Friday, March 10, 2006

"Barnacles clinging to the Cruise Ship of Pop Culture"

Michael Kimmelman, head art critic for the New York Times coined the evocative phrase above to describe much of the work in the latest Whitney Biennial in New York City, the "superbowl of the art world." The thrust of Kimmelman's scorn is the way the art commmunity, desperate for recognition, fame and success, panders after the latest trends, fads and fashions.While it attempts to be avant guard, it is not really bold or new. One exhibitor is a Texas man who is clinically unstable, living at home with his parents, drawing often erotic cartoons with magic markers and who thinks New York is "overseas." This is a cruel way to capitalize on a vulnerable adult, launching him into fame and wealth. But the problem is, his artwork, while weird, is not good art. It's just weird. Kimmelman goes on to autopsy the contemporary art community for its very lack of originality and bold ideas. It simply goes where the money is and what the public wants.
Now why should that intrigue me? I sense a similar theme playing in the institutional/emergent church dialogue. While there is much that is vitally important to hear, many critiques of the failure of the institutional church that need to be confessed and abandoned. There are many authors who hunger for authentic community and transparent leadership, who long to see kingdom involvement by christians and prophetic engagement with power. There is also a snicker. There is that subtext of spoofing and playing. There's money to be made in the writing and speaking world. It's fun to poke sticks in the eyes of bloated church bureacrats laddled with legacy costs, buildings and obligations. I hunger for deeper reformation, renewal and the blowing of the wind of God's Spirit.
But sometimes I wonder if all this does not sound more like a new marketing campaign for Starbucks, Abercrombie or Apple. It's hip, it has it's own language and dress code. It certainly has its own music and architecture. Is it really different or just a barnacle clinging to the same old ship of pop culture? Show us the salt, shine out the light, be the leaven...help us make a real different for the kingdom.


At 3:38 AM , Blogger Ryan said...

Hello, I want to introduce myself. My nme is Ryan, I am a missionary in Uganda. I come from Santa Barbara and am a member of Goleta community covenant church. I am pretty tight with the SB community having gone to colege at UCSB, and working in many different areas of ministry at CCC. I have been following your posting (and podcasts) for about 2 weeks. I bet several people you interact ith know me :) I will probably comment on your blog. To keep it brief, yes some of the emergent criticism is simply reactionary. However, this is similar to growth of born again/evangelical community of the late 60's to the 70's. Good things came frm that, but the church cuture had to change to be able to reach a new geneation. I feel like this is the same thing.

At 8:25 AM , Blogger donnjohnson said...

Ryan; thanks for your words. I too am intrigued by these movements. And while I do not want to be reactionary, I do want to inject a word of care and introspection. I am all too aware of my own ability to weave complex justifications for my behavior. A healthy and vibrant church blesses us all. And you are right in that our current churched culture needs to change...but how and where?

At 11:04 AM , Anonymous Kent said...

Afternoon Don,

Often in the church we have own "just weird" elements. Unfortunately it is not just the emergent church that snickers, but almost any other wing you can mention. What concerns me is our lack of maturity to allow these experiements to shake out with out all the reactivity. Not yours, but others. I just got off the Focus On the Family site where they have a whole campaign now for truth.
When did truth become endangered. But the tone and the attitude is one of fear and defense. They aren't snickering they are building wall to defend something.

It ain't just the art world that can get a little goofy


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