Everyone loves Michelangelo. His carefree, hip use of language, the unique angle through which he viewed the world, his sweet skills with nun…chucks? Oh, no sorry, I was thinking of the wrong Michelangelo.
This week I watched an episode of the PBS series Secrets of the Dead about the famous Renaissance artist (who was not a ninja turtle) and his struggle with what it meant to be a Christian at a time when all of western civilization seemed to be lurching with change.
The hour long special traces Michelangelo’s involvement with the Spirituali. According to the documentary, the Spirituali was a group of Catholic reformers at the time of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation who believed that reform was possible from within the Catholic Church. Michelangelo’s own faith journey plays itself out in the midst of this turmoil, and the central conflict for him is his role as the artist commissioned to adorn the walls of the Vatican in Rome, while personally struggling with the authenticity of the Church’s power.
In the shadows of Michelangelo and Luther.
I believe that we live in a time not unlike that of the 16th century. We stand on the edge of a social shift as we move out of Modernism and into whatever post-Modernism is going to become. In this reality the church finds itself wondering how to respond. Do we hold doggedly to things that we believe we have always been about, or do we shift with the tide? Neither seems totally appropriate and I think we can learn a thing or two from this special about Michelangelo and his faith.
The Creative Church
There was a day, Michelangelo’s day, when the church was the birth place of all great art. Sadly, we have mostly rejected this role and now it seems the church is merely an out of date parrot of the culture, and a poor one at that. No matter what shape the church’s message takes in the future we need to reinvigorate the arts in the matter and be creative beings again. Michelangelo’s work was so popular because the Catholic Church knew that art could communicate great ideas more powerfully than mere teaching.
Where are you seeing art tell the gospel story in fresh, creative, powerful ways today?
Yes We Can
There is a restlessness among people my age. I hear it everywhere. Christians in their late 20s and 30s have become disillusioned with the structure of faith we have been given. The more I talk to people, the more I read, the more I become convinced that people want something richer, truer, more alive and faithful to Jesus than the faith of Modernism.
Here’s the kicker, we like Michelangelo and his cohorts can do something about it. WE can be the agents of change and direction in the midst of the confusion, if we are willing to step out.
What Michelangelo and his friends found out, however, is that those people who have gained power from the previous system will fight back, fiercely. Some of my friends have asked in the past, “Why isn’t the church persecuted more if we’re really following Jesus?” I think our opportunity will come soon, and the persecution will come from places we never expected.
Where have you seen the restlessness of today’s Christians lead to a more lively expression of the gospel?
Tradition or Jesus
At a time when the Catholic Church was fighting against the Reformers, and many people were decrying the heresy of attacking the church, others in the Catholic Church were apparently considering ways that reform was possible. They heard the words of the Reformers and recognized the areas of failure in the Catholic Church.
What if they had won the day? What if the church could have found a way to reform from within instead of splintering and dividing? What if, instead of holding onto traditions that were established for the purposes of a time and place, the church held more fervently to Jesus?
If we try and maintain the structure, the church will split, fracture, divide and crumble, and fewer people will see the love of Christ through our unity. However, if Christians of all creeds step out and embrace Jesus, then there is hope. It will mean laying down some of our cherished possessions, but the church will then be able come to life for a new era as a people who look a lot like the greatest masterpiece created by the greatest artist. No, not Michelangelo, the master creator who fashions for himself a beautiful people for the sake of his name in the world.
What traditions have you watched people lay down for the sake of Jesus? Do you think we need to balance the importance of theology, doctrine, teaching, etc with the centrality of Jesus?
What else did I learn this week?
- Oral injuries heal themselves.
Micah fell sucking on a water bottle and ripped his frenulum between his gum and upper lip. After a few frantic phone calls we went to the ER where the doctor informed me that unless you bite your tongue practically in half, your mouth heals amazingly well and there was nothing they would do. I figure it to be the most expensive popsicle of his life.
- The bird in our woods is a peacock!
We were right!
- One ‘n’ and two ‘s’
Even after countless art classes, some of which focused specifically on the Renaissance, I still can spell it off the top of my head. It remains in the category of words like necessary that I just cannot get right consistently.