Last night, a group of artists from our church gathered for a meeting of our arts ministry. Unlike other churches, this ministry isn't all about what the artists can do for the church (although I believe that will grow out of the ministry as a natural progression) but a safe place for us to ponder the questions of art, faith, truth, beauty, God and the like. Last night's meeting was especially good. Jeff wrote eloquently about it here. The following are notes and thoughts from the evening from my perspective.
Truth in Art--Still Asking...
In your work, do you ever experience tension between the truth that ought to be told, and the truth you must tell? It's the old objective/subjective tension, but there is a sense in which "truth" exists on both sides of the line. How do you understand the advice "be true to your own voice?" What does it mean to not be true to your own voice? When God calls you away from what you want and asks a different thing of you, is that different than asking you to speak with your own voice? Does God really want us to speak with something other than our own voice, the voice He gave us? How do you resolve this?
The above statements were included in our handout for the evening. These are some pretty tough questions for me. The answers are pretty tough too...not very pretty at all. Let me explain.
The question of God calling us away from what we want and to something different resonated with me. My mind raced back to the time I wrestled with the call to full-time Christian service. My mind and heart were set on a specific goal. I was going to pursue my career in art as a college instructor. My plans were to get my MFA, a teaching position and continue my personal pursuit of being the best artist I could be. And if I could help a few students along the way, so be it. To make a long story short, the call intervened and my plans went the way of the dodo. So God (if it indeed was Him) called and the only way I knew to answer was to go to seminary and eventually become a minister. I did that and it was tough for me. I didn't fit in at all. At the time, I was still speaking with my voice and that didn't fly too well with the seminary crowd. Of course, I did find a small pocket of mutant ministers that revelled in the same rebellious natures I did. But all in all, seminary was a lonely time for me. I suffered greatly. I went through the worst depression of my life while there. I tried very hard to maintain my voice but it was very hard. Even as I moved out into the world of ministry, trying to speak in my own voice flew in the face of the conservative congregations I served. Before too many years went by, speaking in my voice, although the most natural thing for me, also became too tough for me to continue. I found myself retreating into a shell of meekness. Every once in a while, my true voice would speak out and, once again, I would find myself chastised by the religious right. I guess you might say that I got my voice churched right out of me.
So here I am in Seattle, no longer a minister, doubting myself and the very existence of the God that I thought had called me to something special. I think my true voice still exists deep down in the bowels of my being but it rarely gets to come out and play. I'm not sure I could control it if I were to let it loose. It might lay waste to all around like some nuclear apocalypse. And there are hindrances to letting it loose. What would people think? Even though I can be a heartless asshole at times, I still want to be loved.
Let me wrap this up by saying that the artists I meet with have challenged me to speak with my true voice when it comes to my art. They have offered to be a sounding board for any piece I create that I may feel is too harse to unleash upon the world. I think I will take them up on that offer if I am able to allow my voice to speak into my art. It's been caged a long time and it might take some coaxing to bring it out.
The final question is, I suppose, does God really want me to speak in my own true voice? I don't know the answer to that question. I do know the answer to this one though. Does the typical church-goer really want me to speak in my own true voice? Not just no but h-e-double-hockey-sticks no.