Dream & Imagine It!

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Our friend Pastor Marcus Robinson is the founder of Dream & Imagine ministries.  Dream & Imagine’s goal is to cultivate the arts and music in the Christian community.  This is his personal testimony – an inspiring story for anyone who has ever felt that they were called to do more than just work a desk job.

My eyes shot at the minute hand on the clock hanging on the classroom wall and then back to my U.S. government notes.  Bored, I was drawing a sketch on what were supposed to be class notes.  I could hear the teacher in his monotone voice talking. In contrast with the vibrant inspiration surging through my young mind, his words were as dull as the sound of cars passing on a distant road.  If I hadn’t caught a whiff of the coffee on his breath, he would have crept up behind me unnoticed.  I turned around and there was the teacher towering over me like an old gloomy building.  He didn’t have to say anything because the grimace on his face said it all.  He grabbed my drawing, looked at it for a second, crumbled it into a ball the size of his fist and tossed it into the garbage.  The message was clear; art is not important.

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It’s been nearly 15 years since that day and I am currently a professional artist, and a high school art teacher.  I understand the frustration a teacher has when a student is not paying attention to a lecture, so I am not condoning that type of behavior, but as an artist I would like to combat the notion that art is not important, and as a Christian I would like to testify about how God uses art for His glory.  When I say art, I use the term very loosely because I am a musician (saxophonist) and a fine artist, and I deem art to be anything that is constructed through creative inspiration; so that could be music, painting, photography, poetry, dance, and so forth.  I think that there is a looming stigma that is associated with the modern artist.  When we think of an artist in contemporary times we think of some flaky, immature, slacker who couldn’t make up their mind about what they wanted to do for a college major or career so they decided to become an “abstract” artist so that they can play with paint all day, or some kid who just watched an episode of American idol and decided on a whim that he would like to become the next big trend.  I suppose that is the case for some, but it is unfortunate that people like that have to some degree diminished our societies perception of the significance of art.  So with that said I can understand my high school U.S. government teacher’s attitude toward my art, but I find it extremely disappointing when the church expresses an ignorance or disdain for the arts, and neglects it’s responsibility to nurture, equip and mobilize the Christian artists that God has placed in their care.

When I was 16 years old I made a decision to become a serious Christian.  I was love sick. All I wanted to do was pray, read my bible and go to church.  I had been doing art for nearly my entire life, and my mother bought me my first saxophone at the age of 10.  My skills in art were more advanced than the other students my age and I was competing in national art competitions. Along with that, I was getting good on the saxophone.  As a devoted Christian I believed that I should surrender all of my talents to God as an act of worship rather than try to become some famous entertainer or some art snob.  So I went to church to see how I could serve with the gifts God gave me in music and art. 

To my surprise there was no where to serve!  If you didn’t play the guitar and sound like Michael W. Smith or Matt Redman, you apparently were not “called” to be any type of worship leader. The saxophone was just too unconventional for “church” music. I also made the mistake of bringing my drawings and paintings to church hoping that there was a way I could use my gifts in art for the glory of God.  People admired my work and said a few encouraging words, but ultimately my art did not have a place in the church.  I felt like a misfit.

I tried several churches for several years looking for a place where I would fit in. Some people told me that I should attend a “black” church where my music will be accepted, so I tried that.  However, being raised in multicultural family where my adopted mother is Caucasian and adopted father Black American, made it difficult for me to be content in such a monochromatic environment; besides, as far as I am concerned, the civil rights era of the 50s and 60s is over; or is it? 

One thing I am certain of, however, is Christ commands Christians to love each other. There shouldn’t be a Black church, White church, Mexican church or Asian church except in special cases when language doesn’t allow integration or geographical barriers pose as an obstacle. If heaven is not segregated why should Christ’s visible church on earth be segregated? Each attempt of looking for a church that would accept me, what I saw as core Christian values, and my desire to use my art for God’s glory ended with the same disappointing results.

Maybe my high school U.S. government teacher was right, my art was just some useless garbage.  I thought, maybe God doesn’t care about art just like the church doesn’t care about art.  Maybe God doesn’t have a plan for artists just like the church doesn’t have a plan for artists. Maybe the church was meant to be some boring institution where people congregate according to their race, political views and social status rather than their love for Christ, His people and obedience to His word. I began to resent the church, and I began to resent God even more for making me an artist without a place in His church.

After finishing college I spent about a year living in Taiwan where I worked as an English teacher and served as a missionary.  The isolation and slow pace life in the countryside of Nantou  County gave me plenty of time to reflect on my personal calling.  Living in Taiwan was like my wilderness experience.  I believe God takes Christians to the wilderness sometimes to strengthen our faith, purify our hearts and reveal His purpose for our lives.  I believe the Lord revealed two things to me while I was in Taiwan.  The first thing He revealed to me was that it is okay to be an artist because God is an artist.  Furthermore the Lord revealed to me that Christian artists need a community where they will be nurtured and encouraged to use their gifts for the glory of God.

I find it interesting that God chose out of all of His awesome attributes to introduce Himself in Genesis 1:1 as the creator.  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Not only did God create the heavens and the earth, He created human beings.  What separates humans from the rest of creation is we were made in the image of God.  We resemble God in the sense that we have a spirit, we can reason, and just as God sculpted us from the clay of the earth we are able to take the resources that God supplied, use our imaginations, and emulate our God’s creativity through art, music, and other forms of creative expression.

The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “ For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 NKJ.)  Another thing that sets human beings apart from the rest of creation is God gave humans an assignment.  “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. (Genesis 1:28 NKJ.)  Our assignment from God was to be productive, and cultivate the resources that God provided. 

God didn’t give human beings step by step instructions on how to make a fire, build a house, invent a wheel; God gave humans imaginations, and the mandate to be fruitful and subdue the earth. We were assigned to be God’s representatives on this earth, to manage all that God created under the lordship of Christ. In essence God gave humans permission to be “artists.” So if a Christian brother or sister is driven by an inextinguishable desire to create, and that desire manifest itself as fine or performing arts, and that person strives to do that work with excellence; there is absolutely no reason to apologize, because that person is glorifying God by being a witness to the world that our God is the creator above all creators!  Just as a good Christian judge or a lawyer represents the justice of God; which is an attribute of God’s character, or a doctor represents the healing nature of God which is also an accurate attribute of our God,  Christian artists represent God as the creator of all that is and ever was.  What an amazing calling it is to be an artist!

After living in Taiwan I returned to Southern California and served as a minister at a predominately Chinese and Taiwanese church in Hacienda Heights.  I saw that there were many young people at that church who had plenty creative talents, but their talent was suppressed because this church had a culture where fine and performing arts were not seen as important.  Many families at that church stressed the importance of obtaining a career in the medical field, law or business.  Going to a top rated university to get a high paying job was a priority that many parents set for their children.  I think that these are good goals and priorities for a person that is clearly gifted with the skills necessary to succeed in the business, law or medical fields, and are fixed on using those skills for the advancement of God’s kingdom, but in many situations that was not the case. 

What if a person simply doesn’t do well in subjects such as math and science but they excel in arts and the humanities? What if God created them this way? Is it right for parents to exasperate their children by living vicariously through them, weighing them down with goals that don’t match their God given talents?  As I observed that many young people at this church struggled with this dilemma, I felt that it was necessary to start a ministry where it was okay to be an artist, where it was okay to dream big, and it was okay for artists to use their imaginations to discover and create the life God planned for them since the beginning of time.  I wanted novice Christian artists to have a safe place to cultivate their creative talents and be encouraged and inspired by other professional Christian artists.  This desire to nurture Christian artists gave birth to Dream & Imagine Fine and Performing Arts Ministries.

What started off as a humble open mic and sharing night for artists from that church in Hacienda Heights bloomed into Dream & Imagine Ministries most popular event called “Coffee House.”  Over the years we have been blessed to have some of southern California’s finest Christian artists, spoken word poets, photographers and musicians encourage us through their testimonies and creative talents.  We have had the opportunity as a ministry to visit other local churches to encourage and edify their congregations through fine and performing arts, and along with that we have taken teams of Christian artists all over the world to communicate the glorious message of the gospel through fine and performing arts. 

My dream is to continue to build a strong community where Christian artists are ministered to so that they can minister to the world.  One day I would like to have a Dream & Imagine learning center that is dedicated to equipping Christian artists with the creative skills necessary to excel in the career of their choice.  I also want to develop a program where artists can develop a strong biblical foundation and receive the mentorship that is necessary to be outstanding at their craft and effective witnesses to the world.

For more information about Dream & Imagine Ministries please visit our website at http://www.facebook.com/dreamandimagine .  If this is a vision you feel you would like to be part of, please email Marcus Robinson directly at marcus.dream.imagine@gmail.com.  


 Image credit: Vivian Lin