Eye Of The Beholder

OK, I’ve been meaning to write this post since February and have been putting it off, but I can’t write about Jennifer Knapp being gay until I do, so, here goes:

My primary congregation values art.

Sojourn displays members’ art in the brewery where we meet, includes video and other art projects in services, and has a creative arts team, of which I’m a member.

A while back, we had a meeting on “The Good, The True and The Beautiful,” discussing what an artist’s intent should be in creating “Christian art.” The title of the discussion reflected what the goal was hypothesized to be — “Our art must be in the character of our God, who himself is good, (Ps107:1, 119:68), true (Isa45:19, Thess1:9) and beautiful (Ps 27:4).” It went on to say that it doesn’t mean avoiding portraying anything ugly, since there can be beauty in truth.

The discussion led into the artists’ intent — “what are 3-5 questions we can ask ourselves that will help us determine whether or not our art is in character of our God who is good, true, and beautiful?” — and about willingness for artists to put together a statement of intent for artwork to be displayed at the church.

The point seemed two-fold. The surface layer is that it would help viewers to understand the artwork; rather than forcing viewers to look for their own meaning and possibly get the wrong thing out of the piece, the artist should provide his or her own exegesis. But the other layer is that it would screen the artwork — It would help prevent things that were created for self rather than God, or that weren’t truly spiritual in nature, from being displayed in the church.

And, you know, that last sentence does a pretty decent job of capturing my problem with that idea. I had to decide which word to use to end that sentence with — “church,” or “brewery.” And for a lot of people, those words make uneasy synonyms. But while most people look at the Olde Towne building and see something secular, Sojourn looks at it and sees something spiritual. So who are we to say artwork can’t be the same way.

I wrote a post a while back on that subject regarding music; that, for me, there are songs that are not intended as spiritual at all, but because they do such a good job capturing the truth of the human condition, they can’t help put have a spiritual meaning if you choose to listen to them that way; so much of what the heart desires on this Earth is a manifestation of a deeper desire to know, and experience the grace of, our God, to love and be loved by Him.

The issue then isn’t the intent of the artist, because focusing on that limits God. The idea that His goodness, truth and beauty can only be manifested by someone who is endeavoring to do so is almost blasphemy. It limits His greatness. He can be seen in any part of His creation, from the beauty of a sunset to the truth of a song written by anyone, since we are all part of that creation.

The trick isn’t to teach artists how to present that truth; in a way, it’s almost inevitable. The trick is to train people to recognize that. Don’t teach Sojourn artists how to create art about God. Teach Sojourn members how to recognize God in the art that’s created.

Because that goes far deeper than just dealing with the art that hangs on the wall of the brewery. A person who has developed that ability has taken a huge step in the path toward better knowing God. When you know how to see Him in the art in the brewery without a statement of intent, you know how to see Him in the art at the Huntsville Museum of Art, not only with a statement of the artists’ intent, but often without the artist even having that intent at all. You know how to see Him in His art — the thunderstorm or the butterfly or the falling leaves. You learn to see Him in human life, from glory to gutter. You learn to recognize how everything from the stars to the sand shouts testimony to His wonder, how the mountains preach the truth of who He is.

His creation is singing to you, singing of Him. Will you listen?