While traveling in Europe, it's hard to ignore the art inspired by faith and life in the church.
Van Gogh's bibilically-themed depictions engulfed my imagination, especially his Wheatfield with Reaper painting. Thorvaldsen's Christus sculpture in Copenhagen's Vor Frue's Kirke is an imposing and awe-inspiring piece. I imagine the sounds of Bach's compositions in grand old German churches.
This reflection is not intended to glamorize artists of old. I have found inspiriation in many contemporary artists, yet few are connected to the life of the church, especially my own tradition. It's not that there is a shortage of artists in the world. I think that in the Lutheran tradition (and other Protestant denominations), we have a series of barriers implicitly stating that artists are not welcome.
Can art come from a committee? I've served in congregations that explicitly stated their desire to have creative, artistic people as part of their staffs or web of volunteer leaders. Yet that process is bogged down in job descriptions, power plays, gate keeping, narrow expectations and countless meetings. Most artists run from this kind of bureaucratic gerbil maze.
The problem for the church is not the shortage of artists, but the shortage of imagination within the church. This shortage of imagination is a death spiral of its own, because it is precisely the artists who inspire our imagination. My teacher Pat Keifert taught his students that the crisis of the church is a crisis of imagination, because we can't imagine Jesus in our neighbor's future.
We like to think that the future of our faith is a matter of will and skill. The future of our faith is fueled by imagination. Without artists to inspire imagination of who God is and how the love of Christ can be lived in the world, we become a shallow, mechanized bureaucracy that will collapse on itself.
I've been stuck too long waiting around, or sitting in committee meetings waiting for artists to answer a church ad in a newspaper. I haven't figured out exactly how to do it yet, but my goal is to implicity and explicitly say to the world (especially to artists), "Artists Welcome." I need some imagination to see what is possible with God, rather than merely say it.