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November 02, 2007

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Jeff Straka

Last night was my first Cohort conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I had never thought about “Church as Art” before and the metaphor was mind-blowing and something I will be chewing on for quite some time!

My experience with traditional/institutional church has been that the laity is almost discouraged from being an “art participant”, instead being cast into the role of a passive spectator. Even those leading the church have a limited scope of creativity. The songs are selected to support the sermon which is often predetermined according to the lectionary reading. The Sunday school classes and even the mission outreach projects tend to be prepackaged “one-size-fits-all”. When you think about it, our consumerist culture holds this passive “Feed me! Entertain me!” role in high esteem: how sad when you see TV screens in restaurants because we can’t even create conversation! It should come as no shock that we struggle to see ourselves in any other role!

I believe that this learned consumptive passivity dramatically inhibits our ability to actively hear and then participate in God’s Story in the world as we tend to ignore or discard things that don’t fit our “paint-by-number” programs (even when it’s God whispering in our ear). It is no wonder, then, that our churches are anything BUT missional!

But the antonym of consumption is creation and how much more exciting it is to see ourselves in the role as co-creators and co-artists with God instead of sitting idly by on the sidelines! What an remarkable vision as I see myself standing next to God in front of his brilliant Story-Board, both of us splattered in paint, holding paint brushes as God asks, “What do YOU see in this picture that needs mending? Where should we add a splash of color?” (Of course, I also envision God and Adam both barefoot and decked out in bib-overalls as the Grand Creator asks Adam to name the animals!) As active partners with God we begin to listen and understand his Grand Narrative and our part in its care, restoration and redemption. Now we are becoming missional!

The thing I still need to work on is this ingrained tendency to separate “holy” and “secular”. In our small group break-out, we were asked about the “art” in our own lives and I struggled with seeing mundane things in everyday life as part of God’s beautiful Painting. I see that I have to work on the concept of “everything is spiritual”. (I didn’t see much holiness or art in the traffic jam coming to the meeting, for example!)

Thanks for a great evening! I really like “shaking up my faith” - it is only then that the dust can fall off!

--Jeff Straka

Dr. Lewis T. Tait, Jr

I am sorry I was unable to make the meeting. When I think of "art" I think of creativity and the ability for one to express themselves. Art is less confining and it's all about interpretation. "Church as Art", this concept would allow for endless expressions of the church's mission and purpose in the world. This concept with do away with a "one size, fits all" concept of how the church can be the church in world. The beauty of this concept is that "Church as Art" allows for a wide range of participants in the development of what the church can become in various contexts and thus embracing limitless paradigms.

troy

jeff:

the spirituality of traffic jams... a great quest(ion)! I agree, the shaking that frees us from dust is much like the iron that sharpens (hones) the barbs of iron. Thanks

Lewis:

freedom from paradigms! hm. i guess the one way this metaphor functions to lift up tradition is the apprenticeship of an artisan who sits at the feet of a tradition or form to learn and develop her own form. And so your helping me see the freedom is in not only in the expansion of tradition (from a to B) but also the extension into the future (from B to Z).

Ann

Hey all,

Before moving to Atlanta, I went to a pretty well programmed church. It was the largest church of that denomination in the town, with three services and thousands of members. However, while the main service was pretty well organized, without much room for free expression, the leadership was very intentional about providing lots of opportunities for people to get people involved.
They offered regular Ministry classes to equip people to volunteer and help them find their niche. The church had lots of creative ministries. I volunteered in a children's class for several years, and met all sorts of "artists": Musicians, storytellers, and people really skilled with glue sticks and cotton balls (a needed skill when helping kids make crafts) The other ministries I saw and sometimes volunteered with were also full of "artists"

Their is a misconception that art just happens. People think a divine light opens in the sky, shines upon the artist and she creates a masterwork by morning.

As a former art major I know that art is blood, sweat and tears. It is painstaking, meticulous. It takes lots of planning and long hours.

I think any church can encourage "artists" in their congregation. They just have to be very intentional about it, and realize that the "artists" are going to need lots of support.

My church back in Chatt also realized that people aren't always comfortable taking the leap from passive pew warmer, to active member. That is why the ministry classes were so great. They gave people a stepping stone.

Yes, sometimes beautiful things happen unplanned, but more often than not, the beauty, the art, is the result of blood, sweat, tears and long long hours of planning.

Striker_21

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the "God as Artist" paradigm is how it celebrates diversity. Artists have always been free to choose from many different mediums to communicate their message (if they have one at all). Artists are comfortable using everything from the ordinary to the fantastic, from small to gigantic... and all across just about any other continuum you can dream up. Simply put, viewing God as Artist means recognizing that he just won't fit in any box you could dream up to put him in.

To be fair to God, any paradigm/metaphor is sure to fall short when we are dealing with the Almighty, but as humans we can only think of through our own experience. And as ways to "see through a glass darkly" seeing God as Artist and his work as Art resists many of the temptations that beset us and challenge the lack of imagination employed in sharing God with those who have not yet met him.

Imagine the next time you are walking in your neighborhood that you are approached by someone who you don't know. "Are you beautiful? Truly beautiful?..." Before you can formulate a response or even become indignant the person continues: "Would you like to be truly beautiful... so beautiful that everyone will want to be near you?" "Would you like to join a group of people who are seeking after true beauty.... a community of those who long discover and share beauty?"

I don't know about you but a conversation like that might haunt me... especially if the person radiated something deeper than superficial beauty. I might say no and hurry on, but I doubt I'd soon forget the question.

It's not hard to think through all the traditional activities of a Christian community and re-imagine them in light of this paradigm shift. But the wonderful thing for me is to return to the idea that God has many mediums to express his art through, and so many different styles and techniques both within each medium and across multiple ones. No longer must we look for the one perfect painting, we are free also to consider a sculpture or architecture. We may look at classical and modern, and everything in between. And we may appreciate the beauty of each.

Of course this points to a challenging aspect of the God as Artist paradigm and perhaps why it has made people uncomfortable for centuries. Aesthetics is not as clear cut as many would like. Exactly what is not beautiful and who gets to say? Is beauty just perception and thus totally relative? On what ground will we be able to say that something is not beautiful? Will the arguments about what is and isn't beautiful really be all that different than the current arguments about what is or isn't right? Will human need for being superior ("my/our art is better than yours") really be changed just by framing the conversation differently?

Undoubtedly all these challenges will remain, with a few new ones along for the ride. Yet even if it doesn't solve all religions problems in one fell swoop I can't help feeling that the "God as Artist" paradigm shift is worth the trouble if only because of the breath of fresh air it would breath into so many tired souls, communities, and efforts. We will need God help to keep us focused on doing art rather than squabbling over aesthetics or who's art is the best, but God has a long history of helping people in this way (cf. his first group of disciples).

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