See the link for all the 8th Letters and about Makoto Fujimura, and others who have written letters, obliged.
A Letter to North American Churches
This was delivered at the Eighth Letter Conference for the Epiphaneia group in Toronto. The presenters were asked to write a letter to the churches of North America in the style of the Revelation letters in the New Testament. The full version will be published in their anthology in 2011.
Dear Churches of North America
I speak to you as an artist.
An artist’s relationship with you has not been easy; we are often in the margins of your communities, being the misfits that we are. Artists often sit in the back, if they come to church at all, wear black and look menacing to you. But many of us, actually, sit in the front, we volunteer, and are first to be with the poor. You just don’t notice us. Some of us are even up in front preaching, and you call us pastors, but we consider ourselves really artists of the Word. Some of us are crusading against the wrongs of the world, and we can get attentions of the “Kings” of this world because our songs are so popular.
You began to believe in the late 18th century that we needed rational categories, to try to protect “faith” from “reason.” Reason began to win the battle in this false dichotomy. As a consequence, you began to suspect the mystery of our being and the miraculous presence of God behind the visible. What you call “Secularism” is your own offspring*, given articulation by the division and fragmentation within the church. As a result of this dichotomy, you began to exile artists whose existence, up to that point, helped to fuse the invisible reality with concrete reality. An artist knows that what you can see and observe is only the beginning of our journey to discover the world. But you wanted proof, instead of mystery; justification instead of beauty. Therefore you pushed artists to the margins of worship, while the secular world you helped to create championed us, and gave us, ironically, a priestly role.
Instead of having quality artists at the core of your worship, we were forced to operate as extras; as in “if-we-can-afford-it-good-but-otherwise-please-volunteer”, Extras. Meanwhile, in the institutions called museums, concert halls and academia, we are asked to be gods. You gave away artistic expression to the secular culture. And yet do you not know that Our Father in Heaven owns all of the earth? You might have given back the power of creativity to Egypt, and acquiesced to Babylon, but the true and living God still owns all the powerful institutions, and the hearts of critics and curators. Artists still have an instinct for worship, but they must do so now in sterile, minimalist boxes called galleries to the “unknown gods” of our time. Rather than giving devotion, they had to become a celebrity merchant, selling their goods; instead of giving of themselves to the Giver of gifts, they have become purveyors of a commodity. Artists have insight into the invisible qualities of the Reality; but you have forced them to serve only the visible, utilitarian and the pragmatic.
Do you not know that the first people known to be filled with the Holy Spirit were not priests, kings or generals, but artists named Bazelel and Oholiab, who built Moses’ Tabernacle? Do you not remember that even the Babylonian kings wanted artists from the exiled nation; and they were the first to be exiled? Artists have skills and power that a dictator is afraid of, or want to use; and you, the church, unwisely neglected them.
A painter does not merely reproduce what is thought to be seen by the eye; an artist task is to train the eye first to truly see, and then learn to disregard what we have been taught, to throw away imposed categories -- those easy preconceived notions that lure us to think that we are seeing when we are not, but merely looking. An artist’s task is to see through the eye into the eternal, into the invisible.
One of your exiled poets stated in 1864:
Love - is anterior to Life -
Posterior - to Death -
Initial of Creation, and
The Exponent of Earth -
Who is this love? Who is “anterior to Life,” and “posterior to death”? “Initial of Creation, and the Exponent of Earth”?
This poet, as a teenager, was told by of your leaders in a seminary in Amherst that she had “no hope to be saved.” We know from these poems, Emily always desired to know her Creator. I do not celebrate waywardness, but I am here to seek the lost, and I will leave ninety-nine church members to seek the one lost poet.
One of your exiled painters, from another continent, created a work called The Starry Night in 1889
There is a church, a Dutch Reformed Church, that does not belong in Arles, France, in the middle of the painting, holding the visual balance. Vincent grew up in the church, he is your offspring; and he even wanted to be an evangelist. Notice that the church is the only building that does not have light within. He wanted to tell you, through this visual parable, that though the church still holds these disparate matters together in the world, the Spirit has left the church, and went swirling into Nature and the Cosmos.
When you exiled them, the Vincent’s and Emily’s of the world, you have exiled me.
I AM an artist.
God has always, from the beginning, been an artist. He has spoken through the prophets and poets. The Bible begins with Creation, and ends with a New Creation. Everywhere in between God has chosen broken vessels, his creative creatures to create in love.
Artists: Create for our Father, improvise with the Spirit. Create through the Medium who binds all things together, and then you will begin to hear sounds of “the world that ought to be.” Surely, there will be birth pangs right up to that time. There will be more “Ground Zeros” created by destructive minds, twisting creative impulses into diabolical powers. Undo what they have done. Stand upon those ashes all around us, and open your hearts: look up, to Create in Love.
You must become as one; the Body of Christ. Love one another. Love is creative: Love is generative. Be diligent in the work of bringing unity in diversity of the Body. Art provides a wonderful example of diverse voices, instruments and colors to be brought together for the magnificence of the whole. You are God’s Masterpieces, a tapestry of diversity, created in Christ Jesus to birth more Masterpieces.
Finally, let me address the artists of the far country (Luke 15:13); you are starving though you have much. The corrupt world has given you celebrity, and the ephemeral treasures of the earth. Return to your first love. Come home. Creativity is a gift; art is a gift. Do not make it to be other than that, or you will be crushed by your own gifts: and do not try to numb the pain you feel down inside of you with anything other than drinking in the Holy Spirit. There are also some of you, in the far country, who have also ascetically removed pleasures for the sake of “pure expression.” Do not think that just because you have forfeited the whole world, that you have gained your souls. Return to your first love, be filled with the Passion. As a child, you explored the colorful margins, finding exhilaration in sound, movement and rhymes of words. Come home, and join me in preparing for the Feast to come.
Do you not know that we are planning a wedding feast? Have you forgotten that, Churches of North America? You are wedding planners! What wedding would lack music, art, poetry, dance or delectable foods? Start preparing, begin to breath in the aroma of grace; we need the best artists, poets, dancers, musicians and architects. Become an artist of the Kingdom, preparing for the Feast of grace.