If you haven’t seen the show Shark Tank you should really check it out. Every episode features young entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to the wealthiest of the wealthy in hopes that someone will invest enough money in their idea to help them become a successful business. A recent episode featured a young man with a seemingly trivial idea. He wanted to draw cats. The entrepreneur pitched that he would sell hand drawn semi stickfigure-esque illustrations of cat. He admitted that he started the business years ago on a bet. He received $25,000 in exchange for a 33% stake in the business from Billionaire Mark Cuban.
Really? $25,000 for hand drawn illustrations of cats? What have I been doing with my life?
The thing is too, this guy actually sells pictures. People buy these things. They consider them art. I on the other had consider them overpriced cat drawings.
Art is a tricky thing to pin down. Although some may argue the point, art is really subjective. There is no guidelines for what makes good or bad art. What one person considers a foolish idea, another may consider a $25,000 art company.
I think faith is art in that way. It’s a hard thing to pin down. There are no guidelines that one can compare their faith to in order to figure out if it is good or bad, strong or weak. Some might say, what about tithing? Attending church? Being part of community? Reading Scripture? Etc? Although those are truly attributes that can strengthen a person’s faith, does someone need to do them to have strong faith? Can faith be measured on a metric scale?
I have a friend who told me about someone he went to Seminary with. This Seminarian was a devout Christian. Possibly the most devoted person my friend had ever seen when it came to spending time daily in Scripture. At one point in the semester the Seminarian told my friend that he was going to take six weeks and purposely not do his devotionals. My friend pressed why, worrying about the ramifications this might have to the fervency of the student’s faith. The Seminary student responded that he wanted to prove that he didn’t need to do the devotionals. He wanted to prove to himself that God wouldn’t love him any more or less, or that his faith would not be lessened by the absence of his daily readings. For him, devotionals were a way to quantify faith, they were the metric by which he could judge if he was or was not a good Christian.
I wonder how many of us do this. How many of us approach our faith like science? We quantify and label, we measure what we feel will bolster our faith. Its as if we see our faith more as an algebraic equation we need to balance on both sides over an artistic endeavor, existing simply for the purpose of offering beauty to the world. Art can exist in science. There is beauty in balance, in protons and neutrons, in anomalies and perplexities. Science however is not a governing factor in art. Art can exist with or without science. Like the seminary student, we need to embrace the notion that nothing we do, create, believe, or become can change the love God has for us. He loves us and our lives exist to be perpetual works of beauty that reflect our creator. It is not what we do, it is who we are that is beautiful.
Art can never fully be understood nor absorbed at face value. Art requires interpretation. It requires evaluation of the artist’s use of color and texture, their inclusions and omissions, musings of their motives and moods. Faith, in that way, is like art. Faith requires interpretation. It is interesting that the things we typically use to quantify our faith are not the points of evaluation that Scripture continuously points to. There is certainly room in scripture for the passages and portions that suggest our typical way of Christian life, however those take a backseat. What is dominant in the story of Scripture is themes. Refrains like “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5) or “the meek will inherit the earth”(Psalm 37) permeate the narrative of God’s story. The Ancient prophet Micah exhorts us to “walk justly, live humbly, and love mercy,” (Micah 6:8). Oh yeah? And with that we don’t ask, how just is enough just? How humble is enough humble? Our faith in itself is an interpretation and likewise need interpretation. We cant quantify who we are called to be, we can only creatively express it or creatively avoid it.
This interpretation is not simply free floating however. We don’t get to decide the terms. Our interpretation generates from the life of the one and only God who lived among us, died for us, and rose to free us. It is impossible for true beauty, true art to exist absent of a reflection of this truth.
Our pursuit of God is a creation of art more than it is filling a quota or balancing an equation. Perhaps our charity or our studiousness when it comes to scripture are bold blanket lines on the canvas, but the true substance of our faith stands for interpretation. What are the artist’s uses of color and texture, their inclusions and omissions, musings of their motives and moods?
Do not here me say here that Jesus is some sort of unconfirmed subjective hypothesis. Jesus is the genesis of all creative process. He is, within the Triune God, the beginning, the Alpha of all creation. All beauty generates from Him. It is impossible to experience, perceive, and create beauty away from interaction in Christ. And I think this changes the game. It causes us to interpret the faith and art of those around us in different lenses. When we no longer quantify what those around us are “doing” but interact with who they are being. Of course those who don’t fully understand Jesus, or even those who outright deny God, can possess beauty in the lives they lead. It is as if the remnants of their creator, no matter how oppressed, seep through the cracks in the surface to expose true reality. This is the beauty of the Church. the truest beauty of the Christian community is experienced not in a forced rigidity of life but in living expression of the artistic process, the embodiment of diverse beauty; the veteran believer and the persistent agnostic together encountering the face of Christ and called to question the art they are creating.
There is ambiguity in this for sure. How then can we know who is and is not Christian? How then can we evaluate growth? Isn’t this just postmodern nonsense, the unwillingness to commit to objective reality? I don’t quite think so. I actually think the freedom we are allotted in faith, the ability to create beauty in the loves we lead, establishes a far more compelling telling of the Gospel. I am not so sure that it is my responsibility to decide whether or not someone else is a Christian. Instead our job is to use the art that we create to point others toward the one from which all beauty, truth, and reality generates and to continue to create art that inspires those around us to interpret and pursue the one who calls the beauty of the universe into existence.