The Church and Postmodern Culture Conversation: Art and The Postmodern Church

by Daniel A. Siedell

As I was going about my business in New York and since my return home, I still believe the emerging church or the emergent movement is, to my mind, the only place that art and the aesthetic can be discussed and debated in an open manner. However, it will remain just that: discussion and debate unless it is accompanied by the sustenance of a robust sacramental and liturgical life. To put it crassly, the difficult, radical, and problematic discussions about art and the aesthetic have to take place at places like the PCA Village Church but for it to have any long-term impact, it has to be nourished by places like the Anglo-Catholic St. Thomas Episcopal Church. It is spanning the space between these two churches that is the challenge. (italics, bolding and links mine, DLS).

Let me state it the following way: the liturgical and sacramental richness of the ancient faith makes it possible to worship God everywhere. We don’t think in those terms, as influenced as we are by our non-sacramental, non-liturgical, rationalism that shapes our Christian lives. But this belief saturates the Scriptures themselves, which is often overlooked by high churchers as well as the low. We have to reconsider the fact that we can only utter such praises as Psalm 24 (“the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it”) and Solomon’s temple dedication (1 Kings 8: 27) in which he testifies to the fact that nothing made with human hands can contain God, if we also recognize that God indeed wants us to worship in specific ways, in specific places. We are too quick to quote Jesus’s statement to the Samaritan woman (John 4: 21-24) that God is worshipped only in “spirit and in truth” that we forget that Jesus can say this only after he has told her that she must worship in Jerusalem—that the Samaritans do indeed worship in ignorance. Solomon can praise God that he can’t be defined by a building only after he has built the Temple. We can look forward to the New Jerusalem when there will be no need for the Sun because the Lord’s uncreated light will shine on us only when we follow Asaph and exclaim that we only know the truth of the world when we “enter the sanctuary of God” (Psalm 73).

How can we see Christ everywhere, as Alexander Schmemann once wrote, when we don’t first recognize that we see Christ in a special way via icons, and receive him in a special way through the Eucharist, and meet him in a special way at church? The “everywhere” has meaning ultimately when there is a “somewhere.” Our tendency is to embrace the “everywhere” without first respecting and assimilating the “somewhere.” The Village Church is “everywhere” and St. Thomas is “somewhere.” The former (The Village Church) needs to recognize that God has indeed sacramentally and liturgically given specific ways to worship, ways that have been preserved by the Living Tradition of the Nicene Church. But the latter (St. Thomas) needs to recognize that the “somewhere” does not limit where we see Christ, or, in the context of the visual arts, how we make art, but actually serves as the engine that pushes us out into the world, which, of course, is what the “Mass” actually means: a recognition of the sacred space and at the same time an emphasis in the “going out.” We are “sent out” but we are “sent out” from somewhere specific.

The art fairs are wonderful social occasions; they are the “everywhere” of curatorial work. The galleries and artist studios are the “somewhere” of curatorial work. But I cannot have the former without remaining committed to the latter. In fact, the art fairs are only productive if the foundation of traditional ways of viewing art remain. The problem is that the art fair isn’t really about art, it’s about social relationships that “art” generates.

My concluding impression of the Village Church and what I can extrapolate from other emerging churches and fellowships involved in one way or another in the emergent movement, is that they are filled with terrific people who love and want to follow Jesus, people with whom I want to spend an hour at the local coffee house or pub talking theology, art, politics.

But it’s not church. It needs the sacramental and liturgical specificity of the Nicene church, in all its dogmatic, aesthetic richness in order to meet God. My concern is that the emergent movement cultivates strong social situations occasioned by “God.” I enjoy the Village Church as a meeting of followers of Jesus and brothers and sisters in Christ, but only after I worship at St. Thomas.

Just as I worry that curatorial work will, over time, become more superficial and “socially based” through the influence of the art fairs, I worry that over time, the emergent movement will likewise remain shallow, not become “deep” as Jason Clark aptly observes, because of its focus on the social.

The dialogue about the aesthetic and the visual arts must start in the postmodern church, but to have a deep impact, it will have to be sustained by the work of the premodern church, the Nicene Church, the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, not only as a spiritual, but earthly reality.

Read the entire article: the church and postmodern culture: conversation: Art and The Postmodern Church

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