Earlier this fall, Ben Arment asked if I would write an essay for the program to be handed out at STORY. After a few tumultuous days of searching for what to say, I was reminded of a phrase I had written rather cavalierly a number of months before.
“The artist is the pastor of the 21st century whether we like it or not.”
Some people took me to task since I had seemingly had no evidence to support my claim and yet others wrote about how the thought resonated with them. That phrase eventually turned into the essay for Ben and now that essay is about to go through the ringer again.
The artist as the new pastor.
I’ve not been able to get the idea out of my head that the artist may be best suited to speak to a new generation of those seeking after God (or who have written a creator off completely). My experience in the secular art world (which is far more vast than my time making sacred art), taught me that good art tells the truth in the dark places. My experience also taught me that good art is never about propaganda, proving a theological point, or even about having someone come to faith. No, good art is about telling great stories and great stories are what transform lives.
Anne Bogart, in her book, A Director Prepares, quotes her friend Charles L. Mee Jr.,
“As societies develop, it is the artists who articulate the necessary myths that embody our experience of life and provide parameters for ethics and values. Every so often the inherited myths lose their value because they become too small and confined to contain the complexities of the ever-transforming and expanding societies. In that moment new myths are needed to encompass who we are becoming.”
What he’s suggesting is that we need new stories and what I hope to suggest is that we need new storytellers who are brave and courageous enough to, as Bogart explains, “create a livable future through their ability to articulate [speak in and to our communities] in the face of flux and change.”
And so what does this all have to do with beginning a book, you might ask.
Since I wrote the essay I’ve debated whether or not to pursue the idea in book-form. The past six months have been met by the usual suspects of Resistance and even as I write this post I can feel the anxiety rising to the surface.
Nevertheless, the idea wouldn’t go away and so I began taking a few steps here and there. I would call up a friend who was working on a book and ask his advice. I would email random people who I thought might have some helpful thoughts regarding the publishing industry. And then, just before Christmas I took a phone call with a woman who this week officially became my agent. Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be putting together a proposal and up to four sample chapters for her to begin shopping around.
I’m as excited as I am terrified.
I write all this for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is to say thank you for allowing me to play with these ideas and for not completely writing me off. Thank you for pushing against things you don’t like or don’t make sense. The tension this small, but mighty, community provides has given me just enough energy to keep these ideas from being swept under the rug of newer and more exciting ventures. I hope you will be gracious with me in the coming months as I periodically float some thoughts your way.
I write this also as a form of accountability - if I keep the news to myself I’m less likely to follow through. It’s public now. I’m trying to write a book. I will submit pages to an agent. She will see if there is anything remotely useable that can be turned into a book that will include many, many words I’m not actually sure I will be able to write.
Finally, I write this to stand with you in the face of Resistance. It comes in many shapes and sizes and I’m confident it stands before you as well. What would it look like if we all stood together and responded violently by creating new stories, ventures, relationships, books, films, organizations?
“The artist becomes the creator of the future through the violent act of articulation. It demands an aggressiveness and an ability to enter the fray and translate experience into expression.” - Anne Bogart
Let us enter the fray together, my friends, and let us articulate well.