Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary,Nathaniel Hawthorne
how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
This post will offer more questions than answers or assertions, and it starts with one question: What is a Christian’s role if she is an artist? If she is a musician, a painter, a sculptor, or, as in my case, a writer, does she have a responsibility that is somehow different because she is a Christian who is also an artist?
In other words, do I, as a writer who is a Christian, have an unspoken or higher responsibility than a writer who is not a Christian? And if so, what is that responsibility?
I am almost certain the answer to such questions will vary greatly, even (and maybe even especially) among Christians. Even so, here is what I believe about the role of all artists, Christian or not:
I believe art and artists can change the world.
I believe artists can challenge how people think as well as how people see the world around them, how people see themselves, and how people see others.
I believe artists can provide material to spark a conversation or spark a revolution. Not necessarily an actual revolution, but absolutely an idea revolution.
I believe artists should strive always for excellence in their art.
These are the standards to which I want to be held.
Is Changing the World Different for an Artist Who Loves Jesus?
You see, I am a writer. I am also a Christian. I write blog posts and I write novels. I’ve written and published a Lenten devotional about walking with Jesus and sitting at his dusty feet. But I also have stories that involve salty characters who drink, curse, cause trouble, and break the rules, and sometimes even the law.
Because of this, I wrestle as much with my art – my writing – as Jacob did with God. I wrestle with questions like, is it okay for a character to swear? Is it okay for a character to drink? Is it okay to write stories that include violence or reflect our current culture in order to challenge the culture or engage the culture?
I’ve been told yes and no by Beta readers, blog readers, and some friends. There is in these responses an intimation that readers of my devotional materials may be turned off by my salty characters or my stories that are too “secular” or worldly and I may lose my devotional audience as a result.
But I suggest that to categorize something as secular versus Christian limits the artist, the art, and the God who created both.
The Intersection of Art & Faith
Is there a line that artists who are Christians are expected to toe and, if so, where is that line and who draws it? And, what happens when an artist crosses that line? I’m guessing that there are as many opinions regarding these questions as there are people. But here are a few of my thoughts.
I am not a Christian writer. I am a writer who is a Christian (in the same way that I am a writer who is a mother, and a writer who is a caustic Yankee from New England). I believe there is a difference between being a Christian writer and a writer who is also a Christian. Specifically, my target audience is not necessarily other Christians. Nor are my stories focused only on Christian themes or only on the Gospel.
If I want to influence, and perhaps even change, the world, my target audience needs to include the wider world. And while that includes Christians, it includes many more beyond that circle, too. I want to tell stories that engage my readers, entertain my readers, challenge my readers, and reflect the world in which my readers live.
I don’t want to write pristine stories removed from the life my readers live, the life that I live. Life is complicated. Life is hard. Life is messy and even frustrating because it includes a world filled with messed up, broken people. I encounter it when I go to the grocery store with my children or when I travel to visit family or when I say something to my spouse or my kids that is mean.
Because Life Is Messy, Art Is Messy
My stories include flawed, messed up people who make good choices but also make bad choices. They include people who believe in God and live their lives out with Him and people who believe in nothing or in themselves or in the world or in their money. They include people who change and grow and people who don’t. They involve real people living real lives and who encounter difficult circumstances.
And always, my stories reflect who I am, both on the surface, and hidden deep inside. They include allusions directly or indirectly to faith, to God, to Jesus, to living in the world and not conforming to it. Because I cannot separate my faith from my writing, even if my art includes gritty characters who drink or smoke or curse or bully or threaten or seek to control or destroy others.
Because sometimes, I curse. Sometimes, I respond to circumstances with anger and frustrations and I lose my temper and I’m mean and have to apologize for my words or behaviors. Sometimes I make some pretty bad choices and I screw up pretty badly. But I change. Sometimes too slowly, and sometimes I even stay stuck for a lot longer than I want to.
My stories reflect that. At least I hope they do. I hope my stories and my characters invite readers to step inside and travel a road they may not otherwise travel and meet people they might not otherwise encounter.
Even so, I continue to wrestle with my art like Jacob wrestled with God. I strive for excellence and I promise to hold myself to being true and real in my writing, whatever that looks like. And I hope that standard is one my readers will appreciate.
So, I’m curious. What do you think about these things? What do you think is the role of an artist who is also a Christian?