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Randy Elrod, a creative and wise friend of mine, posted on his blog recently about an intriguing conference for artists hosted by International Arts Movement (IAM) aimed at mobilizing artists to be persons of reconciliation, creators of shalom on earth. It was on IAM's site that this quote struck me and has been rattling inside my brain for hours:

"If a democracy rests on any principle at all, it is the realization that we can create the society we want to live in if people in this single morning and this single room, if they put their minds to it. You have enough energy, and you have enough creativity to change America."
- Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Keynote speech at International Arts Movement's "Artist as Reconcilers" conference, February 23, 2006, Cooper Union University, New York City.

Is this true? Can we create the society we want, whether we're artists, students, politicians or house painters, by putting our minds to it and expending "energy" and "creativity"?

Hear audio from the IAM conference by clicking the iTunes button:
Unknown - International Arts Movement - International Arts Movement


Anonymous Andrew said...

no, I don't think we can. I think that's the main idea of the Fall: life will no longer be perfect until God restores it completely.

Beyond that, I think it's actually very dangerous to think of ourselves this way. We are not perfect and we should not place expectations on us to be. We should especially not put those expectations on the world around us, or assume that our ideas of perfection would even be the same.

I've said this before, but I believe this line of thinking is why we are such a bitter and disillusioned culture. We've been raised to believe that "we can do anything we put our minds to" but that's just not true. It's such an incredibly stupid and obvious lie. You can't fly, you can't play basketball if you're built like me, some people have no rhythm, only one of about five people will be president during the years you could be.

Believing you can do something you can't only sets you up for failure.

Instead we should live with an awareness of our limitations and our flaws and encourage each other to work beyond them, so then when we DO succeed we can be glad and thankful, and when we fail we can know it's the course of humanity to fail and we're still ok.

We watch so many movies that we now apparently think we can just "imagine" the world to be a better place and it will be. The Beatles were great, but I think John was drinking moron juice when he wrote that song.

Closing your eyes to the truth does nothing but increase the likelihood you'll get hit by a bus.

Thinking that "creativity" and "energy" are what it takes to change things is incredibly naive. It's nice, but it's just not true. Good changes can be brought on by people this side of heaven, but it usually involves words like "sacrifice" and "patience". Or even less politically correct: "prayer", "forgiveness" and "love".

Anonymous Mark said...

Does Philippians 4:13 apply here in any way?

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

To aid discussion of Mark's point here is Philippians 4:13 in it's greater context:

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Anonymous Brian said...

We can't create that society.

We CAN be a light in that society, and be people of reconciliation and of Shalom.

It's worth a try Shaun.

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Tell me more about that society and what i means to b a "light" in it, Brian.

And am I reading too much into your comment or do you assume I'm against trying to create that society?


Anonymous Brian said...

I don't think you're against it- my CAPITALIZING of CAN was more in response to Andrew's comments.

In regards to artists as reconcilers in society...well, it's sort of a paradox, isn't it?

Can we (artists, students, politicians, everyone) be light by creating something beautiful for others to notice? Is beauty itself enough to point people to God? Can we, as the IAM website puts it, use art as a means of "incarnating" our faith?

Doesn't everything beautiful on this earth fade?

Well, or does it? Having been to, say, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which has lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years, I know that beautiful things can point people to the source of all beauty and creativity.

I think that is part of what Francis Schaffer calls the "cultural mandate"- to produce things of beauty, not merely for evangelism's sake, but for beauty's sake, because beautiful creations must ultimately have a creator.

This is the paradox of evangelism- we can best point others to the God we love not by mere words about God, but by showing the goodness of God through things that can't last- a meal for a hungry person, a law that helps the cause of justice, or what have you. I think excellent art falls into this category. Christians, on the average, are no more or less talented than non-Christians, but we should surely have wonderful insight into the human condition. Christian art should be what life feels like, if it is to be anything at all.

I think if Christians would use their talents to the fullest (as IAM clearly seems to be promoting), we can redeem others in our culture. We can't redeem the whole culture, as the evangelical church has (wrongly, I think) emphasized (when we get brave enough to even think of those outside the church at all). Outside the church there is no such thing as a Christian culture, and even inside, you have to wonder sometimes. But I think IAM's goals are a major step in the right direction.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Anyway, I read your blog regularly and enjoy reading what you have to say. Peace out, and I hope the creative constipation clears!

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Brian, what's wrong with the world? What's the root problem if there is one? Who or what is to blame for this mess?


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