Andi Cumbo - Writer, Editor, Online Writing Courses, Classes & Lessons

Why I Loathe Much “Christian” Art – My 5th Most Popular Post of 2012

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In the days before she died, my mom looked at me, when I was alone with her in her room, and said, “You are trying to kill me.”

She was delusional, of course, and confused and scared and so many other things I cannot imagine and probably don’t want to. While I recognized those things, while I knew she wasn’t speaking from the fullness of her mind, I still knew that question from coming from a real place.

It cut me right through.

There is no way to spin that moment into light. No way at all. Every single bit of that moment is a shard that pricks the inside of my chest with every memory. There is nothing good or healthy about my mother thinking her family would kill her. No thing.

Yet, some people would say that I should not write about that moment because it’s not uplifting or because it’s private or because it pitches my mother or my family in a poor light.

But here’s what I believe. Sometimes the only way to bring light to the darkness is to drag that darkness right into the light.

***
Yesterday, my friend Jennifer Luitweiler wrote about her experience at the Story conference, where she got to hear Isaac Rentz speak about his agnosticism regarding “Christian” art. As I read her post, it felt like someone was soothing me with a giant hug. Thank God, I thought. Someone gets it. Someone gets it.

So much of the Christian community talks about how our art needs to be uplifting and positive, by which they don’t mean that our art should honor the shards and stabs of life but rather should only include the happy stuff – the things that make Strawberry Shortcake smell good and the happiness in a quiet evening in our Thomas Kinkade-like cottages.

Here’s what I say to that – bullshit. Big piles of it. Life is not always happy. This world is broken and brutal and so, so, so painful. To pretend that isn’t so is to not only be deluded but also to misrepresent what Jesus’ love meant to the world and to ignore the whole purpose His sacrifice. If the world is all puppies and rainbows, what do we need Jesus for?

When our art is all light and no darkness, it becomes kitsch, something fit to be sold on a spinning rack at the local truck stop (and yes, I know; there may be some absolutely treasures there), not something that will tear up those barriers in our souls and let the light shine in. When we write about only the shiny, happy stuff, we miss out on showing our jagged edges, and we bypass a chance to show how Jesus sidles right up to those edges and hugs us, taking the shards of pain right into himself.

To be truest to our faith, artists who are Christians must be true to the world in which we live. We have to paint, and sing, and dance and write what we see – ugly and gorgeous, brutal and beautiful. The redemption lies in the contrast.

Everything is redeemed, and art is part of God’s way of bringing that redemption. But you can’t redeem something you won’t see.

***
After Mom spoke those words, I started to cry, to sob, as quietly as I could by her bedside. It felt like someone had taken my heart and wrung it like a washcloth, and I simply could not keep that pain inside.

Then, my mother – my sweet, amazing, strong mother opened her eyes, gazed at my tears and said, “What’s wrong?”

All the light of the world shone on me in that moment. Grace set in relief against the darkness.

What do you think about art done by Christians?

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Author: Andi

I'm a writer, teacher, and editor who is currently working on a book about the slaves who lived and worked on the farm where I now live. I blog daily at http://www.andilit.com I have three cats - Oscar, Emily and Charlotte - who have taken to living on the farm quite well - bird-, frog-, and butterfly-hunters all.

5 Comments

  1. I understand your feeling. I think you would find some comfort in the fact that the next generation gets this as well.

    I am part of a national art festival that helps HS and MS students explore their artistic gifts (visual art, drama, music, dance and written word) and have three evaluators (teacher, minister, and professional) critique their works. These students get the pain, they get the way the world really is. They do not sugar coat and there are definitely no rainbows and unicorns! I believe you would appreciate this art.

    There are examples of the art at
    http://finearts.ag.org/past-festivals/2011/
    and
    http://finearts.ag.org/past-festivals/2012/

  2. Andi, this is beautifully written and right on the mark. When my business partner and I decided to establish eLectio Publishing as a Christian publisher, this was one of the things we had to reconcile. As we say, we do not want to just “beat people over the head with the Jesus bat.” Sure, there’s room for uplifting and inspirational. And we have published very positive stuff. BUT…we have also published some poetry collections that really probe the darker side of living a life of faith. Living in a fallen world is sure to have its barbs, and to ignore these is folly.

    Thanks for your post!
    Jesse Greever recently posted…eLectio Publishing Giveaway Winner!My Profile

  3. “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” I can’t remember who said that, but it surely was not a Christian. Sounds like a terrorist, someone from the mideast, but it seems to me to be one of those bleeping jews.
    Steve Thomas recently posted…The Hopes and Fears of All The Years.My Profile

  4. Great post, Andi. I, too, cringe at the whitewashing of storylines in much of Christian art (fiction, film mainly) when the Bible is full of betrayal, murder, jealousy, etc.
    J. Michael Rivera recently posted…On sinkholes and saviorsMy Profile

  5. Had to share this on Facebook, Andi. So beautiful, so real, so true. Thank you.

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