Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Church is an "artistic operation"

Brueggemann at his best:

The last minute or so captures one of my main thoughts on the film Of Gods and Men: The power of artistic liturgy for the formation of an alternative reality in which righteousness and peace are at home. As an inheritor of a certain brand of Pentecostalism, "liturgy" has always been seen as a dirty word, but that is clearly not the right way to view it.

Re-thinking here I come.

An artist has to seek an audience or a constituency, and I think they are to be found among the wounded. And I think the wounded in our society are everywhere, but we are schooled in denial. So I believe the hard task is to break the denial so that people can get in touch with their own pain. I think that art both ministers to people at the point of their pain, but may also be a way of penetrating the denial to have a conversation about it in the first place. I think that the pressure for certitude and absolutism is a kind of anxious and frightened response to the reality of pain. We think we cannot bear it, so we protect ourselves from it by imagining that we don’t know about our own pain. What we always discover is that if we can get access to our pain in our community that we trust, our pain almost always is bearable because the trustworthiness of our brothers and sisters will hold and is reliable and will not let us fall through. It seems to me that what good artistry has to do is to help us see or hear that our certitudes are mainly phoney, that life does not conform to our certitudes, that our absolutes are much less than absolute, because the force of stuff that comes underneath in our experience will not give in to that. When I think of the OT I think that Job is the perfect model of that. Job’s friends are the practitioners of certitude and absolute orthodoxy and all of that. And Job’s artistry keeps coming underneath that, to protest against that cover up. I don’t quite know how it works in the book of Job, but I believe that God in the ‘whirlwind speeches’ is also something of an artist; that he moves in big images and questions, and invites a fresh think about things. So that seems to me to be a place in which the poetry wants to subvert the world of the prose in which the friends live. That’s how my mind works about it.

And, if we think at all about the church, it is historically and intrinsically an artistic operation. It always struck me in the little rural church where I grew up, that no matter how flat and unimaginative and prosaic the life of the village was, we had that organ music on Sunday morning. And what the organ music did was to create space for us to ponder the stuff that didn’t fit the formulae. And by and large the language of the church and the language of liturgy is essentially artistic language. We’ve flattened it, so the work, it seems to me first of all, is to help people see that what has been entrusted to us is artistic from the bottom up. If people are caught in dogmatism or in moralism they tend not to notice how incredibly artistic it all is.


  1. That is so good one longs for a transcript. And a worshiping community. :)

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  3. Transcript added on Sunday, 11.45am. Still seeking worshipping community.