“Expand Your Cultural Imagination”: A Christian Rap Artist on Creativity  

by Jeff Haanen & Laura Bernero

In early June, I invited my friend Jim Mullins of Surge Network (a faith and work organization in Phoenix) to share with other movement leaders at City Gate, an annual gathering of peers doing similar work to Denver Institute.  

Jim stood up and said, “I want to begin my talk on theological imagination — with a song. Now, when most people play songs on stage and ask people to listen, it’s just awkward! But this will be worth it.”

He flipped on the speaker, and a hip hop beat started, and I heard the lyrics of a song called “Restoration”:

“Imagine that Aleppo was vacation cool.
And all the prison buildings were vocation schools
Imagine that we sip the finest water that exists.
and it ain’t from Poland spring man it’s more like Poland flint…
Imagine politicians with the different views.
All coming together — every night the news.
Reports on the beauty of creation not the mess.
Get calls from IRS just detail how you’re blessed.”

I learned that the song was written by a Christian rapper, Warren Williams, inspired by Jim’s teaching on having a “theological imagination for culture.”

And what an imagination! Nightly news on the reports of creation’s beauty? Aleppo, Syria viewed not as a disaster but a vacation destination? The IRS calls to say how blessed you are? Politicians uniting? Imagination is powerful.

I asked Laura Bernero to interview Warren Williams on how faith informs his art. 

DIFW: Tell us about your current work life as a whole. What has your work journey been like? Why is your work important to you?

I have worked in the supply chain logistics field for the past four years. I started out as a summer intern working with a mid-sized moving company in New York, and have since helped manage supply chain networks for Amazon, Tyson Foods, and Southwest Airlines.

I believe that work reflects a part of the character of God, who established work during creation and also continues to create and work currently. When I am able to do my work with excellence, I am able to bring glory to God.

DIFW: How has your faith has impacted your career journey ?

My faith has  shown me that working with excellence and competency is a way to honor God and also love my neighbor well.  

A concrete, day-to-day way I live out my faith through work is by trying to do the right thing even when it is most difficult. I am faced with many decisions each day were it would be easy to make extra money on our customers. However, if I believe that my faith is informing what I do, I should strive to do what is right even when nobody is watching.

DIFW: You are passionate about creativity and music. What shaped your art? Have you had influential pastors and mentors that helped you step into your creative practice?

I had access to big studios early in my career, and saw artists in New York who were successful in the business, even though they weren’t doing Christian music. Those experiences helped me to see the grit and commitment to excellence that it takes to be a good musician.

As I transitioned over to doing Gospel-based hip hop, my goal has been to make music that people from all walks of life can listen to and be directed to Jesus in a way that isn’t escapist. Pastor Jim Mullins of Redemption has been a huge mentor for me and has helped me see music as less of a hobby and more of a vocational calling.

DIFW: What inspires you? Where do you draw from to arrive at your powerful and intentional lyrics?

I am inspired by the way that God has worked in my personal story and the stories of others that I have been blessed to come across. I look at the world and I see the brokenness in it. I see the systems of sin and oppression, but I also the beauty of relationships, and I see the beauty of God’s order in nature. All of these things inspire me.

DIFW: What do you think are the unique opportunities that we have as believers when it comes to creativity?

We have the opportunity to glorify our creator through our art in so many different ways.  We have the ability to tell our stories in ways that connect to the watching world and point other to Jesus. I think too many times in Christian art we feel that we have to put ourselves into a box when it comes to creativity. Instead, I think that we have tremendous freedoms as artists who are also believers.  

DIFW: What tips would you offer to readers on how to experience the Lord through music and language?

Listen for the stories that shaped the piece of art you are experiencing and theologically reflect on how it is a further testimony to how God is moving in our world.

DIFW: Any personal stories or current project updates you’d like to share with our readership?

Sure! My band Artificial Christian has released two full albums this past year. Also we are working on new material but do not have a definitive release date yet.

 

Thank you, Warren! For more of his work, find Artificial Christian on Facebook.

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Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is the Founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship. He contributes to various magazines and publications, including Christianity Today. Jeff lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver, Colorado.

Laura Bernero

Laura Bernero is our blog curator, overseeing both internal content and contributions from our amazing network of writers. She loves all things creative communications, acting on the belief that we all resonate with great narrative and connect to one another through story. In addition to her role at DIFW, she manages media storytelling campaigns at SE2, a Denver-based communications agency. She was 5280 Fellow in the inaugural 2016-17 class and can’t wait to see the program continue to empower leaders throughout Denver in their unique gifts and callings.