Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Halfway vs. the Full Way

"Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.  "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage!  It is I  Do not be afraid."
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out,"Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.  "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"- Matthew 14:25-32

I was confronted this week with the knowledge that I was living as if I believe God does things halfway.  Jesus says "Come" out on the water, take a risk, trust me, follow me and believe that I have your best interest in my perfect design.  So I take that step.  I get out of the boat.  And then when I am standing on the water, I start doubting/ freaking out/ thinking that He's brought me out here and he's going to let me drown.  (Which if I did, that would be okay, right? Because "If I perish, I perish.")

But He has never let me drown yet.  He always reaches out His hand and catches me.  Although rarely does being "caught" look like what I thought it would.  Maybe I wanted to be caught by a nice embrace and instead He tackles me in a fishing net and throws me over His shoulder.  But He doesn't let me drown.  And while I'm struggling around in that net on His back, kicking and screaming, I am growing in my trust and my love for Him.  I am growing in my belief that God is Sovereign, Consistent and Loving.  I am growing in my faith.  

I saw a production of "The Winter's Tale" recently and at one point one of characters says "It is required you do awake your faith."  

God does not do things halfway.  He has not covered my sin halfway.  He does not only heal me halfway.  He does not keep His promises halfway.  If He calls me to do something, He will not expect me to figure out how to get there on my own, He will provide the means.  

When I am fearful of drowning, it is required that I do "awake my faith".  It is required that I make a decision to be faithful and not to doubt until my story is written... until my story is completed.

(Photo by tanakawho from Flickr.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And If I Perish, I Perish

I found myself skipping an audition the other day because it required me to do something that I hadn't done since college and I thought I would fail. I let the fear that I would not be able to perform well drive me to not even attending and giving it a shot. It was just one of many examples lately of how I allow fear to dominate my decisions instead of living in freedom knowing that God has my life in His hands.

I have been so encouraged by the book of Esther lately. To bring us up to speed:
Esther is queen and living in the palace. The king and his pal have decided to annihilate the Jewish people. Esther is Jewish but her king does not know that. Esther's cousin Mordecai confronts her and tells her that she cannot just sit back and not step in on behalf of the Jewish people to the king thinking that because she lives in the palace she will be saved. He reminds her that she could have been put in the palace "for a time and place such as this" to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. The law says that the queen cannot just show up and talk to the queen unless he has requested her presence because, well, she could be put to death.

"Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: ' Go gather together all the Jews who are in Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'" (Esther 4:15-16)

Wow. You talk about a woman. "And if I perish, I perish." What guts. What faith. To know that you are going to do what God has put you in this place to do and if you perish, so be it.

Well, I rarely fear for my life. I fear a lot of things- failure, looking like an idiot, embarrassment, getting hurt, rejection, etc. but none of that is as fierce as "perishing".

But what if my faith was so strong that I didn't make any decisions based on fear? I have a friend who is often reminding me to "take fear out of the equation" when I am making decisions.

"The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. " -Deuteronomy 31:8

When I remind myself that the Lord Himself has gone before me and fought the greatest battle and it is won... When I remind myself that death's sting has no power over me... Then why on earth would I fear a little pain/inconvenience/embarrassment/rejection/failure in this lifetime? The worst that could happen is I will perish.

And if I perish, I perish.

(P.S. Picture by Romeo Koitmae from Flickr.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Storytelling, Art and Walking on Water

I just finished this book by Madeline L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. (It was a Christmas present from Susan-thank you Susan.) It has rocked my world. Please forgive the numerous quotes that follow but I just think she has so many incredible things to say. I felt like each page just screamed with reasons validating how important art is for our world and our relationship with God. I'm sure it will take me a lifetime to weave all that I have learned into my work.

But a summary of some of the things that I learned from this book:

*As an artist, my act of service is to the story. I had always thought that my act of service was to the audience but in reading this book I realized I cannot control what the audience thinks of my work and therefore I should make my greatest priority telling the story to the best of my abilities. This also takes enormous pressure off of worrying about the very objective ways people will view my performances.

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays but the artist must be obedient to the work whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a child. I believe that each work of art... comes to the artist and says 'Here am I. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.'"

*Art (similar to prayer) requires listening which is a discipline.

"The artist must be obedient to the command of the work, knowing that this involves long hours of research, of throwing out a month's work, of going back to the beginning, or, sometimes scrapping the whole thing. But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect."

*The best work occurs when I listen and die to myself.

"To serve a work of art, great or small, is to die, to die to self. If the artist is able to listen to the work, he must get out of the way; or more correctly he must be willing to be got out of the way, to be killed to self in order to become the servant of the work."

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work and so he often wrote better than he could write…
“In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do his work, to bear his glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.”

*Creating art requires not only a leap of faith but also a relinquishment of control.

"The challenge is to let my intellect work for the creative act, not against it. And this means, first of all, that I must have more faith in the work than I have in myself."

"Artist have always been drawn to the wild, wide elements they cannot control or understand. To be an artist means to approach the light and that means to let go our control, to allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in that which is greater than we are. The novel we sit down to write and the one we end up writing may be very different just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ."

*This book also reinforced many of the reasons why art, why storytelling is important and God-glorifying. It is a real shame that so many churches today do not recognize the power that lies in story, in myth and in the creative process.

It is one of the great triumphs of Lucifer that he has managed to make Christians believe that a story is a lie, that a myth should be outgrown with puberty, that to act in a play is inconsistent with true religion.”

"Far too often today children are taught, both in school and at home, to equate truth with fact. If we can't understand something and dissect it with our conscious minds, then it isn't true. In our anxiety to limit ourselves to that which we can comprehend definitively we are losing all that is above, beyond, below, through, past, over that small area encompassed by our conscious minds. "

“God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling. It is the calling for all of us, his creatures but it is perhaps more conscious with the artist…”

“The great artists keep us from frozenness, from smugness, from thinking that the truth is in us rather than in God…. They help us to know that we are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties, that it is all right to be like a small child who constantly asks, Why? Why? Why?”

“There is no denying that the artist is someone who is full of questions, who cries them out in great angst, who discovers rainbow answers in the darkness and then rushes to canvas or paper. An artist is someone who cannot rest, who can never rest as long as there is one suffering creature in the world….Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well every night, to eat anything without indigestion, to feel no moral qualms, to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death…. But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through and must find means of expression.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

Culture Making

"There are two humanities now in the world. There are two communities. One calls on the name of the Lord and creates culture in God’s name. And seeks with culture to serve God and neighbor. And the other community also makes culture but in order to get glory, in order to prove themselves, in order to make a name for themselves. There’s two ways to make culture. There’s two ways to create a society. One is based on power. One is based on peace. One develops oppression. One develops justice. One is based on power and its result is death. One is based on service and its result is life…."

-From Tim Keller's "A Tale of Two Cities" Sermon
(Photo is the beginning of a piece of art by my friend Teresa)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Moment

I was working with an acting coach on a piece and she stopped me and said something that really hit me. She said when she had been an actor doing a monologue, she had always felt like she needed to "get to the moment". She felt like she needed to be working towards this thing when she was performing her art. And then she realized one day that each single moment is what made up the piece. Each moment was its own unique experience. And she realized that it was far more interesting to have an experience in each moment she was present onstage than to fly through it trying to accomplish something.

Since then, I have completely changed the way I think about doing monologues or pieces in auditions. And although it is a habit I am working to develop and does not come naturally.... to live in this moment... and now this one.... and now this one.... when I am able to feel like I am doing it my experience of the piece I am performing feels like a story unfolding. Which is what it should feel like.

BUT I realized the other day that I not only try to rush through audition pieces instead of experiencing them but I also just rush through life. I constantly feel like I am working to GET somewhere. To achieve something. I feel like God will reveal some grand purpose and then I will have made it. Then I will be living life.

This was in my Beth Moore Bible study last week:
"At strategic times of internal war I stop and ask myself, 'What if this is a critical moment? What if this very thing, this very decision, is the most important piece of the puzzle comprising my purpose?'"

Whoa. What if I am flying through life trying to achieve something at some point in the distant future when this moment, THIS one, this one where I am single, in New York City, working at a hedge fund, getting ready to perform at a show at Columbia is the most important piece of God's puzzle for me? What if it is and I'm treating it like it's just this thing that I need to scuffle through in order to get to the thing God has really designed me for? What if I treated every day with the significance that perhaps it is the most important piece of the puzzle? What if I really lived in this moment with God and this moment only?

Well. I think it would change the way I lived. And I think, at the end of my life all of the experiences would add up to a much more beautiful, fulfilling and God-centered story.

(Photo by Susan Nacorda)