Artsy Schmartsy

Celebrated fine artist Mako Fujimura (His “Christmas Eve” is shown here) has written a very thought provoking article regarding Christians and the arts. You can read it -> HERE (Scroll down to A.R.T. Introduction).

A family in our church posted it on our internet “Connection”, and I responded it to it below.

A thought provoking, challenging and fascinating article. It raises the issue (which is often ignored by Christians) as to how we are to bring the Cross to the culture, outside the walls of the sanctuary. Not always an easy task and one that requires thought, great care and skill in interacting with the culture around us.

Whether we like it or not, the arts do influence the cultural norms of our society. It is because this is true, we decry the immorality consistently portrayed on TV, in film, theater, music and elsewhere. If they had no impact, we could care less what they produce. We could ignore it by not partaking of it ourselves, and not worry that it would further degrade the lives we try to live in the world today. Say for instance, as many assert, that violence begets violence. Then it would make sense for those Christians in those industries where violence is an accepted norm – say in Hockey for instance – to think through how they can influence their industry to curtail that violence for the good of all society. It is not in and of itself salvific in the sense of converting souls – but it DOES attack the increasing callousness of hearts and minds in the sense of what is perceived as acceptable and desirable. It is doing good to our neighbor. Something Scripture calls us to.

All law, in one way or another attempts to legislate and regulate morality. Not in the sense that it MAKES people moral – we’re clear that only salvation in Christ can accomplish inward, spiritual change through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it can (and is designed to be according to Romans 13:3) be a “terror to…evil”. It doesn’t stop evil, it stops certain expressions of evil. And that IS a desirable result. We want to outlaw abortion not because if these girls are prevented from it, they will suddenly be moral, but because it saves lives, adds to the perception of the value of human life, and makes the sin of murder more well defined and more abhorrent. That is good. And it is part of how Christians live in the world, and not only in the four walls of the Church building.

When the children of Israel were in captivity in Babylon, God – God gave them these instructions through Jeremiah: “4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” This last concept speaks precisely to the discussion at hand. As God’s people, we are to seek the welfare of the “city” where we dwell. We are to pray for our culture, and in ITS welfare, we will find OUR welfare. In justification or salvation? No. In living in a better environment, safer and more reflective of goodness than the prevalence of evil. My neighbor ought to know he lives in a safer neighborhood because he lives near me, and as a Christian, I have his welfare at heart. I will not rob him, do violence to him, covet or try to obtain his wife, lands or anything else he possesses. And we want those kinds of values to increase all around us – even if it doesn’t save. But when we DO have such an influence, it does increase our platform for the Gospel and verify its transforming power in flesh.

Now I’m no fan of certain arts. Men in tights and women in tutus do not float my boat. But I do enjoy film. And I want to bless my neighbor, as well as decrease the vexation of my own soul by promoting films that ennoble and bless the human soul and help fix in their minds an attraction for things of a nobler sort. Chivalry is better than crassness. Politeness is better than crudity. It is not salvific, but it IS better to live around. And “IF”, I say “IF” one has skill in dance, I would think it incumbent upon them as Christ’s to bring His glory to the fore even there. For even there life ennobling and virtuous ideas can be displayed and communicated. To use Fujimura’s term – we need to be good stewards of what God has given to us even in our artistic talents. And indeed, is there any legitimate part of life we cannot harness for the Kingdom? Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Reformed theologian and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands stressed the need for all of us to employ every faculty and ability as a “talent” to be traded with and invested in Christ’s name – so that it can be returned to Him with interest when He comes.

We can argue till the cows come home as to whether or not our current laws against smoking in public places is Constitutional, oppressive or whatever, but what we cannot ignore is that by means of cultural influence, a once more than common practice which is injurious to those who indulge in it as well as to others – came to be looked upon socially as undesirable. And in the free marketplace of ideas – that is how it ought to be done. It is not wrong for us to seek to find ways to make certain attitudes and practices among us undesirable and others desirable. It was not that long ago when racial prejudice was just an accepted norm in our society, and even in the church. It is right that such prejudices become loathsome to the saved and unsaved alike. They are an affront against both God and man. Is the former bigot any more righteous in God’s eyes because he has stopped his former behavior and adopted a better attitude? No. But is it better to live where those prejudices are looked down upon and where people fear to express and indulge them? Yes. And that is what we are talking about here.

No doubt, if Mr. Fujimura’s thought is that somehow this is tantamount to spiritual transformation, he is dead wrong. But I did not get that in his letter. If, as one has pointed out he means by saying : ” that what we can learn from Rembrandts and Shakespeares of the world is even more significant today because they give us hope in turmoil, and therefore give us a picture of mediation to this age, in the power of technology today” that he thinks this brings ULTIMATE hope: Then I agree, it is blasphemous. But it seems to me rather that he is saying these (the Rembrants and Shakepeares) give us hope that we too can bring a Christian world view or ennobling values to bear on OUR culture through the arts – even though the culture is naturally disinclined to it. If that is his point (and I think it is) then I must admit I agree with him wholeheartedly. It is hopeful then that a Christian who works in the music industry or in literature, film, theater or any other can bring the Cross to the culture through those avenues.

It is a blessing to all to live in a society in which the things which are antithetical to true Christian values are looked upon scornfully and rejected by the greater masses. It is never to be confused with salvation. They are not being in any wise sanctified or made into Christians. But there is no doubt that even when the lost participate in such ways, all are better off for it. And Francis Schaeffer would argue this enters upon the work of “pre-evangelism”. A breaking up of the fallow ground so as to be better ready to receive the seed of the Word of Christ.

It is a vast and important inquiry. And I am glad we are thinking about it. And to reprise something I wrote just a short time ago – here are some thoughts on art itself for you to consider as I close:

Art is: Both the act and product, of message and medium skillfully bound together aesthetically so as to inform, ennoble, elevate and inspire the sentient being in experiencing and musing upon the beauties of God.

Such skillful merging of message and medium may be found in a confluence and arrangement of say – form, color and texture, or; word, syntax and meter, or; tone, tempo, voice and harmonics; etc. But why it is done and what it is meant to evoke cannot be separated from the things itself.

Art then is as much aim as it is act. As much purpose as performance. Anything less may be artistic, yet fail to be art. Mere excellence in execution is not equal to elevation. It is how anything from photography to poetry can become pornography.

And so it is art may be found in anything from cooking to digging ditches. It is wrought in the grand eloquence of the humblest laborer who strives not merely to discharge their “duty”, but takes thought to present it done well as unto God. It is in this way, much that is not sublime in its manifest expression, may be nonetheless truly and profoundly art.

Be an artist. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. (Col. 3:17 & 23)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s