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.

A Taster

Been a while since I have posted here. I have been writing… Just completed the fourth of a proposed six-series set of book(lets). Below is the opening paragraphs, followed by the closing paragraphs, from the third volume and a chapter entitled, ‘A necessary chapter’. This volume seeks to engage with some practical areas of society, so the first chapter was on the Arts, others are on Health and Education, Business (as Unusual) and the Media.


A chapter on the arts was a nice gentle way to highlight how any communication needs more than words to bring about change. In that chapter I said that art has often been commodified, becoming the collector’s piece, sometimes because of a deep appreciation of the art but often because of the perceived investment value. One piece bought for monetary reasons while other artists, who put their heart and soul into something (not to mention many hours), cannot make a living from their gift to society. It leads me to this chapter, a necessary one, on money, work and value.
The archaeologists report that between the 10th and the 8th century BC there were many economic changes in the land of Israel. Over those two centuries a huge discrepancy grows between the size of houses. We might view it that prosperity abounded and that this was evidence as to how God had blessed, but the 8th century prophets viewed it very differently. This is the rise of the critical voices of the prophets who connected social inequality to a faithlessness to the covenant. A poignant example is in Amos 4:1-4,

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
through breaches in the wall,
and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the Lord.
Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.

Continuing to tithe and sacrifice in the appointed way was exposed as a farce as there was no justice, no semblance of an egalitarian society. In the life of Israel the law stipulated an intentional levelling through the system of Sabbath, the seventh year Sabbath and a radical Jubilee every fiftieth year when there was a reboot to the whole of society.

Before wading in to some of these major issues a gentle proviso that I will try and pick up in a later chapter. The gentle proviso is, ‘but we have to be practical.’ Agreed! We are not looking for something that is perfect for we wait for the day ‘when the perfect comes’; we live in a fallen world and in that world we have to learn how to compromise. The compromises that we are to be involved in though are to be redemptive. Redemption does not bring us to perfection in the immediate but re-aligns us so that there is a before and an after, so that we are not left the same, and the after is better than the before. Jesus quoted the Scripture that ‘the poor you will have with you always’ (John 12:8 quoting Deut. 15: 11), and that surely is true.

However, we cannot use it as if Jesus intended us to be unmoved or inactive about inequalities. The Scripture that Jesus quoted, Deut. 15: 11 says:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

There is a reality that there will always be those who experience poverty, and in the light of that there has to be a spirit of generosity, for such was the commandment God gave them. The wider passage exhorts us to be generous, to cancel debts, to help liberate and to truly work toward the goal of eradicating poverty.

The gospel sets out the eschatological focus, and then deals with the present in both real and redemptive terms. It does not call us to live with a utopian vision, nor does it allow us to be passive. The ekklesia is present in the world to bring about change, and we are in a world that is all-but a runaway train hellbent on destruction. The original sin of consumerism, of moving boundaries for personal gain has to be addressed. This chapter is focused on money (or maybe better put as Mammon), but it could equally address the ecological crisis which is yet another sign that we have, as a race, been consistently moving boundary markers for personal gain.

………

The age to come, the one we are preparing for, and the one that we are preparing the materials for, will not be an age when there will be segregation along financial lines. Yet this age has increasingly sown into that financial divide. In closing this chapter, one that had to be written, let me simply ask how we should best sow into that glorious future. If I am privileged to own my own house should I pursue an even bigger stake in bricks and mortar? Should I look to store up more for myself with a pension scheme that will only increase the money distortions of society? Should I look to leave money to my descendants so that they might have the potential of moving further up the scale than I was able to?

Hard questions? Or looking at the reality that there is an age to come and how should we live in that light of that?

What remains clear is the concept of simply encouraging believers to rise to the top 3% of the mountain of influence without any critique of the existence of the ‘mountain’, could indeed release an influence, but the influence might not be an influence for the kingdom. The mountain remaining is not a signpost of the age to come.

We do not live in a perfect world and we await the age to come. While living in the in-between time, while we inhabit this imperfect world, we have to make compromises, yet we cannot simply compromise while refusing to look at the issues that pollute our world. Mammon and consumerism have been here since the beginning, but will not be here at the end. We live in between those two points. If we allow ourselves to be dragged back then, for sure, we are not of those who are contributing to the transformation of this world, and the preparation of the next.

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