Category Archives: Art

God’s Song? Crowdsource Theology Request

Hey all, I respect artists. I appreciate creativity and believe that when we create, we reflect a characteristic of God that none of creation enjoys like we do.

And of all the arts, I appreciate music perhaps the most. It has a sense of the moment — unlike visual art where an actual artifact is evidence. While you can record a moment on tape (or digital format for you post-90’s babies) or video, that moment, that note is gone.

But I don’t pretend to understand it all the time. And I’m wrestling with this song I found today. Randy Newman, who I think of most in the same breath as Toy Story’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” covered a song called, “God’s Song”. Here are two clips — one by Randy Newman and for you who can’t get Toy Story out of your head, here’s another interpretation with the stylings of Etta James. And the lyrics below:

And the lyrics to the above song:

Cain slew abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the lord
And the lord said:

Man means nothing, he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest yucca tree
He chases round this desert
’cause he thinks that’s where i’ll be
That’s why i love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee
From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That’s why i love mankind

The christians and the jews were having a jamboree
The buddhists and the hindus joined on satellite tv
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, “lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won’t take care of us
Won’t you please, please let us be?”
And the lord said
And the lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That’s why i love mankind
You really need me
That’s why i love mankind

Now what does this song mean to you? And before you dismiss it as a silly atheist or secularly antagonistic song, pay attention because in pop culture, this is theology. Is it satire? What effect does it have on you? And what kind of thoughtful music (not just worship music) would you curate from the artists in your midst? This too, I believe, is a ministry of reconciliation.

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The Art of Disaster

The waters that swallowed and devoured Japan were black and full of horror. The Hebrews have their Leviathans, the Mayans their serpents, but the Japanese – just black water. It has haunted them for centuries. The Japanese artist, Hokusai, tried to capture the horror and agony in his art, this terrifying black water in his 1830 woodblock that inspired the image above and below the original:

I wonder if when Hokusai originally painted his work, if the people appreciated it or if they recoiled with sadness or anger or agony. The world recently watched in agony as the black waters ravaged entire villages. The art which reflected a tragedy takes us back to a memory in the midst of the new tragedy.

Some of us tend to minimize tragedy and memory for fear that others are living in the past, unable to forgive, unable to acknowledge the progress made, but I wonder if those others are simply “living” artifacts – pointing out what was, in order to warn us of what will be.

Those of us who looked at Hokusai’s work and only saw it for its beauty failed to recognize that this piece of art was not born of his imagination but of the horror that he saw. We put it in our museums or reprinted it for our walls, studied it for his use of color or his technique, but we did not heed its warning or listen to what the art was saying; we gazed and then looked away.

$308 billion worth of damage; quite possibly the costliest disaster to date. I’ve read that this was a hundred times worse than Haiti. Tens of thousands dead and tens of thousands without homes. When art reflects pain and tragedy, those of us who seek reconciliation must not only look at what we see, but remember to hear the messages and the memories behind it. It may be a pretty picture, but it must be heard, not merely admired.