Makoto Fujimura on Jesus and Monsters

Acclaimed visual artist Makoto Fujimura shares some profound insights about resisting the cultural imperative to choose between religious faith and the unfettered artistic imagination, in this article from Implications, the online journal of the Trinity Forum. Highlights:

If you are an artist, you know you are seen as out of the mainstream, as avant-garde, but you also have been treated like a misfit or patronized like a child. You struggle to find meaning and significance in that gap between the two seemingly irreconcilable worlds. “Grow up and do something useful for society!” The world seems to place them in opposition, pitting Innocence against the reality of the Experience. Artists are caught between being able to have that curiosity, inquisitiveness, and emboldened sense of discovery of a child and the reality of the “adult world,” a reality that forces us to realize that we all indeed live in fear, in a ground zero of some kind or another. In our conversation to create a world that ought to be, we must start at that zero point of devastation.

In a recent Fresh Air broadcast with Guillermo Del Toro, Terry Gross interviews the writer/director of Pan’s Labyrinth. A remarkable film. It is not what you would call a family film, but as a kind of Narnia for adults it delves deeply into the mystery of redemption within the cruel setting of the Spanish civil war.

Terry Gross interviewed Del Toro about his upbringing, in which his strict Catholic grandmother tried to exorcize him twice because he was drawing monsters. He was forbidden to imagine a fantasy world. That was his “ground zero.” So he grew up having to bifurcate his moral sense of duty to his family, and his growing imagination. He was lead to believe that he could not have both imagination and religion, that the two worlds could not be reconciled: so he chose to journey on the path of imagination, leaving religion behind him.

Some of us identify with Del Toro, thoroughly. We feel that the church has tried to “exorcise” us of our imagination. Del Toro states “I invited Jesus into my heart as a young child . . . but then I invited monsters into my heart.”

International Arts Movement exists for this type of wrestling of faith, culture, and humanity. It starts with the admission that living and creating in ground zero means you live with both Jesus and monsters.

Wrestling in this way, we give ourselves permission to ask deeper questions. What if the monsters do take over? That would be a concern of parents for their children. That may be our current cultural condition of fear. But I think the situation is reversed: monsters have already taken over in reality, and the only hope we have is to imaginatively work backwards. We are to take charge of the situation, and we mediate both the sinister and the good. Just like in Pan’s Labyrinth, we need to know we have a greater inheritance waiting for us.

Some have called the twenty-first century the “Creative Age.” Phil Hanes, philanthropist and arts advocate, at a recent National Council on the Arts meeting, began a discussion on how we need to prepare ourselves as a nation to address this shift. Richard Florida, Thomas Friedman, Daniel Pink and others have noted similar shifts in culture: The Information Age is behind us, and yet we, in America, are educating our children to thrive in that past. The skills and knowledge for Information Age are now outsourced, but we are ill equipped to lead in the age of imagination, the age of synthesis.

While a hard term to define, the Creative Age will certainly mean one thing: we would have to reconcile living with both Jesus and monsters in our imaginative territories. We have to reconsider the artist’s role in society, in our education of our children; and we need to redefine how we see ourselves, all of us, as creative human beings who need art in our lives so that we can preserve a child’s innocence in the midst of horror and unspeakable evil, and help them to prosper and thrive in the creative age.

Read the whole article here. On a related note, the Internet Monk says “Bring it on!” to movies like “The Golden Compass”, the upcoming adaptation of the first book in Philip Pullman’s atheist fantasy trilogy for young adults (i.e., the anti-Narnia):

I’m firmly in the camp of Chesterton on this one. The more the atheist talks, the more Christianity makes sense to me. When I listen to atheists describe their noble vision of existence in an absurd and meaningless world where their firm and rational grasp on reality can give meaning to all of us who walk the aisle to becoming “Brights,” I’m so grateful for the doctrine of total depravity I could write an entire musical about it….

Atheism has been around for a long time. It’s going be around for a long time to come. It’s going to make more documentaries. It’s going to have more best-sellers. I’m sure it will have its own reality show on MTV. Your kids are going hear from atheist friends, professors and employers. They are going to be a lot less reluctant to portray Christians as a threat to peace and civil society than they were in the past.

You need to get ready for the “new atheism” to become a factor in every facet of our culture. We won’t get ready for that if we protest The Golden Compass or the twenty atheist-friendly Hollywood products that are coming soon to a theater near you.

No, it’s time to love your enemy. (Atheists aren’t the enemy anyway. It’s time we quit falling for every panic monger who wants to tell us that some group wants to “attack the family” or “take away our rights.” It’s not true most of the time, and when it is, Jesus had plenty to say about the blessings of being persecuted.) It’s time to find ways for the light to shine winsomely. It’s time to be a servant for Jesus’ sake. It’s time to give a reason for the hope that is in us. It’s time to turn and face the atheist challenge and not protest, run away or declare war.

Atheism has a powerful appeal when Christians aren’t well taught, honest and engaged. Its message can be potent when you’ve lived like a rabbit instead of a watchman or a witness. Many of the Christians warning us of “Atheists Ahead!” may be afraid their own faith couldn’t survive reading Sam Harris’s book. Atheists make dozens of challenges to Christianity and Christians that are MUCH NEEDED and LONG OVERDUE for consideration in many Christian circles.

If that is the case, then I say buy the atheist nearest you a good dinner, because he/she is doing us all a favor by challenging that house of cards we’re so afraid might get blown over. Remember this: when the atheist finishes making his presentation to my students, they’ve just learned that it makes no difference what they do. It’s all a matter of chemicals hitting the brain anyway, and it goes no deeper. When I finish my presentation, there’s a reason to go to class, to study, to pass, to graduate, to do something with your life and even to continue on with hope if you fail. The atheist says eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. I say remember your creator in the days of your youth, because he will bring all things into judgment.

My talk sounds a lot better when they’ve heard his/hers. Don’t forget that.

(I for one would love to see a musical about total depravity. Perhaps starring Nathan Lane as Martin Luther?)

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