“To undergo and then speak of that which is not a thing but which transforms our relationship with all things… this is a sacred and subversive vocation.” Peter Rollins
I am a person of faith, what is called for lack of a better word, a Christian. For some reason I always feel some strange urge to put Christian in quote marks, to bracket it out, or to look around and say it quietly as if someone is listening. I am sure most of it is my own fear and general cowardice but it could also be some pieces of the following.
a) I don’t want to be lumped into the same pile as those other Christians. You know the ones, the bigots, haters, and fundies always preaching death, doom, and destruction. That anti-gay, anti-Obama, anti-rock and roll, anti-modernity, anti, anti, anti crowd.
b) The word has been made to mean many things that I am not sure they mean. I’m not even sure what I mean by the word. A friend of mine is often asked the question, “Are you a Christian?” and he responds with, “Tell me what one, and I will tell you if I am one?”
c) The word carries a lot of meaning and responsibility, like a weight piled high or a contract to sign. The word literally means Like Christ and I know for sure thatI am not that. I know I am often easily one of those people in category A, giving the rest of you dedicated people bad name. Anne Lamott said,
They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. Badly born again. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon vivant.
And another favorite author of mine, the late Brennan Manning, said
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty, I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.
And so I struggle with the weight of the word. Where others speak of the freedom found in Christ, it saddens me but I feel the shackles more than I should. Should I shout it from the mountain tops as the songs say? Probably. I am just trying to be honest, and in that I take solace that some faith is born from truth telling.
I am also an artist. And in the same way of my faith I am a struggling one. One prone to go months and months without touching a brush, canvas or paper. I love to talk a good game but when the whistle blows, I sit my ass in front of my laptop and plow through a few seasons. Whenever someone asks if I am an artist I cringe at the title because I don’t feel like I act like one. I will never cut my own ear off in a zealous rage of color and depression. This is probably a good thing and a bad definition of an artist but you know what I mean. I love art but I don’t feel that burning passion to only paint. I dabble and I want to make more time but I don’t. I give up easily on my own work while marveling at anothers. Instead of painting, or praying, I just veg out. Damn you, Doctor Who.
In the act of creating, during those times I pry myself out of laziness, something happens. Some strange mystery unfolds itself and I have often sensed a strange connection to the spiritual world. In art, there is a spark that drives us deeper. Artists claim to be drawn to an idea like moths, to channel a story or image from somewhere in the aether. Poets and novelists claim their story was a gift or that they were chosen to tell it like a conduit. Also, in the discipline of growing as an artist there is a connection to growing in faith. The hush of the gallery and the hush of a church, the cool interior and the white walls of purity seem often like the same interchangeable places. I have stood transfixed in awe before a painting, a movie or while listening to a song more than I have before a cross, a priest or the Bible? Does this make my faith less or does it glorify those moments in the supposedly secular?
I want to explore these convergent realms. Flannery O’Connor titled her story EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE while Lawrence Weschler paid homage and called his book EVERYTHING THAT RISES: A BOOK OF CONVERGENCES. Those titles sum up everything, art is a process that lifts us, in all of its practices. Faith is something that gives rise to humanity, pulling us up an out (when we manage to overcome the human elements that keep us in the mud). Both of these pursuits, seemingly divergent, both help us see above the fog and in the titles of those two great books, come mixing together. If art and faith are transcendent, than somewhere and somehow those two things will meet. Like two lines of railroad track connecting in the distance. These worlds of faith and art are not worlds of mathematical rules, wherein those same two lines only look like they converge but truly never do. These are worlds of intertwinings, of things being beautifully sensical and non-sensical all in the same moment. The mysteries are real and miracles happen, in the parables and in the paintings. I want that place to be real, because I need to know that children’s dreams come true and 5,000 can be fed on a few fish and loaves. It helps me deal with things. I also need to know that the feeling I get when I hear that song, or stand in front of that painting, is a real feeling and that it makes me more of who I am supposed to be. I don’t want only chemical, biological, or hormonal reasons. I want magical, mysterious, artistic, and colorful answers. I want to explore the when and the how, the why and the where and the who of that rising and intertwining so that I can further explain, understand or get a tiny grasp on those same risings in myself.
In the world of the church (meaning modern, American and/or Western) the language of art and faith has been separated and torn apart. Those convergences are often not allowed. When they do happen, we have lost the ability to see or to talk about them so we either deny their happening or miss the momements completely. In the early days of the church and of art the two were inseparable like lovers. Imagine if we were to remake those connection. Hopefully we can relearn the lost langunage to bring those two worlds together. Then a song can be a hymn, a painting can be a divine encounter and the words of a poet can reveal God, the world around us, and ourselves in the glory we have been missing out on.
Throughout this exploration, we will wander through three main ideas:
1) ART AS REVELATION: How and what does art reveal. Art and faith both aim for opening eyes. In faith it is called apocalypse, meaning revelation. In art it is perception, reaction and response. How do we see art? How do we view it? What does it say to us? In the same ways, how does our faith speak to us? Are we waiting for a prophet on a mountaintop or a still small whisper? Or both?
2) ART AS JUSTICE: For many artists, the goal is to get beyond simply seeing to sseing something worthwhile. Something that takes us out of our world into another. Graffiti is about making oneself known, making a literal mark on the world when overlooked. Art is about opening eyes to injustice and pushing them into action. The same should be said about faith. We are called to understand others, love others and serve others. How do we develop a faith and art that does this?
3) ART AS HOLISTIC LIFE: Art speaks to the unspeakable, making the non-physical physical. It gives form to the formless. Faith/theology is the process of making the divine and the spiritual a part of our everyday life (real and tangible). How do we live in a way that is wholistic, that speaks to the whole person, all emotions, and all experiences? How do we provide inclusive forms in our belief and in the things we make?
And that is this examination, a wide open exploration. This is not a detailed Google Maps route from point A to point B. GPS devices do not work here and are not allowed. There is a good chance you may wander off and never return. Good, embrace that. There is a good chance you will nor agree with the directions, knowing the route you have taken before. Fine, argue with me. There is no definite arrival point.
You will find no “…THEREFORE!: conclusion at the end. It exists to get us talking, walking, and exploring how we can reunite the worlds of faith and expression.
So let go and let the rising take you to see what just might gather up there.
“He had a great stool at the bar and nobody sat there except Jack. But you know, he was writing his own obituary from the moment he began, and I think he was tragically seduced by his own destiny - although I’m not really qualified to say. But there have been countless biographies on him written by people who knew him well, and it seems he really did believe in the American Dream. I enjoy his impressions of America, certainly more than anything you’d find in Reader’s Digest. The roar of the crowd in a bar after work; working for the railroad; living in cheap hotels; jazz.”—Tom Waits on Jack Kerouac—
While on a recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico….my wife and I stepped into a narrow door. Inside we discovered Los Amantes Mezcaleria, an amazing little bar that serves one thing Mezcal…the nectar of dreams, artists and love. This places carries Mezcal from the finest craftsmen of Mexico, those who know the art of it all. Los Amantes convince them to make a few extra barrels and carry them. I am lucky enough to have a bottle of one of their finest. If you convince me, I may let you have a sip.