Online Conversation | Art + Faith: A Theology of Making
with Makoto Fujimura
On January 29, 2021 in partnership with The Rabbit Room and the Windrider Institute we were delighted to host artist, author, and senior fellow Mako Fujimura for a conversation around his brand new book, Art + Faith: A Theology of Making. Mako believes that in the act of making we are able to know and experience the depth of God’s being and grace.
Mako says, “I now consider what I do in the studio to be theological work as much as aesthetic work. I experience God, my Maker, in the studio. I am immersed in the art of creating, and I have come to understand this dimension of life as the most profound way of grasping human experience and the nature of our existence in the world. I call it the “Theology of Making.”
We hope you enjoy this conversation exploring the theological work of creating.
The song is “Hymn” by Luke Howard
This painting is The Wheat Field by George Inness, 1875-77.
Transcript of “Art + Faith: A Theology of Making” with Makoto Fujimura
John Priddy: Hello, I’m John Priddy, the CEO of the Windrider Institute, and I’d like to welcome our friends at the Trinity Forum and the Rabbit Room. I know that many of you have had the opportunity to read and be inspired by my good friend Makoto Fujimura’s new book, Art + Faith. And several of you have participated in an online discussion with Mako, which is always a deeply resonant time for reflection and hope, especially during these turbulent days. In partnership with our friends at the International Arts Movement, Windrider is excited to bring to you a compelling visual companion resource to Mako’s book. In the series, we invite you to join Mako in his studio, along with world-class artists and renowned experts, all journeying from creation to New Creation. At Windrider we love to talk about the creative Spirit of God or the Hebrew word ruach that hovered over the earth at Creation. And we know that same spirit, God’s ruach, will be with us as we immerse ourselves more deeply into this theology of making.
We hope that you enjoy this intimate journey with Mako and his friends and the beautiful and compelling stories embedded within these materials. And now I’m going to pass it over to my friend Cherie Harder, the president of the Trinity Forum.
Cherie Harder: Thanks so much, John. On behalf of all of us of the Trinity Forum, we want to add our own welcome to those of you who are joining us for today’s Online Conversation with guest Mako Fujimura on Art + Faith: A Theology of Making. I’d like to thank our friends at the Rabbit Room who have co-hosted this program with us, as well as the sponsors whose generosity and support have made today’s program possible, including Larry and Beth Roadman, Doug and Jane-Anne Wilson, and, of course, the Windrider Institute, where you just heard from John Priddy.
If you are new to the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space and resources for leaders and thoughtful professionals to grapple with the big questions of life in the context of faith and to offer programs like today’s Online Conversation to do so, and for each of us to come to better know the Author of the answers. And to help us do that today, we’re delighted to welcome back our guest, whose new book, Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, explores the relationship between making, knowing, and loving. He claims that artistry and creativity are not only formative but even liturgical, in that they shape our understanding of, orientation towards, and love for both the great Creator and his creation. And he concludes, “I have come to believe that unless we are making something, we cannot know the depth of God’s being or God’s grace.” It’s a fascinating and a challenging summons, and it’s hard to imagine who could make it with more imagination or insight than our guest today, Makoto Fujimura.
Mako is an internationally-renowned visual artist, author, and art advocate, whose lavishly textured and pigmented works are exhibited in museums and galleries all around the world. He is the founder of the International Arts Movement, also known as “I AM,” now called I AM Culture Care, and has served for many years as a presidential appointee to the National Council of the National Endowment for the Arts. Mako is also an author whose works include Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture, and his just-released work, Art + Faith: A Theology of Making, which we’ve invited him here today to discuss. I’ll also add, as we are very proud of this, that Mako is a senior fellow of the Trinity Forum. Mako, welcome. Great to see you.
Makoto Fujimura: Great to be back, Cherie. Thank you for having this conversation.
Cherie Harder: Absolutely. So before we jump into our topic today, I have to ask you about the painting just beyond you. Is this one of your your newer works?
Makoto Fujimura: Yes, it is. I painted this outside of my studio here in Princeton. It’s called “Walking on Water.” And the series began after 3/11, [the] 2011 disaster, the tsunami and great Tohoku earthquake in Japan and the ongoing nuclear crisis there. And I began the series, monumental paintings, literally walking on them in some cases and using azurite—pulverized azurite and malachite—mixed with animal-skin glue, water-based. So you’re literally walking on water. But it’s an elegy to the victims and also a prayer to ask, can we walk on water? And then as time has gone by, a friend of mine, Susie Ibarra, who’s a percussionist and composer, a visionary, came back from Himalayan hills—she went with an underwater microphone to record. The glacier is literally breaking apart and melting. And so I heard about this—and she was going to compose music around it. So I asked her to compose music in response to what I have previously done, same size, large paintings. And then she composed the music, send it to me, and I brought these canvases outside listening to her music, painted these.
Cherie Harder: Beautiful. And this is the same painting that you used on the cover of your book?
Makoto Fujimura: That’s the earlier version. That one is in Taipei, a private collection. But I hope the showcase stays in Los Angeles in the fall.
Cherie Harder: So let’s just dive right in. For most of us, a “Theology of Making” sounds somewhat alien or at least unusual. So what is a “Theology of Making” and how do you believe that the act of creation itself enables us to better know the original and great Creator?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, so, as an artist, especially when I came into faith as a follower of Christ in my twenties, I started to read the Bible, and I read it through twice, actually. I was so excited to know about this faith as a new follower of Christ. And then as I was reading, I was realizing that much of what I had understood as an artist actually helps to understand the Bible because the God of the Bible is the Creator. And I was especially interested in writings by William Blake and others who seem to say that God is the artist, that they find— Vincent Van Gogh said Christ is the greatest artist; he painted not with paint, but with people. And so, you know, I had this vague notion that this Creator might be someone that through Christ I have access to. But as a creator, I create and continue to create. There’s a way of reading the Bible, which is called “Theology of Making” that really understands biblical truth through the act of making. And so I was naturally doing this, right? And I was talking to my friends or even sometimes I get asked by a church to teach a class. And every time I would talk about a passage or even give a message, you know, I am drawn to passages particularly that open up when you understand God is the artist, perhaps the only artist, true artist, because God can create something out of nothing.
But we are also invited to be co-creators with a small “C” and so that valence or that relationship is a vast invitation. I’m reading the Bible and I’m thinking, my goodness, this can’t be true because this kind of invitation sounds so outrageous, especially to someone that is outside of faith or thinking, like, well, I don’t deserve this, God, or I don’t fit into a religious paradigm. And yet it’s an invitation given by Jesus himself when he says consider the lilies of the field, when [the disciples] are in utter distress of their time, fighting their scarcity battles, their zero-sum game. And yet Jesus seems to point to the sky and look at the birds of the air. And so as an artist, I’m responding to that and saying, oh, my goodness, this person, Jesus, is also a remarkable artist in the way just like Gogh said.
And so I would talk about these things at times, and people look at me funny because I’m reading these passages in Exodus 31, 32, where Bezalel and Oholiab are creating the tabernacle and specific dimension is given with materials. Everything is laid out. For an artist, this is like a glorious picture of understanding God. And, yet I talk to my friends about it and they’re like, “Oh, I skipped that part. Cubits. I don’t know what a cubit is.” And I’m like, “Do you realize what you’re missing? You know, because a cubit is this. And, you know, they used to measure Pharaoh’s arm and now they’re measuring Moses’s arm to create a tabernacle.” And so I go on and on and, you know, I learn to kind of not say those things in church because people misunderstand, you know? “Well, he’s just a crazy artist.” But then I realized, Cherie, that at some point I realized that this is fundamentally part of the narrative of scripture. In fact, those dimensions were given at the same time that the Decalogue was given. Right? So Moses came down Mount Sinai with this dimension and he appointed Bezalel and Oholiab, who literally used the melted-down golden calf to build the tabernacle. So this is part of God’s way of communicating to us and God’s invitation for us to create something to communicate back to God.
But we missed that because we’re talking about, perhaps, this transactional reality or a truncated view of the gospel. And when I read N.T. Wright’s writings, primarily his writings on, discourse on, the resurrection, I was just blown away. I was privileged to meet him and study under him, but when he talks about the New Creation, he’s talking about this kind of artistry and mastery that God invokes in us. And so that means our artists are really important for the New Creation. We are supposed to be one of the leaders, just like Bezalel and Oholiab were in their time. We are supposed to be the kind of people who see beyond and can bring in the New Creation to our world and our churches, and our worship depends on that. So when I see, as we talked about before in Culture Care dialogue, when the plight of artists are today exiled into the margins, when they feel like they don’t fit into either the church culture or they are suspect because they talk about these ways of understanding, even scripture differently, perhaps. And so I started to write about this. I started and— So it’s basically my life’s work is what you have in your hand. It’s actually one third of what I had written. My editor did a fine job of compressing so that we have digestible pieces because I just keep observing in the Bible that this is an amazing manual, amazing entry into New Creation.
Cherie Harder: You know, it’s interesting, you speak a little bit about sort of the truncated view that we have outside of artistry, and one of the things you mentioned in your book is that—I think you put it this way—that “we as a culture are in need of epistemological therapy,” which is sort of a big word, but I guess basically to examine the roots of what we assume to be knowledge. And so I wanted to ask you about essentially that gap or that difference between informational knowing, which is what we as efficient, Western people often sort of focus on, and relational knowing or even somatic knowing, the knowing with your hands. What is it that we can know through making that would be inaccessible to us through proposition or arguments?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah. So that’s quoting my good friend, philosopher Esther Meek, there. Her writings on epistemology has really been a very significant part of my journey toward what I call somatic knowledge or Theology of Making. So the easiest way is one of the examples that I use in the book. When I moved to Princeton, I had chickens and they lay eggs. And so I’m like, wow, fresh eggs. You know, it’s hard to get in New York City. Now I have them every day. So how do you make an omelet? So I look on YouTube and I see Jacque Pépin making omelets. And as you know, omelet is the simplest recipe, right? It’s just the egg.
Cherie Harder: And yet I mess it up all the time.
Makoto Fujimura: Exactly, right. I copy everything Jacque Pépin is doing and my omelet does not come anything close to Jacque’s omelet. So the informational recipe does not translate necessarily to the actual making. And furthermore, the real test is in tasting. Even if it looks good, when you taste it, if it’s not good, then you fail. Right? Now, let’s look at the information age and what we have done to any kind of truth, but also the biblical truth. We have taken the recipe and we argue over the recipe. We create denominations or various ways that we interpret, you know, Saul. And then, you know, we never ask, what’s the fruit? What are you creating because of your faith in that recipe? And that seems rather strange if we all understand that the test of a recipe for an omelet is the omelet. And it’s not just the omelet. It’s how the omelet tastes, right? Is it good? If it’s good, you can kind of trace back to, “Oh, this is how you made it. I want to learn that because this tastes good.” But we don’t do that with knowledge.
So what Esther Meek is saying is we have this epistemological default where we create binaries all the time. Where we say left versus right, African-Americans against white communities. All these things are false binaries that we create to satisfy our lust for certainty, which is also—I’m quoting a friend of mine, Bruce Herman. But it really is a tendency that in post-industrial times we have come to this positioning that because of fear, we are concerned about ever-shrinking territories of anything, including culture, but that leads to culture wars, because we think unless we do this, you know, we’re going to lose everything. But the problem is not so much the concerns we have about culture, but this default position that we created, forcing everybody to have to take a position, demonize the other side, to justify their positions.
And this happens in academia. This happens in street corners, conversations between neighbors. This is happening in culture at large. So Esther points to that. I borrow her to talk about, OK, so what is somatic knowledge? How do we get to Theology of Making rather than theology that perhaps we argue over? There’s nothing wrong with discerning and even arguing over something, but the test is in the fruit of making. So “how are we doing?” is the first question. Like “how how am I doing? How are we doing collectively? How is our culture doing?” But also, you know, if you care about the church, we should be asking how is our church doing in producing good fruit into the culture at large, not just ourselves, but culture at large? When they taste our omelet, is it good?
Cherie Harder: There’s so much to unpack there. Let me ask you about, of course, sort of the ultimate fruit. The Bible says that they will know we are Christians by our love. So let me ask you about the role of love in all of this. In your book, you describe, and I thought this was beautiful, “The creation of the world is God singing the world into being with the song being a love poem.” And it actually made me think about Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “love is the most irresistibly creative power in the universe.” And so I wanted to ask you about both love and the act of creating. If love evokes creativity, does the act of making also help us to love? Or if not, how should we understand the connection between them?
Yeah, so as an artist, you know, artists are struggling with ego, art and self-expression, controlling that kind of ego identity, versus what poet Lewis Hyde calls in his book The Gift, art is fundamentally a gift. You receive it, you give it away. But there’s nothing wrong with putting in a transactional market. But when we lose that sense— What he’s saying is art is based in love and creation is based on love. When you start with Genesis and when you see a God creating— We kind of read those passages and say, oh, God created in seven days. And we all get over that, right? But fundamentally, what God is doing is creating something that God doesn’t need at all, which we don’t fully understand because we tend to create things out of our need. But God doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need creation. God doesn’t need the universe. So why did God create? Well, God created because he’s purely love and love exudes, love is gratuitous. So I give this example: I am invited to speak at a boys high school once in a while, and these high school students are sitting around, like, rolling their eyes because the artist is coming. So what’s the big deal? Right. So I say, well, guys, you know, you need the arts because if you’re going on a date, you don’t do accounting, you don’t do engineering. No, you take the ladies out to—or your partner—out to museums. Listen to concerts. And if you don’t understand music and art and, you know, beauty, you’re got to be at a loss. Because love, by definition, is something that goes way outside of utilitarian values and efficiencies and industrial bottom lines. It has to.
So we all know that. So why are we so caught up in this sense of—wanting to please God and follow Christ—and only be so concerned about our bottom lines of survival when God has released us from all this already. And when we love, I think we make—that’s just the way we are made—and we respond to that making. So we make and then when we receive that making, we make again, right? So that kind of is what Lewis Hyde is talking about, this gift economy. When the world is full of those kinds of gifts, not just for transactional reasons, but for reasons of love, then the community comes alive because the fruit of the spirit is alive and visible in your community. And so that’s the real test: is do we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control? Do we have the fruit of the spirit embedded in everything we do? And when I pull back and I ask this for Culture Care— When we look at our communities and look at our culture at large, when we ask that question, unfortunately, no, we have the opposite. We have, you know, divisiveness. Hatred instead of love. Instead of peace, we have anxiety. Instead of joy, we seem to be rather depressed about the nature of a Christian church. So there are exceptions and I’m happy to list those exceptions. But by and large, we have failed in our individualized discipleship. We talk about it for individuals, but we don’t ask the larger community and culture question.
Cherie Harder: So in your work, at various points, you refer to essentially the embodiment of the fruits as a sanctified imagination.
Makoto Fujimura: Yes.
Cherie Harder: And you say at one point, “In a world of sanctified imagination we’ll come to see dominion over the earth as based not on power and domination, but on loving stewardship.” And then you say something I thought was very interesting: “We are not able to fully love until we begin to lovingly name the world around us.” And so I wanted to ask you what that means and what that looks like. I mean, obviously, naming is an inherently imaginative act and a creative act, but what does it mean to name the world around us? And how would we cultivate that kind of sanctified imagination?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, so I talk about Genesis 2, Adam naming the animals, which is the first act of creativity in the Bible, by Adam and by any of us because of that. And so naming the animals is a poetic act, really. It is to name something where you are allowing this capacity, our capacity to imagine and make. And, you know, when we are naming—and that’s why we need poets, to not just name things as categories, but name them extravagantly, name them beautifully, name our situation, the fractures that we’re in, with extravagance. And that’s what Amanda Gorman did in the inauguration. Her poem is this exquisite naming of our time, and that’s why we respond to it. That’s why we think, you know, once again, poetry is back. You know, T.S. Eliot used to fill Wembley Stadium. Now Amanda Gorman can. You know, that’s a spectacular thing that happened in this time of pain and fracture.
So naming allows— Human capacity to name is the beginning of all making. So in naming, we’re paying attention. We’re being honest. We’re being somewhat vulnerable because whatever we make or name, you know, may or may not be good. Right. So we’re taking that risk. Now, fortunately, in Eden when Adam named an animal, that was it. God gave authority, and the word authority has the word “author” in it. So in case—many artists struggle with that word. So the word “authority” is naming, giving the power and the permission to name. And God doesn’t say, “Giraffe? Are you sure you want to make it giraffe?” You know? No, God says “Yes, that’s a great name!” You know, so there’s like— I think I read in a subway poster once that Bronx Zoo has four thousand species of animals. So that’s four thousand “yes”—affirmative yes—that God gave Adam. And that kind of climate is very different from what we have. You know, I tested myself when I had small kids. Like, how many times do I say “no,” rather than “yes”? And it turned out to be like 80 percent. So naming is a very important aspect of also affirming, receiving affirmation. Even by naming, we are affirming that existence in a way that leads into, in my mind, New Creation.
Cherie Harder: So not only is naming part of making, but mending is also part of making. And in this book, as well as several of your other recent work, you discuss the ancient Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, both as an illustration as well as a metaphor of the potential of the artist to not simply repair what is broken, but to reimagine and recreate something that has been damaged into something even more complex and beautiful. And I was hoping you could explain a little bit about what Kintsugi is and what it means to you and why you believe that, in your own words, “We need to have a Kintsugi culture.”
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah. So I have a piece here, Cherie. [Holds up bowl.] This is a Kintsugi bowl that was mended by my friend Esther Moon. In our first Kintsugi Academy, we created this kit, working with a Kintsugi master in Tokyo that we have now made it available on Shopify, so we can give you links for that. But this bowl was fractured, and you can see the fracture here, that we use Japan lacquer. But instead of— In the Western way, if we were fixing something, we make it so it doesn’t look like it was broken. In Japan, out of tea ceremony tradition, refined in the 16th century, there was this idea you might have heard of: wabi sabi, which is a Japanese concept for beauty. But that was really, that came out in 16th-century Japan out of tea, high tea tradition. And so when an important tea bowl breaks, families of tea masters will often hold onto the fragments for several generations, and then they will give it to a Kintsugi master—the Japan lacquer master—to mend it, not hiding the flaws, but accentuating the flaws, and then putting gold on it and thereby making the fractured bowl more valuable than before it broke. So it’s a beautiful metaphor for New Creation.
And when you think about it, what Esther did here is also great, because, by the way, this was the first time she did Kintsugi. So it’s pretty amazing. But not only she mended the fracture and made it new, but she added a design, to make it even more accentuated. Right. So this is a profound way that imagination and artistry can look at a fracture, anything that is fractured, which as we know, especially in D.C., there’s a lot of fracture. But instead of saying, “We’re going to fix this,” we look at the fragments, we name the fragments. And then we say, “What is something new that can come out of these fractures, rather than running away from those fractures?” Let’s name, walk into it, hold on to it, and create something that uniquely comes out of those fragments. And again, Amanda Gorman’s example comes to mind, because what she did was— After the Capitol riot, she changed her poem, in response to that. But she created something new, taking that opportunity, bringing something beautiful to heal us with her words in a time when the words were so debased. And that kind of elevation is something that an artist can do. And that’s what a Kintsugi master has always done.
And so part of our journey moving forward as we struggle with fractures and shutdowns and the ongoing difficulties that we will face, what are some of the ways that we can look at those things, very painful things, but see something new in them? And that takes a different mindset. It takes patience. It takes love. It takes love to say, “Even though this is broken, I’m going to treasure this. Instead of trying to fix it, I’m going to mend so that I can make something new out of it.” And if we can do that, then it’s going to change how we look at the world, how we look at ourselves.
Imagine a church. When somebody new walks in and they tell their stories of fracture, instead of saying, “Oh, we have a program to help you,” instead of saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but we welcome you because you can be like us.” What if the whole community held the fractures together, as a Kintsugi master would? And maybe some traumas require several generations. You know, that might be true. But what if we had a place where our broken hallelujahs can be embraced, invited? It’s something that we ourselves say: “Praise God you’re here because your fragment is so unique and we need you. And we want to be mending here, healing together, because all of us are broken. And, you know, we’re so glad you’re here. We’re so glad your pieces finally held to the light. And we’re going to join you together.”
Cherie Harder: Thanks, Mako. We’re going to go to audience questions in just a second, but before we do, I wanted to ask you just one thing about your last answer, in that one theme I’ve perceived in talking with you is one of the first steps to mending or making is seeing. And as we talked about last time, one of the things that you talked about Kintsugi masters doing is actually beholding, looking at the fractured bowl, for quite a long time before starting a recreating process. And in your book, you actually talk about your own practice of simply sitting in front of a work of art for an extended period of time. And I think you said it takes you at least 15 minutes or so before you can see and that we’re actually sort of trained to categorize and move on. And I have a feeling that probably many of our viewers would be really intrigued by that concept, but also, like, where does one even start? So I guess the question is: what are the steps, what are the practices, or how does one learn to see deeply?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, or hear deeply. You know, I think we are created to be able to take in experiences and really be able to experience transcendence through all things. There are burning bushes everywhere. Calvin Silvle said, “We just stopped taking our shoes off.” If we just learn to slow down and look and to hear, there’s so much mystery in the world that we are missing constantly because we’re so busy going from A to Z. And again, those things are not by themselves wrong. It’s just that I think we’re learning in this time of shut-down that when you slow down, you notice some things deeply and that might be painful. Maybe that’s why we’re so busy, because we’re trying to run away from our traumas and our brokenness when we really don’t have to. And part of what I said about the church is church should be a place where you do come together to slow down, to experience God’s transcendence. And many places, like museums and concert halls, they can help us as well. You know, when I tell people that David Brooks came into my exhibit in New York and I said, “You know, David it’s going to take you like 15 minutes to see my work.” And he was like, “What?” And he actually sat there for 15 minutes, and he said it was astonishing what he saw. Like, he couldn’t believe it. He thought it was a monochromatic blue-green painting, and he said, “I saw a whole galaxy open up before me.”
And that experience alone will bring us to healing because we are so used to being overly categorized and creating this epistemological default of, you know, just categorizing, identifying that person and then moving on. But if we slow down and actually observe—even people that we don’t agree with, even situations that we are uncomfortable in—when we allow ourselves to be an artist and say, “I’m here to observe, I’m here to take in, I’m going to take my time. I’m going to listen and I’m going to look.” And after a while, you begin to see an entirely different world.
And so a lot of what we— I think for somebody who what I just said seems so alien, that’s what happens when we fall in love. Things slow down. That’s what happens when we see a beautiful sunset. Fireworks in July skies. Our brain is opening up, and by the end of an hour of watching this abstraction in the sky, we feel somewhat more whole. We feel connected to the person next to us. And so everybody’s had this experience. We just don’t think that— because art is so strange, you know, we can’t tap into it. You know, every time you have a meal with your family or your loved ones—I mean, this is something, like, it’s the difference between eating the same meal alone and same meal with your friends. What’s the difference? Well, there’s conversation. There’s acknowledgment. There is naming. There’s exchange of blessings. That’s what makes the meal taste better, so it’s not just—we’re not just machines that are digesting, we are made for love. We’re made for community. We are made for these conversations that points to the abundance of God. And when we are kind of on a journey toward that, we all become artists. We become artists, certainly of the Kingdom. But artists who are makers. We are all makers.
So that’s how I think a Kintsugi generation can be birthed. By the way, the younger generation already knows this and they’re already practicing. It was just our generation needs to learn from them. Because they understand the culture wars are ultimately futile. In the very values that you’re trying to protect, you end up decimating your own ground every time you fight that battle. So the younger generation is already done with that. They’re like, no, we care about the world. We care about the environment. We care about community. We care about creativity and imagination. And so, you know, I’m really hopeful because of people like Amanda, you know, people who speak into the divide with that exuberant and fantastic rhythm. As God sings over us, our young people are singing back at us. And that’s a sign of hope that I think we can all learn from.
Cherie Harder: That’s beautiful. Thanks, Mako. We’re going to turn to some audience questions. And if you’re joining us for the first time, you can not only ask a question in the Q&A box, but you can also “like” a question. And that gives us a better sense of what some of the most popular questions are. And I see we already have a ton of questions that have come in. So there are several questions it looks like that have to do with what churches can do to welcome artists, including questions from Rodney Moore and Melanie Weldon-Soyset who asked, “I’d love examples of churches that have a particularly robust Theology of Making. What fruits expected and/or unexpected have such churches seen from their making practices and how can artists lead in the church?”
Makoto Fujimura: Well, thank you. Thank you for that question. That’s a really important, profound question that I sometimes have trouble answering. I have been involved in church-planting for many years and it’s rare when we see an example of true community that is, say, biased toward making. I consulted a church in Tokyo. It was a church-plant by a Singaporean team. Dr. Richard Mao introduced me to them and said, “Mako, there’s an interesting group.” And I was going to Tokyo, so I met with them and they asked me, “What do you advise us to do? Because we have this beautiful space, a small space, but beautiful, in one of the most elite residential areas right next to a park.” And this was a church-planting team. And I said, “Don’t plant a church.” This is Japan, so my answer may be different in other places, but I said, “Don’t plant a church. No one knows what a church is. Create a space for families.” As I was walking over, I noticed there were many families, moms with their children in the parks on a Saturday afternoon. I said, “What if you just reached out to them and created a Saturday afternoon program for making for children? Just do that. No bait-and-switch thing. Just say, “We are here. We are a church, but we are here to serve you. And we want to make sure that your children are well served and that mothers can rest.”
And so about a year later, I went back and this was the first church in which they did everything that I told them to do as a consultant. I was astonished. They literally created this church that was not a church, but it was really a place for making. And children were running around and making things. They had everything on the tables, they had artworks. They had, you know, theater groups come in and work with children. And there were these moms, all of them nonbelievers, like as part of this community, in a single year. And I thought to myself, you know, it’s amazing what happens when we access making. And by the way, moms were making too. They were like painting and they were having fun. And I think that’s a great example. If you can just remove some of the paradigm, you know, knock down what we think the church ought to be, maybe we should ask our neighbors, what do you need? And oftentimes that need can be met with access to making or allowing a community to create something together. And so perhaps, maybe in a paradigm shift of what a church ought to be, that can be considered as one of the ways that we serve our neighbors.
Cherie Harder: That’s great. So there are so many excellent questions here. I’m going to combine two, one from Jason Samuel Ranhelt, and Jason asks, “I’m a freshman at Rhode Island School of Design. The school seems to think that art is all about politics and defining one’s own view of reality. No one really seems interested in beauty. Can you give me any advice about how I can positively affect that culture?” And this is somewhat related: We have a question from Mark Paine who asks, “What practices do you see as most helpful in healing us from our lust for certainty? What should we crave instead?” So in a world that values certainty, politics, and power, what can we do differently, Mako?
Makoto Fujimura: Yeah, so, you know, artists, especially artists of faith, get caught in between. You know, we have to defend ourselves inside of the churches oftentimes because the church tends to be very pragmatic and doesn’t understand the importance of poetry or art. Music becomes just worship and therefore it has purpose. But when you talk to musicians actually leading on the stage, their soul is so drenched because they can’t access their creativity in the mechanism of the megachurch. When we go to the art schools or any school, we are told that art is political power game. It has to be transgressive against certain normative structures. And the thing to do when you’re in those situations is to really look at the words that people are assuming to be the base. So in this case, politics. And push into that word. So what I would do is read up on the history and philosophy of politics. Same thing with economics. People think, well, capitalism is bad because it’s creating all this greed. No, no capitalism isn’t the problem. It’s the greed that’s the problem. But when you look at the economy, the economic systems and history and philosophy, it’s actually fascinating. And people who are talking about them really don’t know what they are saying anymore, because it has been co-opted so many times. So one way that a Christian can serve in academia is to go back to the roots of these actually political systems and democracy. And there’s some beautiful things about them that we should know about. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not. These are the birth rights that we have in a free society to reexamine everything, right? Politics, economy, everything, power structures. And to be able to say something that is genuinely authentic.
And so that’s another thing I would recommend is for a person not to just take something, take a concept, and say, well, I have to do something with that. No, that’s an opportunity to create. Right? What is the new way that you can look at the fractures in politics today? What is it exposing about us? And how can we create something just like a Kuntsugi master looks at the fragments. Can we look at it until it’s beautiful? And can we do that for the other, you know, the enemy? If you are a conservative, look at the progressive politics, history, and look at it and learn from it. You know, be an expert in it. So when you talk to your progressive friends, they would be amazed that you’re actually teaching them what a progressive politics is. You know, I think that’s a responsibility to love our enemies at least.
So for artists, this is a great period in history because everything is being contested. There’s a paradigm shifts everywhere and the margins are enlarging and the institutions are shrinking. I mean, that’s a glorious moment if you’re an artist. If you’re in art school, you’ve never been in the last 30 years, I would say, in a place where everything is up for grabs. So if you have faith of any kind, especially as a follower of Christ, you can— I mean, Jesus is the king of margins. He is in the margins. The Holy Spirit loves to be in the margins to play. So, you know, just trust God to enter into that mystery.
A friend of mine just told me that, she said, “You can’t be inspired by something you know. You have to be inspired by something you don’t know.” A great line. So artists can be the first, front-line workers, to be an emissary into cultural arenas where everything is mysterious, everything is contested. And we can be the one to name that and bring back something that is beautiful from that. So when you do that, you are actually being more faithful, let’s say, to this reality, condition of our culture, which has made politics, especially divisive politics, culture wars is the culture. And we will become the antidote. And no one is going to argue with that. You know, no one’s going to argue with Amanda Gorman. She did her task. And we have the fruit to enjoy.
Cherie Harder: So time is rapidly getting away from us, but we’ll end with two different questions, both of which get at the inhibitions to making, that I think are quite astute. Hillary Farley asks, “I find so much fear and perfectionism that I can barely create. Do you have any advice for someone to step out of their fear and into creating art?” And then Janice Freitag asks, “If churches really embrace a theology of making, would more of us amateurs compose our own worship songs, write our own curricula, or paint our own artwork for the church walls? In our desire for excellence, have we outsourced all of our creative endeavors to professionals and intimidate our congregants into being mere consumers of culture rather than makers of it?”
Makoto Fujimura: So if you’re not making, you become consumers. Imagination is always at work. So if you don’t love, you will be anxious. And it’s just a simple calculation, maybe too simple, but, you know, I think perfect love casts out all fear. And if we’re not making, that means we’re not loving. If we’re not loving, we’re not making. So if we’re not doing those things, we become consumers of conspiracy theories. We are taken over by fear and anxiety. And so that’s why it’s essential to reclaim our place as makers.
And by the way, those standards don’t really mean much, you know, especially with technology the way it is. Yes, there are certain levels of expertise. It took me 35 years to get to where I am and that takes hard work. But, you know, it’s not like, you know— Today there’s an app for everything. So that helps. But this whole—like a simple omelet. Let’s start with that. Something that has only one ingredient on the recipe, you know. We have become so distant from our hands and our knowledge of integrated knowledge that we are afraid to venture out into, like, actually being a fully human person. And so we certainly need to be loved.
But first thing I would say is like, you know, if you touch anything—and they’ve proven that if you’re a gardener and you’re touching dirt, it actually makes you happier. Something about us that is connected with our hands and our bodies. So we need to be doing something that creates something with our bodies and that would open a path. And you need to be in a community where other people are doing that and they say, “Oh, it’s easy.” Kuntsugi care. Anybody can do it. A six-year-old can do it. And we made it safe, food safe, for everyone. So in a span of two hours, you can be a Kuntsugi practitioner. But what that does that is perhaps different from other ways of fixing things is that we learn to begin to appreciate that there are broken things everywhere. I’ve been doing this for about two years now, and now I can’t go around without noticing the cracks. And even in a cupboard full of coffee mugs, I was initially, like, I don’t have anything broken. Well, no. When I pour my coffee in I realize, oh, this thing has a hairline fracture because it just sounds different. And these things, when you become sensitized to it, the whole world opens up.
Now, we might be afraid of that. It’s seeing a world that is imperfect. So we’re trying to live as if things are perfect. But if we’re in a community that values this journey of imperfection, let’s say, and finding beauty in imperfections, then we can begin by doing almost anything.
But I wrote this benediction at the end of my book, which I will read. It’s a benediction to makers, which I said, is all of you:
Let us remember that we are sons and daughters of God, the only true Artist of the Kingdom of abundance. We are God’s heirs, princesses and princes of this infinite land beyond the sea where heaven will kiss the earth. May we steward well what the Creator King has given us, and accept God’s invitation to sanctify our imagination and creativity, even as we labor hard on this side of eternity. May our art, what we make, be multiplied into the New Creation. May our poems, music, and dance be acceptable offerings for the cosmic wedding to come. May our sandcastles, created in faith, be turned into permanent grand mansions in which we will celebrate the great banquet of the table. Let us come and eat and drink at the supper of the Lamb now, so that we might be empowered by this meal to go into the world to create and to make, and return to share what we have learned on this journey toward the New.
Cherie Harder: Mako, thank you so much. It’s always a delight. Thank you to each of you for joining us. Have a great weekend.