Theology and the arts...

As I both embrace and wrestle with the close of another year of mission and ministry, it seems that three key commitments are taking shape and form in my ministry on the eve of Christ the King Sunday: A life-long experiment with doing theology through the creative arts is maturing on a variety of fronts. A commitment to Christ's radically open table - a theology of the feast - is equally important to both my preaching and pastoral ministry. And the pursuit of radical compassion - personally, politically and culturally - is growing as a way of finding common ground in our ever diverse context.

Clearly four influences have been at work in my engagement with the arts:

+ The on-going artistry and theological reflections of Makoto Fujimura especially within the context of the International Arts Movement (IAM). They are bringing together people of faith and practicing artists with the conviction that our common quest for beauty can help us discover common ground amidst the alienation and mistrust. What's more, they are certain that one of the roles for those called by God of whatever spiritual tradition is to bring God's grace and light into an increasingly cynical and consumerist culture. I continue to reverence their annual "encounter" in New York City and invite others to explore their work.

In 2007, Jeremy Begbie (see below) was the key note speaker. In 2008 artists and theologians engaged one another in deep and challenging conversation. In 2009, poet Billy Collins and Nicholas Wolterstorff helped us make new connections and ask deeper questions. For more information see: www.internationalartsmovement.org/ionalartsmovement.org/ Also note Mako's blog at: makotofujimura.blogspot.com/

+ The writing and "theology through the arts" experiments of Jeremy Begbie is a second important influence. Not only has he taken up the intellectual challenge of academic theology, but he has found ways of helping local congregations enter into the creative dialogue. Especially important is the continuation of the project he began in the 90s in the UK in its new incarnation as Duke Theological Seminary: "Massive shifts are taking place as we move from what the commentators call a 'modernist' culture through a 'postmodernist' one towards a relatively unknown future. A growing disillusionment about the grand claims once made for the sciences has led many to the world of the arts and the imagination. The communications revolution has made the arts accessible as never before. Barriers between 'high' and 'low' art are crumbling rapidly. People of all generations are increasingly artistically literate. Young people in particular are influenced in a myriad of ways by the arts." His work not only nourishes the mind but feeds the soul. For more information see: www.divinity.duke.edu/publications/tta/project


+ The on-going work of Gregory Wolfe and the IMAGE Magazine collective is a third key influence as they seek to recreate a new Christian humanism. As they note, they work at the intersection of art, faith and mystery. Like IAM, Wolfe et al are serious artists as well as people of faith who bring together others for study, conversation and the rebuilding of culture. "Living as we do in a fragmented society, the need for cultural renewal is greater than at any time in our history. Despite the rise of secularism, America remains a religious nation, and it is ultimately in religious vision that healing and renewal are to be found. Unfortunately, many Christians have allowed themselves to become so estranged from contemporary culture that they have essentially given up any hope of influencing the artists who will create the visual images, stories, and music that shape our time. Few Christians have applied the concept of "stewardship" to culture itself. While it has been natural for Christians to see themselves as stewards of natural resources, or wealth, or the institutional church, there has been little sense of stewardship over our national culture. IMAGE speaks with equal force and relevance to the secular culture and to the church. By finding fresh ways for the imagination to embody religious truth and religious experience, Image challenges believers and nonbelievers alike."

Five years ago, Dianne and I visited one of the IMAGE conferences in Dallas, Texas. A few months later, we found ourselves exploring the creative edge of faith and mystery in the artistic connections throughout Scotland and England. And clearly this conference helped us realize that we were being called to an ever more intentional ministry that embraced the arts. For more information see: imagejournal.org/page/about/

+ And five key written texts are equally important:

1. Arts, Theology and the Church: New Intersections ed. Wilson Yates
2. Theology and the Arts by Richard Viladesau
3. Art and Soul by Hilary Brand
4. The Substance of Things Seen by Robin Jensen
5. The Feast of Fools by Harvey Cox

Let me close with this clip from Peter Rollins - a favorite writer/thinker - who brings together a lot of what grabs me these days...

(paintings from the work of Makato Fujimura)

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