When I was first really starting to think about being both creative and a Christian (I think I was 11(?)) these were the kinds of conversations I wanted to have. That’s what this is: a conversation. It is not a conclusion; it’s on the list of things I want to talk about with other creatives who also seek to order their lives after the Bible (albeit uber-flawed) through the grace of the resurrected Christ. Of course, we all realize that it isn’t a conversation until you talk back or carry it on. So there’s that. Prologue finished.
He was talented musician, but he had stopped sharing his music in church. I don’t know if he still did gigs, performed as local talent, or just reserved his music for time at home, but he had stopped sharing it in worship scenarios. He explained it something like this: “It was becoming too much of a point of pride for me. It wasn’t about worship or God’s glory in the music; it was about me.” So in order to avoid the temptation to take too much pride or think too highly of himself, he stepped away from music performance, specifically in church.
When I first heard the explanation, his choice seemed respectable and even rather noble. I understood it. The Bible has a lot to say about being prideful; none of it good. If you’re seeking to honor God with your life and your gifts, part of the artistic and performative process is a constant reordering of your mind; assessing who is more important—you, or God. That’s no small thing; it’s an unending question. It’s a minute-by-minute sort of question.. And according to scripture, it’s eternally significant.
“Pride comes before a fall” is a well-known Proverb; all artists have met someone (maybe ourselves) whose opinion of themselves is so high that when the inevitable fall comes, it’s going to hurt. A LOT. No matter what you believe, people tend to respect a down-to-earth quality, and kind professionalism. Divas are no fun to work with, no matter how good they are. But then there are less-quoted Proverbs (I paraphrase): “Let someone else praise you, rather than you praising yourself.” Bragging is unattractive. It also makes you look dumb. (There is a difference between bragging and marketing, so sometimes that’s reeeeeealllly subtle. However, humility is a virtue; marketing is not.) Then there’s that slightly scary thing that Jesus said in Matthew 6. Apparently, there were people who did good deeds professionally, hiring a trumpeter to announce that they were giving money to the poor and praying beautiful, public prayers. Jesus said that they weren’t getting a reward in Heaven for it; their reward was what they wanted: public approval. Their work was fully paid for; there would be nothing later.
But we’re SO PRONE to self-worshiping pride. How in the world–?
(Here’s where I need to take another deep breath.)
Unlike my musician friend, I don’t think that the right solution is to stop doing art—at least it’s not a completely Biblical solution.
First, it’s impossible to be pride-less; sin-less. That’s the point of the Gospel; we cannot save ourselves from ourselves. To believe that we can escape the sin of pride by NOT doing what God gave us to do amounts to a kind of artistic monasticism. As if we could move into an artless monastery of sorts, take a vow of silence and poverty and still escape the sin that comes from within us. Jesus pointed that out, too. We are defiled by within; not without.
Second, it seems to often be a fear of the struggle itself; fear that we will lose against pride and fail to honor God with our good. But while the sin itself is certainly not good, the struggle is. Our conscience is alive and wriggling; even healthy. What we should fear is to cease struggling against pride. When your heart stops beating, you’re no longer alive. If you stop struggling against pride, you’re giving into it. Humility is dying.
Can I speak of an art form as a calling? I think I can. If God gifted you, and wrote your name in His book as one who has accepted grace, then He doesn’t expect too much that you now “ work” or create for Him rather than just yourself. Perhaps we could say you were always “called”; you were born with your gift and the desire to work your tail feathers off to perfect it. By all means work for your food and living, but ultimately, you create for Him. These are not separate things. But this calling carries with it the vulnerability for great pride. Don’t believe me? Ask someone to critique/edit a work of yours and give suggestions. Is your heart suddenly and protectively aflame? We long to be congratulated and told our work is excellent. Many artists are people who at least at some point in their work would gladly do it for free. Our pay is easily laughter, delight and praise of others. Like Babette noted in Babette’s Feast, the most fulfilling thing is really just doing it. But if you’re like me, you’re always surprised at how unsatisfying that is. At some point, the focused discussion and critique of others became what my pride coveted. But when you get it…it feels like leaving the restaurant right after the appetizers. There must be something more.
And this is what I’ve been trying to get to…more deep breaths…
Yet ultimately, it is also pride, I think, to NOT create because we are afraid. We are afraid it will not be good enough. Our pride helps us make all kinds of excuses: family, work, daily responsibilities, not being good enough. But really, you know it’s a choice. It’s pride. We can’t win against pride. In a fight, we’ll always lose. We like to be right, a genius, the master. Yet like every other form of pride, there is one antitdote: our good God. If He called us, He will also give us strength to do it and not fail or faint in the fight against pride.
To summarize and conclude (I’m breathing more normally, now):
If we fear pride itself and so do not create, then we’re still trusting ourselves, as if you and I could simply sidestep sin. We cannot be artistic celibates; are we then not guilty of both pride and—much like the servant who didn’t invest his one talent, but buried it–failing to use what we’ve been given? We are called to war and work, so we take our Commander’s hand, pick up our pens, our paints, our tools of the trade, and war and work for Christ with our art. That will look like all kinds of things: stories, pictures, music, mosaics, poems, fashion, gardening… Maybe it’s not overtly salvific or evangelistic, but it takes you to places Jesus intends for you to find souls and make Him famous.
Be an artist.