Preface: I’m torn. This is something burning in me that I feel I need to write down and publish, but to do so will also “out” me as a Christian. I don’t say that this is a bad thing, but as an artist it’s not always the best label to have attached to you. On the other hand, I hope that this confession does not come as a surprise to you, if you know me at all.
I attended a performance by a professional ballet troupe six days ago, and came away affected. Dance usually does this to me. I am not a dancer, but so many times watching/participating in a performance of dance makes me cry. I watch and think, “yes! That’s exactly how it feels to be . . .” Dance, music, art can say what I feel when I don’t have words in that part of my brain to express it otherwise.
But this performance affected me in ways that disturb me. Sometimes things have to sit in me for a while before I can verbalize why they bother me. This is such a case. Just what was it that disturbed me so?
Their technical mastery of their craft was faultless, but I would expect no less from a professional dancer. The story they told, for the most part, was sound. It discussed the difference between two types of artists. The first was gracious and humble in response to the praise she received for her performance. The second was arrogant and haughty about her position in the company and with those she worked with; a good lesson for anyone living in community.
What I found so disturbing about the performance was their need to heavy-handedly attach a Christian message to the work. This reared its head in only a handful of places through the evening, but it was so stark a contrast to the artistry that it’s left me disturbed enough to want to vent about it.
Why did they feel the need to do this? I can only conclude that they either didn’t trust their art or they didn’t trust their God.
Theory 1—They didn’t trust their art. In their art they had the ability to tell the story effectively without getting heavy-handed. Their message would have come through without “shouting” it as they did. And they certainly did not need for the company spokesperson to reiterate the message of the story after the ballet concluded. One of the characteristics of art is that it can reach the heart where words cannot. But if you attempt to preach through it that reach is stunted.
Theory 2—They didn’t trust their God. When a message is divinely inspired, and they seemed to feel this performance was, you have to trust that God will take it into the soil prepared to hear it. To bludgeon your point home by labeling or preaching it is like planting seeds with a hammer. Sometimes you may hit soil prepared for the seed, other times you will crush your seed against rocks (and injure or discourage yourself in the process).
There was (and may still be for all I know) a trend in Christian “book” stores to sell framed art prints of paintings. All well and good, except that each frame had a plaque on it extolling some scripture or quote that supposedly made the art more acceptable to hang in a Christian home. This ballet performance took place in a church so I suppose the preaching made it more acceptable for Christians to view it (or perhaps some other Christians, obviously not me). Did the preaching sanctify it for Christian viewing. I suppose it’s the same as the companies who edit R-rated films to make them more presentable to Christian audiences.
But that's a whole other rant.
It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. . . . (Eph. 4:11-12). If there was only one way to get the message across God wouldn’t have provided a variety of methods to do so.
Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. (misappropriated to St. Frances of Assisi)
A sunset or symphony will always trump a sermon in communicating truth and beauty.