Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Why We Cuss

As Steel Magnolias opens this weekend, I wanted to deal with something proactively and preemptively on the blog. There's some language in Steel Magnolias, and we've decided to keep it.

And while on this subject, let me go out on a limb and say this. Most of the stuff parading around the church under the banner of "art" just sucks...plain and simple. The problem with most church-produced art is that, in a noble attempt to be family friendly and model holiness, we strip our stories of anything sinful. We keep a careful account of bad words, violence, sex, etc. Surprisingly, God didn't seem to be as concerned when writing his story; have you read the Bible recently? The result is that we create flat, lifeless, 2-dimensional characters facing depravity deprived situations that bear little resemblance to real life. Then, we attempt to tell a story of redemption that is shallow because there is nothing to redeem our characters from. In short, we whitewash humanity and undercut the power of the cross. We fail to capture the true story of God and his amazing power to save humanity from the depths of sin.

As Dorothy Sayers would say, we "de-claw he Lion of Judah." And John Henry Cardinal Newman said, "It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless literature of sinful man."

Which is more holy? To tell a story devoid of sin? Or to tell a story that shows the power of the cross over sin? And I'm not advocating here for art as a vehicle for a simplistic Gospel presentation; I'm advocating for honesty.

And while we are being honest, I'm not sure exactly where our convictions should lead us on this. I'm not even sure where I land on this personally. I believe we've got to respect the power of art; while art strives to imitate life, life also imitates art. So we must be good stewards of that God-given creative power. But I'd rather err on the side of protecting and showing off the holiness of God rather than fabricating a false holiness of man.


At 11:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of due respect then, where do we, as Christians, draw the line on what's acceptable and not within the space of the church and our sanctuary? I.e., where do we draw the boundaries of art that represents the raw, "sinful" nature of humanity... and is there a time where we'll be forced to say that enough is "enough" and that even though the art in question presents an authentic picture of human depravity (and ergo testifies to the power of the Cross), it so flies in the face of what Christ calls us let flow from our hearts and minds and mouths that we're unwilling to display it within our church?

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

HZ, I am not concerned about you crossing any line, let me say that. I have absolute faith in your ability to filter. But mainly I wanted to say that I'm thinking of you on opening night! This morning I prayed for the performance, that it might open doors. I really hope to make it to one of the performances. Break a leg!

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Really good question about "the line." And one I'd love to have a longer conversation about.

The short answer: I think it depends on a lot of factors, including context, audience, and personal convictions of the artists themselves. For instance, the line for children's church would be in a very different spot than the line for teenagers in Teen Challenge. And I think an artist must determine their own personal convictions as well. For instance, I went through a period where I chose to say no vulgar, coarse, or cursing language whatsoever on stage for any reason. It was just a season and specific issues in which God was dealing with me.

The shorter answer: I don't know. It's not easy. And I think that's why we create so much bad art. We take the easy path of cutting it all out instead of wrestling with the issues honestly and with each other respectfully.

Ruth- thanks so much for the prayers! We need them! Hope you get to come!

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Michael Podguski said...

Hmmmm... so question: if we ultimately leave the "line" in the hands of the individual artist and their spiritual convictions, how would we handle a situation where an artist felt it appropriate to portray sexually gratuitous images, scenes, or other works within the church? Would we apply the same paradigm as we do to something like this, or would we use a different standard? And if we took a different approach, why would we do that?

One other thought: how are you prepared to handle the issue of the "weaker brother" in the audience, whose sensitivities we seem called to respect within Scripture and who may very well be offended by allowing something like to occur in the same space that they worship in on the weekends?

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Michael- good comments. Certainly didn't mean to imply that the ultimate decision was left in the hands of the individual artist. It's just one variable. Others could include venue, audience, purpose and message, etc. The decision also happens in the context of the community of faith, where accountability, correction, and rebuke occur.

I just think artists need to be good stewards of their gifts- to portray things honestly to life but also recognize the power they have to not only mimic culture but also create culture. We must strive to be honest and holy.

Weaker brother- yes, there's definitely a balance and a tension. It's why we allow our leaders to drink alcohol responsibly but don't allow it to be served in church-sponsored functions and groups. I think it all goes back to ultimate motivation and purpose. Is the material gratuitous or honest? What point is being made?

As far as graphic violence and sex in the church, I'll blame the Author for bringing that in! :)

Sorry-- my comments are getting longer than the post. :)

At 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"allowing something like to occur in the same space that they worship in on the weekends"

I totally get the point, but I had to point out how ironic this statement is considering that the rest of our services meet in movie theaters. :o)

- ryan z

At 3:19 AM, Anonymous Steve said...

Jesus spoke raw, gritty, and irreverent language to the Pharisees - even calling them names, (Mt 23:33) but with those who were hurting (John 8:1-11) he was tender and compassionate. As one who never sinned, each type of language was appropriate given the context, audience, etc.

With the Spirit's guidance and authentic community for accountability, aren't we given the same discernment?

Hope opening night went well!!!!


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