LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Barry Morrow, Part 2: Excellence in Our Work

Today I'm concluding my interview with Barry Morrow. Barry brings over twenty years of experience in working in the marketplace with businessmen through teaching, consulting, and counseling. He has served on the staff of Reflection’s Ministries for the past eight years, and spent the previous fifteen years in pastoral ministry in a nondenominational church in suburban Atlanta. Reflections Ministries is a non-profit organization that focuses on men in the workplace, encouraging and equipping them to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Barry’s first book,
Heaven Observed: Glimpses of Transcendence in Everyday Life, was published by NavPress in 2001. The book examines our desire and quest for meaning and happiness in this life, and examines the various avenues through which we attempt to find such fulfillment, such as our work and leisure. Occasionally Barry can be found exploring the haunts of C.S. Lewis and his Inklings companions when he can make his way to England.

LeAnne: How would Lewis encourage artists who are Christians?

Several things come to mind. First, the artist should be serious about becoming the very best he or she can be in that arena of artistic expression, whether it be painting, photography, writing, film-making, etc. The excellence of our work should be foremost in our thinking.

In one of my favorite essays of Lewis, “Good Work and Good Works,” he distinguishes between “Good works” that are generally considered and called as much in religious contexts, versus “good work,” which is generally referred to as one’s vocational “work.”

On this issue, Lewis writes: “And good works need not be good work, as anyone can see by inspecting some of the objects made to be sold at bazaars for charitable purposes. This is not according to our example. When our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all round, he was doing good works. But also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking….” The way he closes this essay is quite appropriate to a lot of “good works” done in the name of Christianity: “’Great Works’ (of art) and ‘good works’ (of charity) had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or not at all.”

Wasn’t it Dorothy Sayers who said, “The only Christian work is a work well done”? A lot of churches and ministries ought to give Sayers’ and Lewis’ words some serious thought.

Second, I think Lewis would warn the artist about the subtlety of pride. As he cautions us in Mere Christianity, pride is the Great Sin, the supreme vice, and while the “sins of the flesh” are bad, they are the “least bad,” he says, of all sins: “That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” That’s vintage Lewis, and pride can become a stumbling block for the artist who comes to think more highly of himself, and his work, than he should.

I love that scene in The Great Divorce, Lewis’ theological fantasy about a busload of people who are taken to Heaven, and who can stay as long as they wish (ironically, but not to be missed, only one person decides to stay, as they all wish to get back to their dismal life in Hell…). One of the many vignettes of people who arrive in Heaven is the man who had been the “famous artist” on earth. As he is anxious to start painting upon his arrival in the Bright City, one of the bright spirits warns him:

“Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”

When the ghost who had been the famous artist inquired about “interesting people he might meet, distinguished people,” he is met with an interesting response: “”But they aren’t distinguished—no more than anyone else. Don’t you understand?...They are all famous. They are all known, remembered, recognized by the only Mind that can give a perfect judgment…”

LM: Do you think Christians who are not artists should support those who are? Why?

If you mean by support, “financially,” I would say perhaps so, but not necessarily so. I go back to my earlier comment in question one, that, to borrow from Lewis, “Christian” is a noun, and not an adjective. So if the question is whether I as a “Christian” should support those artists “who are Christians,” a number of questions arise.

If I like the work and believe it to be a “Good Work” (see my discussion about this from Monday’s interview), I may consider purchasing an artist’s work (painting, photograph, novel, etc.), but I don’t believe there is a biblical warrant for me to “support” those who are Christians simply because they are Christians. Malcolm Muggeridge once observed, “Either all of life of sacred, or none of it is sacred.” If all of life is sacred, then I need not compartmentalize between the secular and sacred, because it in fact doesn’t exist.

In an interview conducted by Sherwood Wirt in 1963, Lewis was asked if he believed that the Holy Spirit can speak to the world through Christian writers today. His response, in part, relates I think to this question:

“I prefer to make no judgment concerning a writer’s direct ‘illumination’ by the Holy Spirit…God is not interested only in Christian writers as such. He is concerned with all kinds of writing. In the same way a sacred calling is not limited to ecclesiastical functions. The man who is weeding a field of turnips is also serving God.”

No comments:


Home | About | Articles | Speaking | Links | Contact | FAQ
Blogs: Christians in the Arts | Beauty and the Beholder

Copyright 2007 LeAnne Martin. Site designed by ChurchGraphics.org