When Faith Leaves the Museum

 

Samuel House
Samuel House

Ai Weiwei, perhaps best known for his exhibit Sunflower Seeds, is a conceptual artist who creates “social or performance-based interventions.” He is one of a number of artists who have decided to take art out of the museum and into society. For Ai Weiwei, these interventions are a way of “merging his life and art in order to advocate both the freedoms and responsibilities of individuals.”

‘From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society’, he has said. ‘Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.’   (Tate Museum)

The Women Are Heroes project is another example of an artist using the real world social order as a canvas on which to paint challenging ideas. The artist, JR, did this particular project “[i]n order to pay tribute to those who play an essential role in society but who are the primary victims of war, crime, rape and political or religious fanaticism . . .”*

When art leaves the museum like this, it is transformed into social witness. It becomes something publicly available.  It eludes censorship, yet is  exposed to raw and sometimes violent criticism. It somehow moves back and forth across the line of legal and illegal, sanctioned and under sanction.  It is vulnerable and open to whatever interpretations, ideas and reactions it causes.

For these two particular artists, these interventions are also intentionally meant to give voice to the voiceless-to bring the lives of unimportant and disregarded people into public view. Their works expose inconvenient truths and somehow point to the cracks in our well-reasoned ideas about how the world is supposed to work and how it actually works.

I think that vital faith is faith which has chosen to leave the museum. It is faith which endeavors to give voice to the voiceless-to bring the lives of unimportant and disregarded people into public view. It exposes inconvenient truths and somehow points to the cracks in our well-reasoned ideas about how the world is supposed to work and how it actually works.

Vital faith, like the artwork of Ai Weiwei, JR, or Iowa’s own Rev. Ted Lyddon Hatten, shows the light of God shining through those cracks, and brings the world’s attention to it.

This work-this faith in the world work-this social intervention-is social justice.  It is faith made publicly available. It is faith which eludes censorship, yet allows itself to be exposed to raw and sometimes violent criticism. It somehow moves back and forth across the line of legal and illegal, sanctioned and under sanction.  It is vulnerable and open to whatever interpretations, ideas and reactions it causes.

Social justice is a public faith witness which has the the power to break hearts and inspire people to moral elevation and awe. It paints compassion, grace and the irrational and extravagant love of Jesus on the canvas of the world.

Advertisements

Social Justice Church

Ann Truss
Ann Truss

A few months back, I participated in a panel discussion about social concerns, young adults, and the church. I was not asked to participate because I am an expert in social concerns, generational sociology, or the United Methodist Church. I was asked because I roughly embody the category of young adult, I am a participant in the church, and I really only stick around because the UMC claims to be a social justice church.

Now, social justice is a term with a lot of baggage. It has entire histories, theologies, doctrines and social movements behind it. Some people are comfortable claiming certain forms of social justice advocacy as the primary goal of Jesus, while others are sure that it is code for the “forced redistribution of wealth with a hostility toward individual property rights, under the guise of charity and/or justice.” What’s more, the cause wars in the church have been going on for so long, there is little to no room for different issues to come to light, much less an opportunity to regroup and consider whether we need to define a new set of solutions. Rather, new Christians, on entering the church, are asked to choose sides in conflicts that may well have no real meaning for many of them.

All of which is to say that, in the church, the contest between historical social ideas has become the point of action. Any conversation about social justice seems to be stuck in a repeating loop of name-calling, stereotyping and the painful backbiting which arises when we have been wounded-as though the most important thing we can do with social justice is to define it, and either claim or reject that definition for ourselves and our fifteen closest friends.

Social justice in the church, then, becomes a fixed category of dead and dying social ideas by which we can group people. It becomes a stagnating pool of “us” and “them” statements, with opposing teams of Christians whose energy is directed towards definitively winning the argument so that they no longer have to wrestle with a Christ whose Way is anything but safe and simple.

When social justice becomes a definition instead of an awareness and relationship, the church becomes a museum instead of a community. As long as the church continues to let media outlets and political campaigns define its relationship with those in its town earning less than $11,170 a year, rather than opening its Bible, its doors, its heart and its treasure store to respond, no one will believe it actually cares about the poor. While the church spends its energy proof texting its justification, Exhale creates a a texting space to “show that it [is] possible to have an honest, thoughtful, nuanced conversation about abortion that [isn’t] polarizing and inflammatory. “*

The people of my peer group do not have either the patience or the time for social transformation which is merely a mental exercise practiced within the bounds of safe stances, ritualized actions, and appropriate topics. We are hungry for an opportunity to transform our world into the kind of place we want our children to inherit. A church stepping boldly out to lead that kind of work is a church we want to work alongside. It might even be the church we want to be a part of.

And if your church simply does not want to do that, that’s fine. We’re finding other partners for the journey.

Open Letter

I was asked to submit an open letter as part of a media campaign being scheduled by Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (http://www.iowacasa.org/) for Sexual Assault Awareness Month which is observed in April. ImageHere is my submission:

I write this letter for a college roommate who was afraid to ride her bicycle past the football players’ dorm on our campus because of the harassing comments and remarks that would be tossed her way. I write this letter because my response at the time was to think, “If you insist on wearing a skirt when you ride your bike, you can count on men hollering at you.”

I write this letter for a fifteen year-old woman who came to me because she didn’t want to exchange oral sex for friendship anymore, and she was looking for a way out. I write this letter because, at the time, I had no idea that fifteen-year-olds were under that kind of pressure, and I was unprepared to help her.

I write this letter for my small, bird-frail friend who claimed that Julia Child saved her life because she learned how to cook by watching Julia’s show on PBS. I write this letter for my friend whose pastor told her she must try to do better as a wife so that her husband wouldn’t hurt her anymore.

I write this letter for a nation in which women do not have equal representation in government. I write this letter for a nation which allows male elected leaders whose last biology class was in 1965 to set the tone of conversation in matters pertaining to my physiology, anatomy and psychological make-up.

I write this letter for a world in which people can be put in prison for life for having a romantic relationship with a person of the same gender, while juries in this country continue to acquit people who pulled triggers and ended lives without actually demonstrating any kind of threat beyond their own fear.

It is time for us to change, to admit our priorities are mixed up: when a university president can say that sexual assault is “human nature” and thinks that sounds sane; when physical and verbal violence is offered to young men and women, and our only response is to shake our heads and claim those kinds of behavior are acceptable as long as they happen inside “the locker room;” when our response to radio personalities who equate birth control with promiscuous sexual activity is to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep listening, but our response to our next door neighbor who was raped is to ask whether or not she had been drinking and shut the door.

At this time, more people are being bought and sold than at any other time in human history, mostly to satisfy the sexual urges and relational longing of other people. It is time for honest conversations about sex and the character of healthy and life-giving relationships. It is time that sexual assault and domestic violence stop being part of our everyday experience. It is time for us to stop blaming female bodies for our collective inability to exercise self-control, and it is time for us to shine a light into the broken, unlovely reaches of our own hearts where the urge to violence, alienation, cruelty, and fear are born.

So, I am speaking up, and I hope you will to. I hope you will get informed and spread the word. I hope you will get involved in your local community to gather stories, to share burdens, to confront evils, and to name and own a future where our daughters and our sons don’t have to walk down the streets in fear.

Sincerely,

Colleen McRoberts

On Earth As It Is in Heaven

250px-The_Civil_Rights_Memorial,_Montgomery,_ALI was recently asked, “What on earth or in heaven does ‘Climate Justice’ have to do with winning souls for Christ?”

This question has been sticking with me, mostly because the connection seems obvious to me yet clearly was not to the person who asked. I think the question also points to some of the other responses that come my way: suggestions that advocacy, mission, social witness, and civic activism are politically motivated rather than that they are rooted in a commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In searching for a response to this question, I googled social justice and evangelism to see what other people had to offer. There are a lot of perspectives out there, and a great deal of intellectual and theological debate. Not surprisingly, most of the articles I found suggest that social justice and evangelism are either/or forms of discipleship, and that to be for one kind of discipleship is to be against the other. But I think that assumption is a false one.

Maybe, then, I  need to turn the original question on its side. Maybe it is not so much a “what” question, as it is a “how” question. So how do I answer Jesus’ command to go and make disciples, and why does writing about [Climate] Justice matter?

My first motivation to do as Jesus asks is that I love God. That love was born at the bottom of a hill in my home town, from a completely irrational and altogether mind-shattering revelation of God’s prevenient grace. Even before I knew God, I heard the call to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. That call has only gotten stronger and more life-giving as I have pursued Christ.

As I look at the world I live in, I see not only that there are  poor, imprisoned, blind and oppressed souls that have not yet heard the good news, but also that  there are pervasive diseases and afflictions that continue to impoverish, torture, maim, and burden human beings and beloved creatures all across the planet.  Diseases and afflictions, evils, injustices and oppression, which would make a liar of God and a mockery of salvation.  So, while it is true that Jesus tells us to go and baptize, he also gives us power and authority to heal every kind of disease and illness.

That is why, for me, the commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is a call to systemic, social transformation, “to build a world where love can grow and hope can enter in,” as one of my favorite songs puts it. [Welcome (Let’s Walk Together)]

And I do not think we are left alone to do this. The Holy Spirit and God’s grace not only make us right for this work, but also make us holy to do it. And by actually living into Christ’s call on our souls-a plea to go to the prisoners, the sick and dying, the broken and demon-ridden among us and to love neighbors, strangers, enemies, and creation itself so much that we would give our only child simply to set it right-we might actually see the Reign of God.

So, to offer an answer to the question as to what on earth or in heaven  ‘Climate Justice’ has to do with winning souls for Christ, I want to answer that for myself, I see the connection most strongly every time I pray the prayer we have been taught:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.