The Church and Creativity

I came across this article by Darrell Vesterfelt on Twitter. In his article, Vesterfelt defines the essentials of creativity as the “freedom to be me, freedom to explore new thinking, [and] freedom to fail.”  Vesterfelt asks what role the church plays in encouraging its patrons to be creative, and concludes that church should “celebrate uniqueness, celebrate diversity, and embrace change.” This is a great question to pursue, but I was disappointed by the lack of an extended exploration of these points. I could argue strengths and faults with all three of these conclusions, but it goes down a semantic road that isn’t really constructive or worthwhile. I am surprised though that Vesterfelt left out that the church should commission, engage, and create art. Music is the most common form of art found in churches today–and quite often, the only art form. Now, the definition of appropriate music in church is varied, confrontational, which is, simply put, stupid. That is also for another blog.

What I mean by art is creative expression–painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, poetry, stories, dance, video (the list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left something out). Some would criticize me for saying the church should participate in idolatry, for tempting people to look at human creation instead of the creator, for putting false images before believers, for using any literature besides the Bible. But to throw out this bath water, you throw out the baby, the baby’s story, the baby’s journey and revelation of God, and the heart of humanity. Here is a great article by David Lamotte on why the church needs art. He writes,

To many people, art is superfluous or even distracting from what is truly important. It holds entertainment value, keeping people engaged, or perhaps pleasantly distracted, but is not substantive, and is certainly not integral. To others, it is fundamental; it is a door through which they enter into divine relationship. My heart breaks for the former category. I mourn that they do not get to feel what I feel when I am transported by a powerful piece of music (or dance or painting or sculpture or photography, etc., for that matter, though I primarily write of music here, which is my own primary artistic expression). Art is a way to worship and to be in relationship with God that cannot be replicated by other methods. It is an essential way to connect to God, and should not be discounted or minimized. (emphasis mine)

I’ve written before that to create, whether it’s a painting, a poem, a building, or a garden, is to imitate Jesus, to fulfill the command to live like Jesus. I believe that science reveals God (and eventually the debate between the Biblical creation story and evolution will be reconciled, further revealing the character of God). Language and image equally (in a severely different manner) reveal the character of God. Why should musicians be the only artists responsible for directing our attention to God? They shouldn’t. Musicians didn’t build the tabernacle, and when you look at the directions to create and build the temple in the book of Exodus, the importance of diverse art is becomes obviously necessary and integral for the worship experience. Here are some other quotes from the article:

Thinking simply isn’t enough [to be called into the presence of God], and one major point of the arts is to move us—to make us feel.

Good art is more evocative than instructive. That is, it doesn’t put something inside us as much as it draws something out. To hear someone else’s story can be instructive, but at the point that it becomes moving, it is generally because their story has intersected with our own.

think there is a strong analogy here to the way in which God relates to us. We are called into relationship with God, not simply as passive recipients of God’s love, but as active participants in a relationship with God that stretches and grows and shifts over time. . . [S]ome people perceive God as the puppet master and our own roles as passive. That is shoddy theology, though. The truth is that we have the freedom to engage, to participate, or to look away.

As children of God, we are connected, and if art reveals that to us, even if it is secular art, it contains an element of the sacred. The arts can reveal certain kinds of truth in ways that our loftiest ideas never can.

The arts have a way of embodying that mystery, and therefore pulling us back from the dangerous and seductive illusion that we understand God, that we know the rules and that those rules are sufficient. They are not.

We need the arts in worship because they are imaginative, and we need imagination in order to transcend the boundaries of our limited intellects and the tendencies of many of us toward self-defeat.

Creativity is the natural flow of things, and resisting that creativity takes energy

But on those holy nights I have described, when spirit moves, humility is the only natural response. It is abundantly clear to the performer that he or she is not the Light, but has been privileged to be the lens that the Light passes through, focusing it in this time and place. When that happens, it is clear to you as the performer that you didn’t do it. Something much bigger was moving.

We need to feel as well as to think, to be invited into dialogue with God, to remember our connection, to answer the call to create as well as to be created, to envision and imagine, and, at every opportunity, to glimpse the divine.

LaMotte speaks from the perspective of a musician, but his ideas are applicable for other art forms as well. Somewhere along the line (Puritanism? Church of England? Baptists? 🙂 art took a back seat to rules. The best way the church can cultivate creativity is to reengage with art and artists, to retrain congregations regarding the ways we can approach God.


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