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Excellence Opens Doors

randomlychad  —  December 12, 2013 — 2 Comments

'Excellence' photo (c) 2012, Iqbal Osman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Yesterday, I posted about how we don’t need anymore “Christian” whatevers. In a similar vein, today I would like to talk specifically about art. If you read yesterday’s post, you would know that I’m off the mindset that what we need isn’t more Christian art, but rather more Christians who are artists. And of those, we need Christian artists who are committed to excellence in their art.

Gone are the days (if indeed they were ever here) where we can slap on a coat of Jesus varnish and expect the world to go “Ooh! Ah! Jesus!” No, mediocre art really only accomplishes two things:

1) It makes us look bad.
2) It makes Jesus look bad.

Excellence, however, opens doors. Excellence speaks for itself, and indeed invites conversation. It gets people talking, and provides organic opportunities for the artist to share his story. And make no mistake: that is what people today are looking for: to connect with someone’s story.

Yes, we’re supposed to share the Gospel. But more importantly, we’re supposed to live it. One of the ways to do so is to be excellent in all that we do. Because that is another thing excellence does: it elevates. It draws people into a shared transcendence.

But mediocrity does not. Mediocrity is boring, banal, and really not worthy of attention. And the thing is that, for those of us who would call ourselves Christian artists, our art isn’t ultimately for our fellow man–it is for us, and for God. And why would we, after he gave us Jesus, ever think that giving him less than our best is somehow okay?

PRO TIP: it’s not.

But excellence has a cost: it’s hard. Insanely so at times. Often we’re tempted to give in, throw in the towel, settle.

The world is full of frustrated artists who’ve settled.

But is that who you and I want to be? If so, let’s prepare to be ignored. If, however, you do not wish to be ignored, throw yourself into your art with abandon. Put your heart, soul, mind, guts into it.

Put your life on the line. Every time.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what the watching world is waiting for.

So make excellence your everyday goal. If you’re a writer, beat your head against your desk until your forehead takes on an oaken sheen. If a painter, paint until your fingers bleed a rainbow of colors. If an actor, lose yourself in your roles.

If a plumber, plumb the depths until you reach China. You get what I mean.

Remember: the goal here is not to save oneself, but rather to lose oneself. And in the losing to find.

The great paradox of art, and life, is indeed that: in losing, we win. In giving up, we find. To borrow a phrase, excellence is one door away from heaven.

And by excellence we earn the right to be heard. We earn the platform.

Don’t settle for less.

“In all that you do, do it as unto the Lord.”

I get it. I really do. I’m a man. As such I’m not supposed to have an opinion on the subject of abortion. The sovereign rights of women, and all.

But, since no one’s ever accused me of being particularly wise, here goes:

We’re all supposed to act like abortion is like suffrage, just another right which has been hard-fought, hard-won, hard-earned. Like hands off, “touch not, taste not, handle not,” this is women’s business, son.

So step off.

Now the law says a woman gets to choose. That’s all fine and dandy, but legal doesn’t always equate to ethical, moral, or responsible. I’m not here prepared to discuss situations of rape, incest, or life of the mother–the reasons most often trotted out for why abortion should be kept “safe, legal, and rare.”

Thing is, it isn’t. Rare, that is. It happens everyday, all around the country. Young girls are being given the “morning after” pill without so much as a by your leave from their parents. As if their rights somehow trump those of parental consent. The message being sent is that life can be divorced from consequence. Think you might be pregnant? Here, pop a pill.We won’t tell your parents. We can’t have you making such a serious mistake, but don’t want to keep you from that sweet, sweet nookie your body so clearly craves. So, have at, young woman.

We’ll be here in the morning…

And that’s just merely one form of early-term abortion. The thing is, and here I’m tipping my hand, I’ve written of The Sister I’ve Never Known, and how I lost a sibling to the altar of convenience. Here’s the rest of the story:

As adults, we hear things which shake us to the core, shift our paradigms in ways perhaps we didn’t wish to go. Two of those, for me, were the aforementioned revelation about my mom’s abortion. The other was, as I heard from her own lips, that she and my dad were using contraception when I was conceived in 1968. Why would anyone tell their adult child that? More specifically, what am I to make of it?

You may draw your own conclusions, but here are mine:

1) We didn’t really want you, weren’t trying for you, but we kept you anyway.

2) If abortion on demand had been legal in 1968, I might not well be here now. As it was later on, not being quite convenient, having a burgeoning career, etc., my parents were about seventeen months married when I was conceived, financially strapped… In short, the conditions were such that if there had been a legal out, they might well have taken it.

All because it was inconvenient to have a child then. But thankfully they didn’t. Yet how many do everyday? And we’re supposed to act like this is okay, have nothing at all to say.

“Choice” doesn’t happen in a vacuum, is not free of repercussions, consequences… In short, as Donne so wisely said all those long years ago, “no man [or woman] is an island.” Whether we like it, or not, we are all part and parcel of one another. Men, women, children–the born, and the preborn–have this in common:

We are all of us human beings, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. And more particularly, more specifically, more personally, I believe that every child should be given the same chance I was, although not wanted, to live, because God has his hands upon even the least of these.

Thank-you.

image

In writing this post, I’m looking at the popular T.V. show The Walking Dead through the lens of a Christian worldview. You may ask what does a Christian worldview has to do with a zombie show?
Fair question.

I’ve long held that fiction in general, and horror/supernatural fiction in particular, owes its popularity to the often unacknowledged longings of the heart. As Pascal said, “the heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.”

In this context, take that to mean that our hearts acknowledge, even long for, the supernatural despite our scientific reason decrying it. There is a reason that the novels of Stephen King have been perennially popular; aside from writing crackerjack stories, believable characters, and often white-knuckle plots, his stories are replete with the supernatural.

This resonates with our deep hearts. And horror stories in particular are often morality tales–a sort of What Would You Do? (ABC show with John Quinones) from hell. The point is that horror stories acknowledge the reality of an often supernatural evil.

In fact, I would venture to say that all of the stories we love have a villain we love to hate. Why is this? Because our story has a villain.

Which brings me to The Walking Dead. The shows creators/writers don’t necessarily intend to present things from a Christian worldview (probably quite the opposite–that the living are now in a hopeless situation); however, they live in the same world as you and I. As such, they can’t escape a fundamental fact of reality: we live in a world at war.

Like Rick Grimes in the pilot episode, we are all of us born into a world at war. And like him, we are often dazed, confused–comatose, even–until Christ bids us wake. The zombies in the show are, to me, a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality: demons are real (they also serve as adroit social commentary on unchecked consumerism, unrestrained id, the sin nature let loose).

But we don’t like to talk about that in this enlightened 21st century, do we?

Folks, all I’m saying is that there is a spiritual reality that we often poo-poo to our great detriment. And this reality is the truth behind the books, and shows, we love.

How about you? Do you read horror, or watch The Walking Dead?

Sound off in the comments.

A Purpose in the Pain

randomlychad  —  August 26, 2012 — 18 Comments

Friends, we have have recently been through some deep waters together. I had a purpose in sharing those stories with you; it wasn’t to shock you, wound you, or crush your spirits.

It wasn’t even to evoke sympathy. No, I simply wanted you to share in my journey; in order to do that I needed to authentically represent the things that happened. After what you’ve done for me, I owed you that much. It was because of you that I got to go to bootcamp. So it is as much your story as it is mine.

I could have broken down each session, given you what I heard, and learned, but I wanted you to partake instead in my internal journey. Each of the stories I shared last week represents a stage in the process Jesus led me through during bootcamp. Like an onion, He gently, lovingly peeled away the layers.

Showed me where I’d been hurt the deepest, wounded the most.
But allow me to back up a little bit first. Going into it, I had an idea, a dream of healing, but I was frightened. The only thing I clung to heading up to Colorado was tale of the woman with the issue of blood. Like her, I told myself if I could but touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, I would be healed.

Never did I expect Him to reach down, and touch me the way He did.

But He did, friends–O! how He did. The weekend began with John Eldredge repeating two refrains:

“You have a heart, and it matters, ” and “You were born into a world at war.”

As a man, and this is not meant as a reproach, merely an observation, I can’t recall the last time I heard either at church.

From there, John and the team laid the foundation that my heart–every man and woman’s heart, really–has been wounded in that war. In the process of uncovering those wounds, I was forced to confront the “Poser,” or the false self, I’d constructed to hide the wounded boy within. What were my fig leafs, and why didn’t I want to be known?

That is a deeply personal journey for each one of us. Suffice it to say, God was faithful to show up, blow down my house of cards. The truth came diamond-hard, and slug-ugly (God the diamond, and I the slug). And I got something from each and every session. Where before I lived with rejection, He gave me a new name:

Loved and Accepted.

As surely as the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, He spoke that to my heart. But He wasn’t done with me yet. He wanted me to know that I was “loved and accepted” before He dove deep in my heart to wound me to the depths of my soul.

What do I mean?

I mean that for me, and for you, too, there is a theme to our wounds. And that God is faithful to wound us in our deepest woundings to bring those things to light.

Because He wants to heal them.

First, He knocked out my foundation, which was this:

Nearly everything I have done in life up until now has been for a singular purpose, namely my dad’s approval–his affirmation, his validation. Despite clearly getting the message from him, and others, that I didn’t have what it takes (who did that message really come from, who worked so tirelessly to take me out?). This explains why I continued for so long to allow him to wound not only me, but my family as well.

I wanted him in my life.

What boy doesn’t?

But that rejection, that craving for approval, wasn’t the deepest thing about me. No, Jesus went past that to my deepest heart.

It was the penultimate session of the retreat. Already I was struggling to remain present, my mind and heart drifting to home, and its cares. Despite this, worship really moved me. God was there. I belted out the words to Tim Hughes’ Everything harder than I’d ever sung anything in my life (I’m very much a joyful noise person).

And then Morgan Snyder got up to share. I realized–God showed me via Morgan’s story–the deepest thing about me wasn’t a life lived balanced on the knife’s edge between a fear of rejection, and a desperate need for a approval.

No, the deepest thing, the thing that felt truest of all, was that I believed I was alone. This was brought powerfully to my attention by:

Yes, that is the much-seen video of Derek Redmond losing out on his last chance for Olympic gold, but rising anyway, choosing to complete the race. God showed me three things, spoke them indelibly into my heart:

1) I believed I was the man running the race alone, the watching world waiting for him to fall. That I was essentially fatherless.
2) All I had longed for from my father, I already had–had had–all along. He so gently rebuked me of this.
3) Like Redmond’s father in the video, Jesus has got me, His arm already around me.

He told me “Son, you’re not alone. You’ve never been. This race that you run–life? I’ve carried you all along. We will finish together.”

I was shell-shocked, stunned, hadn’t dared hope God would speak in such a personal way. But He showed up in the midst of my fragile faith anyway.

At this point, we were dismissed to an exercise, a time of silent reflection and prayer. We were to get alone with God, take these questions to Him.

I couldn’t do it.

I went back to the bunkhouse, locked myself in a bathroom stall, and just balled.

For half and hour, I cried. I grieved all I never had, but had had all along, I grieved how I had spurned my Father. I cried in great heaving sobs so hard my chest was sore for days afterwards.

I cried tears of joy, because for the first time in my life I knew who I was:

My Father’s son.

How about you? Do you know who you are? More importantly: do you know Whose you are?

You can.

Dear John Eldredge

randomlychad  —  August 9, 2012 — 12 Comments

To all of you who have read, commented, supported me over these last two years, the following is just as much for you as it is for John Eldredge. In fact, it is more for you than him; as such, I wanted you to see it first. I want you to know that as I head to the mountains of Colorado next week, I will be holding you all in my heart. It is because of your generosity that I’m able to go at all. And that is a gift I do not take lightly.

Thank-you.

————-

Dear John Eldredge,

You don’t know me. I have been reading, and have been helped tremendously by, your books for many years now. So much so that I longed to go to one of Ransomed Heart’s Bootcamps, to dive into that soul work with a group of like-minded men, but never had the means.

This year, that changed.

I didn’t suddenly come into some money. What happened was two years ago I started a blog. I envisioned it as a place where people could come to share their hearts–because that’s what I did: shared my heart. I spilled the pixels across the screen like the very blood of my heart. And the words that I threw out there, into the world, found a home in other hearts.

People responded to that heart, shared struggles of their own. My blog became a safe place to fall. My honesty begat honest sharing. I had a community.

Though, at the time, I didn’t quite know how large-hearted that community was. But time would tell.

It was this past June, and I felt that stirring again–the ache of unfinished work–so I put my name into the lottery for this August’s Bootcamp. I did this not knowing how I would pay if I were to be accepted.

It wasn’t too much later that I received notice that I was indeed accepted. My first thought wasn’t a faith-filled one, but was more akin to “Crap! What am I going to do?”

I almost let it go, let this opportunity pass me by. Because I was afraid. Then in the middle of the night, as Saturday became Sunday–as Father’s Day dawned–I had a crazy thought: what if I asked my readers? What if I laid this need out before them? Will they respond?

So I posted Lessons From My Father/I Need Your Help thinking that I would probably lose all of my readers. A man of great faith I was not. Not that night.

After writing, and praying, I think I finally turned in at about two A.M. And awoke bleary-eyed around seven. It was then that the faith became sight! Because as I checked my email, I saw a message indicating that my appeal had not fallen on deaf ears. In just those few short hours my Bootcamp tuition was two-thirds funded!

I was astounded! And my half-hearted faith was jolted into new life. The same people who read my blog, who were there through the thick and thin, honored the investment of myself I’d made into my blog, and into them, by investing in me very tangibly.

As I said, I was astonished. It was too wonderful for me. Who was I to deserve such kindness? I’m no one–a no one with a small blog, and a big dream. More than that, I’m a nobody who’s loved by a big God.

And those people–my readers–showed me God’s love in a big way. Funds continued to trickle in throughout the week, and I want you to know, John, that it came down the wire. I had to register before the deadline–not knowing where the last $70 was going to come from. As if it were even going to be an issue! But I fretted it.

God did, as He so often does, raise someone up at the eleventh hour, so that two things happened:

1) My Bootcamp tuition was fully funded; and,
2) God alone got the glory.

How cool is that?

Along the the way, He used those dear folks to teach me a precious lesson about community, and together they and I, with Him, started a brand new story.

As I said above, you don’t know me, but I wanted to honor those who sacrificed for me by letting you know how I came to be here.

————–

Folks that is the story you and I are telling together this summer here. What story is God using you to tell? How are you speaking faith into your, and others, lives?