Recently our daughter, Meredith, texted us a picture of two watercolors painted by our 7-year old grandson, Elijah. He has been watching his mother learn to use watercolors, and he wanted to try his hand. He traced the outline and then watched a video that instructed him on how to apply the watercolors, choosing color, learning how to use the brush.
Of course, one would expect us to be proud grandparents, but wouldn’t his time be better spent in the summer learning computer programming?
Do the arts still matter? And do the arts in church matter?
We seem to be in a cultural moment in progressive churches where congregations have awakened to the importance of engaging issues beyond the walls of the church, partnering with community groups and speaking on behalf of the marginalized. While this sort of work can be messy (and even controversial for some), it is good work, the work of the Spirit.
So, let me ask the question another way: When war rages in Ukraine and when people are yelling at one another across the political spectrum, what good is music and the other arts?
Art is love you can see. Above the mantle of a fireplace in our home is a painting of a field of Texas bluebonnets created by our friend Audrey Dickison. Now before you roll your eyes at the cliché of this, Audrey’s work employs pointillism; the image of this field of flowers near Ennis, Texas, is created by a series of thousands of dots. The texture is almost three dimensional.
“When war rages in Ukraine and when people are yelling at one another across the political spectrum, what good is music and the other arts?”
My wife gave this to me as an anniversary present a few years back. The work is both modern and homey, both striking and decorative. It makes our home more beautiful, and every time I see it I think of the hands that made it.
Music is a gift to wounded souls. Laurie Taylor is executive director of the Grief and Loss Center of North Texas. Their mission is to “provide emotional support and grief education for grieving children, teens and adults by rebuilding hope and community.”
In April 2023, our Wilshire Sanctuary Choir will present a concert of choral music with orchestra to raise awareness and money for the Grief and Loss Center. The choral music will be framed by poetry expressing both sorrow and hope.
Our Wilshire choir has partnered with the Grief and Loss Center before, and so we’ve heard back from clients who attended the concert. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with parents of a daughter who had been murdered. Our choir had performed John Rutter’s Requiem. The movement titled “Out of the Depths” (based on Psalm 130) begins with a cello solo on the very lowest note that can be played on the instrument. Through tears and smiles, these grieving parents told me their daughter played the cello. For this moment, music was a healing force.
Teaching students to sing or play an instrument builds community and creates soundtracks for life. For many years in churches, I led youth choirs and planned and led mission choir tours for students. I still hear from students from time to time about the impact of these spiritual experiences on their lives. I am grateful for the support and the investment of churches in the lives of students.
Youth choir is a team sport where no one has to sit on the bench. In a world of competition and comparison, this is something students can do together. When students sing in a choir, they are creating sound; they are choral artists. And when they sing lyrics that matter — that speak beautifully and profoundly of faith and life — these become soundtracks for life (thanks to Randy Edwards of YouthCue for this idea).
Math, computer programming, science — these are important skills to master. But “man does not live by bread alone.” When we create something — music, art, pottery, furniture — we are simply following the pattern embedded at the start of the biblical story: in the beginning, God created.
And so should we.
Doug Haney serves as associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, where he also has been minister of music for 18 years. He also serves as a consultant with the Center for Healthy Churches.
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