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In which there is no more “us” vs. “them” :: guest post by Matt Appling

Life After Art Sharable4

People sure do have a habit of dividing themselves.

Us and them. Or really, to be more accurate, us verses them.

I don’t think it’s about organization. People like to belong to groups, to be a part of something. But it seems that people equally enjoy making sure others are not part of their group, their team, their side.

You know what? I’m done with the words us and them.

Not One of Us

As an art teacher, I cannot tell you how many adults I have talked to who say they are not artists. Okay, that might not seem like such a big deal.

But where did they learn they were not artists?

In art class.

Without fail, every adult says the same thing. Some student, or even a teacher told them when they were children that they did not have what it took. They were excluded, put down, told that they were not part of this group. We are the artists, and you are not one of us. You are one of them, the people on the outside, the un-special group.

As an art teacher, I just can’t believe another teacher would crush a vulnerable little child like that. What was accomplished? The “real” artists felt more special because their group was a bit more exclusive?

Keeping Them in Their Place

If there’s one group of people who like to divide themselves, it’s Christians.

If people don’t look the way we think they should, or don’t say the right words, or their Jesus doesn’t quite have his hair combed correctly, then they are not one of us. We can’t even agree on who is us and who is them. So we divide ourselves into infinite groups, everyone hiding in their little castles with walls and moats designed to keep them out and away from us.

But then, even inside our safe little castles, there are still small us and them groups. We tell some people they can pray and speak and serve and teach.

But not them.

Is this division really based on qualifications? Because there are a whole lot of people who are in the “us” group who can teach and preach and sing and serve, who surely are not spiritually qualified to do those things. But no matter, keeping us separated from them is more important.

Democratizing Art, Faith and Everything Else

Whether it’s art or my faith or whatever else I do, I am quietly, almost silently realizing that those two little pronouns…

Us…

Them…

…have less and less significance to me. Who I am is not built on who I keep walled off and kept out. We do not protect our rights by depriving others of the same rights. We do not protect our faith by depriving others of the chance to participate. We do not protect our art or any of the other things we are making out of our lives by making sure others know that they are not worthy.

That is my heart in Life After Art. True faith, beauty and life is expressed when it is put into the hands of everyone, democratized, crowd-sourced with the benediction to go and do likewise. There simply can be no more us and them anymore.

Let’s just be…

We.

 portrait - smallMatt Appling is a teacher, pastor and writer. His first book, Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room, debuts April 1 from Moody Publishers. Watch the video preview, buy the book, and lots of free resources at LifeAfterArtBook.com

Continue Reading · art, book review, books, Guest Post · 12

In which we leave a little room

It’s Holy Week in the Church calendar now.

The world isn’t longing for another easter egg hunt or free chocolate. The longing of our hearts isn’t for a bigger and better stage performance. We’re yearning for Jesus, still, all of us, always.

The Church is (hopefully…) our place and community for the detox from the here-we-are-now-entertain-us frenzies of our culture.

Strip the rhetoric when we strip our altars. Still the bells and our scrabbling hearts, lay down the palm branches next to the gold spray painted easter eggs and sky-writing Scripture verses and slick direct mail brochures. Fill a basin with water, instead of free cotton candy, and wash someone’s feet. Tear apart the simple bread, pour a glass of wine, and remember, I’m learning to resist the urge to pontificate. Set up an outpost for the Kingdom of God, right in the teeth of suffering and death and greed, and  practice it: We were loved right to the end. Even now, we are loved, right to the end.

oh, love each other!

Love as He has loved us. Love is our new identity, our calling card, and our name. It’s how humanity will recognise us, this new birth mark of Love.

Theology belongs to the artist, just as much as to the apologist or activist or entertainer.

And I think we need more theologians with a poet’s heart: a little imagination when we speak of God never hurts.  The best art leaves a bit of silence, room on the edges, for interpretation and response. It is often in the white space of art where I find the Holy Spirit, hovering, stirring, waiting.

It’s Holy Week in the Church calendar now. Leave a little room on the edges, don’t fill it all up, Church, with consumerism and light show performances or with hermeneutical gymnastics and atonement theories: leave a little room for the Love and the breathing, for the remembering and suffering, for the grieving and the longing, and the Holy stirring of an interruption. Joy comes in the morning.

 

 

(The quote I’ve written above is from the Holy Week Readings of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.)

Continue Reading · art, church, Easter, faith, lent · 33

In which art is like manna

I used to save my best work. I would hoard my stories and ideas, convinced it was a waste to blog them or share them with online magazines or my own journal because they needed to be saved for a worthy time and a worthy place. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and so in my attempt to protect my “best” work, I simply didn’t write.

I thought about writing. I longed to write. I read voraciously. I claimed the title of writer. But I wasn’t writing.

It wasn’t until I laid all of my writerly-dreams on an altar and threw a match on them that I began to actually write. Once I was separated from outcome or expectations, I was free to finally, at last, write again. A relief! I wasn’t saving anything for anyone: there was no reason to hold back. I had nothing to prove or expect.

I used up all those carefully held-back stories in less than a year. (So much for those….)

And at the end of that year, I had more words, more ideas, more stories. The more I wrote, the more I had to write.

It took me three years of writing in obscurity, nearly every single day, all while steadily “using up” every half-decent turn of a phrase or idea, wasting my metaphors on imperfect mediums, to discover my voice. I have found God’s provision, his abundance, his promises for daily bread, to be true, even in art and creation.

Because not one of my terrible little stories or ideas were wasted, they nourished me, body, mind, and soul, and then, when they were gone, there was room for the new words to come. Pour out the old wine to make room for the new.

Yet when I was writing my book, I found myself there again, Oh, this is rather good, you should save this for another book! Don’t use up all of your stuff here, save some of it for later. You want to write more than just this book, remember. you want to write for the rest of your life, so perhaps you should save this story, or save this sentence, or this metaphor, this idea would do well in its’ own book perhaps. 

Annie Dillard says, “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

Inspiration comes for the day’s work, for the moment’s discipline, and you either use it or you don’t.

There is no hoarding, there is no saving the best for later. There is only right now, this moment of creation, and so I’ve learned to use it up.

Art doesn’t lend itself to perfectionists and misers. I’ve found that my creativity responds to generosity.

I believe the freedom to create – or to “spend it all” as Annie Dillard says – is in direct connection to our trust in God’s provision. Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts, the provider, the El Shaddai, my God of more-than-enough?  Or are we in charge of hoarding it for ourselves and our carefully crafted outcomes and desires?

It’s an ancient story, the one about the Israelites wandering in the desert, hungry and wasting away. Then every morning, God sent bread for the day.

Just enough for one day, never more and never less. If the people tried to gather it and save it, it spoiled and rotted to waste. They could only gather what they would eat, and then, in the sunrise, there was the promise of enough again, for another day.

 

Art is like that daily manna-bread to me. There is always enough for the day. Gather it, eat it while it’s there, turn around and release it by sharing it.

And tomorrow when we rise and work all over again, I usually find it – whatever you call it, the Holy Spirit, your muse, your words, your inspiration – rushes into the vacuum left by the sacred act of imperfect creation and again, there is enough for yet another day.

And you gather it, break the bread, bless it, eat it, and pass it around, all over again, washed down with new wine.

 

 

Continue Reading · art, Jesus Feminist, writing · 59

In which I can’t Create if I’m always busy Reacting

Yesterday, I quit the Internet. Today, I took the Internet to Starbucks and toasted it with a venti Americano: we made up.

Internet, I could never stay mad at you.

Sometimes, I’m just so tired of All the Reacting. Every one is always reacting to every one else’s work, and right now, in these weeks of writing, I want to create. I want to create my own work, not react to or critique someone else’s work. I’m rather over reacting or evangelistic commenting or convincing or weighing in or defending or add my two-cents-ing. Besides, haven’t we hit capacity on constantly being outraged and offended?

I would rather Create than React.

I need to tell a better story, a beautiful story, a truthful one.  I’m not a preacher or a teacher, and I’m realising that I am not a good “reactor” either - wait a tick, is that even a word? I don’t think it is, unless the word “nuclear” is in front of it, which may be apropos for the tone of some rhetoric these days. 

Instead of big arguments and point-by-point apologetics, instead of reacting to slights, imagined or legitimate, political or religious or relational, I long to get on with my Father’s business.

I’d rather be a Prophet than a Professor, a Lover than an Apologist.

I long to Love, I long to offer grace, particularly to those struggling under their own new Laws, I long to worship, I’d rather write a better story than a point-by-point defense, and I long to really see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks at it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them. ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I can’t live a better story – let alone write one down (by January! *faint*) – if I’m being swept up in a million comments and expectations and frustrations and whirlwinds of offense.

I can’t Create, if I’m busy Reacting.  Some of my best work - on-screen and off – comes when I’m listening more than I’m talking, when I’m decreasing and God is increasing, when my heart is undivided and whole.

This idea is guiding a lot of my life right now (and, yes, of course, I’m talking about way more than just writing a book): 

Am I creating something beautiful and true? Or am I merely reacting?

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt

And I can’t be Fearless, if I’m afraid of The Critic, now can I? For me, It’s better to forget about the Critics for just a little while, in this sweet stage of creating, and simply get on it. There will be plenty of time to have my work picked apart later. I don’t mean to excuse a lack of critical thinking, not at all, there’s a good place for it – in creativity, in writing, in social justice, in community, in marriages, in parenting, all of it – but in all of those arenas, I hope I’m marred by dust and sweat and blood, I hope I dare greatly.

Right now, I’ll try, in my own small way, to dare a little more greatly, and take a few risks, by remembering to create, instead of react.

Photo by Scott Wade

Continue Reading · art, blogging, faith, fearless, Jesus Feminist, journey, work, writing · 36