The Art Of Reconciliation

A healthy worldview leaves room to be challenged, to be expanded and even to be proven wrong. It postures itself to listen and learn from those with whom we disagree. Divisive judgments, on the other hand, constitute an unhealthy worldview. They take root in us when we harden into the belief that our personal views are the final word or ultimate truth.
When we believe we have seen it all, understand it all and have the right perspective about it all is when we begin the process of decay. It is easy to profile those who are unlike us and exchange their true and living humanity for a caricature of our own imagining. This presumptive and anti-creative judgment hurts ourselves as much as it does the other. It stifles our ability to learn and grow and therefore stifles our ability to create.

Those who are quick to judge are also those who are likely to experience creative block. Curiosity and judgment do not easily co-exist. Judgment is a barricade whereas curiosity is an invitation. Presumptive judgment blocks our creative channels with a cold and harsh absolutism.

The cure for this is humility. When we have humility, when we choose to be quick to listen and slow to speak, we expand our own borders and often find we drew the boundaries too narrow out of fear instead of love. At the very least, listening reaffirms our convictions.

Art is always on the other side of our engagement with the unfamiliar. The unfamiliar draws us, intrigues us or woos us by curiosity into a greater expanse of experience. But when we refuse to engage those who are different than us, we refuse the art and the personal growth that comes from contrast.

Many years ago, the question arose in my heart which I felt to be the voice of God. The voice said, "Stephen. Are you willing to be misunderstood to go where I am leading you?" My answer was a quick and naive yes. But the implications of this answer were much farther reaching than a quick or zealous answer could have understood.

I've always walked the lines between subcultures and factions that don't normally coalesce. I've often been too worshipful for the marketplace and too secular for the sacred. But this isn't to say I am not rooted in my own convictions or that I am double minded about what I believe. No. I know who I am. I know what I believe and I make no apologies about it. But I am not so staunch that I don't look for value or truth in differing perspectives. In fact, more often than not, it has been my atheistic or doubtful companions who have made me a better Christian. And true, we must be mature and firmly rooted in our convictions in order to engage those who differ in belief from us. But if we never engage them at all, we may never discover how strong or in some cases how flimsy our faith really is.

I believe, especially for artists of faith working and living in the times we live in, we must deconstruct the denominational and humanistic tradition of suspicion toward the other. Forget having Muslim or atheist friends for a moment. Many Christians still struggle toward other believers. Fortunately, worship is breaking down this man-made barrier. But this religious inheritance of fear and suspicion toward those who are unlike us in our beliefs or our interpretations of scripture has stifled the Church more than it has protected her from heresy.

We don't have a scriptural precedence for this behavior. In fact, I see just the opposite. Jesus's example is that he came to us when we were still enemies of God (Romans 5:8-10). He sought common ground with us where there was arguably little in common to find. The interesting part is, he didn't come only to change us so much as he came to empower us to change. That may sound like subtle or circus semantics but the distinction is important. He didn't only interact with us to prove his rightness or our wrongness. The only people Jesus treated with rebuke, contempt or tough love were those who presumed they were already like God or those who had become self righteous in their religion and therefore isolated themselves from the common people. Those who were different or marginalized, those who existed on the fringe or didn't understand God's kingdom, he treated with kindness, grace and empathy. Therefore Jesus led the way by example of his ministry of reconciliation.

As artists of faith, we are stewards of this ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).
Throughout the ages, the Church has fallen prey to a territorialism which has separated us from those whom we are likely to have more in common with than not. Creativity, however, which is the artist's tool, intersects all facets of society and wields the power to bring together. This power of creativity is the Church's great inheritance. She is only now beginning to awaken and recognize this God given gift within her.

Whether family, education, religion, arts & entertainment, economics, government or science, creativity pushes these fields forward and draws them together, which is also Jesus' own mission as mentioned in Colossians 1:20. Creativity is innately human and also reflective of the divine nature. Again, creativity is positioned at the intersection. It transcends areas of disagreement to form its own common unity or community. Art as the ministry of reconciliation draws connections or reveals connections where we have lost or forgotten they existed.

In short, it is damaging to stay inside our own little safety zones or subcultures, learning and listening only to those who agree with us. This in part is why I have endeavored to invite participants to The Breath & the Clay and strive to interview interesting people on Makers & Mystics who come from various viewpoints or backgrounds, different than my own. I believe the cross-pollination is good. As I said earlier, at the very least it will reaffirm our own convictions.

As artists of faith, we are the architects of hope for our culture. We are the ministers of reconciliation. As creatives, we are those who are called to traverse past the conventions and safety zones for the sake of pioneering a new and living and expanded experience of God's presence in the world.

***In my upcoming blog posts I will unpack more specific areas where I feel called to be a minister of reconciliation. Primarily, I am referring to the fields of spiritual encounter, philosophy and theology, and environmental stewardship.

Suggested Reading List Part Three

Alright friends. Several of you have requested another reading list from me. By now I think most of you know, I read quite a bit. In part, simply because I love to read.  Books remind me that words are living things, words bloom. Words have life and words give life. I read because I am a writer. I am hungry to grow, to learn to be a better writer. More importantly, especially if you are going to take my reading list and head to your amazon cart. You need to know, I don't just read authors who wear the same stripes as I do. Sometimes I get more out of the authors whose views are diametrically opposed to my own. My nets are spread far and wide. If we are humble, we can hear the still, small voice in the most unsuspecting of places.  So, par your request, here are five more books I highly recommend. Enjoy.



11. Exuberance: The Passion for Life by Kay Redfield Jamison


Kay Redfield Jamison is more widely known for the memoir she wrote about her experiences with manic depression called An Unquiet MindExuberance, on the other hand is a much-needed antithesis to the links often made between madness and the artistic temperament. In this work, Jamison explores how exultant moods, playfulness, and risk-taking play into the creative process. At this point, about 80% of my copy is highlighted. Here are a few quotes:


"Exuberance, it would seem, is the inherent response of those who are moved deeply by nature and who delight in assigning its glories to a Creator." 

"Passionate enthusiasms... are as essential to survival as they are indispensable to imagination and social change. Passions bring to our attention the overlooked; they compel commitment of time and heart... they drive out other states of being... curiosity countervails fatigue and setback; and the thrill of the chase acts to overwhelm the hunter's fear of what he hunts." 


12. The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look At How We Experience Intimate Spaces by Gaston Bachelard


Ok. So, I know I may lose some of you here, but that's okay. This book is not a read for the faint of heart. It's kinda like chocolate cake.  I can only take several bites at a time because it is so dense and so rich. But if you trust me here, I can assure you the commitment carries a worthwhile payoff. I return to this book over and over for inspiration. It returns magic to ordinary spaces and reminds me everything is a miracle. 


In this work, European philosopher, Gaston Bachelard takes the reader on a journey through cellars, attics, drawers, nests, corners and wardrobes. He expounds on how the spaces around us impact our moods and creativity. He recalls how our exterior environments first began in the imagination and how home is "the human being's first world".  Here are a few quotes:


"I must show that the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. "  


"...we cover the universe with drawings we have lived."


"A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability. We are constantly re-imagining its reality: to distinguish all these images would be to describe the soul of a house;"


13. Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O' Donohue


John O' Donohue is one of those authors who could write the instruction manual to a leaf blower and the eloquence would bring you to tears. Fortunately, this book is much more than an instruction manual. In Beauty, O'Donohue calls his readers back to the place of mystery and wonder in the midst of our conflicted world amassed with suffering. He celebrates the ineffable hiding in our daily midst and opens our eyes to behold beauty in everything. Each chapter celebrates a different facet of beauty as seen through the lens of philosophy, theology and poetry. Here is a quote: 


"The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life. The call of beauty is not a cold call into the dark or the unknown; in some instinctive way we know that beauty is no stranger. We respond with joy to the call of beauty because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart a forgotten brightness." 


14. How We Are by Vincent Deary


Okay. So here is another book that I have marked up and return to over and over. Perhaps in part because so much of his subject matter has influenced the content of my own writings. Another reason I love this book is because of Deary's personal backstory in writing it. 


When Vincent was 40 years old, he left his job as a psychotherapist in London, sold his house and locked himself in a room in Edinborough for two years to write. (How could I not like this guy?) By the age of 45, he finally finished the book but never let anyone see it. He simply went back to work in London. Another five years passed until at the age of 50 he finally showed his work to a friend who happened to be a former editor. From there the book began to spread and his own life began to change. 


In How We Are, Deary writes about what it means to be human. He explores the power of habit and how it shapes the people we become. Deary reveals how difficult it is for us to change, how we live most of our lives on autopilot until we are forced out of our comfortable routines.  Here is a quote from the Introduction: 


" We live in small worlds. At the beginning of most movies we are shown a status quo,... the state of things before the war. We are shown a routine and comfortable life, a small world, one that is soon to end... We are creatures of habit and we live in worlds small enough for us to come to know their ways and to establish familiar ways within them. Unless we are uneasy, unless something disturbs us from within or without, we tend to work to keep things the way they are..."


From here the book unfolds in novel-like fashion painting a portrait of our human condition and offering us a more thoughtful approach to the way we are. 


15. Deep Play by Diane Ackerman


This book could be a companion read to Exuberance. But rather than approaching life from a scientific or psychiatry background, Diane approaches the book as a poet and essayist. Play is one of my deepest values and intrinsic to the creative spirit, so to have an entire book devoted to the elements of play is like a feast. The book is part spiritual memoir, part poetic muse and all goodness. Enough said.  Here's your quote: 


" For humans, play is a refuge from ordinary life, a sanctuary of the mind, where one is exempt from life's customs, methods, and decrees. Play always has a sacred place - some version of a playground - in which it happens. The hallowed ground is usually outlined, so that it's clearly set off from the rest of reality... The world of play favors exuberance, license, abandon. Shenanigans are allowed, strategies can be tried, selves can be revised. In the self-enclosed world of play, there is no hunger. It is its own goal, which it reaches in a richly satisfying way."


Alrighty.  There you go friends. Don't leave me hanging. Let me know if these reading lists are compelling, inspiring, infuriating, challenging or worth reading at all.  I continue to discover more books. Perhaps my own will be on this list soon. 





Suggested Reading List: Part 2

Last week, I listed five of my top book choices on the relationship between art and faith. This week, as promised, I want to continue spreading the love and give you more suggested reads for your library. Again, these are not in any particular order.

6. Drawn In: A Creative Process For Artists, Activists, And Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink 


This is a well-written, practical read by an author I know personally and highly respect. Troy is a spiritual director, musician, workshop leader and author. He spoke at last year's The Breath & The Clay gathering. You can listen to his keynote on our Makers & Mystics Podcast. 

From the book cover: "Bronsink shows how we can connect the creative life and the life of faith through design thinking and creative processes. Exercises invite participation in God's creative life and redemptive rhythms. This holistic approach will shift how Christian creatives think of mission, worship collaboration and everyday discipleship."

7. The War of Art  by Steven Pressfield

This book shoots straight and slaps you in the face when needed. The author is not afraid to call BS when he sees it but also understands the spiritual underpinning of the creative process. This book helped me face common obstacles we all face in creative work.  "The War of Art emphasizes the resolve needed to recognize and overcome the obstacles of ambition and then effectively shows how to reach the highest level of creative discipline." One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got." 

8. Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland

I have read this short but essential read over and over. I highly recommend it, especially to those first launching out into creative work. This book, like The War of Art, is a helpful guide to persevere and not give up. A quote from the book: "Making art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience no reward. Making the work you want to make means setting aside these doubts so that you may see where to go next. Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself." 

9. On Beauty And Being Just  by Elaine Scarry

When I read this book bearing in mind the One who Is Beauty, I am smitten over and over again with a renewed awe of God's presence. This book isn't written with that correlation in mind. However, you can't discuss Truth, Beauty or Goodness without finding yourself faced with the sources from which they flow. I have read this book countless times and keep it close by as a continual reminder of the relationship between Truth and Beauty. Ms. Scarry, though a "skeptic" when it comes to spiritual matters, confesses that beauty incites us to long for truth, to yearn for something bigger and outside of ourselves. 

10. This is difficult! Why? Because I have hundreds of books I could list here which have impacted me beyond measure. I haven't even touched the poets, Dylan Thomas, Pablo Neruda, or the spiritual writers, Frederick Buechner and Henry Nouwen.  What about the philosophers or Gaston Bachelard and his phenomenal work "The Poetics of Space"? I haven't room to tell you about all the contemporary writers, many of whom I've met along the way, or the psychologists, Rollo May and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. So who fills this tenth and final spot? Ahhh!!! 

You know, I'm going to keep this one simple and go with Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her book is real, honest and encouraging. She shares her personal successes and failures and invites the reader to take the journey of your own. I don't see eye to eye with her on everything but there is gold in her experience and a gentle wisdom in her approach that liberates the aspiring artist to be okay with where you are. We all need that. 

So there you have it friends. I hope these books inspire you the way they have me. See you soon.