Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Adversity: A Gift in Our Broken World

“An artist needs a broken world in order to have pieces to shape into art.” From The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Study DeskI was doing my usual research reading and I came across this somewhat startling thought – without challenge and difficulty in the Human Condition, we artists of faith would have nothing to say.  We’d have no creative voice what so ever.

Maybe I’m thinking about this because God’s Spirit has stirred me in this Season of Gifts and Gratitude.  In this season, I find myself very aware of the terrible ironies often surrounding this time of year.

My son, Levi, and I often chat long into the night about faith, art, and life. In one of our discussions about how tough life can become it suddenly occurred to us that without the character building, life altering, gift of adversity, we artists would have absolutely no voice.  We’d have nothing whatsoever to say.

Five Sentence Story Structure

For example, Western literature is linear.  Our stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  At a Taproot Theatre Church Drama Conference, I attended a Play Wright’s workshop lead by Sean Gaffney.  In his talk he reintroduced me to the Five Sentence Story Structure.  I still have and often refer to those notes from 2001.

The Five Sentence Story goes something like this; 1)The Status Quo, 2) Disruption of the Status Quo, 3) The Hero’s Quest 4) The Impediment to the Hero (The Villain), 4) The New Reality.  Since that time, I’ve analyzed dozens of plays, novels, and films using this structure of the Western literary process.  It’s linear, and filled with adversity and change.  That’s precisely what makes the stories so engaging.

The Status Quo

In the beginning, or at least at one time in the past (flashback), everything was peachy.  You can hardly write a story about peachy.  Peachy is, well, just fine, pleasant, safe, no risks, no adventure – kind of like the typical life of Hobbits in the Shire.

Disruption of The Status Quo

Then something happens to shatter all of this pleasantness to bits.  Something or someone threatens the peace, safety, and well-being of the story’s inhabitants.  For Tolkien it was that the Ring of Power had been found and the Bad Guy (Sauron) was not, in fact, dead.  In Speilberg’s film, Raider’s of the Lost Ark, the disruption was the sudden realization that Hitler’s goons were looking for the Ark of the Covenant.  In both cases, the race was on.

The Hero’s Quest

The heroes of these stories set out on a “quest”, knowing who the Bad Guy is, and knowing what they must do.  They risk everything to set things aright once again.  The peace takes sacrifice to protect and maintain.

The Hero’s Adversary

The Villains of these stories are also racing to accomplish their own diabolical plans of conquest and power. And here’s where it gets good.  There’s tension and conflict, and we love it.

The New Reality

In the end, both story examples are resolved with the destruction, the thwarting, or overthrow of the Hero’s adversary.  There’s a New Reality.  Lives have been challenged, changed, and even lost in the struggle.

Without an evil villain; without a threat to goodness, and peace, in this life,  those of us whose calling it is to Make Meaning would have nothing to say but how nice everything is.  And, yes nice, is nice, but…

The Gifts: Change, Growth, Redemption

My Point: Goodness, righteousness, peace, prosperity, love, these and more are all held just that much higher, and valued that much more, simply because we have had to struggle to get them and keep them.  Because of their oft rarity, of how hard-won they are, how peacefully powerful they are, we prize them.  We cherish them.  Rest is only deeply known after great effort.

I don’t care what scale your art presents,  personal & internal, or epic & external; I don’t care what medium you work in, we’re interested in your art because it asks questions about the struggle we all know in our Human Condition.

Irony is a Good Thing

Ironic isn’t it?  We all want peace, most of us want righteousness as well, and if they were just handed to us without our having to pay a price (or someone else doing so for us) all of our bucolic bliss would be just so much mindless, meaningless fluff.  Our lives wouldn’t be worth living.

It seems that struggle, in many ways, keeps us lean and fit.  It certainly makes for great stories, because adversity demands in us a change.  Adversity makes or breaks our character (the old wisdom of become either better or bitter).  And what good are stories with no tension, no possible peril, no danger? What good are stories where nothing is risked, lost, and gained through struggle?  Not only are we unamused and not entertained, but the characters we’ve come to read about or watch in performance, would have no reason to exist.

Lacking Ideas & Inspiration? Toddle-posh!

If any faith-driven artist, regardless of their medium of endeavor, should ever say, “I don’t know what to write about -or- to paint -or- to sculpt -or- to dance -or- to compose,” I submit we’re not looking.  Adversity, challenge, quests of all kinds surround us daily, and we certainly don’t need the news media to tell us so.

Brief Footnote: Perhaps these explorations into questions of adversity are precisely what drive so many artists into activism.

Your Thoughts?

What do you, personally, think of adversity, pain, difficulty, and challenge?  Is it your creative ally?  Do you embrace adversity, or flee from it?  If not adversity, then what sources of inspiration do you find useful in your art-making?

I love to hear from you.

Blessings ~ Lew

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