HAROLD M. BEST
Dean
Wheaton College Conservatory of Music


CREATIVE DIVERSITY, AUTHENTICITY AND EXCELLENCE


This article, under the title, Creative Diversity, Artistic Valuing and the Peaceable Imagination, was the Keynote speech/paper to the National Association of Schools of Dance, September 1993; it also appeared in Arts Policy Review, May/June 1994. Reprinted with permission of the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation. Published by Heldref Publications, 1319 Eighteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036-1802. Copyright 1994.


CREATIVE DIVERSITY

Listen to this paraphrase of Genesis, a mite on the free side, but, to my mind, every bit true.

In the beginning God thought up and made the heavens and the earth. He thought up and made light, dark, the waters, the heavens, the dry lands, vegetation, plants, fruit trees, the sun, the moon, swarms of creatures in the seas, birds, great sea monsters, cattle, creeping things, and beasts of the field. And God thought up and made laws--laws which rule the things that were made, how they move, slow down, and stop; how things can ignite and be transformed into other things; forces that pull apart and attract. God continued to think and to make up even more laws, among them, laws that control sounds and the ways they can be made and varied; the ways they can be transmitted.

And God put sound making parts in the bodies of his creatures, and they began to create diverse sounds--whistling sounds, pitched and piping sounds, growls, whinnies, screeches, buzzings and scraping sounds; mewlings, grunts, roars, and yappings. And He liked what He heard.

Then God decided that amidst all of this goodness, He would think up and make two creatures after His own image and likeness--man and woman. He did so and immediately knew this to be very good. He put it in their minds that they, too could think up and make things. God then looked down from eternity and ahead into time--something else He had thought up and made--and saw this man and woman and their multiplied thousands of children experimenting, shaping and texturing, trying this out, remembering that and casting another thing aside. He began to hear them spinning out wondrous variety, differently colored, textured, shaped, and sounded. He heard pitches and mixtures of pitches of all kinds, on instruments of all kinds, tuned to rhythms and colors that swarmed over the earth. He heard from the throats and from the instruments of all His creatures multiples sounds, clanging sonorities, fluting ditties, bowed and plucked things. And he heard someone call all this wondrous stuff music. He heard others say, "No it is not." And God said, "Oh yes it is." And God called all of this acoustical riot very good.

Creative diversity is at the root of things. But note that I said creative diversity, not cultural diversity nor artistic diversity, for I consider each to be derivative. Creativity is first of all a word about being human, down where the uniqueness of individuation and imagination lie, down where Genesis One is, down where imago dei was graciously bequeathed to each of us. It is not further up where the secondary stuff of socio-cultural talk is, up where the statistics, the studies, the political provincialism and pseudo-artistic pressures are. As much as all of us must strive to love the unloved and celebrate unnumbered cultural differences, there is something more profound to the concept of diversity than we find in so many of our liturgies of political correctness. We cannot forget that in all human groupings there are both virtues and flaws, excellence and mediocrity, elegance and abuse, treasure and trash. When we forget this we end up with some pretty bland talk about the uniqueness of just about everything. Or failing this, we break things apart all over again, coddling this and bashing that, the only difference is that we choose new things to coddle--everything popular or ethnic--and new things to bash--Euro-American, white, male art music, with the exception of Pachelbel's Canon and the unleashing of plainchant on New Age ears, our newest pieces of classical ear candy.

I take the uncreated Creator as my starting point. I submit my work and thought to the only unimagined Imaginer, who thinks things up out of no-thing, who then makes all things out no-thing, and does so with limitless variety, for as long as He wishes, in paradoxical combinations of loveliness, strangeness, surprise and mystery. Who but God could think up a rose or a chambered nautilus or a baby and then turn right around and, without changing His mind or His mood, think up a hippopotamus or a stinkweed or an ostrich? Who but God would know how to call every crazy-quilt creature good, bestowing individual dignity and worth on each? Who but God would then be imaginative, generous, and selfless enough to make a whole race of beings in His own image, granting them creativity, the gift of imagining and making things, allowing them to use the very stuff of His own handiwork, to come up with a riot of sounds, shapes, machines, textures, gestures, lauds, and laments? Who but God would include lessons about making things in the very things He has made? For God is not just our Maker. He is our redeeming Teacher. His handiwork is not just out there to be admired and lived in; it also guides us in our own imaginings. Let me try to say how.

Listen to this. When we yammer, whine and fidget over the kind of art and music--the truly new and crazy stuff--the stuff that surprises and dislodges, remember this: God was the first abstract artist. When He imagined and crafted the first eucalyptus and the first gazelle, the first galaxy and the first cucumber, there were none around for Him to imitate or compare them to. They simply broke into unexampled being. Go back to those first days when everything was never before seen, when there were no reference points or comparisons and God was flooding the heavens and the earth with His imaginings, and then look at and listen to the art you would separate yourself from, and then you'll understand why Paul Klee said that art is Genesis eternal.

Listen to this. In the way God imagined and crafted, He showed us from the beginning that everything that He made has worth, yet serves a purpose; and everything that serves a purpose has worth. Thus for God and therefore for us, quality and usefulness must go hand in hand.

Listen to this. In the way God creates, He shows us that simplicity and complexity can play hide and seek with one another, each contingent upon the other. And if push were to come to shove, it just may be that simplicity may well be the greater mystery because complexity depends on it. Thus, in His way of imaging and crafting galaxies out of elemental particles which turn right around and act like galaxies, God may be showing us how an Appalachian ballad and the Sistine Chapel somehow participate in each other.

Listen to this. God has shown us that He is no less the caring craftsman, no less interested in quality when making a grape as when flinging out a galaxy-- the one quickly eaten, used up, gone in a trice, the other enduring for billions of years. From this we learn that the dispensable and the monumental, the simple and complex, the small and the grand, the transient and long-lasting are to be crafted with equal care and integrity. For with God, there are not two creations: a cheapened one for consumption and throwing away and another sophisticated one for the museums, the critics, and the ages. There is one creation, imagined and made by the One whose integrity never changes from creational act to creational act.

Listen to this. God has shown us that even though He loves each thing He makes and calls it good, He somehow allows a particular bird of paradise or duck-billed platypus to be more beautifully formed than another bird of paradise or another duck-billed platypus. But this does not mean that a bird of paradise is more desirable than a duck-billed platypus--just try to get one to set up housekeeping with the other. Long before our solemn litanies of aesthetic universalism were replaced by our simpering dances around the multicultural tree, it was God who set down the first principles for a discerning and authentic pluralism, namely that there are diverse kinds of quality, each to be sought out within the kind. Just as the beauty of a platypus is not to be interpreted by that of a bird of paradise, so the beauty of a Guatemalan lullaby is not to be interpreted by that of a Renaissance dance.

Here we are, a world full of created creators, imagined imaginers, going about things diversely--no two of us alike--imagining and crafting things, no two of which should ever be alike. Here we are, a world full of children, of teenagers, of parents, aunts and uncles, friends, fellows, and lovers, knit in the dignity of our humanness. Here we are, an ecology of spirit, mind, and body, needing one another and not always knowing it, capable of helping one another and not fully wanting to. Here we are, created by the uncreated Creator, imagined by the unimagined Imaginer, capable of stupendous feats and bursts of creative uniqueness. Here we are, improvising, composing, crafting, arranging, building, organizing, sketching, erasing, improving, exchanging, influencing, starting over again. Here we are, some average, some below average, some virtuosic, but each of us humanly and diversely imaginative. And all too paradoxically, here we are, some profoundly moral and others horribly aberrant, each fundamentally creative and each using that creativity to bring something about, whether in usefulness or destruction. It is all of these and more that make this world up. It is all of these and more which, wrongly used, divide us up and tear us down.

In the most current scientific sense of the word, creative diversity is magnificent chaos. Chaos is the creational and creative rightness of unrepeated, unpredictable variation, housed in order, structure, and overall sense. Chaos is not a fabrication of rationalized, Euclidianized straight lines and symmetries, but a riotous scatter, found in meadows, weather patterns, and coral reefs; found within the larger perimeters of natural law, creative wisdom, and structural discipline. Chaos is the poetry, the surprise, the ambiguity, and nuance which justifies and beautifies the grammar tucked away down inside. Chaos is why, with only 12 pitches at our disposal, no two symphonies or blues are alike. Chaos is why no two Petrushkas are ever the same and why no one should ever want them to be. Chaos is why, with only three primary colors, Andrew Wyeth's whites are unlike Vermeer's, why Gauguin saw things differently than Van Gogh. Chaos is why, with only 26 letters in our alphabet, words emerge--hundreds of thousands of them--combining and recombining in ceaseless nuance. Chaos is why no two dancers, with the same choreographic map, can ever dance alike. Chaos is the ceaseless conversation between stability and instability, between the depersonalized geometries of the drafting table and the poetic force of a hand-drawn shape. Chaos is the antithesis of imitation and the champion of variety, a refreshing answer to the ideal/real perplexities of Platonism.

And chaos is never over, starting from the first day of creation and continuing throughout the eternities. And remember, even eternity, filled with eternally nuancing variegation, can only happen once. As long as we are allowed to remain alive, we shall always be delighted and stunned by one creative upset and dislodgment after another. It is of these that cultures are made and changed, and it is because of these that a sensible, workable pluralism can take place. Cultures do not diversify nor inter-relate in the abstract. Diversity, pluralism, multiculturalism--call it what you like--comes about because diverse imaginers are diversely--chaotically--at work, creatively unable to repeat themselves, surviving in any number of conditions, ready to give and receive creative counsel. From rap to Bach to Picassos and Wyeths, Citizen Kane to Remains of the Day; from Pakistani chant to mariachi bands to Zimbabwe harvest songs to gospel, jazz, folk, Cajun, and Walker Percy, we celebrate magnificent chaos--ongoing pluralism, deep-down diversity.

And who are the real pluralists? There are two groups, one comprising virtually 100% of all populations, the other a significant minority in many populations. As to the first group, it is imperative that they be cherished and nurtured as never before. As to the second, it is less important as to how many there are than that they exist at all, and are determined to act, create, and teach, whatever the cost.

The first are our children. These wonderful and inherently creative people are the true naturals at diversity. They are multi-lingual; the width of their perceptual and cognitive proficiencies is astonishing. They are our intrinsic pluralists, the ones in whom the first day of creation is summarized. They are at once as capable of cavorting to a Bach gigue, as of being quieted by a Nigerian lullaby, as of being enamored of a Picasso, as of learning several languages at once. They dance, they improvise, they imagine, they ask profound questions. They are idiomatically diverse. Their world is of one cloth and they have a need for it as boundless as their need for their mother's breast. They not only must live but they must abound within the abundance around them. They are scribbling, babbling poets before they know what grammar is. Yet, early on they begin to sense the importance of imposing structure on their poetry. Somehow they intuit that order and syntax are part of the relational, communal side of life. And the poetry and the grammar grow up together. As the linguist Noam Chomsky would put it, they bring the sentence with them, we just give them the vocabularies.

But to our dismay, all of this wondrous stuff begins to be constricted and shut down by a slickened and cynical culture in which our children and young people are made to think that they are personally unique, while unwittingly being made into each other's image. It is really commercial totalitarianism: this massive hype, this cynical flattening of human diversity, this ornamented stasis. Our children are Michael Jordaned, and Barneyed, mega-churched, Sandi Pattied, Nintendoed, and MTV'd clean out of their uniqueness. The local, home-grown heroes--those necessary stay-at-home mentors--are almost no more. They have either left us, trying for bigger things, or if they humbly choose to stay at home, their worth is belittled by the steroided hype and illusion which surround the super-stars. Their options are curiously shut down by the gatekeepers: these product mongers who choose our culture for us and then manipulate us into thinking we have freely chosen it.

This brings us to the second group of pluralists. These are the ones who have broken through the narrowness and the hype and are grown up into a completion. These are the wholly educated (a quite different group than the highly educated). These are the ones who celebrate the chaos of diversity, who see into the order and union behind the riot and variegation, who sense the deeper structures beneath the shifts and the nuances. They live comfortably with the simple and the complex; they understand the union of function and worth; they know the difference between the ornamental and the developmental, understanding where each belongs and how they can merge. They choose carefully among the diversity of artistic languages and dialects; they patiently school those who are floundering in pseudo-diversity. They have stripped away the rhetoric that confuses a creative act with a socio-political one. They know that the distance between high culture and low culture is not a separation but a reciprocation and a continuum. They have come to recognize the dignity and integrity in everything from a Rembrandt to a southern Indiana pie safe to Delta blues to Pakistani chant. And they know enough not to try to convert the one into the other.

They further know that in true diversity oldness is not irrelevance. When they hear that the words of an 18th century hymn, the sound of a pipe organ, or a Mozart rondo are ". . . outdated, do not speak my language, are not properly seeker-sensitive, do not communicate, and fail to meet a tub full of felt needs," they understand this to be nothing other than the sorriest kind of churchmanship and narrowest kind of narcissism. They also know that the solution is not to become trend hoppers, to "go relevant," but to hang in with real diversity, to demonstrate that quality is never out of date. Above all, these are the ones, who, by choice, stay close to our children, to nurture them in the rich context of creative diversity. And these should be, these must be, among the ones who are our public school teachers, for in my estimation, there are no more important individuals in our society than K-6 teachers. Some have PhD's, some have never finished high school. They come from Pakistan, from Philadelphia, Abilene and Lubbock, Ghana, Belfast, Alequippa, Virginia, the Bronx, and--let us pray--from Southern Seminary. And we need every one of them.

But diversity must have honest limits. It cannot be a simpering everything-is-OK-ism. All credible pluralists must have an artistic and cultural locating point, a home, a center. This center then forms a perceptual and intellectual base to and from which excursions are diversely made and to which all else relates. Furthermore, this sense of home should be perfectly natural to those whose artistic styles they wend their way, because they too have a center, a home. Diversity is therefore an intercourse among centers, each one loved by those who inhabit them. In the best sense of the word, then, ethnocentrism--there's that terrible word--is simply the act and process of knowing, loving, and acting within and upon our own civilizational, cultural, and behavioral ways, with the promise that if we genuinely love ourselves, culturally, artistically, and ethnically, we will naturally love the ways of others, who are freely responsible to come to love ours. Thus, we have a relationship among centers rather than a rearranged aesthetic caste system, multicultural facelessness, or forced assimilation. This kind of centeredness is simply the Golden Rule stated artistically: If and as I truly love myself and my immediate cultural and artistic world, I will love that of others.

So despite the current debate about multiculturalism, despite the negative twists, turns, and incompleteness of present efforts; despite the new prejudices it seems t o be breeding, I hang on to the worth of the concept itself and hope that something better will transpire--something which centers itself in the worth of people, their incredible creative diversity, warts and all, and the kind of love which nurtures and teaches. It is this kind of diversity, a centered diversity, centered in the uniqueness and integrity of the imago dei, the authentic synergy of each local gathering, that the Church so desperately needs. We must thus rid ourselves of three kinds of false pluralism: 1) provincial pluralism, where the center is too narrow to be broken out of; 2) faceless pluralism, where "all things to all men" has led away from authenticity and into pseudo-relevance; 3) layered pluralism, where, for example, a congregation is divided up into any number of practitional parts, traditional, contemporary, and who knows what else--each one carefully kept away from the other, and each one singing its provincial ditty to the glory of a very creatively limited God.


ARTISTIC VALUING

It is only now that we can talk about artistic quality and values. As I have already suggested, creativity itself is a sorting out process which in itself cannot exclude valuing. Artistic choices are not just feel-goodisms or trendy everything-is-OKism. Even though all artistic actions, good and bad, possess intrinsic worth, we need to go beyond the worth and into conscious and intelligent choosing. In other words, there is a legitimate difference between general goodness and better-than-ness. Totally relativized pluralism, in which everything is considered of equal quality, is an intellectual, perceptual, and theological travesty. And I'll just bet you that even the most vocal relativists have some little values clock ticking inside themselves, to which they secretly go, if only now and then, to find out what time it is.

While the issue of artistic valuing may eventually take in the subject of aesthetics, it should not begin with aesthetics. It is erroneous to assume that just because some people do not love great art, they do not love art. It is likewise erroneous to assume that someone who has poor taste has no taste. Additionally, it is erroneous to assume that everyone who loves great art possesses artistic discernment. Furthermore, I'm not convinced that everyone who is devoted to great art truly loves art. It is one thing to love certain institutions of art as an adopted mannerism, and another to go down deeper into the nature of the creative and artistic impulse itself, back behind the manners and reflexes and into the very substance. There is therefore a difference between being artistically sensitive and being cultured. And it is entirely possible to be Pavlovianly conditioned to great art without knowing that it is great.

I don't know of anyone who doesn't love or value art, or who isn't somehow drawn to the aesthetic quality of something: a finely wrought tool, a beautifully sutured incision, a quilt, or a Chevrolet. The love of quality--whether or not beauty is consciously thought of--is universal. The educational and ministerial question, therefore, is not to create a love or a sense of beauty and quality in our constituencies, but to find musically exampled ways that train, refine, reform, and diversify the love and the valuing that is already going on.

However, among the many loves of music, there is one kind in particular, if we can call it a love, which should trouble us all. Art can be addictively loved. In this case, the intrinsic value of art no longer lies directly in an active engagement with artistic content or quality, but in the way it is craved. There is gluttony, overuse, and misuse; music and art become so mindlessly omnipresent that they become strangely absent--nothing more than insignificant significance. Music is piped in everywhere, pasted up everywhere, craved everywhere. It is crack for the ears, eyes, and bodies, with which all too many of us shoot up, whether in worship, pleasure, or in a confusion of the two--just another substance abused by an addictive society. It is this addictive love which seems of late to be so prevalent. It goes on all around us. Our children and students, and many churches, live in the middle of it and may easily be caught up that way. Without a doubt we are the most musicked culture in the history of civilization, and it may not be a coincidence at all that this overwhelming urge for music accompanies the near death of meaningful speech.

But what may be even more serious is that this addiction to music, along with addiction to drugs and violence, may be symptomatic of an even more deeply rooted illness. Perhaps being a contemporary American demands that all of us be addicted to something: single interest groups, with their cramped morality and political leverage; rabid fundamentalism, whatever its stripe; political correctness, whatever its content; ideological fascism, whatever its agenda; orgasmic frivolity, whatever its orientation and medium; technological obsession, whatever its powers and costs to individual uniqueness; unbridled litigation, with its revenges and rewards--each of these claims its addicts. And because each addicted sector has but one solitary objective, namely to feed the addiction, we may have become a society united only by addiction itself, but divided over the multiple directions our addictions take us. And in our rush to feed the addiction, we end up trampling each other.

It is from within this context that we must find out how artistic love can degenerate into addiction and how addiction can be turned back into love. We need to teach this generation how to distance itself from music so as to be free of it, using less of it, contemplating it more deeply, then free to engage in it with new found discernment and temperance--masters, not slaves; users, not abusers, worshippers, not idolaters.

We need also to teach our children and youth that the very best reason to value art is because their priceless worth as human beings demands it. It's not that we need great art for the sake of art--this is simply idolatry--rather, it's that we have art, we share art, first for the glory of God and only then for the sake of each other, the least of whom has more value than the greatest piece of art ever made. Let me put it extremely. Which has more worth, the entire St. Matthew Passion or one single street waif in a Mexican barrio? Let me push this even further. What if I were faced with the choice of sacrificing the last remaining copy of the St. Matthew Passion, never to hear it again, in order to keep this waif alive? The beauty which rises out of our response to this question is that saving the child is what great art is ultimately made of, whereas preferring an art piece over a child is what holocausts are made of.

I'm convinced that love for the essential dignity and worth of people is what should really drive artistic valuing. As mentioned in the previous presentation, we bear the responsibility for no less than the nurturing of the imago dei. People are so important that they must have the best, even if it means going against the relativistic grain and working painstakingly from bad to good to better to best. If I can exemplify artistic values out of the kind of love for people which might lead to my giving up art for their sake--and if our students deeply and truly knew that we have mastered art in this way--they would then understand what it means to value art. Valuing humanity validates artistic valuing. There is an aesthetic impulse behind the arts, but this does not go quite far enough, for behind the aesthetic impulse there is a whole world of active imaginers whose creative impulses--no matter how vibrant or feeble, aesthetic or unaesthetic--call for artistic valuing.

Of course, this means that, in addition to my knowing my art and my aesthetic paradigms profoundly well, I must learn those of others, knowing them just as well. I must acknowledge that they value their art--just listen to them sometime, arguing in their own way and in their vernaculars, over the artistic sludge that they find in their own idiomatic world. The very recognition that they are somehow plugging away at values--no matter how timidly, stumblingly, or crassly--is my starting point, for I cannot forget that my own aesthetic start and my present aesthetic state were influenced--for good and for bad--by the way I was taught.

Then I must hunt down the wisdom and pedagogical skill to join with them, to know how their heads are working, to try to see with their eyes and hear with their ears, to understand that their artistic world first of all comprises what they know, not what they don't know or what I know. Only then have I earned the right to take their thoughts, their values, and their art up and away into freshened dimensions.

Artistic valuing never devalues the people who make and value it. As ministers, servants, and teachers we should never take away their songs or their dances. Instead, we add to the song; we refine the dance; we unite the excelling with all the other human excelling. It is worth the pain and, in these morally, intellectually, deconstructed days, the possible censure.


THE PEACEABLE IMAGINATION

I am both proud of my country and ashamed of it. I certainly do not want to be perceived as a national naysayer, but I do want to spend a few minutes on some aspects of American culture that deeply concern me. I then want to attempt an application in the direction of what I call the peaceable imagination.

The worlds of mass culture and the electronic media subsist on images, set in the context of a loss of an integrative moral center and the near death of meaningful language. We live, both inside and outside the church, in a world of spin doctors, sound bites, lip synching, applause and laugh tracks, fabricated ambiguity, doublespeak and technospeak. The lines between entertainment and crucial theological, social, moral, and political functions have become increasingly blurred.

Media stars are employed to make political statements, to mouth profundities, and politicians may rise or fall on their ability to appear as media stars. Commentators and reporters are hired and retained on their ability to make ordinary news into something larger than it is--to search, in fact, for the "right" kind of news and to shape it so that it becomes more than informative content. Investigative reporting, the docudrama, and talk show have become strangely alike. The people who make the news--the serial killers, the darlings of social event, media stars, and world power figures--are all on stage. Their actions are blurred into the stuff of the docudrama and docudrama becomes the substantive stuff of factuality. The sum of it all is that mass culture has settled into a rhythm of electronic voyeurism, peering into war, rape, violence, discontent, scandal, pseudo issues, scam, and an occasional tidbit of joy. The end result is that most of contemporary society, overwhelmed by the power and presence of the media, lives in the generic world of contrived subjectivity, in which spin--long or short, simple or complex--is of the essence.(1)

And then there is the presentational mode, the overall style: hype, glitter, opulence, pushiness, coarseness, and swagger; and the megabatteries of sound, the overkill of gesture and costume--kitsch gone wild--the persistently overt, the driven, the exaggerated, the narcissistic soloism.

And violence. We know how much of it there is; we know that nothing has been left out--it's all there to see, to hear, to dance out, to market, to repeat, and repeat, and repeat again.

So we have these three giants, or perhaps this giant with three heads: culture as docudrama, culture as swagger and narcissism, and culture as violence. All three are frightening in themselves, but the way they have synergized is all the more ominous: the blurring of reality with fantasy, the horror of violence lost in the perceptual blur, and the massive, life-sucking ego personifying the whole.

In present day media/cinematic violence, our technological capability has brought us to the point where we can say, "That's really what real violence must look like. Life is life; this is its mirror, not a symbolic hint, but a full dose." But wait a minute. Even the most vivid, the most "realistic" stuff, to my way of thinking, does something else. All the while we're watching, caught up in the most graphic parts, repulsed, titillated or fascinated, there is the sense underneath it all, that we're in a kind of protective, perceptual envelope. We're only a reach away, after all, from the chips and dip, comfortable in the ergonomics of the family room or theater, near the touch of someone. And paradoxically the technical accuracy of the violence sanitizes it, makes it explainable, depersonalizes it. We know down deep that our worst fears, our most visceral reactions, will pass. We can leave the envelope, rewind the VCR, clean up the chips, and re-enter the "real" stuff of real life. But in the face of the threeheaded monster just mentioned, do we?

I'm not prepared to enumerate all the reasons why this nation dotes on self-gratifying violence, nor am I fully prepared to say if or how there may be a causal relationship between media violence and societal violence. But I have a hunch about something and it disturbs me greatly. Might it not be possible that we have come to live in one world of diffused reality--macro-deconstruction, the entire whole an extension of the perceptual envelope? If so, then this question: Which or where is the real world? Has everything merged into one huge docudrama, a myth world of no consequence? Have I merged into it as well? Have I joined the world of diffused reality, the docudrama? And in the absence of an integrative moral center, does it matter what world I'm in anyway? Have violence and civility become deconstructed? Have techno-violence and real violence merged, the one relativizing and sanitizing the other? And if there is a connection between media violence and street violence, as many think there is, it may not be that ugliness stimulates ugliness, but that the perceptual envelope, this massive global docudrama has preempted the real and turned violence and civility into mythological happenstances. Accountability, therefore, is just as mythological as everything else.

And for our children, this is all the more horrible, because for them, life is naturally whole--one perceptual envelope, in which reality, myth, legend, and play-acting have yet to be rationally separated. They live in one real, unified world. And if we present this world to them backwards, if the myth/docudrama world drives and discounts the real world, having already lost its moral and factual center, have we not abused them in a way compared to which all other forms of abuse are but symptomatic drops in the bucket?

But what about the greatest art? Does it not also deal with violence? Yes, but with a significant difference. The Guernicas, the executions, the medieval crucifixes have their own ways of taking the primal stuff of violence and smoothing it over with the sheer aesthetic sweep of the art work itself. We can look at a medieval crucifix, or listen to the "Crucifixus" of the B minor Mass and be profoundly moved by the sheer artistic beauty of the symbolized horror. Granted. But there's a profound difference: Great art does not diffuse or confuse reality. It respects reality for what it is in all of its primary force. And art--the best of it--is its own reality, with its own interior consequence, its own inherent burden. It has no intent of mirroring, or imitating, or substituting. Thus, whether its creators have moral consciences or not; whether its creators believe that art may or may not speak with moral force, it remains true that great art does not mistreat reality.

In the face of this, we must, as never before, seek out and produce an art which contemporary life has very little of. We must strive for an art which creates a freshening perceptual envelope, a new parenthesis, if you will. And even if it turned out that reality were diffused, perhaps even swallowed it up, we should be satisfied. For what we should long for and what all of us need--especially our children--is peaceable art. What we need is quieted and humbled creativity, flowing out of the peaceable imagination.

There is a word, the phonetic beauty of which comes very near matching its meaning, and here I owe a debt to the thinking of Nicholas Wolterstorff. That word is shalom. We need the art of shalom, not a smarmy dabble of what might be nice--fluffy idealism, or a vacuous absence of hostility--but resounding, prophetic utterances of peaceableness, joy, responsible action, and good will--the dances and musics of shalom. The peaceable imagination is forceful, dynamic, prophetic. It knows and understands reality without mirroring it. It protects against what is wrong and aberrant, and confirms what is right. The peaceable imagination is one of meekness, politeness, humility, and servant hood.

What would it be like for an entire society to become artistically meek and lowly of heart? What would it mean for a society aesthetically to quiet itself, to seek out silence, to trade corporate narcissism for community? What would it mean to understand that true meekness and humility are strong, bold, tender, and passionate, to know that peaceableness is empowered integrity through which everything from joyous celebration to uncompromising protest, to quiet nurturing, and redemptive grieving, is expressed? What would it mean to rear our children in an artistic world of grace, of calm, of diverse joy--a world free of hype, swagger, frenzy, exaggeration and synergized ego? And above all, what would it be like for the Church to rid herself of the musical and artistic pomp, the bombast, the steroided strutting and hyping, its parade-ground brassiness? What would it be like for us to shut up for a change and let the quiet undulations of the peaceable imagination overtake the hype? In the midst of the battery of loudspeakers, the forests of mike stands, the mixing boards, sequencers, drum machines, faked accompaniments--all of these masks and proxies for the broken and contrite heart, the mild talent that most of us possess--what would it be like if the fuses blew and we were left technologically naked so that the very power of the Holy Spirit could enter in and empower our God-given weaknesses?

So we come full circle, from the diversity of creative imagination, to the values which guide and inform it, and on to the need to direct creativity away from confusion, swagger, and hurt, provincialism, manipulation, spiritual self-indulgence, and finally to peaceable action. It all comes down to three groups of people: our children, for whose health all our efforts must be bent. They need the peaceable imagination. They need shepherding, not manipulation. They need pastorals and lullabies, not frenzy and swagger. And they need to dance the inside and outside dance, not death dances, but gigues, rondos, leapings, and cavortings.

Then there are the pastors, the evangelists, the Christian education leaders, and teachers, who shape content, interpret contexts, share wisdom and personal grace, and prepare the mind and make the spirit ready for the lively dance, the dance of shalom. And there are the artists themselves: the musicians, the painters, the dancers, and dramatists, who imagine diversely and authentically, who craft, music, paint, sculpt, and dance us into the most humanly redemptive contexts.

So I say to all: imagine, craft, finish, love, be quiet, be meek, be humble, let the thousand tongues burst forth and wing their way into the eternities. Dance imaginatively; make music diversely; sculpt discerningly; write the excelling poem; dance the peaceable dance; music forth shalom; paint us into elegance; sing and dance with the children; make us children again and then teach us how to put away childish things. Make art beyond the darkness and the diffusion; craft the terror away; dance the living hellishness out of our lives, and imagine the graces back into being.

God bless the artists. God bless the children. God bless the teachers. God bless you. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. AMEN.