Harold Best on style and the arts (4)

Harold Best’s thoughts in the book Unceasing Worship are so well articulated and impressive that it is natural to share a few of them here, with a few extra comments.  I have a couple more days’ worth of gleanings….

I am quite sure that if the body of Christ could be on a more peaceable practitional road if traditionalists understood tradition as a dynamic, ever-changing phenomenon and if the contemporists would understand that a tradition is ready to begin as soon as a new song is repeated even once.  (139)

Biases are strong.  I have a few myself.  🙂  I think it’s very difficult for many of us to read the above statement objectively.  Either we see our own biases being affirmed, and we inwardly say, “Yay!  Go, Harold!  Man, if my church could only read this!”  Or perhaps we see more blatantly something pinned on us and those like us … maybe the statement about traditionalists strikes me as a slam on me, or the statement about contemporists seems to push me and my opinions aside.

[Of all the arts, music alone] contains no words, no deeds, no gestures and virtually no exterior referential devices.  Music alone falls into this category and consequentially is the most abstract of all the art forms, the least capable of “saying” anything outside itself, therefore the most open to associational meaning. . . .  At the same time, music is the most ubiquitously expressive of all art forms because it soaks up meaning from around itself more quickly than any other art form.  (157)

Now there’s something that supports my bias–take that!  [Flip Objectivity Mode switch to On.]   What richness of thought, though.  [Guess that switch is broken.]   My feeble cranial neurons misfire when reading many of Harold Best’s sentences, and this is no exception.  I’m not sure what he means when he speaks of music’s soaking up meaning … but not referentially?  Can anyone help here?

God knows what art is about.  He knows why we have art.  He understands that just as his handiwork cannot say “Jesus saves,” so a good bit of ours cannot either.  (159)

That seems helpful to me and to many of those around me:  we must know that mere artistic creation, however reflective of God’s creativity, cannot–without text–speak His saving truths.  As a believer, when I’m at my best, I endeavor to do things with my life and talents that cause me, like Chariots of Fire’s Eric Liddell, to feel and say things like, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Yet purely instrumental music–which for me more often represents artistic heights and depths than choral music–cannot, in and of itself, serve as “witness” for Jesus’ way.  Pleasing God while doing my art may well be very real in my heart, but it is not extroverted.  Its meaning is subjective and personal, not explicit in terms of communication of truth to others.

We spend so much time in our ecclesiastical efforts to do the construction from culture upward instead of from the kingdom downward, we too can become scattered and irreparably confused.  (170)

Here, Best’s comment goes to mission as much as it goes to style.  The idea of being targeted to seekers or outsiders in the Christian assembly seems noble and right-headed, yet it falls short.  I think I want to publish this quote more broadly and more regularly.

Final Best quotes to come … on the direction of music in worship