Fearlessly Devoted

I had a sort of epiphany the other day. Someone on Tumblr posted a picture of their new Doctor Who mug. This brought home to me just how far fandom has come, at least as far as comic books, video games, and in some measure anime. Being an otaku, in the mild sense we use it in the States, still isn’t exactly popular, and may be looked down on by some, but it’s garnered much more acceptance now than in past years. And look at Marvel–they’ve brought superheroes and comic books into the spotlight (even if they don’t encourage people to read the comics necessarily).

So now people are shedding their fears and openly, proudly showing their interest in and passion for whatever they like. Doctor Who, Sherlock, Marvel, DC, anime, kdramas, kpop, jpop and jrock–people spend hours reading, watching, listening, staying up late for premieres, going to conventions, lavishing money on fanmeets and other events, wearing t-shirts and other paraphernalia, going to concerts, writing, drawing, painting, editing videos and pictures, covering songs, making games, making costumes, doing photoshoots, all out of love for the thing they like. Then they say, “World, look at this awesome thing!” Some argue about which is better; sometimes these arguments are horrible and we hurt each other, and hatred and venom abound; sometimes they are passionate but level and reasoned and charitable.

And then I wondered, why the heck don’t we Christians show our devotion like that? Shouldn’t we be proud to be followers of Christ? Shouldn’t we be excited and read all about it and make an effort to live as followers of Christ, like people make an effort to live as fans of Naruto or NGE or Doctor Who or Marvel or whatever you can think of? Shouldn’t our love for God overflow into our creative expression? If it’s so important, shouldn’t we be excited to share it with other people in our daily lives?

It used to. Painters and sculptors most often decided on religious subjects for their art, some of the greatest art in history! And many musicians were commissioned to compose Masses. The fact that some artists were paid to do what they did, or that some of these pieces might not have been their favorites, does not at all diminish the fact that their works are meaningful and lasting, and of a religious nature. And I’m sure some of them did produce art for love of God.

Why don’t we do that anymore?

We’ve lost our love and passion for God. We’ve become scared, because living as a fan is easy–all people can do is make fun of you–but living as a Christian is not. People can make fun of you, laugh at you, degrade you, yes, but they can also make it difficult to live how you believe you should, they can imprison you and penalize you for what you believe, they can even kill you, depending on the situation.

But if fans of worldly, human creations can deal with being made fun of and bullied in horrible ways for the things that they love, we should even more so love and be willing to endure difficulty, even unto death, for Him who conquered death for us.

That doesn’t mean we have to go around asking everyone, “Have you been saved?” It doesn’t mean we have to wear a t-shirt that says “Jesus is my Homeboy.” It doesn’t mean that all we have to do every day is talk about God.

It means we have to pray. It means we have to live the truth and not be afraid to proclaim the truth. It means we can’t be quiet when horrible things are going on; we can’t lie to save someone’s feelings; we can’t water the truth down to the point that it means nothing; we can’t preach a false gospel of toleration and acceptance. That doesn’t mean we spew hate or that we are uncharitable, but that we stand up for the truth and don’t back down just because someone says, “You’re wrong!” or “You’re being judgmental” or “You’re mean” or “You’re unkind” or “You’re not being tolerant.” Is truth tolerant of untruth? Is health tolerant of sickness? Are fandoms tolerant of haters?

What all of this really means–what I mean here–is that we must be fearless, passionate, and devoted lovers of God.

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10 comments

  1. medievalotaku · March 3, 2015

    Reblogged this on Medieval Otaku and commented:
    Here’s a great post comparing the attitudes people have toward enthusiasm for fandoms vs. enthusiasm for Christianity. Isn’t it a shame that more people seem to be ready to be devotees of pop culture than devotees of God?

  2. Cytrus · March 3, 2015

    As concerns art, mugs and the like, I think in the West people fear their friends much more than their enemies in this matter, and often for good reason. Enthusiasm and joy aren’t exactly welcome in Christian culture, it seems, and it won’t take long for a fellow Christian to shoot you down for your “improper/unbecoming” form of worship.

    • Nami · March 3, 2015

      I can’t say for other countries, but I’m afraid that’s true. It’s the tyranny of the majority that Tocqueville talks about–if you express any kind of minority opinion, you lose position and you’re ostracized.

      I can see how enthusiasm and joy might not seem welcome in Christian culture, but they actually are. In divers passages even the Bible encourages us, for example, to sing and dance; and it is at least attributed to St. Augustine that “he who sings prays twice.” Though Christians get far too caught up on minor points and end up fighting with each other all too often. That’s the biggest thing that contributes to a negative view of Christianity.

      For art by itself, Christians really aren’t limited by anything. In whatever ways and styles humans make art we may depict religious subjects. So there’s no particular reason for us not to produce religious art simply of our own accord and for our own use.

      When it comes to art and public worship, there is reason to be concerned with form; there is hierarchy in art (as in many things) and some art is higher than others. And please don’t mistake me: that does not mean art that is lower on the hierarchy is bad; it just means it is not as good. (For instance, one person can be a good pianist, and one can be an excellent pianist. Neither is bad, but one is better.) Ostensibly we want our public worship especially to involve the peak of our talent and skill, and so we want to offer to God the highest art we have. We also want art, when involved in worship and ritual, to help us focus on God, not on ourselves. High art often lends itself quite nicely to prayer and contemplation, while other forms not so much. This need to focus on God is partly why we even have specific forms and rituals to follow. And high art needn’t be from olden days–have you seen the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in Missouri? It was built in the early 1900s and has some of the most beautiful mosaics.

      However, like I said before, Christians often use this as an excuse just to nitpick and argue, getting too caught up in the ritual and forgetting that it actually is all about God. The forms and rituals exist for us, and not us for the rituals. It also doesn’t help when our fraternal correction goes sour, and we are unkind instead of charitable about it.

      • Cytrus · March 4, 2015

        Thank you for your comments.

        If you ask me, if God is out there, He created paintings and He created hip-hop.
        Then men came, and called one of them high and the other low art.
        Skip a continent or a hundred years, and the high art of one people is ridiculed as barbaric by another community. And if they have one thing in common, it is that they never doubt that their notions are the right ones.

        • Nami · March 4, 2015

          You’ll have to pardon me for my long comments, I tend to take a while to articulate myself well.

          Yes, God created both, in the sense that He gave humans the skill and materials to express themselves, their thoughts, and the beauty and truth they know and see around them. We have the opportunity to paint and to listen to/sing hip-hop. By all means paint, by all means listen to hip-hop. I have no problem with either of these things.

          But I don’t think hierarchy is so artificially created, with man arbitrarily naming things high and low. Much of the art from olden days that was considered high art is considered high art even now. Some cultures do, I suppose, ridicule each other’s art, though to be honest I’ve not seen it to be so. I’ve personally not seen anyone disrespect another culture’s art on the grounds that it is not art. I’ve only heard of things like radical Muslim terrorists destroying those 1700 year old Buddha carvings, or people peeing on crucifixes–but those insults had all to do with religion and little with art.

          In my experience, I’ve seen that even across cultures we can appreciate as high art what another culture considers high art, or just art generally speaking. And even those things that we might consider “low” (in the sense of being less meaningful or less focused on contemplation and reflection) we enjoy. Thus we have criteria that constitute not merely high and low art, but art itself. This points to an objectivity in both art and human nature.

          Furthermore, liking is not a great determining factor in what makes art. You don’t have to like art to agree that it’s art. You don’t have to like a certain fruit to agree that it’s fresh or that it’s good quality–or even that it’s fruit. Believe me, if I thought that all I was allowed to enjoy was high art, I would not be listening to k-pop (and I would be rather mad, because I like kpop very much). There is often great skill involved in its execution–just look up Super Junior or TeenTop or any boy or girl band, really. The singing is often very good, sometimes excellent, and the dancing floors me. It should, since they literally practice non-stop for years before they debut. (TeenTop’s footwork is ridiculous and I wish I could move my feet like that!!) But I don’t consider it high art. Its primary focus lies in entertainment, in merely emotional content and movement, not in inspiring contemplation and reflection of God.

          Does that make it bad? Of course not! But it makes it not as high, not as much art, and not readily suited for public worship, the express purpose of which is to direct us toward God. Meaning, I would not expect us to sing k-pop at church. Just like you wouldn’t wear your swimsuit to church. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a swimsuit, and it’s quite a good thing, actually, as it allows us to more easily enjoy swimming, being in the water, being with other people, generally enjoying God’s creation, not to mention the human skill and creativity that go into its making. But it’s still not something you wear to church, even if nobody looked at you funny or criticized you for doing it.

          That’s why it matters (to an extent) what forms of art we use in public worship. Because some art is better suited to public worship than others. Just because other art may not be so suited, does not make that other art bad or evil. It does not mean we are not allowed to like it. It does not even indicate that such art lacks meaning or importance. It is simply that it does not suit that purpose. Much as we do not use telephones to scrub our feet, nor rags to communicate electronically, certain art does not suit certain purposes.

          Is the line between appropriate and not appropriate always clear? By no means. That’s how we get ourselves caught up in silly, nitpicky messes. But that doesn’t mean that determining appropriateness is not important, because it does have an effect on how we live. It may not be as important for some people or in some areas, who have a better handle on it, or who have more important issues to attend to–but all of these things do not objectively diminish its importance.

          • Cytrus · March 5, 2015

            Ukiyoe, for example, underwent this transition:
            low art –> junk –> high art
            over the span of a mere couple generations. Not because the “content” changed, obviously.

            Not that you have to look into history to see how it is often the package that determines rank in the art hierarchy. Like, uh, today’s news? http://prtimes.jp/main/html/rd/p/000000139.000005069.html.

            Forgive me if this sounds provocative, but I am not surprised that when you say “Thus we have criteria that constitute not merely high and low art, but art itself.”, you do not mention what those criteria are. After all, the more specific you try to be on this subject, the more indefensible and “exception-prone” your stance becomes.

            Picasso’s contemporaries where quite skeptical about the contemplation that went into his works. The common sense of today will be discarded as silly some fifty years in the future.

            • Nami · March 14, 2015

              Whether you intended to be provocative or not, you have provoked my response, but it need not follow that such provocation was ill-intended nor do I assume it to have been so.

              I didn’t mention the criteria because I felt I didn’t need to–but for clarity and discussion’s sake I was mistaken in not doing so. (Though through a careful examination of my previous comment, one could garner part of what my criteria for art are).

              Art, as I see it, is:

              A) Something that flows from human creativity and involves human skill and ingenuity
              B) Something that is practically speaking superfluous, that man can survive without, or does not *solely* serve a practical purpose
              C) Something that expresses beauty and truth

              There’s my basic criteria. High art fulfills these three and then goes one step further:

              D) Something that points to certain truths and ideas about human existence and induces us to contemplate said truths and ideas

              The degree to which each of these things fit each criterion determines whether it is more or less art (but to be art it must fulfill them all, except for D, to some degree). Because art is one of those things that’s a spectrum. There are plenty of things that are not art, but there are also plenty of things that are art, and plenty of things that are better or higher art than other things. It’s like temperature: we describe something generally as hot but there are different temperatures that we use the same word hot to describe, and there are levels of heat.

              I doubt this makes my criteria any less exception prone in your eyes, but it should clarify what precisely my criteria for art are. And what are your criteria for art? From your previous comments I get the impression that you believe art to be a product of human expression and skill, but that there is no hierarchy to it? Would that be a correct assumption?

              Also, I unfortunately neither speak nor read Japanese, so perhaps you could explain the content of the article you linked, since I don’t trust Google translate very much?

              And I quite disagree that common sense has changed over the years and will be discarded in the future. Human nature is as it ever was. It’s still common sense not to turn your back on your enemy, whether you’re from the year 1000, 1876, 2010 or 2050; whether they’re threatening you with a stone or a spear or a revolver or a bazooka or some technology we haven’t even dreamed of yet. It’s still common sense not to trust someone who has betrayed you. It’s still common sense that the poor only get poorer and the rich only get richer. It’s still common sense that if you’re cold, you should put on a jacket. And old adages like “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” and “A stitch in time saves nine” and other such sayings, while not necessarily applicable in terms of time, are applicable in concept. Just like capturing one bird is better than being unable to capture two, it’s better to go for one sure thing than to go after two unreachable things; and just like catching that bad stitch or tear you made early on in saves you having to resew, catching a mistake or correcting a problem saves you time and effort later on down the road. All of these things apply and hold true whatever century you live in.

              Unless by common sense you mean common opinion? Or common practice? Yes, common opinion and practice change because of the cultural changes society undergoes, the factual, scientific knowledge that we gain (we’re not going to go around bleeding people as a medical treatment nowadays) and the technological advancements that we make, but we constantly look to the past for wisdom–the latter of which is what common sense is tied to.

              And as for Picasso, just because a lot of contemplation went into his work does not make it art, and just because people were skeptical about whether much contemplation went into it does not make his works not art. Whether people believe them to be art might change, but not whether they truly are art or not does not change. I personally don’t know where I stand on Picasso. Art? Yes. High art? Not sure. I’d have to think about it.

            • Cytrus · March 19, 2015

              Forgive me for not being able to reply at length.

              As far as I can see, we agree that society’s perception of art changes over time. You also say your own perception of art can change, as you mention:”thinking over” Picasso might change your judgment of his work. This all points to subjectivity of art.

              But I don’t know how you reconcile the above points with an objective, black-and-white definition of art (much less a strict hierarchy).

              In the end, you and another man look at a painting.
              Man: This is high art!
              Nami: Nah, it isn’t.
              Man: Huh? Why?
              Nami: Because-

              In the above situation, what do you say? “Because, in my opinion, it doesn’t reflect deep truths about humanity.”? Can you /ever/ say the above sentence without the “in my opinion” part implied? It seems the man saw some deep truths himself.

            • Nami · March 28, 2015

              No problem! Not everyone has the leisure (or verbosity) to respond as I do.

              Thinking over Picasso may change my judgment of his work, or it may not. But my perception is not the be-all and end-all, which is how I reconcile change in perception with an objective definition of art. I believe that an objective reality exists which human perception is capable of attaining to. However, human perception does not always attain to it–our perception can deviate from reality. But a misperception of reality does not change reality. My belief that there is one more step on that stairway does not change the fact that I have reached the landing, and may now experience a sudden jolt of surprise because I put my foot down too heavily.

              Also, I never said art was a strict hierarchy. Did I say it was a hierarchy? Yes. I also said it was a spectrum. Additionally, note that my criteria for high art are not merely that it expresses truth, but that it points to it and prompts us to ponder it. There’s a difference between saying, “This is a truth. This is beautiful” and saying, “Hey! Think about this truth! Ponder this beauty! Meditate! Reflect! You should change your life because of this!”

              I still don’t know what I would say about Picasso. Would my thoughts on Picasso be my opinion? Mostly, yes–I don’t know enough about him and haven’t really pondered his work. Are some aspects of art subjective? Yes. (I don’t like Cubism so I’m already potentially biased against Picasso, but I’m still willing to consider his work high art…if I have the time to think about it). But that doesn’t mean all aspects are. Since you can’t completely separate the subjective and objective aspects, it’s often harder to discern which is which. Objective aspects of art would be the skill that goes into it and, to some extent, the truths it expresses. There will be multiple interpretations of what truths precisely the work may be trying to express. But there will be some ideas that it is obviously not expressing (or that the artist badly failed to express, if he meant to, since he would then be giving the complete wrong impression), which can be ruled out; and the technical skill, composition, symbolism, and general content of the painting can also be judged objectively.

              I haven’t got enough interest in Picasso’s style of art to ponder it or care, quite frankly, because his most generally famous works are from his Cubism period, which is not my cup of tea. But that doesn’t mean they’re not art. His works clearly display great skill, and as I have had the pleasure of seeing Guernica up close at the Reina Sofia, and had a guide explain some of the context of the painting, I gained a little better understanding of it.

              Maybe the hypothetical guy did see some truth in it–but my questions would be, What truths did he see in this, precisely? Did the work cause him to think about these truths? Did it cause him to ponder anything about them? If it did, then I’d ponder myself and see. If it sparks such contemplation in him and in myself, then there’s a good chance it’s high art. But even if it’s not high art, it’s still art. As I’ve mentioned before, art being in a hierarchy doesn’t make the art on the lower rungs of the hierarchy not art. It just makes the art on the higher rungs better and more fully art.

              Another criterion I should add for high art is that it expresses the greatest truths of humanity and encourages us to ponder them (while, of course, fulfilling all the other criterion I mentioned for art in general. You can’t leave those out). What people believe those truths to be can differ, but as I said before, perception does not dictate reality. The difference in human belief and perception makes it hard to come to an agreement about those truths, but that does not mean those truths don’t exist.

              Sorry for the slightly meandering answer! I’ve had a long week and it’s late and I’m too lazy to edit this comment before publishing it.

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