Before I begin the serious talk… I just had to share this. Anybody every heard of “Braco the Gazer?” If not, check this out and be ready to laugh, and cry a little when you realize just how desperate people are to believe ANYTHING! Braco doesn’t actually talk, he just stands and gazes at the crowds (sometimes numbering in the thousands), bringing healing and comfort. PEOPLE PAY TO BE GAZED AT! But it’s hard to accept the truth of the Gospel, right?
Is that a “Sacred Gaze…?” Hmmm…
Ok, back to business…
A few weeks back we discussed how faith, expressed visually, has occupied the second chair since the Reformation. Spoken/written expressions of truth have risen in prominence as the only valid forms of declaration of the Word of God. I would like here to pick up on the line of thinking that I swerved into during our ensuing conversation strand… Why?
Why is it that visual (and other creative) expressions of the gospel have been so violently shunned, banned, even anathematized in the Protestant church? Is it as simple as fear? The fear of accidentally slipping into idolatry certainly is ever-present among the people of God, it always has been. Think about it, No sooner had the Hebrew people begun adding teachers and organized schools of thought, they began building the Gezeirah — fences around the Law — to help the people of God avoid accidentally violating divine commands. The fear of sliding into idolatry is real. So is that it? Just plain old, simple fear? That’s probably some of it, but I think there may be a deeper, systemic cause worthy of exploration as well.
William Dyrness pointed out that “after the Reformation the arts were no longer welcomed into the church.”1 Why? Maybe because the general attitude toward artistic expressions by the Reformers could be summed up in the statement by Calvin: “Images can teach us nothing about Christian truth, since they are the product of the human imagination…”2 So, I wonder, why would Calvin make that assertion? Follow the logic. The prevailing hermeneutic utterly disqualified women from ordination or speaking publicly in the assembly. Since only men could declare the inspired Word of God, it follows that only very “manly” communication methods would be elevated.
Now, I may swerve into some stereotyping here but in my view, communication methods of an artistic or creative nature are generally viewed as being more feminine, even if just a little, softer. One residual effect of the aforementioned hermeneutic is that feminine influence in the Protestant church remains minimal at best. Even to this day in a full “egalitarian” movement such as The Foursquare Church, it really is a man’s world. So have we missed out on the contributions of around half the world’s population because their fundamental orientation toward communication is not verbal? Could it be that the communication space that should be occupied by the artistic/creative remains largely empty in the Protestant Church?
I think we may be missing some important Gospel messages because we are silencing some potentially vital media. I’m finding myself agreeing with the late seventh-century Armenian icon painters who declared “[o]ur art is light itself, for young and old each understand it, while only few can read the Holy Scriptures.”3 In most arenas, human communication is largely non-verbal so why should it be that in this one space, the sacred space, it should be so different?
- William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), Kindle. Loc. 181.
- David Morgan, The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005)
- Ibid. 18.