Friday, March 26, 2010

#9. Why does the Church hate art?

This is a serious question that I feel awkward even asking within the parameters of a one sided conversation spanning a few short paragraphs. However, in real life it seems I've been asking it about 4 or 5 times a week now for a month or two and so, to be consistent, it only seems natural to post it here. 1st let me try to establish some ideas about what art is and why the creative process matters, whether you consider yourself a creative (by hobby, trade, profession, etc.) or not. Then we'll try to have a conversation about the Church's approach or lack there of.

One of my best friends, Scott Erickson, is the only visual artist [painter] I know of in the world that has a full time job as a Pastor at his church. His job is, literally, to paint. A foreign concept to those of us churchgoers who grew up in modernity. But for students of History, it's easy to understand the principle that Ecclesia Church has adopted as a major value...Art Shapes Culture. For children of the industrial age this means that tv, movies, books & music create lifestyles, relationships, habits, and desires that we then adopt in an almost subconscious fashion. For history, that same methodology was calculated, but it used different variables including music (classical and mathematical), the visual arts, and the literary world (novels, poetry, short stories, and prose). There are a trillion examples to prove the principle. But one of my favorites has to do with American real estate. In the mid 1980's to mid 1990's America created, built, and moved to the suburbs. What Television shows were popular then? Family Ties, Mr. Belvedere, Growing Pains...all sitcoms about families living in the suburbs. In the mid to late 1990's America rediscovered it's love for urban living and the city. What shows were popular then? Seinfeld, Friends, Sex in the City, etc. Art shapes culture.

Now we could have a conversation about the validity of the art we consume in modernity and what's true art and what's manufactured art blah blah blah. No time for that...for the sake of this conversation we must assume that among the mess, true art and an honest approach to the creative process exists. We'll ask a question about pop-art garbage vs. honest creativity another day.

History tells us that in the Renaissance the Church really understood this idea that art is shaping culture. The church LOVED ART. In fact they believed in the creative process and it's importance in our lives SO MUCH that they gave a significant amount of time, energy, training, and money to make sure that they were making better art than everyone else. Think about the top five most influential and famous art pieces of all time. I bet atleast 2 of them were created by one guy...Michelangelo. I also bet that both of them ["David" the sculpture and "Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.] were payed for by...drumroll please.....the CHURCH! So I am wondering, OFTEN, what kind of art is the church paying for now?

If we can agree that art shapes culture and we can also agree that the Church should be in the business of doing the same...wouldn't it make sense to put creating, and sharing the created, at the top of our list of things to do?

From where I sit it seems like we don't really care much about art, if at all. We don't think about it, value it, pay for it, discuss it. The only thing even close to encouraging art that I can find happening currently in the American church, and it is happening ALOT, is we are sanctioning musicians to be really mediocre cover bands and sing each others songs. WE SPEND ALOT OF MONEY PAYING FOR CREATIVES TO SUFFOCATE THEIR CREATIVITY, PICK UP A NUETRAL COLORED CRAYON, AND COLOR INSIDE THE LINES. It's as if we flipped the call of Christ to be "IN the world, but not OF it." and we have decided to be "OF the world, but not IN it." We have got our own books, music, clothing, cartoons, television, radio, and movies. They all use language that we can understand and generate revenue validating our "OF"ness.

Derek Webb is very articulate on this subject and so I will end with a brilliant quote from a recent interview he did with the good people over at Mockingbird:

"As an artist, my job is to look at the world and tell you what I see. Every artist, regardless of their beliefs, has some way that they look at the world that helps them make sense of what they see. A grid through which they look at the world which makes order out of it. For me that’s following Jesus, for other artists it’s other things. It could be anything, but every artist has that grid. Most Christian art unfortunately is more focused on making art/writing songs about the grid itself. As opposed to writing songs about what you see when you look through the grid. I’m more interested in looking through the grid and telling you what I see."

Why does the church hate art? What's your answer?

"The job of the artist is to wake the viewer up." -Bo Bartlett

Monday, March 22, 2010

#8. When was the last time you were thirsty?

I realize that today is Monday, not Friday. However, it is my privilege to write this question [one that I have wanted to ask for quite some time] on World Water Day! About a year and a half ago my rock and roll band launched a project called "Buy a record, Save a life." The idea was that we would give all 10 dollars of a record sale away to an organization that was making a life-changing difference across the globe. That project evolved into a deep passion for the almost ONE BILLION people on this planet who do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. 1 out of every 8 humans wake up every day with the trivial task of trying to find a water source that won't kill them. I think that the best way to illuminate the problem is to share a few of the mind-boggling stats that frame it:

*Almost 4500 children die every single day due to illness related to dirty water.

*Dirty water is the number one cause of death in the world

*In sub-saharan Africa over 5% of the GDP is lost due to illness and death due to lack of safe drinking water.

*It would cost around 10 billion dollars (that's 1/75th of the latest U.S. stimulus package) to fix the problem...wells, resources, education, maintenance, clean water....for everyone.

You get the picture right? The Bible says that a love for mercy and a life of executing justice pleases the Lord [Micah 6:8] and Jesus once said that taking care of the desperate and needy [like the 1 billion who are thirsty] meant that you were LITERALLY taking care of Him [Matthew 25]. So why not celebrate World Water Day with a tall refreshing glass of Justice and Mercy? you can get started by checking out what our friends at charity: water are doing to solve the problem, as well as the buyarecordsavealife site. If those don't tickle your fancy find somebody that is doing something and join them. When was the last time you were thirsty? What's your answer?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

#7. Analog or Digital?

Our Family has been traveling at the speed of sound now for about 3 weeks and we're showing no signs of slowing down. We just started the adoption process [see question #1.], we're selling our house, & I'm in the middle of getting my real estate license (school, tests, new job, etc.). So I've been asking myself this question daily, if not hourly, for as long as I can remember. Analog or Digital?

Truth: Our generation is the busiest in history. Truth: Busy-ness kills. Truth: Nobody wants to talk about the relationship between truth #1 and truth #2. The reality is that our lives are accelerating at a wreckless speed and I am not sure anyone knows how to slow it down. But we should really try to at least start the conversation.

In the musical world there's been a war going on for quite some time between digital and analog....the best example I could give would be a drum set. If you've ever heard V-drums [an electric drum set with triggers that simulate real drum sounds] and then heard real drums in comparison there is a significant difference. The V drums try very hard, using all sorts of seriously impressive technological tricks, to mirror the authenticity of wood, design, and quality hardware. But when it is all said and done...there's a reason you'll never see V-drums on stage at a Coldplay or U2 concert. TO give a bit of definition and clarity to the question [especially for all the non-musicians out there] below are some ways that the metaphorical subjects of this question are different....

economical- not necessarily synonymous with "cheap," but it certainly is in a lot of examples
consistent- like a Cracker Barrel - it's always the same.
cold- despite advancements, digital is still a jagged "photograph" of sound and not an actual representation of a real soundwave.

expensive- analog gear is old, heavy, and has a lot of moving parts. These parts are made to wear out, they often need to be replaced frequently. They also require constant maintenance to keep working properly.
inconsistent- analog gear does not always sound the same, depending on a zillion factors like temperature, humidity, and the fact that moving parts are being used to record the sound
warm- despite digital's advances, nothing sounds more human than analog. See the continued life of vinyl as a medium as an example of analog's long lifespan.

The following thoughts are from a brilliant thinker and one of my best friends Jason Harwell. He has spent the last 2 years reflecting on how the war between digital and analog is creeping into our lives:

"I see, in analog, a picture of our relationships as people (and as believers in Jesus). Like the format itself, we as people require constant maintenance and attention, capable of incredible "warmth" and love towards each other but also wildly inconsistent and different depending on the day.

And it's in those inconsistencies that we remember we need each other.

Digital is always the same; it needs nothing. Nor can it do anything beyond what it's programmed to do. Analog is different; rock n' roll, for example, was made possible by that certain sound of having an analog tube amp overdiven and pushed past it's perceived limitations. But that's where the magic is. Tape saturation, distortion, rich harmonics, feedback - these are standard items in the musical toolkit these days, and they exist because they were pushed beyond what they were supposed to do.

Try pushing digital too far and "into the red" and what do you get? Static, and not a good kind. Horrible, unmusical noise.Digital has no margin, no room to be pushed and stretched.

We - real, live human beings - are analog. We are not made of 1s and 0s. We call those things "robots." And while robots are good at building cars, they are not good at giving advice, wisdom, or a shoulder to cry on. I wouldn't want to share my life with one, and I don't really care about what happens after one breaks.

But we are also upping the digital parts of our lives. Increasingly, we are having more of our conversations behind our computer screens or while watching television or on our cell phones. We are forgetting the benefits of being together in real community, rubbing elbows and getting our hands dirty with tons of other cranky, inconsistent, and incredibly warm other live bodies.

I'm not trying to convince people to abandon technology but to encourage us all to actually think about the things we use and do every day. To consider how our relationships with each other are changing as we become more and more attached to our devices... and especially how this affects our most "analog" of relationships, our relationship to God, the Father.

For me, I'm trying to actually spend time with people in person. To maybe write some old-fashioned letters. To commit to find out what's going on with those I love by giving them a phone call or sitting in the same room with them rather than finding out about them on Facebook.

Digital is speeding our culture up, and we are developing new technologies and doing new things faster because we can without taking the time to think about whether we should or whether it's actually beneficial for us as people."

So there you have it. Slower, warmer, and more authentic? Or faster, more convenient, easier, and very, very, very, cold? Reminds me of the tortoise and the hare...remember who wins that one? Analog or Digital? What's your answer?