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In Spite of That, We Call This Friday Good

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood -
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

-from "The Four Quartets" by T.S. Eliot


One thing that I appreciate about T.S. Eliot is that, after his conversion to Christianity, his poetry doesn't suck. While I say that tongue-in-cheek, I mean it as well; his post-conversion poetry remains equally challenging (if not more) than his pre-conversion work. He didn't decide, "Since the Bible has given me all the answers, I can now repackage what it says in a largely unoriginal way, quoting a few verses here and there and using a lot of cliches to talk about how much I love God." This is what much of "Christian art" (and by that, I mostly mean music) seems to do these days, and it infuriates me. To think that because we're Christians means that we should suddenly stop asking deep questions and not bother finding original (and sometimes difficult) ways to express ourselves is entirely backward. Because God is a creative God and we are made in his image, we have the freedom, and even the responsibility, to find original ways to express truth in all its ugliness and glory.

Which brings me to a second rant: balance in Christian art means that it must express both Fall and Redemption. To tell half the story is not to tell the whole truth. I'm not suggesting that every artist has to give both aspects with equal time; some artists may express one far more than the other. (Pedro the Lion comes to mind.) But Christian art as a whole should add up to a balance between these two parts. However, turn on K-LOV and the story of Fall and Redemption is not what you hear. Yes, we must get to the Redemption and Hope which is "positive and encouraging," but without the context of a fallen world and broken humanity, there's nothing terribly positive about grace and nothing all that encouraging about the gospel. This is yet another thing I appreciate about T.S. Eliot. His pre-Christian work (such as "The Hollow Men" and "The Wasteland") dealt with the fragmentation and alienation of fallen society. His later Christian work (such as "The Four Quartets") doesn't lose sight of these ugly effects of the Fall and their sad reality in our world. The Fall is not the final word (and he gets there in his poetry), but it can't be ignored or glossed over either.

When I get a chance, I may post some thoughts about the conflict between my love for Eliot's (representative of poetry and literature as whole) concrete yet imprecise beauty, depth, and vision, and my other passion for logical, consistent, precisely-stated truth.

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First, I agree with you thoughts on Christian art. That said, do you think that there is a similar general approach of Christianity to non-artistic venues--say, for example, business, politics, or preaching?

If that doesn't make sense, don't worry--I'm somewhat baiting you for a post I intend to write soon (not in a bad way, but I just had some thoughts this morning that I thought I might write).

Hmm...other venues, eh?

I'm not sure exactly what you're thinking (I'll wait for the post) but my initial thought is that art stands out because it's perhaps the most misunderstood venue in Christianity. For example, we take it for granted that a Christian writing history is going to represent the truth as best he can (the good and the bad) and not gloss over negative realities in history. Yet for some reason many Christians expect the artist not to portray life realistically. I suppose the corrollary is that preachers must tell the whole truth: Fall and Redemption, Judgment and Grace. When one gets emphasized at the expense of the other, you end up with Joel Osteen or (on the other end) some of the preachers in the union plaza.

One of the views of art that a lot of Christians seem to hold is that art should what life could or should be like, rather than what life really is. (Perhaps this is the philosophy between Christian radio like KLOV.) Showing us what God's final Restoration might look like is certainly a valid role of art, but I don't think it's the only role.

Sorry for massive typos on the last post. That's why we proofread.

Yeah...ignore the whole future post thing--I got the ideas from one thing confused with another. That happens sometimes.

What I more meant was something like, How might preachers/businessmen/politicians find "original (and sometimes difficult) ways" to do their work?

Hmm...My first thought is that originality is fine so long as it serves the primary purpose. In art, I think originality is a part of the primary purpose, so it's necessary. However, people in other areas have different purposes they're working toward. (Purpose-driven, if you will.) So, for example, a preacher's goal is to clearly and faithfully communicate the truth of scripture to his given audience. If originality is required to accomplish that, then by all means, be original. But I don't think it's required as it is in art, and I think there are occasions were being original would detract from the preacher's primary purpose. Perhaps provocative Power Point presentations push parishoners past the primary purpose. (Arggh!...so close.)

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