DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Beauty is the Eye of the Beholder

Written by: on September 14, 2017

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a saying of the American and British community. It justifies the rights of the person who does not agree with another one’s view of something visual. In our society art refers to pictures, dance, music, sculpture, and more. Dyrness discuss the inclusion and exclusion of the arts in some of the Christian churches. He says the negative views of religious art in the Christian community relate to the second commandment: the art of worshipping images of God. Dyrness comments on Exodus 20, “The second commandment is often cited in support of the supposed biblical reticence about imagery. But this clearly has to do with false worship and not with the attempt to portray religious truth in the form of images. The line is drawn between God and idols, not between God and images. Human creators in the Bible are actually commanded by God to make objects that encourage the proper worship of God in the tabernacle and temple, temple so this activity could not have been prescribed in the second commandment.” (Kindle, 83-84) As a child, I did not want to wear a cross because I believed it was an image of something I and no one else alive witnessed, so how do we know what the cross looked like. As an adult, I dislike the pictures depicting the images of Christ because it has encouraged people to believe that Christ really looks like that, they see this image on a toast, tree, etc. As an artist, there should come some responsibility in the religious world or maybe any world. We hold politicians and preachers for the words they say which encourage their followers to believe as truths, why not the artist.

           

Dyrness says, “Christians have often embraced popular culture. One thinks of revival choruses and tracts and the role of music in the black church.” (Kindle 13) My church does not display the normal image of Jesus standing on the water near the baptism pool but display many African/African America art reflecting the Black Church. What do I mean by Black Church? The worship experience in a black church: women in the church wearing the wide rim flowered hats, women shouting, women praise dancing, Preacher behind the podium, choir praising in the choir stand, etc.

The art of dance by some Christian churches were held sinful similar to musical instruments being used in the Church house. The only dancing allowed in the church was the holiness dance (slain with the spirit). Dyrness believes “Christians have not until recently involved themselves in popular culture… In fact, it is tempting to say that until Christians and the church get serious about supporting the arts, they ought to temper their criticism about the kind of art that is produced.” (Kindle, 17) I am not sure what Dyrness’ church world look liked but he published this book in 2003. Our church embraced dance in the 80’s. My sisters organized the first praise dance group in our church. It was not an easy transition but it was a smooth one. The pastor supported them they just had to get the congregation on board. Now in numerous churches, the praise dance groups are accepted. I must admit that some praise dance groups moves are questionable.

The art of ministry has been folded into our worship for years. Worship is not only songs of priase with praise teams and choirs but includes dance, at times flags waving, step teams, mime, musical instruments, and African art in the foyer and hallway of the sanctuary. I am aware that some churches are not accepting the inclusion of the arts in their worship except for Jesus standing on the water behind the baptism pool. The art of worship experiences can be a historical document as the art chiseled into the caves documenting what transpired.

The modern churches promote a different worship format. Technology is extensively used in worship, some use lighting similarly used in concerts. The traditional choirs are now music teams leading worship. It’s loud and long. Its purpose is to reach the unchurched and it’s working. There is no podium or pulpit filled with preachers and deacons. It’s an open stage with a pastor speaking to the people. Dyrness points out that “Critiquing contemporary culture has been a favorite pastime for Christians since the Reformation.” (Kindle, 20)
Dryness quotes, Gerhard Richter , a contemporary German artist: “ Art is not a substitute for religion: it is a religion. The Church is no longer adequate as a means of affording the experience of the transcendental, and of making religion real — and so art has been transformed from a means into the sole provider of religion .” (Kindle, 22) “Simone Weil has argued that there are three ways people are drawn to God: through affliction, religious practices, and by the experience of beauty …Among white races, she argues, ‘ The beauty of the world is almost the only way by which we can allow God to penetrate us .’” (Kindle, 22) As people transform based on their relationship with God, their expressions of worship reflects their relationship with God. Churches of traditional value are challenged with little increase in membership due to their inability to accept art as worship.

About the Author

Lynda Gittens

6 responses to “Beauty is the Eye of the Beholder”

  1. Lynda,
    Thanks for the post – I liked hearing you work through this material and I really enjoyed thinking about your dance group – I think you would fit in at our church!
    Some time I think I would like to have a discussion with you about the responsibility an artist has for his or her work…But I think that is for another time!

  2. Mary Walker says:

    Lynda, your church has embraced so many things that would have been forbidden 100 years ago. How wonderful.
    As I was reading your post, I found myself in agreement, but had a thought. You said yourself, “Now in numerous churches, the praise dance groups are accepted. I must admit that some praise dance groups moves are questionable.”
    I guess that’s the caveat. We need to be discerning as to what really honors the Lord and can add richness to our worship and what might actually be too distracting.
    Very interesting as always!!!

  3. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Thanks for helping us see a glimpse into the Black Church worship experience, as that is something I’ve not experienced.
    Re: art in the worship space– I think back to God’s instructions to the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle– a skilled craftsman oversaw it; they incorporated purple cloth, gold candlesticks, a table of presence, decorative pomegranate bobbles, and an elaborate golden cherubim mercy seat for the presence of God to dwell among them. I imagine they space was beautiful (in their terms), drawing them into the holiness of the presence of God.

    “As an adult, I dislike the pictures depicting the images of Christ because it has encouraged people to believe that Christ really looks like that”– I’m glad you titled your post “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” because I am quite drawn to images of Christ that help us understand Jesus from our own– and especially others’ contexts. There’s no doubt Jesus was Middle Eastern (Jewish), yet it is extremely valuable to recognize him as one of us. Here is an image of Jesus on the cross, from a Turkana artist: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B63X8GDKA4qPYUU4ZlhIOGZocEE

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Lynda – What an alluring and artistic statement: “The art of worship experiences can be a historical document as the art chiseled into the caves documenting what transpired.” So true and beautifully depicted. Even in my lifetime, I am amazed at the various cultural worship experiences I’ve had that each read like a fashion magazine of the latest and current trends. Each new worship experience brought new artistic experiences and culture to churches everywhere, and continue to impact church culture. What have been some of your favorite worship experiences?

  5. Jim Sabella says:

    Lynda, really enjoyed your post. When you said, “I am aware that some churches are not accepting the inclusion of the arts in their worship except for Jesus standing on the water behind the baptism pool.” In the church in which I grew up, the baptismal was one of the few places where there could be a visual expression of Christ in the church. I didn’t realize that until you mentioned it in your post. It makes me wonder what was so unique about the space where we baptized people that it was okay to have a painting of Christ. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Lynda, I love that your church has embraced so much artistry! I think the black church in general does a much better job of this than most other Western churches. I envy the celebration aspect!
    “As an artist, there should come some responsibility in the religious world or maybe any world.” Can I push back against this a bit? I think we have to be somewhat careful of delineating what an artist’s responsibility is simply because we have different ideas of what art is and what what art does. You don’t care for images of Christ, but I tend to collect images of Christ from around the world. I think that’s what you meant by beauty being in the eye of the beholder. I don’t always like art that I encounter (I’m looking at you, white rappers!), but I don’t think I could censor or eliminate them because their art reaches someone. Does that make any sense?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *