Letting Go Of The Fear

Think of the word “artist” and several images come to mind.  A goateed man with a beret and a paint brush.  A red-mouthed diva in a glittering gown.  An aging rock star with a rider that includes green M&M’s and Evian bottled water.  The word implies a lot of things.  Talent, excellence, and a level of achievement reserved for people with record contracts or whose work hangs in museums.  But also weirdness, eccentricity, capriciousness, and ego.

The word “artist” seems to be an intimidating word for many, and I find a lot of people reluctant to apply it to themselves.  In short, the word carries a lot of baggage.

I’ve been speaking to a number of people lately who are trying on the word, “artist.”  In various venues, I’ve been talking to people who are exploring what it is to be made in the image of God, the Master Artist who painted the stars, sculpted the planets, formed our beings.  And if it is true that we were made to be creative—to build and explore and express and make art—how does that affect the way we see ourselves?  Can we use the word “artist” to describe the human condition?  Can you use the word to describe you?

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Ministry Burnout

He came into the meeting a little late, hair tousled, his typical gravelly voice apologizing with a sincere smile.   A group of local worship pastors and leaders had gathered at the regular spot, a trendy cafe off the beaten path, for our monthly fellowship.  We welcomed him to our circle. 

We were tossing around small talk and funny anecdotes when he spoke up.  "You know," he began, "It's gotten to the point where I've planned eighteen Christmas Eve services."  He paused momentarily.  "And one day, I came into the office and realized that I couldn't do nineteen."

I remember just sitting there in the awkwardness of that moment, not knowing what to say, sipping my coffee, feeling his pain.  You see, we'd all been there, far too many times. Anyone who is in ministry knows this feeling.

"I don't care, what you wear down there..."

It's no secret that in my younger days, I wanted to be a rock star.  It was simple, really.  I would compose cutting-edge but timeless music, with relevant but flippant lyrics, creative but mindless dance grooves, and inventive but totally catchy hooks.  And rock and roll babes would flock to me, asking for my autograph, tugging at my leather pants, undressing me with their eyes, but loving me for my mind.

Actually, I was never that naive.  But I was close.

You see, the greatest part of my naivete was not that I thought it was easy, nor that I thought I was good enough.  It was that I didn't realize how vain and fruitless the quest for fame is.

This striving toward celebrity is embedded in many of us artists, isn't it?  When we are brutally honest with ourselves—and some of us may not have the emotional quotient to understand ourselves with that degree of authenticity—we find that our drive can come from unhealthy places.  The  pride which bubbles beneath the surface of our public image; the inflated self-image that we are cooler, more talented, more deserving than we really are.  Or the poor self-image that drives us to posture and pretend, forever comparing ourselves with others and coming up short; the insecurities that drive us to succeed so that we might break the chains of our self-perceptions. Then there is the unstated and untrue belief that fame will somehow bring us happiness and love and acceptance.  Ultimately, the things that drive us to want celebrity may often be found in a complex web of lies such as these.

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The Importance of Writing Stuff Down

It is less a contrast than it is a similarity. Two men, both highly educated Jews, both bold and passionate preachers of the message of the Gospel, both leaders in the first century Church.  Paul and Apollos were both used by God to build His Kingdom in the precarious, turbulent infancy of the Christian faith.  But only one of these men still has a ministry today.  Indeed, Paul’s contribution to the New Testament is central to our understanding of the Gospel.

Why is Paul’s influence greater than that of Apollos?  Spiritual calling aside, there seems a simple reason:  He Wrote Stuff Down.

I’m a big Writer of Stuff.  I have To-Do lists, archives of song lyrics, sermons and speeches, unpublished books and written meanderings.  According to the stats counter, my personal blog site just hit 100 blog entries last week.  I even have an archive of carefully documented calendars that stretches back to my freshman year in college, which I can’t bear to throw out.  What if I suddenly need to know what I did during the summer of 1984?

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The Songs That Define Us

Our twin girls, Rachel and Paige, just started Middle School, and in the course of this last summer, they seem to have transformed before our eyes.  As one would expect, there is a sudden hyper-heightened awareness to the things of their age, like appearance, style, clothing, friendships, pop culture.  And music.

It is one of our new family rituals now, that they would usurp control over the car radio during trips, commutes, and even errand running.  Step one: Slip into the back seat, talking non-stop.  Step 2: Flip from sports talk radio (my default setting) to the local pop station.  Step 3: Turn up nine decibels.  Rihanna, Shontelle, Pink, and Lady Gaga suddenly invade my Ford Explorer, and I find myself feeling really old, as I internally resist the urge to yell, "get off my lawn," in a graveled raspy voice, and pop in a Steely Dan CD.

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Reframing "The Creativity Crisis"

The most recent edition of Newsweek Magazine is bannered with the title, "The Creativity Crisis."  The feature article describes a scientifically measured decline in the collective CQ (creativity quotient) of American children and adults.  According to the article, "With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling."

The article goes on to describe the necessity of human creativity, an "undisputed" need that goes far beyond the artistic connection—it affects our ability to sustain economic growth, to deliver health care, to even bring peace to Afghanistan.  Creativity is a valued attribute, and yet, the United States' collective creativity is declining.
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Church Shopping Exposed

We’re here this Sunday morning in the lobby of What’s Happening Community Church, located in the suburbs of Caucasian Falls, USA.  A couple new to the church has just exited the service and has approached the preaching pastor.  Let’s listen in.

Pastor:  Good morning!  You’re new, right?

Joe:  Hi. Yes,  I’m Joe and this is my wife, Jill.

Pastor:  Great to have you here this morning.

Jill:  Yes, first time here.  Really loved the service.

Pastor:  Well, God bless you both.

Joe:  Do you have a moment? We were just wondering if we could ask you a few questions.

Pastor: Sure. Fire away.

Joe: How many services do you have here?

Note:  This is code for, “I like to sleep in late on Sundays.”

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Shakespeare and Spelling Bees

One of the things that we do as a local church is open our facilities to outside performing arts organizations.  We believe that to be a part of the greater arts community in our area, we need to serve the greater arts community.  So our church has hosted arts organizations like the city-wide philharmonic, the community symphony, private non-profit theater companies, and the local concert association, to name a few.  We have an amazing group of technical artists at our church, and their volunteer service to these different organizations is in itself a testimony to these secular groups.  Also, we have probably the best designed and equipped performing arts auditorium in town, which has not gone unnoticed to the larger arts community.

Lately, we have been host to the local community college's drama department.  They've presented one other full-length play—Shakespeare's Henry V—on our campus so far, and our relationship with them has gone extremely well.  Their last foray was "The Putnam County Spelling Bee," a Tony Award-winning musical about six pre-teen youth thrown together in the competitive subculture of the spelling bee.  The production was inventive, the acting was excellent, the music was more than credible.  And one other thing.  The script was, well, bawdy.

Now the production was selected after the college booked our facility.  And we frankly didn't know about the content of the play until after it was in production.  But it still put us in a quirky and uncomfortable position—how do we respond to the inappropriateness of this play, and to the people putting it on?

So this is what we did: Nothing.  I internally braced myself for the outcry of criticisms from our congregation, but frankly, it never came.  The play ran it's course without incident.  I think it's because our people generally understood that the content of the play had little to do with what we believe as a church.  Interestingly, the only ones who voiced objections to the content of the play were the non-Christians who were involved in the play, not our church fellowship. And our technical artists used those conversations as a springboard for sharing their faith, as they interacted with them during the production.

Ultimately, the issue is not whether or not there are inappropriate words.  I think the real issue is how do we respond in a relationship with those who may not share our faith.  If I invite my neighbor to dinner, and he swears when he talks, do I still try to be his friend?  

Of course, there are lines that must be drawn.  I certainly wouldn't want my neighbor swearing in front of my young children.  And I wouldn't have him taking the Lord's name in vain.  But if Jesus really was a Friend to Sinners—a title He wore proudly—then whatever we do, be it host a performing arts organization or simply go out to coffee with the director, I must do it with love as my primary motivation. 

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Creativity and Getting Old

Recently, a friend sent me a technical paper entitled, "Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity" by Sing Lin, Ph. D.  Now, I'm always looking for a little light reading, so I dove right into it.  The paper cites Dr. Leo Esaki, a Nobel Laureate, who claimed that:

"...Most of the great discoveries and innovations by the Nobel Laureates occurred at the average age of 32 even though the Nobel prizes were awarded 10 or 20 years afterwards. Furthermore, Dr. Esaki indicated that the peak creativity of most scientists occurred around the age range of 20 to 30 years. As one gets older, the experience increases but the creativity decreases steadily with the age. "

The paper concludes, "The most precious, creative and innovative period in your life is the 10-year period around the age of 32."  It goes so far as to imply that one should plan for one's creativity to wane and to be prepared for other roles as you mature in your career.
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Deconstructing "Christian Drama"

Joe looked across the coffee table from me, a spark in his eyes revealing his eagerness.  He leaned into his next question.  "So.  What did you think?  I really want to know,"  he asked between sips of his latte.  "And don't hold back either.  I want to get some good feedback that I can take with me."

It was three weeks earlier that Joe had first contacted me about a play he was producing at a local church.  He had written and produced it over the last three years, and fancied himself a serious writer and craftsman.  Passionate and energetic, it was obvious that he was driven to produce this play, and was personally attached to it at many levels.  And so he sought out people in the area, "influential" people I suspect, to help further his production and gain credibility.

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A rock musician turned rocket engineer turned Christian artist, MANUEL LUZ is a creative arts pastor, working musician, and author. His new book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist, is released by Moody Publishers.