Anyone else unable to put down Patti Smith's new memoir of her coming of age in New York City and her early relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe? Just out, Just Kids is a beautiful and literate story is getting lots of press and is #100 on Amazon, a surprise bestseller. Check out this review in the New York Times and a wonderful interview with Terri Gross on NPR's Fresh Aire. I loved Horses and got her recent album Jubilee when it first came out but never listed to her best-selling album Easter till the last couple weeks. All in all she is compellingly engaged in religious questions, including primary Christian ones. I wonder, however, if Christians are reading her book. I say this partly because of her reputation as the Godmother of punk, not the most pious genre, but more because of her subject in the book, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. His photography of the gay S&M scene, most notably in his "X Portfolio", raised the heat in the culture wars during the 1980s and earned him the condemnation of many a Christian group. Yet clearly they were both deeply marked by Christian roots and by the search for ways to express their sense of life's fullness outside the constraints of traditional orthodoxy. They provide an example for me to think through the framing of my work on Broken Hallelujah as I head into the chapter on Evangelicals and pop culture including a case study on Focus on the Family. The typical 'either/or' framing, no matter how nuanced, does not offer a very sophisticated way to understand how God might have been working in and through these two intense and beautiful artists' lives and work. Smith signals as much in her epigraph in the book:
Much has been said about Robert, and more will be added. Young men will adopt his gait. Young girls will wear white dresses and mourn his curls. He will be condemned and adored. His excesses damned or romanticized. In the end, truth will be found in his work, the corporeal body of the artists. It will not fall away. Man cannot judge it. For art sings of God, and ultimately belongs to him.
The conservative Christians damned him and the secular liberals romanticized him. Neither, Smith seems to say, really understood him because in order to do so one has to see his work--and any art--in God. She has the lay theological perspective to do just that, and it sings. I am the truth, Jesus says. Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Somehow within the web of lies we've woven, the ways we've twisted trajectories within which our lives must be lived, we can nonetheless find ourselves caught up in moments of deeper connect to the life that gives us our lives, and in touch with that deep grace we can live fully alive. Perhaps we can say that kind of a 'yes' without having to gloss over the brokenness, the troubling aspects of our lives or of the lives lived by Mapplethorpe and Smith. Perhaps, exactly in looking directly at the contradictions of broken splendor we can see the space in which God is at work in us.
Anon and +peace,