In February through April of 2016, I attended the OM Arts “Incarnate School of Art in Mission” program, held in Isola del Gran Sasso d’Italia, Italy. The school is an intense, bi-annual training program, designed by artists, for artists who are passionate about knowing and living out God’s call on their lives. There were a total of 27 students, from 11 different nations (and 5 continents), and close to that many staff. The school was hosted in the Centro Evalgelico, and Evangelical ministry and conference center, literally in the shadow of the “Great Rock” of Italy, the highest peak in the Apennines mountains.
The program was designed around formal classroom teaching; spiritual development; practice in both artistic skills and spiritual disciplines; worship and in living in community. There is also a strong emphasis on integrating with the Italian community there, in the local town where the center is based, and in collaboration with churches in the surrounding area. The training, both in the classroom and in the many different creative assignments, was organized around three threads: “God’s Story” (understanding the character of God and how we relate to Him), “Your Story” (understanding ourselves, our identity and how our creativity fits into that) and “10,000 Stories” (understanding God’s call to go to the nations).
Even though I am on the OM Arts staff, the leadership wanted me to attend this year as a student, to give me the opportunity of going through the entire program before taking on a teaching role. This actually led into an idea role for me among the other students in the program. It was pretty amusing being anywhere from 20 to 40 years older than the rest of the students (who ranged from 17 to in their 40’s), but I have always found it very comfortable to hang around with young people, to do the same crazy things (albeit at a slightly slower pace, and not staying up at late at night), to laugh along side of them and just accept them for who they are. I was quickly adopted as “Incarnate Dad” by many of the students, who kept telling me that they appreciated the “life experience” and stability I brought into the community.
One of the things I continually marveled at, as I studied and played and created and hung out with this little community, was the huge diversity and individuality which each of the students brought with them. There were definitely no two of them alike. They each had their strengths and struggles, their artistic styles, their cultural preferences and humor, their way of approaching challenges. From the wildly extroverted to the astonishingly shy, each of them brought their personal color and style to the community. The one thing which unified us though was our love for God and a passion to use the creative gifts which He had planted in each of us to worship and serve Him.
Looking back at our experience during the school, one of the aspects which the staff recognized as the key underlying the success of the program was the strength of the community created there among the students, the Incarnate staff, and even the Italian staff in the center. Of course, the program, which they had spent the previous two years planning, turned out to be excellent, but the program by itself would have done nothing had there not been the platform of a safe and encouraging community for the students (and staff) to stand on. As I consider my part in being, “The Chuck” (as the students dubbed me), was to act as a catalyst for that community.
One of the foundational threads in the teaching portion of the school was that of the “Father” nature of God — not just as leader, provider and protector, but in the tender heart and care of the father, as illustrated in Christ’s parable of “The Prodigal Son”. It is no surprise that our culture is rife with examples of bad fathering and dysfunctional relationships with our fathers, and even the best of our fathers have made mistakes. Reconciliation with our earthly fathers (and other people in roles of authority) can be a heart-wrenching struggle, but it always turns out to be a key turning point in our ability to relate to God as our Heavenly Father, in our ability to trust and put our faith and hope in Him. Being able to, in some small way, model that role of Father to the students there (most of whom were even younger than my children!) was a huge privilege, not to mention something to keep me looking up to my heavenly Father for wisdom and grace! It was also a huge lesson to me on my own relationship, both with my earthly father, and with God, and understanding His Father Heart toward me.