Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 1

Jackson Pollock's Mural #631

Last summer, I was asked to join a team that would be responsible for creating a monthly night of worship, called First Wednesday. Our goal is to provide a moment for people to refocus their faith and respond in some way. We attempt to accomplish this goal through music, storytelling, scripture, and…art! My role is twofold: (1)to take the ideas of the group and write a script for the storyteller and (2)to help lead a team of artists that creates original work based on the theme of the night. The art is on display for people to observe as they show up and leave, and then it’s moved to be on display for a month. Incorporating art into the worship experience is a new idea at our church, and I’ve already learned quite a bit about artists, non-artists, and folks who have no idea what to do, say, or think when coming face to face with art.

One of our church’s goals is to share the clear gospel message at every event. And by gospel, I mean the message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, resurrected from the dead to give us his gift of grace and salvation, and all we have to do to receive that gift is to believe that Jesus, the son of God, died and rose again. There are many philosophies, theologies, and opinions out there that vary from this stance, so we are intent on being crystal clear regarding the words, teachings, and grace of Christ.

However, if we approach art in this same black and white fashion, either as viewers/readers or as creators, we end up with trite, superficial, closed-off works that fail to move/inspire/provoke/challenge.

Why is that?

Because everyone who has approached the cross and walked away from the cross has their own story. If I wrote a poem about my father’s death being the catalyst for developing my own faith, and the poem concluded that in order for you to experience God or to develop your faith, your father would have to die too. That’s ridiculous. For some people, the death of a parent equals liberty and release. For others, relief.

The best art provokes its viewers/readers to walk into the intersection of self, expression, and introspection, to get run-over (or at least honked at!), and to fly away a changed person. All without ever leaving the street.



5 thoughts on “Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 1

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, Joe. I just read his bio on the link and I’m hooked!

    How are the UCol classes this semester?

  2. UCOL classes are good. I’ve restructured the poetry class to include material on poetic turns and syntax—the way syntax affects the flow of images, rhythm structures, etc. I’ve also integrated an idea I stole from Andre Codrescu: Ghost Companions. We have an anthology of translations, The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, and from that I pair students with these poets based on a Ghost Companion survey they take online and on the first letter of their last name. (!) They research their Ghost Companions (“ghost” because they are all dead), read everything they can find by them (in and outside the anthology), then write an introduction to their GCs for the rest of the class. They also write poems imitating or addressing their GCs. I did this the last time I taught the class and everyone liked it. It expands the view of poetry, but in a personal way. Anyhow, that’s what I’m up to this time.

    Oh! By the way—I’m using your Capstone as one of the models in my Creative Capstone Seminar. (Did you know we have online Capstone Seminars now, for people who don’t want to go the Independent Study route?) Anyway, in reading through it again, I was struck yet again by just how good it is. I want to set the bar high for these students, and your Capstone will help do that….

  3. What a cool idea! We didn’t do much imitation in our class, but it’s such a great way to learn! That’s one idea the Copyright Cartel doesn’t understand about creativity–we learn by copying and imitating.

    Thanks for the encouragement on the ol’ capstone. I’m glad you’re able to use it. I’ve had a terrible time trying to find a publisher interested in the chapbook, though, which is a total bummer. Someday. 🙂

  4. I just saw your reply, Joel. When you have a minute, check out Folded Word ( ). They read chapbook mss. without a fee and do lovely work. I have one coming out from them in August or September, so they say; I think they might like your work. Give ’em a try!

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