"Why The Arts?": John Beeler

As we start selling our 2014 Worship CD and Liturgical Arts Book, it's a great time to take a minute to talk about Redeemer's focus on the arts.  Just step into the sanctuary to see the art installations there that display our visually expressive nature, walk down the halls to see that we are people who value supporting artists in their work, and start shaking hands to learn that writers, musicians, painters - you name it - have found a home here.  But why?  What is it about art and Christianity that speak to each other?  What does their conversation sound like?  That's why we're asking the question "Why the Arts?"  Today on the blog, John Beeler, Elder at Fountain Square Presbyterian Church, gives his thoughts. 

John Beeler

What a big question. If anyone has a short answer that is at all sufficient let me know. My fear when approaching this question is that Christians often answer it like we’re singing “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” As if it’s a defensive tactic. Another apprehension I have about answering this question is that art is such a weird word anyway, so defined and contested. I like the word creation better.

Art is about or maybe even is the persistence of creation. Creation is an act that was started by something bigger than us, and persists as a result of something outside of us. It is an echo of an echo but an echo that echoes not because of the strength of our voice but because of the strength of the original sound, and that unlike our own attempts which falter and fall, this echo will sustain and grow, and not in a overwhelming way but in a clarifying way, like finding an AM station on an old radio set.

But it does something inside of us too, which is perhaps one answer to “why art;” because it connects us to something outside of us. And if you think of sin, that is the bad stuff that happens in the world that we do to ourselves and to each other and to the world around us and to God, it is complete and utter focus on self. Creation, or ok “art,” focuses on the outside. On us too, but us as we relate to things outside of ourselves.

So creation is this sustaining echo that connects us to that which is outside of us. And it’s not a “May the Force Be With You,” an impersonal force of nature or supernature, but the echo is a person – the Word become flesh – and it’s not just a person like a deity way out there like a clockmaker in the sky. It’s a person we can know. So think about that. Art, creation, whatever, is a thing, and not just a thing but a person, and not just a person but a person you can know.

There’s way more to it than that, because you can’t just love a Picasso and end up loving God. But, yeah, maybe you could, if we believe that everything good comes from God, then it doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Then to think of creating something, and how that ties into that otherness, the Godness, and the personhood of God, and that it confronts us with the reality of outside-of-us, that seems like an ok theologically haphazard answer to “why art.”

-John Beeler