Eight churches in Grand Rapids are sponsoring an art exhibit this week, in partnership with several community arts or education organizations. The featured artists work in diverse media. Steve Prince is a print maker. Sergio Gomez, whose painting Figurative Works is copied here, paints with acrylic on paper/canvas. Linda Witte Henke is a textile artist. Jo-Ann Van Reeuwyk is a weaver and paper-maker. John August Swanson, whose art was everywhere, is a painter.
The exhibit began with a two-day conference themed “Who is My Neighbor?” that explored the capacity of art to be a bridge between worlds, perspectives, and, most significantly, the human and the divine. The keynote speaker was Cecelia Gonzalez-Andrieu, theologian and author of Bridge to Wonder: Art as a Gospel of Beauty (Baylor University Press, 2012). She was absolutely wonderful, and I want to emphasize that I really mean this. I do not normally rave about the public presentations of theologians, who often tend, shall we say, toward the dry and the obtuse. Not Cecilia. Her work is fresh, engaged with the world and its beauty, and provocative.
Mark Chaves argued several years ago that churches are primarily involved in community life through culture. He may be right about that, but church involvement in the arts often lacks the intentionality that I saw in Grand Rapids last weekend. These congregations are serious about art and its capacity to express and connect in ways for which we sometimes do not have words—or courage enough to speak them. Art is a bridge to wonder, as Gonzalez-Andrieu says. It is also a bridge to each other and to a glimpse of the life abundant to which Jesus calls us all.
Obviously, this conference got me thinking. I hope that you will explore some of the links in this blog and think along with me. Let me know what you think.