On his way to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum to get inspiration for his next novel, Shusaku Endo was diverted to the smaller, almost hidden, Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum nearby. There he first saw the fumi-e (“trampling pictures”)—brazen images of Jesus hanging on the cross or of Mary with her iconic cucumber (perhaps Eastern-styled as a lotus), representing purity even in the midst of swampy filth.
The unswervingly Buddhist 17th-century Shogunate commissioned these brazen images specifically to be desecrated as a public sign of apostasy, and Japanese peasants would step (or trample “if you prefer a more florid reading”) on the fumi-e as proof that they posed no threat to the order and solidarity of Buddhist Japan.
I used to love Christmas music. I used to love it so much, in fact, that I convinced the rest of my family that it is acceptable to listen to Christmas music on November 1st (the previous acceptable time was exclusively post-Thanksgiving). However, I’ve found myself listening to less Christmas music with each passing year.
This year, as I’ve become more vested in the philosophy of aesthetics thanks to my involvement with the Nehemiah Foundation, I’ve been pondering why I have experienced this gradual divorce from holiday tunes. What I’ve found are some serious pitfalls within the genre and some solutions to renewing the arts that surround Christ’s birth.
This is a guest post by Quenton Frank Brooks, an adjunct literature professor currently living in Israel. He was gracious enough to allow the Foundation to publish his thoughts on Death is Their Shepherd. Since not much has been written on the narrative portion of the project, we’re pleased to present this report in honor of Death is Their Shepherd’s one-year anniversary coming up this Halloween/Reformation Day.
And just in case this sort of thing matters to you, consider this your spoiler alert.
If you are like most Christians, you have probably been led to believe two things about yourself when it comes to poetry:
- You don’t get it.
- You don’t like it.
In all likelihood, neither of these things is actually true. But believing them to be true hinders both your willingness to read and your capacity to understand and enjoy poetry.
When I was eleven, I wrote a daily devotional I imaginatively titled “Daily Devotions.” I started at Proverbs 11, because of my age (of course). I made it as far as Proverbs 11:7—a whopping week long. Surprisingly, it never got picked up by any publishers, but my parents asked for a copy.
The unreasonable self-assurance I had then is a little embarrassing to me now, but I am proud of myself for being so dedicated, early on, to one goal: revival. Years before I could vote, I would often respond to the classic question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “Either a pastor or a politician.” This was met with mixed responses, which I have come to understand.
With fire pumping in my young veins, I volunteered for countless political campaigns of upstanding, dedicated, righteous individuals. This turned into full-time summer work.
In Part 1 of this two-parter (you can read it here), I talked about how the overwhelming majority of the pages in the Bible are devoted to showing the truth through narrative and poetry, over against telling the truth in expository teaching. There are two questions that arise from this—is it possible that God endorses different kinds of preachers and preaching than what we have become accustomed to in the contemporary church? And if so, what does that mean for the importance of the arts in, for, and from the church?
How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?
What does it mean to preach? Our first thought when we hear “preacher” is of someone behind a pulpit explaining some biblical truth. But is that the only way to preach? Again, going back to the Bible, it becomes clear that the biblical prophets and preachers employed a variety of methods in a variety of venues to deliver God’s message. Some of these methods seem quite unorthodox to the contemporary Christian: marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), preaching naked (Isaiah 20:2), naming children (Isa. 7:3; 8:1–3), building a 450 ft. boat (Gen. 6:13ff; 2 Pet. 2:5), eating bread cooked over dung (Ezek. 4:12f), and various other acts of sacramental symbolism and prophetic theater.
“Why should I give money to support the arts? Why not give money to preachers or missionaries instead? After all, the most important Gospel work is preaching, isn’t it? As Paul says in Romans 10:14, ‘How will they hear without a preacher? It never says, ‘How will they hear without an artist?’ does it?”
During the Nehemiah Foundation’s nearly decade-long effort to renew the arts within the church, I have regularly heard some version of this objection. At first blush, it seems true and obvious, doesn’t it? If the Word of God is primary and fundamental to the work of the Gospel, then preaching the Word of God and explaining it in sermons must be fundamental and primary to the work of the church. Most people in the church believe that it’s okay to have the arts as an adornment for a Gospel message or as a harmless amusement, but they believe the real bulk of the church’s emphasis and resources should go to spreading Gospel sermons far and wide. They think explaining the Gospel in sermons is the most effective way to evangelize the world and edify the church, and “preaching” is therefore the most important and primary work of God’s people.
These days, calling someone amateur is an insult. If you’re an amateur, you don’t have the “skillz to pay the billz.” By amateur, we generally mean an inept know-nothing with no expertise—a hack.
But I want to rescue the label amateur from its current dishonor. It’s my opinion that the greatest potential in the arts today comes from amateurs. We need more of the amateur spirit, not less. What do I mean?
The Maraqopa trilogy, by Seattle singer-songwriter Damien Jurado, brims over with the uncanny prescience of genuine hope and the bittersweetness of sincere nostalgia. A delicate suspension incorporating choice morsels from at least five decades worth of music, it manages to be both behind and ahead of its time in all the right ways. It is, ironically, the ideal tonic for an age that refuses to live at peace with the present.
Beginning with Maraqopa in 2012 and going further down the rabbit hole with Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son in 2014, Damien Jurado has finally (for now) completed his Maraqopa concept trilogy with Visions of Us on the Land, released March 18.
My friend Jimmy used to play guitar for the musical worship team at his church. One Sunday, after the service was over, a man approached Jimmy and said, “I don’t think you should put distortion on your guitar. It’s evil. It’s Satanic.”
Jimmy, being a well-humored and quick-thinking guy, turned the distortion down to 0% and strummed a few chords. “So this is okay? This is not evil?” he asked. The man replied, “Yeah. That sounds good.” Jimmy proceeded to incrementally increase the degree of distortion, play a few notes, and ask again at intervals, “So what about this? Is this evil?”