Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lobotomised Christians and the Colonial Cringe of New Zealand: Interview with Steve Taylor

The latest CS Arts magazine is out (March 2007). The magazine is Christchurch produced and aims to resource the arts community from a Christian perspective. The design and layout is always top notch. This edition is called “The Big Picture” and the focus is film. It includes an interview with me; titled “Lobotomised Christians and the Colonial Cringe of New Zealand.” Here is my 2 favourite parts:

“I often think Christians are lobotomised, walking around with heads that have no appreciation of beauty, creativity or image. Art, or engaging with film, reminds us that we are made whole in ‘the image of God. To be authentic disciples, to be a true church, a whole church, we have to have these kinds of discussions.”

and

“The danger for the church is that it thinks it always owns the conversation. Film is a chance for us to listen to someone else’s voice. We need to listen in a way that respects that voice and doesn’t colonise it. That’s the danger of using film. The other danger is it just becomes an illustration of your point. So the use of movie clips in sermons etc. It’s like going to kindergarten, it’s a good start.”

For the entire edition, go here. I am on pages 6 and 7.

Posted by steve at 04:42 PM

15 Comments

  1. Hi Steve,

    I enjoyed the article in CS. I think you raise some valid points – the arts and Christianity is something I’ve been grappling with for sometime. Not so much on personal level, but more on a corporate level with others in my Church. As an artist (musician) I feel that there is intrinsic value in art, a value that cannot be measured in terms of evangelism or worship. But this is definitely not a view commonly shared in my church.

    Like you say, when we decide to include art in our church, there is an almost innate desire to ‘use’ it to prove a point or illustrate some message. That being said, often we are equally guilty of doing this with the bible itself – selecting parts or sections to prove our point rather than letting the author’s/artist’s voice speak through.

    Similarly, there is a predominant theology in our church that art is only valuable if it has a direct Christian message. This applies most strongly for those who are creating art. Songs must be leading us to Christ, paintings must all contain pop bible verses so no-one could mistake them for idle doodling. To me it seems like an incredible cheapening of a huge historical culture of Christian art and artists – not to mention the wider non-christian arts heritage.

    Steve Turner in his book ‘Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts’ gives a pretty good frame work for looking at art – suggesting that all art has value. Not sure if you’ve read that but it’s a good read.

    I’ve just got involved in our planning team for Evening services and, despite having lots of ideas before joining, I’ve suddenly found myself at a loss! How do we actually let art speak for itself? What if we listen to the voice of the artist and it’s saying something heretical etc – is that ok? How can we keep consistent theological messages and still interact with art realistically? Finally, how can we begin to change a culture of a church that sees most art as either irrelevant, wrong, or a means to prove a point?

    I guess I’m really writing to say that I’m glad that their are people out there (you) impassioned about the arts and their roll in the church’s future.

    The only stone in my theological sling at present is that the Judeo-Christian God is a creative God – one who created the most beautiful world, one who understands and appreciates and probably personifies beauty in the most holistic sense. Surely when we appreciate or create art we do so with the blessing of our creator. There are no bible verses etched into the mountains or across the sky, yet the very fact that they are there and they are so incredibly beautiful lead us to think of God – surely we can let art do the same!

    Anyway, I’m a local Christchurchian so I might come along to Opawa and steal a few of your great ideas – if you’ve no objections!

    Cheers
    Tim

    Comment by Tim Chesney — March 5, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  2. Hi Steve
    I don’t quite understand what your conviction is in writing this article?
    You say that
    “To be authentic disciples, to be a true church, a whole church, we have to have these kinds of discussions.”
    I figure you are meaning discussions regarding the prior mentioned topics (beauty of art etc).Are you claiming that art appreciation is essential to achieving wholeness (holiness) as a church??

    You claim that christians are lobotomised (meaning a part of the brain has been removed)for not being able to appreciate beauty creativity or image. How do you determine this? Are you speaking purely from an anecdotal perspective? If so then how are you sure that it is not yourself who is unable to see the way a person enjoys something?

    In the big scheme of things how does this fit in with Jesus command to preach the gospel. Do you think this gives people solid roots on which to base their faith?

    Comment by Alice Brown — March 5, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  3. Could it be our words that are getting in the way? Are we trying to be so precise about what’s in and what’s out that we kill the whole thing? I mean – an experience of beauty might be described but it isn’t really fully quantifiable. Again it can be nailed down with words. Take music, for example – you can break it down into measures and notes, making it an unenjoyable mathematical experience. But without the experience of the actual music, it has not quite reached it’s fullness. Christ had the knowledge that our churches claim to have exclusive rights to, but He had somrething more than the notes and measures. He had the beautiful music of the truth lived in action. Love God. Love People.

    Comment by Will — March 6, 2007 @ 4:31 am

  4. nice article – i confess i smiled when i saw your photo with the title lobotomized christian under it!

    Comment by jonny — March 6, 2007 @ 5:15 am

  5. Hi Alice,
    thanks for the questions. A few quick comments

    – i didn’t write the piece. rather i was interviewed. i just responded to a range of questions that were duly edited. so the purpose belongs to the interviewer.

    – in terms of creativity and the church, i have written more directly on this elsewehere. in essence if we as humans are made in the image of God; and God is a creative God; then part of the task of the church is to help people express their God-given creativity.

    – re saying christians are “lobotomised” – i make the statement based on a look around most Protestant buildings – not beautiful nor image based. if you want more hard evidence, i can give you a whole lot of quotes from my PhD thesis, which did research on this.

    – in terms of “preach the gospel” I like Francis of Assissi “Preach the gospel and when all else fails, use words.” there are many ways to communicate and they can include words. jesus used visual aids, told stories, performed actions — preached lots without words.

    hope that helps – feel free to probe more

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 6, 2007 @ 6:57 am

  6. Hi Steve
    I think it’s personally unfair to make judgement calls on certain churches and christians within said churches based on their buildings. I understand what you’re trying to say, but you’re basing all your judgements (it would appear) on what you think is beautiful and/or image based.

    Personally I don’t care for art all that much, I watch movies for their entertainment value more than artistic merit and I tend to strongly dislike the music most christian people tend to like. Where does this leave me?

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 6, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  7. Well Andrew, if you think it is unfair for me to make judgement calls about churches and christians, then there is no way i should be making a judgement call about you, is there 🙂

    OK. I apologise for judging. So let me give you this judgement from Tom Wright. “The Word became flesh, said St John, and the Church has turned the flesh back into words.” (Tom Wright, The Crown and the Fire (London: SPCK, 1992), 61.)

    Or this judgement from Sallie McFague, that Protestant theology is “agonizingly, painfully, verbal and linguistic.” (McFague, Speaking in Parables. A Study of Metaphor and Theology, 27.)

    Or this from Jeremy Begbie; “the Church has often left the arts to one side … especially in the last two or three centuries, theology … has been wary of allowing the arts too much room.” (Jeremy Begbie, Beholding the Glory. Incarnation through the Arts, xii.)

    And this from Art historian, David Freedberg,who argues that throughout history humans have repressed art and been reluctant to engage with images because it would lead to a re-instating of “emotion as part of cognition.” (Freedberg, The Power of Images. Studies in the History and Theory of Response, 430.)

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 6, 2007 @ 9:32 am

  8. No offence Steve, but quoting people who agree with you and support your argument doesn’t really do anything other than show that others agree with you. I think it’s fair to say you agree with these quotes since you posted so I’ll reply as if you wrote them
    Sallie McFague, that Protestant theology is “agonizingly, painfully, verbal and linguistic.” (McFague, Speaking in Parables. A Study of Metaphor and Theology, 27.)

    I wonder if you find it surprising that the Bible is literally that, verbal and linguistic. The Bible is the only official thing that God has given us, so what’s wrong with using that alone? Do you not think the Gospel is enough by itself?

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 6, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  9. So what will satisfy you Andrew? you’re not happy with my making judgements about churches. so i give you 4 theologians and thinkers and they don’t satisfy.

    and, what a narrow definition of God’s revelation! Only the Bible! What about Jesus – is Jesus not a revelatory gift that God is given. For me, Jesus is the gospel. that gospel is seen through the Bible, that Bible is brought alive by the spirit of God and lives today in the body of Christ.

    the gospel is not verbal and linguistic but the living body of Christ. that is enough for me

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 6, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  10. I really did mean this to be an attack Steve, and I’m sorry if it’s come across like it.

    You may think I have a narrow definition of God’s revelation but I don’t trust any others. I spent years in a church and now I’ve left and look back and see a lot of the things I learnt and were taught were ‘revelations’ people had from ‘God’ and I now know that they really weren’t.

    I don’t think the things you talk about are bad per se, and you’re probably right that a whole lot of Christians don’t appreciate art the way they should (if art should be appreciated in any particular way at all), but the idea and concept that perhaps the Gospel as is written in the Bible is not enough by itself, to me, is heresy. God gave us a Spirit, without it we would not be able to interperet and understand the bible, to say that extends to (for example) art, well, it may be true, but it also may not. An assumption based on the fact that God created us in his image is not enough for me sorry, what about the Fall? What about how God says that no-one is good, would that not extend to man’s creation aswell then?

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 6, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  11. Andrew, I don’t feel attacked and I wonder if you made a typo “I really did mean this to be an attack Steve.”

    It is helpful having your story. I also grew up the victim of bad interpretations. But I am uneasy about a move to your “Bible only”, because that has the potential to overlook the fact that each and all of us interpret and so “Bible only” in reality is “my interpretation of Bible only.” “the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” does not remove the problem of bad interpretation, only masks and blinds an individual to their interpretation.

    Instead, I want to argue for a constant conversation between Bible, spirit, community, other interpetations. In this matrix by interpretations are challenged by other’s interpretations and that is, I think, a healthier place.

    In terms of “the fall” – some random comments
    1 – Gen 1 comes b4 Gen 3 ie God made us in the image of God, creative and imaginative in Gen 1. that is blurred in Gen 3, but I would not want to Ge 3 and humans as no good as my template for human revelation and for what God wants to do in God’s people.
    2- the word “the fall” is used rarely in the Bible. “the fall” is often actually a human interpretation – often Calvinist guilt – re-reading Ge 3.

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 6, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  12. Yes, you’re right, it was a typo.

    You half see my point, and I agree with some of yours. I don’t think “my” interpretation of the bible is good enough, no, I think discussing it is a good thing to do, and also study the absolute wealth of information that people over the years have done. There is mass general concensus over 99% of scripture. Knowing the bible and what it means I think is to me the point of a sermon, and I understand that you disagree with that but that’s fine.

    I do think it’s important to see how certain parts of the bible are to be excersised in our society, but I don’t see just how important incorporating aspects of our society into the teaching itself is.

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 6, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  13. Cheers Andrew.

    I am happy to engage with popular culture because
    1 – the bible shows us that God speaks through “culture.” Pawl, for example, was a master at using stuff from the culture to offer the transformative message of the gospel
    2 – the Spirit of God is active in the world and this can include culture

    but that does not mean I place this on the same level of authority as the Bible. hence what i said about my seeking a constant conversation between Bible, spirit, community, other interpetations.

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 6, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

  14. Hi Steve
    I agree somewhat with what you’ve just said, it just seems a far-cry from judging other christians based on their appreciation and involvment of pop culture.

    Also, what do you do with something like me who hates almost everything about pop-culture? And what are these culture references Paul uses?

    Comment by Andrew Brown — March 8, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  15. Hi Andrew,

    My “lobotomy” comment was not about pop culture but about beauty per see. Beauty comes in many shapes. While we don’t all have to find beauty in the same thing, Christians are made in the image of God and not to not appreciate beauty is a denial of that.

    re your question about Paul – Acts 17 is oft quoted – his use of poets in v. 28; his use of altar to unknown God in v. 23. Then there is the form of his letters and his use of household codes – both examples of Paul using, yet transforming, contemporary literary forms. Then his atonement images – armour of God in Ephesians 6 or evil led as captives in God’s train – all buying into contemporary militaristic culture.

    steve

    Comment by steve — March 8, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

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