Ever gone to church struggling with this thing called ‘an artistic life’, to then unwisely share what is on your heart with people who think ‘know you’ or at least ‘what you are about’? Ever done that and regretted it? Me too!
Wisdom is shared during those moments of your vulnerability, in those times of heaviness of spirit. This is why it has so powerful an effect on us, not a positive but a negative one, adding to the burden of our ‘momentary’ struggles.
Yes, I’ve had plenty of moments like that. I’ve shared in other places some of the wisdom passed on to me, but let’s move on with some other gems.
Here we go. ‘If God was in it, you’d be successful by now.’ There’s that ‘success’ issue again. This reminds me of what Shiloh Bradshaw has shared in ‘Flippin the Script’.
All the while this emphasized pursuit of “What God has called us to do” eclipses “Who God has called us to be” thus contributing to the development of a culture that emphasizes behaviour conformation over spiritual transformation, and rooting value and leadership in status and position, rather than character and who we are.
Conferring upon someone the quality of ‘successful’ is generally based on empirical evidence: sales, income, car, house – that kind of thing. It turns out that content is how we judge the quality of a person as well as the quality of a work of ‘Christian Art’. Wow, consistency and hey, it turns out that is how we discern the truthfulness of a person – their achievements (success) = truth and in a work of art – its content (codes/symbols) = truth. Bravissimo!
In the light of this, if we think something like discerning the character of a person or a work of art is difficult, presumably this is because we can’t recognize it within ourselves. When it comes to art maybe we have the aesthetic education of a Troglodyte and sadly discern that ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ is high-culture and conveys depth of character, when it is like saying there is 100% real turkey in a turkey twizzler?!
Consider this. Truth is not a Fruit of the Spirit! Perseverance – long-suffering in some versions – is! You don’t have to persevere in success, although we’d like to try. You don’t get people praying for you during the hard times of success! Perseverance is a fruit of the Spirit, but I guess that sits uncomfortably on the tree marked ‘Suffering Servant’. Why are there not more ‘successful’ artists with a Christian faith? Probably because we’d strangle that child at birth, or wait until their teenage years and exorcise the demons of aesthetic taste, artistic flair and creative imagination out of them and replace those demons with the gifts of kitsch, schmaltzy narrative or genuflecting movement! Ok, enough, I could really offend some negatively wise people here. Too late? Oh, good!
Character is not something we hold dearly or discern clearly. Why? Because we are so ingrained with contemporary cultural values of what it is to be successful, powerful or charismatic that we are never around to see the fruit of the Spirit develop in other people or indeed ourselves. We are butterfly-like, flitting from one flower to the next. We replace perseverance with agility and then wonder why we’re never around to see the fruit grow!
They used to say to me, ‘If you were a good writer Geoff, you’d find a publisher.’ Now that I have a publisher, they say. ‘Is he a proper publisher, or just a friend?’ Like, it’s all about sympathy. They know a deluded idiot, his name is Geoff. He belongs to Writers Anonymous!
So, when you are feeling a little low, ponder this article. This is why your brothers and sisters can’t read you or your needs in any depth and that is why you come away feeling even lower.
Should you confess that you don’t feel close to God at this particular time, or that God isn’t answering your prayers, that the road ahead is blocked or covered in a thousand mines ready to blow every creative digit off your body – then their answer will be along the lines of ‘secret, unconfessed sins’. The obvious is all they’ve got to go on. Good = Successful, Suffering = Sinful. Someone once said to me that continual suffering revealed a ‘pattern’ and ‘patterns’ revealed sin at work in your life! Negative wisdom! Don’t take it to heart. Their god is just like them and they are becoming like their god; senseless, heartless and stupid.
It’s a negative wisdom, a wisdom which undermines faith because it is faithless itself. They are Job’s Comforters who have never read the Book of Job because they find it too depressing, or Lamentations, or a fair percentage of the Psalms. What do they do when they come towards the end of the Gospels? Do they stop reading because the trial and crucifixion are too disheartening, too violent, that it looks too much like Jesus won’t be…successful? Oh, ahem, let’s move on to the Book of Acts. What do they make of Paul’s suffering? Wow, he must be a real sinner? He must have real issues! Blockages! Patterns emerge, it must be sin, but wait, it is actually righteousness. He needs ministry, or deliverance! Or let’s look at the lives of the Apostles. Total failures, all killed. They must have had some bad karma man!
The persevering walk of the artist is a walk of faith and is not understood by the faithless. Seek out a community of artists who have gone through the same pain and help them experience the real hope that being connected brings.
In mentoring you cannot undermine the gift of God and expect the person to flourish. In mentoring you will not have all the answers, but you will have some of the hope of redemption.
In mentoring young people to find their future vocation you will be able to show them a whole range of human experiences, which don’t follow the linear, contrived pattern of control, offered by the success fetish. The starting point of any mentoring is to listen, then to ask the right questions, or indeed help the person with you to ask the right questions. Glib answers produce glib artists. Glib artist produce glib art. Glib art speaks to no one, well, maybe the glib. Glib artists soon become discouraged and move onto the next ‘calling’ they think God has revealed – a calling which invariably they will judge by the success fantasy.
Be aware of the butterflies, they can be deadly.