Context is Everything: Art in the Local Church

"Each choice [in a church's selection of art] is also a particular exercise of taste that suggests, rightly or wrongly, something about the ethos of a church, its theological mindset and spirituality, its social commitments, its predominant economic and racial mix, its 'target' age group." ~ Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste

I've discovered a deep truth of the universe.

There are only two kinds of books in this world. There are those published by Oxbridge and there are those published by everybody else. And I mean EVERYBODY else. No joke.

Brown's Good Taste is an Oxford imprint and for good reason. It's a tightly argued, lucidly written book with, most importantly, lots and lots of small words on lots and lots of crisp pages that requires great concentration and few interruptions. It's not the pastor-on-the-move-friendly book. It's not coffee shop friendly. It's taken me forever to read. But it's worth the while. I have one chapter left, which will take me a millenium to finish.

Honestly, it's one of the most enjoyable books on aesthetics I've read to date. Brown's got this great combination of intellectual insight and pastoral generosity. He should be required reading for anybody in the field, not only for his acumen but his for style of writing. It's warm, accessible, engaging in its interweaving of theory and story, and he respects his reader, which is not something you can say about a lot of academics.

He respects the reader becaues he loves the reader, and that's a quality everyone of us artists should emulate. The art that truly makes this world a better place is the art that loves its audience. "Whom am I loving?" and "How can I love my audience?" ought to be the two questions we should always be asking ourselves as we make our art. It may feel elusive or non-quantifiable, but it'll make a tremendous influence on our work--whether we see it or not.

At the moment, I'm on a mini-sabbatical. As I've told my community in Austin, I'm doggone, electrical wire-fried weary. That's all I'll say for now. I'm in serious need of rest and rejuvenation lest familiarity to the ministry turn into contempt for it. So I'm practicing Great Spiritual Truths: I'm taking care of the body.

Rest is good, God-given, and belittled only by the arrogant, ignorant or stupid (i.e. a triumverate of me), all of whom forget that God rests--and so must we--certainly moreso than He--and that none of us is indispensible to the kingdom. We're all gratis. We get to be part of the kingdom.

Regretably, I'm all too often arrogant, ignorant or too stupid and stubborn to learn my lessons right. I think too much of my abilities without realizing that I'm thinking that way. I forget too quickly what I know to be true: that a wet dog, beaten and bone-tired, ain't no good to nobody. It's what Steve Rekedal once told me. "David, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be good to anybody. Take some rest." And I stupidly refuse to abide by the prescription for my own health: sleep, don't overcommit, sleep, say no, sleep, slow down, sleep.

So now I'm trying to get my rest so I don't get forced into rest by a body that simply refuses to put up with my driven ways. What a thing, hey.

At the moment I'm in the great resort city of Waco, TX.

It's home of David Koresh and the Baylor Bears. It's also home to Dr. Pepper, a very fine drink that goes perfectly with Doritos and Oreo Cookies, or at least that's what my sisters and I thought during our Missionary Kid days when we ventured across the Mexican border into the sparkling fresh air of TEXAS--of TEHHHHHH-XAS--and its super-sized grocery stores with a million-trillion boxes of cereal.

In Guatemala we had two, uno, dos: Corn Flakes (Guatemalan style and only at my friend Rodolfo's house) and a brown powder that called itself protein dust ("Proteina") but in combination with milk turned into industrial-worthy cement. Honest to God. If you let it get stuck to the roof of your mouth, forget about it. It was there for good. You'd need to pry it off with a knife or douse it with hot water. I'd like to say I was exaggerating, but ask my sisters. I think I loved it--until, that is, I discovered Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, now my faithful bedtime companion even to this day.

So I'm in Waco staying at Jeff Fish's house (he, the classics professor at Baylor). I'm reading Tom Clancy, visiting the cineplex religiously for a late-afternoon matinee, and jogging through spooky neighborhoods. I may blog more, I may less, I don't know.

I'm dropping here what would be chapter five of the someday-arriving book. (Here are chapters one, two, three, and four.) This chapter looks at the specific questions and concerns that we would encounter in our integration of the arts into a church setting. This is certainly the chapter I feel most comfortable with since it's what I do day in and day out. Hope it helps.

Art in the Local Church: Context is Everything

A. Intro

1. A vision for the local church
2. A comment on the current state
3. Our task
4. The soil of your church

B. Three Categories of Art in the Church

1. A comment about “religious art”
2. Three Kinds of Art:

a. Liturgical art
b. Missional art
c. Incarnational art

3.The most likely kinds of art you’ll find in a given church

C.The Growth of an Arts Ministry

1. The need for prayer
2. The need for a vision
3. The need for a leader
4. The need for a team
5. The need for a model of renewal
6. The need for opportunities for community and expression
7. The need to take risks
8. The need to trust
9. The need for education
10. The need to start small

D. Us vs. Them

1. Artists and the Church
2. Artists and the leadership
3. Artists and the congregation
4. Artists and the “non-cool” artists

E. Honoring your Church

1. Loving the Church as Christ loved it
2. Loving your leaders
3. Loving your congregation
4. Loving each other
5. A vision for authentic community:

a. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness
b. The commitment to clear communication and healthy conflict-resolution
c. A vision of hospitality

F. A Professionalism informed by Grace and Truth

1. Question of standards and expectations
2. Four kinds of artists in the church

a. Professionals
b. Competent amateurs
c. Developing amateurs
d. Weekend dabblers

3. Grace: its angel and demon
4. Truth: its angel and demon
5. Coda: truth-telling and honest-making
6. A palette of options: pick a card, any card

G. A Mission Beyond: The Church in the City

1. Know and love actual artists in your city
2. Know and love the particular art community in your city
3. Make art in the city with and alongside non-believers
4. Practice a gracious, subversive presence


ceciliabrie said…
Hey, man, i wanna be where you are. Your book is my home, tho' today i'm sitting at Trinity College Dublin, 400 years old, with tears in my eyes. "Love your audience"? Sounds good to me...

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