art and envisioning a new world

In the last few weeks I’ve been studying early Jewish apocalypticism. Perhaps the best known apocalypse is an early Christian text, the Book of Revelation, with a close second being a Jewish apocalypse, the Book of Daniel.

One of the things I have been convinced of is, in simple terms, the intention of apocalyptic authors to shift the symbolic universe of their readers. In short this means changing the lens through which readers view things, helping them imagine a better world. In terms of the early Jewish apocalyptic texts this looked like composing a transcendent narrative that inspired hope and resistance in the face of oppressive foreign empires.

This has got me thinking (again) about the place of other forms of art in encouraging resistance to evil and inspiring social change.

In order to remain committed to change in the world people need constant inspiration – without it their ability to envision a better world diminishes. Art has a transcendent, even mysterious, potential to energise us by critiquing the current reality, or imagining a new one.

Father John Dear (whose book Put Down Your Sword I have been reading devotionally for some time) says this:

… every peace and justice movement needs every possible creative outlet – music, painting, poetry, drama, film, and literature – to help uphold the vision of a new world without war, poverty, and nuclear weapons. These movements need every one of us to contribute whatever we can.

In a sense, art is an alternative to violence in the ever-present conflict of narratives.

(It is for this reason that in coming days TEAR Australia will be launching a new venture focusing on art, discipleship and social change. More on that another time – keep a look out in coming days…)

In the same book John Dear quotes part of a song by Steve Earle entitled “Jerusalem” (full lyrics here). I found the words particularly moving and inspiring in my own attempt to follow Jesus and enact change in the world. Hopefully it does the same for you, and encourages us all to use our creativity to envision a different way:

I believe there’ll come a day
when the lion and the lamb
will lie down in peace together
in Jerusalem.

And there’ll be no barricades then.
There’ll be no wires or walls.
And we can wash all this blood from our hands,
and all this hatred from our souls.

And I believe that on that day
all the children of Abraham
will lay down their swords forever
in Jerusalem.



Posted on February 20, 2012, in Conflict and Nonviolence, Culture & Art, Mission and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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