I’m writing because I have to. I’m compelled to share this with you, but I don’t know how exactly. I just know I have to.
For those of you who’ve seen Arrival: You know how their communication comes in an instant. A whole sentence with its entire meeting shows up in one image. The last time we watched the movie, Mom and I processed that that’s what God does a lot of times. It’s just all of the sudden *wham* you “heard” Him fully and completely (and you’re usually crying at this point) but it’s hard to stretch that whole impression out into a sentence for anyone else to understand. I know you all know what I mean, because I don’t know if we’ve ever had a conversation where we didn’t at some point say, “I don’t know how to describe this,” or “Am I making any sense?” to which we usually smile and nod and say “Yes, I totally get it,” which likely means the Spirit is drawing the same picture in our hearts so we can understand.
Anyway, with that being the preface, and what I hope happens during this blog post, here goes.
Leslie and I were talking yesterday about creating and how it seems the church only values creating that explicitly spells out Christ, and that definition has very little room for creative stories and artwork. And as you know, I’m not painting Jesus all the time. If I were to describe poorly what I do it would be that I “pour color into the lines of government dictated boundaries where people reside,” and that doesn’t really seem to be about Jesus or the Kingdom or reaching the nations.
Before Leslie and I had started talking, I’d been asking myself a similar question. Now that there are over 200 strangers all over the world who would call me an artist, I guess I’m an artist. But really, God? Out of all the hats I’ve tried on over the years, out of counselor and missionary, youth leader and stay-at-home-full-time-mom, You chose painter? Is that really enough? Enough for You? Enough for the Kingdom Come? Enough for the Church and the ones alone? Painter? Artist? What good are those to you?
As Leslie and I wrapped up our conversation, we didn’t have many answers, only this overall sense of awe and wonder that we could be so incandescently happy, doing something we love, and God beams with joy. That maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it. That maybe we were finding our spot in this world. And although we were afraid to say it, and we added as many caveats as we could, I feel our hearts both smiled and winked at each other.
Somehow I’ve found who I was supposed to be, someone who I’ve always known but didn’t recognize until she, I, walked through the door. And I shouted, “It’s you!” “You’re who I was always meant to be! Oh, it all makes sense now. I must have looked so silly wearing all those oddly-fitting hats.”
[I may have lost you by now, considering I’m typing up multi-dimensional conversations with myself. If you’re still tracking along, here’s a giant high-five and a hug.]
But still last night the questioned tumbled in the back of my brain, the space where I God and I know that if something is there, it’s on the table to talk about and I’m just waiting for Him to intervene.
I prepared to paint Michigan with a heart heavy and shoulders burdened by a weight of expectation I don’t know that I have the ability to meet. There are 200 strangers out there waiting with anticipation and likely, expectation, for these pieces to hang on their walls, to remember every day where they’ve come from, where they’ve arrived, and where they are going. I’m not sure I’m good enough for that. So while prepping my brushes, and with desperation in my spirit, what poured out of me was this: “For Your joy as you made it, and for Your love of the people who live there.” And that seemed like an apt dedication and battle cry.
Battle cry. I know that stuck out to you because it did to me. And what rang through my spirit and rattled all the chords in me as I started painting is that art is an act of war. You don’t stop what you’re doing and paint when the enemy is winning. You don’t throw down the sword and take up the pen when you’re cowering in fear. You don’t dance in the fire-light of the enemy’s camps.
Unless you’re a fool.
A foolish little thing that the Lord chooses to shame what is wise.
A weak thing the Lord chooses to shame the strong.
Art is an act of war because at it’s foundation it is child-like. I watch Selah every day reach for a post-it note and a ball point pen and write her heart out. Drawing with precision and focus and you can’t tear her away. Her heart is being poured out onto that yellow paper in the best way she knows to express it. And at the end, when she sees it adequately represents what she wanted it to, she holds it up with both hands high above her head, exclaiming, “Look! See what beauty has come into the world! Look what these hands have made.” And I know her Creator Daddy beams with the highest joy and let’s out a chuckle because in that moment, her heart is so much like His. At the end of every day of Creation He held up His masterpieces and proclaimed, “It is good.”
Art is an act of war because it tells the darkness, “Come no further.” It holds up a lantern in the face of evil and says, “I know what you are, and I will let you have no more power here.” I may not be able to erase the darkness. I can’t make all these horrific things go away. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Art lifts up the pen and paper, the ink and quill, the song and dance, and brush and paint, and says, “I am loved by the One who has overcome. Death has no hold on me, sin has no sting. And as such I can stand here in the enemy’s camps with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Enemy, you can’t undo the victory He has done. And you can’t stop this victory from spreading through my art.”
Art is an act of war because it says that these hands, that were marked by sin and mire, are no longer defined by the curse. My soul has been sanctified by the King of Kings, by the Light of this world, and as I am His, my hands can make good things. I don’t have to cower in fear of my flesh birthing darkness and evil on accident, because I’ve been set free, and darkness has no more place in my heart. The King of Light has taken up permanent residence in the fund of my soul, so I am free from the curse of sin and death and I’m alive to Christ who makes all things beautiful in it’s time. Even me. And even the things I make.
Art is an act of war because ____________________.
Because of a thousand different reasons all rolled into one. Because it mocks the darkness. Because it shines His light. Because it reminds us of our spot in the holy places. Because it lifts the chins of others to see that there is still good in this world, Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
Through a thousand little ways that God worked everything together, a song started playing at the perfect time while I was painting:
The sons and the daughters
And we hold our hearts before us
And we look to the distance
And raise our resistance
In the face of the forces
Gathered against us
Of a King and a kingdom
Where joy writes the songs
And the innocent sing them”
These lines from “Carry the Fire” by Andrew Peterson have always resounded in me. The image in my mind is an epic shot of the front line of an army just before the battle starts. You can’t see the enemy forces from this angle, but you know where they are based on the piercing stares of these soldiers, clad for victory. A flooded stream lines the places just before they feet, one last barricade, enough to provide a pause before the pursuit. As the crescendo rises, just before you would expect them to break stance and run over the stream and into the clash of swords and shields, the front line soldiers drop to a knee in the wet bank, and hold their hearts out in front of them, almost extended as if daring the enemy to take them. But these are more than mortal hearts. These are gold and glistening. Not yet pure and perfect, but something solid made from something good. And you know the enemy wouldn’t dare touch it. Although you can’t see it, you know the enemy’s eyes are wide, some of his minions gasp, and they collectively take a step back. These soldiers are sons and daughters of the High King. No one else could hold out such a valuable thing without fear.
And friends, those soldiers I saw were you. All of us. One by one dropping to a knee and holding out our hearts, all in different forms. I may hold my paintbrush, you, your pen, you, your music, you, your quill. On and on we hold out our love, our hearts, the thing made good by the Good One who loves it. And the darkness has no more place.
Friends, art is an act of war. And it is, by definition, flinging. Flinging our hearts out there into the midst of the battle, because if He’s already got our hearts, the battle is already won.
So, to war?