3/15/2017: On Success

If artistic success, and indeed Christian success, is not measured in dollars, then what is success? What would success be for my pursuit of writing?

A life of love is a success. A life spent, poured out, in service to God and others. And what does that look like? It looks like quality relationships. Dialogue. Humility. A corporate and cooperative search for truth. It looks like learning, like recognizing failures and doing what I can to make up for them. It looks like depending upon grace and extending that same grace to others.

Art is the same. Art pours itself out in service to others. It works to heal wounds. It encourages. It questions wrongs. It seeks what’s right and invites others to do the same. It stands before others in vulnerability, asking to either be part of their lives or to be set aside or to be demolished. It relates.

Thus artistic success is using my craft in relation to—in relationship with—others. And not just to the nameless masses—that plumb-line of success I tend to follow and I think that much of the world around me tends to follow. It is in relation to others in the same way that I am called to relate to others in all of life. I am called to love those who are in my sphere. If I abandon those persons in my sphere and seek to share my work with other spheres, where does that leave me? Surely not love. My desire for other spheres couldn’t be a loving one, given that plenty persons exist in my current one.

Thus my art should begin with persons I know. And it probably ends there, too. But I haven’t developed in my understanding that far, yet.

And if success isn’t measured in dollars, how do I make enough money for my family and still art? Do I just jam it in the cracks, like after the kids go to bed? I guess it depends on whatever time God affords me. Right this second, I have enough time to write freely. At least for the moment. After this, I don’t know. (2/20/2018: Not anymore I don’t. I’m currently pulling the cracks as wide as I can and cramming it in there.)

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2/28/2017: On Earning A Living

Sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been super busy.

I wonder if we approach commerce from the wrong direction. I write, or whatever it is I do, to give, to love. What recompense I receive is also someone’s gift. That’s the interdependence inherent in love. And in this way a community should function. I realize this is not the way of the world, it having fallen from love into karma. But God hasn’t fallen into karma, and God still steers the thing.

Thus I shouldn’t think of it as “How can I make myself deserve to be paid?” but rather “How can I best give?”

The natural question that arises, then, is at what point do you make a living? Or how do you provide for your family?

(2/12/2018: I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out what I was saying in this next part. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that it’s been a good reminder about the purpose and guidelines of these posts. But I figure this is a touchy-enough topic that I should probably try to figure it out.

So perhaps I refer to the precedence of grace before action and to us being called to good work without being able to control grace—something about the dependence inherent in faithful work and thus the disconnect between a faithful, dependent worker and a goal corresponding to independence. Or I may have had a couple ideas rolling around in there.)

This seems similar to me to the question of grace and faith. If salvation is by grace and grace alone, at what point does a person act, or respond, as it were? At what point does a person have faith? And in the case of present salvation, or sanctification, at what point does the person take action? There seems to be some kind of disconnect between cause and effect. I wonder if the answer lies in my misconstruing the effect. Is salvation the properly desired effect of faith? Of good action?

Doesn’t the faithful person already assume salvation—that is to say, dependence—and in his godly dependence seek primarily things other than what the so-called independent person still requires? 

Is earning a living the properly desired effect of giving to others? I suggest no. And I think my adherence to the question is symptomatic of my so-called independence.

I remember hearing something from someone at some point that went something like this: Give, give, give, and if you happen to get, give that too.

The focus isn’t on not having. I’m not an ascetic. The focus is on giving. And I think we have enough correction by way of Jesus on receiving. That is, don’t depend upon it, for God takes care even of flowers and sparrows.

What about one’s family? Surely providing for others is a gift, and we work in order to earn those things that others need to survive. Yes, but money is not all. There are things more important than money. For instance, learning to give. Giving alongside you. Serving others. Depending upon God. All of those things are more important than merely possessing.

And that term, earn a living, is just wrong. Earn, as in karma. A living, as in those things that make us alive. How graceless and anti-metaphysical is that? As if food and clothing and housing make us alive. As if breathing, alone, is living.

Further, how often does the term actually mean to earn indulgence? We’re on the escalator of indulgence—our horizon of living goes up with every notch of the crank.

Of course we should try to keep breathing. God gave us life, time, and it’s best spent with care. But to what end? To indulge? Or to give?

Thus, we breathe to give. We keep breathing to keep giving.

12/5/2016: What’s An Artist?

Gut reaction—an artist is a subcreator, with all the nuances that being a true subcreator requires. To the degree that a persons is a subcreator, a person is an artist. And to the degree that a person is a subcreator, the appropriate amount of grace is required—whether common grace or special grace.

Also, what is a writer, if an artist?

I feel like this idea that I am part of the community of man and that the purpose of man is to further us along (toward the glory of God). Christ became our head, and we follow him. But the community remains the same. In whatever I do, the goal is for the good of the community. For the good of all.

If I write, I do so not for greatness, not to separate myself from others. I write as one of… us. And if I write, I do so as a human, as a person, just living life but doing so as a person who lives life while writing. I learn, I feel, I explore, I create, I fall, I do all the things that humans do as I write, and I do so as part of the whole community of man. I share my work with my brothers and sisters.

Yes, believers are brothers and sisters of Christ and so of each other, and non believers are not. But we treat them with the same love with hopes that they might be part of us. With hopes that they might be saved from the path they are on—our errant brothers and sisters. Such is our hope. Not that we might sprinkle crumbs of wisdom and grace upon them as we walk the straight and narrow, they in the gutters, but that we might share what grace and truth and love we also seek and sometimes find. That is, we share it as we seek it. We seek it beside them, with them, though our search often takes us on separate paths (but in truth, is this not the case for everyone, believer or not?). And we also listen, for the rest of mankind, should they find the grace to do so, also look for the same things and sometimes find them. We also all look for comforting, for beauty, for acceptance, for justice, and most of all for grace, though we often don’t know we look for it until we find it, as is the case for the legalist who finds the love of Christ, for the perfectionist who learns the joy of creative writing.

For me, I think this is an issue of solidarity. It is an extension of the people of which I feel a part. I tend to act this way toward those people that have already won my trust and friendship. This is essentially me learning to view all persons in the same way. Of feeling like part of mankind. It is a reversal of the effects of my ostracization, of my “Christian” separatism, of my competitive nature (nourished over the years by games). In other words, being part of mankind means not being shunned from it and not standing above it. Indeed, even those who feel apart are not.

Something that I find fascinating vs. something that I want you to find fascinating.

11/22/2016: On Ambition

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m worried about being a good writer. Or really even just being “a writer,” as if it’s some special breed of human. Indeed, it seems like most articles raise them up, along with other artists, to a pseudo-deity, much the same as celebrities. It draws all my ambition.

A godly man would view fame and wealth as all but worthless—at least for the normal reasons I pursue them. Tolstoy did, but only after discerning their worthlessness from experience. They are utility. Reach more people. Help more people. They carry the responsibility of the Talents, much like my education. Without these, they are merely the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is as much an idol—identifying myself as a writer—as identifying myself as, or making myself, a good person was in the past. I take the question “Who am I?” as impetus for becoming praiseworthy. But such is the flavor of my sin nature. And it seems that, like in my character perfectionism, God has forbidden me from attaining my desired identification. I fall into intense insecurity long before I succeed. It is my Babel Tower toppling. Baal failing to light the fire. God disallowing me from feeling independent of him.

And just as in the case of wanting to be and know that I am a good person, being and knowing that I am a good writer are bound by God’s will and thus dependent upon his grace, just like the toppling of the tower. That is, God could let me continue to build my tower. He could let me succeed. He could let me take credit for it for the rest of my life, just like he does for so many successful persons (according to worldly standards). But in grace, he reminds me that I am indeed dependent upon him. And not only does he remind me, but in grace he gives me belief. That is, if he does. I cannot force his hand in this, else it would not be grace. I cannot manipulate his timing. I am helpless to change my independent assumptions, and therefore all of my motivations for things that accord with independence, by myself. These things usually involve some measure of personal greatness: christian character, artistic skills, creativity, intelligence, good looks.

A few thoughts:

First, I don’t have to know that I am a good writer to be a good writer, even though I imagine it would help in determining my vocation. I say this because I feel particularly down at the thought that I might not be good—a product of my insecurity at the moment. But I guess this is just me trying to reassure myself according to that same system (of being a good writer). At the same time, perhaps I just want to know what the best use of my time is right now, and I assume that the best use involves doing what I do well (or the best). But I wonder if that’s the best criteria for choosing what to do. In and of itself, choosing to do what we are best at has little value. Choosing to do what we do best in order to help people has merit, but of course such purity requires character, which requires grace. But perhaps choosing to do what God has put before you is best. Or perhaps my worry about what to do involves another fear—what if I choose the wrong thing to do? Just another branch of the insecurity vine. In any case, I cannot outignorance or outevil the sovereignty and goodness of God. Choose what is in my head and heart to choose.

Second, there is a measure of clear-mindedness in spite of the fear of not being a good writer to determine that I am at least good enough and interested enough to pursue writing. Such has been the conclusion so far, though the fear persists. Again, it seems like I just want to assure myself that writing is the best path. It may be. Why I want to assure myself of this—perhaps because of my insecurity. See above.

Third, all sanctification is by grace through faith. Being a good, loving writer—the goal worth having—is by grace through faith. Trusting God and being humble (contra insecurity) are also goals worth having. And in God’s grace, he may topple my tower of writing well (agnostic of love) in order to teach me writing in the slums. Or he may forbid writing altogether. It’s up to him, and it’s good.

I want to write well primarily because of ambition (right now anyways). I have not wanted to write well to enhance my ability to reach people, to build the world—at least I have not noticed that motive. I believe that desire is in me, but it takes second seat to my pride. Tolstoy moves from the first to the second as well: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/05/16/leo-tolstoy-purpose-diaries-youth/ and https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/11/20/tolstoy-on-motives/

If this will change, it will be by grace through faith.

And in the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep writing. Until the next time God topples one of my towers.

If I end up being a professional writer, I wonder if I will always bounce back and forth between purer motives and ambition.

I was reminded that Lewis wrote about what tempts me. I think it was in The Great Divorce. He wrote about the artist who became more enamored with the craft of painting than about that which he painted, though he was initially interested in painting because he wanted to capture a bit of the beauty he saw and share it with others. While reading those articles on Tolstoy, I realized that I have become fixated on the craft of writing—I imagine because I believed it to be the quickest route to praiseworthiness. But the sincere writer records himself, not just his skills, not just his interesting thoughts. He records his emotions, and so his values, his beliefs, his struggles, his flaws. And he shares himself with the world. He connects with it. Perhaps in hopes that he can help it along its way. Perhaps also in hopes that it can help him. Or perhaps just because he’s part of it, and our grand design is to proliferate, to create, to cultivate, and he wants to contribute to humanity’s effort toward this end. I think it was realizing that I have failed to do this that my insecurity began in this episode. I failed in this regard, God made it obvious to me, and I fell apart, having come to depend upon being a good writer rather than upon God. I sell my loyalty for trifles.

9/2/2016: Serve the Work

Madeleine L’Engle says to serve the work first and then serve the audience. One does not serve himself. I would prepend this with “serve God.”

Don’t want to write? This is the work that God has given to you. Serve God. Serve the work. Serve those who will read it. Serve with all the effort and intelligence and stubbornness you have.

I read a compliment someone gave a friend of mine’s piece. They loved his prose. And I responded (internally) with what must have been vehemence. “Really? I didn’t think so at all.” It was almost like I refused to believe that he had any talent at all (and, though it’s too clichéd to hold much meaning anymore, I wonder if it’s just my need to feel superior that makes me blind to the talent he has).That led to strong feelings about all the various successes he has attained (or seems to have). I will not list them here. But I was jealous. I had a sickly combination of “Why not me, God!” and “I’m definitely better than him because of ____ and _____ and _____.”

But I was reminded that I am not called to success (3/20/2017: Not as “success” is typically defined, which is the type of success I refer to in this document). And shortly after this I remembered one of my favorite songs and listened to Ginny Owens’ version on Youtube:

 

 

Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and thou only first in my heart
High king of heaven, my treasure thou art

I can’t remember the last time more appropriate words came when I needed them (though I’m sure it’s happened). I heed riches. I heed praise. Success is first in my heart, and God my least treasure.

Be thou my vision, Lord. Let naught be all else to me. High king of heaven, steal back your throne.

Serve God. Serve the work. Serve your audience. Do it with everything you have, for that’s what you’ve been called to do, and this is the work God has put before you.