Christian romance

Why is Some "Christian Art" So Terrible?

     We'll get to Nascar Jesus in just a moment. Now, It is so good to be home. I'd like to stay for awhile. But even as I rest from my last trip, I am readying for another, leaving in a few days. It's my last trip before fishcamp. My last trip before a good long return to these islands, Kodiak and Harvester, where I belong.

 

I will be speaking on the East Coast and in the Midwest (Cornerstone University,  Liberty University, The Calvin Conference on Faith and Writing) on more topics than I can remember right now, but these for sure:

"Created to Create: Redeeming Culture through Art and Story," 

"The Stages of a Writer's Life" (with Luci Shaw, Jeanne Murray Walker and Sarah Zarr)

"Wresting a (Writing) Life from Sea, Forest and Farm" (with Paul Willis and Brent Bill)

"No Exit? Living like Heaven in a Hellish World"

   And though I have been doing this for more than 25 years, I ask the same questions as when I started: Why me? I am unworthy. I am nothing. I am not smarter or better or more qualified than anyone else. And God knows all of this is true. But I am asked anyway, and somehow God equips, and somehow the miracle of His strength revealed in our weakness plays out again and again. And so I go ( but also asking for your prayers!)

        As I prepare to go, I am thinking (again) on the title question: Why do we Christians sometimes make such terrible art and artifacts? Yes, because we're just as human as everyone else. Yes, because we're all struggling to grow in our Art and we make mistakes. Yes, because we're all trying to make a living. Yes, because we have feet and fingers of clay . ... of course. But that is not the kind of "terrible" I mean. I mean this kind:

Note: If Nascar Jesus is a parody, and I suspect it is, then I would graduate it to "good" art, or at least useful art. Note: Amish wet nurses wear make-up? 50's style makeup? And they don't have necks? Note: I sure hope Jesus wins that arm wrestling match, but it looks pretty dicey from here.

  Apologies if I am offending anyone (but we have to stop doing that as well----muffling and muting our speech for fear of offending. Maybe we shouldn't take offense so easily? Maybe we can discourse together as loving mature thoughtful truth-speaking people?)  

    I am speaking of Art in its largest sense here, meaning not simply the cover design of a book, but the content of the book itself.  I mean the kind of art, book, music and artifact that works so distressingly hard to make Christ "relevant" to us. I mean the kind of "Christian" art and artifact that soothes and numbs us, feeding us lollipopsand binkies rather than meat. I mean the kind of Christian "Art" that lies to us (Jesus is not Caucasian. Jesus is not Hulk Hogan. The cross is not dainty and pretty. Submission is not about women cowering under an iron-jawed 7 foot man.) I mean the kind of "Christian" art that is predictable, maudlin, and boring. I  mean the kind of Christian art that stems from bad theology, that remakes God in our image. All of these are crimes against the God over All Things.

      Much of this art is what I would call "Christian cocoon art" whose main purpose is to keep us cossetted, comfortable and safe in our own walls without any disturbances from the real world outside. Yet Jesus' own words were anything but safe and comfortable: "take up your cross and follow me. If you want real life, you have to die to yourself first. Blessed are the persecuted. Love your enemies. If your right hand offends you, cut it off! If you want to follow me, you must eat my body and drink my blood." His audiences were continually shocked by what Jesus spoke, enacted and required of them.

     Other art is what I would call "Christian conversion art" that defines the gospel painfully narrowly, distorting it nearly beyond recognition, in the hope that some may see the beauty and truth of Christ in it and----convert. God knows He can use any means to bring people to Himself, even some of our most paltry, shoddy efforts. But surely we can do better? Surely the good news from the Creator of the Fantabulous World That Is deserves a better showing?

   He does indeed. What can I say in the small space left to bring clarity to this enormous subject?  Let me reduce my shelves of book to this:

     Maybe we should all stop trying so hard to "make Christian art." Jacque Mauritain has it exactly right:

"If you want to make a Christian work, then BE Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to 'make Christian'."

 

       Do I dare to say this? I will. Bad Christian Art can come from a lack of faith. A failure to believe that Christ IS who He said He is, and that He reigns over ALL of life. The whole world is already His. Why do we distort reality to depict the reality of His presence when He is already and always here among us, with us, present in every moment of our every day? If you are a creator wanting to make art that glorifies Him, just tell the truth. Tell the truth of your human life as you are trying to live it, and if love for Christ is at the heart of your life, it will dwell in the heart of your Art.

Which means,

Put the splinters back on the cross and a storm in the sky;

Carry the cross in your heart, not on your leggings;

Tell the complex truths about human love and marriage rather than creating fake fantasies.

 

Do the hard work of living, (which means loving) as a Christian first. Then study and perfect your art before releasing it to the world. Then go ahead----write, fashion, mold, shape, paint, sculpt, weave, sing, perform, dance, speak out of the realness of your life, your study, your struggle. Then it will be Good. Then it will be True. Then it will be beautiful, even when it's ugly. Then it will be "Christian."

        And it will be enough. 

      LORD! Let Your work be seen by Your servants,
           and Your splendor by their children.
    Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us;
           establish the work of our hands—
                establish the work of our hands!

 

           Your turn. What do you think? How did we get here? What are your thoughts on making "Christian Art"?

Please do comment----and then check back later. I always respond. And see the worthy thoughts of your fellow readers. (You all are indeed thoughtful companions!)

 

 

Leslie Satirizes the Church+ What Are Words For?








I am in California this week, finding sun and rest (will you forgive me?), but I am thinking a lot about words. And, I'm thinking about satire. One of the burning questions this month after The Interview and Charlie Hebdo is, "Can Christians use satire?"

I won't keep you guessing on where I stand. The first piece I ever published was satire, in a magazine of Christian satire, The Wittenburg Door, which has been around, off and on, for maybe 40 years? My piece was written my senior year of college, after a week long "Missions conference." At the end of the week, the speaker pleaded, wept, lead us in 21 verses of "I Surrender All" trying to get us all to walk the aisle to become missionaries to the dark corners of the world. 









But things weren't going well. After a week of priming, No one was coming forward to change their majors and become missionaries. He was clearly upset and pulled out every stop, naming every student group he could think of, "Basketball players!" he sobbed into his hankie. "Have you given your hearts fully to JEsus! Then walk down this aisle!" No response.  




"Cheerleaders! Musicians! God is calling YOU to the mission field!" One or two stumble down the aisle. More tears, more pleading, until he was clearly desperate and finally rang a few of my own bells: "English majors! People who wear sneakers when they go shopping! Women who hate romance but love Jesus!" Tears streaming down his cheeks . … 





Despite this very personal identification, which showed a scary knowledge of his audience, I didn't trip out into the aisle. At 21, I wanted to serve Jesus with my whole life, wherever He sent me, but I counted on the Holy Spirit to get me there. Not this Sobbing Saint whose primary moves were manipulation and guilt. 
















There's more to report on this sad night, but I've said enough. My piece satirized the ways we try to fill in for the Holy Spirit when the Spirit's clearly asleep on the job. 






            And so. I defend satire. We need it. I believe in holy laughter---at ourselves. We don't do it enough. Though yes, it's terribly hard to do well. It's terribly hard to call out the Church in meekness and love. I probably didn't do it well at age 21. 

We know words can kill. And maim and eviscerate. We know not to take them lightly. 

Consider what Frederick Buechner has written:


             "In Hebrew the term dabar means both "word" and "deed." Thus to say something is to do something. "I love you." "I hate you." "I forgive you." "I am afraid of you." Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.





            Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other."
                                - Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words



And we do. The words we speak to each other matter more deeply than we'll ever understand. (Did God not call EVERY being and thing into being and thing-ness by words, words??)






By our words, we create and we destroy one another. It's real.

But listen. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did not die because of their words. Their words did not kill them. Evil people killed them. The terrorists murdered them for saying they were terrorists and murderers. Take note--truth may cost---but don't stop.

Yes, dear friends, "seek peace and pursue it." "Do your best to live in peace with all men"---but don't stop speaking truth. In love. Seasoned with grace-----but Truth all the same. 

Don't stop overturning a few tables in the temple, where extortionists rob the poor. 

Don't stop calling out Pharisees who make rule upon rule, missing the kingdom of God. 

Don't stop calling out human traditions that strain out gnats and swallow camels. 

Don't stop the holy laughter (or holy tears) at ourselves and the subculture we've created:  our Christian music, our "Christian" clothing, our "Christian" bumper stickers---the insult, kitsch and crutch of it all!  



















                                 (agape leggings)


(If this is true, do we really need a T-shirt to say it?)




                       (Who knows? Maybe someone will be converted reading this very-clear Bible reference, Proverbs 4:23)


Bumper stickers:


(This is a very effective witnessing tool!)









What about this genre of "Christian" writing?




















(The top 2 books are from Steeple Hill, the Christian Romance division of Harlequin Romance.)




And--just one more: look how stylish we women can look while carrying a Bible!

(This one is called "chocolate pink Italian leather clutch")




And this one, looks like a fab mag for trendy girls! Your secret--that you're reading the BIBLE!!--is safe!!




Is Christian satire valid? You tell me.


For me, I write all this because I love the Church. I love the One who died for the Church. I love the people of the Church.


Keep speaking beautiful Truth in the all the ways it can be heard: Satire. Psalms. Woes. Love. Praise. Joke. Grace.

True words will never return void.

Peace to you all,

Leslie