Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Killing Butterflies (Originally published 4/18/06)

An absurd concept has crept its merry way into the doors of the modern Church. A concept so perverse in nature and crippling to the Church’s ability to communicate effectively, that it needs to be done away with: The Church has somehow got into its head an idea that is as strange and peculiar as the idea that birds should live in the belly of the ocean and that fish should sleep in trees. The Church has, in fact, made an equation between truth and fact.

Once, long ago, I was having an intense late-night conversation with my brother. We were talking about the state of the world and that kind of thing, when eventually the conversation led to the place all conversations between homeschoolers ultimately led back then: Harry Potter. As I remember it, my brother and I were talking about whether or not Harry Potter was evil, and, I think, my brother was defending him (which would be just like him to do something sinful like that). As the conversation progressed, I found it necessary to deliver my basic philosophy of fairy tales, since that was clearly becoming the issue. Unfortunately, at the time, I had no such philosophy. Thankfully however, in the course of conversation, a particularly reasonably sounding philosophy presented itself to me. So as a triumphant climax to the debate I speculated that the only acceptable fairy tales are the ones which state that they are just fairy tales. That is, they don’t pretend to have taken place in the real world. Stories that pretend that the fabrics from which they are woven (whether they be elves, magical realms, genies, or talking animals) are actually a part of the real world, I speculated, lie, because such stories state the facts of human history and experience as other than they are.

This is the stance I took, and really what other stance could I, a Christian, a worshipper of the Truth, take on such an issue? I saw no way around it. So that night, standing on the cement floor of our unfinished Colorado basement, I took the ultimate stance that a homeschooler can take against anything: I stated that I would not allow my children to read these kinds of stories. Stories like Aladdin and The Lord of the Rings, even, for according to the facts there are no such things as genies in the real world, and the actual history of “Middle Earth” is not as Tolkien presented it. Don’t misunderstand me here; I certainly didn’t want to take these things away from my (nonexistent) kids, but, as I saw it, I had no choice. Anything that runs against the facts has to be a lie, I reasoned, and I wasn’t about to partake in spreading lies. Satan himself is the Father of lies and lies are opposed to God, who is the Truth. I didn’t see any way around it.

That was about five years ago. Fast-forward to my life now: As my top-twenty favorites lists stand now, almost all of the books on them are either fantasies, fairy-tales of some sort, or (though I hate the term) science-fiction. And, of course, the rest of the fiction is just that: fiction, putting forth as truth events that have never taken place. And this disregard for facts lapses into my taste in music and movies as well. So what’s changed? How can I possibly justify indulging in (and recommending!) artwork based on untruths? I can do so for this one reason only; a reason so obvious and plain that I’m ashamed not to have seen it earlier: in my philosophy I was drawing a nonexistent equation between truth and fact. For truth and fact are similar, and easily mistaken. But the difference is important: Fact is the stuff of texts books, the stuff of dead theology. Truth is what led the books to be written, and is what first sparked the fire of love within the heart of the theologian. Facts can be proved by empirical means, the five senses, but truth lies beyond the merely physical realm: Like a dissected butterfly, a fact lies dead on a table or in a jar, revealing all of the information that a scientist could want about the construction of the butterfly. Yet it seems that, in killing the butterfly, the essence of the butterfly is somehow missed. Truth, on the other hand, flits from flower to flower, never quite displaying itself fully, but always entrancing us with its mystery.

But why should we care? How can such semantics possibly affect our lives and the life of the Church? As I see it, this is an essential concept to the artist (stick with me here) because, though the artist deals in facts (events, conversations, objects, and so forth), he must see beyond these things to the Truth and do his best to point his audience beyond these things as well. It is essential to the Church in general for the same reason: the Church too must see beyond the veil of this world. For an example, let us bring this idea back to where we started with it: the realm of the fairies. In our world we are surrounded by meaninglessness; facts that, instead of pointing to the Truth (as was their original intent), distract from it. The fairy tale however, can cut through the blinding fog of empty facts by transporting us to a world without “facts”. Just as an recovering alcoholic might avoid temptation by removing all alcohol from his house, a well-constructed fairy tale allows us to be in an environment where facts of this world are removed and replaced with a new set of “facts” so that we are not tempted to worship facts as if they are truth. (A whole nother problem develops, of course, when the new "facts" themselves become objects of worship, as can be seen in many fans of science fiction.)

So the damage to the Church is this: In the name of Christ we have chosen to remain fascinated by the mists of this world and have ignored the beauties of God's Kingdom. It's said that fairy tales are bad because they’re escapist, that they take people out of the “real world”. Could it not be that fairy tales (and works of fiction in general) are good because they take us out of Satan's “real world”; a world of artifice and lies, smoke and fog? Such transportation would then be escapism in its highest form. And, if this is so, I say all the better for my children.

Communication, the Communicator and the Church (Why Art Matters to You) (Originally published 4/4/06)

C. S. Lewis once said that “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” That is to say that if, when all is said and done, what we’ve said or done hasn’t had much of an effect on what goes on in Heaven or Hell, then we haven’t had much of an effect at all. This is true of course, but unfortunately the Church has taken this kind of teaching and drawn from it some dangerous conclusions concerning the role of the artist in the Kingdom of God.

One conclusion that the Church has reached is that time spent absorbing a work of art is time wasted. For example, I once heard a pastor preach on the dangers of wasting time, using the Disney/Pixar movie, Finding Nemo as an example of a time-waster. He had enjoyed the movie very much, he said, but he felt guilty watching it, thinking of the things he could have been doing in the meanwhile that would have counted for eternity. He could have been praying for people or witnessing, and instead he was watching a movie.

One other view the Church seems to have is that art crafted by Christians has only two possible purposes: It should be used either to stir a Christian’s emotions about Jesus or other Christians, or as a witnessing tool. Beyond this limited range, the Church tells us, Christian art has no place in the Kingdom of God, and its creator is, like Nero, simply fiddling as the world turns to burning rubble around him.

Now it might seem to some in the Church that the task of trying (as I am in this paper) to discern whether or not these ideologies are true is a frivolous one. They wonder what good it is for the Church to debate the merits of plays or paintings while such issues as hunger, war and poverty need to be addressed. The concerns of such people or are legitimate, and I agree wholeheartedly that the Church is not in a position to waste time, but such apathy towards the question of art on the part of the Church is deadly. What of those believers who feel that they have been called to the life of an artist? For these brothers and sisters the issue is not mere philosophical hairsplitting; it is, on the contrary, of gravest importance. The Church must help her artists to know whether what they’re doing is really meaningless or not. And as the Church is given an opportunity to instruct, she must consider carefully before teaching her artists that God’s only intent for art was that it be used as evangelical propaganda. Why? Because there is, I suspect, more to art than that. Art is communication, and good communication goes beyond propaganda cutting straight to the message which is at the heart of all things.

To explore this issue fully, let us go back before the fall, before the creation of man or the garden or angels. Even before the creation of time itself. Before all of this, was God; God as he was expressed in the Trinity. Take special note of that word: Trinity. (The Bible is so eager to promote this idea of God-as-Trinity, that the first time God is referenced in Scripture - Genesis 1:1 - he is referred to in plural form.) The Trinity displays that which I will be upholding throughout this essay as an example of perfect communication. (Though, I guess also you could also say, of perfect communion - I’m choosing to use the word “communication” because of the direction I intend to take this essay).

The communication that existed within the Trinity was perfect in that there was a message that was being communicated without any tinge of falsehood. The communication of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was and is unadulterated by lies, by contradictions, or by masking, untinged by even a hint of posturing or posing.

Aside from this element that the message was communicated purely is the element that the message itself was pure, for the message was (in a sense) God. How could he communicate anything else? For God cannot worship anything other than himself, and communicating something goes hand in hand with worshiping it - what we worship we communicate, what we communicate we worship (if you don’t believe me, simply spend a few hours with a Trekkie and you’ll see its true). God is the ultimate message; everything that exists screams of God, and even God communicate himself for there is no higher thing to communicate.

In summery we see that the communication within the Trinity was and is perfect in that (1) the message that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were communicating with each other was communicated flawlessly, without any deceits or half-truths, and (2) the message itself was not a half-truth, the message was the only Whole-Truth there is, God himself.

In response to the perfection within the Trinity, I would say to the Church, let us no longer pressure our artists to communicate Christ in a way that feels false, so as to keep from communicating that God is fake. Let us instead seek to grasp this idea of the way things were meant to be, and, with it in mind, let us nurture and encourage our artists to glorify God by becoming like Christ, the greatest communicator of all.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Amy & Mark

My friends Amy and Mark just got married, and I had the honor of going with them to Columbia Gorge to take their pre-wedding photos.

Monday, October 04, 2010

You can save 'Blue Like Jazz'

I'm so grateful for what Kickstarter is able to do. Here's another project you can help see the light of a theater projector:

Don Miller is one of my favorite authors, and Steve Taylor is a HUGE inspiration to me. I'd love to see this thing actually happen.