Monday, March 10, 2014

I Will Dance- The Arts in the Modern Day Church

Why is the American Church (meaning, church as a general term, not one in particular) afraid of the arts, or more directly, theatre itself?

As I have become more learned in theatre history and as I have grown up in the church with two very educated parents who love good conversation, here are my conclusions...

It has something to do with theatre's origins.

The "beginnings" of theatre (as far as historians can tell) took place at the Dithyramb- a festival which honored the Greek god Dyonysus (the god of fertility). This is classified as theatre's beginning because  of the costumes worn and dances performed during the ceremony. The men would dress up as goats (representing fertility) and dance around something that I do not consider printable. Thus, theatre "began" as an art-form honoring sex.


Isn't it so great to know that the art-form which I (and others in my craft) would like to have considered sacred and highly distinguished really began in such an unpalatable manner? 

But I'm not finished. The arts were able to redeem themselves.

The main beginnings of theatre, as we would more closely recognize it today, happened in the mideaval-middle ages time. When there were highly uneducated peasants in the towns and farmlands and so few bibles to be shared, the priests and church leaders of the day needed a way to teach people bible stories. Solution? Drama. 

The arts swept into the church as people began using theatre as we know it to reach out to people and help educate them. Music and dancing and juggling and singing and acrobatics were used to help tell the stories. 

Not only did the church encourage this but it became a community event. People from every trade were used to tell stories from the Bible. For example: bakers were to tell the stories of Jesus feeding the 5,000. The church wasn't only involved in the arts but the whole community was used. Everyone had their place. Can you imagine? 

Then the church became afraid. The church decided it wasn't going to support the arts community anymore. That wasn't something they stood for. The church began to focus back on the negative effects of theatre. They seemed to fear what all could go wrong in people's minds because of spiritual uncertainty. 

To be honest, I think that is what started generations of people in the Church being afraid of the arts. The history of Dyonysus and the old Dithyramb seemed to invade the mindset of people and the arts community wasn't able to be "saved". They seemed to forget that stage drama started in the church. They seemed to forget how wonderful stories could be remembered through drama. They seemed to forget that anything created for good could just as easily be turned to bad. 

They forgot how they got it RIGHT and reached so many more people.

Speaking personally, I remember many artistic things if they happen in church. I can remember the specifics about a skit I saw but I can't tell you what the sermon was or what sermon series it was a part of. But I can certainly tell you everything about the skit I saw 10 years ago. I can tell you about the music I sang at four years old in front of the Mennonite congregation at our old church, led by my late Aunt Betty Lou. I can remember that. I know we sang the children's worship song "My Father's House" and I remember my Aunt Betty Lou up there with us doing her motions. I can remember a skit my parents did. I remember a solo that a prominent member of our church sang as Jesus's father. Those things stick out in my mind.

I have seen the Church in America grow by leaps and bounds in my life. That may just be me moving denominations (from a Mennonite Church to a Brethren in Christ Church) with slightly different mindsets. But I have seen some growth. I sang hymns in church up till the age of five or six. Now, I sing with a band up front leading worship (a band with DRUMS). 

But I have to say that for my personal artistic needs, at age nine I realized that I needed to pursue my creative outlets out of the church and in the theatre community. What a blessing that has been to me (another story for another day). But, I have noticed that so many creative and artistic people aren't able to find their place in the Church. One reason I believe I see so much hurt in the theatre/arts community is because they are just not accepted in the church. They just are not. 

I have had conversations with people telling me how they had to go elsewhere to pursue creative outlets. Why is that? 

Why is it that the arts community is so hurt by the American Church in general? They scoff at the idea of attending a service. They don't have a problem with using Jesus's name in vain because they don't have acceptance from his people. They continue to push boundaries for "artistic purposes" but, truly, they just don't have any reason not to because anything they do is "wrong" anyway.

Do you want to know why so many new shows have "quesionable material" in them? Theatre reflects society at the time and how creative people view society. How do they value morals displayed by the church? Just some food for thought...

I would like to see the American Community close the gap between church and the arts. I hope that as our nation's Church grows to accept more of the arts we see the need to appeal to everyone's learning needs. Just as they did in the middle ages, I would love to see reenactments in a modern way with dramas, dancing, painting, storytelling, videos, and any other type of tool on the creative tool belt. 

I know many churches taking on this new mindset of needing creative ways to reach out to people and letting young people use their gifts early on in the church so that the creative needs begin in a strong worship centered focus. I have heard of newer churches hiring an Artistic Director in charge of reaching out and using these gifts so abundant in the church. 

I believe everyone with artistic gifts and visions receive that from God. I believe that we as a church community should encourage these gifts more. We should encourage these gifts in a way that focuses the arts as an act of worship. 

Now of course, I must end with a Footloose quote (which also is obviously found in the bible).

"David danced".

Keep that in mind.

He danced. In the Street. Naked.  Well, almost naked.  He was in his skivvies.

He worshiped God.

I will dance.

- Mariana Christine

1 comment:

  1. Mariana, You are right. Your gifts aren't to be feared; they are to be used. There is a place for you in the Church (Big C) and you will find it. I love you and love your heart. Keep the focus of your heart's worship where it belongs and He will open doors for you, where He wants you.