Art and the Church

The other day I received an email from someone asking how I would recommend incorporating the arts into the church and what steps could be taken. While I believe the question is one motivated by genuine concern, the only intelligible answer that might satisfy is one that must be given within the programatic and institutional paradigm within which the question was asked. This is the problem. The question exposes the paradigm and presses for an answer that conforms to that paradigm. We must realize that the question rarely reaches beyond itself. The question normally asserts its present paradigm and is usually a dogmatic statement seeking confirmation disguised as intellectual interest. The questioner may be trapped inside a paradigm that the mind hasn't dreamed must perish. So the normal way to answer the question would be something like this:
First of all, get permission from the leadership to start encouraging the arts. Then maybe start an art appreciation class. Then maybe an art instruction class. Ask the pastor if creative elements can be added to the church service. This will involve some "creative types". Request that the leaders allow art to be displayed in the lobby. Set up an editorial committee that determines which art is appropriate for church. Etc., etc..
Just shoot me! Let me show you a better way. The church is generally a censorious community. In this environment art is sanitized, tame and conformist. It is still art, but functions as a reinforcement of the system. Expression is controlled and edited from start to finish. This kills art because it kills creativity because it kills freedom. Instead, allow people to be free without scrutiny. (I even hate the word "allow" because it assumes it needs to be given when it is already ours.) In due time, after people begin to realize that they are loved and accepted unconditionally, the creative spirit will surface and artistic diversity will abound. This is the harder but more genuine way. It means taking care of the roots. If the root is unfettered freedom, then fruitful and artistic living happens. It is the diversity of human expression of personality that makes the artful life. Until this is nurtured art will be repressed. The fine art photograph titled "Fusion" is the creation of my friend Howard Nowlan.
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