Ideas Have Consequences

Discipling Culture Through the Arts: with Jeremiah and Mona Enna

November 15, 2022 Disciple Nations Alliance Season 1 Episode 47
Ideas Have Consequences
Discipling Culture Through the Arts: with Jeremiah and Mona Enna
Show Notes Transcript

Find out what it means to use art to shape culture in God-honoring ways with Jeremiah and Mona Enna, whose artistic endeavors in dance and theatre have profoundly influenced Kansas City, Missouri, and beyond for God’s Kingdom. Jeremiah and Mona Enna focus not just on creating "Christian" art but doing art for the broader community with excellence.  They have a deep understanding of the biblical worldview, and it shapes every aspect of their lives and their work. They are true models and examples of what it means to be a “balladeer.”   

Jeremiah Enna:

And the reality is that for even the Christian person who goes to church on Sunday, they listen to a sermon for 30 minutes or whatever, but they're being discipled 24/7 by the arts and media world. 24/7.

Luke:

As Christians, our mission is to spread the gospel around the world to all the nations. But our mission also includes to transform the nation's to increasingly reflect the truth, goodness and beauty of God's kingdom. Tragically, the church has largely neglected the second part of our mission. And today Christians have little influence on their surrounding cultures. Join us on this podcast and rediscover what it means for each of us to disciple the nations and to create Christ honoring cultures that reflect the character of the living God.

Scott:

Well, welcome again, everybody to a new episode of Ideas Have Consequences podcast, this is the podcast of the Disciple Nations Alliance. My name is Scott Allen. I'm the president of DNA. I'm joined here today by Dwight Vogt And Darrow Miller. And we have a couple of really special guests today that we're so excited to talk to Jeremiah and Mona Ina, who are joining us from Kansas City, Missouri. Jeremiah and Mona are the founders and the director of the Sterling Dance Theater. They're professional artists in the area of dance, and also educators, they're involved in so many different things that we're going to learn about today. They help direct the culture, how studio and the artist development program. I'd like to put this just briefly in the context of, of Darrow's new book that we've been talking about, "The Call For Balladeers, Pursuing Art and Beauty for the Discipling of Nations." This is a book about how if we're really going to see change, biblical change and transformation in a culture, it involves in a very fundamental and significant way the arts. And, and so today, we're going to have a chance to talk to actual artists who understand this vision and put it into practice in incredible ways, as modelers, as examples. And so we're really excited about being able to learn from from what they have done. Darrow I'd like to have you since the relationship here is mostly between you and Jeremiah and Mona, I'd love to have you kind of begin our conversation.

Darrow:

When I think of people modeling what it means to be Balladeers, it's Jeremiah and Mona Ina. Jeremiah comes with a background of theatre. And Mona is a trained professional trained Ballet, do I say ballerina? Ballet artist?

Mona Enna:

You can say ballerina.

Darrow:

And my wife and I, we had the privilege of meeting them, I don't know 15-16 years ago in Estes Park, Colorado. And then we went back about six years ago to see just the wonderful powerful ballet called "Underground."

Mona Enna:

That's right.

Darrow:

And we just were back there earlier this year to see their Book of Kells ballet. Yeah. And so welcome. And we'd love just to hear to begin with a little bit about your backgrounds.

Jeremiah Enna:

Thank you, Darrow. So I'm originally from Kansas City, so I'm a United States person. And Mona's from Finland. So we kind of met over in Israel on a trip I was teaching a workshop at a dance conference, and she was my student.

Darrow:

Oh, one of those relationships.

Scott:

Not supposed to date the teacher, you know.

Jeremiah Enna:

We were we were all very upright about the whole thing. I grew up in Kansas City, great family, Christian family, and got into the arts in my youth, and was just that was the thing I did in high school and such. And long story short ended up deciding that's what I wanted to do. And maybe relevant to part of this whole discussion was I remember someone, a good friend of our families, came up to me one day at church and said, Well, you should use Your gifts for God. I said, Yeah, that would be great. How do I do that? He said, I don't know. And that was really kind of my experience growing up in the church and what the arts, was just a big void of understanding how those connected. And so I was very fortunate to have a lot of opportunities in a lot of different ways. And I ended up in Los Angeles with a job, and then decided to go to school. So I got my degree in theater from UCLA. And it was a great theatrical education, I mean, some really brilliant professors and opportunities and such, but at the end of it, I was very much kind of empty of soul and didn't want to be a part of the arts anymore. A part of the Hollywood industry, the entertainment industry, I just found it to use people up, spit them out, I found it to be, kind of relevant to today's cries. It was a very racist stereotyping industry. It was very limited and highly, highly dysfunctional. And I was highly dysfunctional anyway, so I thought this is not a good plan. And so I was fortunate that there were a group of artists in Europe, in Sweden actually, all in their 20s. We were a bunch of 20 somethings, they heard about me. And they invited me to join their group. And I didn't know, I'd never been to Sweden. The thought of Christian artists and dance and theater was completely foreign to me. I thought, well, maybe we were white all the time. We just smile. And it was called Creative Mission. And they had a dance company called Eternia Dance Theater. And when I found out about the opportunity, I just felt something in my heart saying God is going to meet me there and I really need God in my life. And so I just gave everything away, got in a plane and moved to Sweden. I found out later all my friends and professors thought I joined a cult. Anyway, that that got me over there, that's when I became an adult Christian, Francis Schaeffer's writings were really central. And one of the former staff of L'Abri, Switzerland, Ellis Potter, just really essential to me, maturing in my mind. Seeing things clearly. And in that process, like I said, I met Mona.

Mona Enna:

Yeah, and I grew up in a very non-Christian family. And I say, very, my father, in fact, was very much against Christianity and the church in general. And my family life was kind of rocky as well, my parents marriage wasn't very good. And there was always a lot of fighting, and I kind of grew up sort of getting involved in in as many activities as possible, so I didn't have to be as at home as much. So I did acting, danced ballet as a young girl. And that kind of became my greatest passion. And it was actually, I became a Christian through the confirmation program in the Lutheran church, because I was baptized Lutheran, but my family never went to church, not even for Christmas and Easter, it was only literally for a wedding. If they were invited to a wedding, we would go to church, so I had no experience of church. And when I was 14 years old, the confirmation school process, which my pastor became extremely important for me, he was like the head past-, how do you call the head pastor? The vicar of our congregation, but he also ran the youth group. So he was really interesting to have like the highest pastor running the youth program. And he was very dynamic, very good Bible teacher. And at the end of the program, everybody goes on this camp into the forest. We were 40 miles from the nearest village, and it was just the Pastor and like, probably like 30 14 year olds, and a couple of older teenagers, and it was all about Bible study and worship and-

Jeremiah Enna:

He wasn't worried about entertaining the teenagers.

Mona Enna:

No, no, but it was fun. It was really fun. But that's when I just really felt, like very strongly, the Lord calling me to follow him. And there was a situation where we could choose anonymously, do you want to speak to somebody if you want to give your life to the Lord, and I chose this girl who was only like a year older than me, Kati. And we went for a walk in the woods, and we sat down on a fallen tree. And then she asked me, so you want to be a Christian? I said, yeah. So if somebody puts a gun to your head, would you still confess Christ?

Scott:

Oh, my God. I need to try that line next time in that I'm in that situation. Yeah. Wow. Well, but

Jeremiah Enna:

it's so interesting, especially today with what's going on in the world. So Finland borders Russia, and Russia at that time was still Communist, and you would have a gun put your head, just a few miles away to be a Christian. So as dramatic and wild and crazy as it sounds to us today, it was a pretty relevant question, in a way, and especially now with Ukraine and everything. This is how it works.

Scott:

Yeah, this is what you're you're getting into. Were you is were you living in Helsinki, or were in Finland?

Mona Enna:

At this point, I was in Kokkola. It's like the town where I was born on the west coast of Finland. It's about two hours from the Arctic Circle.

Scott:

Oh my gosh, wow. Yeah.

Mona Enna:

So it's cold in winter.

Darrow:

And dark!

Scott:

You're next door neighbors to Santa Claus!

Jeremiah Enna:

And her pastor is a brilliant, he's the Lutheran Bishop of Myanmar now, but a brilliant man. And he used to report to the UN every year about religious persecution, because of his involvement with the underground church. And some of the outreaches they would do when they were with the youth group, is they would smuggle Bibles into Poland in the Soviet countries in their dance costumes. Because he was the one that really-

Mona Enna:

he was the one who, when I became a Christian and then joined the youth group and everything, was active in the church. He was the one when I was like, 14 years old, he knew that I danced and he just came to me and say, "Hey, why don't you dance for Jesus?" And, and I was like, I didn't know anybody who was a Christian who danced?

Jeremiah Enna:

Does he have a dance club?

Mona Enna:

I was like, okay. And he just said, Hey, here's some money, why don't you ask some of your friends from ballet to come and you guys can dance at that, and he just gave me all these events where it would be great if we performed, and here's some money. And why don't you get some costumes, make some costumes. And that's how my first dance company called Praise Ballet started and he was just so supportive. It kind of started this whole process where I would ask my friends from ballet to come and we would create all these dances to Christian music or little story ballets. Most of them became Christians through the process of just being involved.

Jeremiah Enna:

Hearing stories of God and Christ and the messages.

Mona Enna:

And I was so excited about my faith. So I would just share about how much I love Jesus and what he was doing in my life and they became curious and then became Christian and in fact, one of my best friends from that initial group, she still runs a Christian dance company in Finland. So it's been great. So I didn't really have exactly the same kind of struggle connecting the two because of my pastor, to me it felt safe, and the arts, it was just natural, like of course you can do this! And maybe also because the Lutheran church still are known for very beautiful art in like paintings and music, and so it didn't feel quite as the same as for you. I think my struggle was more in the secular scene after moving to Helsinki. And even in my ballet school it's just how how dancers are treated. And especially girls when it comes to like your weight and are pushed to being like extremely thin, or you're shamed for being fat, or even my teacher told us as young students when we were like, you know, 14-15 year old that you look like cows, and you should be-

Jeremiah Enna:

The way women are treated in the arts is a huge issue and something that we've just been real serious about, not just because of dance, but in theater and music, everything the way women are treated. That Jesus is the one that brought value to women, to children, etc. So it's a big part of our ministry now.

Luke:

Hi, friends, I hope you're enjoying listening to this interview with Mona and Jeremiah Ina as much as I am. This is just such a beautiful look at how to combine our God-given passions and gifts, in their case performing arts, with the Great Commission to go and make disciples. They are truly Balladeers. And if you're wondering what a Balladeer is, in Darrow Miller's new book, "A Call for Balladeers", he describes them as those who exemplify five key characteristics. And those are an artist, a biblical worldview thinker, someone who speaks prophetically into culture, someone who pursues excellence, and is a Christian. And those are the hallmarks of a balladeer. After this episode, if you'd like to learn more about "A Call for Balladeers, Pursuing Art and Beauty for the Discipling of Nations", please click the link down in the description below. That will take you to acallforballadeers.com. And yes, you're welcome for the easy to remember web address. At the end of this episode, I will also let you know where you can go to learn more about the Inas and the amazing work that they are doing. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the episode.

Darrow:

I just like to piggyback on something you said, Mona, and that's the role that the pastor played in your life. And to give you a space to do your art, and not only gave you a space to help to support and maybe help create the vision for you of doing this. And that's to me is so important is that pastors have a vision for the arts themselves. And encourage young artists like your pastor did with you, and it changes your life and has changed the world.

Mona Enna:

Well, it definitely changed my life, I mean, he changed my life in so many ways, just because he became like a surrogate father to me, and he still calls me his daughter. And but but he gave me the first step. And he gave me the equipment to get started.

Jeremiah Enna:

There were times there were people who were, maybe critical or not clear on like, what is this thing? These are young people doing the arts and stuff. And he always had her back, a contrasting story, like we have such opposite stories in so many ways. But for example, once I became a young adult Christian and wanted to stay in Sweden and deepen my relationship with God and pursue this, I went back to a church that really should have been like a home church for me. And I approached the head pastor, and I said, Well, I'm in this mission organization, it's ecumenical. But we have to have a sponsoring church, and this church had a Missions Board and I said, I wasn't asking for money or anything. I just need people to pray for me to hold me accountable and stuff. And he said, Well, no, we don't really do that. I was like, Oh, okay. And meaning I didn't fit the missionary profile they were used to. And so he just said, no, and I just said, oh, okay. And because I didn't really understand how church worked anyway. And so there you see such different responses that when a pastor or a father is there with support and information and guidance and helps to find it, it does change the world.

Scott:

Well, if I could just piggyback briefly on that to Jeremiah, what I'm hearing in both of your stories is just fascinating to me. Mona, you talk about Finland, and the Lutheran church still had a connection because of its rich heritage to the arts, and there wasn't this sacred-secular divide maybe as strongly as there was in the United States, and I've run up against that to Jeremiah, and it's still such a problem here! This kind of very narrow and confined understanding of what Christianity means. It's focused around the church and this very kind of narrow understanding of spiritual development and heaven, and things like the arts and dance and whatnot, we don't know what to make of that, that's outside of our scope.

Jeremiah Enna:

In one way it's gotten stranger maybe not worse but stranger or more challenging. And that's because in the past, like you were saying, there's this sacred secular split, and what we say the Culture House is, there's just one space, there's no secular world and sacred world, there's just one world, so everyone dive in. But also in the church world, there has been much more interest in pop arts, culture and things like that. And now what you have is a church has a band, and so they say, "Oh, we love the arts!" Because they have a band, or because they put paintings on the wall or something. And so what's happened is not a pursuing understanding the arts fully, but kind of a decorative concept of, we use the arts, and therefore we understand the arts, we promote the arts, we love the arts, etc. But really, it's just kind of a top layer of participation in the arts and using it for services.

Scott:

It's like an ornament on to the spiritual ministry, that's not the all important thing, if you will.

Jeremiah Enna:

It's true. It's very ornamental in that way. And then what's dangerous about it, and different than the past is that everyone feels good about their perspective, like oh, we really love the arts. And yet, it's still a sacred-secular split. I've talked to people who lead the music, the music worship leaders at churches who don't, "oh, I'm not an artist. I'm a music worship leader." And I'm like, "Okay, no, that's not accurate." We're all artists in that regard. So I think that in one way, has been even more challenging lately. It's wonderful there's more interest in the arts, but there has not necessarily been the real hunger or commitment to fully understand the gifts of the arts from God and how they function to to beautify and enhance life on Earth.

Darrow:

Can you talk more about that? Because that's the level that the discussion needs to take place. So people can see that? Can you both talk?

Dwight:

Pretend I'm a pastor, and I don't get it.

Jeremiah Enna:

Well, one of the things just to begin with briefly is, in one of Shaffers books, he had a little ladder diagram, I'll never forget, it was how ideas filter into culture. And it helped me immensely because once you have a great idea, or a bad idea, the next tier down, or the artists, get that idea. And then they create, and they're inspired, and they make things, and then they share those artistic gifts, and that's how it flows into the business world, and the folk and et cetera. And at the bottom of the ladder, if the church isn't paying attention, are the pastors who aren't paying attention, I'm not saying every pastor is that way. But if they don't understand the arts, they're just unfortunately, going to be at that place. They're not innovating with the ideas. They're not reteaching the valuable Christian foundational truths are stories at the top. They're kind of managing how to hold onto just traditions, and the old ways of doing things. And so the ideas are shared, the artists create, and they spread these messages, right? And so we see it in daily life, obviously. Now we have phones, we walk around with jingles to ads, Tik Tok, all this music, dancing, songs, lyrics, poetry, et cetera. And the reality is that for even the Christian person who goes to church on Sunday, they listen to a sermon for 30 minutes or whatever, but they're being discipled 24/7 by the arts and media world. 24/7. And it's impossible. When we were in Europe and deciding where to go next. One of the things that came up is in Europe, if you go to church, and you're sitting next to someone at church, if there is someone sitting next to you. They are going to be a real Christian person. They are committed, you can engage with them. Because there's no perk to being a Christian in Europe.

Scott:

Right.

Jeremiah Enna:

In America the question was well the churches are full. And if the churches are full in America and all the people sitting in church are being discipled in a proper and healthy, true Christian way, wouldn't the culture look different? That was a very confronting question that really needs to be addressed. And of course, we're living in the fruit of a shallow response to that question. Not being fully discipled, not understanding. It's not about apologetics, but it's really the deep and broad and wide Christian reality that God gives us through the word of God. And so that's kind of where we started, we said, we're gonna come in, and we're gonna bring our person to this Christian worldview, perspective, to the arts, and through the arts, and try to tell great stories and bring the truth and reality of God. So how does that get even more deeper with how we do and what we do? Well, everything is interconnected. In the Bible, we see all the relationships, we see how God works in our lives. And we see how he designed things. Like this whole podcast, Ideas Have Consequences. The idea is I live my life by produce results in my life and actions and all those things, and it affects everything. So I can't just create in an isolated bubble songs and dances and things. And the way I create doesn't happen in a bubble. How I treat people along the way, how I do my business, how I plan, how I strategize, et cetera. These are equally as important. And it's all interconnected. And so, for example, Mona's dance company, it's one of the top dance companies in Kansas City. But it has some really unique qualities to it. Do you want to explain some of that, and how we have just daily life is for the company?

Mona Enna:

First of all, to be the dance company, you have to be a really good dancer. So that's number one. And when dancers auditioned to be in the company, I never asked them about their faith. I just explained to them that I'm a Christian, this is what inspires my work, you know, it comes from this deep well of God's word and Jesus. And, and I say, I just want to make sure that you're comfortable with that? Because we pray everyday before rehearsal. So I never really know when someone comes into the group. We get together every morning, and we start out our day with just me asking them, so anybody have any specific prayer requests? And we pray together for the day and for the different things going on. And it's interesting because every year there's been dancers in the room that are not Christian. And you can tell that they're a little bit like what's going on, a little bit uncomfortable. They're not used to it. But it only takes about two weeks, and they start having prayer requests, because everybody,everybody has needs.

Scott:

I just want to share what I'm hearing. I just think it's so profound. And I just want to underscore it, if you don't mind. When Christians, often evangelicals, especially in the United States, think about a vocation, it's like the arts or business, they still put it within the framework of what's really important is evangelism. And yet we'll set up a business or we will set up an art studio in order to invite non-believing artists or businessmen to come in and then we can have a platform to share the gospel that's good, we need to share the gospel. But what I hear you guys saying is something kind of quite different and very profound. Our goal is to do great dance, something very powerful and very beautiful for the community to the honor of God and we're going to invite non-Christians to come in but we're going to let them know we're doing this as Christians. And so then evangelism happens but the focus of it isn't evangelism if that makes sense.

Mona Enna:

It's very natural, because everybody's there because they love to dance, they love to tell stories, they love each other in general, and then it's just through the work itself. Like right now I'm working on this ballet called "Child of Hope", which is basically the nativity story. And I have one of the girls that are a double cast as Mary, she's not a Christian. But it's been such a great opportunity to like, hey, she wants to know, she wants to have, you know, because the character she's portraying, and it's been a wonderful intimate time with the two Marys, and share about, this is what she's going through, and this is what's happening right now. And the background, and the history behind the time of the birth of Christ. And I'm sending her scriptures like, this is the scripture this is based on, and it's just so natural.

Jeremiah Enna:

It's also how it works. It's how great art works, it's not great Christian art it's just great art. When you are working with any director, or artists, there are all kinds of spiritual influences and intellectual influences, we're just upfront about it, because of the hyper reactivity of Christianity right now we just want to be upfront, say there's no bait and switch, and we're not a part of this, like, corner you and make you say something, and then you're a Christian, and like, instantly, and you're all better now. It's just, this is great art, this is the background for this work. But it also goes deeper than just the content, but to how we're designed as human beings. And it, it brings us together not as Christian dancers and dancers, but artists that are human. So for example, other things we do are in the dance world, it's really a negative if you get married or have children, especially if you have children, it's often just seen as the end of your career. Your body is this untouchable thing. And it's going to be destroyed if you have children, and it's very strong. I'm not being hyperbolic at all. And so there's a lot of negatives to that, including just the wrong obsession with body and all kinds of things, and also you lose out on dancers, maturing and developing. So what we do is if dancers have children, when they're young, they bring them to the studio, and we have a little program for the kids and they all grew up together while mom or dad or just in the dance studio rehearsing. Then this has been going on for 25 years now and it's just fantastic. Because all our kids have grown up together, and they've grown up in the art studios, and they're so used to seeing mom and dad work and they see their dance work as work, that is different than other people's work. And we get these amazing artists who have matured in their artistry. They don't have to stop when they're 25 or so.

Scott:

And that's just life changing for those folks, I can't imagine, because it's not just the art that they're doing. It's the way that you guys are setting up the environment or the culture of your endeavor there. That's very Christian. And they probably have never experienced anything like that.

Jeremiah Enna:

And we're finding like a lot of profound response to it. Choreographers come from around the country to work with big dancers, and, they've never seen anything like this.

Mona Enna:

And these are non Christian.

Jeremiah Enna:

Yeah, they're not Christian. But the great question is, here's dance, 80% of the dance industry is made of women, and why don't we consider the design of a woman in creating that culture for them? And so, I wish I could say I thought of that, but that's really a Jesus thought. And we're trying to practically apply that to daily life for the sake of artists, whatever their spiritual approach is.

Mona Enna:

We have had several reactions to that from these people from the outside, who just seen the nursery and after they hear that all the dancers have their babies here and they have babysitting and who just burst into tears will just start crying and

Scott:

it's just so different.

Mona Enna:

Because they've been damaged because they've been damaged by their experience.

Jeremiah Enna:

No one was there encouraging when they had a child or wanted a child. And so they feel, frankly, I'm sure they feel very ripped off and abused at that point. So it's it's a lot. So a lot of times say Christian music or these things because of the content, but have the processes been examined? Have they been washed? Have they been thoughtfully approached, and so we're trying to help the next generation of artists to think deeply about the whole process of what they do, and how they live and how interconnected and important they are to healthy church communities, healthy communities, that they would have healthy lives and marriages and that they would see it all as important to God.

Darrow:

Is this where what has been called the artists training program? Is that where this part of the discussion unfolds?

Jeremiah Enna:

Yeah, very much so.

Darrow:

Tell us more about that.

Jeremiah Enna:

That really started, really, as soon as the dance company got kind of established. After a few years, when Mona's company had already kind of been acknowledged. One of her first major shows was called "The Prodigal Daughter". And it was the parable of the prodigal but set with a young woman with two daughters instead of two sons. And it was chosen by the Kansas City Star as one of the top performances of the year for the city. That was kind of our launch into society, if you will, back in 2000. And a couple years later, we started the Artists Development Program, because young dancers out of high school, wanted to train under excellent artists and things. So we started that with the help of Christianne Mazhab, who's in France. She's like a sister. And we put this together, and dancers started training with us. And then they would take some additional courses like Christianity and Culture, Design, Lighting, Sets, Costuming, things like that. And it developed over the years. And now it is a college degree program, we offer an accredited degree in dance, a bachelor's degree. And we're looking to the future to expand it to theater, music and art, visual art. But in those early years, right away we wanted to include worldview studies, how to see the world how to see creation, how to see yourselves. And we had met Darrow and Marilyn in Colorado, and they seemed like nice people. And so we just kind of did some more research, and I got a hold of his book "Discipling the Nations", and it was a big answer to prayer. Because I was struggling to find the right kind of material to teach the Christian worldview. And his book with the questions and the metaphors and the very down to earth language was exactly what I needed. And so for those beginning years, we had classes, that's what a lot of the curriculum was with Christianity and Culture was reading his book and answering those questions. And then to make it more than just answer the questions from the book. We went through an exercise where after each chapter, I would say, Okay, This book was written to the relief industry, the mercy industry, feeding people around the world in crisis. Let's now translate these principles to the arts and entertainment industry. And that was a really great intellectual and soulful exercise, to look at the arts and entertainment industry, and see how the principles of God the reality of God, the design of God applies to what we do. And then Darrow wrote a paper called "A Call for Balladeers", which is now a book, right? That just came out, just released. That's right. But I use that paper as well every year because it was inspiring and creative. And he kind of hit the nail on the head on that. So we've used his material in our program for 20 years.

Scott:

Wow. I'm so touched. It means so much to hear that from you guys, that the materials that Darrow produced, that we produced as an organization have helped you guys. As I often say, to have a movement, you need people that are working with the ideas, but you really need people that model them, that take them and do something with them. And that's what you guys are doing, because so many more people are going to learn through the model, if you will, through the actual experience of seeing these things lived out and put into practice and a particular culture formed on the basis of that. And so how exciting?

Jeremiah Enna:

Well, I'm glad you're encouraged because it has been a big part of our work. And it works. And you're right, though. You can't just read something, you have to test it on the ground. And that's what's been going on here for 25 plus years, and we just have more and more young artists even moving here, just wanting to be a part of it, and fulfill their calling.

Darrow:

This is one of the things that's so encouraging me about this part of your work. As I've traveled around the world, I've touch bases where I've traveled with a lot of young people who either want to be artists or are seeking to practicing their art form, but they're struggling. And here is a program that is thoughtfully put together to help take young artists who have this vision of art as a calling for their life. And how do you move from that to actually becoming someone who can function professionally in the arts? And I don't know as I've seen another place quite like that. But it's just so exciting that that's part of what God has led you guys to do.

Scott:

You said it's accredited. Are you partnering with the university? Or how did that work?

Jeremiah Enna:

We are we're partnering with Visible Music College in Memphis, Tennessee, and they provide our accreditation, part of the courses are online. And then of course, the art courses and the Christianity and Culture courses and things are live here at our campus, at our location.

Scott:

If some of our listeners wanted to learn more about that, maybe consider applying how would they get in touch with that?

Jeremiah Enna:

The simplest way it's called Storling, s t o r l i n g Conservatory. So if you go to storlingconservatory.org, you'll find it. Or the easier one to remember, go to culturehouse.com, and just scroll down and you'll see the Storling Conservatory link. But yes, call us. We'd love to talk with anyone who's interested. Right now we just have a degree in dance that we offer, but we are quickly moving towards developing our theater, music and visual arts program and in fact, already in discussions about a new facility to be able to house everything. One thing I'd like to kind of describe that's unique about it. Like you just said, Scott, about testing everything. The Storling Conservatory aspect of the Culture House, the whole Culture House is not just an arts organization. It's really a community of artists. And so when a student comes here, they don't just learn about dance, they're dancing, and they're helping or they're in productions. They're living with other artists, if they choose to. They're here every day, the professional and the educational are all going on at the same time. They're not isolated, having this separate experience called education waiting for their careers to start. So you step in here, you're in it, you're doing it, and you're around. Professional work happening right now. Like right now we're doing this interview, I'm in this incredible recording studio, where jazz music is recorded all the time, where we produced all the soundtrack for Underground, the show that Darrow mentioned. And it's quite like you said, it is a beehive of activity, which is very exciting. So I think that community aspect. Also, a lot of young artists are asking questions as they should, and we welcome that. We don't make students sign a statement of faith. Because we understand that when you're young and you're leaving home, or even if you're old, you're supposed to be questioning everything, you're supposed to be digging in and finding out is this what I really believe. So if anything, we're developing a statement of faith that says our students understand that we are Christians. So they're not shocked that we talk about Jesus so much, or how we talk about reality or morality, but it's a very dynamic place. And so if a student comes here, they better be ready to learn and grow and develop their skill and be around a lot of vibrant discussion.

Mona Enna:

There's one aspect that I like about it, too, is that these young students are being mentored by the professional dancers in the company, like they each have their own personal mentor that gets together with them and checks on them every week. And that they can kind of ask questions from too.

Jeremiah Enna:

Because everyone has different things are coming with, different callings. And we're not trying to like just create little copies of us, we understand that each person is studying a different art form, and they have different questions, and we need their questions. We need their themes, we need their expressions to speak to everybody. If everything looks the same, two people will get it. You know what I mean? It's like, Oh, great. The Christian Body of Christ around America has written basically one song to speak to 10 people, we need someone writing all kinds of stuff to reflect the beauty and glory of creation and Gods so that we can all participate.

Darrow:

Wow. Mona, I'd like to come back to you, because I know you have a hard break pretty soon. When Marilyn and I went to visit you the first time and saw Underground. It just blew us away.

Mona Enna:

Oh, good. Thank you. That's what I'm trying to do.

Darrow:

I'd like if you could just talk for a few minutes about where do these ideas come from? I know you did the research. So I understand that you wrote the storyline, obviously, you choreographed it. But sort of give us that heart of what you do at Storling Dance Theatre, in conceiving of a ballet, of conceiving of something that I like to say, we were made to create and we can create things, you can create a ballet that no one has ever seen before. And give me that sort of flow of what goes on inside of your heart and mind that ends up with this incredible ballet.

Mona Enna:

So Underground is kind of had a you had a unique process to it. We kind of started thinking about do about doing something of a year 2000. When just watching the news, there was just sort of like a lot of racial tension and things coming up in the culture, and we just started having conversations about, how is this still happening? It's been so long, and it should have gotten better by now. And it's actually Jeremiah who came up with the concept of the Underground. He just one morning just said, Hey, this is the story, and I was like, okay.

Scott:

It's the story of the Underground Railroad. We'd been talking and praying about it for a couple of years actually, and I stumbled on that story and said, this is it!

Mona Enna:

And here he is asking this Finnish person to choreograph something on the Underground Railroad. So that's obviously for me, it was very intimidating. Because I'm from Finland, and this is not my culture, and I'm as white as a white person can be, I didn't even ever meet a black person until I was 15. So it's not something that I would feel very confident about getting involved in. So what we did was we created a kind of a creative team where it was Jeremiah and I, I had a co-choreographer Tobin James, who is African American, and then Kip Blue was the co-producer, and then Jay Pfeiffer was the composer. And we would meet like once in a while just to kind of talk about it and brainstorm together and craft kind of the basic story. And then from then on, it became, basically, me and the composer and then me and Tobin, who sort of took it on from there. And Tobin basically worked with the the slave cast, and then I kind of had the rest of the ballet, for the most part. And it was interesting, because I hadn't worked with a composer before, and normally my process is, I listen to music and get inspired. And here, it was kind of like the other way around, I had to inspire the composer to write the music that I wanted to hear. So that was really different. But it was also really wonderful, because he would come back with something that was maybe not really what I expected it to be. But then he would explain what he heard in the music. And so it was much more collaborative in that sense, where I was like, Oh, that's a great idea. I'd never even thought about that. And then for me, personally, what happens is that I just kind of really put myself into the music and just try to imagine what I see what is the person what are these characters going through. And fortunately, because of all the intense research that I had done, like two years, basically, of only reading books about the Underground Railroad, and stories, like personal testimonies by slaves. My brain was just saturated with this world. As well, as I should mention, also that even if I didn't meet a black person until I was 15, I did see the Roots TV miniseries as a teenager, and I remember being very moved and shocked by it. And which then I had read the book Roots.

Jeremiah Enna:

She read the book in three different languages, multiple times.

Scott:

I remember seeing that for the first time. Yeah, it's very powerful.

Mona Enna:

It's very powerful. And so all that imagery just started swirling in my mind. And then for each scene, it just sort of starts with a skeleton. And then when you get the people in the room, and they start to put their own motion into it, then you start to see new things because you see something in that person that inspires you, and you need to do this. And it's a very kind of gradual, it's not the kind of thing where you walk into the studio, and it's like, exactly lined up every single movement. It's like a layer effect.

Jeremiah Enna:

If I can interject a little bit watching that process, from the start, but now, we are in our 17th annual performances of Underground in Kansas City. It really has become quite a cultural shaper here in our town. But in the beginning, like Mona just said, I would say one of the qualities she has as a choreographer and artistic director that's really helped Storling become what it is today is she's not just putting on choreography movement that she wants. Like she just said, she's also putting the choreography on and then she's looking for that individual artists and each person and wanting them to look good in the movement, but also what do they bring to it? And so when you come see Underground, the reason people come back year after year is depending on where you sit and where you're looking, there's so much story, and character work and brilliant artistry going on at any given moment. And we've had people year after year come up and say, Oh, I love all the changes you made. I was like, I didn't change anything. We didn't change anything, but because they just were looking at a different point on stage for different scenes. And so it's very, very rich storytelling, it's beautiful, dancing and costuming. And we have built a huge community of friends, of all the artists. Over the years over 200 performers have been in it over the 17 years. Some of them some of them I've met like Shannon and Yolanda like met each other in Virginia, right? So we get these pictures like people who've kind of found each other in other places around the country who've been a part of the show. So it's both blessed a city, but also built a community of artists that are connected to it.

Mona Enna:

Now, that's been really great. I mean, just because the cast is huge, there's around between 50 and 60 people in the cast, and half of them are African American, half of them are white, and then during the rehearsal process, we are completely separated. In the beginning, because it's the scenes only involve the slaves or it's only evolves the Quakers. And then suddenly, towards the very end, everybody comes together. And now since so many people have been doing it for so many years, it's just like a reunion, everybody just coming together. And it's a great community.

Jeremiah Enna:

New artists are added, but we have some members of the cast who have been in it since the beginning, and they're still in it. I mean, it's amazing.

Scott:

What I hear, you guys, is so powerful, I hear several things. One is just your desire is to produce great art, just highest quality art for the city and beyond, not just for a church, let's say, as important as that may be, you want to have an impact with your art in the city, it requires excellence. The story came out of your observation of what was happening in the city in terms of the racial tension that was going on. And just a sensitivity to that. And I'd love to hear more about what how is God used that in the city? You're discipling the nation's is what we'd like to say.

Jeremiah Enna:

Someone should write that down. Yeah, that's equally a big part of this story. Like we said, It's our 17th year. So we premiered this in 2008. And when we did it, frankly, some people were like, well why are you doing the Underground Railroad? I remember that from middle school right now.

Scott:

Yes, Jr. High.

Jeremiah Enna:

Why were we doing that? And we said, No, this is the story. This is the story. And I would say that part of our motivation was very multifaceted. One had to do with caring for the black community and kind of hearing the pain in their voice and the lack of listening going on. And, and even that is so sophisticated. I have to say that the political, the politicization of everything these days is just sickening. And one of the victim, one of the victims of that is the black community because there are just some real heartaches there and there are some real burdens there that are difficult to get to and address when A. no one's listening and B. the cacophony of politicisation.

Scott:

Yes, it's just been hijacked for political purposes, so much of that.

Jeremiah Enna:

So we heard this story, and we said, this is Black History. This is also American history, and this is church history. This is our history. And so it wasn't a white guy saying it wasn't a black, saying it wasn't a white Finnish woman saying it, it was just people saying that this is our history, let's look at it. And there was kind of a beautiful irony, and God having a non-American, very pale woman.

Luke:

I love that. It's so surprising and unexpected, something that God would do, you know?

Jeremiah Enna:

That's right. And so we opened it in 2008, and we thought we just put it on the shelf, and then bring it back after a few years. But the response was so strong, people just flipped out and you have to do it again. And by the way, I might add that first year, I'll never forget. We opened up the Lyric Opera House here in Kansas City, and it was 50% black, 50% white audience. And our naivete kind of played a part in all this. We had a very diverse group of friends, but they weren't our diverse friends. They were just our friends. This is kind of a new concept. And so when we had that kind of very diverse audience, we were just excited about the audience and the whole thing and but it did launch us on this journey until we did it again and again and again, and certainly really has the most diverse audience in Kansas City for dance, and we're kind of known for that. But as we did it, people just started opening up, building relationships. And then it led me to trying to just continue to build relationships through this project. And so I'm going in meeting with pastors and listening and meeting with artists and all this kind of stuff. And I tried connecting churches, like why don't you guys partner together, et cetera? And then I found out that oh, well, people don't know how to talk about this together. It's very difficult. So I wrote a group discussion guide, I called a friend of mine, Dr. Luke Bobo. And I said, Hey, can we write this together? And so we wrote this "go underground" it's called group discussion guide. And pastors just loved it. And so we've had over like, 1500 of those booklets go out.

Scott:

I think I've heard a pastor Luke Bobo. He's pretty well known, isn't he? Well, I think he's very famous.

Jeremiah Enna:

Yeah, he's a great guy. He is a brilliant guy and a wonderful man. He lives here in Kansas City now. And so so we did that, and we started sharing that and just turned out that underground was a catalyst for bringing the church even together, the black and white communities. And this is all starting in 2008. And I have to mention, there was an organization named Pastor Serve, led by Jimmy Dodd. And from day one, Jimmy was, by my side supporting us, encouraging us, inviting people to come. And he really became a partner in crime. And so year after year, we would put the show on and bring people together. And we had school kids come in by the 1000s, you know, at least 3000 a year from all over. And then in 2011, they finished building the Kauffman Performing Arts Center. And that was a $500 million project. It is a world class facility. It's one of the it's considered one of the top facilities in the world now. And as they were preparing to open that big deal thing. Yeah, I got a call from Dr. Jane Chu. She was the president of the organization at the time, she later went on to head the National Endowment of the Arts. And Dr. Chu asked me she'd seen the show and she said, Jeremiah, would you move the show to the Kauffman Center, when we open it?

Scott:

What an honor.

Jeremiah Enna:

It was, and in our city, it was a rare honor. And so we did, and that even more publicized it to the to the Kansas City community. And I would say the next development, though, in our process, was that we started to realize, as the racial tensions grew in the country, that I wish I could have just kept presenting the show as a work of art and, and having things change. But as the media and the press got a hold of the conversation, it was clear that not much is going to really move in a positive direction. And then actually, historically, the church is supposed to do this. This is really the domain of the church. And so Pastor Serve Jimmy Dodd, let me speak to pastors every year at his big gathering, the Pastor Serve breakfast, and I would share this vision that the healing of racial reconciliation needs to go on from the church. It's not going to happen in the marketplace. It needs to be birthed from the church. And it has to get off the shoulders of the pastors. In other words, kind of waiting for that new Martin Luther King Jr. to come along. It has to get off the shoulders of the pastors and into the congregations. And we need to build relationships, and really just a vision for the healing of the body of Christ. And so Jimmy would put me up there every year, and I would say it over and over again. And people started coming. And then it was just churches started getting to know each other better, and go into the discussion guide. And then we were actually able to partner two of the largest churches in town, Westside Family and John Brooks at Macedonia. And, wow, not just kind of like let's have a picnic once a year, but major bonding between these two church families. And then a couple of years ago when George Floyd died, and that just threw gas on the fire of everything, and the pain, and all of that, Dayton Moore, the former president of the Royals, our baseball team, a brilliant leader, and has really helped shaped Kansas City. He launched unite KC. And so now we have a whole movement and with Underground is one of the centerpieces and the discussion guide bringing the city together in all different domains.

Scott:

Wow, that's so powerful.

Jeremiah Enna:

So there's a lot going on there and in our city, and it's exciting to be a part of it.

Scott:

St. Louis and Kansas City, really, that was kind of, in some ways where this current dispensation of racial tension kind of launched off with Brown.

Mona Enna:

When Michael Brown died, actually, the only other city we performed in was after Michael Brown's death, we partnered with Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. And we performed Underground in St. Louis. So just to be totally honest about that, Michael Jones the pastor, is a brilliant preacher, everyone go to Friendly Temple. And you go to his Bible study on Wednesday night. He's the head pastor at Friendly Temple. And we went and performed and the church just loved it, and wanted us to come back. And we still want to go back. But I also had to decide, I don't want to go back until the church leaders have more depth of relationship, because then we're just entertainment at that point. So I know God is always wanting that, and I haven't talked to them for several years. But that's my hope is that we can go back and partner with the church there to bless St. Louis.

Darrow:

Let me just say, listening to both of you. The book that I've just done, A Call For Balladeers, you exemplify Balladeers, pursuing excellence in your work, and then bringing it to the community. And having it create a space in the community for people to reconcile and to have it affect more than just people that are interested in the arts, it's powerful.

Scott:

It's just such a clear picture of the power of art, to transform a culture to, to really bring about a change in the culture.

Dwight:

I hear one other thing, and that is, the process that you engage in is one of making sure every artist feels truly human, becoming exactly what God intended them to be. That's pretty amazing as well.

Scott:

You're very intentional about creating a culture shaped by the reality of the Scriptures and of the person of Jesus.

Mona Enna:

That's our hope. We call it an experiment because the human factor, we're just trying, but that is our aim. And it takes just so many different people. I was talking with, really the soloist, the lead and underground, Shannon Benton. And she also helps in so many other areas, and I'm supposed to be doing some more podcasts and things. And I haven't done anything like this for years and years. And I said, well, I feel more comfortable doing it now, because I'm just surrounded with so many great people. And they'll all tell me, if I really dropped the ball big. They'll say, hey, by the way, that was a real loser. You might try a new way of saying that. So we're just surrounded with great people. And we're Kansas City's a wonderful city, and we just hope that we're a blessing, not a curse.

Scott:

Oh, I'm sure you are. It sounds it sounds really amazing. I thank you for inspiring me and our listeners, with this clear model and vision for the power of the arts and artists who are committed, not just to doing great art, excellent art in a way that really shapes culture, but living it out, letting it shape you, and bringing it into the way you do what you do, the culture that you create. So it's incredibly inspiring, I think we have very unique opportunity right now as the church to follow your lead and allow art in our culture, our increasingly dark culture where there's not a lot of great art, to produce great art in a way that really begins to shape culture.

Darrow:

May your tribe increase. That's what we're saying. Really, more?

Scott:

More and more. Well, thanks for your school to. I love that vision.

Darrow:

well, I know you have a hard break that I think you've passed. But I would for one like to have you guys come back if you're willing. Because there's so many other avenues.

Scott:

Darrow is just beginning, I can tell you see, he wants to keep talking here.

Darrow:

I want to, we said it would be an hour and Mona you had something to do at the top of the hour.

Mona Enna:

Yeah, I have children waiting. That's cool. Where's my mom?

Jeremiah Enna:

We would love to come back though. There is a lot of there are a lot of exciting things happening happening around here. There's a lot to talk about, and hopefully to inspire the artists in your community and in who are listening to this. And I hope that this has been encouraging to people.

Scott:

It's amazing, honestly, we'll definitely take you up on that. We'll have you back. We are just beginning the conversation. But for now, we'll let you guys go. And thank you so much for taking time to be with us to share your story. And again, just may God bless your vision and the work that you're doing. It's so inspiring. Thanks for being with us today.

Luke:

Thank you for joining us today. To learn more about the Disciple Nations Alliance. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, or on our website, which is disciplenations.org. To learn more about Jeremiah and Mona Ina's work at Storling Dance Theatre and the Culture House or anything else they're working on in their beehive of the arts as Darrow said, please visit this episode's landing page, which is linked down in the description below. There you'll find not only information about all the resources we mentioned in this episode, but also the episode transcript broken up into chapters, key quotes and everything else you need to continue to dive deeper into today's topic. Thanks again for listening to this episode of Ideas Have Consequences.