By Jonathan Griffiths
In preparation for teaching from Mark 13:1-2, I’ve been thinking about the process of redeeming art. By art I mean the broad spectrum of creativity that humanity exhibits, be it on canvas, from an instrument, or hewn from materials to make an object that speaks our voice to others.
Clearly, we are capable of expressing something of ourselves, and as one who believes in a God who creates and created us in His image, I see part of the Father’s nature imbued in His created, much the same as we see part of an artist’s soul in their work.
In Mark 13:1 we overhear the disciples commenting with wonder at the temple and its stones. The stones are impressive enough to get their own full description in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, “Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve.” Stones just aren’t that interesting, so these must have been pretty spectacular think really freakin’ big, and in great quantity. I am sure I would be right there with the disciples, drinking in the majesty of it all, admiring the craftsmanship.
I come from England, so we have old stuff laying around everywhere. You can’t take a trip across a field without bumping into some remnant of civilization, and over the years we’ve amassed quite a collection of beautiful architecture and arts. I was used to its constant presence. Then I moved to Idaho and found a dearth of beautiful buildings, but got lost in the vast extravagance of the mountains. A different beauty was tugging at me, and I was captivated again.
So, just like the disciples, I can get all slack-jawed about the created. Jesus has some arresting words for us. He tells them that these “great” buildings will be torn down, not one stone left on another. He tells them that their “greatness” is but size and man-imposed awe. He tells them something more is coming that will replace and overshadow all of this.
All of this led me to think about the arts, and arts in community. We are still primarily a consumptive nation, and oftentimes individually so what with headphones, personal DVD players, customized online TV schedules, we don’t need to be with others to consume our entertainment, and we don’t need to wrestle with the content of said entertainment in community.
We’ve done a spectacular job of isolating ourselves, and the end result is that we gaze at the created and miss the opportunity to use it to point people to the Creator.
Think about it how often have you gone out with friends to catch up, and spent the majority of the time huddled in the dark whilst images dance across the large format screen and sound bombards you from a multiplicity of speakers? And in all honesty, how often did you sit down together afterwards and discuss the experience? I’m not suggesting a study guide for every film, but I am suggesting that art is best redeemed in a community setting. Unless art points to the Creator, it is just dust in its potential state. As consumers of such, we are just being entertained to death and that seems like a rip-off.
I want stories that challenge and change me, music that calls me into places I haven’t traveled for a time, art that speaks in ways words cannot, and I want all of this shared with those around me. I think of Francis Schaeffer who took in hordes of bedraggled teenagers and twenty-somethings, and discussed Nietzsche, Led Zeppelin and the existential nightmare and then pointed through it all to Jesus. With a deliberate and engaged mindset we are capable of turning all things towards God and thus redeeming them.
And don’t forget, the very process of interaction with art is communal as you wrestle with the ideas of another human being, seeking to find common understanding from the human condition.
Let art be redeemed. Let us be the redeemers, together, as we go beyond the thing itself that will one day exist no more, and press onwards and upwards to the Author of it all.
Jonathan is an English exile learning to follow Jesus each day as an assistant pastor in Nampa, Idaho. He is married to Sarah Grace and has two sons named David and Charlie. He blogs at Project Reclamation when the mood strikes and reviews at Reflective Musings for various organizations.