“We, today, have a language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.” – Makoto Fujimura
What Japanese- American artist Makoto Fujimura has done with his shared Four Gospels project is that he has made manifest the kind of beautiful, unnecessarily necessary culture play that the Christian Faith encourages. 1
Such creative witness immerses us more in time whilst also catching a sail on the wind of history.
At odds with the worship of faux- originality, this is not altogether new but manifests the Gospel in a particular manner for his time and place in a refreshingly new way. In doing so, he draws upon his various worthwhile identities and harmonises them to bear witness as only he can. Previously, in our ancient nation, known as Hibernia by the Romans, we created our own beautiful holy books. We are endowed with many wonderful Christian artefacts which rose up from similar deep soils of cultural memory and the flowering of Faith. 2 Love letters from man to God in response to His Word.2.5
This Christian cultivation of culture and what Makoto calls ‘culture care’ drinks at the life-giving spring of Revelation and is vital in harnessing the power and grace of beauty to convert our hearts and minds. It also feeds the poor weary soul, as ”the poor need beauty as they need food”, in Bishop Barron’s phrase.
Moreover, great art made in light of communion might act as a bulwark against the shallowness of contemporary ideology, which invents it’s own categories antithetical to the aesthetically expansive, inclusive language and symbols of The Gospel. The Four Gospels buoys us up delectably.
This is important, as Fr James Schall suggests, “Why bring up any reconsideration of ideology? The world that most people now live in is an ideological world. It is a world whose limits and configuration are assembled from their desires of what they would like to be, not to *what* is.” 3
These limits and this configuration have a particularly malevolent geneology and character, which is contrary to The Kerygma. This has been charted by thinkers such as Christopher Lasch, Robert Nisbet, Paul Gottfried and Gerard Casey. 3.25
One example of faithful tending to The Gospel is the rightly renowned and lavishly illustrated Book of Kells. ( Pictured below is the opening text in the Gospel of St John.)
To create beautiful works like this commands a healthy respect for deep roots, making the most of our own time and a vision, futurist and fufilled in Christ. 3.80 Certain scarcity and certain abundance combine in creative tension. The principle of scarcity has shown to be of central importance in governing human behaviour.* This concerns our very being as creatures, subject to death and decay. Christian psychologist has researched how our fear of death motivates us to act and considered common Eastern Orthodox approaches to this problem.3.82 His use of Orthodox Theology is good, as far as it goes but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Neither does Becker, whose thought he utilises. Becker considered our institutions and creations that survive our physical death in terms of them being a response to the fear that it induces. This half-truth, or less than half truth, misses out our nature as human beings, creatures meant for deification- not as individuals but as persons in communion reflective of the trinity itself. It is life, eternal life, that is even more significant and our creations are not all our own or motivated solely by the fear of death. The fear of the LORD is the begging of wisdom after all. By taking part in culture- making that transcends death, we are partaking in the Kingdom even here on earth. We are living a life now that will be even more full in the kingdom. By considering this, in a manner comparable to Chesterton’s democracy of the dead, we become more human and formed in Christ as his body.3.85 This is a ‘creative tension’ we see in various kinds of Mission. 3.90
This is both work and play, ‘useful’ but so much more than that. 3.95 If we persist in the shallow language and false consciousness that today’s ideologies induce in us then we will not be able to cultivate the Spirit for co-creations such as these. The ‘buffered self’ shuts us off from such transcendence. 3.99 Let us remember who we are. 4 5 6
The legendary lunatic farmer, Joel Salatin, recognises this in agricultural terms whereby by giving glory to creation, we give glory to God.6.5 In ‘The Marvellous Pigness of Pigs’ he points out examples from the scripture which refer to the glory of pigs, people and even places; all of which work towards the glory of God.6.75
Metropolitan Gregorios proclaimed in his recent time that the principle task of Theology was to discern a genuinely Christian Theology of Liberation. We can agree and this is especially pressing given the claims to freedom that ‘social justice warriors’ make when perverting the message of The Gospel. Co-creating with God and our neighbours in time and space frees us from the dullness wrought by sin and death and evident in these modern sophist philosophies. Ultimately, it has it’s role in our Theosis.7
To echo the Malankara Metropolitan, we must meet these challenges by becoming more sensitive to ”the transcendental dimensions of both history and salvation.”8
”You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”8.25
For the Irish in particular, we need to bear witness as distinct Celtic Christians, taking ourselves out of the falseness of totalitarian identity politics, imported from French continental philosophy and the unholy fools of American universities. Resisting it’s flattening distortions of history, recognising the Pentecostal diversity of the world in Incarnate time and place. Not just individuals but cultures gratefully appropriating the gift of The Gospel to our own times and places. 8.5 8.75 Fr John O’Donohue has popularised a kind of Celtic Christian way of being and is a good guide to begin with.9
Review of Makoto Fujimura’s book, Culture Care-
Makoto writes beautifully and presents a beguiling vision for culture and the arts, whilst properly criticising the commercialism of art and life. The gratuitous beauty and goodness of creation and our role in co-creation are restored to their rightful place via his biblical vista. Focusing on organic metaphors, Makoto makes room for a florishing of fertility and does well to plant seeds for ripening.
Yet, it’s all a bit too idealistic unfortunately, especially in trying to redeem our ‘common life’ without a holistic radical conversion. There’s an element of him preaching to the choir, in spite of his best intentions. All of these wonderful ideas and forms can be followed, but within the mileau of Christian culture- whether that’s ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the church. Makoto speaks sweetly of Dickinson and Van Gogh, testifying to the power of their witness and forthrightness to follow their vocations even if that meant going against the herd. Fantastic yes, but the line between the church and outside the church that he draws is a red herring and misses the point that they could do this because the church was still so central. This is regrettably no longer the case as Dr Gerard Casey makes clear in critiquing modern secularisms. Moreover, as we see in John Gatta’s book on The Transfiguration, there’s a great both/and playing out in Christ. We need both to be orthodox and The Church holds the margins in their rightful place precisely by acting as a foci. (He makes this point later in referring to Christ as The Good Shepherd so it’s a matter of consistently appying the principle and allowing it to bear fruits even when it upsets good friends- scandal to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks.
Attacking utilitarinism is excellent and Christians do get sucked into this mindset too easily. We should not try and force the terms ‘Christian’ art, ‘Christian’ music, etc in the manner which quite literalist evangelicals have done. However, being intentionally Christian is important in order to bear true witness and we can be both adjective Christians who follow Christ as a noun. If we recast what they were trying to do in a more layered symbolic manner then we will be on the right path. The Church over time, rather than acting negatively, helps us here. (See Jonathan Pageau’s and Fr Schmemann’s work)
The many competing narratives at play in postmodernism, government intervention and strength of consumerism assiduously undermine the Christian Way. So,in attempting to build bridges that are constantly being burned, Christians are in danger of being stranded. Fujimura gets this but doesn’t follow through on some of his own skepticism. It’s a nice attitude to have, refreshingly open, etc but ultimately untenable unless harnessed with decisive discernment.
Peterson suggests artistic people are generally higher in openess and we can see this in the ability and longing to transcend differences for common purpose, yet there is a dark side and it is constantly exploited, especially by cultural marxism today. Those who want to balance unity and difference in harmony, like Fujimura, are unjustly attacked as upholding ‘power structures’ arbitrarily proffered by marxists and cultural marxists. In trying to reach out to all in Christian charity, you’re accused of being ‘part of the problem’ and obstructive to the politicisation of art. This problem need to be wrestled with by Christians, such as Makoto, and to support culture care requires a strong Christian culture. Even a healthy just culture war alongside culture care. This means a certain intentional Christian community standing aside from the fragmentation of politics, government, consumerism of America and disgust at the disgusting. To repress these forces would mean their reappearance later in distorted form and if done right it provides for a semblance of Fujimura’s optimism, in Hope.
A lovely conversation starter and vision, well written and replete with rich metaphors, in need of Christian support and calls for conversion- cultural conversion, personal conversion and other.
If you enjoy this book then I would recommend John Gatta’s sublime manuscript on The Transfiguration of Christ and Creation, Dr Norman Wirzba’s books and Roger Scruton’s work.