Divestiture (Nothing Personal part 2)

T. S. Eliot has this to say: “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”

This is the flagship slogan of his “Theory of Impersonality”. As a Christian, I find this statement in line with Jesus’ exhortation toward self-denial in service to God. But as an artist? One who lives by their creativity, who would define themselves as a “creatively minded individual”? At first glance, one might think this to be the antithesis of creative pursuit but lets see if, possibly, there may be a kernel of truth to what he’s saying.

Creativity is a force of varying strength. Of late, science has sought to quantify and localize it neurologically and there may be merit in that. However, in the case of something as fickle and mercurial as the creative impulse, I don’t think it best to try and control something that happens best when it happens naturally and when we’re at our most carefree. In other words, don’t rack your brain. Sure, great art has been made from a position of depression, fear and torment, but for most true art to emerge and blossom, one must be at peace and content. Because that’s when it’s at its most fun and nourishing.

Have you ever awakened from a dream and been astonished at its originality and weirdness? There may be scenes from your dream that remind you of instances in your waking life, but where the heck did everything else come from? Well, for better or for worse, it’s now yours (except the really dark and detrimental nightmares, you don’t have to keep those). Along with any ideas from said dreamed dream comes this sense that it belongs to you. Have you ever felt that? Your dreams are yours. As is your art. But! In the Kingdom of God, the way to fully enjoy and experience that which has been given to you by God is to be willing to give it back up to Him to be used at His direction. And when Eliot speaks of the “impersonality” of art, he’s referring to something greater and deeper that takes a hold and takes control, using us as a conduit in order to see it realized. Ask any artist whose work shows effortless brilliance and they’ll tell you that there’s a point in the process where the gift takes over. This is the beauty of said creative process. You may have an idea as to where it’s going, but after a point, you must sit back and let it flow. Or as T. S. Eliot put it, “continually self-sacrifice”. Because the artist tends to be his own worst enemy. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Even the critique that we level at ourselves must be surrendered to God: “yea, I judge not mine own self.” (1 Corinthians 4:3) says Paul.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

In his teens, Oswald Chambers would have told you that he wanted to be a painter. God had other plans for him, though. Plumb the pithy depths of his writings and tell me what it took to gain the gems of insight that he expressed therein. His creative gift had to have been surrendered in order to learn the things that would become his oeuvre. The body of work that he left behind has helped countless individuals the world over come to know Jesus in a more personal and potent way (myself included). And while his art may not have turned out in the visual arena, his speaking and writing tendencies bore fruit an hundred fold.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” (Exodus 31:1-3, emphasis mine)

Whatever your discipline in the arts and creativity, be willing to go one step further and lay it at God’s feet to be used in His service. And jettison the notion that your art must be of a certain Christian-y bent depicting lush pastoral scenes or cloying romance in all its gimmicky glory. Beyond giving it to God, your art is just as much yours as are your dreams.

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Nothing Personal part 1

Don’t flatter yourself

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When’s the last time you sensed you were being manipulated? Or lied to? Or shined on in whatever capacity? I’d wager to say that it happens more than we think and in subtler ways than we’d ever believe. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, speaks of the overarching war between God and His people (angels, included) and the devil and his. But because we can’t see with our eyeballs what’s going on in those realms, we tend to forget that it’s happening and even if we do remember, that it isn’t about us. it’s about who we represent.

“And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:14)

Okay. Assuming you’re a Christian and you believe God is real and that Jesus atoned for your sins, making you once again, right with God, and you’ve had some vestige of personal interaction with them sealing the deal, where do you go from there? Of course the devil’s real, we know that too. But just how do we deal with the knowledge that there are those (humans), who by their very nature—opposed to God—allow the mindset of satan to operate through them? Because demonic possession or oppression, even in its subtlest, nigh undetectability, brings with it trains and strains of thought that you must know how to navigate around and unravel in order to simply be and do. In order to live for God in the everyday ways. And as you—a “new creature” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)—now see in stark contrast what you are from what you were, God help you as you wade back into the sea of humanity looking to keep your first love alive.

“But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)

Don’t let yourself be flattered

The sincerest form? More like the purest strain. I find that the more someone seems to show an inordinate interest in me for no discernible reason, the more likely they are to want something from me. It isn’t that I’m a cynic or untrusting. It’s more along the lines of a realization that if I didn’t receive my sense of purpose and contentment from God, that’s exactly what I’d do to obtain the necessary components needed to live a life. And as there are people (God bless their darling hearts) who for whatever reason don’t have these things in their life but refuse to “come to the light” (John 3:21) in order to receive them, you have to know that they’re out there and they’re hungry. Like zombies, shapeshifters, vampires and ninjas (mad scientists too) all rolled into one. People who are so adept at manipulation, you’d never, ever know it unless you had the Holy Spirit pointing it out. Or you were one prior to meeting Jesus.

I’m talking about flattery, plain and simple. In my opinion (and my experience) the opening volley of anyone who is not right with God is flattery. If we as Christians don’t realize what we possess in God—a lifeline to Heaven itself—then we’ve already lost. We’re on the inside of ourselves looking out. As a rule, we don’t realize how we shine in this world, and this is good. We’re not meant to be introspective to the point of self-worship. I will say this though, people see God shining through you, don’t doubt it. And the more we interact with Him, the brighter He shines through us. Beware of those who want to take what you have and use it for themselves.

Now, don’t you flatter others

This knowledge is not meant to make us feel or be any better than anyone else. Jesus said “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11) If you see someone in dire and desperate need of God and His love, pray for them. But if you don’t sense anything that says that you should interact with them beyond lifting them before the Lord in your heart, then don’t. Your service to them is that prayer, that forgiveness, that mercy. Sometimes ignoring someone is love. You don’t have to let yourself be manipulated in order to “turn to him (or her) the other cheek.” (Matthew 5:39)

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.” (Galatians 1:15-16)

Personal Effects

Affect

“They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would affect exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” (Galatians 4:17-18)

Paul is speaking to the Galatians here, of manipulators. Those who want what’s (rightfully) yours. People who shamelessly flatter and build up, only to feed off the worship and admiration that the flattered person will return in kind. It’s a horrible downward cycle. One that happens everyday on every level of society and human interaction. Keeping one’s head (and keeping it above water) can be hard.

Effect

What is it that keeps you focused on God? Everything from a passage or verse of scripture the Holy Spirit has made real to you. An abiding presence, a dream, a vision, a person? What about an object that everytime you see it, reminds you of something God did for you in the past? A touchstone, of sorts.

There was this book I had as a kid called Everybody Needs a Rock. Byrd Baylor was the author. She published many children’s picture books but that one was by far my favorite. It spoke right to my heart when it described the need for a small stone that you keep in your pocket to…remind you. I think of God (“The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.” Psalm 18:46). Whatever it may be, some personal effect that keeps you focused on the Lord can be a huge blessing. Now, this doesn’t mean that you reject the physically intangible things of the heart. “For the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Romans 14:17) No physical object can replace the abiding presence of God. But if we view our possessions as gifts from God, then they’ll always cause us to look back to the One who gave them to us.

Effete

And here’s how the two can cross paths: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6)

Whenever we get a gift from God, you can be sure that those (from the devil, on down) who are unwilling and unable to receive from God themselves, are going to desire that gift, that favor. Don’t let them have it. If it means that you don’t exhibit or display the gift until inside you’re sure that you can keep it safe, then hide it. We’re not referring here to the light of your salvation and “put[ting] it under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15), we’re talking about a gift whose beauty will fade if you show it off too early. You’ll know. The Holy Spirit will help you. But if you find “friends” coming out of the woodwork to flatter you and you don’t know why, the reason very well may be that you have something you haven’t taken the time to fully make yours.

And whereas effete is essentially the opposite of “zealously affected” (it means listless, powerless and lethargic), remaining true and grateful to God for His gifts will keep us in a state of awe and wonder at His generosity. If you find yourself effete and miserable, maybe you gave something away? Don’t worry, God will give it back to you and then show you how to maintain and retain it.

“And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:23)