Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Art and the Church

This has nothing to do with my good college friend, Art Munson. Instead I was reading a blog by Blaine Hogan about how we should allow our artists to be pastors and inspire others with the mystery contained in scripture. His ideas gave me something to think about as I travel to a new church, but as I read his article my mind made more connections than he had written. Perhaps the connection was implied, but as I read Hogan’s thoughts about artists and the church of the 21st century, all I could think about was Europe and the 17th century. Okay, not just the 17th century but a whole chunk of history when there was only one church and much of life revolved around the church. I remembered my art classes (those few I was required to take), the architecture of the great cathedrals that I have seen and I remembered discussing these magnificent buildings in seminary.

For centuries, artists were a part of the church community. With the rigidity of their ritual, I doubt that artists were involved in worship as they sometimes are today, but just look at where they were involved. In the cathedrals that our forbearers left behind, there are demonstrations of the skills and talents of magnificent artists of all kinds, people skilled with glass, with stone, sculpture, architecture, sound, and light. Many of the great composers of these centuries created music for the church or wrote for the glory of God. As I read Hogan’s blog I wondered, ‘Why don’t we see artists in our churches like this today?” Surely there are still people of great skill and talent in our communities. Surely God is still in the business of dispensing this skill and talent to his people, the people who are likely attending church somewhere. So why is art so inconspicuous in the church?

I admit that there are places like Willow Creek and Saddleback that have fabulous bands and multimedia presentations and who invite dancers and other artists to bring God praise. What comes to mind are all the churches that exist only in the practical. They look plain on the outside and on the inside they look like they were decorated by me (that’s not a good thing). I spent a career in engineering and my first instinct is toward the practical, functional and the useful. Terms like colorful and inspiring do not roll off of my tongue easily. But if God is still inspiring artists among God’s people as he surely did three centuries ago, what must they be thinking? If even I think that the inside of our churches look kind of colorless and plain, we must be causing great pain and sorrow in the hearts of our artists.

Either that, or we’re chasing them away.

God has given artists an ability to communicate his love to the world through human passion and emotion instead of only logic and reason. Could it be that the artists in our community feel unwelcome before they even step through the door of our church? God has seen fit to give me some facility with the spoken and written word, but while music speaks to my heart, I have only a limited ability to use it. Don’t even ask me to create or even understand the visual arts. We live in a multimedia culture and the hearts of humanity must be reached through the languages of art and inspiration but somewhere, in the last century or two, the church forgot something. Somehow, too many of us thought that the age of reason meant that words alone could convince the world of our sincerity and communicate God’s message but doing so forgets about communicating the wonder and the mystery of God. Doing so neglects the heart and the passion that speaks to the souls of humanity.

If we want to tell the world about God’s love for them, we need our artists back.

We need to reach beyond the functional, beyond the logical and touch the hearts of people in ways that reason and practicality cannot. Our churches need to welcome our artists home again. We must make our church a place where artists are free to use their gifts to communicate God’s love to the world. As a pastor, I must do what I can to make artists welcome in my church because our artists can reach the hearts of people in ways that my words never will.

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