As I sit reading my new book, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro, I’m thinking about my own level of craft in Father’s and my artmaking. I’m thinking about the creative journey we set out on 10-years ago. I’m thinking how Father and I go at some aspect of the art we make and how much I need to grow and learn in order to achieve the skills needed to make what we’re after.
One reason I have minimal respect for over educated creative people is because what they’re thrusting in my direction is their intimate knowledge of mere craft. They don’t compose. They’re not artists who compose. They may not even be artists at all. They’re interpreters and collaborators who are largely incapable of an original action of their own. They rely upon their knowledge of mere technique and method and have little or no inkling of personal expression.
Am I comparing myself to these artless technicians? Not at all. I am simply stating that method and technique, without a heart for deeply original creative expression, is no substitute – that’s all.
My wife and I were once gifted with tickets to a concert in which an arrogant little nitwit with thousands of hours of training stepped out to play Gershwin’s American in Paris. I love George Gershwin’s work and was very excited at this rare opportunity to hear this performance. I didn’t give a wit about this self absorbed kid who was going to play for us. I loved the music itself, and in the hands of an artist, the interpretation had all of the emotion of a hustling, bustling metropolis in sound. In the hands of an artist, Gershwin’s city had life and it can be palpable.
What I heard was absolutely nothing of what Gershwin had written on the page. The performance had nothing of what flowed from Gershwin’s artist heart. This kid beat all of the life out of this magnificent work of original music because he was only interested in showing off his technique. He was an insipid robot sitting there at the keyboard obediently hammering out each and every note with perfect technique and nothing more. I was actually somewhat depressed, certainly disappointed, at what I had been offered. In fact, I hoped that this person would either get over himself and play from his heart, or be drummed out of music altogether. I didn’t care which, but please don’t let this kid ever again butcher another great composer’s work of art.
Making art is far too precious a thing to be lorded over by mere craftsmen. It is a deep and abiding connection to the unseen, invisible universe where the artist draws something really special to bring back and share with the rest of humanity. Craft, while vitally important, is but a nest or foundation into which a new creative piece of expression is born.
This is one reason why I’m so proud of Father’s and my being self-taught. Yes, I certainly do need to develop a great deal more method and technique. I expect to be at this growth all of my life and beyond. What I don’t do however is hide behind a wall of method and technique as my credentials, nor do any of the many artists whom I admire so deeply.
I once thought that it would have been wondrous to be born in the Italian Renaissance, but no longer. One reason I’ve lost much of my awe and wonder regarding the Renaissance is simply because it was largely peopled by competitive show offs. These were people possessing celestial gifts, and certainly they created many celestial works, but much of it was created in a world of mere arrogant show and competition between the artists and their patrons. What was seen as “great art” was often a measure of how many perfectly rendered figures could be crammed onto a wall, or how large the work was. Like so much of today’s modern film acting, much of the work is about how popular the actor is through the films they make. Whatever art there is in the work is often buried beneath the veneer of the various self-centric personae of the so called stars. At times it seems that deep creative expression shows up by mere accident.
Whatever is left of my once deep admiration for the Italian Renaissance remains in the works themselves, not the composer artists who created them. I receive the expression which is so often evident and available to me for engagement, but I could care less about the name at the bottom right of the work.
I deeply admire composers in any media who are self-discovering adventurers on a journey into the invisible realms of creative expression. I am in even deeper admiration of self-taught artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jack Vettriano. If you need to know of whom I speak, I invite you to look them up. And these are just two of a host of creative composers who buckled down and conquered whatever it took to become excellent at what they did and do.
In short, what I admire in the arts – all of them – is gumption, self-directed gumption. I admire those artists who collect their craft along the way, who don’t brag about whatever schooling they endured, or how much practice they put in. Show me. Show me what it is that you’ve nurtured in yourself. Show me your work, because in the end that’s all that really matters.
I’m going to begin a new series of posts relating to my creative journey, From the Table of Making. These last few years have seen huge breakthroughs in my art practice as I’ve been growing ever closer to Father God. That closeness has come as a direct result of my relationship with Father, of getting to know Him, and of falling ever more deeply in love with Him.
Some time back, maybe two years ago now, I was in my silent time with Him, I was meditating in His Presence, and suddenly I found myself standing in a huge room way out in the Cosmos. The floor and walls were clear and I beheld the stars and galaxies of His Creation. There in the middle of “the room” was a very large, clear, boardroom table. Jesus sat at the other end.
“Welcome … this is the place from which you and I will commune in the process of your making art. This is The Table of Making.”
I was jaw dropped, and I remember having a few questions, not many, because my spirit trusted in whatever was going to develop in our creative relationship from this place.
These days I go there often, and after just a few visits, when I showed up, there sat Michelangelo, VanGogh, Rembrandt, DaVinci, and many others. I then understood that I was among some very creative company, not because they’re famous in this world, but because, in some way, at some point, their own art-making was faith-driven. What they made, what they “saw” in the midst of their creativity, was driven by the relational faith they had with Father God, and now here I was, enjoying close, intimate, creative pursuits in the Presence of my Creator.
This creative relationship with Father and the journey we share is the stuff of this series of posts.
I had quite a powerful experience last night, not a big deal, but some kind of breakthrough nonetheless.
I woke up in the middle of the night, as is my custom. I went to the restroom and returned to bed in a kind of funk. I’ve been working over the course of a number of months to be free of negative, hideous, thoughts. From my decades of both a rough upbringing and my war studies (40+ years), I know that they’re a spiritual thing
So I crawl back into bed and the filthy scenarios going through my head were just driving me nuts. I thought I’d already gotten rid of this stuff. Why has this filth returned?
Then I remembered something written by Faith Rockrimmon about rejection, and I paraphrase; Rejection is not how we rid ourselves of what ails our spirit. Rejection doesn’t remove it. We need to refocus our attention deeply into the reality of our relationship with Father God. We need to go and get ourselves buried in Him and His love.
My head was full of filth, I wanted desperately to be free of it and so I began not to run from this enemy, but to affirm my identity in Father God. I don’t know how long I laid there, but I offered a constant stream of short declarations of Truth, all in Jesus’ name; I am priceless, in Jesus’ name. I am built and birthed by Father God, in Jesus’ name. I have a divine, heavenly destiny, in Jesus’ name. He loves me, and sent His one and only Son to save me, in Jesus’ name.; simple, short declarations, one after another.
Eventually, I felt something in my body, a lightness, a total numbness, I don’t know what, but in the midst of it I couldn’t feel my body. I couldn’t feel the bed. Something lifted from me, or from out of me … I really don’t know. Amidst my on-going declarations, this lifting sensation happened strongly three times, and lightly, twice. Something happened, and in the midst of these experiences, I declared; Father I am unafraid. Father I will go wherever You are taking me.
Now, this morning, I believe what I felt was the spirits of those filthy things leaving. They were utterly unable to stand in the Presence of the declarations I was making in Jesus’ name. That’s the important thing; In Jesus’ name.
Faith Rockrimmon’s book Rejection and Identity is a landmark work in my life because of the premise. She says that rejection and shame are spirits. They’re not mental conditions, or the result of abuse, etc. They’re spirits, and ignoring them, rejecting them, rebuking them is not how we can be free of them. The key is found within our relational identity with Father God, and none other. In short, if we simply disengage from our battle with them, and immerse ourselves in the Truth(s) of our relationship with Father God, we cut off the root source of their power to remain. They cannot stand in the Presence and fact(s) of our relationship with and in Father – period.
This is not an external, psychological battle with our thoughts, or behavior modification. This isn’t a battle at all. This liberty is something we already possess if we will simply engage in it and dwell there. There is a complete and total absence of conflict because this transformation is about engaging in the Truth(s) of our relationship in Father, and not about any form or sort of conflict whatsoever.
I’m free … I feel different … the voice(s) of gloom and doom are gone. I am declaring my belief that they never return … in fact that in itself is non-existent. I declare that I am, in Jesus’ name – period.
Since that morning’s episode I have been revisited by what I call spirits of filth, but only lightly and briefly. Each time I once again state the emphatic Truth(s) of my relationship with and in Father God. The spirits flee immediately. I praise God and thank Faith Rockrimmon for this tool I can apply from a seat of rest, with complete and total confidence that I Am free!
I want to tell you about a Community of Faith that I’ve found. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that they found me. It’s interesting how Father God lovingly invites us down special paths of life designed specifically to meet our needs.
I think some really brief backstory is important or the significance of this Community will not be fully appreciated.
All my life I’ve gone to church, the institutional church. I’ve sat and listened to the sermons. I’ve stood and sung hymns. I’ve always believed that this was the Church, the Body of Christ, where I’d encounter Father God. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t. Something, … something that I couldn’t put my finger on, was somehow missing. Now, you need to know that in no way am I criticizing that centuries old institution of church. This is my story of my journey, and that is all it is; nothing more.
At some point, after marriage, and raising our children, I didn’t attend church much. I just slipped away and was open to whatever else Father might have for me and my life. To cut a long story short, it was through one friend after another that Father lead me to a vibrant Spirit-filled Community of the Body of Christ. This is Church without the building, without all of the trappings of mere religion, without the hierarchy, without the idolatry of mere theology. I found God outside of the covers of the Bible; intimately, personally, face to face. And I wasn’t alone … there was a Community.
This Community I’ve found has three powerful aspects to it that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They are a movement (not an institution); they are organic in nature, and they are entirely relational.
In it’s organic nature, this community is Community. The famous story of Stone Soup comes to mind. People round about had little or nothing to eat. Then a clever man brings a stone with which to make a soup. He begins to boils it in water. After a while he invites the people each to bring what they have to add to the soup; vegetables, salt, meat, broth, whatever they had. Each put into the soup what they had. After a while the soup was done and everyone had soup. Everyone ate their fill of what had begun so simply as a stone boiling in water. Now they were a Community, sharing what they had and who they were with one another. That’s the Community I’ve found.
This Community is part of God’s global movement, His Body. There are no preachers, although there are ordained clergy among us. There is no hierarchy, no pecking order, no formal documents to tell us who’s who and how we’re all supposed to behave. We’re a movement created, governed and, fully lead by Father God. It reminds me of Israel’s days of The Judges. God was their King … not a man. It was God who lead and “ruled” the people. So it is with our Community.
This Community is fully relational. Everything about it is relationship based, meaning we begin, each of us, with a deep, personal, intimate relationship with Father God. He is the unifying force and power of this Community. He is what makes us a Community. He is our spine and our glue.
Having begun in our relationship with Father, we extend that relationship to one another. As a movement, and not an institution, the organic nature of the Body of Christ is fully manifest. When someone needs healing, like white blood cells, a number of us gravitate toward that need and pray it away in healing. When someone celebrates, we all celebrate. We bear one another’s burdens and share one another’s joys. All of this, absolutely all of this is joy and not obligation. It’s fully Love and not duty.
In this Community I have never experienced so much joy and excitement with Father God and with one another in all my life. This is a priceless Community wherein I find the God of the heart, the God of relationship, the God of love. This is what / Who I’ve been looking for, and I’ve found Him.
“But you have received the Holy Spirit, and He lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what He teaches is true – it is not a lie. So just as He has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”
1John 2:27 NLT (emphasis mine)
I read this passage from a blog post by Chip Brogden. He was writing about discernment and knowing what is truth or a lie. He wrote that discernment is not about deciding what is right or wrong, but about seeing what has Life or death in it.
The big revelation that Father gave me about this passage is the implication of our relationship with Him. In order to hear what the Spirit of God has to say about something, to help us discern the presence or absence of Life, I must have a vibrant, thriving relationship with Father God, His Son, and His Spirit.
Here in 1John 2 is scriptural teaching of the vital need to have a relationship with Father God, not a Theologists head knowledge about God. If I were to rely upon my head to discern, I might as well cut a divining rod, or toss a coin for all the good it’ll do. I’d be looking for the wrong thing, in the wrong place, with the wrong tool(s). But, if my life is filled with the organic, living Presence of God, wherein I actually talk with Him and spend time with Him, I’ll come to know what is Truth or not. I’ll know it and recognize it.
I’ve never, ever been taught this; that we need to seek, cultivate, and nourish a living relationship with Father God. Every single preacher, teacher, book author, etc. has taught me to know all that I can possibly glean from the Bible about God. To approach Father God is supposedly impossible because I’m merely a forgiven sinner, and while sanctified by the blood of Christ, I am not worthy to approach Him directly. That’ll all happen once my tired old body gives up its ghost in physical death.
My life’s desire is to know God directly, personally, intimately, and to approach Him in the same way. It’s not that I just have a million questions for Him. No, it’s about wanting to know my true Father, personally, directly, and intimately. And scripture says that if I’ll make the effort, I can do just that. Further, scripture says that because of that deeply personal, intimate relationship wherein I approach my Father with any question I have, I will know immediately whether what I am pondering has Life in it or not. I will know this just as surely and deeply as I know Him.
Spending time with Life Himself does that. That time with Father is what teaches, nourishes, and trains my spirit to know the genuine article from the counterfeit fakes of the Liar, Satan.
Bank tellers were once trained, by touch, to instantly know counterfeit money from the genuine article. The same principle is at work here. The more time I spend with Him whom I love, the more readily I know the Truth from a lie, Life from death.
Because of this Cosmic relationship with Father, I don’t even need to use my head, going down a check list of identifying factors. I also don’t ask the wrong question(s); is this right or wrong? Is this good or bad? Discernment isn’t about right or wrong, good or bad … as Chip Brogden puts it, it’s always about Life or death – period. And discernment begins with and is grounded in a relationship with God.
Relationship is everything. Relationship, deep, personal, intimate, messy, and sometimes scary is the essence of all I am, all I do, and all I become. It is my identity. Why?; because, as my son Levi reminds me so often, Nothing makes sense without God.
For years, decades really I’ve struggled with rest, not mere inactivity, vacation, or sleep, but true, deep rest. I was once a firecracker burning at both ends, always working, and always busy. I suffered severe burnout three times. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. In these vain pursuits of success, productivity, or achievement I found my identity and value, just as my culture instilled in me; work hard, live fast, and you’ll be a success.
Author, consultant, speaker Jeremy Mangerchine had a similar experience and writes about how Father God was finally able to get him to pay attention to his health, his identity, and his relationship with Him. The book is The Quitter’s Manual: Finding Rest in a World Gone Berserk, and Jeremy’s idea of quitting isn’t what most of us might think. It’s a nice brief 108-pages of essential life changing wisdom.
In a wonderful autobiographical series of anecdotes Mangerchine brings us along on his own journey into Father’s realm of true rest, of a powerful life in the Presence of God without strife, without struggle, or futile busyness.
What I enjoy so very much is how Jeremy shares his own journey, and doesn’t wag a finger at any of his readers. For us it’s a take it or leave it proposition, but personally, I found this book liberating, and affirming. I’ve come a long way on my won rest-seeking life journey and for me, it was good to read how I can better that journey as well as find encouragement in what I’m already doing well.
Great book. Short and powerful read. Life changing, if we want it.
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.