Beyond the Spiritual
In many ways beyond the spiritual (is there something beyond spiritual?) becoming a Christian has defined my life. I became ‘born again’ in 1976 in LA, right at the height of the Jesus Freak movement. I started going to the first Vineyard Christian Fellowship, got baptized in the Pacific Ocean and stuck with non-denominational churches and college fellowship groups all through my college years. I met my first wife, Kathy, in a college fellowship group, that brought me in contact with her family, who included the single best example of living the true Christian life I’ve ever come across, my father-in-law Dwight Johnson. Boy, did I learn a lot from that man, I am so grateful for him.
Judgment and it’s Offsets
An interesting clarifying moment for me came when I went to art graduate school in Michigan in 1980. One the one side I was in a very intensely free and creative environment at school. On the other I was attending a Baptist church my wife and I had found near where we lived. And what did I find? Both groups tended to be a bit judgmental of the other, no doubt about it. But the art group, in spite of their liberality, were the more judgmental of the two, by far. I thought long and hard about why that was. What I discovered as I watched the two groups was, that in spite of the judgmental elements in the teachings at church, there was an even stronger element that offset that (at least in that church and the other churches I had attended), and that was teachings of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility, patience, kindness, and love.
Now, I don’t mean that no one in the art group had any of those traits, of course they did. But as a group they did not have any focused or guided attention paid to those things. i In this case, it was a very intensely judgmental art atmosphere. We were there to refine our art and that happened by putting it in the fire of judgment. But there was no teaching or guiding on the part of the main professor I had, nor the other professors I came in contact with, that offset that with the qualities I mentioned above.
Many decades have passed since then and I’ve been in the art world and the church world both for all those years. I like both worlds, and there are things I don’t like about them. Church can squash creativity and free thinking like it’s nobody’s business. But the art world, as odd as it sounds, can do the same. The church and art worlds can both make you feel like you don’t belong. They can both define the world and culture around them as unacceptable because it doesn’t fit their idea of healthy or happy. They can both be so sure of themselves that they feel superior and enlightened compared to everyone else.
Best of All
What are you suppose to do in that situation? What I reach for is to be the best of both as best I can. But how does one do that? By practicing. Just as my artwork is better because I practice it, so is my heart, my mind and my actions in all of life when I practice those things I mentioned above; mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility (ok, not always good at that) patience, kindness, and love. It also means I practice judgment. Practicing judgments causes me to use it less, not more. It helps me to discern between pre-judgment, a judgment from a place of ignorance and a judgment from a place of insecurity and defense, and the more powerful and good limited judgment based on observation, evidence and necessity.
You don’t get better at something without practice. If you don’t want to get better, then…sorry, you still have to practice because you can’t even maintain your skills without it. This is true of creativity and spirituality and indeed, any quality of character you want to have in life. Finding a way to be inspired to practice any these things is one of the essential tasks of a successful life.
What do you think?