Aesthetically Good

Writing… Just had the third volume back from proof reading. A Spanish translation of the first volume is completed; a zoom call Friday to Brazil to talk over some details of that translation… Sorting out zoom groups this week – hey if you would like to be part of that look at:


Here is an excerpt from the chapter in Volume 3 on the Arts.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (Gen. 2:9).

Creation, even imperfect creation, speaks loudly and this verse in the early chapters of our sacred volume is so insightful. Creation was proclaimed good (not perfect, as good indicates a start not an end) and the trees are commented on as being good at two levels. The functional one of providing food and at the aesthetic level of being pleasing to the eye. The verses preceding the one I quoted tells us that humanity was created to work the ground in response to the rain from heaven. It is not a stretch at all to suggest therefore that working with creation was intended to be for functional and aesthetic purposes…

The word ‘amateur’ is interesting as it comes from the Latin ‘amo’, meaning ‘I love’. It has often come to mean ‘second rate’, but really should mark all those who are involved in the arts. A love for colour, sound and creativity, with two eyes focused on producing something that is pleasant to see, hear, or be impacted by, and without a focus on the supposed bottom line. Earning money is a necessity, but when it completely dictates the boundaries of what art becomes visible, we have yet again a sad commentary on our world.

Let me convince you

If words, written and spoken, are one’s trade we love to argue, to dispute, to put up straw targets just to knock them down! We want to convince people of how right we are (sub-text: how wrong they are). The discussion is at a mind-to-mind, concept-to-concept level. Occasionally we win. The win, though, is normally at a head level, which can be valuable, but simply winning an argument does not often shift something at a heart level…

The imagination has been downgraded in many circles, and certainly in many Protestant oriented circles, where all images were removed from the architecture. I understand the reason for that (idolatry) but there has probably been a loss in the midst of the reaction. In many Christian circles there has been a re-focus on the arts with an emphasis on such things as sacred dance or professional Christian music. That can be welcomed, but when we understand the purpose of the ekklesia is to care for, take responsibility for and to healthily shape the world in a justice direction, there also has to be music, dance and art that does not have a label on it stamping it as ‘Christian’, but that comes out of the heart of those shaped by the Jesus narrative.

For that to carry weight we need ever so many amateurs, in love with the Author of creativity and their own creative craft. Such people energised by the Spirit are vital to touch the imagination. If we are ever going to pull the world to a different future it will only happen when there is the experience of seeing through different eyes. The power of Martin Luther King’s speech was in the words, ‘I have a dream’. He expressed his sight of a different world.

The book of Scripture I like the best is the final one. I am glad that nowhere are we told to understand it as a whole, and that those who read it, who hear it, are those who are blessed. I sometimes wish I could hear it the same way as the first audience heard it. I find it hard to use words that convey the kind of book it is, but it is certainly a book full of images. It contains many words, but the effect of hearing those words would be as if one were exposed to what would seem as never-ending film clips, protest art, political cartoons, emotive music and other disturbing elements. The end result for those original hearers would have been a total disorientation.

We need a huge disorientation. Phrases such as ‘money makes the world go round’ are phrases that describe a supposed normalised orientation. The phrase becomes the reality and nothing can be imagined outside of that normality. Art, art and yet more art is what is necessary to break those cycles. Yes there are arguments to be won, there are new concepts to be explained, but there must also be huge incisions brought to society’s norms that will allow space for the alternative…

I appreciate that I am strongly suggesting that the creative arts are to be disruptive, but I have done that to make a point. Not all art is there to disrupt but all art should touch us at a level deeper than the conceptual. It is to help us ‘feel’, and therefore art will certainly not always be ‘nice’.

What is termed worship music can be helpful in putting us in touch with God, but can also be unhelpful if it puts us out of touch with the world. The Psalms, which are often described as the hymn book of the Jewish world, mention God over and over, but we also find there the songs of lament about the state of the world, and enough protest songs to confront all manner of injustices. We might need more songs that proclaim ‘God is great’, but we certainly need a flood of songs that will proclaim ‘We don’t need a Christian president’, and those songs will probably have a few expletives thrown in…

Good to look at. It felt good. Art.

And ‘I felt so disoriented’; ‘I was disturbed’. Art.

Many tribal situations understand the value of the liminal space. In those contexts as a young person reached the point of leaving childhood to enter adulthood often the ritual involved disorientation, of taking the person to a space at the edge of their world where there could be no reverting back to previous norms. The experience is often traumatic, but is based on an understanding that a major transition such as moving into adulthood is not engaged in as a gentle process.

That kind of disorientation, liminality and ‘kind’ trauma are so often needed. We need the artists. Christian artists. Artists who have been energised by the Spirit. Maybe not so many will become professional but they can all be amateurs.

It is time to awaken the imagination if we want a different future.

So which is it?

Oliva – Madrid – Cadiz – Malaga – Oliva and Wednesday back to Madrid. 2000kms in the last few days. Our time in Malaga was very enriching, connecting with a small group of artists from across Spain. It was stimulating and great to be with people who were not pushing themselves forward. If egos were present they were pretty hidden! It was also a great privilege to meet in Spain with David and Karen Underwood. I first met them 42 years ago. We have connected from time to time over the years since and to see how they have invested into Spain and into this arts group was great. (David is far right in the photo and Karen next to Gayle. Vicente and Amor, the other couple in the photo, live in Barcelona and were two among a number we connected with.)

While at the gathering a Scripture was quoted that if ‘you are not with me you are against me’. I said that there was a Scripture that said that and also one that said the opposite, both from Jesus. I had never looked at them before at any depth but was provoked to find them now that we have a few hours at home. Here are the two:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9: 49,50).

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:23).

It is great when we find contradictory statements in Scripture (another example from the book full of wisdom: answer a fool according to his folly… do not answer a fool according to his folly…). Contradictory statements challenge us about being so sure as to what is the right approach. What interested me in both these Scriptures was not simply the context but that both were related to demons being cast out. The first being of a, I suppose, Jewish exorcist using the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We assume successfully unlike the scenario in Ephesus with the sons of Sceva. The second passage is against the backdrop of Jesus casting out a demon and some responding that he did so by being aligned to Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (11:15).

Both passages are about bringing deliverance and freedom to someone. The first passage concerns a person who was ‘not one of us’ but Jesus declares that such a person is ‘for you’. Jesus clearly came to destroy the work of demons and to set people free from their rule. Those who opposed that liberating work aligned themselves against him and it was those people that Jesus said were against him.

There seems then to be a principle here. Those who are working for and desiring a future where people find freedom from oppression, from powers that dehumanise, regardless of what faith boxes they tick are ‘for’ us. We should not try to ‘stop’ them nor see them as ‘not one of us’. Those who oppose liberation? They are not with Jesus. And what if they tick the right faith boxes?

One of the wonderful aspects of the days in Malaga with the arts group was that it was Jesus-based but not all those there had faith. They were open about that. There was clarity but no coercion. We were rightly provoked by all we saw and heard and have come home enriched because in and through it all Jesus was so present.

Art – the gift to expose

Chris Bourne sent me this link to Doris Salcedo in Bogota. She says ‘Art cannot explain things but it can expose them.’

Very powerful in undermining the oblivion the government sought to place on the people. Opening up the gift of lament to the people.

Art touches the imagination (future), the memory (past) as it engages the people in the here and now. Enjoy! Though that is probably not the appropriate word to use…

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