This is wonderful, the (brilliant) painter Makoto Fujimura writes an open letter to north-american-churches (although I think that this also has resonances for all churches in the western world).
Makoto writes about the how and why art and artists got pushed to the margins and in many cases outside the church. Of course there are many artist in church, but how many play a role which enables them to play that creative, priestly and creative role. In many cases artists are neutered, morphing into the shapes that the modern church understands, simply to survive.
This is one of my favorite parts of the letter, particularly as he mentions one of my favourite artists.
Do you not know that the first people known to be filled with the Holy Spirit were not priests, kings or generals, but artists named Bazelel and Oholiab, who built Moses’ Tabernacle? Do you not remember that even the Babylonian kings wanted artists from the exiled nation; and they were the first to be exiled? Artists have skills and power that a dictator is afraid of, or want to use; and you, the church, unwisely neglected them.
A painter does not merely reproduce what is thought to be seen by the eye; an artist task is to train the eye first to truly see, and then learn to disregard what we have been taught, to throw away imposed categories — those easy preconceived notions that lure us to think that we are seeing when we are not, but merely looking. An artist’s task is to see through the eye into the eternal, into the invisible.
One of your exiled poets stated in 1864:
Love – is anterior to Life –
Posterior – to Death –
Initial of Creation, and
The Exponent of Earth –
Who is this love? Who is “anterior to Life,” and “posterior to death”? “Initial of Creation, and the Exponent of Earth”?
This poet, as a teenager, was told by of your leaders in a seminary in Amherst that she had “no hope to be saved.” We know from these poems, Emily always desired to know her Creator. I do not celebrate waywardness, but I am here to seek the lost, and I will leave ninety-nine church members to seek the one lost poet.
One of your exiled painters, from another continent, created a work called The Starry Night in 1889
There is a church [in the painting], a Dutch Reformed Church, that does not belong in Arles, France, in the middle of the painting, holding the visual balance. Vincent grew up in the church, he is your offspring; and he even wanted to be an evangelist. Notice that the church is the only building that does not have light within. He wanted to tell you, through this visual parable, that though the church still holds these disparate matters together in the world, the Spirit has left the church, and went swirling into Nature and the Cosmos.
When you exiled them, the Vincent’s and Emily’s of the world, you have exiled me.
And finally Makoto addresses the artists:
Finally, let me address the artists of the far country (Luke 15:13); you are starving though you have much. The corrupt world has given you celebrity, and the ephemeral treasures of the earth. Return to your first love. Come home. Creativity is a gift; art is a gift. Do not make it to be other than that, or you will be crushed by your own gifts: and do not try to numb the pain you feel down inside of you with anything other than drinking in the Holy Spirit. There are also some of you, in the far country, who have also ascetically removed pleasures for the sake of “pure expression.” Do not think that just because you have forfeited the whole world, that you have gained your souls. Return to your first love, be filled with the Passion. As a child, you explored the colorful margins, finding exhilaration in sound, movement and rhymes of words. Come home, and join me in preparing for the Feast to come.
Do you not know that we are planning a wedding feast?