Itch-A-Sketch

Church folk and artists haven’t always been friends.

Ha. Get it?

Because it seems they’ve almost never been friends, though that’s not true, and shouldn’t be, but just how much it shouldn’t be isn’t clear. It’s as someone said about once about a poet:

Dylan Thomas wrote six great poems,
but no one knows which ones they are.

Likewise, the Church today often doesn’t seem to know Art. Not what’s good and not what to do with it when it is. Or when it isn’t, for that matter.

Hasn’t always been so. When to be a Christian meant most anyone in most of Europe, Christians were, by definition and default, also the artists. Also the scientists, kings, generals, prostitutes and lepers. More deeply, it was better known how art and faith — a subject, occasionally, of blogs — were inextricably, integrally joined, and not just “for witnessing.”

This changed, to say it briefly, and mildly, and now, as a Chief Justice said about porn, Christians often know art when they see it, but just as often we don’t. And when we see something looking suspiciously like art, we either get suspicious, or we want to use it — you know, for kids.

I certainly can’t answer all these questions, or even ask them fully, in this space. But I got to considering this from an article.

And.

I decided probably nothing should be out of place in a church.

I realized probably I don’t strictly mean that, either, but mostly.

I mean it in the way a guy giving a talk might, and would not be able to say what he doesn’t mean by it.

One shouldn’t have sex in church, or a barbecue, or wax his car. But I don’t think art is excluded. To avoid “using” it, maybe it would need to be as oblique as possible, as ambivalent as possible. Or it should go all the way the other way, and be this flat out reminder of God — like an icon, say. We’re physical beings, so we need stuff like that, art, to bring us back.

I’ve started this thing in the morning where I try to sit with God for 10 minutes, with a goal of gradually increasing that time, up to an hour or so. Something I read in Nouwen.

OK, well, this morning, I brought coffee out with me. I’m not much of a coffee drinker. Usually it’s just for the caffeine, and I get more from my Jet Alert pills. But my conscious intent was to use the coffee to “bring me back” so to speak.

Every time distraction got me in that 10 minutes, when I noticed it, I took a conscious drink of coffee, and it re-corralled me, so I could get back to what I intended to do when I got out there.

So I think art in church could do that — bring us back and back and back to the reason we are there, the reason we went there in the first place, which in the specific instance is the deepest thing we believe.

We don’t want to be distracted — not really. Well, in a sense we do, because it happens.

But we truly want to focus on God, or worship, and art in church could remind us of what we most truly want.

I want church to not do what the article says it does — discourage art, suspect it if it can’t be discouraged, co-opt it if it can’t be stopped.

Also I want artists not to become an aggrieved special interest group within the church — like the clean-up crew … and the choir … and the people who have to sit in the balcony … who gripe and kvetch about how no one understands us.

God understands us. Be happy and shut up about it and get to work. Me included.

More basically, if we’re going to have church be related to art at all, there are going to be glitches. They don’t really know what to do about us, and for us, and with us, but sometimes I want there to be … something.

And sometimes I just want them to leave us alone, in peace, to work.

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