Friday, March 31, 2006

No More Kitsch

Go ahead and click on the following artifacts floating around the Christian cyber-world:

Evangelical Christianity is, in terms aesthetic health, running a high fever.

I got a Chick track in my mailbox the other day. Have you seen these things? Friends, this is Christian kitsch at its worst. In fact, I added it to my collection of really ugly Christian artifacts. I probably have about twenty or so of these Chick Tracks in my collection. I mean these things are in such bad taste that they would even frighten a WWF wrestler.

It was once the case that secular writers, musicians, painters, actors, architects, etc. tended to take Christian forms of art and culture and baptize them of their spiritual content. They wanted the allusiveness of the form created by a Christian artistic expression, but not the God that stood over and indwelled the Christian artist. So, for instance, we find blues artists baptizing African spirituals. We find rock artists baptizing Black gospel. God in pure power gets replaced with the second and third, and fourth most powerful things available; love, sex, and loss. What is really sad is when Christian artists come along and take derivatives and baptize them into something that is, well, anemic. In music, we find Christian culture baptizing Rock, or pop, or emo, or whatever, into utter trash. Instead of saying, “Baby I want you, baby I want you” a Christian artist can just come along and write a song that says, “Jesus I want you, Jesus I want you,” without changing the musical form that accompanies the lyrics.

The problem with this way of making art is similar to the problem with a forty-ish white guy from the suburbs using ghetto slang during his favorite non-profit inner-city board meeting. No matter how hard he tries, it just doesn’t work when he says, “Yo, Bill, I’m chillin in your crib! Pass me a cinnamon roll, or I’m not gonna be down wit dat proposal.” It does NOT work, and everyone knows it. In fact, they cringe when this kind of attempt at cross cultural expression is made by a guy who just does not get it.

The same kind of thing is happening when a couple of half-developed musicians who call themselves Christians attempt raggae or ska or just plain rock in the name of Jesus. We can’t just take Rhastafarian music and put Christian words to it. We must do something deeper. We need to get to the worldview that informs the music and the creative impulse that formed it if we want to adapt it, or use it, or make it our own. Just replacing words is not enough.

So, what are we Christians to do? Should there be no Christian rock musicians? Should Christians not write novels or produce clothing for kids? Of course we should! But, we should do it from a creative impulse that does not simply imitate a consumer culture which is predicated on mass consumption rather then reflecting Jesus’ mandate, “Be ye perfect as I am perfect." That is just laziness and confusion.

If we Christians, whether we are artists or not, really want to impact this culture we must make our everyday life imaginative, creative, unique and excellent. When we begin to produce cultural artifacts and expressions they need to be made in a way that makes Jesus proud. If this were to be done, Christianity would be a force to be reckoned with.

Presently, we live in a culture that is obsessed with the here and now. We shop in strip malls designed to last less then a human lifetime. We are constantly overwhelmed with ads that tell us that we are consumers, not beings made in God’s image who will live an eternity either with him or without him. And, what we need is not more of the here and now message of secularization with a Christian label on it. What we need is cultural expression that produces things that reflect a God who wants us to think on and practice that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I know this will transform our culture. It worked for our for fathers, it will work for us. Additionally, it will make Christianity a presence that encompasses the whole of a person’s life rather then one-tenth of a person’s life. Dorothy Sayers expresses this in her fine book, Creed or Chaos:

How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly-but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenters shop at Nazareth.

Let’s make all our beams, straight beams from Nazareth.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ode to the Man in Black

In the liner notes of Johhny Cash's 1996 release, Unchained, he says, "I love songs about horses railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God."

Johnny Cash never quit being a real human being after he found Christ. He kept singing songs about life and kept keeping Jesus all tangled up in his life. We are all better because of his willingness to keep his life and his work bound up in His faith.

3-13-03 addendum: I just finished watching Walk the Line

Besides it being a bit too close cinematically to Ray, it was a powerful movie that did a good job showing Johnny's struggles with drugs and alcohol. Of course, it lacked any substantive understanding of his Christinity. At any rate, I think that the most powerful scenes in the movie were: 1. the scene where he sings about fulsum prison in the studio for the first time, and the scenes that depict him confronting his father and beating his addiction with drugs and alcohol. There are remnants of redemption in these scenes. Finally, as a "man" movie (versus a chick flick) it has enduring qualities and does a good job of showing how a man is always asking the question, "Do I have what it takes to be a man" and the way a man longs to have his father say, "You are a chosen son and you do have what it takes. Since Johnny's dad never answered that question, he took it to a woman. Ultimately, that leads to failure since a woman cannot answer a man's question, only a father can. And, since Johnny's dad never answered it, he had to get the answer from a Higher Power, His heavnely father.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Using Powerpoint in a Way that Glorifies God

I have always been a stickler for aesthetic consistancy. So much so that I am convinced that in heaven, though we will all dress in unique ways, none of us will clash. Something I find appalling is the uncritical way that so many churches today use visual images in uncritical ways. Just because WE CAN DO IT, does not mean that WE SHOULD DO IT, when it comes to technology. I love that the Amish let their kids wear rollerblades and that they keep cell phones in the sheds that boarder their property. They are saying to the world, "Technologies are tool that will serve us. But, we will not serve technologies uncritically!" I believe that we ought to use technologies in churches to serve us in worship. They ought to help us hear the word more clearly and worship God more powerfully. But, just because we can play movie clips, or project any number of images on screens at the click of a mouse, does not mean we should. We project words to songs onto 2 12 foot screens so they need to meet high standards. We usually spend about four to five hours designing these backgrounds. I work with David Sadd, our Church's worship leader and graphic designer. This is great because he gets worship, worship theology, and aesthetic design. Our hope is to convey the theme of the sermon series in one slide.