Email Tuesday!

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I don’t aim to change anyone’s mind. I want conversation and hopefully, prayerfully, in that process allow the Spirit to change our hearts.

I do prefer, enjoy, and participate in the conversation. Here is an email I received and the response:

The email

Joseph,

A close designer friend of mine just forwarded me your post on The Arts and The Church. Your words (and their various ramifications and implications) resonated with me as this theme is a life-long venture for me and my family—both my parents, and now my children.

I really believe much of the way we relegate the arts to marginal positions of influence within the church world is precisely because of some of the higher and lower thinking that so typifies some of antiquity, and interestingly, much of modern thinking. Gnostic docetism would be both the belief that things of the heavens are holy and that things of earth are inferior, the natural result of which is that only the divine is worth focusing on, and for the pious, the things of earth should be avoided.

Spin offs of this damaging construct include the modern reasons why we believe sex is taboo, and that pastors shouldn’t be involved with business; ironically (and I digress here), to the point of sex, the Jewish tradition bears out that the Rabbinical Priesthood considers one of their most sacred and holy moments the day in which Yahweh gave them the Songs of Solomon; and to the point of enterprise, Jesus himself ran a for-profit business, as did all of the writers of the New Testament works.

Intrinsic in art is it’s ability to summon people to greatness by it’s mere presence. It has long been a personal belief of mine that people who value beauty, value life. So that, if we can teach a community what is truly beautiful, then the net effect will be that they care for the lives and property around them with excellence. I don’t just create beautiful videos and graphics for my church because they’re nice. I do it because I believe that if I can raise the expectation level of our congregation, they will subconsciously begin to translate this into other aspects of their day-to-day existence: they will treat people better, they will present themselves better, they will treat their properties better. Good design begets designed living.

Where I do agree most with the “higher thinking” construct is this: We as creators and Christians have the responsibility of addressing the present issues of a culture and speaking to them from an eternal, limitless perspective. But this can not and should not ever be held solely within the confines of evangelism and inner-church ministry. For it to have a lasting effect on the world outside the church—to be salt and light in dark places—it must be released, endorsed, celebrated, championed, taught, retaught, and then taught some more. We must be as creative in our means of dissemination as we are in creating the works themselves.

One of my artistic heroes in both the artistic disciplines and in Christianity is Mako Fujimura. He discusses at length the concept of art having the ability to portray the world as it ought to be.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his more recent books:

An artist’s journey to believe in heaven can lead that artist to produce works mirroring that hope and give others (in luring critics and journalists) the permission to speak of that redemptive possibility. Art has the capacity to challenge preset presumptions about what we believe, to operate in the gap between the church and the world, and to address deeply spiritual issues. The power of art is to convey powerful personal experiences in distilled language and memorialize the in a cogent manner. Such communication will resonate in the context of larger culture. The church needs to be involved in the art and even advocate for those outside of faith, precisely because God has poured his grace in all of creation, and every artist, consciously or not, taps into the “groaning” of the Spirit.
-Mako Fujimura (Refractions: The Disintegration Loops)

God does not divide between the secular and sacred, as he provided a ransom for all of humanity with his efforts, not just those who were once “high enough.“ And being of divine image, even secular man is resonating—if even in the slightest—with the vibrations of heaven. It is the call of the enlightened to illuminate the path upon which each man walks until they’re finally standing face to face with Jesus, knowing him in heart before knowing him in glories beyond. This is the role of art: to create works that resonate with the unseen ether of man’s soul, alluding to a time and place for which he is summoned, for which he is destined. It’s the call to the superior life that he has always been dimly aware of, as if being called back home during a distant journey, but seldom stops to meditate on due to this business of life-living.

My church’s efforts with the opening of our new recording studio (open to the public) and our record label (private investment into artists we want to endorse) is one small way we’re trying to have an impact on the artistic world of music—to champion the cause of making beautiful art that ministers life to the ears of the world and call artists to places of greatness. But our model is very other than the “industry.” Here, artists own their masters. Artists come and go as they want, finding a home here for their work, and taking it elsewhere when they find a better home. We’re booking artists based on ministry relationships, not industry politics. And since we’re a church and not a bank, we understand we may make investments and never see a financial return; but ours is not obedience to a check book, but to a Righteous Judge who is a superior accountant.

In addition to Schaeffer and Pearcey, I’d also add Andrew Sievright’s article (circa 1995) “What is the church doing with the powerful gift of art?” (I have it archived at home, and can’t seem to find it online, other an order form for a back-dated copy here). (I remember Schaeffer’s “Art In The Bible” having a profound effect on me many moons ago.

Lot of thoughts here. These just got stirred up after reading your blog. You, of course, have my permission to edit and post as you wish. I suppose I need to write another book on this subject matter. It burns deeply in me.

Christopher

My response (with a couple of grammatical edits)

There are so many implications to all of this, it can be overwhelming. Where I diverge from Pearcey and Schaeffer is I don’t see non-Christian world views as the problem. By the very nature of being “non-Christian”, other world views may or may not see things as holistically as Christians. Epistemology is not the problem. Knowing what is and isn’t truth is not the problem. The problem has been what we do with truth.

Since Constantine, the Christian world view wasn’t just accepted or a given. What was given is if you didn’t agree or even questioned it, you did so on pain of, well, pain! If you were lucky! Even Calvin wanted someone killed for “heresy”. He goes on to say "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.”

The world is doing what the world should do as created by a Creator—look for the answers! And if they have turned their backs on a Christian world view, it is because we have given them little reason to believe the Christian world view is accurate.

Even within the Church, we have dissension. The reformation was a much needed correction. But, in human fashion, it was not enough. Today we have Christians who have taken Sola Scriptura and turned it to Solo Scriptura. The Bible has become the serpent staff.

The threat isn’t relativism. Which, of course, is why we are having so little affect on relativism. In reality, there is no such thing as relativism. As a postmodernist of sorts, I do believe there is relativity. Worldview analysts try to take Einstein the wrong way. Relativity is not relativism. It is perception. And perception clouds us all. Paul wrote on this often. We see through a glass darkly. If someone believes eating sacrificial meat is a sin, then to him it is a sin. Don’t make him eat. And further, don’t eat it in front of him!

Categorizing postmodernism as relativism makes our job easy. Relativism is an easy target and easy prey. It is, as even Pearcey says, self-defeating. Which is precisely why it isn’t relativism.

I actually have come across three forms of post-modernism. (I know. Very Modern of me. Which is why I think of myself as a post-modern wanna-be). There are post-moderns who want to take Modernism to the next extreme. I think Judith Butler typifies this kind of postmodernist. Modernism hasn’t gone far enough. By subverting and deconstructing language we can more likely achieve our goals.

There are postmoderns who believe Modernism has gotten it totally wrong. the believe Modernism has irreparably disassociated meaning from truth.

Then there are the postmoderns such as myself, who believe Modernism isn’t totally wrong, in and of itself. It is just incomplete. While bifurcating meaning from truth has created so many ills, Modernism has brought us benefits, such as indoor plumbing. We have the tools to counter the local myths that say having sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS. These are needed correctives and likely ones that would not have come about without Modernism.

The solution is longterm commitment and messy, as I say. One on one relationship is the only tool we have left. [edit to add:by "tool” I mean “option”. I hate it when Christians think of people as a “project”.]

What I love about Schaeffer, and witnessed in our too brief weekend at L’Abri, is the emphasis that everything is spiritual. Even the mundane things, such as chopping wood, painting and repairing the house, doing the dishes. Choosing reusable cloth napkins over disposable napkins (an issue I wrestle with today!). Everything we do is an act of faith.

So much to talk about!

Joe

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