I’m a strong proponent of Christians engaging culture. I do not believe we are to retreat from culture, isolating ourselves from the “evils” of Hollywood, music, or television. I actually find the idea odd – especially considering the Bible. Did you know that the words of secular poets are used in the Bible in the proclamation of the Gospel? Paul, not only knows their words, but is able to use their words to help people understand the gospel.
For that reason, I am excited to introduce you to Eric Kuiper. I know Eric from my days of doing Young Life back in Michigan. Currently, he is serving at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eric has started an organization called Into the Noise which invites people from around the country to Sundance, SXSW [Music portion] and ArtPrize in Grand Rapids to engage in an experience with art, culture and spirituality. Enjoy!
We’re all theologians. I’m probably not the first person to let you know that.
We, you and me and everyone else alive, do theological thinking every day. It’s just that some people do it more consciously than others. That doesn’t mean they do it better, but they are at least more intentional and aware of it.
We’re also all affected by culture, and unless you’re Amish and therefore I’m not entirely sure how or why you’re reading this right now, you interact with pop culture every single day of your life. Thus, it makes great sense for us to take these two everyday realties and acknowledge their deep and important connection. Notice I didn’t say bring them together. That’s important here. These are not two realities that need to be brought together. They already are overlapping, interacting, and informing each other all the time. Theology, spirituality, culture….they mingle as one.
As Grant Morrison, the great comic book writer, muses in his book Supergods, “We live out of the stories we tell ourselves.” If that’s true, there is much to be considered when we stop and appreciate the way we gather around art in our country. Whether it is through the megaplex in your town, Netflix or Redbox, iTunes or Amazon, art is one of the primary ways we are told and share stories in our culture. People used to sit around the campfire and tell stories; now we sit around campfires and talk about what movies we’ve seen. As Nancy Duarte puts it, “Projector bulbs have replaced the campfire.” We gather in theaters to share our stories.
Combine this with the Barna research from years past that shows a rapidly growing number of people are looking to media, arts, and culture as the primary place for experiencing and expressing their spirituality, and you can see the importance of art—and culture—to theology.. This is not to mention the fact that over 30% of young adults no longer see themselves as having any religious affiliation at all.
We have a decreasing number of people who see themselves as being affiliated with any kind of religion and an increasing number of people who claim that they are having experiences with God/the divine/or transcendence via art and pop culture. That’s a significant shift for us to consider. As Gordon Lynch declared, pop culture is the new mass religion.
Which brings us back the fact that we’re all theologians. You already have a theology of pop culture and art, you just likely haven’t given it too much thought. You likely are functioning out of a posture towards culture that has been taught to you directly, and even more significantly, indirectly for years. You believe something about movies, music and visual art.
I think it’s time to begin to wrestle with what you believe about them.
That’s what Into The Noise is all about: learning and practicing a robust posture towards art and culture.
Taking a cue from Karl Barth, we’ll let Sundance Film Festival, SXSW Music Festival, and ArtPrize be our “newspapers.” We’ll discover together what our culture wants to talk about and how it is talking about those things. Large festivals like these provide unique opportunities to hear from many different voices in a condensed period of time. Themes emerge. We’ll be there to listen for those and learn from them.
We’ll look at art through the lens of the biblical text, but we’ll also reverse the hermeneutical flow and approach the text through the lens of specific films, music, and visual art. We’ll ask the question, “Is it possible that I need art to help me see, understand and grasp the biblical text?”
But we won’t stop there. There is another layer to this conversation. It’s the one that gets most closely to the reality I mentioned earlier, the one where people are more and more citing things like movies as places of transformation, or the voice of God, or encounters with the divine. We’ll together explore whether God is not only “talked” about in movies, music and art, but actually present in them. Is God showing up in a theater near you, ready to move, shape, mold and transform you through the voices of those who might not even acknowledge his presence to begin with?
We all acknowledge art’s great ability to entertain us and help us escape. Those are not unimportant aspects. But many of us are increasingly aware that art does much more than that. I hope you’ll consider joining us at one of these great festivals as we go searching for that more.
photo credit: sensesmaybenumbed via photopin cc