) path. But something was always missing.
I had grown up in a very artistic home, with three generations of painters in the family, and had been involved in music of all kinds from an early age. Words, images, sounds: in their different ways, each held me enthralled. But the realms of aesthetics and beauty seemed tangential at best to my experience of discipleship; at worst, they might even be a hindrance.
To compound the problem, whenever I pursued one of these aesthetic interests, they would invariably be portrayed in ways that were cynical, if not downright hostile, towards traditional worldviews such as my own Christian faith. The impression I received from the spirit of the age was that unless art is being provocative, subversive or seditious, it isn’t valid. Which is not to say that provocative, subversive, seditious art is always bad; there are times when art must be precisely these things. But only these things?
The prevailing assumption in our western culture seems to be that we’ve grown out of what our forebears believed; we’re now mature. So even if our ancestors produced exquisite works of art to express their beliefs, we have no need today to take seriously those beliefs underlying their works. Which is, of course, bizarre. Few would dream, say, of interpreting Brecht’s plays without his Marxism, Camus’s novels without his existentialism, or even the music of Cat Stephens without his subsequent Muslim beliefs.
So for years, I was presented the choice between theological conviction without aesthetic integrity or aesthetic integrity without theological conviction. Either way, theology and art didn’t seem capable of getting along.
I sensed there had to be another way, but couldn’t tell you what it was.
I sensed in my time at Hutchmoot a deep, even infectious, commitment to the lordship of Christ; and it was precisely this commitment which fueled the determination to explore human creativity in all its forms.Mark Meynell
The first place to put me on the right track was Francis Schaeffer’s great legacy, L’Abri. It has been an oasis for me. I first started going to English L’Abri in 1990 as a university undergraduate. It blew me away to discover tapes of Christian thinkers speaking about everything from Voltaire to Velazquez, Madonna to Modernism, humor to hospitality. I made long-lasting friends and witnessed the possibility of taking seriously Kuyper’s great maxim, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ does not cry, ‘Mine!'”
Hutchmoot seems to have found a way of doing a similar thing. I sensed in my time there a deep, even infectious, commitment to the lordship of Christ; and it was precisely this commitment which fueled the determination to explore human creativity in all its forms. I was thrilled to find a happy marriage of orthodoxy with the human imagination.
It is clear from the Rabbit Room website that this organization highly prizes a thriving community life. Yet it is one thing to advocate for community and quite another to live it. Of course, three or four days at a conference is never sufficient to reveal the authenticity of a community, but it was clear to me the depth of relationships that returning guests enjoyed. They were able to pick up directly from where they left off the year before. It can be tricky for a newcomer like me in such circumstances, but the meals and refreshment breaks proved that most guests were more than happy to include those they didn’t know.
But why is this important, when so much artistic work depends directly on solitude? Well, regardless of the circumstances in which we work, as divine image-bearers we all need others—especially when we become too self-sufficient or even self-important to remember it. We are not islands, as the great John Donne rightly insisted. This was one of the most helpful themes I picked up in Andy Crouch’s plenary session at Hutchmoot.
By making community life so central—through wonderful touches like John Cal’s marvelous menu stories, the workshops, and the encouragements to work together for God’s glory rather than our own—it seems to me that the Rabbit Room has got something right. I left knowing more clearly what I need to grow and stay spiritually healthy and creative in the coming months.
It would be fantastic if Hutchmoot UK can develop soon. But regardless of that possibility, I hope that all of us in our different places can find ways to live out some of these core Hutchmoot values until we meet again next year.