Sunday, October 12, 2008

Worship and Art: God Likes A Good Beat

Three things I thought about in church today: (Wrote Yesterday... got sick.)

1. Art is both uniquely human and supernatural. It expresses our "humanness" like nothing else. It is man creating for the sake and joy of creating. It is also man creating to honor God, exalt God, to commune with God. (Whether the man knows it or not) To create is the most uniquely God-like quality that we have. We create, not things from nothing like God, but we create from the materials he has given us. The farmer, the lawyer, the housewife, the plumber... we are all poets in our own way. Might sound stupid but it is not. Our entire agriculture and civilization is built upon man's ability to think creatively. It uniquely separates us as a race.

Yes, there is a difference between functionality and beauty, but there is still no distinction between functionality and art. Art may not express the beauty of something as its main purpose; it may be something created to till the earth, but a man makes it. He conceives it. He shapes it and puts the thing to work. A great quote from an upcoming film about the guy who invented the windshield wiper, or something about it. Someone said to inventor, "Its just a windshield wiper." The inventor replied, "Yeah, but to me, it's the Mona Lisa."

There is something artistic in everything about our culture. From the windshield wiper to the cold blocks of concrete that the Communists liked to call "buildings." Even those boring communist structures had their own cold artistic statement embedded in the heart of their minimalist architecture. There is no escaping it. Even the accountant, or mathematician is an artist at what he does. There is an elegance to math and the mind that shapes it that is beyond words. Math is the language of the created universe. Or the lawyer, in his deposition, he/she has to shape an argument, win a jury with a skillful turn of words, a dramatic pause... The great trial lawyers are in their own ways, actors. The stay at home mom... I can't begin to number the ways in which a stay at home mom has to think creatively to both stay sane, and keep her kids from killing themselves. The list goes on and on.

2. Each church wants to communicate with God in their own unique and artistic way. Believers flock to like-minded believers so that they can communicate through their preferred medium and worship. This is not a bad thing, but it can become a bad thing when we think that artful worship alone is responsible for spiritual movement. We are conditioned from birth to be more closely related to certain types of art, music, poetry, literature- and in the church, we gravitate towards attending where the medium most closely resembles those influences. This is okay as well, as long as one group does not judge another's worship.

3. Even though there are different modes of worship in churches, one should not forget, that the spirit does not necessarily live in the great thunders of the timpani or 4-on-the-floor kick drum, praise choir, brass section, or in the soaring voices of the St. Thomas boys choir that I heard this morning at communion. (Which was beyond words beautiful.) It can and will speaks in spite of those things and if it is present, it doesn't matter how fancy the song or medium, it will move you, if you let it. Hopefully the people singing or speaking have this intent in their hearts. But it may move in spite of those things as well. That movement can happen in a tone-deaf farmer's church or in the angelic lines bouncing off the stone walls of the St. Thomas Episcopal Cathedral. The still small voice of God does not need a fire or earthquake or great wind to announce His coming or presence.

The condition of a man's heart always trumps the level of excellence in any offering of praise. After-all, when God found us, we were dirty and filthy and full of pride and sin. What makes us think that perfectly harmonizing chords will matter a hill of beans if our heart remains un-offered? The sole purpose of any art (music/art/dance/preaching/building-architecture/graphics) in church is to aid in breaking through to the heart of man, and a church's pursuit of excellence can many times distort that or worse, distract completely. However, it is always a cherished and unforgettable moment when both are present. For that to happen, we have to be extra careful that a striving for excellence will not overshadow the beauty of simple honesty. Pride can so easily wrap its nasty tentacles around the effort if we are not careful and we find ourselves blaming one another for the missing spirit, or we just spend more money for new spirit-ushering gadgets, bigger speakers, bigger orchestra and bigger jumbotrons.

We cannot afford to fool ourselves into believing that God can be bought or that He appears in some settings and not in others. There is no magic worship band potion to make the Spirit move. The Spirit is not formulaic, He is mysterious. No style of worship holds rights to His movement; He cannot be contained. The beating heart is the Spirit's only conduit into the life of man.


Vitamin Z said...


Have you read this book? If not, I would get it. You would love it I think:

He deals with similar issues that you write about here.


Fork said...

Hey! That top picture was of St. Thomas! I totally go there!

Chaotic Hammer said...

Right on.

Popcorn said...

I have read this post three times. So well written. Last sentence is my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Found your blog via Shaun Groves. Wow, what a find!

Your thoughts in this post remind me of Madeleine L'Engle's book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Only your post was easier to read.

I am very happy to read your stuff.

Kelly said...

Great read, as usual! Wow-