The planning process had been bumpy. The local council had delayed, objected, hummed, and hawed. At last, the congregation’s building plan for their new church was passed, with one proviso – that a landscaping plan be drawn up to include trees, shrubs, and plants.
As this was a perfectly reasonable demand, and would prevent a previously scenic site from looking like a concrete jungle, the church leaders approved the adjustment and building proceeded apace. Over the next 12 months, the congregation rejoiced to see the weekly progress and looked forward with eager anticipation to enjoying worshipping their God and Creator in the new sanctuary.
Then, just before the opening day, the letter came. “Why was so much money wasted on the landscaping? Why did the parking lot need plants and shrubs? I’ve been going to church for decades, and we’ve never had tubs of flowers at the front door.”
Tar or trees
Did a secular council have more desire and appreciation for the beauty of creation than a mature Christian? Looks like it. But no, this godly believer had a lovely garden around his own home! It wasn’t so much that he preferred tar to trees, or concrete to crocuses. It was a concern to “protect” the church from “outward adornment.”
That might be hard for most Christians to understand today. But for Christians who know their church history, it’s a perfectly understandable reaction – or, should I say, understandable over-reaction.
At the time of the Reformation, the church had become image-based rather than Word-centered. Paintings and models of Jesus, Mary, and other religious figures and scenes filled churches and were often worshipped, or at least venerated, while the Word of God was pushed to the sidelines.
When the Reformers restored the Word of God to its rightful central place in the life of the Church, many newly-enlightened believers ejected the images and models that had displaced the Word and darkened their souls. It was an understandable reaction against what had blocked and blotted the Word and worship of God.
It’s that sensitivity, that fear of image pushing out Word, of color canvases pushing out black ink, that continues to influence many parts of the church against art of any kind, and indeed against anything that is beautiful. Creativity is therefore often suspected and discouraged due to its associations with artistic idolatry and superstition.
But it wouldn’t be the church if we didn’t also fall into the other extreme at times! Yes, there are some in the church who want to revive creativity but they only associate it with artistic disciplines such as painting, sculpting, music-making, film-making, etc.
Creativity and beauty are then corralled into a small corner, frequented only by a tiny über-trendy minority. The thought of creative parenting, creative management, creative teaching, creative leadership, creative carpentry, creative caregiving, etc., wouldn’t cross their minds. They can find and beauty and creativity in the most violent and perverse films, but yawn at the manager’s innovation that saved his company a million dollars, or the fire-fighter’s ingenuity that saved a baby’s life.
I’m not that interested in the “trendy” creativity of a minority – there are plenty of books and blogs for them. Instead, in future posts, I want to focus on “ordinary” creativity for the majority – for moms, for teens, and even for seniors.
I want all of God’s creatures to create like their Creator in their own special corner of the creation.
Check out and Tweets of the Day are on vacation.