Experimental MTP

I have a bachelors degree in theatre, and I am a Christian.  There may have been a time where one might have considered it impossible for those two things to be true of one person.  Perhaps I am a walking contradiction.  Or, perhaps, in the words of Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday, “my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

Or, perhaps, faith and the arts are compatible.

And this last option is where I hang my hat.  But, for practical reasons, I found it hard to keep my hat on that peg.  You see, I have varied interests. I was (and still am) an active participant in church.  And I was (and still am) an active participant in theatre and other arts.  But, if you work full time during the day, and do theatre at night, there’s little time for anything else.  So, I found myself alternating between two lives, switching from participating in the church ministries that I loved , and any chance I could get to do theatre.

This turned out to not be the lifestyle I wanted to maintain indefinitely, so I started looking for a way to bring these two parts of my life into conversation, and perhaps even meld them together.  Long story short, I ended up at theBrehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary, working on a master’s degree on theology and the arts.

So here I am. And as I am nearing the end of my time at Fuller, it has come time to do my Master’s Thesis Project. Throughout my time here, I have spoken to many about the conversation between faith and art.  But what about the people having the conversations about faith and art? I ask this because the conversations still seem, at times, rather disjointed–and many of the people already involved in the conversation still do not have contact with each other.

There are a number of questions we are dealing with to some degree or another:  What makes art good?  What makes art Christian?  Should Christians be making art in the first place? Why does it seem that so much “Christian Art” seems so terrible? As an artist who is also Christian, does the message of Jesus Christ have to be directly communicated in my art?  Does art have a place in the church/in church services?  The list goes on ad infinitum.  And, for many, these questions are just the very tip of a large iceberg that they have burrowed much further into. For some, these are the beginning questions that they have long since moved past.  Plus, if this weren’t enough, what about all the people who don’t consider themselves artists?  Or those who don’t consider themselves Christian?  I think these questions are pertinent to all of the above, and it’s about time we are willing to dialogue with each other, to share our questions, and learn from each other’s discoveries.

There you have it: this is my experiment in public theology.  An Experimental Master’s Thesis Project.  And to kick things off, I want to know, what are your questions and thoughts about faith, art and religion? What have you discovered?  (And remember, all viewpoints expressed with respect are welcome here).

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7 thoughts on “Experimental MTP

  1. If only your day/night job(s) could somehow be co-mingled so as not to burn you out! Perhaps this MTP will turn into a book deal for you and all of this will become moot. Anyway, I love what you’re doing here…

    I think there are expectations on both sides of this situation that tend to challenge the existence or the foundation for a consistent dynamic artistic presence “in the church” or even as a part of the commonplace church experience. From one side, art, and therefore the artisans that create said art, brings into existence that which is to be aesthetically considered (whether to enjoy, to provoke, to introduce, to expose, to “verb”, etc).

    Excellent. As it should be. In my opinion, this is an expectation put upon the artist, as well as an expectation coming from the artist. And because it is art and at some point (theoretically) has been “mused” by the ultimate Creator, it should be (even mildly put) relatively free of censorship (think Ezekiel baking bread over his own ‘waste’, Isaiah strutting around naked, In Bruges). In an ideal world, this happens…but now the other expectation in this situation makes itself known.

    Does the culture of “church” as we have all become so used to it, allow for the church-goer to “consider” this art in conversation with why they came to church in the first place? I’m not arguing here for art to need to pass a level of appropriateness for church, but in my experience, even in churches that believe they promote the arts and give their resident artists a greater amount of leeway in creating art to serve the greater message conveyed by the church, the church leadership is going to lean to the safe-side on this…and probably rightly so, from their perspective, given what they believe “church” is there to do. The culture of those that attend church has been so conditioned as to what “church” is to be, that to present a “challenging” piece of art for said churchgoer to consider undermines/detracts (or so the theory goes) from what the church-attendee mindset is expecting. I don’t necessarily hold to that belief, but in my experience, those are the expectations I have encountered. And I can understand that in certain instances. Certainly a church can’t show Jim Caviezel, as Christ, getting beaten to within an inch of his life at 11AM on Easter Sunday. The fourth graders are likely to be scarred for quite some time and the general public won’t want to come to church for that type of visceral experience on a Sunday again after that. I mean, how do you speak to them after that with a sermon? Or convince them to come back another time?

    The current go-around for this situation seems to be to simply create and present outside the window of the “Sunday church service” (or whatever regularly scheduled day a church meets on).

    Ultimately though, I think the artist should just create their art. That is what’s expected of them. And even though there should be a challenge as to the other expectation (that of what a church service should contain), the connection to God still exists in the art, whether or not it’s sitting next to the altar inscribed with “as often as you do this…”

  2. The question I have been wrestling with is this: does the professional artist have a place in the traditional church gathering?

    One view is that Christians who do art by profession should be exercising their talents outside of the traditional church. This can be good if the desire is to reach the rest of the world with the message of Christ. But often it’s twisted by those who say that there is no place for risky artistic expression on Sunday morning. We should be safe, vanilla, and do what we have always done because it “works.”

    Another view is that Sunday morning services should host the best and most vibrant art the world has ever seen. Instead of telling Christian artists to take their talents elsewhere, the Church should nurture the “best and brightest” in order to draw people in and point them to Christ. However, this too can be twisted by those who then claim that Sunday services are the ONLY acceptable place for a Christian artist to minister. Or, in our drive to have the best possible art, we start turning away those whose talents don’t quite match up to their passion.

    Interesting discussion!

  3. How do we encourage Christians (and people from other worldviews, for that matter) to communicate their beliefs and perspectives through artistic expression instead of typical verbal/written propositions? Perhaps we could all find more common ground and see more of our shared humanity by using art to reveal our faith/views instead of debates and polemics.

    1. Great question Rob. I hope that this can happen. It seems to me that you see art as an opportunity for people who otherwise don’t see eye-to-eye to find a middle ground. I think that is one of the potentials of art, and one of the reasons that we, the church, should be more open to the place that art has within, through, and surrounding the church. I don’t think that debates are helping us much, either.

    2. Can I take Rob’s question one step further and ask, how can we encourage PASTORS and other church leaders to communicate more through artistic mediums/media instead of typical verbal/written propositions? Our culture is no longer verbal but visual and while we need the substance that can be found in (most) sermons, how can we train pastors better in conveying it in a way that will engage their audience?

  4. I want to know how the Church can/should integrate art into the life of the Church again. How does a church deal with an artist unleashed?

    Art is both powerful and subjective, evocative and provocative–and semi-permanent. That makes it quite complicated, but also a tragedy to be ignored.

    1. I am entertained by your phrase “artist unleashed”. It seems to me to communicate so much of the weariness it seems the church still holds toward it’s more artistic members. All the things that you say about art is true, but there is more. Do you think we are still dealing with an apprehension of the artist within the church? Or have we progressed to the point where the church is open to artistic expression, but is still awkward about it?

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