Leaf by Niggle

I’m one of the best procrastinators this world has ever seen. As a child, I was supposed to clean my room every few weeks–pick up, vacuum  and dust. It should have taken 30 minutes max (I didn’t live like a total pig). Yet I would spend my entire Saturday finding ways to put off my cleaning. There were cool toys to play with (instead of putting away). I hadn’t read that book in a while. The vacuum cleaner held an orb of destruction that needed to be diffused by my GI Joe action figures. The guinea pig litter was too stinky. Thus, I turned a short project into an eight-hour dilemma. I missed out on many Saturdays of playing with friends, running around outside, and the general rewarding goodness of completing a task in a timely manner.

Portrait of Niggle

Mr. Niggle

So it is I found a kindred spirit in Niggle, the protagonist in J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle”. (On a completely unrelated side note, I dig his beard.)

Niggle is a painter, and not a very accomplished/talented painter at that. His passion is leaves–he studies leaves, draws them, and paints them. Niggle wants to paint a tree, but feels he hasn’t yet mastered the leaf. He also struggles with completing his work in a timely fashion. He tries to paint but finds excuses not to–he doesn’t know enough, he isn’t good enough, people are interrupting, his neighbor needs help, etc.

One day, Niggle sees a picture of a tree with a forest and a mountain in the background. I can’t tell if the picture is real or in his imagination, but the painting becomes his magnum opus. Unfortunately, his handicapped neighbor’s wife grows ill, and Niggle abandons his work to offer minimal help.

Another side note with a little more applicability than the last: Niggle is defined as “a trifling complaint, dispute, or criticism” (Websters).

Niggle eventually dies, or “goes on his journey” as the story puts it. He spends some time in a hospital/holding cell where he learns to manage his time, is granted grace and freedom by a “doctor”, and is finally released into his new life, which, ironically, is the landscape he had been trying to paint.

Timothy Keller asserts that this story is about work, the value of work, the importance of completing work, etc. I agree, but that idea isn’t what captivated me when reading the story.

I was moved by the artist’s image/perception/understanding of the unknown. As I read it, Niggle, in his own human way, perceived a glimpse of heaven and was trying to the best of his ability to capture it. In life, his vision was broken, hung in a back corner of a museum, and then forgotten about forever. To the outside world, Niggle was a nobody, but he still had a vision, an artistic drive, and the overwhelming fear to ship his product (as Seth Godin puts it).

I fear that I’m like Niggle, a mediocre writer at best in the eyes of the world. If I were to die tomorrow, I doubt that my writing legacy would live for very long. Very few may ever be moved by my work.

But it’s still my work,my poetry, my art. And the people I’ve met in the ongoing process of becoming an expert have given life to my writing that I never thought imaginable. Niggle didn’t have a community of artists (or even friends) to challenge, encourage, and even validate him as an artist. I need to stop getting hung up on whether or not I’m skilled enough, well-read enough, or whatever not-good-enough worries that haunt many artists. Instead, I need to write, which isn’t complete until you read it. And maybe someday, we’ll find ourselves in a more perfect form of your poem or mine.

What fears keep you from writing? Or from sharing your work with the public?

What are your visions of eternity?

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Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 2

Painting by Jackson Pollock

In my previous post, I wrote about the need for ambivalent art in light of presenting a clear gospel, especially in a church setting. One my biggest lessons, however, is that the general/average church-goer has no idea how to contemplate art. This makes me sad. Historically, some of our greatest paintings and architecture were found in the chapels and cathedrals of Europe. When was the last time you drove by a church and said, “Wow, what a beautiful building”? When was the last time you walked into a church and you were struck by the art hanging on the walls?

As I look back on my own experience, I remember two paintings from my childhood church. One was done by a congregation member–it was an autumny-mountain scene. The other was the American stereotypical thin, well-kept, rosy-cheek Jesus. Was there more art? The building itself was no piece of art. Within the church walls, there was teaching, preaching, music, dancing, and movie-watching. But there was little art, and even less talking about it.

I’m disappointed that art is so foreign to church-goers. Is this a failure of the church (as an organization)? Is it a failure of the individuals who comprise the church? Is it a failure of the greater culture to appreciate art? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Christian church–organizationally not individually–is guilty of copying pop-culture to make it’s own culture more attractive. As an organization, we’ve ignored the command to love our neighbor and to be in the world building relationships. There are many Christian artists/writers/musicians/producers/actors who influence the world outside of the cute little Christian sub-culture. But you don’t hear about them because of their faith, you hear about them because of their art. In the Bible, James talks about showing the measure of your faith by what you do, not what you say. I’m not saying Christians should be shy about their faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed my life. If you spend any amount of time with me, you’ll eventually hear parts of my story and my faith. But it’s never first out of my mouth, because if I can’t act like my life has been forever changed, the my words, my poems, my art is empty.

But the general public’s lack of appreciation of art cannot be blamed on the church. The church may be guilty of not producing or educating people in terms of art, but our greater culture doesn’t make time or take energy to stop and appreciate art. And why should they? Culturally, we are so focused on giving our attention to things that are tangible, logical, worthwhile, and applicable. For an example of stripping art from ourselves, check out the standards for Colorado. At the high school level, fiction is being replaced by “real-world” reading to give students the applicable skills to survive in the workplace. Our schools are preparing kids to be robots and factory workers, not deep-thinkers and creators (thanks to Seth Godin and his book Linchpin for this terminology).

We do not know how to stop and contemplate something that doesn’t have immediate relevance, meaning, or clarity. We are not okay with mystery.

Clear Gospel, Ambivalent Art Part 1

Jackson Pollock's Mural #631

Last summer, I was asked to join a team that would be responsible for creating a monthly night of worship, called First Wednesday. Our goal is to provide a moment for people to refocus their faith and respond in some way. We attempt to accomplish this goal through music, storytelling, scripture, and…art! My role is twofold: (1)to take the ideas of the group and write a script for the storyteller and (2)to help lead a team of artists that creates original work based on the theme of the night. The art is on display for people to observe as they show up and leave, and then it’s moved to be on display for a month. Incorporating art into the worship experience is a new idea at our church, and I’ve already learned quite a bit about artists, non-artists, and folks who have no idea what to do, say, or think when coming face to face with art.

One of our church’s goals is to share the clear gospel message at every event. And by gospel, I mean the message that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, resurrected from the dead to give us his gift of grace and salvation, and all we have to do to receive that gift is to believe that Jesus, the son of God, died and rose again. There are many philosophies, theologies, and opinions out there that vary from this stance, so we are intent on being crystal clear regarding the words, teachings, and grace of Christ.

However, if we approach art in this same black and white fashion, either as viewers/readers or as creators, we end up with trite, superficial, closed-off works that fail to move/inspire/provoke/challenge.

Why is that?

Because everyone who has approached the cross and walked away from the cross has their own story. If I wrote a poem about my father’s death being the catalyst for developing my own faith, and the poem concluded that in order for you to experience God or to develop your faith, your father would have to die too. That’s ridiculous. For some people, the death of a parent equals liberty and release. For others, relief.

The best art provokes its viewers/readers to walk into the intersection of self, expression, and introspection, to get run-over (or at least honked at!), and to fly away a changed person. All without ever leaving the street.

 

Beauty Will Save the World: A Review

photo by daveynin (Creative Commons)

When you go for a drive around town, how often are you struck by the beauty of the architecture of strip malls, fast-food joints, and freeway exits? Does the brown cloud camping over your metropolis plant awe in your heart?

We are growing ugly. Logically, we’re growing ugly because we are losing beauty–it isn’t important to us in our architecture, in our studying, in our politics, in our entertainment, in our daily interactions with each other.  In Beauty Will Save the World, Zahnd asserts that our world is ugly because the axis on which the world revolves is one of power and violence. According to Zahnd, we (globally) spend over 3 billion dollars a day on defending ourselves. The United States accounts for 56% of that number. As we spend exorbitant amounts of money on political campaigns, weapons, and walls, there are places where people can’t even get a drink of fresh water, or enjoy a full meal for that matter. (Side note: check out globalrichlist.org. If you make $25,000 a year, that places you in the richest 10% in the world! Obama considers this income below poverty. Really? Really? I’m not sure if any of our politicians really understand the true depth of poverty. Do you? Do I?)

Zahnd’s main premise is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, tilted the earth’s axis to one of love. His argument, while inefficiently written, is powerful and fascinating. Zahnd takes us to the beginning of history, when Cain killed Abel. God cursed him, and Cain went and founded a city. Zahnd asserts that this city was essentially founded on murder and violence, the consequence of his murderous actions, thus setting into motion a pattern of building power through violence. Zahnd does an amazing job of calling out the American church in its support for our imperialism. Zahnd writes,

“[T]here is always a particular temptations faced by the church when it is hosted by a superpower. The temptation is to accommodate itself to its host and to adopt (or even christen) the cultural assumptions of the super power. . .[T]he problem that is distorting American evangelicalism is that it has become far too accommodating to Americanism and the culture of superpower. . .The dominant American script is that which idolizes success, achievement, acquisition, technology, and militarism. It is the script of a superpower. But this dominant script does not fit neatly with the alternative script we find in the  gospel of Jesus Christ. So here is our challenge: when those who confess Christ find themselves living in the midst of an economic and military superpower, the are faced with the choice to either be an accommodating chaplain or a prophetic challenge. . . We need to bear the form and beauty of the Jesus way and not merely provide a Christianized version of our cultural assumptions.”

This is a kick to the stomach of any church who preaches both the gospel of grace and salvation and justifies any act of violence against another human being (bombing, slaving, trafficking, etc.). Jesus himself undermined the Roman axis of power in his day by claiming to be the king of heaven (and eventually all of Earth). Zahnd explains that through grace and forgiveness, Jesus undermined and invalidated Caesar’s power. Additionally, Zahnd points out that Jesus was able to take one of the most offensive, painful, frightening, and ugly symbols of death in Western history and turned it into a beautiful symbol of faith and life.

“It is the beauty of Christ’s love and forgiveness as most clearly seen in the cruciform that is able to save us from our vicious pride avaricious greed . . . [which] are often pawned off as virtues in the culture of a superpower.”

Zahnd  believes that it is the role of the Christian then to not “protest the world into a certain moral conformity, but to attract the world to the saving beauty of Christ . . . because God is more like a musician than a manager, more like a composer of symphonies than a clerk of keeping ledgers.”

And this is why art is important. Zahnd asserts that art is not as valuable in a pragmatic culture like a 21st-century United States. Whether it’s politics, economics, education, technology, business, or career, practicality reigns over aesthetics. Art is not practical, but it sure is beautiful. Zahnd uses the cathedrals found in Europe as an example of architecture exhibiting beauty and awe.  Art most likely will never provide a consistent paycheck for most of us. It just isn’t practical. And neither is Jesus dying on the cross or resurrecting from the dead. But both are awe-inspiring, mysterious, life-changing, beautiful.

Would the gospel of Jesus Christ be beautiful to those who don’t believe it if it weren’t based on pragmatism, logic, and usefulness? Would the beauty of the gospel be seen if Christian art sought to reflect originality and uniqueness in an axis of love?

photo by Eric Lars Bakke

I will leave you with this thought. I think the Tim Tebow phenomenon is an accurate microcosm of how evangelical Christians treat people outside of their (our) circle of belief. And I’m not talking about Tebow himself. I’m talking about his fans. Those who disassociate themselves with any who say something critical of their idol. It’s an us vs. them mentality, which often resorts to name calling, verbal abuse, and all around ugliness. If that’s how the followers of Jesus act to those who have a different world view, how will the gospel of Jesus’ grace and salvation ever be beautiful?

The Church and Creativity

I came across this article by Darrell Vesterfelt on Twitter. In his article, Vesterfelt defines the essentials of creativity as the “freedom to be me, freedom to explore new thinking, [and] freedom to fail.”  Vesterfelt asks what role the church plays in encouraging its patrons to be creative, and concludes that church should “celebrate uniqueness, celebrate diversity, and embrace change.” This is a great question to pursue, but I was disappointed by the lack of an extended exploration of these points. I could argue strengths and faults with all three of these conclusions, but it goes down a semantic road that isn’t really constructive or worthwhile. I am surprised though that Vesterfelt left out that the church should commission, engage, and create art. Music is the most common form of art found in churches today–and quite often, the only art form. Now, the definition of appropriate music in church is varied, confrontational, which is, simply put, stupid. That is also for another blog.

What I mean by art is creative expression–painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, poetry, stories, dance, video (the list goes on and I’m sure I’ve left something out). Some would criticize me for saying the church should participate in idolatry, for tempting people to look at human creation instead of the creator, for putting false images before believers, for using any literature besides the Bible. But to throw out this bath water, you throw out the baby, the baby’s story, the baby’s journey and revelation of God, and the heart of humanity. Here is a great article by David Lamotte on why the church needs art. He writes,

To many people, art is superfluous or even distracting from what is truly important. It holds entertainment value, keeping people engaged, or perhaps pleasantly distracted, but is not substantive, and is certainly not integral. To others, it is fundamental; it is a door through which they enter into divine relationship. My heart breaks for the former category. I mourn that they do not get to feel what I feel when I am transported by a powerful piece of music (or dance or painting or sculpture or photography, etc., for that matter, though I primarily write of music here, which is my own primary artistic expression). Art is a way to worship and to be in relationship with God that cannot be replicated by other methods. It is an essential way to connect to God, and should not be discounted or minimized. (emphasis mine)

I’ve written before that to create, whether it’s a painting, a poem, a building, or a garden, is to imitate Jesus, to fulfill the command to live like Jesus. I believe that science reveals God (and eventually the debate between the Biblical creation story and evolution will be reconciled, further revealing the character of God). Language and image equally (in a severely different manner) reveal the character of God. Why should musicians be the only artists responsible for directing our attention to God? They shouldn’t. Musicians didn’t build the tabernacle, and when you look at the directions to create and build the temple in the book of Exodus, the importance of diverse art is becomes obviously necessary and integral for the worship experience. Here are some other quotes from the article:

Thinking simply isn’t enough [to be called into the presence of God], and one major point of the arts is to move us—to make us feel.

Good art is more evocative than instructive. That is, it doesn’t put something inside us as much as it draws something out. To hear someone else’s story can be instructive, but at the point that it becomes moving, it is generally because their story has intersected with our own.

think there is a strong analogy here to the way in which God relates to us. We are called into relationship with God, not simply as passive recipients of God’s love, but as active participants in a relationship with God that stretches and grows and shifts over time. . . [S]ome people perceive God as the puppet master and our own roles as passive. That is shoddy theology, though. The truth is that we have the freedom to engage, to participate, or to look away.

As children of God, we are connected, and if art reveals that to us, even if it is secular art, it contains an element of the sacred. The arts can reveal certain kinds of truth in ways that our loftiest ideas never can.

The arts have a way of embodying that mystery, and therefore pulling us back from the dangerous and seductive illusion that we understand God, that we know the rules and that those rules are sufficient. They are not.

We need the arts in worship because they are imaginative, and we need imagination in order to transcend the boundaries of our limited intellects and the tendencies of many of us toward self-defeat.

Creativity is the natural flow of things, and resisting that creativity takes energy

But on those holy nights I have described, when spirit moves, humility is the only natural response. It is abundantly clear to the performer that he or she is not the Light, but has been privileged to be the lens that the Light passes through, focusing it in this time and place. When that happens, it is clear to you as the performer that you didn’t do it. Something much bigger was moving.

We need to feel as well as to think, to be invited into dialogue with God, to remember our connection, to answer the call to create as well as to be created, to envision and imagine, and, at every opportunity, to glimpse the divine.

LaMotte speaks from the perspective of a musician, but his ideas are applicable for other art forms as well. Somewhere along the line (Puritanism? Church of England? Baptists? 🙂 art took a back seat to rules. The best way the church can cultivate creativity is to reengage with art and artists, to retrain congregations regarding the ways we can approach God.

Art and Money

Here is a Francis Ford Coppola (producer of The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and others) interview I came across and found his opinion about art fascinating. While Coppola discusses cinema and movie-making, many of his thoughts can be applied to poetry. Here are some quotes from the interview and my reactions:

Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful.

The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, “Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.”

Applying this thought to the current state of poetry, I can’t help but think about language poetry. Has it, in itself, become a cliche money-maker? Has langpo outlived its usefulness and originality? Does it still “matter” because its originators and evangelists need to make a buck?

I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep,  he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.

And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.

Kenneth Goldsmith might respond to this quote by saying that a unique personal voice no longer exists in our whatever-you-call-our-post-post-modern world. But then again, I consider Goldsmith more of a con-artist rather than an artsy artist. Readers of this blog know that I’m critical of the over-abundance of copyright law, the purpose of which is to protect the owner’s property. But even children are discouraged from copying their favorite stories and poems as they learn to write creatively. (Side note: in the third grade, I wrote about a boy from a Crow tribe, and the plot was almost identical to Roald Dahl’s The BFG. It was the story I admired most at the time.) In fact, if President Obama has his way, there will be so much focus on math and science in education that creativity and art won’t even have a place in the classroom. But that’s a thought for another blog on another day. Coppola makes a great point though in learning art. Back in the day, there were apprentices of all sorts. Still, today teen guitarists learn the riffs of their favorite bands/musicians. High School art classes mimic various art movements across history. I’ve tried to copy the styles of my favorite writers. I try to write fictional prose like Ralph Ellison. I’ve tried to imitate my fair share of poets, some living some dead, and it’s helped me identify so much about my own writing.

You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

This was the crux of the interview for me, especially when looked at through the eyes of the poet. Whenever I have a poem published, I share the poem with my students. Someone inevitably asks if I’ll stop teaching because of all the fame and fortune that is bound to come my way. I chuckle and say that there is no money in poetry. If I want to make money as a writer, I need to write a novel or a memoir. Someone always asks, “Then why bother?” Being the product of American capitalism, many people have a hard time understanding why one should do something if he doesn’t get paid. The question of why then should we create is raised. The answer to this question will vary with every artist that answers it. For me, I create because it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s like I’m filled with Tommy Knockers (the little miners, not the beer for those who are familiar with the microbrew) that are picking away at me to become real, concrete expressions. Like David, God has laid a song on my heart and the chords of that poetic music are repeatedly plucked, resonating with my life, my experiences, my relationships, and whatever other moment makes up life. While it would be nice to get paid to sit around and write poetry for 40 hours a week, I think I would fail miserably because I would be missing out on all the interactions I have on a daily basis in the real world.

Maybe it’s cliche, but I compare the rich artist to the athlete that just signed a contract for hundreds of millions of dollars (see Albert Haynesworth). He doesn’t need to play anymore, because he made his pay-day. His love and his passion gets replaced by dollars. Then what? He can live whatever lifestyle he wants (hello, American Dream) but if it impacts his play then is it worth it? Since money is not a likely outcome of writing poetry, maybe this isn’t a good connection. But what about getting published? Should “getting published” be the purpose of writing and creativity? Or is there something bigger and more important to the whole idea of creativity that capitalism forces us to overlook?

2 More Books (part 2)

Walking on WaterI don’t know why I’m in the habit of trying to do 2 book reviews in one post. If tricks and old dogs are involved, I’m in trouble. In my last post I reviewed Makoto Fujimura’s Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture. The second book is Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (author of The Wrinkle in Time). While L’Engle is a novelist, I think her views apply to poetry just as well. This book reads like a journal, and it takes her a little while to get to the point, but she admits early in the book that she was asked to write some reflections on faith and art, and she had no idea how to do that. On with the show:

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.

*

This questioning of the meaning of being, and dying, and being, is behind the telling of stories around tribal fires at night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and of the death of green in autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the harts of all of God’s creatures.

*

Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it’s good art–and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade.

*

Generally what is more important than getting water-tight answers is learning to ask the right questions.

*

All art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos . . . There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the reproduction of chaos neither art, nor is it Christian.

*

Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one. . . .

*

In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.

*

The artist, if he is not to forget how to listen, must retain the vision which includes angels and dragons and unicorns, and all the lovely creatures which our world would put in a box marked Children Only.

*

But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand.

*

I have come to recognize that the work often knows more than I do.

*

Many atheists deny God because they care so passionately about a caring and personal God and the world around them is inconsistent with a God of love, they feel, and so they say, “There is no God.” But even when one denies God, to serve music, or painting, or words is a religious activity, whether or not the conscious mind is willing to accept the fact. Basically there can be no categories as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious”.

*

But to serve any discipline of art . . . is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstanding which surround us.

*

We human beings far too often tend to codify God, to feel that we know where he is and where he is not, and this arrogance leads to such things as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch burnings, and has the result of further fragmenting an already broken Christendom. . .Unamuno might be describing the artist as well as the Christian when he writes, “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”

*

Art is communication, and if there is no communication it is as though the work had been still-born.

*

The poet wrote the poem, no doubt. But he forgot himself while he wrote it, and we forgot him while we read. . . .We forget, for ten minutes, his name and our own, and I contend that this temporary forgetfulness, this momentary and mutual anonymity, is sure evidence of good stuff (quoting E.M. Forster).

*

But I am a story-teller, and that involves language, for me the English language, that wonderfully rich, complex, and oftimes confusing tongue. When language is limited, I am thereby diminished too. In time  of war language always dwindles, vocabulary is lost; and we live in a century of war. . . .We cannot Name or be Named without language. If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles–we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than “the way things are.”

*

An artist is not a consumer, as our commercials urge us to be. An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone.

*

Another problem about identifying what is and what is not religious art, is that religious art transcends its culture and reflects the eternal, and while we are alive we are caught within our culture.

*

All children are artists, and it is an indictment of our culture that so many of them lose their creativity, their unfettered imaginations, as they grow older. But they start off without self-consciousness as they paint their purple flowers, their anatomically impossible people, their thunderous, sulphurous skies. . .What looks like a hat to a grownup may, to the child artist, be an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

*

…[L]ie and story are incompatible. If it holds no truth, then it cannot truly be story. And so I knew that it was in story that I found flashes of that truth which makes us free.

*

The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.

*

Creativity opens us to revelation, and when our high creativity is lowered to two percent, so is our capacity to see angels, to walk on water, to talk with unicorns. In the act of creativity, the artist lets go the self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating, but not unless we let go our adult intellectual control and become as open as little children. This does not mean to set aside or discard the intellect, but to understand that it is not to become dictator, for when it does we are closed off from revelation.

*

If my stories are incomprehensible to Jews or Muslims or Taoists, then I have failed as a Christian writer We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.

*
Art is an affirmation of life, a rebuttal of death.