by John Ellis
At first, while reading Makoto Fujimura’s comparison of artists to “people in the margins, people under suspicion, people who have been humbled” I wanted to resist, to push back. I’m wary of claims that unwittingly divide God’s people even more than we already are. But, as I kept reading “God’s Strange Art,” I had to admit that Fujimura is correct. And, just as importantly, Fujimura’s words do not foment further division but seek to heal divisions while turning our eyes and hearts in the direction of the Sovereign Artist.
Almost three years ago, I wrote that, “Within the Church, artists often feel like islands unto themselves, particularly among many conservative evangelical churches.” I then added the warning, “Christian artists run the risk of feeling like they have to choose between their church and their art.” My objective with the post was to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to embrace their artistic birthright that is theirs as a child of God.
After pointing out some substantial ways that artists are marginalized by other Christians, visual artist and writer Makoto Fujimura calls us to remember that, “the Bible is full or strange, artsy folks.” (I appreciate his appeal for us to look at the Prophet Ezekiel’s performances.) Concluding with the example of Jesus as an artist, Fujimura encourages us to remember that we:
are all chosen, broken creatures and Jesus has made us all into artists, whether we use a brush or simply ride on a garbage truck. Our lives are living stories of the kingdom that we write every day. Infused with the mystery of the Great Artist’s spirit, our stories can become a wide-open adventure, part of the greatest story ever told.
Recently, I was made aware of a challenge to my claim that artists reflect who God is. Apparently, my critic believes that I’m claiming that artists reflect God better than non-artists. That, of course, is not true. I told the person who relayed my critic’s words to me that I believe that doctors reflect an aspect of God in ways that I don’t, for example. Engineers, teachers, people who build roads, etc. all reflect aspects of the Divine Creator. Humans, in and of themselves and with and through their vocation, point to God.
With his article, Fujimura takes it a step farther and insists that all humans are artists. While I may not agree with him if we’re trading in synonyms, I definitely agree with him on a meta-level. All of God’s Image Bearers craft stories that not only reflect the Great Storyteller but that are also literary beats in God’s Story. Beyond just acknowledging that, though, submitting to that Truth calls each one of us to ask the question how we’re connected to the Protagonist’s objective. Are we caught up in God’s solution? Or, are we still aligned with the antagonist of God’s Story?
When well-meaning Christians downplay the importance of art and artists, they unwittingly do harm to the Church’s ability to minister to a hurting and dying world. As Fujimura says, “The church needs artists, because, like Jesus, they ask questions that are both enigmatic and clear, encouraging and challenging.”