I’ve been going through another round of angst about being an artist in a world that is filled with other expectations. This morning in chapel, the preacher exhorted all of us to feed the poor, clothe the naked, and heal the sick in the name of Jesus. At lunch, a guest speaker told us that following Jesus means standing up in the face of oppression, speaking truth to power, being in solidarity with those who have nothing. As I sit in my comfortable office, surrounded by good art on the wall and typing at a late-model computer with its flat-screen monitor, I am all too aware of the privileged life that I lead. And I find myself wondering – not for the first time – what being called to follow Christ means to me as an artist, a teacher, a leader of something called the Center for the Arts and Religion.
In the chapter on art and the world’s need in my still-unfinished book, I have written,
The world is full of problems: war, homelessness, global warming, domestic violence, AIDS, hunger, drug abuse. The list goes on and on. In a world that seems to be always on the brink of disaster, there is a seemingly endless amount of work to do the help the earth heal from pollution of every kind; to insure adequate nutrition, housing, education, and health care to every person; to bring peace among the nations and in every home and village and city. And yet, if all of this is done, and there is no art, then the world will still be a sad, sorry, joyless place.
I believe this. I believe that I am called to be an artist, to make pictures that hover on the edge of dreams, to teach others how to look and listen, to help students think about the ways that art influences our thoughts and behavior, to help other artists join their faith and their art. I believe that I am meant to use the gifts God has given me – the gifts of thinking, painting, writing, and teaching – rather than reject them as unworthy or squander them in doing other things for which I have no gift and no love.
And yet, I struggle to remember these things in the face of the unrelenting need that is all around me. I forget that I do not need to earn God’s love. I forget that as part of the always-wounded, always-risen Body of Christ I do not have to do it all – I only have to do my part. I forget that grace flutters all around me, like cherry blossom petals on a windy day.