The Role of Art in a Decaying Church: A look into #PIATour2017

OPINION 

By Ace Moloi

Austrian writer Ernst Fischer has said that in a decaying society, art – if it is truthful – has to reflect decay, and unless it wants to break faith with its social function, show the decaying world as changeable. In other words, art in all its manifestations carries the burden of striking a balance between truth and hope. Thus, in its discomfort art comforts and in its savagery art saves.

As a young Christian I have often pondered the function of art in ministry, or the effectiveness of art as a ministry. What is the difference between a Christian who writes and a Christian writer? To me art is art purely because it is art, without any self-cleansing disclaimer of separateness, i.e. #KingdomPoet. I love art. To a fair extent, I live art. So, when we journeyed from Bloemfontein to Randburg, north of Johannesburg, to witness the #PIATour2017, I was captured by a sense of apprehension, holding my breath that the highly anticipated poetry event in the Christian calendar would truly be about poetry and not just loosely selected Biblical quotes.

It was a gathering of 2 000 young people, hungry for art. Of course, the touring poets – Ezekiel Azonwu, Janette…ikz, Preston Perry and Jackie Hill-Perry – flew in from the US with a luggage of credibility and individual narratives as their trump card. The soil was fertile for them and loud screams of a star-struck audience shook the foundations of the Rhema Church auditorium when the time came for our esteemed wordsmiths from Trumpland.

One after the other, we welcomed them on stage with heated anticipation. But I was turned off by their lengthy sermons that their poetry landed on a somewhat annoyed heart. They preached about singleness, predictably directing their revelations to women. They truly sucked the life out of the dating topic, at times loading more plates on the bar than their bodyweight can squat. I don’t blame them, though. Everybody thinks all a Christian woman needs to hear is a sweet prophecy about her Boaz or a new pair of eyes for her to look at her standards anew. I found it deeply problematic that neither Preston nor Ezekiel invested time to light up the minds of the men in attendance. I mean, who is speaking into the life of the male child if everybody battles for the soul of the girl child? Elsewhere there would be stringent ideological checks and balances to regulate male proximity to issues affecting women, but this was a convergence of a different personality.

To begin with, I don’t understand the logic behind the speeches (or maybe I’m a nasty fan), but all I’m saying is that seeing that the talking happened anyway, we could have done better! As young people in Christ we are too complex to be reduced to dating freaks. We have other desires, corporate lives, dreams and fears. I’m aware that this could be mere whimsical musings, given the fact that marriage has a golden status in the church. But we owe ourselves higher standards. We owe ourselves nuance.

I honestly do not have much to write about regarding the PIA crew’s poetry, not out of spicy or malicious ‘poeticking’ (they were quite good), but because local poets such as Puno Selesho, Thuthukani Ndlovu, Vusumuzi Phakathi, Hlengiwe Mbuthuma, Tiisetso Tsotetsi and others, left me drooling for more of their works as they excellently incorporated themselves within the perimeters drawn by Ernst Fischer, in the context of a gradually drifting church. They allayed my misgivings about the so-called #ChristianArt with their brilliant artistry so much so that I felt we needed an offering basket!

My favourite artist for the evening was without any doubt Tiisetso Tsotetsi. His #IamCondom poem addressed sexual immorality in the church and infidelity in marriage, inserting his name among the oracles of our generation. With chilling humour and piercing truthfulness, Tiisetso knocked on the decaying conscience of the global church to do what Thuthukani Ndlovu calls a ‘spirituality check’.

A condom is a thin and often transparent rubber that purports to protect. It is a third force in marriages where only two are supposed to be one and three is a crowd. It sells a false promise of clandestinity against a God of revelation. It comes in different flavours, as if strawberry flavoured sins cease to be a stench in God’s nostrils. A condom is a deceptive invention: a behavioural choreography for public righteousness while we remain unclean in the eyes of God; a public display of affection by a married couple that everyday bows out of its vows; a lifestyle of wealth earned through corrupt practices just so we can appear blessed; a fear to lose the “protection” of a mortal “man of God” more than we desire a relationship with a death-immune Christ.

A condom issa trap!

There’s no doubt that the Johannesburg tour was a critical and if the attendance is anything to go by, commercial success. It ministered beyond the reach of Sunday messages, thereby proving that art is an effective evangelical tool. Autumn itself is a season of the fall of the leaf and the nudity of the tree, a stark contrast to the glory of spring. This therefore makes the #PIATour a divinely scheduled experience that provides a safe space for us as Christian youth to simultaneously weep for the autumn of our fall and forecast the spring of our renaissance.


Ace Moloi is the author of HOLDING MY BREATH: A MEMOIR, available in bookstores nationwide. He is a graduate of the University of the Free State and practices as a marketing consultant, freelance writer and speaker. Follow him on Twitter: @Ace_Moloi

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