principalities and psalms | art in society

madenewprincipalities

The purpose of this blog is not political. We explore intersections of art and faith, to worship and wonder at what God does in the creative arts, and to create in light of reconciliation and redemption.

With that in mind, and in clean conscience, I’m going to get a little political up in here.  I hope you’ll bear with me. But don’t worry, I’m starting with something I think we’ll all agree upon: the Psalms.

I don’t know if any of you have had the same experience, but I’ve never been able to escape the gravitational pull of this wonderful, weird book. Growing up, there was always a word from God in the Psalms, a hug when I needed it, a shoulder to cry on. During my angst teen years, I felt like the Psalms got me like no one else. In word or song form, they carried me through college. They were my go-to guide for praise, confession, prayer, lament; in fact, anything that was happening in my life was bound to be in there. I still don’t understand some of them now, but I think I will someday.

My personal experience seems to also be true of the church at large. The Psalms formed or informed the liturgy of corporate and personal devotion in every age of the church. They are historic, foundational: this is how we talk to God and to ourselves. They show us our responses, our hurts, our shame and doubts and idols and heroes, in sharp relief. This, besides the fact that they are the very words of God, is why they endure.

When we read them, we realize: This is my life, and it’s not just my life in the happy times.  It’s my life in every single possible emotional state: joy, hatred, sorrow, peace, courage, fear, faith, doubt… Here in full-color HD is every life-slice you could hope for, and many you hope you don’t ever have to ever experience (or more likely, experience again).

Basically, the reason we love the Psalms is because they nail the human experience right on the nose, often in uncomfortable detail.

This is what art does.

I’ve heard it said that where a society’s artists go, there goes the society. The best of society’s artists look ahead, they cherish traditions even while reforming them, they dissect the present with keen blades, they inject hope and wonder into our lives. Mostly, they tell us the truths we don’t understand or want to hear. They force us to look and see, to think and feel. They compel us, whether we end up agreeing with them or not.

(BTW, Andy brought home this huge hairy point in his piece on horror last week. On so many levels, horror hits the mark with unswerving accuracy, humanizing the broken and unmasking evil. It’s the human experience, our deepest fears and worst nightmares, in detail so uncomfortable that huge swaths of the population can’t even stand to look. Horror, primarily, confronts me with my deep need for someone or something bigger than me to save me from myself and the forces of evil in this world.)

Where the Psalmist takes it a step further, and where we should too, is to transcend the human experience to show us the mind of God.

Our role as artists in our society – in any society – is the same as the Psalmist’s role: to show, without equivocation, the reality of our lives, and then to apply greater truths to these expressions. Attempt to inhabit the mind of God and push those around us to do the same.

Psalm 44 was the Psalm of the month at my church this past Sunday, and a prophetic choice indeed.

We have heard it with our ears, O God;
    our ancestors have told us
what you did in their days,
    in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations
    and planted our ancestors;
you crushed the peoples
    and made our ancestors flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
    nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm,
    and the light of your face, for you loved them…

Brothers and sisters, we know the truth of the Gospel. Our God fights our battles for us – our strength is not in ourselves, our ability to communicate, or empathize, or create. We have seen Him work, and He is still at work every day.

But now you have rejected and humbled us;
    you no longer go out with our armies.
10 You made us retreat before the enemy,
    and our adversaries have plundered us.
11 You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
    and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You sold your people for a pittance,
    gaining nothing from their sale.

13 You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
    the scorn and derision of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations;
    the peoples shake their heads at us.
15 I live in disgrace all day long,
    and my face is covered with shame
16 at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
    because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge…

Brothers and sisters, we face trials on all sides – and it would be foolish to dismiss this. Our lives are not peachy. The lives of our brothers and sisters globally are even less so.

23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Few of us would be comfortable with making these statements, but the Psalmist doesn’t bat an eye. Accuse God of sleeping? Check. Demand that He do something for us? Check. Accuse Him of apathy or forgetfulness? Check. Don’t pretend these things don’t cross your mind from time to time. Our emotions must be honest, but they must also be rooted in faith.

As we look ahead to the next chapter of leadership in America, it is incumbent upon us as believing artists to realize our responsibility here – a responsibility that is unattached to a political party, unattached to any earthly agenda for justice or peace, unattached to our personal vendettas or ambitions. (The root of our faith has never been in earthly kingdoms, so how can we be uprooted by them?)

Our responsibility at this juncture – as it has always been – is twofold:

To stare unflinchingly at the realities of our world, our country, our city, ourselves, and to name them as they are.  Pull back the curtains. Peel back the masks. Make us feel the fire of the truth in our innermost parts, as only artists can do.

And most importantly, to apply the healing balm of the Word of God and the love of Christ to each reality. Use your pen, brush, instrument, voice, body and heart and creative soul, spent for this purpose: to make Christ and His Gospel known.

In other words, make Psalms:

revealing,
recalcitrant,
poisonous,
peacemaking,
wailing,
dancing,
pleading,
bold,
doubting,
clinging,
Truth,
Love,
Christ.

In this we are prophets and poets, mouths and hands and bodies of and for God. And these things will endure well beyond demagogues, deceivers, destroyers, and death.

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