A Blank Canvas
Lindsay, my wife, has recently taken up painting as a hobby and, it turns out, she is quite good at it. After just a few efforts, she has produced art worthy of hanging in our home, or even yours. At this point she has been merely painting her interpretation of photos she likes. There has not been a move toward creating a wholly new image. But that will come. It is, after all, a human characteristic to want to express ourselves and create.
Being made in the image of God—the first and ultimate Creator—we were made to make things from the other bits of God’s creation. If we had not, what would Adam have done when he left the garden? An entire world stood before him, a blank canvas for him to “paint” on. He must have started with the necessities and even that would have yielded a barn full of inventions, tools, homegoods, and the like. So Adam would have started with creating the things he needed to survive and, as he lived 930 years, would have moved to more personal expressions. Perhaps he wrote music or carved wooden elephants.
It is our nature to create. And, when time permits and the crops are in, it tends to take a more personal direction. We seem to want or need to express ourselves in our creations.
And if culture is the outward expression of our most deeply held inward beliefs then we as Christians should be creating that which reflects the beauty of the life in Christ we’ve been given. We should have the reputation as the best artisans because of our commitment to work, to beauty, and to representing our all powerful and loving God to the watching world.
And, if you look at the cathedrals, sculptures, symphonies, paintings, of a bygone Christian era, much of what is truly transcendent was made by Christians and now, hundreds of years later, stands the test of time as brilliant examples of their particular genres.
Though what they did was perhaps a bit easier than our task; they lived and worked in a real Christian culture, we do not. Our job is more difficult—to not “go with the flow” and produce temporal junk. Ken Myers in his book All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes writes:
Rather than starting our own TV networks, movie production companies, or imitations of People magazine, we would do much better to make the church a living example of alternatives to the methods and messages of popular culture. Virtually all cultural institutions from literature professors to Ivy League schools to producers of soap operas to the loudest heavy metal bands, are equally bereft of points of perspective for their activities. In such a time, the church could be a community displaying, in its corporate life and in the lives of its members, a culture of transcendence. This would not mean escaping from the world, it would require refusing to conform to its ways, not only when they are evil, but when they are not beneficial or constructive.
It’s a challenge to create something lasting and good, beneficial, or constructive in a culture that little appreciates these and rarely pays for it. We might not see sales for our creations or even patronage, but if our expression is that which we love in our God and His creation, then it will please us, our people, and our God, for whom this and all the work of our hands should be an ongoing tribute. So where does that leave us?
First we should be about the work of creating. We cannot build a distinct Christian culture if we do not create anything new ourselves; if we only consume what others are creating from the dreck of the prevailing culture. And that’s a great temptation because we are being bombarded by it daily and it’s salty and sweet and readily available.
We should be excellent in our work; sculpting the gargoyle with care and precision even thought it’s in a part of the cathedral that no one will ever see. When we work for God (Colossians 3:23) and not for men, we are free artists knowing that whatever we produce has intrinsic value.
Our work should seek to honor the first Creator in its ingenuity, uniqueness, excellence, and endurance. From what I’ve seen of young people in my own church, given time, encouragement, tools, the creativity is certainly there. The skills come with time and the variety is endless which, if you’ve ever walked outside your house and looked up and inspected the myriad of colors, textures, shapes, in just your back yard, is the modus operandi of the first Creator.
We need to understand that creation is also the building block of prosperity. Take a tree, chop it down, carve it out, and sell your canoe. A mode of transportation or a recreational vehicle now exists that did not before. The world is richer for having this tool; you are richer for gaining whatever the buyer gave you, and the buyer is better off because of the greater value he ascribes to the canoe over what he gave you for it. That simple illustration is how wealth is created; how communities survive and thrive.
Rich Raw Materials
Sometimes we think in too narrow terms about creators and focus on painters, sculptors, musicians, writers. But also the inventors, the entrepreneur, the writer, the chef, anyone who “builds” something that didn’t exist before is shadowing the Creator and is benefitting mankind, a common grace for all to enjoy.
Which is the glorious beauty of God’s creation. He gives us fecund minds, ample raw materials and we are placed on this giant toybox and asked to play around. Do that with any four year old and you’ll always get something in return. And as God’s little children, that’s as complicated as it gets; we should be about the work of creating stuff to the glory of God and using that thing, that little creation, to be a blessing to our family, friends, and neighbors and to bring glory to our God.