Category Archives: Religion

A Rainbow Connection, Darkly

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 Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard the proposition that evil is nothing but the complete absence of good. We Christians especially seem to like this way of thinking about where the bad in the world might have come from. It’s a tidy solution to the conundrum of whether or not God created evil (if God created everything) and whether God can really be good if He did create evil. If evil is just a void, we don’t have to worry about where it came from; it came from nowhere.

I don’t think this solution is true, though. My life has been safe and sheltered, so my encounters with anything I’d characterize as real evil have been few and brief, but whenever I’ve had that contact, I’ve been left with the indelible impression that what I’d encountered was not just an empty space. It had form and substance. Flavor and color even, strangely.

I suppose it’s conceivable that evil started out as an empty space, but if that was ever the case, something seems to have shown up to fill it.

I don’t know very much about the theology of evil and its myriad possible sources (and it sounds like a terrible topic to explore, so I’m not likely to in the near future), but I’ve come to think of humans as a series of tubes. We either let God & goodness or evil come through us into the world. (Or possibly, I guess, we can try to just stuff ourselves up and not serve any function at all.) This is probably not how the cosmos works, but I find it useful shorthand to explain to myself the mess the world is in and my role in it. It gives me a handhold to grip. It means that even if we’re helpless to single-handedly heal the tragedy we find ourselves witnesses and parties to, there is still a direction we can move toward.

It means that we can let light in.

I find it easy to get bogged down in the negativity of my religion in this place and time. We’ve let the culture wars push us into a position where we base our corporate identity in opposition, an innately negative place to be. I’m not the only Christian to voice concern that we’ve become publicly defined by what we’re against, a list that too often—at least at face value—includes help for the poor, mercy for the prisoner, refuge for the alien, and justice for the oppressed. As much as I’d like to believe that the most outrageous of these oppositional stances are the unnuanced exaggerations of a vocal minority, I’m sore from hearing Christians in my own circle say heartless things without reservation or regret about people we supposedly believe God made and loves AS MUCH as us. In this climate, it’s difficult for me to hold the image of God as loving Father in my mind. The more loudly I hear my coreligionists declare that people deserve what they get, the harder it is to believe that we serve the same God that Jesus described in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The harder it gets to believe that God is good.

This is funny because God being good is the whole point of Christianity. According to John, the message of Jesus was that, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” You know, all that sight-to-the-blind and release-for-the-captives stuff. Rebirth from death into incorruptibility. The kingdom of God among us. Burdens lifted. Sins forgiven. Freedom. Light that the darkness doesn’t overcome. All that outrageous, impractical stuff that tends to get spiritualized, qualified, symbolified, or that-was-then-ed out of the picture of how we live and think about ourselves and others. The Sunrise from on high is a little too bright, cuts too sharply. We tend to prefer to act as conduits of a more manageable and rational half-light.

Grace, after all, has never been the pragmatic approach to behavior modification.

The temptation for those of us who want something more than this dimmer-switch modification of the Gospel is to form a double negative identity around being against the Christians who are against these other things. But this amounts to trying to increase the light by stopping ourselves from letting in half-light, and that isn’t the same as opening ourselves up to let the true light flow freely. And, of course, if the problem is that what others see as light seems to us more like darkness, we should know better than to try this approach. Everyone knows you can’t get rid of darkness by blocking it out. You have to promote, not negate.

You have to let light in.

We have, perhaps, grown too big in our own minds. In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, he puts the following words in the mouth of an archangel speaking to the protagonist, Ransom:

“Be comforted, small one, in your smallness. [God] lays no merit on you. Receive and be glad. Have no fear, lest your shoulders be bearing this world. Look! it is beneath your head and carries you.”

It’s not our place to carry the world. Seeing what happens here might break our hearts, and maybe that is part of our job, to see and to acknowledge that this is terrible, to try to fix it and fail. And maybe part of the point of it being terrible and unfixable—if it can be said there is a point—is to get us to see that we are small and helpless, because where there is helplessness, there is no good that we can do, and where we can do no good, there is no responsibility to try ourselves to do it, and when we can no longer cling to a responsibility that isn’t ours, we can start to learn to open and only receive and be made into a conduit for the One who took all responsibility upon Himself, twice—once when He made the world and again when He died and came to life again in it. He is the healer; we are merely the healed.

Maybe before we can even understand what it means to campaign for peace or love or justice, we have to die in the mud and be healed back into His life ourselves.

We walk in a dark place. We’re children in pain among children in pain, to whom none of this makes sense. But as Jesus said, He has not left us as orphans, and God doesn’t always hide Himself. I’ve been surprised over and over to find that this is true: In the room without windows, sometimes when I close my eyes and stop staring into the darkness, I can feel my hand in His.

And for no good reason I can understand, a light occasionally startles through my veins and out into the world.

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Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow…

My personal hymnbook was given to my by my classmate Cody upon our graduation.  It’s the hymnal of the denomination of the church we both attended at the time, of the boarding school we both attended our senior year.  Everyone in the class received one.  To me, it’s a beautiful object: img_4406

Shane Bertou recently commented that he uses a hymnal as a devotional, and I deeply resonate with that use.  This morning I cracked the book looking for something to speak to me.  I hadn’t carefully planned the dip into hymnody this week.  (Isn’t hymnody a ridiculous word?  Someone used it in conversation with me and it never occurred to me that someone would use that word for serious. I love it).

Paging through, noting songs like familiar friends and becoming surprised at many that I have no recollection of… I stopped at page 111: I Know Who Holds Tomorrow.

I probably stopped because I love the cadence of the word “Tomorrow”.  It immediately brings me show tunes and Macbeth and a feeling that I’ve called since highschool “the possibility of maybe”.

My favorite verse is the third:

I don’t know about tomorrow, it may bring me poverty, 

But the one who feeds the sparrow,  Is the one who stands by me, 

And the path that be my portion, May be through the flame or flood, 

But His presence goes before me. And I’m covered with His blood. 

My classmate (or likely his remarkable mother) gave me possibly my favorite graduation gift, a collection of songs that I sing, that I learn from, that feed me and challenge me.  Even the ones that are edited by the church that printed the hymnal, even the ones that I think seriously miss the mark theologically or otherwise.

Art is important. Music gets to places inside of us that nothing else can, poetry can do it too.  If I haven’t been clear this series; if nothing else I hope you open a hymnal.

Edit: previously I had written my classmate was named “Casey”, this is incorrect, it was Cody.  Casey is his brother with whom I worked at said boarding school.

Now My Raptured Soul Has A Song Stuck In My Head

The opening lines of “At Calvary” will always remind me of morning chapel at the private religious boarding school I attended my senior year of high school.  All those teenagers in their uniforms, not quite awake yet singing in harmony.  It’s a wonderful song to be nostalgic about, because it’s an ideal hymn in many ways.

I think that the wonderful old timey piano arrangement has such a beguiling tune.  It’s a tune suited for a music box, catchy and pleasing to sing and to listen to.  The four verses are short, to the point, and the rhymes are not forced as one finds in some classic hymns. Written by a Moody Bible Institute staff member on the back of an envelope (the guy’s name was William Reed Newell), it’s a song that touches deep and yet does not weary.

It’s a testimony to the tune that attempts to freshen it up with an updated tune (which has been used to great effect with other hymns), results in a really depressing overworked slog (sorry, Casting Crowns).  Daniel Brink Towner, the composer of this and many other hymn melody, had such a gift (and training, the guy had a doctorate in music) for getting a song caught in your head.  Once you sing “At Calvary” in the morning at school, every time you are bored in class you will hear “Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified”.

Here’s a great jam out of this classic hymn, as a break to my rambling:

I haven’t dug to see if Newell was doing his city wide verse by verse bible classes at this time, or if he was Superintendent of MBI yet. Some sources say that he had just begun to teach there, but I’m not sure how much it matters to me.  The verses of At Calvary express in wonderful brevity a testimony of redemption.  I look at the photo of Newell that is on every site that bios him and I see those sparkly eyes and think, that man had wit about him.

In fact, the power of such well turned lines means that I’m going to be seeking out Newell’s study materials. I’ve found some online, and I have been truly enjoying them.  I have such appreciation for a male writer who does not seem in love with his own words, and he may just fit the bill!

“Mercy there was great, and grace was free, pardon there was multiplied to me, there my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary”

 

My First “Leaguer” Blog Post

emotion It has been said people remember not what you do, but how you made them feel.  I’m not a “quick to make you feel at ease” type of person.  I pull no punches and say awkward things at the most inappropriate times.  I also have a habit of saying too much all at once (too often).  I am only aware of these instances  after the moment has passed.  Most of the time I have an objective, or a goal to accomplish because I see right through all the bull, the masks and the lies people tell themselves for their objectives and goals. Nevertheless, I have become more aware of the havoc I create by acting as my own form of “The Justice League” instead of looking within myself.  I think I am helping someone when in reality, I am only serving myself.  It’s a delicate balance to develop a social filter.

I serve at The Rock Church every Sunday either as a camera person or a Producer.  I enjoy serving – A LOT.  I like to observe worship with all the lights, the sounds and multitudes raising their arms in submission.  I get all teary in a way that “allows” me to feel when I see others acknowledge the Spirit moving about the room.  This is only a recent revelation.  Why?

I’m saying “I” a lot here because focusing on myself is something I love to avoid to the point of making all emotion unavailable.  This is an extremely slow process that happens over a very long time of isolation – even in the midst of those who love me or crowds of people.  I cannot confidently say I “feel” anything in between ultimate joy or acute fear unless lazy is counted on an emotion.   This is something I want to change desperately. Specifically for the reason that people I interact with on a regular basis do not know how to read me.  I mean, it’s getting pretty bad when someone approaches me with a puzzled look on their face when they ask “How are things?”.

Emotion is a scary thing.  It creates anarchy in the brain when unchecked and isolation when it’s out of balance.  Emotion when it is in balance allows us to enhance the human experience by sharing life through joy or empathy.  I recently RE-learned that smiling, genuinely smiling, more often – affects everyone around me.  Which brings me to the core of my fear – I don’t like to be responsible for someone else’s unhappiness, rejection or dissatisfaction.  Choosing not to react is an odd choice to make slowly over time.

Serving and spending more time in the Word has gently helped me to face the way God sees me.  Since I stopped reacting to how the world sees me I am feeling mostly peaceful but I admit I am still way out of balance.  I’m far from feeling burnt out because when I serve or study I feel one step closer to the person God created me to be.  empty full

Wesley and White-ness

Oh Charles Wesley, I sort of love you and dislike you deeply all at once.  Though I tend toward Wesleyan and Methodist congregations out of preference, I always come to little bits of un-comfort in the writings of the Wesley brothers.

I wanted to write about “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” because I love the build up in the song,  it is just a really triumphant sounding piece especially if you are at a church with an organ and an organist who really knows how to jam.  Wikipedia tells me that this tune is by Carl G. Glaser, and the one they sing in the UK is a different tune… which if Wikipedia is to be trusted makes me wonder how much I’d like the song with a different tune.

Doing my research on this piece, it seems it was written by Wesley to commemorate the year anniversary of his renewal of faith.  I had no idea it was a 10 verse poem originally, or that it had the  verse with the very problematic imagery of:

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the AEthiop white.

See, this is what I’m talking about.  I’m all into the triumphant nature of the song and the freedom of belief… and Wesley uses the imagery of washing an Ethiopian white.

Now, I get that he lived in a time that was super racist.  I get that the missional statement of the time was that brown people needed God because they were savages.  I get the socio-political and cultural context of the poem.  It still makes me upset.  It still makes me feel like it alienates a bunch of people from the song.  Most hymnals agree, and don’t include that verse… in fact, you usually get only 4 to 6 of these verses (and if you are Wesleyan you probably only sing the first and the third anyway, haha).  But now I know it’s there.  You might say to me that the imagery is saving an African, not whitewashing them, but I think you will find that contextually that’s Saving An African, not sharing the gospel with a human who happens to be from Africa, and has way more whitewashing than a poem with imagery of whitewashing, and oh man I’m not sure how equipped I am to really address that level of Patriarchy all throughout recent Christian history in a quick blog about a hymn.

And here is where we approach the hymn as a piece of art,  a religious poem as a poem.  Is it good to just throw out the part that is racist to save the rest of the piece?  Have we missed an opportunity to talk about religious leaders as fallible people? Should we address the idea of being Clergy as a career path and the pitfalls that come along with that?  Why should it get a free pass because of time and place? Am I holding it to a higher standard than I would another piece because of it’s use in worship and is that a good thing?

As a poem, I find it fascinating to delve into.  As a hymn, I find the truncated version beautiful. As a human, I find the inherent racism troubling.  As a Christian, I find the historical context embarrassing.  As a white person, I have the privilege if I want to skip the verse, pretend it never happened as my place in the song’s internal world is secure… but I don’t think that is a good use of my privilege. What do we do with the huge swaths of our culture that were inherently passively racist?  I mean, I’m asking.

Activist, Social Worker… Hymn Writer

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Fanny Crosby, (Photo Public Domain)

 

“Blessed Assurance” is not a hymn that I think of often.   I mean, can you think of another hymn off hand with as archaic language, or which can be half as deadly in a church service when sung horribly slow for some unknown reason?  I guess it depends on what kind of church you went to.  And yet, it endures…

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh What A fore-taste of glory divine!

It’s unfortunate how interpretation can take a vital work and make it dull.  Look at those exclamation marks!  When put with the tune, those words bloom.

Fanny J. Crosby knew a little something about writing a lyric and pairing it with a tune.  Blind from the age of 6 weeks, she was a prolific songwriter, penning over 2000 songs of spiritual and secular lyric.  She also wrote cantatas, books and poetry.  She was so prolific that she had to write under literally hundreds of pen names for her songs to make it into hymnals.

It can be easy to sing this song and find it mawkish or boring. I mean, even for Crosby every song can’t be a winner, right?   A first, superficial glance at the lyrics and they seem trite and self serving… “Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest”… well good for you honey.  However, I think that there is something very important in the concept of this song that I personally forget to honor and it is right there in the title.

A pet peeve of mine in religious song is an over abundance of focus on meeting the Lord in the afterlife.  I mean, it’s a great thing.  It’s an amazing beautiful wonderful thing.  But I live in there here and now.  There is something to acknowledging that Jesus is mine as I serve and love right now.  I’m an heir right now, and how easy it can be to forget.  Yes, I am his but he is mine…! 

In her time, Fanny Crosby lived in the here and now as well.  I look at her photo and think of her story and song of praising her Savior (all the day long).  That woman was the first to be heard on the senate floor (reading poetry, but still).  She lived in poverty to work in the inner city of her day.  Some accounts have her struggling with the balance between socio-political reform and love/service.

For Fanny Crosby to write of delight and “visions of rapture now burst on my sight”… the idea of that kind of joy is transformative.  The photos of her make her look like an unfeeling old woman, not an innovator of the turn of the century with a strong artistic voice and passion… which is what she was.  “Blessed Assurance”, when sung with understanding, becomes a song of heirship, of power, and of daily promise of the here and now reality of an Eternal service.

Look at Fanny Crosby again… there’s something a little punk rock about her now, admit it. I’ve read so much about her legacy, and yet I don’t know that any of it conveys what it must have been like for her at all as an artist, as a Jesus lover, as a social activist, as a “rescue missionary”, as a blind woman… she left her life’s legacy to words and her soul to the assurance that Jesus was hers.

 

 

My So-Called Writing Life

Photo by Horia Varlan
Photo by Horia Varlan

Hello and welcome! I’m League-er Erin and I describe myself as an “Author, Blogger and Mom.” Right now that sums me up pretty well and I’m immensely happy about that.

I’ve been writing since I was around twelve years old (I’m now in my thirties) and it has been a part of me of ever since. Writing is my way of expressing myself and also working through a problem. I can’t (or shouldn’t) go too long without writing or I get a bit jumbled in the head. It can be a string of sentences, a completed story, a journal entry, a letter…as long as it’s words on paper, it’s going to help me process life. Writing has been my shining rope dangling down into deep, dark pits of depression. It’s been my BFF that lives a universe away, where we can see each other once every five years and still be on the same wavelength. It’s how I’ve handled death, sadness, happiness, confusion…the list goes on and on. Basically, I am writing and writing is me.

I’m a Christian and I went to many churches where your “God-given talent” was encouraged to be used to benefit the church. Makes sense, I get it.  But anything other than that was…well…not really considered or encouraged. For example: “Oh, you’re a writer? Here’s the church newsletter!” But from a fairly early age, I took my own interpretation of this and expanded upon it. I can recognize my gift for writing is a blessing I’ve been given (sorry, not trying to sound egotistical here. I’ve written plenty of stuff that has sucked, trust me.) but I’m not limited to just using it “for church.” In other words, if I write a story that does not include themes of Christianity – that’s okay and I’m still a Christian. I’m still recognizing and honoring that I believe my ability to write is a gift from God.

I tend to write very descriptively (whether that’s good or bad, it’s your preference) in my stories. I can get right down to the very last detail of an image in my mind. I want my reader to see, smell, hear and taste what I’m writing. Sometimes my stories have an adult theme. Sometimes they are in the Children’s or Middle Grade genre. Sometimes they are Fantasy or Sci-fi. I want to let my characters speak for themselves, and yes, sometimes there is profanity. But no matter what, I believe I must be truthful. We live in a really beautiful world created for us and if I can portray that (the good and the bad) and connect with just one person, then I’ve done my job.

Well, that’s me. It’s taken me awhile to get to this point and understanding. It hasn’t always been easy and at times, it still isn’t. And I’m still learning. But I do know I’ll never limit myself or my art because that would make me feel like a fraud. It’s been encouraging and inspiring to meet other artists of faith who have similar outlooks on artistic expression and exploring how it is (and isn’t?) connected to our religious beliefs.

Depressing as Kierkegaard: or, Rambling in an Empty House on a Winter Evening

 

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Monk by the Sea, Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But if I rage sometimes
then I am the one whose rage is shedding my leaves,
and the simple thought comes sadly to me
that raging isn’t really what is needed.

–Yevgeny Yevtushenko, from “Autumn”

I am a nonconfrontational person. I fancy myself a peacemaker, although in reality I’m just conflict averse. I’m one of those souls who likes everybody around me to be happy and on friendly terms, all the time, and I’ve spent a good amount of my life vainly—in every sense of the word—trying to make that happen.

But I like my issues and causes. I’m getting better, but it’s hard to leave it alone when I disagree on the internet with someone on some social or socio-theological issue. To keep myself out of fruitless arguments—which by far constitute the majority of these “conversations”—I try to repeat to myself, “This discussion isn’t important. Nothing is being decided here.” Because it’s true. Very little of import—or use—was ever decided via heated online discussion. When you get down to how they actually function, online debate doesn’t usually have much to do with the actual issues in question at all, anyway. They’re more about feelings and frustrations than content.

Impotent in the world of things. More powerful in the world of words.

And the question occurs to me: If I know that these are pointless disputes, then why do I want to participate in them? If I want to be on the side of peace, then why would I want to argue in such a futile medium? Why am I raging this way?

I wonder if part of the reason for not only myself but all of us otherwise reasonable people who engage in this exercise in futility has to do with the structure of the high-communication, high-interconnectivity electronic global community we find ourselves a part of. Our world may have gotten smaller, but our individual exposure to the world has opened up and gotten bigger, granting us the opportunity to see how big the problems really are, how infinitesimal our small differences look in comparison to the scope of the problem, how little we can change. We generally seem disinclined to face the fact, but there are very limited ways for us to war effectively against the injustice and suffering around us. We’re very good at picking out what’s wrong: structural inequities, environmental degradation, police brutality, war, tsunami, genocide, disease. What we lack are avenues to fight successfully against these ills as individuals. We can sign petitions. We can hand out food. We can throw money at it.

We can treat the symptoms. We can’t touch the causes.

What we do have are amazing methods for creating the illusion that we can (and are) fighting what ails the world. Arguing without expectation of positive outcome is only one such avenue. The craze for the ALS ice bucket challenge comes to mind. What did it accomplish? It made money and raised awareness, but money doesn’t necessarily translate into treatment options and while awareness isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t an effective end unto itself either. I now know there’s a thing called ALS that’s bad and hurts people. That doesn’t at all change the fact that it’s still out there hurting people.  Awareness might be more helpful against social abuses than it is against disease, but it’s still hard for me to believe that Facebook meming is really making a huge dent in the world’s injustice quotient.

Pointing fingers at Facebook activism isn’t an original gambit, of course. Railing against how dumb it is has become its own cliché, and one that often skims over the real heart of the practice in a particularly self-congratulatory way. Of course those memes don’t do much to help people. They aren’t really meant to. They perform a function for us—as individuals and a society—more than they do for the people for whom they would seem on face value to exist to help. On the not-so-great hand, they soften the guilt that we aren’t doing more. We can lend a voice or a like, even if we aren’t lending money, a hand, or an ear. On the other, more tragic hand, they soften the impact of the fact that, even if we did all we could do, it wouldn’t be enough. We can’t save everyone. We can’t fix it all, and no amount of yes-we-can-human-family-power-of-the-collective-will hype can change that. It’s not enough.

We’re not enough.

We occasionally accomplish startling successes. The victories of the Civil Rights movement happened. Smallpox was eradicated. And African Americans in the U.S. still struggle with systematic oppression in profound and undeniable ways that white people insist on denying anyway. (Seriously, it’s sci-fi dystopia crazy that we manage to do this.) And everyone knows someone touched by cancer. The idea that everything would be great if we could just solve problem X is nothing but an illusion. When one problem is overcome, another will be right there to take its place.

What does this mean for those of us with faith in a good God and in a story arc of history that ends with the return of the Prince of Peace, making it incumbent on us to act to bring the Kingdom of God into reality in the here and now to herald His goodwill?

I can think of some possible answers.

For instance, it occurs to me that we might not be enough but God is, that we do our best and have faith that He will take care of the rest. I’m not in a place right now where that’s any comfort. I think of children drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, alone and terrified in the dark water, and the thought that God is great and in control does nothing to ease my awareness of their agony, breathing terrible life into my imagination. It only raises questions as to why He doesn’t make it stop.

Or one could take the fallen world route: It’s a fallen world and bad things happen. Inadequate, in my opinion, in the extreme.

It’s at a Kierkegaard level of depressing, but I think that a more likely answer is that it’s a good idea to lean into the pain and confusion. The hopelessness. The “Why, GOD?!!” of it all. Maybe a good dose of faced-up pain is an ideal antidote to our lethargy-inducing awareness of the world’s ills. We know we can’t fix it, that it’s all too much, all too big, but maybe if it hurts too much to do nothing, we’ll keep trying anyway in ways that go beyond reposting.

And it sounds more like a jingle than a timeless truth, but God does specialize in hopeless. It isn’t consistent with the hyper-American, pseudo-Christian notion that folks should pulll themselves up by their own bootstraps and that followers of Jesus should always try to look like the happy, attractive, smart, put-together and economically successful side of the culture war (pardon my hypocritical bitterness), but according to Paul—no mean source—God’s power enters through our weakness. It’s not that God takes care of what’s lacking in our efforts; it’s that the inherent failure in our efforts is like His chosen point of entry, His raw materials.

What we do manage to accomplish ourselves is almost incidental.

So who knows. Maybe all our half-assed (‘half-baked’ really doesn’t capture it), doomed efforts will yield surprises. Maybe the God of light who—for reasons we can’t guess at—hides Himself in thick darkness in a world gone black, will bleed in around the edges and burst through with the Kingdom in His hand, doing what we didn’t dare dream was possible, accomplishing what all the human raging in the world could never manage.

Or maybe we’ll continue to wait, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, as we sit in the midnight room, hoping for what we do not see until our hearts are sore or kingdom come.

 

Sondheim and Psalms

I was having lunch with my friend Kiki and we started to talk about the nature of religious art.  I love getting Kiki’s views on such things, she’s a pastor’s kid who is now a Buddhist/Pagan practitioner so she can offer a perspective I rarely consider.  She asked me why I thought that modern religious art of all kinds allows in any positive image even if it is mediocre and shies away from perhaps “darker” themes.  I see it in Christianity, she sees it in Buddhism but especially in the pagan world.

I told her that from my religion I can for conversation’s sake narrow it down to three things. First, I think we take Phillipians 4:8, which says:

     Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

and we make it into “Think of only nice things”.  Which is not what it says.  As Sondheim has pointed out to us “Nice is different from good”.  I think that we also take the “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” and make value judgments based on how something makes us feel instead of how it is.  Comfort and Art don’t always go together, and yet it is nearly a requirement in modern religious work.

I also think that perhaps as a people who follow the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like the shifting shadows feel that anything that is part of the human experience and less than divine is not good to contemplate.  I am not sure if this is something left over from the marks of transcendentalism on mainstream religion or is part of legalism that thinks that we are totting up good and bad marks to be reviewed by a judging god.  There’s some idea (that I want to explore in another post some other time) that anything earthly and of this existence is intrinsically poisoned, and I just don’t believe that about a creation that was called “good”.

Last, I think that we have (sweeping generalization ahead) lost a couple key skills that are important in interacting with art in the faith community.  There are few churches where one may amicably disagree or change one’s mind without feeling that you are breeding strife.  Small issues become giant issues.  People’s salvation is called into question.  It’s a volatile place to view art from.  I also think that as a culture we are disinclined to interact with anything that requires us to analyze or defend in a real way… and effective Art almost always requires both things.

I don’t think any of these issues are insurmountable.  It’s like the way generationally we’ve realized that maybe the line between “Christian artist” and “believer who makes art” shouldn’t be so defined.  It was encouraging to me to hear that these are not issues unique to Christianity, which leads me to believe that these are tendencies of humans and not just Believing humans. Sometimes I forget that there are humans in that odd ritualistic amalgamation of church that is also Church.

There are so many believers out there that make art, and yet our access to them is so poor.  Walking into a Christian bookstore, or the Christian section of a bookstore, cruising the Christian section of iTunes or looking through faith based magazines tells us that as a movement we haven’t cultivated and valued that. And yet we exist, we are out there… so let’s keep questioning this.  Let us keep this Great Conversation going because it is good.