I wrote this over a year ago but it’s still relevant to me a year later.
“A related gap [to vocations such as science and healthcare fields] is the church’s loss of “creatives”, musicians, visual and performance artists, filmmakers, poets, skaters and surfers, storytellers, writers, and so on. In the pages of You Lost Me, you will meet singers, comedians, writers, and filmmakers who have found it difficult to connect their creative gifts and impulses to church culture. Frequently the modern church struggles to know what to do with the right-brained talent. What has traditionally been a fertile ground for the arts – the church – is now generally perceived as uncreative, overprotective, and stifling. Can the Christian community relearn to esteem and make space for art, music, play, design, and (dare I say it) joy?” You Lost Me, David Kinnarman
I have experienced some great churches where this is less of an issue than at others, but this has always been a huge barrier between me (and some of my friends) and the churches we have been part of. Even the churches that are more open to art and music and the crazy and cool directions it can go are generally locked into only certain people and only certain directions, which is still incredibly limiting and down the road always leads to stifling. Historically the church has been the greatest supporter of the development of art and music. How can we continue to be that ground where great Christian artists and musicians are bred, not limited? If we don’t support the future of art and culture within the Church, it will move on outside the church and, rather than preventing “non-Christian” or “dangerous” art, we within the church will simply become irrelevant and ignored.
This irrelevancy is not a result of Christianity or Christ being irrelevant. There is never a moment in time where Christ is not the answer. But there can be moments where the Church is not the answer. This can only come about because the Church is not being Christian.
What is the Church, if not Christian? It can be a lot of things, such as political or isolationist or an ivory tower or any agenda that isn’t Biblical. More than once I have wondered why the Christian right-wing with which I often associate myself feels called to be so opinionated on gun control or global warming, as if those things were specifically mentioned as evil or impossible in the Bible somewhere. By proclaiming our faith and then tying agendas to it, such as conservative music or art, we do not elevate our agenda, rather, we degrade our “religion” and everybody’s view of it. We fail to be representatives of Christ and His Love and Grace.
I strongly believe that art in all its forms is a gift of God and an expression of Him in us. The twisting of art and music comes not from our experiments and our progress within it, but from our leaving God out of it and trying to express it on our own. By condemning any music that isn’t traditional (all music was new once) or art that isn’t clearly intelligible, we don’t condemn the devil in it–but we may drive away the artist until the devil is in it. Instead we become a restriction on the glorious potential that God has given certain people. And when we stifle those people, trying to fit them into cookie cutters, while the world encourages them to thrive and grow in their ultimately God-given calling, we become the enemy.
It is not dreadfully uncommon knowledge that a person walking with Christ, surrounded by Christians and living in prayer and the Word is going to make good decisions. When we are filled with the Spirit, we walk with Christ and don’t need an exact verse in the Bible explaining what we should do in every situation. The same holds for artists. Rather than directing their every move and telling them “God doesn’t like loud electric guitars or atonality” or any equally erroneous statement of taste, not doctrine, we should be encouraging them as any other friend, in their walk with God and following His will for their life. I don’t paint. I’ll leave the taste in that to my friends who do. We wouldn’t dare question an engineer designing a bridge because his design might not be pleasing to God. If we aren’t engineers, we know that we don’t necessarily understand what he does. The same holds for art. Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t make it wrong.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that the engineer is responsible for designing a bridge that will support the traffic that must travel over it. It is right for an engineer to be criticized for a failed bridge. In the same way, the artist is responsible to create art to enrich not just himself but also the audience he is pursuing. Speaking as a musician myself, I understand that if I don’t make music people like, I won’t be paid, but also that I won’t merit it. Like engineering, art has a responsibility to the world. There are no exceptions to that. All careers have a responsibility to the world. But it is important that we allow the musician or artist the use of his understanding in music and that he understands that he isn’t an island. An artist in relationship with Christ cannot be negligent of his relationships with and his responsibility to his fellow man, making this less of a danger than most conservative Christians believe it to be.
If the Church does not support the artist, however, the artist may reject the Church for the world that welcomes with open arms the outcasts (a dramatic reversal from the way things were in the ministry of Christ and the days of the early church). Ladies and Gentlemen of the Church, we have become “the man”. This is horribly, horribly sinful and against everything Christ ever taught. We have become the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the judgmental and self-righteous. This extends beyond art and into nearly every field. Even those of us in alive, welcoming young churches suffer from this problem far more than we acknowledge to ourselves or wish to hear. We sit in our Bible Studies and say, “we love this sinner or that sinner in spite of their sin,” but how many of those sinners would walk into our Bible Study and feel welcome? How often do we walk out and honestly love them as Christ did?
Pardon the rampage, but watching one of my own friends, an artist himself, walk away from his original church and from a serious relationship with Christ because the world welcomed him for who he was and the Church told him that he was only useful on their terms has broken my heart. I wonder if I could have changed things and how I could have been a better and more loving friend and representative of Christ. Probably. I am a human as prone to sin and pride as any other, not that it’s any excuse. But we are chasing these people away and the world has open arms for all of them. The world has the open arms we should have. But we sit in our castles of stone and don’t even look on them. Where do we find these people? Where do we look the lost generation? They sure as anything won’t come to us. Is anybody out there who feels rejected by the Church? Is there anybody out there who has been wronged by the Church? I know there are. I know that on occasion I have even been one of them and wanted to walk away. But I also know that those wrongs and rejections are not Christ. And knowing the fullness and beauty and richness of Christ’s love, and knowing that all my past and my problems and my folly are redeemed by the limitless and glorious grace of Christ is something that, no matter what the faults of the Church, I can never walk away from.