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Makoto Fujimura: Transcending Time and Anchoring Culture

The highest calling of an artist who follows Christ is to “truth and beauty,” following the admonition from Philippians 4:8: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT)

From Culture Care to the Golden Sea and The Four Holy Gospels, Makoto Fujimura’s body of work transcends time and anchors culture. Add faith and grace to truth and beauty, and his work embodies that which makes art, life, and faith full of richness and meaning.

I was introduced to Makoto by my colleagues and fellow members of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts), and personally at a CIVA conference in Montreal many years ago. For Makoto, the introduction may not have been memorable; for me, it opened my eyes and mind to a Christ follower who makes a cultural and societal impact through his work, calling, and faith.

As I observe the creative and cultural awareness of modern Christianity, it is regrettable that Makoto’s work and influence are not familiar to most of the faithful. Yet his work influences modern culture despite our collective ignorance.

As a collector of original fine art, I supported the retrospective monograph of his career, “Golden Sea” through Kickstarter—knowing that while I may never be able to own one of his original works—I may come to understand his thinking and approach to art.

Busy with his role at the Brehm Center and his collaboration with Martin Scorcese on “Silence,” (the film based on Shusako Endo’s 1966 book, Silence), Makoto offered his thoughts on how his faith prompts him to work and worship:

2 Thessalonians 1:11 reads, " So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his calling. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do."

Q: How are your creative work, your writing, and your International Arts Movement a response to a prompting of your faith? 

Fujimura: “All of what I endeavor to do is part of my faith action, to see every day as immersed in my journey with Christ.”

2 Thessalonians continues: (1:12) Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him."

Q: As time goes by, how has your perspective on culture care evolved? How do you think this brings honor to Jesus?

Fujimura: “God will be the final judge and I would not dare guess on what I feel on my side is limited. Culture Care has been a long journey even as far back as my childhood in Japan. It has been sharpened by the need for such a mediated language during the intense Culture Wars reality we have now come to inhabit. So many influences including my family, my relationships, and theological import has shaped Culture Care thinking. I am developing a thesis for Theology of Making (my next book) that undergirds Culture Care as well.”

Q: What are you most passionate about, and how does that find expression at the intersection of your work and worship?

Fujimura: “I have recently completed a cycle of liturgical paintings at my church in Princeton (All Saints) and I am deeply grateful for their willingness to do those works. I am also grateful for the new Museum of the Bible to house the original Four Holy Gospels paintings to create a chapel around it as part of the inaugural exhibit there opening in November 2017.”

Q: How are your work and creativity an act of serving with love? Do you ever consider it to be "rebellious for good" in any way?

Fujimura: “I have used an expression "transgress in love," — not to sin— but to transgress beyond tribal norms to express borderlands language. All creative acts are flowing out of the gratuitous love of God.”

Q: How do you personally approach your work as worship, and how are your work and creativity an expression of worship?

Fujimura: “I consider my life and my art to be an offering to worship our Living God. There are many time I fall short. I get back up every day to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit (the generative source of all creativity) to create, to love, and to breathe.”

Questions to Answer:

Why should your work and entrepreneurial endeavors include the dimension of truth and beauty? How will work as a creative act make your work and life more meaningful?

Think about the art of business and the business of art. Don’t settle for bad design in business or within the church; for a one-dimensional experience of worship that centers on 20 minutes of song on Sunday morning, or live with a disconnect between your faith (theology) and work (the practice of your faith).

Embrace work as worship in its fullness. Within the body of Christ, your gifts are given to build the body (the Church), not only for you to earn a living. If the corporate or denominational expression of the Church doesn’t understand or allow you to share your talents or skills, the business expression of the Church does and wants you to.

You’re a valued member of the faith economy.

When you find a way to serve with your God-given gifts through your business (or art, or as an entrepreneur), you’ll find your calling, and you’ll begin to understand the value of work as worship. As Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “Christ redeemed the whole person,” not just the spiritual part.

It's time to be made whole, in your thinking and your work.

For further reading:

  • Makoto’s work and thinking is a gift to the church and culture. Experience it yourself through his reflections from “Silence and Beauty,” to explore universal truths of healing, hope and survival in any of life’s difficulties.
  • In Lessons in the Silence of God, Mark Sooy explores the range of emotions and feelings one might encounter when God seems silent. In that silence we can discover how common it is and what we might learn.


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