The last couple of weeks have been odd.
On the one hand, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been this frustrated, discouraged, and exhausted with my volunteer job. I was overwhelmed and frustrated in summer 2013 when I first took the job, but I expected it then. I mean, I was still in the midst of my long, dark tea-time of the soul (thanks, Douglas Adams, for that phrase; I use it often), and so pretty much everything was frustrating, overwhelming, discouraging, etc. But I got over that and had a pretty good couple of years… until recently. Let’s just say that it’s become crystal clear that it is time for me to step down as a leader. Either I am really not a good fit for this job, or else I’m just really, really tired. It’s probably a bit of both.
But on the other hand… I have experienced a new surge of encouragement from the world of Christian artists.
I’ve known for a long time that the band Switchfoot shared my position on vocation, art, and Christianity. A while back, I read this article about Lecrae, to whom I don’t listen because of my oldness but for whom I have tremendous respect. There was also this article about why Christians should write, paint, draw, and the like. And Eric Metaxas has long been a solid contributor to the position that Christians must participate in the culture rather than isolate themselves from it, and that one of those ways to participate in the culture is to make good art.
But it was with great encouragement that I read this recent contribution to the arsenal of the Christian culture warrior. David Oyelowo’s position captures mine perfectly. There are so many quotable quotes in that article that I should just tell you to go read it yourselves. I’ll just share the one that jumped out at me:
“Then, on the other side, you have films being made that are basically preaching to the choir,” Oyelowo says. “They are an extension of what you sometimes get in a church service, which is that the youth group put together a play to illustrate a biblical story or a biblical scene.
“Everyone goes. And isn’t that wonderful because we are people of grace and we are people who love the message. So as long as that’s coming through, we’re very forgiving of the fact that it’s not well acted, it’s not well written and really no one outside of this church would be interested in it.
“I think that there are films that are basically extensions of what you get in any given church on a Sunday morning.”
“A people of grace.” Yes, probably so. And perhaps I’m not as gracious as others who share my faith, because God forgive me, I can’t stomach another badly acted, poorly written sermon masquerading as a movie.
The thing is… “the choir” will always be there. The choir wants its entertainment, too. They will always be ready with an “amen” to whatever sermon-in-a-movie/book/song comes their way. And that’s fine, because there will always be a preacher ready with a sermon-in-a-movie/book/song.
But my calling, I think, is to not be part of the choir.
It is my firm belief that the best art–the best movies, books, music, paintings, sculptures, etc.–does not shy away from the darkness of humanity. In that process, the best art is sometimes messy, unclean, and even ugly in its glorious redemptive power. In that vein, the best art isn’t always “Christian” art. Look at movies like The Shawshank Redemption or Fury or The Usual Suspects or The Avengers. Well-made–even brilliant–movies all, but no one would call them “Christian.” And yet the honest Christian would be hard-pressed to dismiss as invalid some of the themes, images, quotes, characters in those movies. (“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” — Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze. Still gives me chills.)
This road of the “not choir” is really rough, dry, and difficult. I am encouraged today to think on those folks I share the road with–the Lecraes, Switchfoots (Switchfeet?), and Oyelowos of the world who share my faith and my passion for good art.
Because really, I think Jesus deserves the very best art I can make to honor Him.