God Wants You to Make Better Art (Uncovering My Own Story Made Me Realize How Much Work I Have To Do)

Last month, I attended a multimedia webinar hosted by Blaine Hogan, Creative Director at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. “God Wants You to Make Better Art” was on a Wednesday night, just after when I would normally have been at mid-week Bible study. So I skipped church, put the kids to bed early, and attended the $10 webinar that Blaine hosted. Hope had a meeting of her own, too.

(You can find a version of his presentation here on his blog: Move More People and Make Better Art.)

STORY

Blaine’s overarching theme was that of story. I thought this was pretty interesting since last year our congregation studied from The Story, a Bible study that puts everything in a continuous narrative from the framework of viewing the Bible as God’s story.

Blaine’s angle was that we look at our own stories, and search for the themes that connect us with those around us.

His own story can be viewed as tragic, starting from sexual abuse as a child, moving to pornography and alcohol addictions as an adult, while following a career path as an actor. “At 18 I had become a professional actor and by 25 I had become a professional addict as well.” But it doesn’t end in tragedy: he wound up finding healing at seminary.

Blaine’s story is one of constant redemption, a testament to God’s amazing grace: He redeems us no matter what we’ve done, what we will do.

God redeemed us once, for all time. I think it has taken Blaine many reminders over the years to understand this. (I need to be reminded of this frequently, too.)

Themes & Metaphors

For the 2012 Christmas event at Willow Creek, Blaine explored this theme of redemption and wanted to make it relatable to people from all walks of life. He saw Christ’s coming as a salvage mission. So the stage set for the multimedia presentation had reclaimed materials such as found wood, and the Christmas story was narrated as one where God was coming to earth to rescue the people he loved.

(Hogan said the challenge for making it accessible to everyone was to avoid dumbing it down or devolving into kitsch.)

Clearly, Blaine’s own experiences cause him to vividly experience the theme of redemption in Scripture. And that’s important. You can’t downplay that. It just might be the most important theme of the Bible other than love — the motivation for redemption.

Newtonian Physics and Art

Hogan talked a little bit about Isaac Newton. Newton’s first law of motion maintains that
An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
The application to art is that if you want to make art that moves people, you have to make moving art, and to do that, you must deliver a moving pitch, and to do that, you must develop a moving idea, and before that, the artist must be moved first. So, to do any of that, you start with stories. And that’s where Blaine’s own story comes into play, and how he found his themes and put them to work in his own art.

How can your art move people to Christ? Of course, before knowing how to do this, you must start with your own story.

What are the themes and metaphors I can draw from my own experiences to inform my art and make it accessible to everyone so that they are moved to Christ in some way?

So, I set out to uncover my own story.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Some say that to find your own story, you should journal a good deal and find your themes that way.

Thing is, I’ve been actively journaling about ten or eleven years now. It started out as Morning Pages (as outlined in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) but I got away from that and currently use a journaling template somewhat like Michael Hyatt’s.

It has been a long time since journaling has uncovered much of my themes (and I really don’t want to go back and re-read and re-live the bad parts where I whined a lot a decade ago.) So I’ve been stumped.

I’ve let this percolate in the back of my mind a few weeks, and on a lunchtime walk, it hit me: my biggest theme is one of loneliness and anger and resentment.

This might surprise you. Then again, it might not. Depends on how well you know me.

I’ve long resented my hearing loss, and the way that has held me back in numerous ways. It makes me angry on some deep, vague level. I think this is the root of everything for me. And on some level I’m an angry person. Most of the time I’m neutral. Sort of. Definitely not as mellow as I thought of myself when I was a teenager. I guess the anger and resentment started to surface in my 20s, once I was out of college. I put my fist through a pantry door once. I’ve been to anger management classes but that was 11 years ago, and a lot has changed in my life since then.

My hearing loss has made me angry, resentful, and above all, lonely. I think on some level I’ve been angry at God about this, resenting my hearing loss for at least thirty years.

In college I discovered porn on the Internet. So for a long time, I tried to treat that loneliness with porn. But that only made my loneliness more intense. Which made me angrier. And magnified the resentment I felt toward anybody who seemed to have a connection with anyone other than me, so it spiraled deeper and deeper. This lasted over a decade.

Until last year, I realized what was going to happen to my marriage and my children if I didn’t do something about it. I made a conscious decision, breaking down into tears in the bathroom with my wife, promising that I wasn’t going to look at porn again. It’s the same as cheating on her. Wait. No “same as.” It is.

It hasn’t been easy. There are times I want to load something disgusting online for a quick thrill or simulation of intimacy without the effort. (But I know there is no reward for that.) I’m not about to damage my relationship with my wife and my children and even my parents for the next 30 or 40 years just from a half-second jolt to the lizard brain.

I’ve also got a lot of resentment toward the idea of false praise. There have been significant moments where I’ve displayed my art and heard, “Ooooh, Brad! That’s amaaaazing!” and it rang false. As a result, I have had a hard time accepting praise.

Yet I hungrily seek approval.

Nowhere is this more evident than on social media, where it seems everyone else has more clicks, pins, likes, plusses, or hearts than I. No wonder social media sends me into such a dark funk. I try hard to make a concerted effort to get likes and clicks and retweets, and then after a week or so I throw up my hands and give up, depressed and angry when I look at Buffer’s analytics and see what I’m sharing isn’t getting clicked on. Then I’m back at it again the next week. Again with the spiral, looking for a quick fix that makes me feel accepted.

• • •

Wow. This been cathartic. I don’t know where this came from, nor what to do with it. In many ways I’m still on this journey. As it turns out, my perspective is rather pessimistic and distrustful. There’s no hope or redemption. I’m shocked at my own pessimism. I’ve never looked at myself this critically or deeply. It’s depressing. I don’t like this.

And yet.

Somewhere inside me there is hope. I think my parents instilled some spark in me that is optimistic, that believes there is good in this world, that somebody believes in me.

I do know this: I want to give my kids the self-confidence that I didn’t have. Every day, I make a point to tell them how proud I am of them, and that I will always love them no matter what they do, for the sole reason that they are my children, and there’s nothing they can do to change that. It’s hard, being as preoccupied as I am with my art (or lack thereof) let alone deep-seated doubts about my own merit.

This is not the story I want. Looking in the mirror is difficult when I discover how apparently intrinsically negative I am.

I suppose now I should set about writing myself a better story. But how?

I don’t have any answers right now, but I’ll get there. I just know it involves forgiveness. Probably again and again and again.

See? There is hope. Even if it is just a tiny spark.