Monday, February 19, 2007

A Thought about Cultures, Bananas, & Electrical Engineering


Ok. This note began as a response to Tim Stewart in the comments section of "On Beauty" but turned into a ridiculously long comment. So I've bumped it up to surface. The thoughts here are commentary in nature, not Zen meditated. Lame caveat but that's what I get for writing during my siesta time.
And so I began:
Tim, let me jump in here briefly. I recognize that I'm not a very good comment-maker-keeper (too little time, I'm afraid; and yes, I'm not a very good blogger in that regard), but I do want to offer two thoughts.
All About Culture
One, and Kelly this is in indirect relation to your thoughts, our discussion about art and beauty and the universe has everything to do with culture. Culture is everything. Whether we're talking about biological culture (tropical) or a theological culture (Arminian, high Reformed Calvinist, liberationist Catholic) or an intellectual culture (Marxist) or of social and traditional cultures (Hip-Hop and African Methodist Episcopal), it is culture that explains and provides the parameters for natural and human activity, not in any hermetically sealed way but in a manner that provides particularity to the different ways of being created nature.
Specific stuff grows from a specific culture--banana trees, tundra grass, orchids. You can create artificial cultures within natural cultures and we call that a greenhouse, a controlled environment. That's essentially what Hope Chapel has become, a kind of greenhouse within Evangelical Protestantism. We're not unique. There are a bunch of us out there, spontaneously generated biospheres, perfectly and self-satisfiedly protestant.
But what we're doing with the arts is not yet "native" to Evangelical Protestant culture, philosophically or practically.
For example, music is native to our charismatic evangelical culture at Hope. We don't have to think about singing, we just sing, it's what we do. We sing with drums and lap steel guitars and an occasional upright base or harp and we think nothing of it, unlike the elderly Lutheran and Cumberland Presbyterian congregations two blocks away. Bananas trees don't have to TRY to grow in Guatemala, they just do, it's what they do. Trust me. They grew in my back yard. (Mmm, organic bananas fresh off the stem. And limes and pomegranates and nectarines and oranges--I had a great back yard. Thanks, dad!)
I'm not saying that visual art couldn't become native to EP culture, it just may take a while to re-ionize, re-soil, fertilize, import good stuff and expunge bad to generate the kind of ground and atmosphere that is conducive to the production of mature artists making mature art--at least one 40-year generation, I figure, and only God knows at that.
The Medium is the Message
Two, about the biblical basis for the arts, let me say this. The Bible is not interested in saying anything about aesthetics as a theoretical discipline. Nope. So sad for Plato and Hegel and all those angry artists who hate the Bible anyway.
Nor is it interested for that matter in statistical analysis methodologies. Or electrical engineering. Or neurology. Or how to open a successful coffeeshop business. Or for all us fanatics, the Bible couldn't care a lick whether you send your kids to public, private or home school. It's just not as obsessed as we are about these things. It's not.
It's a book interested in one thing: telling salvation history.
We may discover things about engineering or coffee or art tangentially--along the way, if you will--but we need to let the Bible be what it is and not demand that it satisfy all our human curiosities. That's why we have the Holy Spirit and common grace and a creation mandate to "till the garden." Once we accept this, both as a fact and as a theological modus operandi that we all practice consciously or unconsciously, we can relax and enjoy our stressed-out lives a lot more.
Is the Bible silent about the arts? No. It has plenty to say, or rather show. For example we have the first two chapters of Genesis, the temple motif that runs through Exodus, Kings, Ezekiel, and Revelation, the entire Psalter, Colossians 1:15-20 where Jesus is called the Ikon tou Theo (the image of God)--and so he's not just the Logos, not just the Divine Reason, not just the Word which spoke creation into existence, he is the psychosomatic image of the Father who chose deliberately to image himself to us and then rise from the dead in bodily form to confirm once and for all that the original creation was good in the first place and shall be good in the last (Ps. 78, 105; Isa. 65:17; 66:22; Rev. 21:5).
There's Jesus the story-teller, there's Jesus the poet, metaphor-user, and he does it so comprehensively, so insistently that we dismiss it as a first century condescension only out of modern, myopic stubbornness. There is the apocalypse of St. John in which he reminds us that some of God's juiciest messages come packaged in poetic sing-a-longs. There is the fact that 40% of the Old Testament is narrative.
There is all this and more. But that's for another day. I'm off to take my sabbath nap.

3 comments:

Tim Stewart said...

Awesome response! Thanks for taking the time. I'm still reeling from your pointing out the fact that Jesus used metaphor, song, and story to get his point across. If such literary devices are good enough for the master, then (reaching a rapid conclusion) they're probably good enough for those who here on Earth trying to do What Jesus Would Do. Dude, you're a blessing. :-)

w. david o. taylor said...

Just in case someone may miss them, my good friend Jim J. has posted a thoughtful response under "Beauty: Axioms 8,9,10." It's a complex discussion that few of us will resolve in an exchange of blog comments. Trust me. Books, big books, have been written about these topics. But it's worth nonetheless stimulating our brains over. We need our thinking challenged and expanded, something that's often best done over a pint of good ale and a genuine affirmation of mutual love.

Jim said...

I love you, man!!!

Speaking of big books: I am finally reading "Likeness and Being: a History of the Image before the Era of Art" by Hans Belting. I highly recommend it. There is so much I don't know...