A New Standard for Creativity
By josh marsh
December 7, 2011
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies ...
Learn to do right!
Encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
Plead the case of the widow.
These are the words of Isaiah to a wayward Israel. God had commissioned the twentysomething prophet Isaiah to bring a warning to His people. The correction that spanned over Isaiah’s 40- to 50-year career as a prophet and writer dealt lovingly, but sternly, with an Israel that had forgotten what it meant to worship their God.
God’s message to Israel was one of realignment. They had swayed from their original calling to be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:2-3).
God takes an opportunity to call Israel back to His intended purpose for them by telling them they are doing worship all wrong. When it comes right down to it, this is a God who takes no joy in sacrifices or worship gatherings or traditions unless they are just a part of ongoing worship that leads to real, tangible justice, real hope for the oppressed.
This passage and others, like Luke 4:18-19 and Acts 1:8, led me and a group of my friends to reexamine the way we worship God. Together, in 2008, we had taken the leap of starting a new church called Dwell, and we had determined from the beginning that we wanted to be a community that existed for the sake of our city and the world. What we saw in the biblical narrative was a God who passionately loved His creation, so much so that He left His place of preeminence over all things to become just like us, to enter our mess and even to die our kind of death, all in order to rescue and restore us. We wanted to invite our friends and neighbors in Burlington, Vt., to know this kind of God and to experience fullness of life in Him.
Our journey so far has been marked by a gritty obsession with good news. We live in the least religious state in the U.S., according to Men’s Health magazine. Our local context is a microcosm of something that is happening in the Western world as a whole: The Church has become known as intolerant, abrasive, self-absorbed and antagonistic, and has largely been rejected by an entire generation. The Church is no longer the center of society; and a hunkered-down posture of culture has become the norm.
But our original hope for Dwell was that we could change that perception in our city. We wanted to be known by what we are for, not what we are against. And what we are for is the Gospel.
What we are for are lives of passionate worship that are centered in Jesus, the Liberating King. Lives that are being restored by His love, and lives that welcome the world into the good news that the King is making all things new.
In 2010 we asked ourselves what it would look like to engage our city more intentionally through the arts. We were clear on the fact that worship was more than singing songs in our churches or listening to great sermons. True and full worship is human beings becoming what they were always meant to be: the true image and likeness of their creator, reflecting God’s glorious character of love and justice into the world.
So we plotted and schemed until we arrived at an idea. Something we called The Likeness Standard. Rooted in the belief that the arts are a reflection of the great Artist, we ventured to find a way we could connect artists to justice and compassion initiatives like charity: water, Love146 and Invisible Children. We were inspired by people like Josiah Wedgewood who brought the message of the abolitionist movement to the people in the late 1700s by creating a medallion with a picture of an African man in chains. The slogan on Wedgewood’s piece read, “Am I not a man and a brother?”
We wanted to ask similar questions. We wanted to ask why there are children being sold into sex slavery. We wanted to ask why families are forced to choose between contaminated water and dehydration. We wanted to ask why the innocence of youth was being robbed from a whole generation of little boys and girls.
And we wanted to present a way to not only raise public awareness of these tragedies, but also offer an opportunity for creatives to lend their voice to fight against these injustices.
Since launching just a few months ago, we have partnered quickly with brilliant bands like Exiting the Fall, The Likeness, St. Theodore, Light the Way and graphic design groups like The Future Forward, all of whom share our passion for the restorative justice of God in the world. Each artist has contributed a product—a music download or a graphic print—that is sold through the store on our site. And the process is simple: 33 percent of every sale goes directly to one of our justice partners, 33 percent goes to support the artist and 33 percent goes to keeping the Standard’s lights on.
We are beyond stoked that the vibrant local music scene in Burlington is really beginning to take notice. The perception of what church is about is beginning to change.
The Likeness Standard is young, but what we lack in age we make up for in passion, dedication and determination to see justice realized in this world. But our vision for our city to experience a God of love and justice is in no way limited to our borders. We are praying a movement is beginning based on the simple conviction that a new Kingdom is expanding, and a new world is bursting forth right in the midst of this one.
A beautiful, artful world where love and justice reign.