The Artist-Pastor Identity Crisis, Part 2

I was talking with a coworker recently. An English major when he was in college who loves writing stories and reading Dostoevsky, he is now studying at the seminary in order to hopefully plant a church overseas someday. We spoke of stories we liked and environments that seemed to inspire us, like gothic buildings and vast countrysides. He said he found our continual conversations frustrating because every time we talked, it made him want to be a writer again. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Above anything else in this present world, using my creative gifts make me feel alive and make me see the uniqueness of what we possess as bearers of the Imago Dei. Almost two years after I first wrote about living “in the tension” between the artistic realm and that of Christian ministry, I have found a refreshing vibrancy in how I view the world and my place as a creative person in it. Moreover, I have found a constant reward in reaching out to others in ministry fields who have too long suppressed their identity as writer or artist because of their pursuit of identity as pastor.

Being a writer (by that I mean, more properly, a storyteller) or an artist isn’t a professional vocation. Granted, you can make a vocation of it, and many do. Ultimately, however, it is a gift, a talent, even so much as a personality disposition you possess and always will. You can do one of two things: suppress it or use it, no matter what you choose to do as your professional vocation. If you suppress it you are, at the very least, stifling a rather large portion of your personality that will groan inside you to be expressed and may ultimately make you quite miserable if left in its repression. At most, you are refusing to use a great tool God has specifically given you to see into the intricacies of the world and to reflect its beauty and depth back to it.

This truth of the artist’s identity was brought to mind one evening recently when I caught a rerun of the TV show M*A*S*H. In this episode, the army surgeon Winchester comforts a soldier named David, a Juilliard-trained classical pianist whose right hand nerves have been permanently damaged by shrapnel. David tells Winchester that his life is pointless because he isn’t a musician anymore. Winchester, known in the show for his love of classical music, responds:

Your hand may be stilled, but your gift cannot be silenced if you refuse to let it be. The gift does not lie in your hands. I have hands, David. Hands that can make a scalpel sing. More than anything in my life I wanted to play, but I do not have the gift. I can play the notes, but I cannot make the music. You have performed Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Chopin. Even if you never do so again, you’ve already known a joy that I will never know as long as I live. Because the true gift is in your head and in your heart and in your soul. Now you can shut it off forever, or you can find new ways to share your gift with the world…

My dear artist-pastor, God has gifted you with a view of his creation that is unique. Do not suppress it. Do not push it aside for more practical matters. You might just as well stifle your ability to see, speak, or hear. You have been given the ability to see past the surface of this world into all its grime and glory, and convey an expression of that through your paint, your piano, or your pen. You, believer in the redemption of the world, have a lens all the clearer through which to see the truth and proclaim your findings to your fellow travelers in the world. Your heart resounds with the very music of the spheres and echoes that within the gift of your art.

(Cover image: Christ and the Fishermen by Georges Rouault)