If you are part of my Facebook page you will notice there have been a lot of comments lately on the arts in the church, and whether they are thriving or not. I was honestly quite surprised at the majority and passion of the responses and it made my heart burn even more to see creative Christians inside and outside the church filled with the fire of Heaven to create beautiful art.
Centuries have proven that time and again the arts challenged what was expected by the church. Handel’s Messiah (Think Hallelujah Chorus), written for the general public, was shunned by most of the church of the day because it was not written for the church. In fact, John Newton the author of the incredible hymn “Amazing Grace’ preached on it’s evils to his congregation and discouraged them from going to see it for over a year! From the artwork of Caravaggio (who had parts of his paintings painted over in the Catholic church to cover up what some considered too obscene to be shown) to Van Gogh (who spent most of his life trying to be a clergyman because he thought that was how to really serve God, yet only sold one painting in his lifetime), there has always been controversy as to what the arts were used for, what was the ‘reason’ for it, and what was it’s purpose in church life.
Today we often have the same problem. But I am not here to attack or complain. To be honest, I think it’s a waste of time. I am here to praise Him with what He has given me. I love the arts and when I am creative, I feel I am praising Him at the highest level. It most likely will challenge people at times, but the reason we do what we do as creative people is to redeem what God originally created for His glory. In doing so, we most certainly give Him glory.
It got me thinking about flowers. When I buy flowers and the florist asks me: “Is this a gift for someone or for yourself?” I always say it’s a gift, because I know they will use the pretty paper and bows to dress up the flowers. I just love how it looks when I walk out of the store. Whether I am giving it as a gift or not, I appreciate the beauty of the wrapping. Yet, if I just received the wrapping, it would probably look like rubbish all folded and most likely wet from the flowers – the encasing is useless without the beauty of the flower.
I think the arts in the church are like the paper and bows. It’s purpose is to draw attention to the main event. Flowers are beautiful all on their own, but always look so well presented with pretty paper. But on its own, with no purpose, it’s just rubbish to be thrown out. I am not meaning to say that art is all for show or about showing off. I mean to say that it adds beauty to what is already beautiful.
I think most people who try to make sense of the arts often don’t appreciate it for what it is. I often hear questions like; “What’s this piece of drama during the sermon for?’ or; “I don’t understand the meaning of this song”, or; “What is that piece of artwork trying to say”? Yet somehow often these things move us, they make us ponder, they reach us beyond what words can explain. Because we can’t explain it or make sense of it logically, we can find it hard to affirm it’s purpose. So we give up and assume it is meaningless. (Mind you, I chuckle to myself as I read “I do not like green eggs and ham” to my daughter because it makes no sense yet she absolutely loves the poem by Dr Seuss – but that’s another story…)
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think all art has to have a reason or be the answer to everything. A great scholar once said: ‘Art needs no justification” (F Schaeffer)’, and I believe this is true. Art doesn’t need to have a full stop. I think this is where we get confused in church – we think that it needs to have a reason. I believe art can be meaningful without having an obvious meaning or explanation.
I guess in all my thoughts here, what I am trying to say is don’t let your creativity waste away because you have been misunderstood, or your creativity doesn’t fit the paradigm, or you don’t understand your gift. Just be you. Write, paint, dance, sculpt – enjoy the gifts He has given you. Give Him praise by using them. Don’t be afraid or hurt and retreat because you feel different. Embrace all He has for you and watch what happens.
Paper and bows are always beautiful when wrapped around the Rose of Sharon.