….is such an overused word these days. I wish it wasn’t because when I really mean it, I want to be able to use it. This is one of those times.
There is a community that lies at the intersection of my Christian and my artist communities. It occupies a small space. It doesn’t fully belong to one or the other, but remains in the tension that comes from being on the edge of both. I think it’s a place that many Christian artists share, we just don’t talk about it very much. I look one way or the other in any given project: I either speak into the Christian community from the edge of art and culture, or I speak into the artist community from the Christian perspective. I have a kind of intentional disconnection when I do this. I turn my back on one community in order to speak to the other. As a theatre person, it drives me crazy to always have my back to half the audience.
This uncomfortable space is a location all of it’s own. And, if I can speak out of this community – this awkward, intersection position where there are no hard and fast rules, I can actually start to speak to both communities with honesty, truth and integrity at once.
People who go to church are consumers of/participants in contemporary culture. Christians go to Hollywood movies, for example. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in the company of evangelical men who talk with zeal about having seen the latest shoot-em-up action film. Yet, get these guys in a church setting, in the sanctuary or even in the auditorium in the church basement, and they are suddenly horrified at the slightest inappropriate word or idea. In this context, they are in their church community, and the cultural rules are different than when they are hanging out with friends on Saturday night. The usual church response is that these men should be more discerning about their cultural choices. Because of that response, they will compartmentalize, and be “appropriate” in church community but not real, because the fact is, they like shoot-em-up action movies. It gives the air of hypocrisy, one of the main distasteful observations of those who criticize religion. So the questions arise – should we be fully “in” church culture? Should we turn away from contemporary “secular” culture? Close our eyes to it? Stop going to movies, only listen to “safe” music, etc? Or, should we bring secular culture into the church? What about “sacred space”?
As a culture-maker, it becomes doubly hard, especially if I produce work for a church audience. That’s because if I speak to a church audience, I’m not actually talking to real people. I’m talking to their church personae. I have to be appropriate, but not necessarily real. In this context, it’s actually more desirable to be false as long as it’s not inappropriate. That’s a crushing blow to art that has any meaning at all.
That’s what it often feels like in the church context as an artist. It’s painful. It rubs against all my instincts. It makes me want to run from the church, vowing never to sing another trashy worship song that doesn’t dig in to where I really am, but skips along with platitudes.
On the other side of the road is the artist community. So many artists I speak to long for work that is real, engaging, and deep. They want a forum, an audience, that will go deep with them, that will allow artistic work to change them. To be open to truth, to be open to discovery. But, there are conditions to that discovery, and there are cultural norms there too. Spirituality is OK as long as it is formless. Yet, many artists I know are tired of doing “gigs” and jobs that scratch the surface of their talent and their intellect. They are looking for something more, something that matters. The Christian faith has gifts to offer them. Gifts of hope, redemption, forgiveness, unconditional love.
At this intersection, this uncomfortable crossroads, is where we’re pitching our tent at The Arts Engine. We’re going to hang around here, speak from here, and see what happens.
It’s going to mean that we will be asking the church to dare to open up, and allow us to create from a place of honesty and truth and integrity. That might mean speaking to real people instead of their church personae.
It’s going to mean that we will be asking artists to dare to go deep with the church. To reach in, and stop being pedantic and regular. And, it’s also going to mean that we will be daring artists to actually work through and with the church, so that this community can grow.
My instincts tell me that if we stick to the challenge the edges will blur, and we may actually exist in an artistic faith community that celebrates both spirit and fully realized art. The hope is that this work will transcend the boundaries that being a community creates.