Treat the arts as a window dressing for the truth rather than a window into reality.
Embrace bad art.
Demand artists to give answers in their work, not raise questions.
Never pay artists for their work.
These are a few of the guidelines that Philip G. Ryken offers in a great article published online this week, one that I wish every person connected with a church would read. In “How to Discourage Artists in the Church,” Ryken, a pastor and the president of Wheaton College, writes about making the “sad discovery” that so many folks—artists as well as non-artists—have long known: “The arts are not always affirmed in the life of the local church.” Ryken goes on to write, “We need a general rediscovery of the arts in the context of the church. This is badly needed because the arts are the leading edge of culture.”
Ryken’s words drew me back to the time when, after serving for some years as a pastor in a congregation, I was appointed to a ministry as the artist in residence at San Pedro Center, a retreat and conference center owned by the Catholic Diocese of Orlando. For several years after moving there, I often crossed paths with friends and colleagues who would ask, “So, Jan, are you still on that sabbatical?” Knowing that I was doing something connected with the arts, they figured I was taking a break from ministry—doing something that was more vacation than vocation.
Although folks have finally stopped asking the sabbatical question, I still regularly encounter the kinds of assumptions and attitudes that gave rise to the question, and that Ryken identifies so well in his article. I understand where those kinds of assumptions come from, given how the church in recent centuries has so often treated the arts as frivolous, as a luxury, as tangential to who we are as the body of Christ—something that we might engage in or support if we have time enough, talent enough, or budget enough after everything else—the “real” work of ministry—has been taken care of.
I could insert a rant here, but I’m much more interested in creatively engaging those assumptions and attitudes as a starting place for conversation, and in celebrating the signs of hope that are emerging all over the place in communities that intuitively understand—or, stirring even more hope in me, have grown to understand—the sacramental, prophetic, incarnational, redemptive, leading-edge-of-culture power that the arts have.
One place that gives me hope is the Grünewald Guild, a remarkable retreat center and community devoted to exploring and celebrating the intersections of art and faith. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the Guild offers classes, workshops, retreats, concerts, and other gatherings that draw people from around the U.S. and the world beyond. While some who come to the Guild are professional artists, most are simply hungry to be in a place, and a community, that recognizes that creativity and faith are not strangers—in fact, need not be treated as two separate things.
Gary and I have been involved with the Guild for many years, flying across the entire country each summer to be with the community that gathers there. The Guild is a place where we find our tribe. And I wonder if it’s the kind of place maybe you’re hungry for, too, or know someone who is: a pastor, a church member, a friend, someone in your family. Someone who has been longing for this kind of community and didn’t imagine it existed anywhere.
And so I want to let you know that Gary and I will be leading the Liturgical Arts Weeks at the Guild this August, in the company of a wondrous faculty of exceptionally gifted artists. We would love for you to join us for a week (or two) of engaging, creating, exploring, imagining, and envisioning in a place where art and life and worship meet. Here’s a brief bit of info, with a link to more:
AT THE MEETING OF HEAVEN + EARTH
Liturgical Arts Weeks at the Grünewald Guild
August 5-11 and/or August 12-18
Join us as we explore “thin places”—the spaces that open before us as we engage in worship, in our communities, and in the liturgy of our daily lives. Come for either week or stay for both! Visit Liturgical Arts Week.
Please come join us this summer, and share this invitation with others who might be looking for the community that is waiting for them there!
ART AND FAITH ON FACEBOOK
I also want to let you know that Gary and I have recently created a page on Facebook called Art + Faith. We’re excited about having this place in cyberspace for an unfolding, ongoing, meandering, creative conversation. Please “like” the page and join us! Even if you’re not on Facebook, you can still visit the page. Find us here: Art + Faith. And please share the link with your friends.
Blessings to you, and may you find the tribe that will welcome, encourage, and call forth the gifts that God has placed within you for the life of the world.