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Worship & Worship Leaders

The topic of worship has been on my mind a lot lately… so a Facebook post on Mark Driscoll’s fan page really caught my attention this evening:

So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?

It’s quite a provocative question. I wasn’t sure if he was seriously looking for answer at first… but unlike (apparently, quite a few) other folks who follow Driscoll’s page, I didn’t read his question as “bashing” or being divisive for no good reason. In fact, a very specific example immediately came to mind. I’ve been involved in worship teams since I was in my late teens, so I’ve seen just about every church leadership stereotype play out before my eyes. Effeminate guys, manipulative gals, the affairs, the coverups, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes… it happens far too often.

In the ensuing comment storm, a few interesting things came out:

1. Even before Driscoll provided a definition for what he meant by “effeminate,” a significant number of folks had already assumed they understood what he meant and attempted to defend effeminate behavior, mostly with references to King David.

2. Many others skipped the question entirely, jumped to conclusions about Driscoll’s motives / integrity / spirituality / identity and just attacked him for posting it in the first place, or attempted to “pastor” him or “scold” him with their advice.

3. The vast majority of the comments either didn’t answer the question or answered by saying that they haven’t had an effeminate worship leader.

4. Those who did answer the question fell into three basic categories: Those who cited examples of worship leaders they considered effeminate but were good guys; Those who cited examples of worship leaders or worship leader behavior that they considered effeminate and made them uncomfortable or took away from the worship experience; And those who took advantage of the comment thread to call out specific leaders by name and criticize them.

It was an interesting (tho heated) thread, and definitely full of food for thought.

For my purposes, I’ll use the definition of effeminate that Driscoll posted:?1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man : not manly in appearance or manner 2: marked by an unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement.

But even though Driscoll focused on “being effeminate” as a specific issue that he has identified with worship leaders because it can discourage people — especially men — from attending a church, that’s a pretty narrow focus. Pride, lack of character, an apparent predisposition towards having affairs… there are plenty of flaws that seem common to Worship Leaders that can create problems for their congregations. Even in places where leaders aren’t necessarily “effeminate,” I think that a whole host of problems arise because there is a lack of strong & healthy male leadership.

I’ve seen a lot of church situations where the worship leaders have been far from ideal… but the worst have been in charismatic / Pentecostal churches. I’m sure that there are problematic leaders in all denominations. I’m also sure that this sort of thing would be extremely difficult to quantify since different people are going to define “effeminate” or “problematic” differently and tolerate different degrees of it. It’s impossible to make any kind of authoritative statement about one group being more prone to this than another… but I don’t think it’s merely coincidence that I’ve personally noticed this more in charismatic / Pentecostal churches than in other denoms. Yes, I would have noticed it more there because… well… that’s where I was! But I also think there are some traits that make it easier for “problematic” leaders to be appointed.

Part of it probably relates to the style and prominence of worship in “Spirit-filled” churches vs the style in churches where that is not as highly emphasized. My personal observation is that charismatic churches tend to devote more service time to music, use more emotional or evocative music, and value musicians more highly than other churches. This combination would naturally attracts folks who are a bit more demonstrative than the general population.

Part of it probably also relates to the teaching of the church. When you re-enforce emotional worship with feeling-centered teachings, it just intensifies the effect. When I was attending charismatic / Pentecostal churches, a theme that was often repeated was the church as the Bride of Christ. That led to all kinds of sexual imagery being used in the context of worship… and sexual language in worship songs… and since men were part of the Bride, it also made it OK for them to be more feminine… and perhaps more prone to affairs, porn, and other immoral behavior.

But I don’t think those factors alone account for the lack of strong male leaders in many churches. The biggest “unspoken” reason, in my opinion… is that the “alpha male” of the church chases all the other strong males away. Pastors who are controlling won’t let men be men. Their very style of authority creates effeminate leaders. A church cannot over-emphasizes submission to the pastor, or over-emphasizes the role of the pastor in the lives of his congregants, without effectively castrating the congregation.

Anyhow, speculation on Driscoll’s comment thread was that he might be preparing to teach on this subject soon. I’ll certainly be watching my FB feed :)

EDIT 7/8/11: One thing that I said in the “comment storm” and neglected to say here was that I thought the issue extended beyond leaders just being “effeminate” — there are lots of people in leadership in churches today who, frankly, shouldn’t be there… and their presence does a lot to deter folks who might otherwise attend a church. Too many church leaders lack character, lack backbone, or just plain lack the skills necessary to do the job. Unfortunately, leadership roles in many churches are more often determined by family ties and friendships than by ability and passion for God.

And one final thought — at one point in the comment thread, Driscoll responded:

It’s a real issue. Most churches do not have nearly as many men as women. Women tend to feel more comfortable in a feminine environment than men do in a feminine environment. Many churches that attract women repel men. Sometimes it has a lot to do with the guy up front leading the music. This comes out of a recent conversation with a blue collar non-Christian who wanted to learn the Bible but felt very uncomfortable with the guy on the mic leading worship so he walked out.

Demographically, there are definitely more women in churches than men. But Driscoll almost seems to be implying that more “feminine” worship leaders attract more women. I don’t think that’s a valid argument, because 1) Women outnumber men even in churches that don’t have worship leaders, and 2) I honestly can’t imagine that women enjoy seeing “effeminate” worship leaders any more than the men do.

Ready for some “alone” time

I’m definitely an introvert…

We had a wonderful time in Reynosa this week at Casa Hogar Benito Juarez. These trips are physically and emotionally draining, but I never regret going. And even tho I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Mexico… I’m also looking forward to getting home, catching up on a couple of projects, and having some good “alone” time to process everything that happened this week.

Thursday morning, I had a chance to share a little bit during the devotional time at Casa Hogar. The last time I was in Reynosa, I learned a few of their favorite worship songs in Spanish… so I brought my guitar and played them this time.

I love Spanish worship… there are ways to say things in Spanish that just don’t work very well in English. As I’ve been learning, I’ve had to look up some words and phrases that I didn’t completely understand… especially where they use idioms we don’t have in English. But that’s been a good thing for me. When I listen to an English worship song, I’m just hearing things that I’ve heard hundreds of times before. I don’t have to think about it… so too often, I just don’t. The words (rich and meaningful as they might be) are just empty containers if I don’t put something of myself into them.

But when I’m learning a song in Spanish, because I don’t know the language fluently, I have to think about what I’m saying. And because I like to share things that are meaningful to me with others, I also think about how I would say it or sing it in English. And when I take the time to do that, even simple words and seemingly trite phrases come to life for me.

I need to get to the place where I can be that way… even with the songs I sing in English. But that can’t happen with an over-programmed life, without any time to just be alone with God and free from distraction.

Altar Call

I’m in Reynosa this week with a group from my church, and this morning we visited a small church not far from the orphanage. I had an opportunity to share a couple of worship songs that I learned in Spanish — and that was both nerve-wracking and really, really neat at the same time :) Brought back memories of a bilingual church that I used to attend in New York… and stirred up a few other thoughts as well.

The church wasn’t “in your face” Pentecostal, but it was clear that they were open to some of the charismatic stuff. At the end of the service, there was an altar call. It wasn’t the kind of high-pressure over-the-top thing that I’ve tried so hard to stay away from… but I was kinda surprised by how much I enjoyed it… and how much I missed that sort of thing. And frankly, I’m still not sure about whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing — to find myself kinda longing for something that I’ve also been running from for the last 5 or 6 years.

I shared this with someone, and they asked me if I missed being the person doing the praying or the person receiving the prayer. I answered “Both, I guess.” But after that conversation, I realized that I really need to change my answer to “neither.” Yes, there was a time when I was a part of prayer teams that prayed for folks on the road and in some of the big “hot spot” churches. And yes, there were times when I have been on the receiving end of things too. I have both fond memories and nightmare stories from both perspectives. Something that remains a great mystery to me is how on the same night at the same altar, one person could be (apparently) healed while another was (apparently) harmed.

But for the majority of the time that I was involved in charismatic/pentecostal churches, I wasn’t at the altar during prayer times. I was on the platform — leading worship or being a part of the worship team.

During “revivals”, the worship set at the beginning of the service was nothing compared to the worship time at the end during the altar call. It could go on for hours… and often did. I might not have been comfortable with everything that was happening at the altars all the time… but I loved that extended time of worship: not following a program… not worrying about whether or not we’d beat the Baptists to our favorite restaurants… just spending time in corporate worship and prayer.

And I think that’s what I really miss, what I’m really longing to have again. I just don’t know if it’s possible for a church to worship with that kind of abandon… and not also abandon orthodoxy.

Two years

This past Saturday was the two year anniversary of my father’s death. On the one hand, it seems like it couldn’t possibly have been that long because the memories are still so fresh. Yet on the other hand, it feels like it’s been even longer: so much has happened in last two years, and even the greatest achievements and sweetest of moments since then have been somewhat diminished because he wasn’t there to share in the celebration… and the difficult times have been that much harder without an understanding voice to tell me that everything would be OK.

Is it getting any easier as time passes? Well, yes and no. I’ve definitely made progress since I wrote this post, and even since last year when I wrote this one. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my dad, but some days are more difficult than others. Losing a father in June seems especially cruel because you’re bombarded by father’s day advertising everywhere you turn. This year, my church is also sponsoring a father-daughter event the week after Father’s Day… and I’ve been helping with some of the promotional stuff. I’m honored to be a part of it, but it can be bittersweet at times.

For me at this point, the grief is almost like a physical injury that is healing: at first, you nurse and protect the injured area… but as you start to feel better, you relax a bit —  until you accidentally hit it or move the wrong way or someone bumps into it and the pain floods back in. It becomes more manageable, but doesn’t go away. Walking through the loss of a loved one is an intensely lonely and individual experience, even if you are surrounded by folks who love you.

But Ps 68:6 says that God makes a home for the lonely (or to borrow from another translation: He sets the lonely in families)… and He has certainly done that for me.

People cope with loss in different ways. I kept myself busy and shifted my focus to other things… like a missions trip to Mexico. So this month also marks the two year anniversary of my first trip to Casa Hogar Benito Juarez, a children’s home in Reynosa. I love how something that was originally a last-minute impulse decision has turned into an amazing opportunity for me to honor my dad’s memory and do something for a group of kids who have very little in this world. We’re leaving for our next trip (my seventh in two years!) tomorrow morning. These June trips have been a welcome distraction for me. They give me an excuse to get excited about something while keeping my mind occupied on positive things. And beyond that, as I’ve developed relationships with the kids and the workers, I’ve started to think of CHBJ as the Mexican side of my family :)

It’s not the end of the world…

Several months ago, I started seeing the billboards:

It was easy to dismiss this sort of thing as yet another false alarm in a long series of failed doomsday predictions. I made dinner reservations for May 22, planned trips throughout the summer, and pre-registered for school in the fall. Suffice it to say… I was never worried, and I certainly wasn’t hanging my hopes or fears on any man’s predictions. (I did consider leaving a set of clothes on the couch where I usually sit, with the TV and lights on, so my roommate would come home to find me “gone”… but I decided against it :P)

And I’m sure over the next few days there will be a LOT of Harold Camping bashing going on… and frankly, it won’t be entirely undeserved. After all, by his own definition he has now become a false prophet. But there is a little twinge of a personal connection to this story for me…

Back in the 1980s, during my pre-teen-to-early-teen years in the pre-Internet era, I was living in the New York metro area. I didn’t have a television in my bedroom, but I had a boom box! And I used it. One day, I hit the dial on my radio and accidentally found a Christian radio station that was right next to one of the most popular rock-n-roll stations of that time. That station was part of Family Radio — WFME. The music was almost intolerable to my young ears, but the teaching fascinated me… and it created a hunger in me to find out more about protestant Christianity. Late at night, when I was supposed to be asleep, I’d tune in to Harold Camping’s Open Forum program. I never called, but I always listened. I can still remember the theme music and his deep, authoritative voice. Most of the questions he fielded back then had to do with charismatic issues (which he was against), salvation issues (he did not believe that anyone could really have assurance of salvation), or end times issues (but at that point, he wasn’t pushing a particular date).

I was impressed by his knowledge of the Bible and his total commitment to inerrancy. I can still hear some of his “taglines” rolling around in my brain… things like “The Bible is its own interpreter” and “The Bible alone, and in its entirety, is the Word of God.” I was young and impressionable… but those weren’t such bad impressions to be left with! I even wrote letters to Family Radio back then. The responses I received were (obviously) form letters, but I was honored to get any direct communication from them at all. I understood that Camping was extremely conservative and in a minority within the Church at large (and at that point, he was still attending a church), and even after I quit listening to him, I still remembered him with respect.

By the early 90s, I was in NYC and part of the charismatic/Pentecostal “renewal movement,” so I missed the whole 1994 end time prediction. And even tho those early days listening to the radio had an impact on my life, I really didn’t think about Harold Camping or Family Radio much after that, even after I left the charismatic/Pentecostal movement. Then the May 21st thing came up. It’s disturbing enough when folks make predictions and admit that they’re not 100% certain… but it seems like you’d have to have quite an ego to make predictions and proclaim that the Bible guarantees it! It was hard to believe that someone whom I remembered as so conservative and so hesitant to accept anything that wasn’t clearly in Scripture could wind up going off into tangential numerical stuff like that. The Family Radio website has been unreachable most of the day, but I managed to get to one of their audio archive pages and started listening to some Open Forum recordings from earlier this week. Camping’s voice has changed… he sounds older, more tired, more extreme, and far less patient than I remember him. Or maybe  maybe we just always look favorably on the memories of our youth.

As May 21 draws to a close without the major earthquakes, without the rapture, and without any visible indication of the Judgment Day that he so confidently proclaimed… I can’t help but feel sorry for Harold Camping and his followers. I don’t even want to think about what these folks might do next. Will there be a revised prediction? Will there be suicides? What will happen to the faith of his followers? What will become of the newly disillusioned?

But I was “newly disillusioned” once too… and painful as it was, God used that experience in my life. So I can only hope that their disappointment won’t drive them away from God, but humble them and give them a desire to go “back to basics” – not afraid to question what was God’s Word and what was merely a man’s.

Does “fine art” matter? – God in the Gallery (pt 2)

The world of Fine Gallery Art is a small, exclusive enclave. Most people don’t understand it and — frankly — don’t really care. When it comes to art, people tend to enjoy what they like, despise what offends them, and ignore the rest. Art can be beautiful, it can be provacative, it can be disgusting… but outside of artistic elite and the occasional media coverage of an especially controversial exibit, it’s little more than a footnote in everyday life.

So it should be no surprise that there’s a difference in perspective between professional artists and those outside of that circle. When you’ve dedicated your life to something, you want to believe that it matters. You want others to acknowledge it… but the truth is, those who aren’t in the “inner circle” aren’t going to appreciate things the same way that insiders do. That lack of acceptance isn’t necessarily hostility (though it is likely to be interpreted as such), it might just reflect a different set of priorities.

Fine art clearly occupies center stage in the life of Daniel Siedell. He argues for the importance and prominence of gallery art. He’s passionate about the need for Christians to be active in the arts (tho his definition of ‘Christian’ is so broad and inclusive as to be almost meaningless). He quotes from the Bible to provide a foundation for his work and legitimize his perspective as a Christian author… but then turns around and dismisses the need for theology in an artistic context. Art, for Siedell, appears to trump everything.

He believes that art (especially modern and postmodern art) is a superior form of communication… and when you read his essays, you can almost imagine him annoyed that anyone could even think about questioning that premise. To him, it’s a no-brainer… the way we might look at someone who challenges that notion that the sky is blue. Of course the sky is blue. Of course art is a better form of expression than mere words. Of course it ought to be embraced and promoted by the Church. Anyone who disagrees… well, they must be counted among the dreaded iconoclasts – those who seek to destroy art.

The “Recovering Pentecostal” Connection

I can’t help but see similarities between some artists (like Siedell) and self-proclaimed prophets in the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement. Both claim an authority that is loosely based on Scripture, yet not submitted to it. Both claim special knowledge which makes them superior to the rank and file: an elitist mentality. That “special knowledge” also gives them power over those who believe. Both claim to be the objects of attack while unapologetically attacking others. And both would rather label and dismiss those who disagree.

And, in my opinion, both seem to be taking a peripheral issue and trying to assign it a prominence that cannot be defended biblically.

Does the Church need art?

The short answer is, “No.”

The Church does not need art. In fact, the Church does not need most of what has become an indispensable part of our modern worship practices. If you look at what the New Testament says about churches, you’ll find guidelines for church government, outlines of how services might be conducted, warnings about things that should NOT take place in a church service, and a strong focus on the (verbal) teaching. There are no guidelines for church buildings, since these really did not exist early on. There is no discussion of the intricate religious icons that would come to characterize liturgical denominations. There’s no requirement for pews, platforms, altars, stained glass, crosses, flannel boards, multi-page full-color printed bulletins, or multi-media presentations.

There’s no prohibition against these things, but they’re certainly not essentials. And all over the world, wherever there is true persecution, there are groups of believers who are gathering — often in secret — without the benefit of such luxuries. I would suggest that these groups of believers are closer to being “the Church” as envisioned in the New Testament than any loosely knit group of pampered saints here in the states.

Just to be clear: Siedell isn’t arguing that art is essential for the church, tho he believes it deserves far more prominence than it currently receives. However, whenever we’re discussing where to focus more time and energy, it’s helpful to remember what really is essential.

Can the church benefit from art?

Of course! As Siedell rightly observes, it is impossible to completely remove art from the equation. Even austere traditions develop a recognizable “style” which is itself an artistic statement. Mainline denominational churches may use stained glass, statues, and ornate buildings in their worship. Modern congregations that might meet in less ornate “multi-use” buildings still incorporate the artistic through their printed material (bulletins, etc) and use of media in worship and sermon illustrations. Whether these uses of art are successful or not, the intent behind using them is to enhance the worship experience… and they most often do.

Can the church misuse art?

Again… I think the answer must be “of course.”

Siedell focuses much of his praise on the older forms of church art — namely, the veneration of icons associated with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.  However, other denominations reject the use of icons as idolatry. Their problem with icons has nothing to do with the artistic merits of the icons themselves… it’s a theological issue, and not without biblical precedent: Moses made a bronze serpent, and all who looked at it were healed (Numbers 21). It was created at God’s command, and used for His purpose as a positive thing… but then somewhere along the line, it became an idol and had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18). If we’re going to condemn the all iconoclasts, we had better remember that God Himself is an iconoclast…

If an object that God clearly authorized and endorsed can be misused… why should we believe that human creations are morally neutral and ought to be preserved at all costs?

How important is art for the church?

While it is clear that art has always had a place in worship, it also seems clear to me that its place has always been decidedly subservient to the spoken and written word. Siedell argues that art is a superior form of communication, a better means to communicate truth than mere words, at least partly because it transcends words and can mean multiple things to multiple people. But this subjective approach to truth (where one interpretation is just as valid as another) is not compatible with conservative Christianity.

I also find it interesting that even though the Bible does refer to many things that clearly had artistic components — everything from the bronze serpent to the ark of t he covenant to the objects in the Temple — none of these original artifacts are preserved. The Bible itself was preserved… but not the “art” that it describes. That tells me something about where God’s priorities are :) I wonder if rise of literacy has diminished the need for things like stained glass windows and statues to illustrate biblical stories… and consequently, diminished the importance of art overall in achieving the goals of the Church.

Can a Christian be an artist?

Of course!

But just as a true Christian will look at life and make life choices differently from a nonbeliever, so also a Christian artist should look at art and choose the things they create differently than the nonbeliever. Honestly, I’m not sure what this looks like in practice yet. But I look forward to digging deeper into this area.

I have heard it said that since God Himself creates, we honor Him most (and worship Him best) when we also create. But I think we need to be careful that we don’t wind up worshipping ourselves and elevating our work to a place where it doesn’t belong. We need to remember the warning of Isaiah 14 :)

March Trip to Casa Hoga

Two years ago, when I came here for the first time with my church, this was an intimidating place for me. I was stepping into something for which I was completely unprepared. I’m not a big “children’s ministry” person. I understand some Spanish, but I can’t speak it. And because Mexico gets a lot of negative press, it was a little scary to make that first trip. But now it just feels like a second home. The campus here is very comfortable and secure. And many of us from CCI have built strong relationships with the leaders and the kids. When you’re on campus, it’s easy to forget that you’re in another country. But not far from the children’s home, there are colonias (neighborhoods) that quickly remind you of the poverty that Casa Hogar’s kids come from.

This is only my 6th trip to Casa Hogar, and it is the 2nd time I’ve been responsible for bringing a group of girls down here. Some folks thought it was a little crazy to go on a missions trip without any men… and even I thought it was a little crazy to go to a Spanish-speaking country without anyone to act as a translator! Yet somehow, it seems to work out. I’m convinced that what we are doing is a “God thing,” and these “girls trips” have turned out to be some of the best we’ve had!

This week was the first time that we did it completely “on our own.” Usually, we meet someone on the US side and follow them through the border crossing to Casa Hogar. It’s not really a big deal – it’s very close to the border. But the prospect of getting lost in Mexico and maybe even having to ask for directions (in Spanish!) was intimidating. Mexican roads, especially those off the beaten trail, are far less permanent than US roads. We’ve come down here before only to discover that a road we used to take was washed away or closed! Fortunately, nothing like that happened this time. We were proud of ourselves that despite a missing road sign and making an accidental u-turn, we still found our way to the orphanage!

But this trip has still taken me far beyond my comfort zone.

There is another group here for the weekend, a Mexican church that has been using the facilities for a retreat. They’ve been staying in the house that we usually use… so we’ve been staying in the girls’ dorm.  There are no doors on the bedrooms, just sheets hanging from curtain rods. All five of us are staying in one room with a bunk bed & 3 mattresses on the floor. That’s a little more “togetherness” than I’m used to, but it wouldn’t be half as bad if had a door that we could close. I don’t like knowing that folks can just come in to a room where I am sleeping. During the day, if we are resting or trying to take a nap, the kids that are still here play right outside of our room and come in and out all the time. Our room is also right next to the kitchen where the workers prepare breakfast early in the morning. It’s not that I feel endangered… I’m just used to having some peace and privacy, and that’s not possible in the dorm. I’m definitely not getting enough sleep.

The dorm has a large “community style” bathroom for the kids, and that’s the bathroom that we’re using this time. (The adult workers who live here have private bathrooms in their apartments.) It has several toilets and showers in one room… without a locking door. It’s not fun to try to use the toilet or take a shower knowing that at any time, anyone could walk in on you. The toilets have little stalls with low walls (you can see over the if you’re standing up) and a curtain for some measure of privacy (even tho I can see through the curtain when I’m in the stall, so I’m sure it’s somewhat see-through the other way as well… and the curtain moves with the breeze & any time anyone walks in front of it…)

It’s nothing like a “normal” American public bathroom with high walls and locking stall doors. The shower stalls have translucent plastic shower curtains on them… but there is no private changing area, so either you change inside the shower stall behind the translucent curtain, or you change out in the open. I’m sure this situation is fine for the children who live here… but I’m a 36 year old woman who prefers to take care of her bathroom needs without an audience :/

The majority of the Casa Hogar girls weren’t here the first two nights that we stayed here… but they are coming back this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the kids again… and I’m looking forward to some of the plans we have for the kids and the workers… but I’m not looking forward to having that many more little faces peeking through the curtains!

God in the Gallery (pt 1)

God in the Gallery by Daniel A. Siedell is another one of my required reading books this semester. The cover of the book states that this is “cultural exegesis” – a phrase that obviously piqued my interest –  but within the first five sentences of the introduction, I am already questioning the author’s Biblical exegesis.

Siedell uses Acts 17:23 to argue that Paul embraced the “altar to the unknown god” rather than condemning the Athenians for their paganism. He also states that elsewhere, Paul quotes pagan poets, “thereby baptizing pagan poetry in the Scriptures.” And this is the foundation of his argument that Christians should, like Paul, embrace present-day “altars to the unknown” in the form of modern art.

But that’s not what Paul is teaching. Paul isn’t giving his stamp of approval to their worship; he’s pointing out their ignorance. Siedell completely ignores the context of Acts 17:23. Paul isn’t commending the faith of the Athenians. Verse 16 tells us that when Paul saw the idolatry of the city, his “spirit was provoked within him” (NASB). The Amplified says he was “grieved and roused to anger.” Paul had already been preaching, and his message was not familiar and soothing to the Athenians; that’s why he was asked to speak on Mars Hill in the first place. Paul was clearly not admiring nor endorsing the altar to the unknown god, but he used it to point out that the Athenians were admitting (in stone, no less) that they did not know everything. Siedell interprets Paul as saying basically “Hey, look here, you’re already worshiping the one true God by building this idol altar, so let me tell you more about this unknown God.” What Paul is really saying is “You’re obviously very religious, but you’re ignorant. Look, you’ve even built a monument to your ignorance. Let me clarify some things for you.”

The verses that follow make Paul’s intentions obvious:

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;” (Acts 17:24-25 NASB)

Paul is clearly not endorsing the Athenian altars – their temples made with hands. He is also coming against their elaborate temple rituals — something that was quite beneficial to their economy. If we need further evidence that Paul is not patting the Athenians on the back for a job well done, just look at the people’s response in verse 32. They certainly didn’t feel all warm and fuzzy and embraced by Paul.

Siedell’s second point — that Paul somehow “baptized pagan poetry” — also seems far from the truth. To use the example within this same passage:

“for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.” (Acts 17:28-29 NASB)

Paul isn’t “baptizing” this quote; again, he is using it to make a point. If they really WERE children of God, they wouldn’t be worshiping images formed by the art and thought of man. Hrmm… ART and thought of man? Nah, that’s too easy. I’ll leave that one alone for now :P

This shaky ground is the Scriptural foundation on which Siedell wants the church to embrace modern art.

I’m not arguing that modern art is inherently evil and idolatrous; ironically, it is Siedell himself who eagerly places modern art on par with idols. But I will argue that using proofs that don’t prove your point doesn’t advance your position. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard a Christian leader make exaggerated statements and quote statistics *from the pulpit* that were obviously incorrect. I’ve seen more than my share of silly youtube videos and viral facebook posts that misrepresented truth in a supposed effort to promote truth. But any time we use false or misleading information, we’re only proving our own ignorance and doing a disservice to the God we claim to serve.

Art for God’s Sake?

Hard to believe, but I’m starting my second calendar year as a full-time student. And as a non-artist with an art major, it’s been an interesting ride that only promises to become even MORE interesting as time goes on :)

Registration was this week, and even tho classes do not begin until Tuesday, I’ve already picked up some of my required reading for the semester. One of the books, a short one called Art for God’s Sake, caught my attention and I started reading it. The author wants to make a case for the church to embrace the arts… but even in the first few pages, I’ve seen a few things that have raised some red flags for me.

Red Flag #1: Truth or Emotion? The book opens with the author’s account of a visiting an exhibit in NY many years ago, something which obviously impressed and had a great positive impact on him. He goes on to say that art has a place in expressing both beauty and truths about God. The cover art for the book shows a piece by that same artist, called “Trinity.” But that work, which consists of three vertical bands of color in an elongated flag-like configuration, doesn’t seem to communicate anything of significance about doctrine of the Trinity. It’s a simple piece that is distinguished more by how it was made than its actual content. The colors are created from different mineral pigments — natural substances (like gold). But no matter what side of the Trinity/Oneness debate you fall on, the artist’s use of distinct substances in the color bands would seem to contradict even the most basic understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. So while the work is undoubtedly the artist’s sincere expression, it doesn’t really communicate truth, let alone any facts in the strictest sense. Art, in my experience, is generally less about communicating truth and more about communicating emotion.

Red Flag #2: Self-proclaimed Calling? The author cites an article in a student newspaper. The student asserts that her artistic talent is a calling from God… but she became “sick of her peers’ indifference to her calling.” The author clearly sees this as a case of a poor, persecuted, and unrecognized artist. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between “reveling in your calling” and just plain being full of yourself… and artistic personalities often come off as the latter to those who do not share their enthusiasm. My primary issue here is that “calling” is a subjective thing. Just because you *feel* called to something, that doesn’t *make* you called! And by extension, just because you *feel* called, that doesn’t obligate others to recognize and/or support you. What would churches be like if everyone who felt called to preach was given free access to the pulpit? Asserting that you are called to something, and then bellyaching because no one else recognizes it… that’s not a hallmark of maturity. Even those who are truly called often experience long waiting periods and seasons of discouragement. IMHO, that’s what weeds out the truly called from the “so-called.”

Red Flags #3 & 4: Subjective standards? Superior Attitude? The author talks about how Christians seems willing to settle for second-class artistic expression… specifically, “Sometimes what we produce can be described only as kitsch — tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes. The average Christian bookstore is full of the stuff, as the real artists will tell us, if only we will listen.” I don’t like a lot of the stuff that I see in Christian bookstores, but let’s face it: much of this is a case of supply and demand. For reasons that I don’t understand, certain things that have no appeal to me have great appeal to other people. And this is true not just for the Christian market: a quick survey of TV commercials or the aisles of your local WalMart should be more than enough to confirm that. Tastes are subjective. Labeling one group’s tastes as “low” is subjective at best and offensive or prideful at worst.

And that’s just from the first couple of mini-chapters.

Art is not theology. It isn’t doctrine. It isn’t immutable. Art can be a very valuable tool, and that’s how I choose to see it. I want to use art — specifically, the digital arts — to advance the vision and ministry of the church. It seems like others might prefer to use the church to advance the arts in general… or their art in particular.

Yeah, It’s going to be an interesting semester for sure :)

Lessons to remember from 2010

I (almost) never keep my new year’s resolutions… so this year, instead of resolutions, I thought I’d take the time to write out a few things I learned this year that I don’t want to forget. (And I’m sure this will be a work in progress as I remember more things to add…)

1. Dreams can still come true… even the dreams you gave up on a long time ago. (In January of 2010, I got to go back to college after a 15 year “break.”)

2. There’s a huge difference between love and trust. Love doesn’t have an expectation of return, while trust requires reciprocity. Love freely, but trust cautiously.

3. If you want to help others, you have to take care of yourself. If you don’t, you might burn out to the point where you’re no longer helpful to anyone.

4. When you’re searching for the place where you belong, you will find many more places where you don’t belong… and that’s OK.

5. Charisma is no substitute for character and maturity… and charisma without true humility and teachability is just plain dangerous.

6. The best teacher in the world is someone whose perspective on the subject is different from your own.

7. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you will still fail. That’s life. Sometimes, no matter how much you DESERVE to fail, you will still succeed. That’s grace! Failure is not necessarily God’s judgment, and success is not necessarily God’s endorsement.