The Care and Feeding of Artists

multicolored crayons inside clear plastic round case

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“Mom! I made you a picture!”

Mom stops what she’s doing and looks at the wild scribbles. There’s definitely a person on that paper, but who they are and what they’re doing is debatable. Mom takes the democratic approach. “Thank you! It’s so colorful! Who is it?”

The artist is slightly offended. “It’s you! See your curly hair?” Mom looks at the wild nest of purple curls on the top of the stick figure and smiles. She finds an unused portion of the refrigerator and puts it up there with the rest of the art.

You were that kid, once, and so was I. It was deeply meaningful to see our work displayed in a public place like the refrigerator. We also knew all too well what it felt like when it didn’t make it up there. Mom never failed me; other people did. I gave them my art, and they set it down and forgot about it, or even outright told me “No thank you.” Ouch. Usually, though, people gladly accept the worst-looking offerings from the children in their lives. Since they love the kid, they love whatever the kid makes. Grown up artists aren’t really all that different. Here’s a few guidelines to caring for them:

  1. If they give you the product of their artistic endeavors, understand that they are telling you that they love you in one of the most personal ways that they know how. So accept it, and do your best to use it as intended! Loving their art means loving them. You know, hang it on the fridge.(Note: Loving the art and liking the art are similar to loving vs. liking a person. They ain’t the same.)
  2. Voluntarily read their writings, hang their paintings, buy their cakes from time to time…you get the idea. It will means tons to them if you just…show up at their art show.
  3. Speak of their creative endeavors as the genuine, useful work that it is. You might have pandered to the child’s early attempts; the adult would appreciate genuine encouragement. Art is really, truly useful in the world; it is not merely playing in a sand-pile.
  4. Understand that they might need time alone to accomplish some art. Lack of such time will play havoc with their emotions, so much so that you might need to step in and say, “Hey, I’ve got this. You go paint for awhile.” If they don’t actually smooch you, just know that they will probably really want to.
  5. If they ask you for critiques, be diplomatic but honest. It’s unfortunate but true that some artists are looking for compliments instead of critiques; know which one your artist is. Are they ready for that genuine critique to push them forward? Are you the one to give it?
  6. If you wish to give them supplies, ASK them about their preferences in notebook, brushes, charcoal brands, etc. They won’t use supplies that they don’t like.
    1. I have written before about a ring-bound, lined-paper notebook festooned with naked, glittery, butterfly-winged cherubs that some sweet soul gave me to encourage my writing. I wrote, but not in that.
    2. My father knows all my picky notebook preferences. God bless him!
  7. Introduce them to your favorite artists; they will love learning new things with you. Then it will be something that you share.

Make no mistake: EVERYONE is creative. Not everyone chooses to devote their creative urges to hours of artistry. Maybe you and a friend support each other in your different endeavors—they music, you ceramics. Maybe you consider yourself a supporter of the arts: you buy and read the books, the paintings, the music. But all the quirky little personalities in our lives could use a little knowledgeable love.

Blessings on all those people who have knowledgeably loved on me.

The Last Words of Jesus: a free Easter script for a small speaking choir

*Any part of this is available for use; just copy and paste. Feel free to add or subtract from this. It can be used whole or as a starting point. Songs may be interspersed throughout, if desired. I suggest only one instrumental: a hammer. Spoken parts are broken into groups: Chorus 1, 2, etc; those can be interpreted as individuals or small groups. “Chorus” without a number following it indicates the whole group.

Scripture references are provided at various points throughout should you wish to easily change references.

***

          Instrument: the sound of a hammer, pounding a spike.

          Three members of the chorus. ONE on the left, TWO in the middle, THREE on the                    right.

ONE: An overnight trial

THREE: Hate on every side

CHORUS: His compassionate ministry would inevitably lead to

ONE: Calvary

THREE: Golgotha

Hammer 2x

Hammer 2x

            Hammer 2x

TWO: “Father, forgive them.

CHORUS: They don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

TWO: He was crucified with two criminals on Golgotha—

ONE:…one on the right

THREE:…and one on the left.

ONE: Aren’t you the Messiah? Don’t you claim to be God? Save yourself from this! Save all three of us!

THREE: We are all going to die—and you’re mocking God? You and I are being punished for our crimes—but He hasn’t committed any crimes at all. Jesus—please—remember me when you enter your Kingdom?

TWO: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

CHORUS 1: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

CHORUS 2: When Jesus saw his mother there, and his disciple John nearby, he said to her:

CHORUS 3: Woman, this is your son.’

CHORUS 2: Then he said to the disciple:

CHORUS 3: ‘This is your mother.’ (John 19:26-27)

CHORUS 2: At noon, when the sun should have been brightest, a deep darkness came and covered the whole land.

CHORUS 3: In the third hour of this darkness, those present heard Jesus call out:

CHORUS 1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt. 27:45)

ONE: Is this what it is to be without God?

THREE: Endless blackness?

CHORUS 1: Knowing that everything had now been finished so that Scripture was fulfilled, Jesus said:

CHORUS 2: I am thirsty. (John 19:28)

CHORUS 3: A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

CHORUS 1: When Jesus had received the wine, he said,

TWO: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46)

All voices

CHORUS: It is FINISHED! (John 19:30)

            One voice

TWO: …and he bowed his head and breathed His last.

CHORUS 1: And the earth shook!

CHORUS 2: the rocks split!

CHORUS 3: tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life!

CHORUS 1: The curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom.

CHORUS 2: It was finished!

Three more chorus members.

FOUR: And he was buried,

FIVE: –and guarded

SIX: –just in case he would come back from the dead, like he had said.

FOUR: Three days later, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene

FIVE: and Mary went to anoint the body of Jesus.

FOUR: How will we get past the guards? The heavy door?

FIVE: We can only try.

CHORUS: And there was a violent earthquake

SIX: an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven and rolled away the heavy tomb door…

FOUR: and sat down on it.

FIVE: The guards were so afraid they fainted.

SIX: Don’t be afraid of me—I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. But He isn’t here! He has risen! Just as He said He would. He is going ahead of you into Galilee!

CHORUS: It is finished! He is risen!

FOUR: So the women hurried away—afraid—

FIVE:–afraid but joyful!

FOUR/FIVE: When Jesus met them!

FOUR: And talked with them!

FIVE: And told them to tell his disciples!

CHORUS: He is risen! He is risen! He is risen!

           The End…sort of. 🙂 

 

A Christmas Celebration

shallow focus photography of red bauble

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We have spent a fair amount of time in our house this year thinking about, writing about, singing about, and planning for Christmas. That’s what writing a Christmas program will do; in September, we were playing Christmas carols while we edited. We planned, we shopped, we called upon other people and their talents for painting, instruments, and singing. We practiced, discussed, and practiced some more. We spent months preparing to celebrate. Then last weekend, we threw open the doors and celebrated in earnest. We told a dramatic story, sang together sometimes and sometimes listened while others sang. Such a shared experience makes people vulnerable and more willing to share their thoughts and their hearts, and we did that too, over cookies and punch. We gave gifts and stayed out late, and when we finally got to our beds, I’m certain it took a fair number of those who were most involved awhile to unwind.

That’s what it is to celebrate. We happened to do it through drama. But in large part, all of those elements are part of any good celebration. We become extravagant in our joy; we “open our shut-up hearts more freely” as Charles Dickens’ Fred told his uncle Scrooge.

Maybe we’re closer to getting celebration right around Christmas. The best thing the planet has known since we were banished from Eden happened at Christmas: our Reconciler was born. So of course, we celebrate! There can be peace between our souls and God. We should celebrate! Is there any wonder that the whole world still celebrates such an occasion hundreds of years later? We buy gifts and attend feasts even if we don’t fully understand why. Maybe there is too much “stuff”; but then again, maybe we should all be part of a giant musical number belting out our joy in celebration. Maybe we should pull out all the stops we have on a feast in preparation for the Feast that is coming. I am quite sure that Feast will be more extravagant than anything we could dream up in our celebrations. Maybe if we were all passing around the dishes while we sang that musical number, with no difference between audience and stage, we would be the closest we’re going to get to that great Feast day.

I have heard it pointed out that the angels didn’t “sing” their Advent Song to the shepherds on the hillside. At least, the Bible doesn’t actually say that they sang. But how on earth could such an announcement of grace, brought straight from Heaven to a broken earth NOT sound like a song? I suspect the most casual words spoken in Heaven would sound like music to us who have only ever known brokenness. When a song is begun in earnest There…I suspect we couldn’t handle the sheer joy of it’s rhythm.

Were we celebrating when we were hashing out the plot in January and February? What about when we were going through the exhausting work of editing? (Hours, I tell you.) Were we celebrating then? What about when we sorted and gathered props; were we celebrating then? What about when we actually did the program? And the refreshments afterward? I think we were; in the same way that celebration now prepares us for celebration Then. For now, all of these celebrations are just practice. Holidays are special; a happy reprieve. But one day we will not wait for special days to come; we will only ever go “further up and further in.” Each wonderful day will be better than the last–even though there will be no distinction of days; no sense of anything good ever ending.

Celebrate!

Jesus was Younger than Me

References from Colossians 1.

nativity scene table decor

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Jesus was my age when He died.

Assuming I live to be 34, I will be older than He got the chance to be. I don’t know why the timing was perfect when He was 33, but in any case, it was right for Him to be fairly obscure until age 30, and then to have a world-shattering ministry for only three years. He was so young when He died–but all our lives depended on it.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

But Jesus was also there at the beginning. He is intimately associated with the creation of the world. I can’t count the years back to the beginning; no one with certainty can. But He was there. He was there before that. He initiated time; He is so ancient I can’t quite fathom it.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Yet Jesus is utterly perfect. The stream of time is constantly breaking you and me apart. We are sick, tired, stressed and broken. We worry, suffer, and struggle and despair. We are in danger of dying from the moment we come into existence. But in His perfection as God, Jesus could offer perfection to us. He offers the benefits of His perfection to us now when He tells us not to fear, but rest in Him; to bring our burdens to Him; to pray. One day, we will know what He has known from the beginning: holy perfection. No sin. No breaking. My God, in His perfection, is eternally younger than me.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

When He resurrected, He proved, among other things, that He didn’t belong to our timeline. He stepped into ours to make Himself be known, to show us immense love, and to make a way for us to get Home. So it is that my God has been younger than me, older than me, and yet utterly timeless.

Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe it. But it’s a good start.

 

The Struggle Against Artistic Pride (or, the brave little artist)

*Deep breath*

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.

adult art artist artistic

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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.)

*BREATHE*

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.

The Art of Loving People

I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people. ~Vincent van Gogh

photo of sunflowers in vase against black background

Photo by Magda Ehlers

I am a task-oriented introvert. This is a terrible combination.

Task-oriented: give me a job and I’ll do it. I might have a hard time stopping, actually. I occasionally get so involved in a task that I forget to eat. Introvert: I gain energy from being alone. People exhaust me; social situations cause various levels of anxiety.

This combination means I love doing a task…and find it very easy to forget about people entirely. This combination once found this teacher leading the charge on a field trip only to turn around to discover that she had out-charged her students in her sheer zeal to get there. My one-track task-oriented mind completely forgot about the long line of geese I was leading in my excitement about getting to the pond.

But it is absurd to think that I am an utter slave to these natural arrangements of my mind. This the glory of practical theology and the kindness of the Comforter whom Jesus sent after His ascension. He must have been teaching me to love people long before I knew He was; but I do remember when He first made me aware of the work He was doing. He made it clear to me that people, themselves, are the joy that I was neglecting rather than the work. I could excuse myself by reasoning that the work I do is for people, but that reasoning also gives me the excuse to mow them over if they get in the way of the job. That’s hardly love.

I love crafting emails, designing posters, creating projects, making things. I get a great deal of satisfaction from the completed task; an end result that you can hold in your hand. But people are never done; you don’t have anything to show for your work, so it doesn’t feel like anything is being accomplished.

If your goal is their gratitude, you seldom get it, and when you do, you know that wasn’t what you were after. It’s curiously…unsatisfying.

When you say one thing, they hear something else.

They will ask much of you, and it might feel like they are asking something quite unreasonable, either because they know more than you, or because they know much less.

According to the way Jesus taught, my job is to love them, no matter who them happens to be. My job is to see them as better than myself no matter age, size, experience, etc. When I don’t, my impatience outstrips my kindness. I leave the people behind for the sake of getting to the pond.

This is hard. No…this is impossible for me. This is impossible unless Someone teaches me what love looks like. Sometimes, this means putting down the very thing I thought I was doing for them in order to be with them. Sometimes, in theatre anyway, that means sacrificing a step toward excellence for the sake of the person who made a mistake, was trying to help, isn’t ready for correction, wants control…whatever. Whatever my response, if it isn’t motivated by love for the person, then I’m really loving my satisfaction in a well-done job more.

Many great art forms have traditions in long training. Years go into making a great chef, an excellent painter, a hypnotic dancer, an exacting architect. Each of these artists will tell you that their work is never “done”; every performance of their art is training for the next; every rehearsal further exploration and preparation. You never arrive. To be an artist is to be extravagantly patient.

To love people is to be lavishly persistent.

Perhaps this is why Vincent van Gogh considered loving people to be an art.

Freak Out Thou Not: Take 2

This is a reblog from November 13, 2016. I find it needful to say these things again.

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I once sat in a room with an assorted group of pastors, their wives, missionaries and church members. It was informal, for the moment, and the conversation, as it so often does, turned to current events. And one after another, everyone in the room took turns expressing their frustration and as far as I could tell, their fear. They shook their heads hopelessly and used words like, “scary,” and “I’m afraid that…” And I won’t kid you—looking around at the pedigree in the room, I felt like they must have been right. I wanted to say something like, “But what about verses like, “Be not afraid”?” I went to Awana and VBS; I learned my verses pretty well. But no one else was saying it, but I was the youngest person in the room and so I felt like I shouldn’t. The absence of those words felt palpably hopeless and empty. And I’m quite sure that a gathering of Believers in Jesus shouldn’t feel that way. After fifteen minutes of this, one of the pastors gently spoke. He offered God’s promises of security in Him and of His control over the world and its events. And my heart breathed in the promises and settled its feathers.

In the last year, I have several times found myself in conversations with friends who don’t share my faith. And the conversations, as they so often do, would turn to current events. And one after another, everyone would take turns expressing their frustrations and as far as I could tell, their fear. They would shake their heads hopelessly and use words like “scary,” and “I’m afraid.” And I would want so much to say that my God had promised peace to those who believe, but they didn’t want my Jesus and found no comfort in Him.

In both cases, it seemed like speaking fears aloud somehow brought comfort. If we were all politicians and law-makers, maybe our conversations would be practical. If decisions of any kind need to be made, I suppose the expression of concerns would be wise and useful. But otherwise, we’re just sort of spreading the fear around like mud on the clean floor. It is time to stop making messes. It doesn’t matter what the topic is–it public restrooms, equality of any kind, or closer to home, your job and your family–if you call the God of the Bible your Father, then you can claim not only peace, but joy. So why don’t we?

If social media was a room where all my friends of all beliefs gathered, it would an awfully sorry party. All the videos and memes and some of the the articles may be good, but they’re not great. They don’t substitute for those who know joy and peace truly expressing it, and expressing it in person and in voice and in belief. As a former professor of mine put it once while commenting on world events: “Freak out thou not.”

So as fellow Believers, when we get together to pray, our conversations about the state of the nation should be as faith-filled as the prayers that follow. When we talk about what we hear on the news, perhaps we should talk about our Father’s power instead of encouraging each other to worry. Speaking the truth of our Father gives us the ability to be compassionate with those who are different from us; and believe me, you’ll need it. When we worry aloud about our families and friends, our children growing up in this world, and the complications of daily life, we only prove that our God is not particularly powerful. We are frankly declaring that He is impotent. When we listen to our own voices and our own words instead of speaking His, we prove that we prefer our own. And I don’t know about you, but there is nothing particularly potent about mine.

Someday, we will not have to work so hard to infuse Heaven into our lives. We will have the Word Himself visibly present; we won’t just be quoting He who is present but whom we cannot see. Here, we have to learn and relearn and relearn again; There, we will wonder why we didn’t “get it”. I trust Him that He completes me now and I will better understand that There.

Regardless of the broken place we call our temporary home, we are taken care of. Our Father hasn’t forgotten us.

Freak out thou not.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and all that is within me,

bless his holy name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,

and forget not all his benefits,

who forgives all your iniquity,

who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

~Psalm 103