February 21, 2003

Thoughts on Church Drama

The following was written when I was trying to clarify the goals of a church drama department I was heading up at a large seeker church here in Orlando. The way it was received was the beginning of the end for me as an "evangelical." I am now happily at a reformed Presbyterian church.


Premise 1: God is the first and greatest artist. The arts are not just a nice gift from God. They are an essential part of His character. As Creator, He is the master sculptor, choosing vivid colors and brilliant shapes in his works. We live in a sea of “purposeless” beauty; beauty that extends in scope from the vastness of galaxies and star systems to the miniscule order and structure of the vein of a leaf. If we served a God for whom the arts were merely a side note, the created order would have many more grays and unimpressive forms. As Son, He was a storyteller in the first degree. How much more pragmatic it would have been if Jesus had come equipped with a list of memorized steps for entering the Kingdom that He was ready to recite when asked. But instead he chose parables, metaphors, and often downright baffling statements to ensure his listeners would have to wrestle with His truth; that it would knock their hips out of joint, so that they might own that truth once they understood it. And finally, as Holy Spirit, He is the inspirer of the arts. Most obviously He inspired the literary collection of histories, stories, poems, and songs we know as the Scripture. However, one could go so far as to say that He has a hand in the inspiration of all artists who are using their gifts to explore Truth.

Premise 2: If God, in his very nature, is an artist, then accurately imitating Him requires our active participation in the arts. With imitation of the creative nature of God as our purpose, we need not come up with further justification for the arts. They don’t need to “reach the lost” or “fill church seats”. The arts are a good thing to do, because God does them. Period. More often than not, other derivative benefits become evident: the building of community, the exploration of truth, the portrayal of ideas and concepts that cannot be captured in direct communication, however, there need not be tangible or measurable goals at the outset of an artistic journey.

Premise 3: The arts approach truth indirectly, or abstractly, and are most powerful in the processing and interpretation of those abstract truths. If you’re reading the Cliff Notes to The Great Gatsby, you’re missing out on one of the most enriching journeys into truth that American literature has to offer. The power of the arts comes in the wrestling with ideas and concepts contained therein. Therefore, when we read the notes about a novel or explain the meaning of a song or dramatic piece we are short- circuiting that “wrestling” process. A famous French painter said “Once I understand a work of art, it is dead to me.” The joy and strength of the arts is the exploratory nature of them. If we say “Today we’re going to be talking about how sometimes communication in family can break down and it looks something like this…” and then follow it with a drama about communication breaking down, then we have short-circuited the process. There’s no reason to do the drama once you’ve revealed the purpose. But if people must connect the dots themselves, they will feel that much more “connected” with the ideas being presented. This concept, of letting the art speak for itself, requires faith. Faith in our audience; that they are not morons. Faith in our art; that it is powerful and accessible enough for people to enter into the journey. And faith in the Holy Spirit. I believe the same Holy Spirit that is there guiding us as we interpret scripture is moving in our hearts and minds to interpret art. And if we do our job, make art with excellence, He’ll do His in our audience.

§ There should not have to be a measurable outcome to efforts put into artistic expression.
§ As a Church, we need to be modeling and equipping proper attitudes about the arts as a vital aspect of imitating God.
§ Theatre, sculpture, dance, poetry, literature and the appreciation thereof need to be seen as worship, as much as music.
§ Arts pieces should not be explained to the congregation.
§ Dramas should stand alone to some extent and have the capacity to explore truth without a sermon to “finish the job” for them. Drama can complement the truths of the message, exploring abstractly what the message explores more directly, but the benefits of the abstract approach to truth are stifled by direct exposition about their meaning.
§ The Church could justifiably have ministries nurturing people’s artistic gifting, as a way of helping them imitate God.
§ The Church should be leading the way in their artistic quality because they have the greatest understanding of the first and greatest Artist.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Oh, you poor lad, you. Do you still have the one-way ticket to hell you received from the church after sending them this?