Thursday, February 28, 2008

Theology in Crayon

In the beginning God created . . . and God saw all that he had made and it was very good (Genesis 1:1, 31).

Some of the first things I ever learned to do in church were coloring, drawing and singing. That was the way I came to know who Jesus was and what it meant to be one of his followers. My teachers taught me songs – songs about how Jesus loves little children and how Zacchaeus climbed up in a tree and how the B-I-B-L-E is the book for me.

And while we were learning all those songs we made things. We colored pictures and formed things out of construction paper and Popsicle sticks. If nothing else, drawing was what I did to pass the time during my Dad’s long sermons. I didn’t draw religious images, but somehow the words of scripture and scripture stories and songs of the faith got connected with drawing – whether in Sunday school or in the pew.

Then I got older. The changes were gradual. In middle school and high school we still sang. We sang on retreats and at camp; the songs were a powerful part of our faith experience. But we didn’t color or finger paint or draw. That was for kids and it wasn’t cool.

It didn’t take long for the singing to slow to a trickle. Most of us stopped singing except for the two, maybe three, Sunday hymns. Back in the day, there were churches that had “hymn sings” on Sunday night. A few still do, but not many. Most grown-ups sing begrudgingly and self-consciously.

As for the drawing and coloring and finger painting – that became a distant memory unless you agreed to work with children in Sunday school or teach VBS. Adults abandon those creative exercises for more cerebral learning methods. We formulate discussion questions. We read a book together. We secure a guest speaker.

Seminary doesn’t help things either. The institution that conferred two theological degrees upon me was structured around three educational tracks: Theology, Church Music, and Christian Education. The running joke was that you earned a degree from the school of education by mastering skills with scissors and construction paper. Theologians didn’t have time for that kind of thing. We were too busy parsing Greek verbs and diagramming sentences.

But maybe our theology suffers for that very reason. Could it be that our doctrines are emaciated and crusty because somewhere along the way we started thinking about God without engaging the imagination? I’ve heard laments about biblical illiteracy, and I’ve spoken my own now and again. Maybe the problem isn't with people or the Bible they don't read. Maybe the teachers and preachers bear some responsibility in this. Is it possible that we’ve managed to vacuum pack our teaching? It’s tightly reasoned, but you can’t breathe in it. Perhaps some of our best theology is done in crayon.

In his book, Scribbling in the Sand, Michael Card writes,

The imagination is the bridge between the heart and the mind, integrating both, allowing us to think / understand with our hearts and feel / emote with our minds. It is a vehicle for truth. Through the use of images, metaphors, stories and paradoxes that demand our attention, it calls for interaction. The imagination is a powerful means for communicating truths about God, and so God shows an awesome regard for the imagination in his Word. (Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 55)

After plenty of theological education and twenty years of ordained ministry, I’m feeling a desire to rejoin what the years have put asunder. I want to recover the connection between the arts and faith. That doesn’t mean I’ll become a painter or a sculptor or a poet – but it does mean embarking on a search for God in all of those things. I want to go back to the start of things: to the start of my own faith journey where crayons expressed a love for God and told God’s stories. And even back further than that, to the start of creation when the supreme creator looked at all the things his glorious imagination had done and said “it is good.”

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