Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Angry Conversations with Myself: Confession

It was Jubilee 2010, before Jenn and I started CCO; in fact, we were there interviewing with different area directors at Jubilee. I was technically still an undergrad student, but Jenn would have been one year out at this time and we were ready to start anew somewhere else. 

I can still remember when she came on stage to speak to the larger group. Susan Isaacs was a name I had heard and a face I had recognized, but was not prepared for what was to happen. Acting out a part from her book, Angry Conversations with God, she spoke with more truth and candid honesty than I had heard any Christian speak before.  So, Jenn and I, obviously, bought her book and were excited to read it. 

I’m not a huge corporate worship person. If I’m honest, it tends to annoy me more than bring me into the presence of God… as a musician I struggle with this (but that is another blog in the making). It was during one of the many worship times I decided to walk out to the Hearts and Minds bookstore setup (http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com/) in the main lobby. This is where I ran into Susan. I approached her meekly and thanked her for her honesty. I told her that I wish more Christians were as honest with their faith journey; it would make our job much easier. It was at this point that I burst into tears. 

I look back on this moment and ask myself over and over, “What the hell happened there?” I’m not sure what brought me into such a state of heartbreak. I have not had any terrible experiences in the church, or know someone close to me who has. Perhaps it was her story that made me empathetic towards her words, or just the thought of her struggle that so many experience. As I now read her book, I can’t tell you what hit me in that moment, but I must confess: I see a similar confusion and conflict in some of the students I work with, in my friends, family, and even myself. 

Where are my tears now? Why will I not weep when I see the injustices in the world? Or when I see someone struggling with the idea of God’s love for them? Perhaps this will be an ongoing struggle, but for now I want to thank Susan Isaacs for bringing on those tears, as embarrassed as I was at the time, I pray that God can open those ducts of empathy on a more regular, and appropriate, basis.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Senior Self-reflection

This is another paper I found from my 4th year of undergrad. After reading it not much has changed, but much is to be said about this theme in my life. Perhaps a part-two will follow; after the summer.

A Self-reflection

“There are only questions in art—no answers…
The question is where we are now?  But there is no answer.”
Norman Rosenthal[1]

“…Art, creativity, communication, the enjoyment of beauty
in this context need no justification.  The ultimate justification
is that they come as a good and gracious gift from God above.”
Franky Schaeffer[2]

One of my favorite musicians, Glen Hansard, put it simply like this, during an interview, “I’ve always seen myself as someone who makes a career off of music like in the traditional sense that I live in a village and I’m the musician and that guys the carpenter and you’re the baker… we all have a place.”  God has created us to be image bearers.  Yet, at the same time, He has made us all so very different, each with our own talents and weakness’.  So here lies my problem: I am a Liberal Arts Major with experience in many different fields and not much to show for it. How am I supposed to choose a job that I want to have to pay the bills outside of what God is calling me to be and do? When God called Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh he ran away and got swallowed by a whale. I don’t want to be that guy! I want to follow the path God lays before me… but even I don’t know exactly what that means. Much like the quote by Hansard, some are meant to be farmers and some blacksmiths; in this world-village I am the musician and poet. It is simply what I do, but does God want that from me as a Christian?   

"The commands of Christ can be carried out, should be carried out in daily life. Spirituality unconnected with real existence is like a car in neutral endlessly revving going nowhere, while the occupants pat themselves on the back and delight at the speed at which the engine is turning over. Activity for activity’s sake is what marks present Christianity. It is going nowhere. If the existence of the millions of evangelical Christians the press says exist, if the activity, if the money spent, raised, used, the programs, the bumper stickers, the national efforts, the magazines, if these things are truly accomplishing something, why is culture moving at such devastating speed in the reverse direction? Why is America a pagan state? It is because so often these things are unconnected to redeeming man where he really is in real life, and to areas that really count today—creativity, society, law, politics, etc."[3]

Perhaps this is a better way of looking at how I am to be as a Christian and an Artist; seeing everyone (including myself) where they are in real life and representing that by my words and actions reconciling that with the grace that God gives everyone.

A big part of why I feel that as Christians we should continue being a part of the Arts is in the idea of showing life as it is and there is no one better to imitate then Christ himself in all of the many examples he shows in the Gospels.  One story that particularly sticks out in my mind, for two reasons, is when he stopped the crowd from stoning the woman caught in adultery.  The first reason that I find this story relevant is the fact that when the woman was brought to Jesus and He was asked what should be done—Jesus is drawing in the dirt!  How incredibly beautiful that the God of the universe, when confronted by the sins of a woman, doodles in the earth.  Another reason that this story of Christ’s life forces me to reflect is that it was mentioned in the musical RENT during one of its many songs, “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn.”  This is a motto of mine that has forced me to look at the world as it is: ugly, wondrous, and filled with inadequacies, and I am no better.  

I find that I have a way with words. Sometimes direct or with an occasional rambling, but I find that when I write the real of me, the heart of me, the Christ in me—comes out and lives, even breathes, for a while, along the page. I find my fingers itching to be placed on six bronzed steel strings during any kind of worship, while I myself critique the words of songs and play with the thesaurus in my head while the rhythmic sound with punctuation rings on my brain like a monkey playing cymbals. Do I do it to feel what is real or do I know what is real because of it? Am I an artist? Am I a child? Am I a slacker? Am I blind? Am I real, me?  These are all questions that I’m not sure have any specific answers (go back to the first quote on this paper); yet, for some reason the mystery behind the questions that art and life bring don’t bother me as much as comfort me in my own endeavors.  Take music for example.

"Music, as we have seen, is so very close to us, lodged deep within our bodies. It is about as down to earth as anything can be. But at the same time, it exists beyond our bodies, connecting us to larger realities. Music is much bigger then we are, pervading the entire universe both in a physical sense and in its transcendent dimensions… Scientists used to think that the smallest particles in the universe were atoms. Then they discovered electrons and protons. Then came quarks. Now scientists have discovered something they call strings. These are like tiny pieces of spaghetti, except millions of times smaller. They vibrate just like the strings on a violin or guitar but at a fantastically high frequency. If the scientists are right, that means that the most fundamental particle in the universe is a vibrating string. Think of it! This offers a new way of understanding a very old idea: the whole creation is singing to God."[4]

Here is the beauty of our Creator at its best.  I’ve always felt that I was created to make something that people can relate to and what better way to relate then the sub-molecules of our bodies joining together in a harmonious joyfulness that allows understanding of the reality that is life?  My existence is for this Christ part of me to escape and make itself found in the hearts of all creation.

While I feel that this paper is me digressing all of the things that are going on in my head and attempting to explain how God has so marvelously ruined my life through art and grace, it’s where I find myself—here in the now—wrestling with God about how to better sharpen my craft and allowing it to be the worship that I continually strive to live and the “mannishness of man”[5] to come out of me. I find that God is calling me to live beyond the norm, to never settle for second best. I want my life to be that of worship, but not just a “praise and worship,” imitation, trendy life to be lived, but a justice filled, loving, and true, worth-living kind of life.

[1] Norman Rosenthal, The Christian Imagination, p. 69
[2] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity, p. 20
[3] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity, p. 54 & 55
[4] Don Saliers/Emily Saliers, A Song To Sing, A Life To Live, p. 29
[5] Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, p. 35