I am Not an Artist

16_IAmNotAnArtist

If we are somehow connected on any social media website or, by chance, happen to actually know each other in real life you’ll notice, while I consider myself a creative person, I never refer to myself as an artist. This is not meant to be a cut at people who call themselves artists. In fact, I happen to know several people who have devoted their current existence to creating art or supporting art in the local community. However, you will never find me referring to myself as an artist. Perhaps it’s prejudicial or just one of the many random hang-ups I have about the most banal things in life, but I feel so pretentious when referring to anything I do as “art”.

Let’s be clear. I am a writer, an aspirating musician and I try to be a photographer when I can find my camera (it’s in a box somewhere and I don’t know where I put it). I carry a notebook with me at all times where I compile ideas for song lyrics and I’m constantly working on new songs and ideas in my head. But I don’t consider myself an artist. Others might. But I don’t.

My experience with art has been an interesting one. I have a good friend who spent a good portion of a year traveling, using her art and coming up with new ideas for art while traveling all over the place. I have another friend who gave me an awesome print of a painting she did of Henry Rollins for my birthday one year and I love it to death. I have yet another friend who was working on creating masks and made one based off imagery for some tattoos and things I had written. So, my life is not without creative people and it is not without aesthetic and artistic endeavors.

I just can’t call myself an artist.

My experience is based off attending an art show or two. While I adore the people I knew who were showing, it was really hard for me to feel like I fit in. I think, culturally, artists have been assigned their own subculture and are often rendered their own little area in the world where they are allowed to exist outside the realm of the people who don’t share their enthusiasm for creating new and beautiful ideas. I see this perception in myself and in other people that artists are an untouchable class in the sense that they can do something a lot of other people can’t. This may be partly true. I know someone who creates some of the most detailed work I have ever seen and it’s because of her deadly attention to how she composes the piece and, especially, what brushes she uses to create her pieces.

At the same time, I also think people are intimidated by creative people when they, themselves, are not creative in that fashion. I am not a painter, at least not like the people I know. My hands shake terribly all the time and I don’t possess the coordination or talent to draw or paint with any great precision or detail. That’s just not my gift. I don’t belong in that niche and I am somewhat intimidated but those who are. I don’t think they are better than I, necessarily, but I do find myself avoiding events where I would have to mingle with people like that. Well, that and social anxiety but that’s another blog altogether.

I don’t think creative abilities should be a deterrent to being creative or making something new using the tools that God gave you. We are all built with the ability to use our minds to create, we all just do it in different ways. In theory, someone who work wonders with fixing vehicles should be on par with someone who can create masterful works of art on canvas with a brush. Someone like me who spends a lot of time creating new ideas with the English language rather than clay should be no less of a creative force.

Maybe it’s just me and my own perceptions I’m trying to repair but I just can’t shake the feeling that, sometimes, art is treated as its own particular club where only the elite creatives are allowed membership. I think a lot of people have that perception as well because art has often been lifted up as the ultimate of the aesthetic pleasures. I’m not putting down anyone and their talents; I am merely addressing something i’ve perceived over the last few months. But I still don’t consider myself an artist. Creative, intuitive and maybe a wordsmith but never an artist.

Because, if I’m an wrist, than everyone else is an artist too.

God says, “Slow Down”

 

The last few Sundays I have been going up to a town in Iowa about an hour and a half north of Council Bluffs with one of my Youth Minister roommates. It’s a nice drive up because it’s all interstate and if we carpool we can have some good conversation. The drive is even more relaxed on the way home right now because it’s dark. Something you should probably know about me is that I love driving at night. With the right kind of music it just feels like I’ve been separated from the rest of the world and it’s just me, God and my thoughts.

Tonight I was driving home by myself. My friend had to preach at the church where he is the youth pastor this morning so he just stayed there and I drove up and met him there. Of course, I had to drive myself back too which didn’t bother me a bit. I left the church before my friend did because he had to drive one of the kids home. So, I hopped back on the interstate and drove, reflecting on conversations and other things that been floating around in my mind. It was about twenty minutes into the drive when I noticed a familiar set of headlights. They were the headlights of a Mercury Saturn, my friend’s car. He had somehow caught up with me. Eventually he passed me. As he did this I started to get a sense of urgency, that I needed to speed up and catch my friend. It seemed so important that he not beat me home.

What was so urgent?

In the story of Genesis in the 11th chapter the writer tells us the story of the earth at a point where everyone spoke the same language.

The entire world.

The same language. Imagine.

These people were speaking in the same language to each other after settling in a land called Shinar. And we are brought into one of their conversations about what they should do after having settled in this land. They decide they are going to build a city for themselves. That seems logical, doesn’t it? Once you find a place to settle in, you build a city and live there. This is something that people have been doing for a really long time, so there’s nothing questionable about this idea to us. And then they decide to build a tower “with its top in the heavens”.

So, the people decide to build a city and in this city they will build a really tall tower. Again I don’t think we can find any real fault in the way their thought process is designing and molding the world around them. Building is an act of creation, an ability given to us by God when he built us. The people in Genesis are only using their God-given abilities in exercising their right to build a city and a tower if they want to. But we see later in the story that God interrupted their construction and disrupted their ability to speak the same language and scatters them across the face of the earth.

Why would God ruin the plans and radically alter the lives of everyone on earth over the construction of a city?

If I’m really honest with myself, I just didn’t want my friend to beat me home. The only urgency I felt was the thought that, perhaps, I would get a hard time from my roommate because he left the church after I did and still managed to beat me home. I could hear him in my head telling this story to all the other guys in the house and then them giving me a hard time because I drive pretty close to the speed limit and I’m not rebellious enough to go more than five over. The scene played inside my head and I really just wanted to jam on the gas and show my friend who was the coolest between the two of us. I would not be bested by anyone because we all know it’s always a race when you’re driving home in a separate cars.

I realize how silly this sounds. But these are thoughts that go through my head.

I bring it up for a reason though. Why did I think it was so important for me to beat my friend home?

Why did the people in Genesis 11 want to build their city and their tall tower?

The writer of Genesis provides us with a statement from the people, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth,” (Genesis 11:4 ESV).

They build the city and the tower because they wanted to make a name for themselves and God scattered them.

I realize that, at the heart of the matter, I wanted to beat my friend home to make a name for myself.

We can really get a perspective on these issues by looking at what God has to say about the whole thing:

And Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
(Genesis 11:6-7 ESV)

God sees the heart of the people and makes a decision. They have become capable of building a city, doing what they say they are going to do without faltering. But this isn’t the real reason he is scattering them. They wish to make a name for themselves by tacking their name on to this huge thing they are trying to accomplish. God knows they will finish the city and say they did a good job, the will pat each other on the back and thank each other for all their hard work and all their effort. Maybe there will be parties and one of those ribbon-cutting ceremonies in honor of this great metropolis and people will climb this tower that they built and have great pride in their work.

God says something is missing in this equation.

So, the text says God comes down, confuses their languages and scatters them from their city and tower. It is interesting that God had to come down to the tower.

Wasn’t it supposed to have its top in the heavens? That sounds like it would be tall to me.

God still had to come down to see the city and the tower.

If God had to come all the way down to terra firma to see this city built on pride and scatter its inhabitants then I would hate to see what he would do with a radar gun. Because, in the end, the people had to suffer consequences for their self-seeking behavior and I would have mine as well. Thankfully, I felt convicted of this after thinking about it.

And then I slowed down.

And maybe you should too. Ease off the gas a little when you’re doing anything that can be recognized as great at any level. Don’t get excited and put the pedal to the floor and rush into your own glory because it won’t get you anywhere. Just think about who knew you before you were born and who made you, who rescued you from yourself and a life lived only for the simple reason of serving your own wants and desires or what the Preacher calls “striving after the wind’ because it’s all meaningless without God.

Slow down.

Why I Will Never be a Theologian

Let me start off by telling you that I spend a lot of time reading books.  I’m a full time student at Nebraska Christian College and I like to read books on the side.  If you look in the messenger bag that I tote around everywhere you’re likely to find at least two or three books aside from my Bible that I’m reading concurrently.  I just love to read.  I’ve given up trying to count how many books I’ve bought in the last year so much so that I’ve never even attempted to count the number of books that I’ve read.  Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a library of my own and one day maybe I’ll have a nice office or house to do that in.

Being a student, I’ve been forced to read some – not a lot – but some things that are irritating.  I go to a Bible college near where I live and, for the most part, I try and do my best to soak it all in and learn as much as I can.  I breezed through the first year without a whole lot of difficulties (at least academically) because it was mostly stuff I already knew or had picked up in my reading in the six or 7  months before I actually enrolled. But at my school there’s something I was told to expect sometime in my career at the college and it’s been affectionately titled my Hell Year.  And this is where the fun really starts because this is where this whole thing was going.

This school year is my Hell Year.  It’s been tough and it’s only gotten tougher as the months go on.  This year has consisted of my theology course and Hebrew for both semesters and then the classes I’ve thrown in with it. I spend a lot of my time, probably 12-20 hours a week just reading and working on homework so I feel that my brain is going to swell and spill out my nose with all that I’m being required to absorb.  The killer has been my theology class not just because it’s a class on Systematic Theology because Systematic Theology is interesting to me.  However, in reading for the class I have run into a certain conflict and it’s been souring my thought processes these last couple of weeks.

Let me just preface this by saying that I don’t think I could be a theologian as a career. I don’t think I’ll ever write books or commentaries that will open people up to the scriptures in some new and exciting way. I’m just not wired that way. “But, Jeremiah, you’re such a smart young man!” you might say.  That’s neither here nor there. So far, this semester I have been subjected to what seem to be two rivaling ideas in the realm of hermeneutics and its use constructing, supporting and creating large and expansive writings in the form of Systematic Theology.  I know that sounds wonderful and exciting to you. I’m actually writing this to put myself to sleep.

For anyone who have studied hermeneutics then you’re familiar with the concept of studying the text within the realm or culture of ideas that it was created first.  My OT professor described it as being etic but getting as close to emic as humanly possible, a desire that is essentially as possible as reaching zero by dividing a number by two. You’ll approach it but you’ll never completely reach it.  That is, if you’re speaking of a text thousands of years removed from your own culture like the Torah. In that realm of thinking the text starts to unfold and make more sense in its own purpose and then you can begin to bridge all the gaps between then and now.  What I’m learning in my class over the Pentateuch right now is basically an extension of what I learned in my hermeneutics class and it actually makes a lot more sense with some application.  But I really dig that approach and it’s really been helpful to know some of the language as that helps in the process of becoming more emic. What does that have to do with my being a theologian? I’m glad you didn’t ask but probably made the logical next step while you read this ceaseless rambling.

Anyway…

My conflict arises when I read things from my theology textbook or things that are provided by my theology professor.  I love my theology professor. He’s a genius in many respects and comes off as extremely staunch and conservative (of which he is the latter… very much) but he’s got a really warm personality once you get to know him. He goes to my church so he also has to look me in the face almost every Sunday. So, perhaps it’s easier to acquiesce to liking me than anything else.  Whatever the case may be, he has provided us with a wonderful textbook (can wonderful be perjorative?) by Dr. Jack Cottrell of Cincinnati Christian University called The Faith Once For All.  What I am told about this particular author is that he is the big voice of the “Restoration Movement” of which I’ve been absorbed into. Just as a sidenote, my professor was a student of Dr. Cottrell some years ago.

But what I’m starting to see a lot of – and I’m not entirely sure why I missed it before – is theologians including my professor and his mentor, the Apostle Jack, is doing some wonderful exposition on the text then taking some very odd leaps into applying their studies and writing to the current culture.  A prime example would be an article that I was given to read as an assignment to be discussed in class.  It began as what could be a simple explanation as to why Jesus, as a Jew and the Son of God, would not have a literal “tattoo” on his thigh as described in Revelation. Fine, I can accept that even though one could take the logical step of asking who would have the opportunity to get that close to the Messiah with a tattoo gun before he come back and exacts His perfect justice? But what I did not like was the next “logical” step I was asked to take in the verses in Leviticus that somehow apply to my life.  According to what I was given, tattoos, piercings, long hair, colored hair and trimming my beard are all wrong because they are all somehow degrading to my image bearer of God.

And it’s not just that article. I don’t want you to think my theology professor is a nut or something just because of one article that he provided to me because really, I think he’s an OK guy and he hasn’t said anything to me personally about the things I have chosen to do to my body and, really, that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  So, let’s move forward.

My problem is that I’m seeing this more and more in the theology that I’m reading. Either I’m entirely jaded and they are explaining how they got from point A to point B and I’m just glossing over it because I think I know it all or they’re making some serious jumps into pools of water they ought not be jumping into quite so hastily.  Dr. Jack does this quite frequently at least that I’ve read so far in his section on Anthropology.  It goes from a basic overview of what the Bible says which is what you’re supposed to do in Systematic Theology to a rant on Calvinism and their view on the sovereignty of God and how that affects people’s free will  and  it gets to the point where I really want to throw the book against the wall just out of sheer frustration.  Is it so wrong to want to learn something without having to be fed someone else’s view on yet another party’s doctrinal views?

**Deep Breath**

So, right now that is affecting my view on what I’m going to do once I’m done with my undergrad work. If I keep doing as well as I have been I probably have a good shot at getting into a decent seminary which would take me out of the God foresaken state of Nebraska. But do I really want to spend more time being frustrated or go into doing the things I’m actually good at.  I’m an introvert by I have a lot of extroverted tendencies.  I like people and I think they’re sinners like me which puts us on even ground no matter what inferiority complex I feel I may have.  I like to keep to myself so I like to study a lot and I’m really into studying original language which, right now, is Hebrew. Next year it will be Greek. I just don’t see why people with such heart and so much intelligence feel the need to take stabs at people when they’re trying to teach.  I guess I’m just a stickler for doing things the right way and the ways that make sense which is usually the right way and that’s why I’m feeling so affected by it. It’s the word of God we’re talking about, ultimately.  Isn’t it?