Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Art and Faith in a Post-Postmodern World

A friend of mine who knows much more about art than I do said "This is crap. A two-year-old with a crayon could do it." And since then, I have been praying my two-year-old will start making Howard Finster's with her crayons. As of yet, it hasn't happened.

Sometimes I have a few thoughts rolling around my mind like individual gumballs in one of those old-fashioned fishbowl machines. Jumbled and autonomous. So I work on those thoughts awhile and I start to pray about them and I realize their cohesiveness. Sometimes, all in a rush. Eureka! I have found it! Archimedes, meet Blind Bartimaeus. Physics and Metaphysics bound with a bow. Today I've had such a moment.

It started with a verse from the Gospel reading on Sunday: Luke 16:8 "The Master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of the world are more shrewd in dealing with their own age than the sons of light." It doesn't say "sometimes" or "maybe." It doesn't offer a solution to our lack of shrewdness. And what makes it worse is the exhortation found in Matthew 10 that we be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves." Shrewd (say this in Gordon Geckko's voice) is good. Shrewd, especially in this context, is a bit of a tricky word. It doesn't have a single positive connotation. It means "mischievous," "severe," "hard," and my personal favorite "dangerous." Dangerous. Be as dangerous as serpents. The sons of the world are more dangerous in dealing with their own age than the sons of light. I can't think of a more confusing verse.

So, that's gumball one.

The second is something David heard on the radio this morning from a fairly well-known Christian speaker. "I'm going to tell you," he said, "About something you probably haven't heard about. Yet it is invading the Church!" What was he speaking about? Postmodernism. Yeah. Something we've been chewing on and contemplating and waxing poetic about since the end of the Second World War. So, I guess after seventy years it's time the Christian community jumped into the fracas. Now that it's over, that is. It's not that people have rejected the basic postmodern hypothesis that objective truth doesn't exist, it's just that objective truth didn't die like it was supposed to. We're frying other fish. But if you're a Christian, you probably won't hear about it for another seventy years. Not shrewd. Not shrewd at all.

It's fundamentally depressing, isn't it? We are safe. We are soft. And the relevant church is seventy years behind the academic and artistic community that we used to lead. I've long suspected it, but now I'm sure of it. We need to bone up on what those Sons of the World are up to because their art, their music and their literature shows whats going on in the heart of the culture. And that's Our Father's Business, isn't it?

The problem is that it isn't always pretty. What's going on in the heart of our culture? Most of us know that our culture is suffering from profound sexual brokenness that stems from and is exacerbated by loneliness. We see a whole new objectification of women, but we're also seeing the culture rip the dignity off of the elderly and the helpless. We see that, but we don't want to talk about it. We don't want to paint it or write about it or sing about it. Because we don't want to be defiled by it? Or, because we're scared of it? It's hard to be dangerous when you're hiding under a rock. (Just ask Gideon.) I believe, in my heart of hearts, that the Gospel is real and Jesus changes things. From the dawn of time, human beings have expressed their inmost truth by singing and telling stories and painting. This the image of God reflected in us.

Let's sing about Jesus. Let's paint about Jesus. Lets write about Him. Not silly things either. Not the tired morality plays we've already got a million scripts for. Do we believe the Gospel is big enough to conquer sexual addiction? Let's make art about that. Do we believe the Gospel can heal loneliness? Let's write about that. Let's be top-shelf literary theorists. Let's be the best music critics Rolling Stone has even known. Let's curate modern art museums. See my point? But the deal is, we can't be half-assed (and haven't we become comfortable in the world of Half-Assed Art?) Because those Sons of the World are shrewd. And they will know. We've got to be the best and the sharpest and we're going to have to see modern art. We're going to have to look upon the brokenness of the world as reflected in literature of the not-beach variety. Jesus looked on our brokenness and wept. Does he expect any less from us?

It's harder to do than it is to write about.


Christian @ Modobject at Home said...

Say it, sister! We ARE safe, we ARE soft. We're fearful of criticism and mockery, and we're content in our ivory towers of Christianity. "Christian artists" (as they're/we're labelled... not artists who are Christians) are content to produce only what will successfully sell in the baptist bookstore down the street. That's not the Gospel.

How can we expect to have an impact on mainstream culture if we're not contributing to it? Where is the balance of living "counter to the culture" and actively forming the culture through the Gospel? Obviously I have more questions than answers...

And, frankly, I find it bone chilling that, according to some, postmodernism is something that the church hasn't heard about. Lord, have mercy on us.

When your two-year-old start's making Howard Finster's send her to my house to color on the walls.

susan said...

Oh thanks, Christian. You're totally on my page. I'll DEFINITELY send you the babe if she starts making art like that.(But you have to let me hold Strawberries.) :-)

Christian @ Modobject at Home said...