Christians be like, “Michael, you shouldn’t say that! God does not go crazy!” Okay, okay, you’re right…God has ALWAYS been crazy and I keep forgetting it.
All through the Bible, God has acted in ways you couldn’t call “normal.” Parting the Red Sea, turning water into blood, walking on water–he likes to mess with water. So I don’t know why I was surprised when God started nudging me to do something bat-crap crazy, at least by my standards.
I don’t have some fancy lesson to teach you. I’m not even sure how my story will go down. I suppose I’m just writing it out because it’s therapeutic in a way. I beg your indulgence.
I’ve always been artistic. First I drew, then I sang, then I wrote, then I acted. I also got into film, animation, and graphic novels. I was never great at math, science, or history, but arts were my forte. I did a few good drawings, got some roaring ovations for vocal solos, and I’ve recently been published in multiple formats.
And yet…in a way, I’ve squandered these inclinations. Instead of chasing dreams, I took jobs with little to no creative measure because I wanted comfort and certainty. I ended in a rut, and though I prayed to God, it didn’t get better.
But over these last holidays, I chatted with my younger brother. Nick is an artist himself, currently pursuing an MA in modern dance, so we think a bit along the same lines.
Our conversations were eerie. Nick began to speak on struggles I’d never even told him again, far too accurate to be anything but God. How frustrated I was with the lack of artistry in my community, job, and life. After college, art just…evaporated for me.
Then, he threw down a challenge. He said I should pack up and go someplace creative and “make art with some totally messed up people.” Get outside my comfort zone, you see. I laughed it off. But then my wife, not knowing about these talks, asked me, “What if we weren’t meant to be here? What if we need to move someplace else?”
Now, I had to pay attention. So I looked around and realized waht I’d always known: I wasn’t happy.
I live in St. Charles County, Missouri, 30-60 minutes west of St. Louis. I don’t want to defame it as a whole, but artistically speaking…this place sucks, man! It’sa booming suburbia where the motto is “Copy and Paste.” It’s a whitewashed, recycled, black hole of creativity. Simple, square, and cheap (except the awesome Historic Main Street). And that’s not just the outside.
As an artist, I love beauty and creativity. I grew up in the country where the wind blew the wheat and my friends and I could explore the bluffs. Then I moved to St. Louis, home of the Fox Theater, Delmar Loop, streetside saxophones, and some great food.
I thought the suburbs would be a mix of both. It’s actually neither. It’s a place where everyone goes to escape culture and pretend they’re rich. Some may love it here, but artists die.
Nobody talks about books unless they’re 50 Shades of Grey. No one talks about film unless it contains explosions. No one talks about TV unless it’s “reality” trash. Drawing is for children, singing is relegated to pop stars, and while everyone will compliment you for writing a book, no one wants to read it.
And don’t get me started on the modern, suburban church.
Thus, God began to poke me with a stick. “Hey. This place isn’t for you. Hey. Your soul is dying. Hey. You should move.”
“Okay,” I said, swatting away the stick. “I’ll go back to St. Louis.”
God smirked. “Oh, Michael. Dream bigger.”
So, I began looking for jobs in other cities, particularly in proofreading and editing since I like doing both and no one will pay me benefits to finish my novels. No bites yet, but I know I want to leave. Very few friends, no church family, a job I don’t like, my wife is behind me, and my son is too little to care where we live as long as they have animal crackers.
But then, God tossed the stick back into the woods and sat down under the tree next to me. “What if there was no job?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“What if you can’t find that creative job you’re looking for? Will you stay here?”
“If I stay here, I’ll stick my head under the wheels of the next salt truck. I’m suffocating.”
I remember the story of Abraham, then called Abram, in Genesis. God called him out of his homeland to someplace God had for him. He didn’t say where, he just said “Go.” Sometimes, God only gives you the first step. Actually, he does that a lot.
God didn’t say, “Find a job, then go.” He said, “Go.” A job is important and I’m scrambling for one, but the place is more important.
So after February, my family and I are moving. Job or no job.
I know what you’re thinking because I’ve thought it myself. Isn’t that irresponsible? What about my family? How will I get a job if I just quit my last one? How will I get an apartment without guaranteed income? And where exactly am I supposed to go? I brought these complaints to God because I was certain I’d misheard him. Certainly, this was just me bring dramatic, right? But after every inquiry, God gave me the same answer.
“It’s okay to be you.”
This is a lesson God has been teaching me over and over for years. Most of my life, I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with my identity; who I was wasn’t okay. My wants, dreams, and heart were either foolish or sinful. The devil danced many circles around me before God finally cut the music and got in my face to show me I wasn’t a mistake.
I’ll spare you a long, personal story, but God has been calling me to boldness ever since, to live out of the heart he gave me. Denying your flesh–selfishness and sin–is good. Denying your identity–who God made you to be–is trash-talking God’s handiwork.
And who I am is an artist and and art appreciator. Some people breathe sports, I breathe books. Some hunger for a corner office, I’m starving for galleries. Art in any form wakes my soul, both in its creation and it’s observation.
My dream is to make art, celebrate art, and help others make their own.
I can either take this risk right now and seek the artistic life/job/community I’ve always wanted…or stay in the same place I’ve always been under the guise of “responsibility.”
I choose the Wild Goose, as Mark Batterson called Him. I choose art.
Some of you don’t get it, and that’s okay. Some of you can’t fathom why I’d give up everything for art’s sake. First off, I’m not giving up much other than the comfort of routine. Security is relative and I’m not exactly rich. Second, I don’t plan to live a homeless life while my child starves. I want to work, but that’s the problem: I want WORK, not just a job.
But still you may ask, “Why art?” Why is art so gosh darn important?
Ask the God who gave some animals long noses and others small ones. Ask the God who made a thousand varieties of trees. Ask the God who made color. Ask the God who made two genders when one may have been more pragmatic. Ask the God who made stars we’ll never reach, laughter, sugar, who filled mankind with the capacity for poetry, music, and creation, which no other animal has.
Art is important to me because it’s important to God. It ignites the soul, or as Erwin McMannus said, reminds us we have one. God is not utilitarian. He is boundlessly creative; everything he made, he did because he could. He doesn’t have “stock souls,” no, he handcrafts each one. Only artisans do that.
In our world of cheap, copied goods, milked for money until the udders bleed, art is more important than ever. In a time of formulas, assembly lines, and demographics, we need art to revive us. We need beauty to balance efficiency, craftsmanship to balance productivity. Art and science were meant to be symbiotic.
Call me a hipster, call me reckless, call me a starry-eyed idealist, call me unenlightened, impractical, and vain. I’ll take them all as compliments. If they called Jesus such names, why should I not try to be the same?