Hello there, Sarah the Frase here, coming to you as a self-identifying writer and artist.
I’ve been calling myself a writer since I was a kid, but it’s taken the whole first year of being a Media Arts and Worship student at graduate school before I finally felt okay calling myself an artist. Even then, it was that I was going to be part of the leadership in our on-campus artists’ group, Eikon that forced my hand. Basically, I knew that if I was going to express confidence in other artists then I’d have to model that self-acceptance myself. But that doesn’t mean that it was easy for me. This Venn diagram appeared on Writers & Artists Twitter Feed, perhaps you can relate?
This past spring I took a Theology and Literature class and read My Name is Asher Lev. Written by Chiam Potok from the perspective of a Hasidic Jew who is gifted from childhood to be a visual artist, this novel may well be the most painful read of my life thus far. Why? I am an artist who is shaped by and devoted to a community of faith. And like Potok and his protagonist, I refuse to buy into the false choice between my art and that community. I won’t check out of the Church even when what I do as an artist receives push-back that is acutely painful.
So this blog post and my next five blog posts will be my exploration of what artists are called to do in and for the Church and the world. While I will be speaking about artists: visual, musical, performers, writers, and filmmakers, we are not the only ones called to take up our cross and follow Him. Much of what I name here every church member is called to in the context of their own lives.
An Artist is called to Endure and Overcome Shame
I do NOT mean that an artist is called to be a doormat and just sit and take the shaming of others in a masochistic act of martyrdom for God or craft. Letting people beat you down indiscriminately does not produce godliness. But if you make art it is inevitable for you to experience some shaming. Unfortunately, much of the church only considers art a valid calling for a believer if the art that they produce:
1) directly contains Christian subject matter that glorifies God
2) teaches a Biblical or theological truth
3) is evangelistic
The desire to create art for God’s sake (or “merely” in an act of communion with God) without one of these three qualifiers is called foolish, self-centered, even evil. Because these messages about art’s correct context are so frequent, shame over desiring to create art and actually devoting your time to that end is sadly a common part of the artist’s experience.
But experiencing shame and shaming continually does not automatically produce an immunity to that shame. Shaming of the artist within a family, within the Church, typically results in one of three moves: censoring, hiding or leaving. The artist may train himself to turn off those gifts and desires, side table them, diminish them, and eventually through this self-censoring never take art up again. Or she may become the closet artist, the trunk writer, who keeps all art as a form of prayer or communion with God and never dares to share the beauty God has gifted her with.
Finally, there’s a mass exodus of artists from the Church. Exhausted and hurt one too many times, they buy the lie that there must be a division between their art and the community of faith, sometimes even between art and God. “I love Jesus, I’m not such a big fan of the Church,” they tell Rolling Stone in an interview about their latest album, and the Body of Christ is weakened where it could have been enriched.
Those who can help us Endure and Overcome Shame are the Redeemer and the Redeemed.
Jesus said, “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master” (Matt. 10:24a). We know that abiding in the perfect will of the Father and for love of us, Christ endured the cross, a highly shameful death, hating that shame (Hebrews 12:2) but subjecting Himself to it in obedience. So Christ in us gives us a lasting hope to endure the smaller yet still painful shaming of our calling to be artists. As the Apostle Paul (a fantastic writer) once urged his believing audience, we get to: “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Heb. 12:3). If He endured and overcame shame, and He is in us, then we know and the Spirit of God testifies that we are never alone in our shame and we will overcome it.
The world tells us that the answer to shame for the artist is success. If your name becomes renown all your artistic choices are justified and you can spit in the eye of those who shamed you. But in his 2015 article, The Good News About Shame, Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch offers a different answer:
The remedy for shame is not becoming famous. It is not even being affirmed. It is being incorporated into a community with new, different, and better standards for honor. It’s a community where weakness is not excluded but valued; where honor-seeking and “boasting” of all kinds are repudiated; where servants are raised up to sit at the table with those they once served; where even the ultimate dishonor of the cross is transformed into glory, the ultimate participation in honor.1
Built of sinners holding hands and screwing up even as we are being transformed into the image of the Son, the Church is meant to be this community Crouch speaks of. I know as well as the next person that we have often failed to be this, but past failures do not prevent us from present and future victories because the author and finisher of our faith is Christ. And the more I look around me in the corporate gathering of believers, the more I find that I am not alone. There are artists who are staying in the church, fighting through past shaming and finding healing with the people of God. I have added links to their works and words below so you can see what Christ is doing in the artists whom He loves and who love Him.
So let’s continue to make art.
And when we are struck by shame, let us run to Christ and to the people of God, that we may yet endure as He has endured for the love of each of us.
1 Andy Crouch, “The Good News About Shame,” Christianity Today. Mar. (2015): 40.
I handpicked these links to show you what I consider these artists and writers’ recent “hit singles.” Enjoy.
AN ARTIST MIXTAPE
Faith and the Other Five Senses
Grace & Glory
Sword and Scroll
The Broken Frames
Box and Turtle
Hardcore Christian Men
To the Uttermost
Getting Carrie’d Away