Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Fierce Things

“[T]he curious disappearance of satire from our literature is an instance of the fierce things fading for want of any principal to be fierce about.”
                ~G. K. Chesterton

So far this blog has been a lot of work.  I think it’s because I have a hard time separating what I want to talk about and what God seems to want me to talk about.  It seems like I have to write four or five posts before I’m ready to just listen.  So what now?  I’ve talked about why we create, and I’ve talked about the power of art.  I couldn’t figure out what to write about next.

Last Saturday, I wrote a poem about God calling people.  It was kind of a re-drafting of two poems I wrote years ago that didn’t really work – one was about Abraham, the other about Philip.  So the first two stanzas of the new poem are about them.  Then there’s a stanza about Jonah, then one about Paul.  Finally, I ended with a stanza about us.  I typed it up and moved on with my day.  But in church on Sunday, the pastor’s sermon was Jonah, chapter one, and it was all about being called and how we respond to it – he even referenced the same story about Paul.  I just kept thinking, ‘Ok.  I hear you.  This is…not a coincidence.’

We tend to think of a ‘calling’ in terms of full-time ministry.  Prophets are called.  Missionaries are called.  Pastors are called.  Most of us are just ‘living our lives’.  I used to think so, too, but I’m beginning to think that God has a calling of some sort for each and every one of us.[1]  The more I try to get out of it (and then don’t), the more I’m convinced that God has called me to military service.  There is nothing full-time ministry about that.  At the same time, the more misguided blog posts that I write, the more convinced I am that there is some other blog post that I’m supposed to be writing.  And the more I have tried to avoid writing ‘Christian literature,’ the more poems God has given me about Him – suggesting that Christian literature is exactly where I should be.[2]

I can’t (or at least, I shouldn’t) look at these callings differently from each other – the call to service is as much of God as the writing.  Some are called to be mothers, doctors, businessmen, teachers, tax men, sales clerks, lawyers…anything and everything.  If you are following a calling in your profession, you’re not just ‘living your life’.  It’s the same for artists, and what a blessing to be called to a vocation that allows us to speak to souls about God in such a unique way.  My brother is a musician; he plays in a symphony.  This is not ‘Christian’ art, but it is good art, and his contribution to it is also good.  Art does not have to be overtly about God to be a witness to Him.  The first piece of art was made by God Himself, and He looked at it and saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Do we find the word ‘Jesus’ in an aerial view of the earth?  In a constellation?  No.  And yet, all of creation points to God (Romans 1:20).

I recently visited Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.  There was one area housing a few pieces by a certain artist, pieces that I couldn’t figure out the point of.  They were the only ones in the entire museum that didn’t seem to mean anything, including several pieces of art that I genuinely disliked (art is, after all, a matter of taste).  But these were the only pieces that weren’t saying anything.  I read the small placard, hoping it would illuminate their purpose.  It explained the artists’ goal, which also said nothing beyond itself.[3]  A person doesn’t have to understand a thing to sense something in it, but neither understanding nor response will come from art that doesn’t point to something beyond itself – this is truly ‘art for art’s sake’, and it is empty and lifeless and cold.

It’s important for artists to resist creating solely for ourselves.  We have a calling.  Therefore, we need to create in a way that fulfills that calling.  We must create for another person; for a cause; for God; for a reason.  If we do that, our art will live and touch people.  The importance of creating art that suggests something beyond itself is true of secular art, and it is true of ‘Christian’ art.  This is the proper response to an artistic calling, no matter the market:  Not just to create, but to create well.

It is very tempting at this point to devolve into a discussion of the general state of explicitly Christian art in our present culture.[4]  But I have come to the conclusion that my energy is misplaced when I do that – I don’t think it really matters.  We get side-tracked by such things, which is, perhaps, only natural; if the ‘fierce things’ really are fading, does it not follow that our souls will grasp for other things to be fierce about?  This is not to say that I’m not bothered by the state of contemporary Christian art.  I have a sinking suspicion that the general lack of variety and quality in explicitly Christian art is symptomatic of the very death of fierceness in our beliefs.  In this sense, it concerns me deeply.[5]  But our focus needn’t be on trying to ‘fix’ it; on trying to ‘solve’ this ‘problem’.  If we focus on our own callings instead, and believe in God fiercely, our art will reflect that.  In other words, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

No one artist can do this on his own, nor even a small group of outliers – we have these already.  So I am praying for a new renaissance in the contemporary church of our culture, at large.  I want to be able to walk out of a Christian bookstore with my head held high and my arms full of quality merchandise.  I want the world to know that Christians make the best artists, because their God is the original Artist.  I want us to be the creators of living Things that speak to people’s souls.  As with anything else, if we have a calling to this work, we need to do it well.


[1] This is different from the murkier ‘God’s plan for our lives’.
[2] But not necessarily via Christian publishing houses.
[3] Note:  If you have to explain why you made something (not to be confused with discussing its meaning with people who already have their own ideas about it), this may be a sign that your work is dead.
[4] Indeed, I did so in at least three previous drafts of this article, each time with dissatisfying results.
[5] The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this is the same reason so many people in the US are forsaking church.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post, very much. About calling, which is so difficult to ascertain at times, but I'm just reading of Ezekiel in chapter 12 and I found this bit from Matthew Henry about how God called the prophet to a place of service with the captives. Then, He gave support and comfort in the calling. God could have removed Ezekiel from Chaldea and brought Him to a much better place of service. He could have kept Ezekiel in Jerusalem, and near the temple. But, He didn't. God didn't remove the prophet for the church. He removed the church and then gave them Ezekiel the propeht to help them. I think regardless of where we are, we have a calling from God to be of service. And, where we are may change, but the calling remains the same.