Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Ignoring the seeking"

Benjamin Myers is a poet who teaches poetry to university students. In "The Sentimentality Trap" he explains why sentimentality is a kind of pornography:
.... Sentimentality is emotional satisfaction without emotional connection, an agreement between the artist and the audience to skip straight to the gratification, which, due to the skipping, is not so gratifying after all.... The popular painter Thomas Kinkade’s cozy little cottages, for instance, offer all the warmth of home—something I certainly enjoy—but what is the warmth of home without knowing the coldness of the world? What is homecoming without the hard journey? In Hebrews, we read that “these all died in the faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country” (11:13–14). Kinkade’s error is not in depicting the homecoming; it is in ignoring the seeking. .... Art must be truthful in what it says about the world and our sojourn in it. Lying down in green pastures is a great goal for an artist, but he must not attempt to get there without walking through the valley of the shadow of death. If he does, he is a liar. ....

Why are so many Christian writers and readers drawn to sentimentality? .... I suspect it has to do with a misguided interpretation of Philippians 4:8, which says, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” This verse is often evoked in admonition to avoid the garbage of popular entertainment, and rightly so. It is, also, alas, taken to mean that we should model our mental and emotional lives on those three monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. Forgetting the direction toward honesty, many Christians seem to believe that what Scripture means by “pure” and by “lovely” is merely the pleasant and the naive, the Hallmark Channel, not the reality of a world in need of redemption.
Yet, looked at through the initially disorienting but ultimately corrective lens of Scripture itself, what is more pure and lovely than the Cross? One might answer, “the Resurrection,” but there is no Resurrection without Crucifixion. The Christian sentimentalist wants the bliss of Easter morning without the pain of Good Friday or the sorrow of Holy Saturday, reducing the great joy of Easter to the pleasantness of a sunrise or spring flowers. The sacrifice of our savior is lovely. His blood is pure. If we can look on these things and know they are good, then we, in a deeply Christian art, should not fear looking at the hard realities of our fallen world. The Christian artist who wraps himself in sunbeams and daffodils fails to be Christian at all, producing a bloodless, lifeless art that pleases a middle-class consumerism, not an authentic Christian encounter with a hurting world. .... [more]