Art as a commodity
The first thing artists like in the Church accept are artisans who make things for the purposes of the Church. These can be songs, music, architecture, graphics – or anything where the handcraft of these servants is used. Film clips are used as sermon illustrations and graphics to promote church events. Songs support a topic. We sing prayers. What we see as creation at this level is not wrong. But created content lives in this space as a commodity. There are exceptional people who sell clips, graphics and other content. There is a place where we need creative content to support our purposes as a church. Art as a commodity, however, leaves us stuck.
Artists are often asked to donate their time, or assume that “exposure” is what they really need when they have the ability to do something for the church. Exposure pays no rent. And good stuff is not cheap. If the means are low, a church will likely do everything possible to get the message out of the planned service as efficiently as possible. This tension makes us short-sighted to find the lowest fruit. Google makes it easy to preach or find a song. We buy what we need. This is celebrated because what works is what wins. What it can get from my desk gives me value. Exposure is not a substitute for relationship either.
With the extra time or money we save by creating goods, some may still appear in deep water. Managing an ecclesiastical office is not easy for most, even if the money is not as tight as in an average church. In a Netflix world, the flood of creative content emerges with the idea that art is a commodity. We cannot put this spirit back in the bottle, even if we are convinced that we have dehumanized the act of creation. The bigger problem, however, is that we have actually removed our contact with people from the content we consume. The power of social media is that we can have a partial connection with people. However, creating in the community requires presence. Presence costs too much money and time if we value it little.
Local creations like craft beer fill us better.
Our brewer in our hometown is someone whose presence is important. There is a local brewery around the corner. Stopping by and drinking what he does for me fills the stomach much better than buying a beer from the fridge of the local 7-Eleven. At a time in history when we don’t even meet our neighbors, hanging out there connects us. It’s important to be present – sitting together at a table, drinking a newly brewed creation, and getting full. We hope that the church is such a place. We invite people to sit at Christ’s table. The word fills us and we go to live our mission. Artists in our churches such as the local master brewer offer a handcrafted presence.
We live in skin. If we want our creative elements to touch people, the way they are made can actually make a difference. Some ask, “But what if they don’t have the same quality as what’s out there?” Mom’s cooking feels good because it’s not just made for us, but by someone who loves us, who knows us. If our church only offers cut and paste music, we may sound “professional” when using tracks behind a band, but do we create in our own skin? Do we eat fast food because it looks uniform or because it is healthier? Do we play music for our worship that looks uniform or nourishes us?
When we learn that those who create may be in our banks as well as behind apps from which we download content, the riddle arises of participating in something authentically their own. Creating in church means that we have space in our buildings and in our calendar so that artists can paint for us, write songs for us or design spaces for us. But you can do this as one of us. They not only create work that is useful, but also available. This presence means that we can tell our story through people we know and who know us! The barrier here is that it is not efficient. You just can’t tap and download things like that. Relationships and patience form the basis for creating in the church. Instead of being blindly restricted by offering a website, we have the opportunity to be a broader community – with artists who help our community of faith penetrate deeper into worship and evangelism.
The work in our skin is life-giving
When we get into our own skin, we finally discover that presence is life-giving. It is inefficient, inconsistent, unpredictable, and even not so cheap to build creators in your midst and release them to tell the story. Perfection, when cleaned up, actually sends the wrong message to the world. Cookies that are perfectly packaged don’t go well with the homemade chocolate chips that Grandma used to bake. The experience of seeing them rise through the oven window and the smell of the kitchen was like incense. If we lose this in our church, we lose the creation in our own skin. We lose part of our humanity in our history and in history.
In a society that is less text-driven and more visually savvy, we lose if we are unable to communicate beyond preaching and theological books. Words have prevailed since the Reformation and the printing works. But words should be part of people. The incarnation is the last level of our creation as Christians. We create as a church. We embody our values, our lives tell the story of Christ’s love. From the last look at creation as a commodity for the church to the building of a community of creators, the final step of metamorphosis triggers our flight as we embody our history. The history. Christ. If the Church is the Body of Christ, we should embody Christ in our creation. Creating as a church is far better than just creating for the church.
My pastor reminds me from time to time what churches look like books! There are rows of banks that match the look of the reprint for printed pages. Our worldview has evolved from hearing words with the vibration of the voice of a person we know to ancient scriptures on one page, static and quiet. While spoken word sends sound waves that I feel, reading a series of words skips this tactile experience. One of the best things my wife encouraged me to do was read to our children when they were little. My daughter loved sitting on my chest while I was lying on my back on the floor reading to her as a baby. She felt the words. Snuggled up by my son and daughter, we read C. S. Lewis’s books on our sofa when they were in elementary school. Words come from someone’s skin.
So why not allow what we create for the church to be in the church? Why can’t we create as a church and tell the story? Money. Time. I don’t think these are the real problems. The main thing we need to ask is this: do we have to? I say we have to.
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