What is beautiful?
Alabaster Co. founders, Brian Chung & Bryan Chung seek to address this question through the creation and building of their LA-based company. Inspired by theologian James Choung’s Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out, the co-founders came to learn that with each generation comes a culturally contextualized spiritual question. Choung explains that for millenials, the question was “What is good?” For the up-and-coming generation (generation Z), the question that many are asking when seeking out paradigms for life and faith, is “What is beautiful?”
With this in mind, the co-founders were compelled to start their company. “How do we show that the gospel is beautiful?” They sought to build a company around this question, looking to cultivate and engage in conversation around beauty, faith, art, and creativity. Out of this vision, came Alabaster Co.
The company’s name comes from Mark 14, when the woman with the alabaster jar breaks it to spread perfume on to Jesus’ feet. Those around her see this act as pointless and wasteful, while Jesus calls it “beautiful.” It’s one of the only times in the gospels that He uses such language. Similarly, in a world that deems creativity and the act of creating potentially meaningless, Alabaster Co. seeks to serve Jesus by artistically highlighting the intersection of beauty and faith.
Alabaster Co. launched its first kickstarter in October of 2016 – Alabaster: The Bible Beautiful. This first project consisted of a set of the New Testament gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in a familiar translation (NLT), but a totally new and creative format.
Brian & Bryan didn’t intend to start a “Bible brand” when they began their company. They began the creative process brainstorming a range of different ways to engage in the intersection of faith and beauty. They considered starting with magazine publishing or beginning an online journal amongst other options, but Brian eventually posed the thought “actually…we should start with the Bible.”
Given that the current generation is said to be one of the most dechurched and biblically disengaged of the era, The Bible Beautiful seeks to “present visual imagery, interweave it with the text, and see how people respond to it.” This set of quality-created, printed, and bound books creates a new opportunity for readers to explore the intersection between creativity, beauty, and faith; all the while engaging with the ministry and words of Jesus via scripture.
“It started with the Bible, but the conversation continues as we engage with real people trying to do real creative work in the world,” Bryan explained as we chatted about Alabaster Co. over the phone. After the success in publishing their first project, Bryan & Brian continued to seek out new ways to creatively invite people to explore the intersection of beauty and faith. Alabaster Co. has since released an online journal, spotify playlist, A Liturgy for Creatives e book, and a rendition of the Psalms.
The company is currently working on a couple new projects. The Notebook just successfully completed its kickstarter campaign, and will be released at the end of this year in December – just in time for the holidays! The Notebook began out of a natural progression in the conversation regarding creativity and faith. Brian & Bryan noticed that “conversation doesn’t just happen in scripture, but in real life things. One of the biggest scriptural practices today is journaling, writing things down, and sketching.”
The Notebook is a perfect companion to Alabaster Co’s other products, and an excellent addition to the spiritual and creative practices one might already have in place. It’s hardcover, with a gray-paper interior that doesn’t yellow over time the way white paper tends to. The gray-paper interior is inspired by artists and painters from the Renaissance era, who used grey canvases and backdrops for optimal color contrast and visualization.
Alongside the creation of The Notebook, Alabaster Co. is in the beginning stages of a kickstarter campaign to produce and print a rendition of Romans. Romans specifically addresses the topic of “division” as Paul calls for unification of the previously divided Jew and Gentile believers in Rome. The co-founders thought this to be especially relevant, as there are many questions amongst the current generations regarding what it means to be “evangelical” in today’s particularly divisive religious and political climate.
Throughout the process of creating and building Alabaster Co, Brian & Bryan encountered the ups and downs that many of us who pursue creativity and/or entrepreneurship face. When asked what’s been the most challenging about running Alabaster Co, Bryan explains “Everyday is different. You’re always making decisions. Personally taking ownership of all these decisions can be challenging. You have to take responsibility for both good decisions, and poor decisions; [even] micro decisions [regarding] designs, partnerships, website content, etc.”
Yet amidst the challenges, the co-founders have also really seen God work in through the company. They’ve heard encouraging stories about those who have painfully left the church then begin to re-engage with Jesus through the medium of art and creativity that The Bible Beautiful presents. They’ve also witnessed the visual communication of their Bible collection speak to readers about God in a way that the words alone simply could not.
When asked what advice Bryan would give to other creatives, he responded, “ Don’t be afraid to put your work out there, even if you think it risks others naming it as ‘heretical’ or ‘different.’ I genuinely think there’s a real fear for Christian artists to really put their work out there, because there are invisible walls that are up (whether we’ve defined them or not) that define what can, or cannot be deemed as ‘Christian Art.” As mentioned before, there were (and still are) many risks that had to be taken in order to begin and build Alabaster Co. However in the midst of that, lives are being touched, and the Gospel is being shared in new and transformative ways. As the co-founders continue taking risks in starting new projects and creating new products with Alabaster Co., Jesus only increases and deepens their personal faith and discipleship as Christian creatives.
“Putting your personal work out there is a risk…art is your personal interpretation, and learning to be okay with that and live with the fact that this is the way you experience God is key. Trust that God sees it as GOOD, even if others may not understand it fully.”
From first-hand experience, the Alabaster Co. founders have exemplified just what it looks like to trust God in the creative process, and step out in faith by artistically sharing the beauty of the Gospel with others. It will be inspiring to see how Jesus continues to reach and transform those that engage with the company’s work in the seasons to come. If you’d like to learn more, or take part in the Alabaster Co. community, check out what they’re up to at their website: www.alabasterco.com. (For our A|S community, Alabaster Co. is graciously offering a 15% off discount code for use at checkout: ArtfullySeeking).
// Written by Mariko Sandico