"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

23 December 2008

Charlie Peacock, part 3

So I survived the last projects, essays, and final exams. I’ve been trying to write about the things Charlie said concerning being a Christian and an artist in today’s culture, but constant interruptions and distractions tend to give me severe writer’s block. So, finally, here are some of the ideas he brought up that I especially appreciated.

Charlie made it clear that not only artists are creative – artistic creativity is only one kind. Everyone is creative: the scientist, the engineer, the businessman, the teacher, the homemaker, all of us. I loved this definition of the church that he gave us: “We are God’s gifted ones gathering as communities to do God’s work.” Any meaningful labor is worthy of any Christian’s time; no vocation is more worthy than another.

Christian who is an artist in today’s culture has a special tension, however, because of the increasing separation between “secular” and “religious” publishers and markets. I appreciated Charlie’s insistence that the individual Christian must have the freedom to choose to serve the church directly and primarily – too many of us have become sinfully cynical about the quality of Christian-labeled work, and we forget that one job of the Christian is to build up other believers. If this is one’s call, pursue it, wholeheartedly and with excellence.

However, the only reason the artistic works of a Christian should be in the Christian bookstore, Charlie said, is if they have been created for that primary purpose of teaching and building up believers. The
Christian who is an artist must not be limited to this purpose, and should not be pressured into using his creativity in solely or primarily this way; he must be equally free to pursue his art simply because it is meaningful art. He should be able to do his work “anywhere, everywhere, and without apology,” whether he names it as “Christian” or not, and with the support and blessing of his brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Why? Because we are called to serve not only other believers, but “all the nations.” We are “image-bearing ambassadors” who are to “contribute to and transform culture,” being salt and light within it. Our work should be good for the community, for our neighbor. The artist’s work no more has to be named Christian than the mechanic’s or the carpenter’s or the engineer’s: if we excel in our work, we glorify God and serve our neighbor, and a fish sign on it won’t make it any better quality.

Charlie told us that he is not hesitant to declare “I’m a Christian,” but he has chosen not to call himself “a Christian musician”
because he wishes to disconnect himself from the cultural baggage of that name; then he can go wherever he is called by his work, not be assigned in people's minds permanently to only “church music.” He mentioned doing some work with jazz, and then being invited to join a “Christian jazz” forum on the web. He refused because his goal was to be a part of the “ongoing jazz story” in its totality and not to suggest that his particular work is somehow different because of his faith rather than simply because he is a musician.

He talked too about answering the question “Are you a Christian?” and how he prefers to answer with a question rather than just say yes: “Why do you ask?” he might respond, or “It depends; what do you mean by the term Christian?” This opens the door to discussion, and allows him to be a witness to his faith in the way the person asking most needs to hear it, rather than letting that person think that Charlie represents whatever misconceptions he might hold. He has no desire other than to boldly be a Christian, but he has learned to be wise in the way he names himself, to try to have the most winsome and effective influence that he can.

For me, perhaps the most important point he made is summed up in this: some of us are called mainly to talk to the family – to teach and build up believers – and we must do this with excellence (which is going to mean speaking, lovingly, to the lack of excellence in too much Christian art today), and others of us are called to serve the broader community – and we need the support and encouragement of the church to do that work with excellence and to remain faithful to God as we work in a world that can hold out many strong temptations. “We should be God’s [artistic] people everywhere and in everything,” Charlie said; “we must not have too narrow a scope but be about His business throughout the world.”


Lutestring said...

Wow, Dr. Impson. I saw the poster for this time on the English department's door (when I was admiring Pam's new lovely space, hehe) and wondered who this Mr. Peacock was. I wish I'd been there! I love the parts about Christian witness. This is all good,though ...

Lutestring said...

P.S. -I'm Monika. Sorry I didn't mention that. :P

alaiyo said...

I wish you could have been there, too, Monika. It was a most encouraging time. Thanks for visiting Inscapes!

Publius said...

By teaching where you teach, you have obviously chosen to speak to "the family," but where do you see yourself coming down with your writing? If you had never taught and only written, would you primarily speak to believers, non-believers, or both?

I'm so glad you decided to write about Charlie Peacock and his sessions. He's what I like to call an "intellectual stud."

alaiyo said...

Publius, good question.

I think I would be doing the same thing -- it seems to be my calling to use that gift primarily in the church. Or maybe it's today's culture that makes it seem that way?

So, some thinking as I type . . .

When I've tried to write that which upholds my values but without being explicitly Christian, I've never been able to pull it off; it seems very unnatural to me. Maybe in a poem -- but I'm not a poet! But in longer pieces (when I've tried fiction, for example, but nonfiction, too), it's just compelling to me to be explicit about faith.

Now there have been times in history when the explicitly Christian piece wasn't necessarily "for the church"; it would have been welcomed by readers of many stripes -- but that seems not to be the general case today (Jan Karon's work is the exception that proves the rule, and most other immensely popular "Christian" works these days have not been, to my mind, strictly Biblical; they have appealed in some way to the flesh, albeit surely unintentionally).

But I think that even in a different climate, I'd probably be where I am. Because while my heart aches for all who are lost, I seem to have an especially deep ache for those who know the Lord but do not know how to live for Him, either because the church has short-changed them or because of their rebellion against what they see as keeping them from "fulfilling themselves" or whatever they've been told, culture-wide, they ought to have. There's a lot of deception out there.

That's what all those hours in my office are often for . . . trying to help young Christians find, or re-find, the desire to follow Him whole-heartedly, or to understand how to do so . . . to see the lies and find the satisfaction of embracing the truth that will lead them to become who God created them to be.

So, the long way 'round, I guess had I been able to devote myself to writing, it still would have primarily been within the family that I'd have spoken. Though one always hopes for the broader audience who might respond, as well . . .

alaiyo said...

By the way, I have great admiration for those excellent writers who can write from deeply Christian values without being explicitly Christian in their language. May God increase their tribe; we need them desperately!

Andrew J. Goggans said...

A very good summation of his message. I'd love to get your thoughts on my post about this when I finish it.

alaiyo said...

Hi, Andrew -- I look forward to seeing what you have to say.