God has a penchant for the dramatic.
Take a look at the prophets. They often stood in public squares and crowded streets and shared God’s message to his people as poet-preachers, storytellers and singers. Other times they enacted God’s word in a kind of “street theater,” performing signs and visions with their bodies, using ordinary objects as props and ordinary places as their stage.
Remember when Isaiah was commanded to walk naked and barefoot for three years to communicate how the king of Assyria will “lead away the Egyptians as captives and the Ethiopians as exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isa. 20:2-4)? Jeremiah was commanded to bury his newly purchased underwear in a rocky place at the Euphrates and return to dig up his now ruined underwear several days later to symbolize the ruined pride of Judah and Jerusalem (Jer. 13). Then there is Ezekiel and his many award worthy performances. One time he ate a scroll (no dipping sauce) to symbolize God’s word being put in his mouth and then bound himself with ropes inside his house to symbolize that he may speak to the people only when God wants him to speak (Ezek. 3). Another time he dramatized the fall of Jerusalem with a multi-day street theatrical performance playing war with bricks and other props followed by many weeks of lying down in the street using other props to communicate God’s word, including his own hair, fecal matter and bread (Ezek. 4-5). Yikes!
You may already know this, but just over one-third of the Bible is poetry. Perhaps God feels it’s necessary to communicate His vision of life to us with language structured differently from ordinary prose. Sometimes it takes language in the form of story, poetry or embodied performance to expand the imagination in order to see new possibilities.
Dramatic changes in one’s way of life often necessitates a dramatic change one’s a way of thinking. It requires an entirely different imagination. God’s people lacked imagination.
As society grew more committed to empire politics and violence, the Jews traded in story-driven covenant loyalty for data-driven logic weighed down in politically spun facts and sorted out feelings through political logic. They could not imagine a society different from that of the other nations. They could not imagine how commerce could be fair and good for all. They could not imagine equitable economic practices capable of promoting human flourishing. They could not imagine a society without a permanent underclass, where the widow, the poor, the immigrant and the orphan were valued. Israel forgot her own story, a history that speaks of transformation, liberation, healing, and newness, all coming about in the form of miracles wielded by a God who can do the impossible. As a result they failed to keep their imaginations big enough to envision the kind of life Yahweh offered, a life of truth, goodness and beauty culminating in righteousness, mercy and compassion.
God’s people have always had a lack-of-imagination problem. We still do.
Sometimes sermons communicated in ordinary prose or written on parchment are not enough. Sometimes it takes truth expressed in the form of drama, dance, music, poetry, drawing and sculpting to stir our hearts and open our minds to life-affirming possibilities. Throughout history God as the Creator has embodied his truth and goodness through the creative arts in redemptive ways as his form of protest in a society numb to violence and injustice. The creative arts become redemptive arts when they are embraced as a medium by which God can display the beauty of his love and justice in love-less and unjust societies. He did it through his people and for his people, then. I believe he wants to do it now.
This is why I am excited about WCC’s arts initiative and the “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” event this Friday evening.
I know we don’t all agree on how the violence and injustices should be handled, but we can all agree that the violence and injustice must be dealt with. In light of the great tradition of the prophets, is it possible that redemptive art can awaken us to a different imagination? Can creativity, beauty and community investment be the means by which the beauty of Christ is displayed? We need to come together to imagine ways we can put hands and feet to our “prayers and thoughts” so that new possibilities will break open in our nation. We know where the Church’s preachers, teachers and evangelists can be found, but where are the artists, poets and prophets?
Let’s come together and ask the hard questions. Let’s wrestle with potential solutions that are capable of bringing the claims of our faith to bear. Let’s imagine ways we can embody our confession and proclamation through practices of self-giving, faithful presence, and life-affirming creativity.