I am in the midst of preparing for an interactive study of art and spiritual issues that I will be leading at UNC Asheville next semester, and I am struck by how poor of a job we as Christians have done when it comes to our interactions with art. Here are some of the extremes that I have seen in my own heart and life.
On the one hand, there is bad art and copyright infringement masqueraded as parody or as a way to be “relevant.” At best, this type of art is reactionary and childish. And I have done it. I have been the guy who didn’t listen to anything but “Christian music.” By “Christian” I meant that the content had to be blatantly about Jesus. In fact, it was best for it to state right on the surface what it was about, so that there would be no doubt. We’ll take a popular secular song and steal the production, the beat, the instrumentation, and even some of the lyrics, and we will “Jesus it up a little.” Take a love song meant for the artist’s significant other and make it about Jesus. Use that song as a way to lure in unsuspecting folks who thought they were walking into a Los Lonely Boys concert, and then kick them in the face with the Bible (metaphorically, of course—with some rare exceptions)
On the other hand, some Christians have demonized art. Anything with a synchopated beat is of the devil. Any art used in a worship service is idolatry and a breaking of the 2nd commandment. Anything Eminem has ever written should be burned, and therefore there is nothing redeeming in any form of rap music. “Gospel Rap” is an impossible hyperbole. We can only sing hymns in church. Some denominations even take it so far that you can’t even have instruments at all in worship. It seems that Elvis sinned so much that any type of instrument he ever touched is now beyond redemption.
Is there another option? Can art be, as I think it was meant to be, a window into the soul of the artist? Here’s my first attempt at a promo blurb for our upcoming study. And you get to read it before it’s done!
Strip: (v) to remove extraneous or extra material from, to make bare or clear.
What’s your label? Democrat? Republican? Christian? Buddhist? Gay? Straight? White? Black?
What’s your cause? Abortion? Legalized marijuana? Same sex marriage? Religious freedom? A new baseball stadium? AIDS in Africa?
Those questions all draw us into our corner. The evil people on the other side of our line in the sand become less and less our fellow humans and more and more our enemies. All we need is proof that they don’t really care about the world, and we’ll bury them. Whoever can find the biggest stone to throw wins.
Art is a unique window in the soul of the artist. A glimpse across the line drawn in the sand and into a heart of a person with real cares, real fears, and real passion. And if we let it, art can be a tool to strip us, to take us (even if only briefly) out of our corner, and engage with life using a new pair of eyes. If we begin to see the people in the other corner as fellow travelers on a spiritual journey, we realize that we have much to learn from each other. We are stripped of our label and our cause and are forced to engage others on a singular level, that of human.
Our goal is not to eradicate the labels, but to give them a context. We want to engage with others of different opinions, and create a place where two things guide our discussion: No question or observation is off limits, and nobody gets to apply truth to anyone other than themselves.
Join us for Stripped, an interactive experience where we look at the world through each other’s eyes, and the eyes of artists like Rembrant, Gauguin, Munch, and others. Brought to you by Campus Crusade for Christ at UNC Asheville.