Artists and the Church

Where should we start? #

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An arts festival held in Decatur, GA

I’m going to be blunt here. Christians make me tired. The Church and most Christians are clueless about art and artists. Either because of or related to their cluelessness about culture. They would rather fight a Culture War than love their neighbors. For all the cultural accusations of “PC”, “(liberal) snow flakes”, and the over all seeming “touchy feely” liberal focus on offensive cultural language and behavior, Christians beat everyone else to the punch long ago.

I remember a pastor celebrating that his sons denounced the evils of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These days a coffee house can’t even release red seasonal cups without offending “snowflake” Christians. There is nothing wrong with “Happy Holiday” as a holiday greeting. Just ask Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin. ‘R’ rated movies, as if the whole rating scheme was created by God. Witches in a book or movie, or Dungeons and Dragons? The world is turning to Satan worship and so will you if you play, read or watch!

The good news (and there is good news) is that God’s grace knows no bounds. I believe God is far more gracious and allows far more leeway for us to get things wrong than right. Otherwise, what’s the point of the cross? I really cannot fathom a God who sits there and watches with great anticipation to say “Wow! You missed it again.” He did not ask us to get our theology or doctrine right, or to understand the “Old Testament” in light of the “New Covenant” or perish. He does not require us to be his “Safety Patrol” to police other people’s sins. Our own sins should be enough to keep us busy.

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He asked, nay commanded, us to love God and love our neighbors. All those other commands rest on these two. So if you think a command makes you do something contrary to these two, you need only refer back to these two commands for correction. I have been reprimanded by well meaning Christians that God will not be mocked. I could not agree more.

Loving one’s neighbor is not a touchy feely reaction.

This is where it starts. #

It doesn’t even start with a “sinner’s prayer”. Treat artists first as people with the same troubles and joys as everyone else. Their spiritual needs are not different just because they have unique ways of expressing their journeys.

Creating art is an ever hopeful act of faith. I don’t care what form, genre, content, culture, philosophy, style, discipline. Whenever someone takes the steps to create something it is an act of faith—faith in the hours, years, decades of life experiences. Faith that the words will come out, that the right chord will will ring, faith that the arms or legs will dance as they practiced. Faith that the person or people it was created for will receive it, ponder it, smile, frown, cry, laugh, fear, fall into the arms of one another. Even if the only person it is meant for is the artist themselves or God.
Creating, no matter how hopeless or nihilistic is an act of hope, of not giving up. Even if the artist may think all is lost, that single act of creating is saying all is NOT lost. If they truly believed all was lost, if they were truly lost in the deepest of despair, they wouldn’t have created anything. Such work can be either a cry for help or a warning for others. The artist is trying to find the way out.

Art is simply a response to time, to others, to attacks, to creation, to faith, to lack of faith, to anger, to crisis, to anything that surrounds the artist, that seeks to envelope them, to pull them under or lift them up. It is an examination, a query into life about life, about what is life.

The Church lost the artists. The Church lost them because they forgot one very important thing about them… that they are first and foremost and causatively humans and our neighbors.

I’ve come across many well meaning ministers who felt a pull to start an arts ministry for the community of artists outside their church. But they never saw the artists who were already there, in their congregations. Then they never ask who is an artist and why do they want to “minister” to them? They talk of “redeeming” and “taking back” the arts as if it was something stolen from them, some inherent right to their work. The reality is the Church has left the artists.

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I’ve been working in the arts for over 30 years. There are artists who are Christians everywhere, all over the world. They have chosen to spend their time making the art that they believe God has placed on their hearts, in their souls, from the lives God has put before them.

The problem is most of the people wanting to make a mark in and on the arts aren’t working artists. For most of us working in the arts it is as much about work — a job, a chosen career — as it is all those philosophical, aesthetic questions and considerations.

The problem is most Christians who want to influence artists are functioning under an ulterior motive, deliberately or incidentally. The Church wants to change the artists and the arts. But God has been calling for the Church to change because of the artists. Artists aren’t asking the Church for permission to create. Nor should they.

In the end, there really is no art, only the artist — humans seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, thinking, responding. This is where it starts. By that I mean, relationship, love of neighbor. That’s where Jesus started with everyone—relating, feeding, protecting, over food, over water at a well, under a tree—empathy.

If you can’t start there you aren’t ready to start. Artists are people, not projects.

Practice hospitality. #

Thanks,
Joe

 
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