Here’s an interesting article about memory and emotion. It claims that “emotion retroactively enhances memory.” Our brains remember the central elements of an emotion-laden event clearly and  accurately, but not the peripheral details, even though we feel equally convinced about them. So as I think about the history of the Dandelion Seed Company, I will try to stay with the “central elements” and ask that you be forgiving about peripherals.

It was the fall of 2002 when the Dandelion Seed Company first met on a hill with an inn in Virginia, originally made famous by a woman novelist decades and decades before. We talked about God, art, music, writing and shared what we were working on. People enjoyed it; some of us felt like we were coming home for the first time. Not to that place, but to this tiny diaspora of Xers who were wondering about the same things.

The story of the Dandelion Seed Company is, in many ways, the story of a bunch of twenty something Christians trying to come to terms with a love for/calling to the Arts. This meant (and means) wrestling with religious ideas and contexts whose response to the Arts was often to see them as  1. a means to an end (evangelism, social justice), 2. a distraction, 3. a danger or 4. a great hobby. Which actually, looking back, makes a lot of sense. In most of the contexts we lived making a living as an artist, songwriter, or author was a LONG SHOT. The professional artists were very rarely modeling the kind of lives we saw Jesus calling people towards — in fact, they were the enemy, deceivers, reprobate, selfish and immoral. We didn’t know many full time artists. But we wanted to be that. We longed to do it. Felt called. And so we tried.

Most of the original crew that met in 2002 ended up as entrepreneurs, bivocational artists or working for the church. Some became educators (although most of them are bivocational; they consider making art at least as important as teaching).

There are a lot of organizations that help artists develop. There are even more organizations dedicated to dedicated to spiritual development — churches, mission organizations, temples, yoga studios, a smattering of software companies. Most of them have clearer visions and better funding than we do. So why does the Dandelion Seed Company persist?

Artists change the world. Jesus changed the world. But followers of Jesus rarely make great art in this era, and most artists imagine a Jesus that fits their own ideas and wishes rather than discovering and following the One that changes them. Why is this? It’s complicated.

It reminds me of this — I grew up between the US and a variety of Spanish speaking countries. Until my sophomore year of college I thought (in English) that the English language was stupid. Inconsistent. (Just look at how we make words plural — person/people, dog/dogs, sheep/sheep, ox/oxen, foot/feet, axis/axes — it is insane). They taught you the rules in grade school but the rules didn’t make sense… until I learned the history of the English language and the fact that we pulled from three different languages, each of which had their own way of making plurals.

So why do art and faith mix so badly? It seems like they should work together well since they both value mystery, meaning, beauty, truth.

  1. Historically protestant Christians (and Muslims) have taken the  mandate to not make or worship idols very seriously. . . and the family resemblance between art and idol is easier to see than business and idol or sport and idol (although some of our religious traditions solved this problem by avoiding all three as much as possible).
  2. Artists love surprises, are possessed with an urge to explore, discover, experience life and create something impacting, beautiful and true. Handled well this gift awakens courage in others and clears space for growth and change.  The gift also unmoors people from their roots, drawing them into dangerous and damaging ideas, experiences, practices and communities. And the telling the difference is harder than you might think.
  3. Communities form around people and ideas, but shared values make life work. The values (often unnamed and unexamined) that congeal in arts communities often run counter to those formed in religious communities. This is not necessarily so, but is historically common, so that even when artists and churches share common goals or vision the work necessary to overcome value gaps is overwhelming.

So what does the Dandelion Seed Company hope to do about it?

We want to build a house at the crossroads of art and Jesus-centered faith. This house is open to people whose ideas of Jesus and reasons for following him are at odds. It is open to people whose ideas of art and why it matters conflict. This house is a invitation to slow community, to enter through the door that everyone has to stoop to get through . . . and leave by the service entrance that’s big enough to drive your tour bus, your Volvo station wagon, minivan or your broken down Ford focus out of.

What holds us together? We make things. We follow Jesus who changed and changes the world. And we think that people making art is a small but really important part of that beautiful, mysterious transformation which is the redemption of the cosmos, the restoration of humankind to God, each other and everything.

What does this mean practically?

We meet by phone weekly, in person annually and we’re working on putting together a tour. We also have arts-related trips periodically that the Dandelion Seed Company is involved with in some way… like the one to Thailand that Adam Fleming will be writing about over the next several weeks.