By Jennifer Johnson
On Christmas, in the evening, I logged into Facebook and read rave after rhapsodic rave about the movie version of Les Misérables. “It took my breath away, it clarified my world,” wrote one. “Can the grace of God save a man’s life and his soul, and make him a rescuer and a carrier of hope to all men? The ‘yes of God’ plays out before your eyes. I have never preached a message that said it so well.”
Although I’m not quite as big a fan of the movie (I’m pretty sure my 14-year-old stepson could have done a more convincing Javert), I agree with one Christianity Today reviewer who said whether you “love it or hate it, there’s no denying the story itself is a beautiful one of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.”
Great art is not binary; even a black and white photo communicates truths across a spectrum of gray. Les Mis is more than a tidy morality tale; in addition to its priest-as-Christ-figure and emphasis on love for others, the work also explores issues of war, sacrifice, responsibility, poverty, and nationalism. It preaches the grace of God, but places that grace in a messy, often profane world with difficult choices.
David Taylor, editor of For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts, identifies four ways churches can nurture the artists in their communities: offer opportunities for spiritual formation, encourage deep friendships with others, challenge them to hone their craft, and motivate individuals to financially support or provide “patronage” of their work. In different ways, both Forefront’s creative guilds and 2|42’s School for the Arts accomplish these goals, and I love how they’re encouraging their local artists—Christian and otherwise—to enrich the discussion.
“It has long been said that those who tell the stories to a culture are the ones who shape and guide it,” concluded my Facebook friend’s Les Mis review. I’m not interested in more “Christian” art (no Kinkade paintings or Kirk Cameron movies, please), but even the best sermon has its limits. We need more artists who can tell the old, old story in new ways, and bring God to the gray areas.