A Disciplined (disciple) Artist: Part 1

(Phaedra standing in front of a boat-load of gold and platinum records at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN. We totally dug the museum.)

This is the first portion of the talk I gave in Nashville this past week. I began the talk with a kinetic visual. For 30 seconds I danced in front of everyone. It was a very ridiculous-looking version of modern dance (and, c'mon, that's a long time to look ridiculous). Then a professionally trained modern dancer (with Stillpoint Dance Theater) danced for 30 seconds. Hers was beautiful. I said, "Folks: exhibit A, exhibit B, this is the summary of my talk." And with this my talk officially began.
She keeps the disciplines of a dancer. In her words:

“I start with Pilates warm-up in the mornings. I take 2 ballet classes per week and 3 modern dance classes per week along with improvisation and composition. I rehearse approximately 12-15 hours a week with StillPoint. I also use the YMCA 1-2 times per week for extra cardio and weight training. I teach dance as well so I am in the studio creating classes or working on choreography many hours of the day.I have to keep an anti-inflammatory diet in order to keep inflammation down in my body due to minor injuries and the intensity of the rehearsing. This means staying away from sugar, dairy and wheat, and it means eating lots of "superfoods," such as blueberries, walnuts, and salads. I require more food and sleep whenever we are in an intense rehearsal season.”

I do none of them. She is free. I am not.

She has obeyed the laws of her craft, its “order,” and so earns the right to improvise in a way that reveals the beauty of the craft. I have obeyed none and so earn the right only to look like a fool.

My temptation based on my minimal experience and training is to say: “I caaan’t do it. It’s too hard. You can do it because of course you’re better than I.” In saying this I sanction both my ignorance and my unwillingness to learn about the craft.

Maybe if I simply imitate her movements, I say to myself, then perhaps I can dance like her. But without adopting the disciplines of modern dance I will not become a person for whom the movements and graces of modern dance come “naturally.” I will simply be attempting to behaviorally conform.

My contention tonight is that we need to adopt not just the specific disciplines of our craft, but a holistic range of disciplines that take into account the fact that God has made us whole persons and that He intends for us to thrive as wholes—spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, imaginative, relational, sexual, etc. When we adopt the appropriate disciplines, we position ourselves to become the kind of artists who know a) truly and contentedly who we are, b) what we’ve been called to, c) are willing to trust and obey God through the practical, daily outworking of our calling and d) in consequence taste of the freedom that marks the children of God.

The Objective of my Talk

My practical goal this evening is to make a case for the idea of a disciplined disciple artist. I am purposefully staying away from the term “Christian artist” because it carries too many burdens these days (Is it “Christian” because I’m a Christian? Is it my subject matter? The effect of my work? Something more subtle?). I want to explore a more internal reality.

To unpack my idea let me put it in a macro perspective. Consider the following the Big Idea, the Large Vision within which my talk finds its sense.

Adam & Eve experience a life that is integrated and flourishing—with God, with oneself, with others, and the rest of creation.

In disobedience to God we rebel and so incur in our total human nature brokenness. Instead of integrated we become fragmented. Instead of hale and hearty we become sick of soul. We become disoriented creatures rendered futile by our inordinate appetites.

Not only does he show us what true humanity looks like he shows us the way back into it by redeeming and restoring us. In Jesus we find a way to re-integrate our life. He releases us to flourish once again. He breathes resilience into our bodies and souls.

To become his disciple.

A disciple by definition is one who keeps disciplines; is recognized by the disciplines he or she keeps.

Let me illuminate five important aspects of this idea of a disciplined disciple.


1) The disciplines of a disciple of Jesus entail the reconstruction of our whole self. No part is left off. Every faculty of our person has been damaged—head, heart, hand—every faculty requires the re-habituation of its appetites away from sin toward Christ’s good order.

The weakness of so much church life is that we reduce our Christian faith to a set of activities that only addresses parts of our person. For instance, we feed our sheep with great head knowledge but leave them emotionally debilitated. We teach our congregants to study and pray, but neglect to instruct them in the disciplines of feasting and silence.

The result of our compartmentalized discipleship? We end up with artists who lead worship beautifully but are insecure and defensive. I’ve watched a filmmaker from LA kept hostage by his actor wife’s shopping sprees that numb the pain of her anger against God and keep the family financially unstable.
I’ve witnessed an enormously talented poet in Vancouver fritter away his life because of the sloth that he is unwilling to confront.

It’s important for us to remember that a dysfunction in one part of our person will negatively affect the whole. What we need is a model, both comprehensive and sensible, for disciplined life that brings about the God-superintended restoration of our whole person.

2) The disciplines are God’s instruments of grace. They are our way of reverently cooperating with the initiating and sustaining work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard:

"No one ever says, 'If you want to be a great athlete, go vault eighteen feet, run the mile under four minutes', or 'If you want to be a great musician, play the Beethoven violin concerto'. Instead we advise the young artist or athlete to enter a certain kind of overall life, one involving deep associations with qualified people as well as rigorously scheduled time, diet, and activity for the mind and body.”

The disciplines are what strengthen our muscles so that we can become the kinds of persons who do the good “naturally.”

3) Learning a new way of being a human being is hard work. All kinds of forces, inside us and outside, fight against this renovating work. My craving for approval, for example, may lead me to avoid conflict at all costs, including the cost of truly being known. I have to choose—every day—to adopt the kind of habits that will enable me to become a different kind of person, the kind God exultantly imagined before the foundations of the world.

But while plenty hard at first, the way of Jesus eventually becomes easy. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” he once said, and he wasn’t speaking theoretically. He was speaking plainly.

Let me offer an illustration.

During my years as a runner in Vancouver, BC, I never thought, “What a drag. I have to run—through rain, snow, sleet, and heat, morning and midnight, when excited and when tired and apathetic, on concrete highways and through forest paths. I have to stretch. I have to watch what I eat. I have to read runner’s magazines. I have to buy shoes every so-many miles.” No, it was, “I get to.” Why? Because I knew God had created me to be a runner. I had a vision of my truest, runningest self compelling me on.

None of this happened overnight, of course. It happened over many years, with many encouraging words and friends. But I desired to adopt the disciplines because I knew they would enable me to become fit and fleet—a winged creature.

4) The consequence of living an undisciplined life, or as Eugene Peterson puts it, an “unscripted life,” is that we become governed by our inordinate appetites. They sabotage our best efforts to grow up. We find ourself using TV, internet, food, books, or busyness to medicate the pain of a deep loneliness and sense of failure.

What the disciplines do is re-orient, day by day, baby step by unexciting baby step, our appetites away from destructive habits towards the narrow way of Christ that leads to life.

5) The disciplines are best practiced in a community of friends. What kind? You only need three. You need 3 friends who are doggedly constant in their love for you; the kind who will walk with you everywhere, loving you no matter what and who are not afraid to tell you when you’re full of crap—a crappy attitude, crappy behavior, or crappy art.

My assertion in light of all of this, then, is: A disciplined disciple artist is a free and fully alive artist.


simply profound.
thank you, thank you, thank you.
Kay Martin said…
Thank you for this post. I had a few minutes so I typed in my favorite words (thrive christian abundant life) in Google and your site came up. I will be here often.

You nailed my greatest questions and thankfully you had solutions I can explore. I am returning to my calling to write decades after I first heard the call.

I love your presentation with daring to dance to show your points. That video would be a treasure to view!

Thank you, again, for helping me.
Thank you both. :)
aaronc said…

Greetings from New Orleans. I was wondering if you would email me your address so that I might send you and Phaedra a disk of images.

Aaron C. (from the conference, priveleged to your dinner party on the Saturday night following)
Dianne said…
This is excellent stuff. It's just been in the last year or so that I've been introduced to the concepts of spiritual disciplines, and of late, keep seeing this connection to art and creativity as well. Makes so much sense. When's the book due out?!
Karen said…
Wow, that totally made sense to me! And it's exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks!

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