Meet Bryan Chung & Brian Chung. No! They’re not related! B&B met at the university of Southern California. Bryan studied film and digital arts and Brian studied Business and Graphic Design. Together they created Alabaster.
What lead to you starting Alabaster?
We were both strongly influenced by a mentor named James Choung, who wrote a book called Real Life. In it he has an idea about how each generation chooses to ask a “Spiritual Question”, directed towards finding meaning and purpose. In the past these questions have been things like: what is true? What is real? What is good?
Well, in the book Choung predicts the next spiritual question people will be asking is – what is beautiful?
I’d say larger culture is not asking what is the correct thing to worship, but rather, what is worth worshipping? What is beautiful and worthy of worship?
And in the midst of that spiritual question, I think we’re asking: how do we show that the Gospel is beautiful?
So we wanted to start a company like Alabaster to be a part of the emerging conversation between creativity, beauty, and faith.
Tells us about “re-designing the Gospel”
Brian: The Bible by itself is already beautiful. But we wanted to create a way in which the reading experience of the Bible was beautiful as well. I did not grow up Christian and when I got my first Bible I was excited but also found it intimidating. I found myself asking, “where do I start?”
Fast forward, and I was a campus minister at a conference for people who don’t consider themselves Christian to explore Christianity. Everyone got a Bible, and I watched how a non-Christian opened it. She began at the front, where the first few pages were lengthy descriptions and maps. She literally had to flip many different very thin pages to finally get to the first page of Genesis. Upon reaching that page she closed the book and put it away.
In re-designing the Gospels our aim was to change the way people experience Scripture. There is something about thoughtful images and beauty that help us engage in deeper ways. We we’re curious to see what that would look like within the Biblical text.
We’re becoming a culture primarily focused on visual content. We look at websites, scroll through Instagram, and appreciate well put together books. And we judge these things not purely on the content, but on how excellent it is and how well it is designed.
What has your faith journey been like?
Brian: Neither of us grew up Christian and we both started following Jesus in college. For me personally, I grew up in a Buddhist household and came into college Agnostic, before experiencing God for the first time in a college ministry called InterVarsity.
In a paradoxical way, not finding Jesus until college is exciting because it really meant that when I started following Jesus I could safely say it was my own adult decision. I will always get to hold onto that as part of my relationship with God.
What was it like crowdfunding on Kickstarter for this project? Was this your first time crowdfunding?
Bryan: Lots of fun and lots of stress. This was our first time launching a full-fledged Kickstarter so we definitely learned a lot from it. Basically for those 30-days where you’re launching it’s a whirlwind of PR, writing, communicating with backers, etc. But what most people might not know about creating something on Kickstarter is how much work goes in before actually launching.
We spent time making a video, getting mock books designed, and asking friends for tons of feedback – all before we even thought about launching on Kickstarter. The pre-work was probably more important than the actual 30-days of the Kickstarter itself.
What makes the Bible Beautiful?
Brian: The Bible is already beautiful as is. Within its pages you’ll find the most beautiful and truthful story ever told because it is the story of Jesus. One of the things I find most compelling is the way it is written. It’s full of love, tension, conflict, joy, pain, suffering, purpose. And beauty is found when every story and every emotion can be interwoven together to tell this amazing full-picture of who God is.
What sort of feedback have you received on your project so far?
Bryan: The most honoring feedback we’ve received on the project is from non-christians friends who have read the books.
There’s something about raw, honest artwork that touches people deeply – regardless of their spiritual background. That’s what makes us most excited. As artists, we feel like we can tell a truly honest story about Jesus, because good artwork naturally reflects our experiences. And I believe that people are drawn to that honesty.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other projects coming soon?
Bryan: We’re in the talks of re-desiging other books of the Bible but nothing set in stone quite yet!
About a month ago we did launch Alabaster: The Journal – an online space on our website where we’re publishing profiles of maker/doers and creating more original artistic content – all for the sake of a more beautiful human flourishing.
With the books we wanted to begin a conversation between creativity, beauty, and faith. But we know the conversation does not end there, but continues through the real lives of creatives dedicated to their craft each and every day. That’s where Alabaster: The Journal comes in.
What makes our walks with Jesus beautiful is that there is joy, sadness, happiness, conflict, tension, frustration, suffering, and celebration - and that those things are woven together.
In your opinion, what role does visual beauty have in the Christian life?
Brian: There’s a theologian named Hans Urs Von Balthasar who discusses three main values that encapsulate Christianity – truth, goodness, and beauty.
We’re really good at understanding the first two values (truth and goodness) because we talk about it all the time in Church. But that last value – beauty – feels a bit more elusive.
Balthasar’s argument is that without beauty, truth “loses its cogency” and goodness “loses its attractiveness”. Beauty is the thing that holds the other two values together. It keeps truth and goodness honest and authentic.
What do you think the Church needs right now?
Bryan: The Church needs honesty. I think too much of our Christian culture is still about “putting on your Sunday best” and appearing joyful and happy all the time. That’s part of our Christian experience but it does not encompass the full story of what it means to be human.
It doesn’t mean being sad all the time. But it means being honest with where we’re at in our lives with Jesus – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And this is where the artist comes in. As artists, our work literally comes naturally out of who we are. Good art is honest art.