Last weekend while I was away at a Prayer Retreat, my dearest wife came under heavy demonic attack. She rebuked, and prayed, and sought angelic protection. Her experience prompted us to have a conversation about the Court of Accusation and about declaring one’s identity in Father God.
I was able to share with her what I’ve only recently learned, that we needn’t reject the attacks of the Liar, as I call him. We simply need to turn toward Father God and declare our identity in Him. It’s like a duck’s feather oils, dwelling in His Presence, standing in and declaring our own God-given identity completely neutralizes the Liar’s influence. I’ve recently been taught by those far more mature than I am, that much of our problem is that we, ourselves, give the Liar permission to pester us. But by declaring our identity, and not even bothering with rejecting our Enemy, we’re engaging only the loving, protective power of the Father Himself. There’s tremendous power of life and death in our own tongues, so it behooves us to speak life and life only.
This reminds me of the situation that the Israelites found themselves in while facing possible death. In Numbers 21: 8-9; 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake [Nehushtan] and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” Father went on to suggest that it’s one thing to keep our eyes upon Him, but it’s far better to be so engaged by Him, and in Him, that all thought and awareness of the “danger” is washed from us.
Remember what it’s like to stare, in love, into the eyes of your lover, to be so engaged with one another that nothing or no one else breaks our attention? It’s this kind of dwelling in Him that He is showing to me. He invites me into such intimate engagement, such absolute confidence in His Presence and Power, that all thought(s) of possible danger and attack simply evaporate like smoke and mirrors. His Presence is absolutely intoxicating.
May each of us become so joyfully and foolishly in love with Father God that all threats of the Liar are as water off a duck’s back.
READING: For more on rejection and identity, may I recommend both of Faith Living’s books, Rejection and Identity, and Rejection and Identity Book Two. Both are available on Amazon, and the Kindle versions are just $0.99 each.
When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.
Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both. It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous. But alas, I digress.
Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story. A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly. So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.
In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.
The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production. For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.
As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.
Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.
The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product. I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.
It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged. It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten. As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks. I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both. I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric. What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making. I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.
How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset? What is it that I temporarily let go of? What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?
I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place. I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making. I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.
I’m drawn to art that contains story. At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings. I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it. Someone’s been there. This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making. I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making. I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work. I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.
For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation. That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more. I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.
To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”. Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious. God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process. Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world. It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.
It’s all in the process.
I’m moving. I’m sick and tired of living here. I’m sick and tired of having my creativity buried beneath decades of survival instinct. I’m sick and tired of planning my creativity to death, and wondering why in the world it’s less than I know it ought to be. It’s killing me
I’m moving. I’m moving out completely from the survival oriented place of my left-brain, into the rapturous place of creativity unfettered – my right-brain. I cannot function as a right-brain creative and reside in the mental rooms of my left-brain. I don’t think anybody can, really, so I’m moving in next-door.
It’s my childhood and youth – they weren’t pleasant. I lived as a warrior, weapons out, always en-garde for any little creak or thump of approaching dangers. I’ve lived here so long that it’s become far too comfortable. This is why most of the art I create tends to be hyper-planned, and robotic. It’s also the reason I’m having trouble breaking out into new creative expression.
Many dear friends, and my family have all worked for years to help me put away my “need” to live with my fangs out, trusting only in well-laid plans, and shunning all forms of improvisation and serendipity.
I’ve been at this visual art for about 5-years now, ever since the theatre company I had the privilege of leading closed its doors. It was there in the context of collaboration that I found friends who encouraged me to plan less and improvise more; to take more risks, and embrace a spiritual/organic approach to my creative work. It’s where my early understanding of faith & art developed.
Now that I’ve moved onto solo work as a visual artist, it’s me, God, and both sides of my brain up here in the ArtRoom Studio. It was simpler in theatre to trust a Creative Team. We had a group-think kind of thing going. We could bounce ideas of one another.
These days, and I’m not lamenting here, I do everything I can to constantly be in God’s presence. I often put on worship music, Christian Pop, or Christian Rock (very motivational). I journal, which is literally a spiritual walk in the Garden with the Lord. He and I talk about everything, His Word, my past, my future. Together, we mine my life-experiences for creative ideas. I love these times, but the process of really, deeply letting go takes time – lots of time.
In these walks together, we’ve discovered more than one thorn in my heart which He has removed and healed over. Believe it or not, I actually love the scars because they remind me from whence I’ve come, and how God’s love miraculously transforms even life’s most pain-filled events into treasure. But that’s another blog post.
So now I refocus. Now I focus on deliberately taking ever more difficult risks, living with deliberate intention and purpose, and embracing the energy of “fear” (resistance). Now I remind myself with quiet statements of, “No judgment. God loves you, He has equipped you. This is His intention for your life. Go and make meaning in faith & confidence.”
I think I’m going to like my new right-brain digs. I just need to learn to remain here and to stop running back to what, after 40-years of residence, has become so bitterly comfortable.
On my desk, beyond my Bible, I’ve assembled a small library of classic inspiration and counsel. Each volume has been carefully chosen on the basis of the nourishment I derive, and how frequently I read and re-read from them in pursuit of an ever-deepening faith in God, and an ever-growing art-practice.
I keep these works at-hand because I refer to them frequently and at a moment’s notice. They’re my faithful friends upon whom I rely to re-ground me in the basics, and open me to future possibilities. These friends are all dog-eared, highlighted, annotated, and bookmarked. I’ve even taught lead discussions from several of them. Always spreading the good news of the convergence of faith & art, I collect extra copies from used book stores to give away to others who might benefit from them.
The Desk-Top Library
I’ve most recently added Steal Like An Artist, by Austin Kleon. It’s a light read with medium-weight advice. Kleon unveils the mystery, if there ever was any, about the DNA of ideas, and gives creatives everywhere permission to be inspired by the works of others.
However, the first in my collection came to hand in 2001 when I attended a Church Drama Conference here in Seattle. That’s when I was introduced to the masterwork of Madeleine L’Engle; Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Even before I knew there was a Faith & Arts movement, here was L’Engle guiding me toward understanding how one feeds the other, and how one is the other.
My next significant addition was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. While Cameron is rather New Age in her spirituality, there’s absolutely no difficulty seeing her firm and generous counsel from a Judeo-Christian worldview. I find it very nourishing.
In the Cameron canon, I’ve also added Walking in this World. This book is a journey of discoveries and creative self-defense, a kind of part II. What I admire about her writing is that she’s tough on creatives, not suffering any whining, but she’s also very protective – teaching her readers to defend themselves against ignorant critics.
Another staple, and an early addition is the landmark work of Betty Edwards. Her Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain introduced me to my first real understanding of the right-brain, left-brain thing and how to stay in creative mode at will. Edwards has taught me more about how to “see” than any instructor I’ve ever learned from.
An anchor-work to my desk-top library is Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. I see this book is an essential tool for every faith-driven creative. Warren guides us back to the beginning of our life plans asking, What on Earth am I here for?
This is the quintessential question every faith-driven creative needs to begin the life they believe they’re chosen to lead. Without God, and in total, complete submission, nothing whatsoever makes any sense – at least not to me. Without God at the helm of my life and art-making, I have nothing to say creatively – nothing.
I’m also a tremendous fan of Philip Yancey. He teaches through stories, guiding me along wondrous lines of good clear, if not difficult, thinking. I admire him because he has no other agenda than to speak the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. Two of his books made it into the desk-top library; The Jesus I Never Knew, and What’s So Amazing About Grace? I refer to Grace most often because grace is as essential to my faith-life as the air I breathe, and the most difficult gift to deal with.
Art is about truth, and for me at least, faith-driven art is about truth via God. Yancey drills into us an awesome truth; grace is the most unnatural response in the human repertoire. I keep this volume close at hand because Yancey helps me to understand what grace looks like in daily creative life.
I’ll close with perhaps the most foundational little book on the desk-top, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. He doesn’t even get around to mentioning Christianity until well into the book. He opens with a very simple, and very human question; Why do I become upset and feel wronged when someone takes something that belongs to me? The spiritual nourishment and re-grounding I get from this tiny little book is why it remains under my elbow, on my desk, ready to be read and re-read.
Your Thoughts . . .
There they are, seven titles I find essential to the nurture and nourishment of my journey through faith and art. Without them at hand, well marked up and annotated, I’d be lost. I wouldn’t know for whom I make meaning or why, and I certainly wouldn’t be growing in either my faith or my art.
How about you, what books keep you grounded in your faith-driven art practice?
Wow – the Holy-days can really take the wind out of your sails as life briefly tacks off in another direction. Christmas and New Year’s have been great celebrations, but I’m raring to get back to art-making
I don’t know about you, but for me being productive right now is a real challenge. We’re living at the estate of my in-laws, tending things and helping to mend and maintain. And while that’s a joy of service, it doesn’t leave much room to set-up my own studio space. Not being our house, we’re not able to do all we’d like to while living here.
The garage is a great workspace, when it’s not cold. I have trouble concentrating when I’m cold and while some might suggest that shivering could produce some good art, it’s just not my thing. So I wait for warmer days and the work stands about on hold.
In the dining room however, I’ve a different situation. I have an art table set up where I draw, mostly. It’s something I can do without upsetting the house with a big sprawling mess of creativity. And when we have guests, it’s all really easy to neaten up and “hide”. I use one of my white (bedsheet) drop cloths. It all ends up looking kind of mysterious.
I know I’m not alone. I know there are gobs of other artists out there working, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, beginning right now, with what you have, right where you are. I love that concept because no matter how many excuses I make, in some way – where I am, using what I have, doing it now – I am able to continue to create highly skilled creative expression.
I have moved a great many times in my life. I relate to military, and missionary kids. They’re always moving somewhere else. By the time I’d married I must’ve moved, oh, at least eleven times. I’m sure that’s nothing for mil. and miss. kids.
This time we took seven weeks, one carload at a time, to relocate back in Seattle proper from the South Seattle “burbs”. We’ve merged homes, and lives, and in the process we’re becoming a stronger family and richer persons.
We live with my father-in-law who’s in his latter eighties, and dealing with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s. He needs help, watching over, lots of love, and family in his life right now. We’re here to be that support for him.
This is a rich time for us as a family. My bride of thirty-plus years, and our three children, are transitioning from a twenty-plus year homeschool experience, to the kids getting ready to fly out on their own, and to our helping add value to Dad’s life. We see it as an opportunity, an enrichment, for all concerned. He loves having his grandkids around, and doesn’t mind someone else doin’ the cookin’ either!
This union of lives in this very close proximity makes an environment of very creative harmonies. My wife told me at the beginning that it’ll be a little like the families went through in The Diary of Anne Frank. Many people were living in tight quarters, learning new ways to live together with their tiffs, and their celebrations.
It’s one thing to move. It’s quite another to blend two full households of stuff; memories, needs, wants, and hopes. So we’re all sorting, re-prioritizing, discarding, and streamlining. We’re all becoming something new in this wonderful, somewhat stress-filled new life with all of its own set of creative harmonies.
That’s why I’ve been neglectful at posting, and may still be so.
Thanks for your patience!