My church discourages me from pursuing the Arts

I would like to become a great hip-hop dancer and also act commercially in movies as well as participate in beauty pageants, but my pentecostal community which happens to be absolutely conservative discourages me a lot… help me out in such a way that God’s grace would be favourable towards me.

Dear Maria,

Because of the nature of your question, I asked an artist friend of mine if she wouldn’t mind responding to your question, and she graciously said she would even though she’s super busy. I know you’ll benefit from being able to hear from someone in the arts who has struggled with the very thing you are struggling with. (See her response below.)

Please email again if you have other questions.

God’s grace and favor be upon you.
Renea

Maria,

As a Christian artist I, too, have felt discouraged at times in my artistic pursuits. Believers are biblically directed to use our God-given gifts and talents to serve the church and to reach unbelievers, yet many times “gifts and talents” is too narrowly defined; for example, sometimes where I live, serving… for women… equals baking, and ministering equals taking prayer requests. Of course baking and praying are legitimate ways to show God’s love to others, but why limit ourselves by defining service and ministry so narrowly? Where do the Arts come in? For many Protestant churches this answer lies solely in the music programs: choir programs, bands/orchestras/praise teams. Rarely are there outlets for the visual arts, literature, or performing arts (theatre, dance).

Unfortunately for Protestant church goers, this de-emphasis of the Arts goes all the way back to the Protestant Reformation, where early Protestant believers protested against the lavishness and ritual of the Catholic Church. 16th and 17th century Protestant churches were devoid of architectural and iconic ornamentation—ascetic to a fault. We lost the culture of performance while worshiping (bodies expressing love and devotion to God),
images within the church to teach and inspire, and buildings designed with sensitivity to show how architecture affects the human condition.

So what does this mean for you and me, creative individuals with talents for sculpting, painting, writing, singing and dancing? I have watched artistically minded Christians leave the Christian context for the world’s culture of entertainment, performance, and artistic expression because by the time we reach adulthood, we’ve been offered no serious opportunities to grow and develop our artistic abilities. This leaves us to pursue and learn about art and the purposes of the Arts in places that often leave out and ignore the redemptive end goal of the Arts. By “redemptive end goal of the Arts,” I mean, for example, how music, theatre, paintings and sculpture all attempt to slow us down and communicate with us in a way outside of logic-driven thinking, showing us nuance and multiplicity. Furthermore, art works redemptively in its unique ability to grow our human capacity for empathy. Novelist Frederick Buechner puts it this way:

There would be a strong argument for saying that much of the most powerful preaching of our time is the preaching of the poets, playwrights, novelists because it is often they better than the rest of us who speak with awful honesty about the absence of God in the world, and about the storm of his absence, both without and within, which, because it is unendurable, unlivable, drives us to look to the eye of the storm. (Telling the Truth 44)

And of course, we could add, film writers and directors, cinematographers, and, last but not least, dancers! because the best dance often tells a story too. Stories ignite imagination, and imagination is the engine for the uniquely human capacity for empathy, compassion, understanding.

So, all that being said, what do I do about reconciling the divide between art and church? Rather than focusing on the lack of creative outlets within my church setting, I have decided to serve and minister by creating on my own creative outlets—taking classes, attending workshops and galleries, showing my work, etc.—hopefully helping to change the climate for art and the church. I work and create art within the “real” art world in my city, operating under the idea that I can be a liaison between the two worlds: I bring art to church goers and faith to the art world. Because I’m out there as a lone Christian navigating the ethics and opinions of the art world, I try to set boundaries for myself and am intentional about maintaining key relationships with Christian friends to help keep me grounded in my faith. I’m not always perfect in my witness, but I hope that the relationships I am building give these friends and acquaintances a chance to see the constancy of my character rather than just a glimpse of a one-time slip up or flaw.

Setting boundaries might be helpful for you, should you decide to pursue your hip-hop dancing or pageants; you’ll be one of few Christians participating in a world that can seem so far from Christianity. While I don’t believe that working with non-Christians in a non-Christian setting results in “losing your faith,” I do believe that we can find ourselves adopting poor theologies or compromising in areas if we don’t remain diligent with our boundaries. A firm grasp on our identity in Christ and on our motivations for pursuing art/dancing/pageantry can allow us to carry our Christ’s work in fields sparsely populated by Christians. And again, that firm grasp is not something any one person can do on his or her own. We must be rooted in Scripture and in genuine Christian community. (And familiarizing yourself with the stuff Probe does is really helpful too, because you will be asked to defend your faith in the art world… sometimes by people hostile to Christianity.)

Take time to think through and pray through your next steps, but know that if you continue to be drawn back to these desires to pursue film, dancing, or pageantry God can bless these goals. He created you with your creative gifts and needs. Just remember to include Him in every step along the way.

All my best,
Emily Brown

Emily is a long-time and dear friend of mine, and I’m thrilled to have her guest post here at Speak What We Feel. She is a brilliant mind and a talented artist, among other things, who along with constantly working on her craft, also teaches art to sometimes precious sometimes precocious elementary students.

Emily earned her BFA in Visual Art Education from the University of North Texas, the majority of her studio work in sculpture, ceramics, and printmaking. Galleries in both Dallas and New York have featured the sculpture of e brown.

What’s your experience with art in church?

How can we reintroduce the Arts to our congregations?

How can we encourage and nurture the artists in our faith communities?

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7 Responses to My church discourages me from pursuing the Arts

  1. Wow! What an excellent post! Thanks to Emily; she did a great job!

    A few thougths:

    -It seems like the person that wrote in is trying to figure out a theology of art that remains Biblically faithful while also culturally nuanced. That’s a pretty tall order, especially when the faith community you’re in holds to a clear theology and practice of seperatism. Moving outside of that belief system can be pretty painful if your family (especially parents) are involved, and if the writer is young, I’d encourage her to keep moving forward, but to tread carefully and slowly. Now’s a great time to be thinking hard about the things Emily mentioned, about being a city on a hill, and an attractive light in the midst of what can be a really dark industry.

    -I think one of the ways the writer can set up the boundaries Emily alluded to is by diligent study of Scripture. I love art and artists, but a lot of our “Christian” artists today are woefully biblically and theologically illiterate. One of the ways she can be a great hip hop dancer is by learning God’s story well and reflecting his likeness in dance.

    Because I can’t help myself, here’s some helpful books: Art That Tells a Story (http://gospelthroughsharedexperience.com/book.htm), and Hip Hop Redemption (http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=0477683E4046471488BD7BAC8DCFB004&nm=&type=PubCom&mod=PubComProductCatalog&mid=BF1316AF9E334B7BA1C33CB61CF48A4E&tier=3&id=23F5333BD47B4FE99ACA542B088ECDDB) (Sorry about the long link!).

    Thanks for a great post, ladies.
    Val

    • reneamac says:

      Well said, well said! I appreciate your insight into how difficult breaking out of our social (and familial) traditions is, and I’m glad you’ve touched on the biblical illiteracy of many of [the artists of] our generation.

      “One of the ways she can be a great hip hop dancer is by learning God’s story well and reflecting his likeness in dance.” Amen.

      Thanks for the book recommendations too!

  2. I left a comment, but I can’t seem to see it. 😦

  3. I think your post is wonderful. I agree with you. If God wants you to be in the arts then it is important to follow God not man and I also agree Christians in the art world at times compromise on their beliefs. This can confuse non-believers because they do not see a difference between us and them. I also desired to be the entertainment industry but not to sure if I am to old to do it. I believe in Jesus Christ and believe that to change the entertainment industry believers in Christ need to be part of that community. The church many times judges Hollywood and the entertainment industry or does not really care. Then the church is upset because of all the films and music that have wrong messages that lead their children into witchcraft, rebellion etc. . This would not be the case if the church actually motivated and encouraged people to go into the entertainment industry and be a light in the darkness.

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