Dark church on a “starry night”

There’s an interesting artist in history who has left subsequent generations parts of his soul on canvas.  This individual sold only one painting while living yet his portfolio of paintings is now worth millions of dollars.  He was a missionary turned painter pushed out of mission endeavors for spending too much time identifying with people and not enough time shoring up the institution.  Let’s say he wasn’t a company man.  This same individual suffering from a form of mental illness died before his time at his own hand, although some question the validity of the supposed suicide… Kurt Cobain comes to mind.  Fiercely spiritual, this individual left hints of spirituality through brush strokes on canvas.  Yellow was a favorite color, a color he invested with spiritual significance.  Yellow depicted the radiance of God’s love… God’s presence.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” was a labor of love.  Much time, energy, and soul went into the creating of this piece.  The night time sky is dominated by exaggerated orbs of yellow light signifying the presence of God’s love in the heavens.  Now take a look at the city scape.  Little dots of yellow light are scattered throughout the depicted village except in one dominate building at the center of the city.  There are no lights in the church.  The presence of God’s love is not found in the building.  It’s scattered throughout the town in the houses of the inhabitants. Was this a simple protest on Van Gogh’s part or was he simply painting good theology? Given his past missionary experience and tormented state of mind, it’s probably safe to assume a simple “yes.”  Was Van Gogh depicting on canvas what he demonstrated he correctly believed in his six month missionary experience that the church is the people not the institution?  Probably…

What if?

What if we came to believe today that we are the church and the presence of God resides in us and not our buildings?  That would mean that wherever we go and whatever we do, the light of God’s presence would be there.

What if we came to believe that we foster sacred space because the sacred dwells in us?

What if we came to believe that establishing the local churches reputation in the city would be better accomplished by people from the local church carrying the light of Christ in and throughout their local sphere of influence?  (Becoming a sending institution rather than strategizing how to become the next gathering mega-institution.)

What if we came to believe that the centering of our activities in the building may be counter productive in being a light to our community? Because as Van Gogh insinuates, the church building only has light in it when the people congregate in the building.

What if we truly believed that establishing movements and campuses is less important than being the hands and feet of Christ in our local community?  Think of the time, money and effort, we could re-capture and re-deploy in service of  proclaiming the present/future kingdom.

2 Corinthians 4:7, 10-11 (NIV)

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.

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6 Responses to Dark church on a “starry night”

  1. Brent Ingersoll says:

    GREAT post Tyler!

  2. Pingback: Read this.

  3. George says:

    Divine Commodity… excellent book! Thxs for the recommendation. Already giving it away to ‘select’ folks.

  4. Marty Carney says:

    Thanks Tyler for this inspiring article! I am both struggling artist and pastor of a small American Baptist community of faith. Several years ago, I copied Van Gogh’s starry night and reflected on it within our community then in ways similar to what you have written. Van Gogh facinates me as an artist and as a seeker of truth in the way of Jesus. Thank you for again reminding me of his vision… right now my vision of God’s transforming vision is somewhat flagging under the weight of anxieties over financial and institutional impossibilities. Bless you.

    • tyler says:

      Thanks for thoughts above. If you want to read a great book that deals with more of Van Gogh’s work and how it relates to theology pick up “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani. I read this book last year and put it in my top 3 reads of 2011. I’ve also ordered the letters of Van Gogh. I find him fascinating on so many levels. Jethani’s work put me onto “A Starry Night,” I simply teased out his implications a little further in this post. Totally understand you last comment on institutional impossibilities and the anxiety in creates. Keep creating and loving Jesus through the canvases you create and the brush strokes you leave on people’s lives. Don’t worry, we are not called to build institutions but walk with people through the seasons of their lives adding to the canvas that is their life. Peace.

  5. Jim Agrell says:

    Van Gogh had it right!! We are the church best when we are out in the marketplace sharing the light of His Grace and Love!!! I want more of the treasure that Paul spoke of! Thanks Tyler!

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