Thursday, April 08, 2010

More on Beauty and the Church

Rod Dreher posted part of an interview with Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington, an orthodox Catholic who teaches screen-writing in L.A., where she was asked about the clash of values between Hollywood and the church. I thought she had an interesting take:

Again, not to get myself burned in effigy, but Christians feel as alienated from Hollywood as Hollywood people feel watching EWTN or CBN. Hollywood has a value of excellent production value, of talent, and the pagan world absolutely believes in talent, this mysterious gift that comes from they-know-not-where. We know where it comes from; they don't know where it comes from, but they believe in it.

The Church does not believe in talent anymore. We think the most important thing is that everyone feels welcome. So we sit at church and suffer through Doris and Stan, who can't sing, because we don't want to be mean. They would never get a job in Hollywood, because Hollywood has integrity about the beautiful. Or if it's not "the Beautiful" in the classical sense, at least, they value the non-lame.

So when you speak of a tension of values, well, there is the value of the Beautiful, which Hollywood understands and the Church does not, and then there are the values specifically of what is good for human beings. What is it that leads them to their fulfillment, their ultimate destiny, fulfilling their nature? Those things are missing, content-wise, in what you're seeing in a lot of the media.

But in the end, which is more harmful: true words cast in an ugly frame, or untrue words cast in a beautiful frame? I think Hollywood will get people into heaven faster. Even if they have the message wrong, people in the end will turn off some of that. What will really impact them will be the harmony, the wholeness, the completeness of a work.

I think there needs to be a balance in the life of a church. The message that all are welcome and all are encouraged to share their gifts is the right message. There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to sing and read and act in worship even if they aren't great. Everyone needs to feel welcomed and valued.

But the church also needs to care about quality and, yes, beauty. It really makes a difference in worship. I have vivid memories of musical horrors in my first church pastorate. While there was a competent organist she was often traveling. The fill-ins and the special music were often positively atrocious. There was no balance between uplifting music and "non-lame."

When I came to Open Circle I insisted from our beginning that we shell out the money needed to have a professional keyboardist. We got lucky and got one with a great voice as well. To be able to sit in worship on Sundays and experience quality music every Sunday makes worship what is should be - uplifting and inspiring.

Churches don't do themselves any favor when they try to save money by using local talent. Yes there are exceptions but by and large you get what you pay for.

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