Piss Christ, Revisited

Piss Christ

Piss Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Daniel Siedell has written another excellent article over at Patheos discussing the intersection of faith, grace and life through art (see below). It is well worth your time to read what might be the best perspective I’ve heard on Serrano’s Piss Christ.  And his thoughts on what it means to be a Cultural Theologian are even better.

I remember my first exposure into both topics – Piss Christ and being a Cultural Theologian – came from my dad.  He is an artist, and I have benefited greatly from growing up in a home where art was celebrated and questions were asked that forced us to think, not just regurgitate or rearrange preconceived prejudices.  When I fist came to know Christ, I remember one such question my dad asked: “What would you do if you saw a picture of Jesus in a toilet [or jar or urine] as a work of art?”

My answer then was somewhat astute for someone my age and maturity in Christ.  I answered, “Well, Jesus was crucified in a trash heap which was the equivalent of a toilet back in his day.  Whether the artist meant it or not, I think it’s an excellent picture of the beauty and grace of God in the midst of the crap of life.”

My response has not changed to this day, and thanks to Daniel, I know now that I was on to something back then.

Enjoy!

Piss Christ, Revisited.

Addendum: To learn more about how to see and perceive art with eyes of faith, and not through culture-war jargon, I highly recommend Daniel Siedell’s book God in the Gallery (Kindle edition here)  Also, for something philosophically similar but addressing cinema and movies, I would encourage Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Worldviews (Kindle edition here).

The Beauty of Jesus in the Mess of Our Lives

If you caught it, there is a subtle allusion to the Nickel Creek song “The Beauty and The Mess” that I see the quote below pick up and relate to the person and work of Jesus Christ. This theme runs rampant in lots of other musicians work (U2’s “Grace”, Johnny Cash’s cover and dare I say Nine Inch Nails original “Hurt“, even Mumford & Sons “The Cave“).

 

They gave him a manger for a cradle,
a carpenter’s bench for a pulpit,
thorns for a crown,

and a cross for a throne.

 

He took them and made them his glory.

- William E. Orchard

It’s the theme of the gospel, and it can be seen and read in every page of the Bible. The theme that God is able to bring such ugly, messed up, broken-down circumstances to a beautiful resolution.

It’s why it’s funny to me that what a lot of artists get as true, most people in church do not.

Most of us who go to church and would consider ourselves Christians, if we re honest with ourselves, functionally believe that God is really only in the good stuff – good circumstances, good relationships, good job situations, good family dynamics, etc. And so if anything is broken, messed up and ugly, God can’t have anything to do with it.

We functionally believe that if God is with us, everything should be going well, according to our definition of “well” and our interpretation of our circumstances.

The incarnation, life and death of Jesus Christ turns that wisdom on its head.

Can You Hear Jimi?

I hate myself.

Yeah, I said it.  I hate myself.

I came across this epiphany while sitting in my newfound favorite spot for self-loathing; Starbucks.  As I sit here, I witness business people collaborating on projects, soccer moms just coming back from their grueling morning walk, and dudes (young and old) that have better fashion sense and physical health then myself.

Me.  I look like I will be that guy who will be 50 years old trying to dress like he did in his late teens to early 20’s, without much sense or purpose.  No pressing, important or urgent activity, but to come to a coffee-shop and sip on his drink, because, well, I look like I did when I was irresponsible, haphazard and sloppy.

I hate myself because I can’t fit into the clothes I own, let alone the ones I would like to own.  I shop at Old Navy, occasionally the Gap.  These are the Banana Republic for “bigger” people.

The clothes make the man.  This is what Starbucks, indirectly, tells me.

I hate myself because I have let myself go too far down the road I’m on and I don’t know if I can make my way back to a healthy place.   I’ve always been on the heavier side.  In high school I weighed as much as a Freshman as I would later come to weigh in college – 190lbs.  In college this was healthy.  I was active, hitting the gym several times a week.  I also was on the Rowing team and on weekends would play flag football.  I could run 4-5 miles with no problem.

In high school I lost the weight by not eating for a summer.  Sure I worked out (a ton) and played basketball (religiously for hours a day, ever day, 7 days a week), but the real difference maker was refusing food.  The food I would eat was bad, not even healthy.  I subsisted on 1 meal a day for the better part of a summer.  After that, I would eat lunch and dinner, ocassionaly skipping one of those meals.

Now, I eat.

I eat alot.

I eat regular meals, and sometimes I squeeze in an extra snack or two.  Or three.  Call it stress, call it middle age, call it metabolic slow down.  I call it pathetic.  I don’t monitor what I eat, let alone how much.  And I know better!

Now, I weigh 252 lbs.  This is 20 lbs. less than what it was 2 months ago.

Progress, right?  So why do I still hate myself?

Because its not enough.  I want to weight a healthy weight.  I want to look attractive, especially to my wife.  Not only has she had to put with me (a feat in and of itself) but she’s had to put up with a fat me.  Not cool.

I want to buy clothes that fit, and are from Banana Republic, without having to go into emotional meltdown each time I try to put a shirt on and stuff down the feelings of insecurity that well up inside like a tsunami, with no forewarned reverberations from the earthquake that is getting dressed in the morning.

I want to like me.  Instead I hate the me that I have become.

And I have become what I have eaten.

In a backwards way, the old yarn about “You are what you eat” is actually a stones throw away from a theological truth – “you become what you worship.”  This is idolatry.  It wasn’t necessarily that it was wrong to fashion something out of wood, to have it in ones home or even to sell it to a neighbor.  What was wrong was that you looked to it to satisfy you.

When the bible talks in cryptic language about “hearing, but not understanding” or “seeing but not perceiving” (Luke 8:10; cf. Isaiah 6:9), it isn’t merely providing one of the better dialogues between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump. Its pointing to the ultimate and sad reality that, “What you revere you resemble, whether for your ruin or your restoration.” (G.K. Beale, You Become What You Worship).

“Oh I can hear Jimi, you say?”  No, you’re just listening.  You’re not hearing.

Self-fulfilment through personal effort is self-destruction.  This is the insatiable law of human life.  We all are seeking to carve out the life we think we want.  But in the end it turns around the carving knife we’re fashioning our idol out of   and chips away at us until there’s nothing left.

We are destroyed by the work of our own hands.

Why do I launch into a discussion on idolatry after having cathartically cleansed my consciousness of self-loathing thoughts of angst against myself and expressions of envy towards others?

Because if I’m not careful, I’ll just trade one idolatry of comfort, ease, emotional security and gluttony through food, for another one of status, discipline, arrogance and pride through “the culture of cool.”

This is how sin works.  It promises us something, and we work to fashion something in our life to provide meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment, and before we know it, we’re “seeing, but not perceiving”, “hearing but not understanding”, “eating, but not being satisfied.”  “Living life, but hating the life you’re living.”

What’s funny is this is how Paul the Apostle felt too.  In a weird way, he may have been able to write this little blog post (of course, he would have different details), but he said something very similar to my own opening line.

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:24-25)

That’s who!

The answer to the problem of my self-destructive behavior is not to jump out of  my Starbucks-pot of self-loathing only to land in the fire of the “culture of cool”.  The answer is found in someone who lived the life I should have lived (but didn’t) and who died the death I should have died (but won’t – now).

Can you hear Jimi now?  Or are you just listening?

Great Art and Transcendent Beauty

Sigur Ros – GlósóliThis is what music and art is supposed to do. Capture beauty and imagination in a way that transcends words (at least words we readily understand).After watching this, I can’t think of how to describe this song or this band. I admit, I teared up (a little). A friend mentioned this video to me last night and he expressed this question, “What would it be like for some of our corporate worship as the church to capture some of this same sense of awe, wonder, and beauty that Sigur Ros elicits with their music, and this video wonderfully captures?”I have not got the first clue how to answer that question…but I want to ponder it. Until then, enjoy, and listen to more Sigur Ros!

What is beauty?

I found out about these videos in my Intro to Counseling class today.  I had to share them.  They address a real problem we face everyday – “secular sermons” where we are all impacted and formed by our culture in ways that aren’t exactly healthy.

Check these out for a healthy corrective attempt to the problem [Caveat - I find it interesting that this comes from Dove, a company very much invested in the success of the beauty industry.  Shouldn't the church be the ones tackling this problem?]:

Evolution

Onslaught