I’ve always believed God has a way of bringing certain talents to light. Experience tells me that everyone has gifts, areas of exceptional insight, something many people refer to as “talent.” Some know their purpose from an early age. My sister always wanted to be a nurse. We like to believe that people will somehow be drawn into their Dharma, their true purpose. But sadly, some people go their whole lives never having discovered their talents. I wonder how many potential concert violinists have never picked up a violin, trapped in poverty, where the idea of owning a violin and affording lessons is not even a remote possibility. As a parent, I’ve tried to expose my kids to many avocations to see what might stick. My father use to tell the story of how he found a $10 bill on the floor of the art department of Macy’s when he was twelve and used it to buy a set of paints, launching his career as a professional artist.
In our search for meaning and purpose, I think a healthy question might be, “how can I use my God-given talents to serve others?” I’d like to think The Quench Project is a way God is using me to express the hope He has for humanity. My ardent prayer is that TQP be a blessing to God. So yes, I get the sense that my art is an expression of what He did for me. I believe my art is something He is doing through me.
During last Sunday’s brilliant sermon by Todd Simonis at City Church it occurred to me that perhaps I’m asking the wrong question. Instead of focusing on what God is doing through me, I should perhaps ask what He is doing in me? At lunch recently, Todd also suggested, as have other mentors in my past (including my former therapist, Gordon Teichner), that maybe I should find a way to serve God that has nothing to do with my art.
This advice has always surprised me, whenever I’ve received it. I totally get it, that my service must be a pure, sacrificial offering to God, as if to say, perhaps, that combining my vocation with my mission somehow corrupts both. It’s a scary thought for me because I’ve always believed art was more than my career; I have always treated it as my life’s mission, my calling, my offering. This “artist-on-a-mission” has been part of my identity since I was a child.
But what if it’s not God’s true mission for me? Is not my identity first and foremost that of a child of God? My effort to marry my career and world view with my Christian walk has not always produced the best results, at least in terms of monetary success or fame. I’ve been derided by some for trying to tell the black story, when I’m not black. Tell me again how it is wrong for a white man to express disdain for oppression and a desire for hope by depicting the black experience? It is also my story that I’m telling. And it is a very human story, after all. It has also been suggested by still others that I appear to be exploiting the tragedies of others. But the story I’m telling through my art has always been about hope, the triumph of God’s spirit within us all.
But still I can’t help but wonder if my efforts are based more on the desires of my own ego, my political perspectives, my desire to appear smart or enlightened than I really am, rather than simply to glorify God. Am I taking it upon myself to glorify him the way I choose, rather than the way in which He intends? It’s a tough question to ask, both as an artist and as a follower of Christ. I’m really not sure of the answer. Again, I’m not certain that monetary success and adulation are the true measures of success in God’s eyes. Many have found this kind of success by doing anything but God’s will. While many others have starved nearly to death in His service.
So I ask, is my work successful in the way that matters most; does it edify God? Clearly the answer is yes, my intention is to glorify God. It is to express the triumph of God as He works with the human spirit. It is to tell the story of grace, that in the final analysis, we cannot find joy in this life, except through Him.
And yet, if the project succeeds, am I not proud? If it fails am I not ashamed? As the great yogi, Pantangeli admonished, “never auspicious nor inauspicious be.” This advice is not so easy; in fact it is almost impossible. I have dedicated my life to becoming excellent at what I do. I am proud of my dedication to my calling. I have come to realize, however, that my good works mean nothing to God, that His love is unconditional. So why do I work so hard? For me it a form of worship. My work is intended to glorify God.
I have only a head knowledge of humility. I freely admit, I have wanted to break myself so that I can fix myself, without God’s help. I have set myself up, by myself, through my own efforts, only to fail over and over again. I still struggle with being in charge — being obedient to God. I have left misery in my path in my ambition to make a difference in this world. Like many, I am guilty of trying to make myself look good by claiming the high moral ground as my own, when it simply isn’t.
And yet, all God wants, according to scripture, is that I take my self out of the equation and make Him the center of my being. But human pride is a tricky thing. Pride inserts itself the moment you realize you’re humble. There is no winning. And I’m only human.
The metaphoric question then is this: how hard can you pull on a weed before the root breaks? How do we know when we are really doing the work God put us on Earth to do? How can anyone truly know God’s plan for them. Many have waited in obscurity their whole lives, waiting for a sign. But what is the sign?
God just spoke the answer in my silent waiting. Perhaps the sign is in the joy I derive in the process of doing, which is the only thing available to me in the present moment. Whether my mission succeeds or fails is irrelevant. This answer will have to do for now.
So yes, I am engaged in a process from which I am deriving joy. Is it keeping me from or pushing me closer to success? I don’t think that matters. Despite what some religious leaders might tell us, money and fame are not God’s measure of success.
Sure, I’d like The Quench Project to raise a lot of money so that it will help people in need, including my own family. But I also pray every day that my work be used to spread the good news of what God has done in my life and in the lives of others.
At least I can say I’ve taken the chance, I’ve been blessed with talent and I am using it to glorify God, even if God and I are are the only ones who may ever care.
On a side note, I find it interesting that whenever I am promoting my career on FB, my posts are all but ignored. I want you to understand something. I am not working for my own living; I work now for my family‘s livelihood. On a much deeper level than that, my work is also about making the world richer and deeper. When you buy a painting or ask me to speak at an event or teach, you are contributing to a better world for yourself and others in your sphere of influence. Making money as an artist with integrity is an honest and noble pursuit, but it is not my primary purpose. Despite what society has drilled into our heads, there are many artists who have dedicated their lives to making us better, more sensitive and kinder people. These individuals are professionals in every sense of the word. They have earned our admiration and deserve whatever remuneration they can generate for their efforts; they have contributed not only to the economy but to our very beings. We can support them by “liking,” “sharing” and/or buying their work, not because you want to help out a poor artist but because you believe they offer a great value for your efforts and resources.