Monthly Archives: August 2014

I’m and artist and so are you

An Artist?

“We are God’s art, created in Christ Jesus to do works of beauty, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

“So God created mankind in his own image… male and female…” Genesis 1:27.

We are made in the image of the master artist, the creator of all creation, to create works of beauty.

Though we may not be called to quit our day jobs, run off to Tahiti and paint our impressions of the islanders, we are meant to view our work and our lives from an artist’s perspective.

Whether our goal is to provide announcements for a church newsletter, to make of our home a refuge from the storm outside, to save stories and lessons from our lives, to create happiness by loving well, or to compose a novel or film masterpiece, we are called to approach those projects with attitudes guided by the motive of creating works of beauty.

John Keats, in “Ode On a Grecian Urn”, wrote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.”

Real beauty, whether in the eye of the creator or the beholder, is an expression of love.

Christ insists, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works [works of beauty] and glorify your father who is in heaven.”

We are created in the image of God so that we can make art of and through our lives so that our art can draw people to God. And because God is love, we can draw people to God by helping them love better, which is best accomplished by loving them better.

In my novel The Good Know Nothing detective Tom Hickey and his sister Florence, who works for evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, are on a road trip when she asks:

“Tommy, do you want to know why I fell for God?”

“Sure.”

“It’s all your fault,” she said.

“How so?”

“See, when you really know love, when you find yourself being truly loved, you can’t help thanking God.”

A tiny sob issued out of her. Then she scooted closer and kissed her brother’s cheek. Tom sat speechless, wondering if his heart might explode.

Florence rode with her head on her brother’s shoulder. As distant headlights approached, she said, “The thing is, when you truly thank God, you sort of feel him smile. Then you fall for him. That’s all.”

 

Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.

Church for Writers: Peace Etc.

Since I am trying to raise issues most churches appear reluctant to touch, I should explain my motive. It’s not that I think I’m smarter than them or that I hold a grudge against the church. I believe the church has done an extraordinary job of carrying out the great commission to take the gospel worldwide.

Only I’m troubled by the performance of the church as a whole, and of most individual churches, on another task they have the authority and range of influence to tackle, and which the Bible assigns them.

I mean the task of peacemaking.

What I see is a church most often aligned with a culture that seeks its own, largely regardless of the cost to others.

Recently Zoe and I watched the film Divergent. My verdict: well written, well acted, and remarkably similar in theme to “The Grand Inquisitor”, a story included in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

You can find the story in several formats at Project Gutenberg. It’s not an easy read, and since I’ve read it often, I’ll offer a brief guide.

Ivan Karamazov, a skeptic, challenges his saintly brother Alyosha with a tale in which Christ visits Spain during the height of the Inquisition. He performs a few miracles and is arrested.

The Grand Inquisitor sentences Christ to be burned. His crime: condemning people to misery by considering them to be wiser and braver than all but a few actually are.

The Inquisitor argues that humanity wants no part of the freedom Christ offers. Rather, people want bread (freedom from privation); authority (freedom from responsibility); and miracles so blatant they will unify us all (freedom from alienation).

The Inquisitor maintains that Christ’s gift of intellectual and spiritual freedom — which he bestowed upon us when he resisted the temptations offered by the dread and wise spirit in the wilderness — only delivered people into terrifying confusion.

Dostoyevsky was a devoted Christian, yet in his novels, he didn’t play favorites. When assuming the role of a character of any stripe, he advocated for that character. So while the deeper theme of Ivan’s story justifies Christ, its surface argument reveals disturbing truth about humanity.

Ivan is correct in his assertion that few of us prefer to think independently. And no matter our protests to the contrary, most of us are less concerned with goodness than with our own wellbeing. Consequently, if we churchgoers only learn in the abstract to follow the message of Christ, we are in danger of entrapment by those who, like the Grand Inquisitor, have accepted the devil’s bargain.

When the church fails to teach us how to effectively aid and defend the oppressed or impoverished or how to bring our communities and our world closer to peace, many of us turn for answers to those who profit at the expense of the oppressed or impoverished or by promoting and waging war.

When a partner and I owned a used bookstore, a regular customer, a state assemblyman, attended the same church I did. At first, I recommended books from our Christian section. He showed no interest and only chose books about politics and advice about making friends and influencing people.

My point is, if the church (perhaps for sound reasons) won’t teach us how reason from the abstractions it preaches, it leaves many of us vulnerable to being hoodwinked by marketers, swindlers of every persuasion, and politicians and their allies with agendas that overrule integrity.

Who then can teach us to reason and act in accord with the message of Christ and the freedom he gave us?

Maybe storytellers? Artists? Writers.

So let’s get busy.