Many Christians are called to be artists. For them, art is the most effective way to express their faith. Calligrapher Timothy R. Botts reflects, “As an artist, I listen to God through my eyes and I’m speaking back to him through what comes out of my hands.” In the ongoing quest of “making visible the invisible,” artists find themselves exploring the age-old notion of beauty within the context of their contemporary Christian visions.
As artists strive to artistically portray “the substance of things hoped for” and bring expression to “the evidence of things not seen,” they often ricochet off the many different meanings art, beauty, and faith have in our times. To a working artist today, what does it mean to wear “a crown of beauty instead of ashes”?
I propose we take a fresh look at the word beauty and its relationship to art and faith.
Our guide on this journey is Makoto Fujimura, painter, writer, and Director of the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, & the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. I will be featuring the ideas he explores in his recent book, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for Our Common Life. (All the Makoto Fujimura quotes in this article are from Culture Care.)
Fujimura starts his book with a story from 1983, right after he had gotten married. He and his wife, Judy, had just graduated from college. Judy was pursuing her master’s degree and Fujimura was teaching and painting.
One evening, I sat alone, waiting for Judy to come home to our small apartment, worried about how we were going to afford the rent. . . . Our refrigerator was empty and I had no cash left.
Then Judy walked in with a bouquet of flowers. I got really upset. “How could you think of buying flowers if we can’t even eat!”
Judy’s reply has been etched in my heart for over thirty years now: “We need to feed our souls, too.”
These words continue to resonate with me today. Is Judy still right? Do we, as human beings, need more than food and shelter? Do we need beauty in our lives? Given our limited resources, how do we cultivate and care for our souls? And how do these questions apply to our larger culture?”
I would like to invite you all, artists, theologians, pastors, worship leaders, and creative Christians into a conversation about “culture care” and what it means to “reconnect beauty into our common life.” Fujimura reflects, “What started out as Judy’s care for our own souls has blossomed into an effort to extend that care into our home and our churches, and into a vision for culture at large.”
What Fujimura calls “culture care” is a “generative approach” to restoring a culture bereft of beauty. It involves an active relationship to art, beauty, and faith, using them to plant seeds of renewal into our cultural ecosystem. Fujimura explains that “a well-nurtured culture becomes a generative environment in which people and creativity thrive. When we are generative, we draw on creativity to become a force for renewal and rebirth, helping to remake and restore our world.”
—Chris Stoffel Overvoorde
In turning to the creative power of God’s grace and the diverse beauty of his creation, we find inspiration to ask questions that reach beyond our own context and experience. Fujimura states, “Artists help us with such questions, by presenting an expansive vision that produces more beauty, goodness, and flourishing. Culture Care calls us to be stewards of this environment: open to questions of meaning, reaching beyond mere survival, and inspiring each other to purposeful action.”
When he began to exhibit his art in New York City in the mid-90s, Fujimura reflects,
. . . beauty was a taboo, not to be spoken of in public. It signified cultural hegemony, imperialist power, the corruption of the past, or the cosmetic sheen of superficial contemporary culture. The art world still resists this word. I wanted to begin to reclaim beauty, and to frame it for our time as a gift given to us by the Creator.
As Christians, we find the source of beauty and responsible stewardship in our biblical framework of life. We find our creative identity in God. Beauty becomes a gift we “discover, receive and steward.” Fujimura insightfully explains, “Our sense of beauty and our creativity are central to what it means to be made in the image of a creative God. It is part of our human nature. This is why our soul hungers for beauty.”
A thriving, productive culture is impossible without the participation of artists and other leaders who are educated intellectually, trained experientially, formed spiritually, and growing morally. Beauty becomes both an important goal and a creative catalyst for each of these elements.
In Isaiah 61 the prophet talks about a crown of beauty and then makes a connection between beauty, suffering, and justice that speaks directly to a role the arts should be playing. Part of the prophet’s message to the artist is a work order, and a call to action for justice and renewal.
In the face of undeniable human suffering all around us, we must still affirm beauty and work to make our culture reflect it. Fujimura argues that is “why a Culture Care approach will encourage the truth-telling of alienation, suffering, and oppression alongside the truth-telling of justice, hope, and restoration.”
Artists in the last century worked to reveal brokenness, disintegration, and fragmentation. In this century, can they provide the leadership toward reconnection, reconciliation, and renewal?
Fujimura concludes, “It’s not enough to have artists who seek after beauty, truth and goodness; we must have churches, policies, and communities that reflect a long-term nurture of culture that is beautiful, truthful, and full of goodness as well.” We can use this as a starting point for a conversation about “Culture Care” and how to reconnect art, faith, and beauty into our common lives.
This issue of Reformed Worship is another step in calling the church to consider the place of beauty in its acts of worship, to take seriously the call of Fujimura to Culture Care. By creating a partnership between Reformed Worship and Eyekons (see inside back cover ad) we hope that in the journal and in various online forums we can continue to explore ways in which to have a collective dialog about reconnecting art, faith, and beauty into our common lives.
For Further Reading
Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life, International Arts Movement and the Fujimura Institute; 2nd edition, 2015)
A discussion guide is also available on Kindle, as well as a 25-page book titled On Becoming Generative: An Introduction to Culture Care.