A Little Math Lesson…and a Lot of Thinking

A little math lesson…

October = blogFAIL

blogFAIL = writeFAIL

writeFAIL = lifeFAIL

 

If we set up a proportion, here’s the last month of my life:

blogFAIL = writeFAIL

writeFAIL = life FAIL

blogFAIL = writeFAIL The writing didn’t happen, so that cancels out.

writeFAIL = lifeFAIL

blog = lifeFAIL Divide out the FAILure…

FAIL

Okay, you know what? That makes absolutely no mathematical sense at all. I should stick to words, sentences, and correcting my colleagues’ grammar. But the point is, this month was a bit of a failure on the creative front…even after my little rant in the last post.

I’ve been writing, but none of it is appropriate for a public forum. Not yet, anyways. I’ve been soul-searching, asking questions of myself and my faith, digging into the innards of my belief system, and writing pseudo-manifestos on Christianity. But I’m not brave enough to get devoured online just yet, so they remain safe in my emails, incubating and developing as I continue my search.

What I do feel confident enough to post about within my spiritual exploits—mainly because I have more questions unresolved than resolved—concerns the artist who is also a Christian.

It really irks me when I hear of artists of any kind starting out on a secular career path, becoming a Christian, and then abandoning their art “for Christ.” They decide their creative gift must be used to explicitly and exclusively preach Christ. They valiantly abandon all to become Jesus to the world and it becomes the foundation of their testimony. I realize that this is one method of denying yourself to pick up your cross and follow Christ; and for some it’s a necessary step to complete the transformation that finding Christianity is supposed to induce.

But where are the artists who are Jesus IN the world? Where are the artists who preach Christ with their lives and sing songs or write fiction or paint pictures that people within and without Christianity can relate to? Obviously, it’s hard to sing songs like “Dirty Picture” or “Body Shots” or write “Love’s Secret Sniper,” and profess Christ, but there are plenty of universally appealing themes besides exhibitionist sex practices and glorified intoxication to draw people together.

Plenty of artists have the potential to maintain their faith and their mainstream careers (Check out one of the best right here), but very few do. Why? Is the tension between the two just too tight? Can the line between ‘in’ and ‘of’ not be drawn clearly enough? Perhaps I am idealistic. Perhaps I am one such artist who longs to find and strike the balance; to find that full immersion in Christ can also include songs or books or movies or plays that appeal to the mystery of human life, but don’t mention his name. I am not alone.

“The fact would seem to be that for many writers it is easier to assume universal responsibility for souls than it is to produce a work of art, and it is considered better to save the world than to save the work….It is when the individual’s faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt gradually to be lost.” –Flannery O’Connor

What say you?

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7 thoughts on “A Little Math Lesson…and a Lot of Thinking

  1. wow. this is good. I was just having a conversation last week with some ladies and they said they don’t see artists in the church. they think artists are forced to go into the world, and “why does the world get all the artists?” It’s like the complete opposite viewpoint. I mentioned that I saw a lot of “christian artists” living in Tulsa. So perhaps it is partially a matter of perspective? They don’t see the artists because where they live there’s not too many christian artists. But “the arts” is huge in Sarasota, so perhaps there are christian artists who live in the world and are not of it. We just don’t see them because they aren’t using their creative gift to “explicitly and exclusively preach Christ”.

    How interesting, though, that they are calling for more christian artists in the church, and you are calling them to go out… hmm

    this will cause some pondering.

    1. ah, see, this frustrates me a little. the assumption of so many in the church, at least from my experience, is that if the art isn’t “Christian,” neither is the artist. so my question to the ladies you had this conversation with would be this: Is it more Christian content you’re looking for or more Christian artists? If it’s more content, that really is a matter of perspective. Everywhere I’ve lived so far has been overrun with Christian content, but I realize not every place is like the Bible belt 🙂

      I’m also frustrated because I struggle with whether it’s my duty as a Christian to use my creative gift in an explicitly Christian way…all my life I’ve heard people preach about using your gifts for God…but what does that mean exactly? I don’t know. As you said, this will cause some pondering 🙂

  2. Great post!
    This happens in the sports world…and maybe it can relate. I know many guys who quit running track “for Christ.” hmm, interesting right? Now if we are to use our gifts for God, how does a runner do that right? Some say, well being a great athlete can open the doors to talking to other athletes, right?

    Maybe, but I think it’s even more simple than that.

    Steve Prefontaine said that when he ran it was a work of art. He wanted people to see his running as something beautiful, a wonderful work of art.

    In the Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell says,
    Eric Liddell: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

    When I ran/run I feel God’s pleasure. God gave me a great gift to run fast. When I ran I considered it as part of my Christian worship. Something beautiful. Absolutely no one could watch my running and say, “there’s a Christian runner”
    But I found it just as much my Christian worship as singing a hymn.

    Does the artist find God’s pleasure in their work?
    Do they write, draw, paint, compose as worship? Do they find joy in their gifting?

    For a christian their stories, artwork, songs are Christian because they find joy in worshiping God through their work. Not because they drew their representation of the trinity.

    It does not have to look “christian.” a director of an R rated film can still be a Christian. I think Flannery O’Connor is right when she talks about a fictional representation of life will come through the artists work when they are strong, not weak.

    1. Alex, I love this. It’s exactly where my heart is about writing. Exercising talent is a form of worship to the Christian that recognizes that his/her gift is just that…a gift.

      However, the difference between athletics as worship and art as worship lies in art’s ability to communicate a message to others. As you said, no one watching your race would say “there’s a Christian runner,” but neither would they say “oh he’s a atheist” or “this race is tempting me toward sin.” Songs, stories, and visual images communicate a message to consumers and so the risk is greater. Some artists choose not to take responsibility for that message, but most Christian artists do, thereby creating tension between duty to art and duty to faith. On the one hand, duty to art IS duty to faith, but on the other hand, if the art’s message is in opposition to that faith, I think many have a hard time reconciling where their responsibility lies.

  3. holy dang. this is good. yeah I think we’ve all heard it before: you worship God in doing the thing you were created to do. And so I think alex is right on. And I think everything we do communicates a message. As a communication major, I heard numerous times, “you can’t not communicate.” If alex as a runner lives a life of integrity, others will see that communicated through his lifestyle. If we as artists, live a life of integrity others will see that communicated through our lifestyles (whether or not our artwork says “I love jesus!”) So I guess that means Amanda you were right to begin with! haha

    In everything you do, do it with excellence – do it as unto the Lord. If we live by that then our creative gifts should be used to bring glory to God… but so should taking a shower or cleaning the house or…. anything else ridiculous you can think of! Yet in none of those areas do we loudly proclaim our faith. I don’t know. Maybe I’m off base here. Maybe I bunny-trailed… Response?

    p.s. good post manda. you got people thinkin 🙂

    1. I love that–“You can’t not communicate.” so true!
      And I agree, lifestyle is all-important for Christian artists regardless of the message of the art. I think you’re right on with doing “everything as unto the Lord.” God wants our best no matter what we’re doing. What’s our best? In ministry that’s pretty easy to identify. In other things, it may just mean working with a willing and grateful attitude, or in the case of talent, not wasting what we’ve been given.

      I think the tension between art and faith is tightest when one “appears” to contradict the other. For example, if I were to write a screenplay (that actually got produced!) and it had a sex scene or a drug addict or–God forbid!–a homosexual character, I have no doubt about the condemnation I’d get from some Christians. Many would call it “saying one thing and doing another.” I know I’ve been guilty of it…when I found out Jessica Simpson was a pastor’s kid (way back before I was allowed to listen to secular music) I was so disappointed. I couldn’t imagine that a Christian person would not sing Christian songs…oh, how my perspective has changed since 1998! haha

      All that to say, an artist who is a Christian faces decisions about their work that artists who are not Christians don’t deal with. The problem is, there’s no one right answer. And this is where I defer to Ms. O’Connor.

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