Lost in the Trees at a place called World Cafe Live. This wasn't the first time I saw them. A while back, Amanda and I saw them with a few friends at a venue in San Diego and we got obsessed pretty quickly. I actually blogged in a post called "Ecclesiology of Lost in The Trees" about their album, "A Church That Fits Our Needs" ...and not just because of what the album was called... Back then I was struck by what music like theirs - music which makes and leaves room for our humanity - can teach us about church. And last night, as I listened to their new stuff (which is all freaking great, by the way) I was struck again by a thought; that art itself can teach us so much about what it means to be the church.
I think some people want to try to compartmentalize their spirituality. Some Christians have this notion that they should only really be experiencing God through religious experiences. Now, of course, many Christians will resist the term "religious." They'll use some technical words like "revelation" or "proclamation" - but what they tend to do is reserve their experience of God to church services, scripture readings, and (maybe) "worship" music. Experiences outside of these sources may at best serve to draw them back to their religious contexts, but the experience itself, if it's labeled as 'human' or 'secular', isn't to be trusted. They'll admit that they had fun at the art museum or the rock concert, but if the context is too 'human' then they won't likely elevate it as an experience of God.
This is why I think it's so important that theology starts at the cross of Christ. On the cross, the deepest darkness of humanity and human brokenness is taken up into the life and being of God. The cross becomes the place to find God... and the cross is as human as it gets. There's nothing further from "the glory of the Lord" than a bleeding and broken body being executed by religious and civil authorities. And yet it's here, on the cross, that we find what Paul Tillich calls, "the God above God" - the one true God "...who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt" (The Courage to Be, 190). Human experience becomes God's experience, so God's future becomes human future.
That means that there's nothing too human for God. That means that human experience can be sacred because it is soaked in God. And that means that the church can be a place of utter and honest humanity and brokenness. The church is free to discover God in their midst. As Martin Luther wrote, "God wants to come to us and we do not need to clamber up to him, he wants to be with us to the end of the world" (Martin Luther, ed. John Dillenberger, 242). We don't have to search for "revelation" in "religious" experiences. We don't have to conjure up divinity, we can find God in our humanity when we see through the lens of Christ's cross.
At the Forums on Youth Ministry yesterday, at opening worship, the preacher said, "Following a physician (Jesus) doesn't mean that we become physicians ourselves, but it's to be an example of what it means to be a good patient." We don't need to transcend our humanity to experience God or to engage in the action and ministry of God. And that's where art comes in...
Art creates a space for our humanity. It pushes beyond itself, it 'reveals' something transcendent, but it does so because it comes through the body of a person. It is precisely because it is human that is becomes transcendent. Bad art, however, just imitates. It has some external referent, and it just tries to conjure up the image of that referent... but good art is expressive (even if it's not expressivist). The referent of good art, on the other hand, is somewhere inside of us. And thus, through good art, a space is created for pain, for joy, for grief, for celebration. Art gets at the depths of our humanity. It goes even where we do not want it to go. It exposes us.
The church is art, not when it conjures the image of an external referent, but when it exposes us.
Church is art when it creates a space for our pain to be held and for our joy to live. Church is art when it holds our stories within God's story - the story of crucifixion and resurrection. When it allows us to discover our humanity and relate to each other in honesty and generosity, the church becomes sacred ground.
...and these are the thoughts I had while listening to Lost In The Trees.