Friday, October 12, 2012

On Art and Ministry and Telling the Truth

At the forefront of my thoughts: I miss art. I miss writing. I write scheduled Facebook statuses for our church, but I don’t think that counts. The New Yorker’d never be interested in my compilation of updates.

Here’s another thought—a lie, this time: Art and faith may not marry. They are first cousins; marriage would yield genetic mutation, deformity in whatever springs off their union.

And here’s the follow-up, another lie followed by others:  Art and ministry together are a codependent couple. Messy. Art displays pain and ministry is a balm for it. Art swears and stings and cuts and smokes pot and is promiscuous and uncontained.  True ministry helps to heal; it is faithful, sometimes containing and sometimes setting free, and rarely swears. And probably never smokes pot. And for sure doesn’t drink too much.

I said these were lies, but I suppose they are half- or three-quarter-truths.  I am working out what it means, what it could look like, to live a life of ministry with its healing and setting free and sometimes-containing and at the same time being a maker of art, of the stuff which, among other things, reveals the need for ministry in the first place.

In my country, I think the church is sometimes afraid not so much of art for art's sake, but of honesty.  Back in the 90s I remember chatter about artists leaving the church because the church couldn’t make a home for them, because their truth-telling--whatever the medium--was disconcerting, unsettling, and at times downright unpleasant. I imagined flocks of sheep, hundreds and thousands, fleeing the pen through the gate.  The artists were leaving! The artists were leaving!  The rest of us were going to keep staring at bare cinderblock church walls, forever singing the only songs we’d ever learned and never any new ones.  I wanted to go with the artists to New York.

Now, as a minister and as one who has remained faithful to the church, I want to embrace art and whatever truth lies in the stories that it tells. But let me admit that I don’t find every story to be overtly truthful. So, I’m not so much interested in the dishonest ones that glamorize or, worse, darken my mood and my heart for no noble cause. But if art can point to something true, even if that truth is unsettling, I’m in. I’ll watch, but I might peek through my fingers.

I read a story a few weeks ago, an essay by a transgenderChristian, writing about her experience first as a husband and father, and then as a woman (all in the context of her Christian faith and an active life within the church). 

I am the first to note the gazillion theological questions that can spring to mind at this mention no matter who you are, no matter what your politics, beliefs, or sexual orientation. But here’s something: this was someone’s life. It happened. It was wrestled with. It was true.   I’d rather look at that than not.


Rebecca Wilcoxon said...

As always, I love your posts and your gracious honesty. C.S. Lewis deals with art and faith in a chapter of his fiction book The Great Divorce. He more comments on the other side of art - using art to share the light that we see in the world. I can't do it justice, but it is a very interesting discussion/chapter (not to mention book - it's one of my favorites!) Thanks Heather!

heather weber said...

Hey Rebecca! Thanks for your comments. Love Lewis, too. And you're right, there's this whole flip side to the discussion--about what art can accomplish in its pointing to the good, the true, the light, the lovely. I think I've been fixated on the merits of art's dark qualities lately because I'm trying to sort out a personal ethic--what does it mean to be a minister and make art at the same time (when art contains those truths that point to not just the light, but also to the dark, so to speak).