The Marks of a Mature Believer Artist

This is the beginning of a series of four essays I want to be writing for our community. This will be part of the way I seek to take care of us, by providing, in this instance, a few marks of a mature believer artist. The ultimate goal here is building a vision of such an artist. The question isn't really "What things should we be doing as artists?" The question is "What kind of person are we supposed to become? What is the vision of a mature artist that we should be aiming at?"
The following, then, is my attempt to help us get moving towards that vision.
"I have been musing on the words of Martin Thornton: "A walloping great congregation," he wrote, "is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre."
"Saints," he says. Mature Christians: people who are "grown-up" in their faith, to whom one assigns descriptors such as holy, Christ-like, Godly, or men or women of God." ~ Gordon MacDonald, "So Many Christian Infants"

Let me start by saying that the following marks are foundational but not exhaustive. They are beginnings.
They are my subjective starting point; not completely subjective, mind you, but because you don’t become a jedi master by trying to tackle every lesson, with equal attention and vigor, on Day One—which would make you a very frustrated, exhausted jedi and likely cause you to give up and say it’s all “stupid” and “jedis are dumb”—you can think of this as my own jedi school for becoming a mature believer artist.
There is the Francis Schaeffer jedi school. There is the Jesus People USA jedi school. There is THE NEW YORK TIMES Arts Section jedi school. This is mine.

After eleven years of observing the way artists live and strangely move I conclude that these four virtues are essential: humility, discipline, generosity, and courage.

If we begin with these, many other graces will flow out of them—like justice, temperance, joy, kindness, and so on. If we can make progress in these we will have indeed accomplished a great, and even rare, thing.

In the interest of full disclosure I confess I believe two things about jedi masters (aka mature believer artists): 1) that the world desperately needs such people, and 2), that they don’t become jedi masters randomly or over-night. They become so in a very purposeful way and by giving themselves to a long obedience in the same direction, choosing to walk not alone but with kindred souls in a shared pilgrimage of suffering and celebration.

One final note. What I’ve written hangs on two assumptions. The first is that we have our life because we are beloved of God. This is why we exist: because God loves us. Period. Nothing more fancy than that. This truth will also shape how we relate to other people, as persons worthy of great love whether they “deserve” it or not—which, honestly, feels like a pretty crummy thing when you’re actually doing it but which in the end is good for all, even you.

The second assumption is that undergirding and infusing these four virtues are the three classical Christian virtues: faith, hope and love. Everything we do requires faith. Everything we do requires hope. Everything we do requires love. Without these we basically fall apart, slowly if not also surely. With them we flourish liberally and beautifully.

So then, here are the Four Marks of a Mature Believer Artist. . . .

"Don't imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he won't be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who's always telling you that, of course, he's nobody. Probably all you'll think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him, it will be because you feel a bit envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily.
He won't be thinking about himself at all. There I must stop. If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you're not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." --C.S. Lewis


Ed said…
I think your article is spot-on, but I wish the church would use some word other than "saint" to denote someone who is mature or especially Christ-like. I thought we were all saints (set apart) by virtue of our faith in Christ no matter what our level of maturity. Isn't that the gospel?

Can we use some other word for the Jedis?
peternevland said…
Hey, David,

I just read your jedi manual on humility, and I was surprised to find that although quoting C.S. Lewis in saying that humility is not what we normally consider humility, you didn't touch on that part of his quote too much. So often I find people trying to be humble, when in reality they're trying to take the low road, heap dirt on themselves, or essentially drop their head and say with an air of resignation, "I have to be humble."

I don't see that in Jesus at all. I'm sure you would say this yourself, but I just didn't find it as much in what you wrote, which is why I'm adding it here. Jesus firmly knew that He was THE GLORIOUS ONE and didn't deny it. He knew He was the teacher and affirmed He was the greatest among all the disciples and then served them. The great wonder of God is that He's both glorious and humble, and we can't have one without the other. The question of humility is not how we can lower ourselves so that we don't receive glory. It's rather what to do with the glory when we become glorious.

God gives us gifts of art to make us glorious. There's no problem in affirming that we have gifts, but those gifts are meant to give to others as much as possible, whether we receive credit or not. From this point, I think everything else you said covers it. It's just that if we don't start with the view that God's created us to be glorious (as we find in Revelation with the description of Jesus on a white horse with eyes like a flame of fire, etc... AND ALL THE SAINTS ON WHITE HORSES WITH HIM), trying to attain to humility becomes a drudgery and odious task. I probably got some of this from Steve Hawthorne, but the rest has come as I've been walking this out as an artist. If my identity isn't first and foremost rooted in how overwhelmed God is with the beauty of who I am, I just work myself to death and become susceptible to every temptation of false love.

Blessings on you, jedi master. You've been and are a huge inspiration to me,
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