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A Crying Need

A Crying Need For Gospel Artists

A Greccio Christmas 11x17 poster.psdIn the literary world a distinction is made between a critic and an artist.  A critic assesses things, an artist produces them.

Would that we made such a distinction within theology and Church circles because what we most desperately need today is not ore criticism but more art, not more theological critics but more Gospel artists.

This is particularly true as regards the issue of evangelization in the Western world.  It is pretty generally agreed upon that we need a new inculturation of the Gospel, a new look at what communications technology is doing to us and a new model for adult education.  Everywhere there is a sense that the old ways no longer work well enough and that we need a breakthrough.

Our poverty today as regards evangelization is not so much lack of good critical thought as lack of good artists.  What we lack are theologians, preachers, teachers, songwriters, painters and the like who can make new images that can take the word of God, with all the timeless truth and revelation it carries, and give it genuine aesthetic expression within today’s experience.  No easy task.  Good art never is.

We are not short on energy, literature, and courses on the subject.  We are just short on results.  Despite our best efforts, we are nowhere near a breakthrough.

Why?  Because, first of all, it is easier to make a diagnosis than to find a prescription. Hence, the literature is long on the diagnostics but short of real remedy.

I say this with sympathy.  It is not easy to know what we should be doing today to more effectively give the faith to our children.  As a result, most of the time we talk about the problem, point out how important it is and go on to say that we must address it.

Valuable though this is, ultimately, it is still talk about process, about starting conversations about paradigm shifts, and about our present malaise.  None of it is the gospel itself.  It is criticism in the technical sense, valuable in its own way.  But the critic is not the artist.  The critic talks about something that somebody else produces.  In the end, he does not write the play, paint the canvas or make the music.  The artist does. He or she produces what the critic talks about.  Too often in theology and Church circles, because we do not distinguish between criticism and art, criticism passes itself off as theology.  The result is that we get ever more sophisticated analytical tools but do not produce much at all.

Moreover this involves infinitely more that simply finding a better technique, a more sensitive process or using the media in more sophisticated ways.  Good preaching or teaching (religious “art”) is never a question of being the cleverest, of using the most modern techniques or sensitive processes, of finding the really imaginative stories, or even of having a fertile imagination.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

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