Sorry for the proliferation of quotes…but I think each of them is inspiring and gives great insight.
“Why indeed must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb…the most active and dynamic of all? …It is the creative potential itself in human beings that is the image of God…” –Mary Daly (theologian)
“We must accept that this creative impulse within us is God’s creative pulse itself.” Joseph Chilton Pearce
“God must become an activity in our consciousness” Joel Goldsmith
“Why should we all use our creative power….? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.” Brenda Ueland
“The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate–it is Life, intensified brilliant Life.” Alain Arias-Misson
“It is the task of art to undo the work of our vanity, our passions, our spirit of imitation, our abstract intelligence, our habits…making us travel back in the direction from which we have come to the depths where what has really existed lies unknown within us…” Marcel Proust
I find myself in a reconstructive phase where I am re-imaging, along with others, what a collective of people engaged with God, each other, and the world around them could look like. In many ways this is, as my friend Ryan observed, a very personal activity of “leaving behind an artifact”–a commemoration of the journey I’m on.
Church is a hard word for me. Mainly because I’ve been actively engaged in comparing the Worst of what it has been and has become with the Best of other faith traditions or my own idealism. Still, it becomes easier for me to use this word when I talk about it using metaphores. Church as…well, for one, (and owing a stiff tip of the hat to Troy Bronsink for the specific articulation of this metaphor)…art.
That’s right…you heard me…Church as Art.
I believe that this is actually the most important and basic foundational piece of moving forward with people trying to live in the way of Jesus.
First…allow me to define Art.
Anthropologists define art as “the creative use of imagination to interpret, express, and engage life, modifying experienced reality in the process.”
To put it in my words, art is approaching life with a degree of authenticity, imagination, and experiment. In this process, one often births artifacts–visible and tangible reminders of the places we have been and the beliefs we have held.
Art isn’t limited to paintings, sculpture, drawing, music, etc… (though it certainly does include those). Actually art is simply creativity expressed.
Why is this important?
Believe it or not we do not see the world as it is, but actually as we believe it to be. We are constantly engaged in interpret ting our environment through a complicated series of images and the framing stories that we tell ourselves. When our ability to engage those with imagination is damaged we begin to interpret the world in harmful and unproductive ways.
Culturally, few of us are immune to the lack of creativity that dominates Western culture for the last 250 years. Left brain logistics are taught, reinforced, and invisibly upheld as the dominant way of viewing the world. Newtonian science has instructed us to see the universe as a great clock-like machine–Enlightenment inspired creatonism has maintained a view of God, actually not as creator, but as machinist or cosmic tinker. The professions that were most desirable in the last two centuries have been ones that processed accounts, calculated numbers, memorized tombs of law, and treated patients with cold impersonalities. This sort of rigid thinking has led to the most atrocious wars known to man, the most destructive weapons capable of being used, and a general lack of wonder, mystery, and awe towards the universe. Without imagination, fear NOT hope takes over. We become territorial, isolated, and repressed.
The solutions we are often offered for our world problems are as calculating and cold as the last, failed, set. In fact, some have commented that the central aspect of Western culture today is the failure to create anything new–caught in a holding pattern where regurgitation is the only option. For something to change…well…something’s gotta change.
And something IS changing:
“Until recently, the abilities that led to success in school, work, and business were characteristic of the left hemisphere. They were the sorts of linear, logical, analytical talents measured by SATs and deployed by CPAs. Today, those capabilities are still necessary. But they’re no longer sufficient. In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere – artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent”
Imaginers NOT Managers
“The spiritual life of the West, which is impoverished and depressed could be seen as a failure to engage with imagination”. The Bible is approached boringly, with absolute literalism. Church boards or elder councils are filled, not with artists and imaginers but with managers and pragmatists. On and on it goes…while the spiritual life of the West starves; not for lack of truth but for lack imagination on how to engage and express it.
Simply put, if religion (in the best sense) hopes to address the needs of the world today, hopes to relate to God in anything but rote isolation, hopes to experience lasting renewal it must reactivate it’s view of God as Artist(literally Creator), of spiritual community as Art (literally the product of imagination, experiment and authenticity), and individuals as artists (those who labor to conceive and birth visible expressions of hope and love.)
Was Jesus Creative?
Some people will challenge spiritual community, or church, as Art purely on the basis that they fail to see Jesus as a cultural creative. I think this may be short sighted. It may also stem from a literalist and unimaginative reading of the ancient texts. Consider that in the earliest communities of Christians thought it was important to remember 34 miracles and not one of them was a repeat of the one before. Consider that Jesus’ profession might accurately be called “story teller” because of his preferred mode of communication. Consider that a number of times he compelled his students to think creatively about how they would approach his world. Consider that one of his apprentices would later remember Jesus’ ministry not as miraculous but instead filled with artwork…pictures…symbols…literally SIGNS.
I would suggest that viewing Jesus as an artist and provocateur may be one of the most important shifts in transitioning from a shame based reading of Christianity to one of hope and joy.
This will require some unblocking. Most of us mistrust our creative sensibilities. Imagination is culturally another word for “fake” or “not real”. And so many have been conditioned to think critically not creatively that their inner critic is a giant compared to the grasshopper of their imagination. In order to approach the deep issues facing the world currently, in order to live and participate in community and indeed perhaps even in order to approach God in a journey of transformation, we may need to simply learn how to approach a blank page or a canvas or a lump of clay. The liberation of one faculty of creativity allows for release in other areas also.
So…let’s be creative…let’s explore and discover and then express those monumental and mundane artifacts that are generated. Let’s celebrate. And most of all, let’s learn to re-engage the God, each other, and our selves with experiment, authenticity, and imagination…as art.
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