Archives For Apathy

In the church, we handle glory on a regular basis. Every time the church gathers, we talk about topics like: the greatness of God, the fact that God became a human being, our longing for redemption and our inability to save ourselves, the fact that Jesus has conquered death, the reality that God himself lives inside of our human bodies through his Spirit, etc. In other words, the church’s conversations are about the most profound, awe-inspiring, life-transforming, tear-inducing, joy-invoking topics imaginable!

And yet we are numb. The fact that I could type the above sentences without falling on my face and/or break dancing means that I’ve grown callous to truths that ought to be overpowering me at every moment. Think especially of what this is like for pastors: They stand in front of the faithful week after week and talk about the greatest mysteries, struggles, and triumphs in the universe. How can we keep these powerful truths fresh? How can we continue to see and value the glory that the Christian life puts us in contact with at every moment?

Makoto Fujimura: Consider the Lilies

Makoto Fujimura: Consider the Lilies

One significant answer is this: we need artists in our churches. We don’t need only artists, but we do need artists. Art is a gift that God has given humanity so that we can explore the significance of life. Textbooks and newspapers present us with the facts of life; art presents us with the meaning and significance of those facts. If art is God’s gift (it is!) and if this is what art does (it does!), then how can we afford to ignore the role of art in our churches? (We can’t!)

Pablo Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

J. R. R. Tolkien: “We need to clean our windows so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity.”

Madeleine L’Engle: “Perhaps art is seeing the obvious in such a new light that the old becomes new.”

As a Bible college professor, I spend a lot of time in classrooms talking about theology and life and ministry. But some of my richest times in those same classrooms come when I teach my class on Christianity and the Arts and my students share the art they’ve created. It takes those same powerful truths we talk about and pushes us to view and handle and (almost) taste them in ways that bring them to life again. The insightful artist can, in a sense, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, feeling to the numb.

Speaking as a pastor to other pastors, Eugene Peterson says:

“Everyone needs artists. Pastors especially—and especially this pastor—need them, for we spend our lives immersed in forms of glory, in the world of salvation become incarnate in Jesus. If because of overfamiliarity and too much talking about we no longer see the glory contained in the form, no longer touch the salvation in the body and blood of Jesus, we are no longer pastors. I want to tell all my pastor colleagues, ‘Make friends with the artist. Let him rip off the veils of habit that obscure the beauty of Christ in the faces we look at day after day. Let her restore color and texture and smell to the salvation that has become disembodied in a fog of abstraction.’”

I do think that some churches try too hard in incorporating art into their services. I often get the impressions that churches “get artsy” just so that they can appear “relevant” or “with it” to younger generations. I’m not advocating that we drape every inch of our church buildings in art or that pastors don skinny jeans and adopt the persona of a bleeding heart artist (but it’s okay if your pastor does).

Donal J. Forsythe, "The Long Night," 12 box construction. (http://www.donaldforsythe.com/boxes/longnite1.html)

Donal J. Forsythe, “The Long Night,” 12 box construction. (http://www.donaldforsythe.com/boxes/longnite1.html)

I actually don’t think that incorporating art into the life of our churches should be all about what happens on Sunday mornings. Perhaps it should mean hosting artistic events. Certainly it will mean giving artists regular opportunities to share their art with people in the church. It’s really not about a strategy or a model; it’s about valuing and discipling the artists in our midst and imploring them to use their God-given gifts to enrich our lives and our worship. We should also go so far as viewing our artists as missionaries and sending them out into the world with Bibles and paintbrushes for the sake of our common mission.

Becoming a more artsy church is a lame goal. But acknowledging the power of art and the value of artists is essential. And until our churches figure out how to incorporate the gift of art and the gifts of artists into our common life, we will be depriving ourselves of a powerful means of tearing away the veil and bringing ourselves into regular contact with glory.

For more on this, click here.

For an extended list of solid books on the subject, click here.

When Francis Schaeffer looked at our modern society, he saw a lot of apathy. He would trace the ebb and flow of Western Civilization, highlighting achievements, revolutions, and the longings of mankind. Many idealists, revolutionaries, and power-hungry people have changed the course of history—some for better, some for worse. But when Schaeffer looked at his own generation in the twentieth century, he didn’t see a whole lot of ambition either for good or for evil. Instead, he saw mostly apathy.

Schaeffer identified what he called “two impoverished values” that dominated the middle class in America and in other Western nations: personal peace and affluence.

Our American society is shockingly rich. Of course, we’re too used to it to feel the shock. But you’ve heard it before. As science was put to practical use in the Industrial Revolution, we began producing goods and therefore creating capital on a scale that the world had never known. We take our single family residences, our ratio of at least one car per adult, our electric everything, and our endless supply of running water for granted. We even protest when state colleges raise their tuitions, claiming higher education on our terms as a right.

So to Schaeffer’s point: affluence became one of our highest values. We want to be well off. We don’t need be as wealthy as the Wall Street execs (and we’ll occupy their sidewalks to show how money-hungry they are), but we’re not okay without a specific level of wealth-derived comfort. We take our stuff for granted, and we’ll hang on to our stuff and defend our right to own it, even if that means that other people will have to go without.

Schaeffer referred to this as a “noncompassionate use of wealth.” When we have more than we need, we subtly raise the bar of needs vs. wants. Other people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, but we’re so committed to affluence that we’re not willing to part with our money. We don’t use our wealth compassionately. Look around at our modern society and tell me you don’t see that as a trend.

And then there’s what Schaeffer referred to as “personal peace.” By this he meant that people simply want to be left alone. I’m okay, you’re okay. Let’s avoid all conflict. Even if it means that injustice prevails, I don’t want to get dragged in to any controversy. Just leave me be.

Schaeffer traced this into the political realm, saying that our society would vote for any candidate that could promise them their personal peace. I’ll give you my vote as long as it doesn’t upset my lifestyle. As long as things can stay the way they are, I can get behind anyone.

I err on the side of agreeing with (almost) anything Schaeffer said, but I really think he’s spot on with his analysis here. Apathy does prevail in large swaths of our modern society. The only thing that will get people riled up is a tanking economy or a threat to their personal freedom. It’s probably not wise to try to decide whether an evil regime would be preferable to an apathetic mass populace, but Schaeffer is certainly right to call these two values “impoverished.” Much of what plagues our society stems from our unswerving allegiance to these two values.

Schaeffer’s voice was prophetic. We should use his warning as a wake up call to our society as a whole. But beyond that, Schaeffer’s warning should be heard by individuals as well. How are you living your life? How much do value affluence? What is your level of commitment to personal peace?

Don’t be too optimistic about yourself in this regard. A vague passion is not enough. A generation rose up during the 60s and 70s to protest their parents’ commitment to these two values. They vented their passion, but in the end they took these values as their own. Tomorrow I’ll explain what this movement was about, why it collapsed into personal peace and affluence, and why that is important for the way we live our lives.