The first time I heard the quote, “A thing worth doing is worth doing badly,” was from Robert Picirilli after I presented a paper on Leroy Forlines’s view of the arts. Much of what follows below on the topic of cultural snobbery is from that paper.
The chief duty of man is, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Scripture expresses this in various ways: have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26), excel in everything (2 Corinthians 8:7), and do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), to name a few.
As we seek God’s glory in all areas of life, we must acknowledge that there is a process. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. And sometimes, the wait is grueling.
This is especially true in the arts. It’s easy to look down our noses at those who are limited by resources, talent, training, and opportunities. We should certainly enjoy beautiful art and strive to attain excellence in the arts, but we should not do so with disparagement towards others.
Refrigerator Art, the Mission Field, and a Rural Church
I think refrigerator art is a great example of what I am talking about. When my children create refrigerator art, my wife and I do not sneer at the artwork. Rather, we treasure and admire it in all of its simplicity. We encourage them to keep drawing and painting. You might say, this noble endeavor “is worth doing badly.”
In a similar way, when we hear reports of Christians in non-industrialized countries coming together to build a place of worship that resembles their straw-roofed mud huts, we still see beauty. We appreciate these structures even though they are not as advanced as what we have in the West.
Another example may be seen in some small rural churches here in America. Some sing the same twelve songs week after week because these are the only tunes the faithful organist can play. It’s tempting to look down with disparagement from the ivory towers of the large downtown church at these simple folks.
This does not mean that truth, beauty, and goodness are subjective. We must still hold high ideals. But in doing so, we should recognize that various peoples are seeking excellence at various levels. There is no room for cultural snobbery in the Church of Christ.
Principles for Avoiding Cultural Snobbery
Here are some principles to keep in mind:
- People with limited abilities, opportunities, and resources should seek to do h their in spite of these limitations, striving for beauty and excellence within their contexts, while not despising the higher forms of their art. This takes humility.
- One who has achieved a high level of excellence in the arts due to his abilities, opportunities, and resources may still find beauty in some “lower” forms, and should not despise the ones who have not attained to a higher level. This takes grace.
- Those who have achieved a high level of skill in the arts should not settle for the basic, bottom-shelf forms, as is often the trend in postmodernism. At the same time, this same musician must resist the urge to show off and feature his talent in the context of worship. This takes wisdom.
More Humility, Grace, and Wisdom
In his book, The Quest for Truth: Theology for a Postmodern World, Leroy Forlines calls for excellence in all areas of life: “The complication presented by sin, the shortage of time, money, ability, help, etc. limit what we can do. We cannot do everything that we would like to do. Frequently, we need to look at a situation from several different angles… the best is not always possible” (Quest, 234).
Striving for beauty, excellence, and order as God originally intended is hard in this broken and messy world of sin. We need one another, and we need to pray for more humility, grace, and wisdom.