Sometimes it feels like there’s not a place in the church for fiction and art. I’m finishing up a master’s degree in English Literature, and I want to write novels and currently work as a photographer, videographer and graphic designer, but I’ve felt left out of church in the past because of what I’m passionate about. Several well-meaning Christian friends have told me that reading and writing novels is a waste of my time because it has no spiritual value.
Recently, I saw that a few of my friends on Goodreads are reading all the latest Christian self-help books while I was excitedly reviewing the latest literary thriller, and once again I felt kind of dumb and inferior because I’m reading fiction. I like Christian non-fiction and think it’s very important and good, but we can’t overlook the spiritual value in fiction and art as a whole.
The church has supported art like novels, paintings and music throughout history. Artists often survived through financial support and commissions from churches. Now, in Midwestern Christianity, sometimes it feels like if artists want to do something that pushes the bounds of conservatism a little, they’re not welcome. I think this is because we’re afraid to not have answers for everything, and a lot of good art asks more questions than it gives answers.
C.S. Lewis has something to say about that in one of my favorite essays, The Weight of Glory. He describes good art as pointing us to the Creator in some indescribable way:
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things— the beauty, the memory of our own past— are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
In other words, art should point us to God because he is the origin of all beautiful things, even if that art isn’t explicitly “Christian.”
There are several things about City Pres that mean a lot to me personally, and one of those things is support of art. Last year for Lent, the church provided space for sculptures from a local artist. The sculptures explored some themes that weren’t necessarily pretty and didn’t wrap it up with a neat bow, but they left me with a feeling that I wasn’t alone and that God sees us in our brokenness.
One great thing about the universal church is that it includes scientists, theologians, artists, teachers, plumbers and everything in between. God gave us all unique gifts, and we should champion the things that are important to us while supporting the things others do. We can learn a lot from each other, and good art specifically can draw us closer to God.
So read Marilynne Robinson, watch Manchester By the Sea, listen to Twenty One Pilots, go to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and as those t-shirts they sell in the Plaza District say, “Support Local Art.” Figure out what it is about good art that is “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” God doesn’t only reveal himself to us in one way, and I appreciate City Pres and other local churches for supporting that!