Straight Outta the Echo

For those unaware, the Echo is our student newspaper. I wrote this article the week before National Student Leadership Conference, which was, for lack of a more creative word: AWESOME, and also called "RE: imagine, RE: create, RE: new". But, more on that later. Here is the article:

This is the section of the paper that, in general, deals with art as we most often conceive of it—movies, music, books, television. I would like us to move behind much of what we consider good art to the place from whence it came. The creative mind.

To be fair, we should probably back up one more step and ask where our creative minds came from, but that's beyond the scope of this little piece. We will just answer the question—we were created by a more perfectly creative mind, in whose image we are also made. And because of this fact, I come to what I really want to say: it is not just the “artists,” as classically understood, who have a creative role to play in this world. We all do.

After all, what does the best art do? Bring joy, heighten awareness, make us ask difficult questions, help us contextualize, impress us with the power and capacity of the human mind, enrich our lives in a variety of ways, juxtaposition things to reveal a new perspective, et cetera. I do not want to diminish actual works of art and their role in our lives, only to say that if you find yourself in a similar place as me—with an inability to paint, draw, compose music, or write a good story—this does not diminish your responsibility to creatively act in the world.

We don't talk like this often, so it might be a bit of a challenge to discover what this actually means, and then looks like. Fortunately for us, the Creator who made us, made us in a variety of ways, with a variety of passions, gifts and backgrounds and an infinitesimal number of ways for our creativity to manifest. We should start trying some of those out. I can't really imagine what life would be like if we taught and encouraged thinking, dreaming, relating, speaking, and formulating creatively. I like to call it “life art.” Maybe that's not a very creative name. No doubt this kind of creativity already occurs, but no doubt there is a lot of room to grow into this part our true selves.

Some might say that life wouldn't change too drastically if we didn't have art. Or, that we don't need art, so we sure don't need this “life art.” I beg to differ. Surely, life would still be full of circumstances in which we encounter deep pain, confusion, darkness, and sorrow. But, I think that creative approaches to dealing with the difficult reality of what we have faced, are facing and will face in this world are life giving.

Life art (as well as art classically understood) can bring context for our pain, clarity in or confusion, light in our darkness, and redemption to our sorrow. It gets to us in ways that other things can't. It surprises us. It changes us. It is so very unnatural that it jars us out of our normal ways of being, thinking and doing, and renews us, and we need that. If we all did it, it might be a bit like creating a life-giving culture that we could draw people into, kind of like the Kingdom of God. That seems important to me.


Continual Clanging of Symbols

This is an excerpt from Charles Williams' "Bors to Elayne: on the King's Coins"

"...Money is the medium of exchange.

Taliessin's look darkened; his hand shook
while he touched the dragons; he said 'We had a good thought.
Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols.
I am afraid of the little loosed dragons.
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?'

The Archbishop answered the lords;
his worlds went up through a slope of calm air:
'Might may take symbols and folly make treasure,
and greed bid God, who hides himself for man's pleasure
by occasion, hide himself essentially: this abides--
that the everlasting house the soul discovers
is always another's; we must lose our own ends;
we must always live in the habitation of our lovers,
my friend's shelter for me, mine for him.
This is the way of this world in the day of that other's ;
make yourselves friends by means of the riches of iniquity,
for the wealth of the self is the health of the self exchanged.
What saith Heracleitus?--and what is the City's breath?--
dying each other's life, living each other's death.
Money is a medium of exchange."

This whole poem gives various perspectives on money as the/a medium of exchange. This beautiful excerpt, though, discusses money as "a" medium of exchange. Render (exchange) to Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God's. And what is God's exchange medium? Love? Acts of love? Symbols of love? Money is one of those, but oh, there are so many more. "My friend's shelter for me, mine for him," and "dying each other's life, living each other's death." This is beautiful exchange. This is symbolic love. This is a love that points to something important, something outside of ourselves.


Play the Cymbals for Symbols.

I never know what to name my blog posts. So, I end up with stupid titles like this one, and think of all the cheesiest ways to relate it back to the intended blog message. I am not going to do that to you.

Before I begin talking about Symbols, and why they have been a recurring theme this week, please take a minute to stare at "symbol" and "cymbal." What an odd conjunction of letters. It only takes four seconds before I think they are misspelled. Weird words.

Really though, Symbols.

Monday night my Marion Spring Break team went to the Community School of the Arts and met with the director. He was a dynamic, talkative guy who somehow got on the subject of not feeling comfortable in churches. He doesn't like the raising of hands or "making a show" in church. I understand that. I started thinking about how potentially a lot of artists might not feel very comfortable in church settings. Most churches have cultural symbols that they get attached to and stick to. They are inherited symbols, and because they come from the Church, we don't question their purpose. We can tell that this is true when we go into churches in which we know that the regular order of worship hasn't changed at all since the Grandmothers were toddlers in the very same church. This isn't bad, maybe. This is just an observation. Unless we create them, or discover something detrimental about the old ones, symbols in churches rarely change--even our language doesn't change.

I can see why this would be a problem for the artistic crowd (and thus should potentially be a problem the church must address). Artists create symbols all the time. It is their mind's work to find new ways to represent truth and beauty and goodness in some powerful manifestation. It is the refreshing and readjusting of these symbols that keeps our minds renewed. After all, a symbol is not an end in itself, it always represents something. If we are creating symbols that are true to what they represent, then we should not be worried that a symbol change will skew the true of the message. When we worry about symbol renewal, we worry about breaking out of tradition, we worry about "not doing something the way its always been done." And, in my personal opinion, this often leads us to worship the symbol instead of that which it represents.

This is a difficult task in a church. After all, many powerful symbols have already been created, and are GOOD. Communion, baptism, songs of worship, etc., are all good, and quite important, really. But, not as important as what they represent. If we do not need to renew these symbols, then we do need to renew the way we see them, lest they become dead practices of a dead people.

I do not know how all of this works, but I think that the people of American Christianity (for that is the only culture of Christianity I know), hold on to many a symbol, in many a denomination, and have become partial to and partisan about their symbols. This does not mean that we should go out and start new churches in cities where there are already hundreds, but it does mean that we should come into who we are a creative beings and breathe new, God-given life into the symbols and traditions in the buildings we meet in every Sunday, of every week.

After all, would it be too terrible if a Methodist Church recited a liturgy, or if we learned to powerfully use everyday language instead of "Christianese" when we talked with people? Sounds crazy, I know. Sometimes, though, I think we need crazy to wake us up from complacent rhythms of everyday life.

(This thought process was spurred on by a visit to an Episcopal Church in Marion during this Holy Week. Each service was VERY powerful to me. I had never really experienced liturgy before, and was VERY impressed by the power of the new symbols I was witness too).