Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Artist, A Prophetic Pneumetaphor

I have always been fascinated with the prophetic writings and imagination in the Bible. There is such richness and a color that is brought to faith, as prophets challenge the rule of wicked kings and disobedient peoples. Prophets are always expressing themselves in odd conduct and finding ways to get around the status quo in order to bring about a future that is more in line with how God sees that how man sees. A prophet is a seer, a visionary, and a master of the invisible. Prophets deal in intangibles, while manipulating a tactile word for the purposes of God to be fulfilled.Artist, A Prophetic Pneumetaphor

In the Old Testament, the Levite priests served as mankind’s representative before God by prayer and sacrifice. Prophets, on the other hand, were God’s representatives to man. As God’s mouthpiece, the Old Testament prophet was involved in two kinds of representation: forth-telling, communicating the mind of God for the present, and fore-telling, communicating the mind of God for the future[1]. These were the “teachers of true religion[2]”, divinely commissioned and inspired seers who were “gifted for the exposition of truth.[3]

In the New Testament, there is a notable absence of kings and priests in religious society; instead, every believer is both king and priest in the presence of God[4]. Prophets and apostles now serve as counterpoints to one another, giving checks and balances, and helping to navigate overall church direction and focus[5]. The prophetic office still involves both fore-telling and forth-telling, however, and we can see widespread evidence of prophetic ministry in the church today. This present-day prophecy is defined as the interpretation of the scriptures “in light of the present situation in the church.[6]” In this way the prophet acts as a representative of God, and as “spokesman and equipping agent to present the heart, will, and purpose[7]” under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The prophetic ministry today is reminiscent of the prophecy in Joel concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh[8] and the manifestation of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost[9], though it remains – along with apostleship – one of the greatly misunderstood components of our ecclesiology. For many years Evangelicals have shied from the term, believing that the office was no longer required; yet, the text of Ephesians 4 identifies the timeline of these Ascension Gifts extending “until” the church comes to unity and maturity. Anyone who has seen – for even one moment – the inner workings of a local church in North America knows that this reality eludes us for the present; such that our need for apostolic ministry endures. In fact, there is historical evidence of the ministry of the prophet in the Early Church. These accounts are recorded after the writing of the canon was closed, but the impression is given that such ministry “was not always encouraged” because “local bishops often assumed the prophetic ministry themselves and false prophecy was a growing problem.[10]” The writing of 1 Clement, for example, was necessitated by a split in the church in Corinth over the issue of prophetic ministry[11], and both Ignatius – Bishop of Antioch – and Melito – Bishop of Sarnia – claimed to be prophets[12]. Similarly, the Shepherd of Hermas [c. A.D. 140] and Dialogues with Trypho [c. A.D. 160] take for granted the existence of prophetic ministry in the Christian church and Ireneus testifies almost thirty years after Trypho to the presence of the charismata in Christendom.[13]

I have often dreamed of opening up a center for Christian artistic expression much like the studio that Andy Warhol lived in/ran in the seventies and eighties. It is a beautiful, utopian picture of men and women working together to see what cannot be seen while looking at the world as it is, and it serves as the inspiration for the four crossover points of this pneumetapor.

1. A prophet/artist “sees” the invisible
The prophetic quality of art has long been a favorite topic of coffee-house theologians and philosophers. Art is often understood as a window into a more just, egalitarian world where idealism is the lingua pura and hope is unnecessary. It is this quality of making the “inaudible become audible and the invisible become visible[14]” that makes the prophet/artist so crucial a component to the church. The prophet causes everyone to see differently; and in such light, art is prophetic – both foretelling the incongruity between the way things are and the way they should be, and forth telling as it illumines how we shall all evolve. As Walter Brueggemann put it, “knowing consists not in settled certitudes by in the actual work of imagination.[15]” St. Paul said something similar:
Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.[16]

Tomorrow’s leader is a seer[17] according to leadership guru Dave Fleming, and it is the job of the seer to “flesh out the unseen.[18]” Artists take what we can see and infuse it with what we cannot see. It is in this way that art is transubstantiation – taking the material and endowing it with divinity. So it is that artist’s terms are spiritual terms like “inspiration”, literally “bringing in the spirit”, or “animation”, meaning “the imbuing with animus or soul.[19]” This spiritual vocabulary is more than just vernacular, though; it is representative of real elevation and commerce between Heaven and Earth

2. A prophet/artist distorts reality into art that is true
Both art and prophecy are seditious methods of communication – they are guerilla tactics designed to upset the sociopolitical applecart and prompt a quick recovering into a truer state. Prophecy/art does not describe a “gospel-governed world but helps the congregation imagine it[20]” and the real power to do so lies in the imagination – in the hope, in the promise of God to intervene and save, or to correct and restore.

Imagination is the capacity to work through images, metaphors, and narratives as a way of evoking, generating, and constructing an alternative world that lies beyond and in tension with the taken-for-granted, commonsense world of day-to-day experience.[21]

This is the distortion of the prophet/artist: the distortion through imagination of how the world is in reality into an image or vision or how things truly will be once salvation is unveiled.
Take the untitled Andy Warhol picture "Untitled [Madonna with Child]" as an example. During the time of Jesus’ birth children were being hunted and killed, the wise men were afraid of Herod’s wrath and were probably more like court sorcerers than the goodly kings we often see portrayed[22]. Warhol is applying his imagination, his prophetic voice, to distort reality into art that is true to the way the event has come to be remembered instead of how the event transpired.

This is the power of the prophet/artist: not only to distort the present, but to remember the past alternatively.

Untitled (Madonna and Child) by Andy Warhol[23]

3. A prophet/artist uses art to deconstruct reality
The New York DJ Danger Mouse has recently made a name for himself by blending the rap lyrics of Jay-Z and the acoustically-driven pop of early Beatles’ tunes, calling the project the “Grey Album[24].” The Grey Album is a brilliant example of the way in which prophecy/art can pull apart the layers of reality in order to see what is at the root, the source, of each message and gesture. Prophets use this kind of vision to discern what is happening in churches and in individual’s lives and spiritual formation so they can better aid the purposes of God. As such, it is important to note that the “thing” itself – the art, the words, etc… – is not as important as the meaning behind it. Prophecy/art is the vehicle. “It’s not what you see that is art,” says critic Marcel Duchamp, “Art is the gap.[25]” That “gap” is the space between God’s purposes and vision and what we do with that purpose and vision.

Take Picasso’s Guernica, for example. Here is a piece of art that boldly states that the horrible saturation bombing of an ancient Basque city by revolutionaries cannot be forgotten or covered over with communist rhetoric. The picture itself, though brilliantly rendered, is not the source of power and meaning; the impact is in the statement and the intent behind the brush – in the “gap.”

Guernica, by Pablo Picasso[26]

4. A prophet/artist is often without peers because of their difficult temperament
One of the most significant truths inherent in this pneumetaphor is sadly unflattering to both the prophet and the artist; the fact that they tend to be remembered as difficult, contentious people. Perhaps that is their role, part of their unique social DNA. Perhaps they are here precisely to slow us down, irritate us and make us think, causing us to reevaluate and find alternatives. Paul Schmelzer notes that “[artists] ponder the sacred in non-dogmatic terms [comprising] a spiritual underground[27]”, suggesting that maybe one cause of prophetic/artistic abrasion is in the refusal to speak in acceptable language and reverence.
Biblically, we see many examples of prophets who were uncouth or offensive to respected persons. Hosea married a prostitute[28], Jeremiah bought land that has just been destroyed[29], Ezekiel lay on his side for over a year beside a model of Jerusalem[30], and King Saul even prophesied naked[31]. Jesus was no more orthodox than these, exemplified by his cutting down of the fig tree and prophecy of Temple destruction[32], nor was John the Baptist in any respectable to behold[33].

Regardless of whatever motivations the prophet/artist may have underlining their strangeness, a word of caution should be prepared – for us, not for them – to discipline our hearts and not to pass judgment, to receive anything that God may want to instruct us with, regardless of how abstract. All of those in scripture who ignored the prophets because of their behavior suffered for it, let us not repeat their mistakes.

[1] Kevin J. Connor, The Church in the New Testament. (Kent, 1982), 153.
[2] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 35.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Revelation 1.6 KJV.
[5] It is worth noting the close relationship of apostles and prophets in the New Testament, particularly the reference in 1 Corinthians 12.28,29 to church authority which recognizes apostles, then prophets before all the other positions. Likewise, Ephesians 3.5 notes that the revelation of the Church is given to apostles and prophets and it is upon they who laid the foundation for the church under the direction of Christ [Ephesians 2.19-22]. For a fuller explanation see Kevin J. Connor, “The Ministry of Apostles and Prophets” The Church in the New Testament, p.169.
[6] Owen Weston, Spiritual Gifts: Your Job Description from God. (Bethany: Lifesprings, 1996), 35.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Joel 2.28-30
[9] Acts 2.14-21
[10] K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[11] Cf. 1 Clement 48.5, 21.5; 57.2. as noted in K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[12] Ign. Magn. 1.1 where “God inspired” is understood as a claim to prophetic inspiration by Giles, Ibid. Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 5.24 describes Melito as one who lives “entirely in the Holy Spirit.”
[13] K.N. Giles, “Prophecy, Prophets, False Prophets,” in Dictionary of the Latter New Testament, 1993 ed.
[14] Len Sweet, Summoned to Lead. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 57.
[15] Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 12.
[16] 2 Corinthians 4.18, KJV
[17] Dave Fleming, Leadership from Unlikely Voices. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 73.
[18] Ibid, 120.
[19] Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[20] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1998), 30.
[21] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home. (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1998), 59.
[22] Cf. Matthew 2.13-18.
[23] As printed in Time. David Van Biema, “Behind the First Noel.” TIME Canadian Edition, 13 December, 2004, Vol. 164, no. 24, 47.
[24] Cf. Eric Steuer “The Wired Rave Awards: Danger Mouse for Bringing Mash-Ups to the Masses.” Wired, March, 2005, 89.

[25] Marcel Duchamp, as printed in Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[27] Paul Schmelzer, “Divinity for the Reality-Based Community.” Adbusters, March/April 2005, #58 volume 13 no.2.
[28] Hosea 1.2
[29] Jeremiah 32.6-15
[30] Ezekiel 4.1-13
[31] 1 Samuel 19.23-24
[32] Mark 11.12-21
[33] Matthew 3.4

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