The Fools Who Dream

As someone who is planning on pursuing a career in the arts, La La Land really hit home for me when I saw it a few weeks ago. Then a few days ago, I read this article by Jennifer Trafton, and I realized all over again just how much the movie meant.

It stars two young artists in Los Angeles- Sebastian, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an actress. Their passion and uncontrollable love for the arts is obvious from the beginning. They are brave enough to dream, stubborn enough to fight for their dreams, and strong enough to let some of those dreams go.

Artists are dreamers. They are makers. They have thriving imaginations, aching hearts, vivid colors swirling through their minds, and countless stories hidden just beneath their skin. Out of necessity, they are also fighters. The battle to turn dreams into reality is not an easy one. Mia and Sebastian realize that this battle brings frustration and failure. They must repeatedly ask  themselves, “Is this fight worth it?”

Because the battles also require sacrifice.

In this broken world, we cannot have all we hope for. Sometimes, our dreams lead us to a fork in the road, and we have to choose a path. For the young artist, the choice can be between either creativity or money, career or relationship, originality or acceptance. The list goes on and on.

I am currently in the process of choosing a school to attend in the fall. A year or two ago, when I first started the terrifying College Search, I had a hazy, glorified vision of my school. I looked for schools that fit with this vision, and soon realized that I would never find an exact match- such a school does not exist. Now I am faced with five schools, all of which can offer me a wonderful education for my next four years. But I must choose only one. At some, I would be sacrificing my dream academic environment. At some, I would have to give up the community I want.

And I have to choose.

We make our choices- life demands that we do so. Some are easy, some are almost too hard to bear. We carry on as we must. If we are making our choices for the right reasons, the path we ultimately choose leads us to beautiful new heights; it is a good path.

But artists are dreamers. We will always wonder what might have been, had we taken the other road. We still look back wistfully on the road not taken, with a melancholy smile, wondering where it might have led us.

Does the inevitable sacrifice of some dreams make it useless to dream at all? Of course not. Dreams are what motivate us. They give us goals to ceaselessly work toward. They push us to realize our full potential. In short, dreams give us life.

In the end, however, we must remember that they are still just dreams. La La Land is so powerful because it slams its viewers with the painful truth that Sebastian and Mia cannot end up with both the dream career and one another. That is reality. Had they ended up with both dreams fulfilled, the movie would have been just another fairy tale movie that is too good to be true. Instead, we were bluntly reminded that we have to make choices.

And how should we go about making those choices? Is regret avoidable?

As we wrestle with choices, we must remember to keep our moral compasses pointed straight. It is easy to be lured away by our surroundings, but keeping our eyes looking due north ensures that our decisions are good ones. This often leads us to make decisions that the world considers foolish, to give up dreams that others would have killed for, or to choose the straight and narrow path rather than the wide, winding way.

In Addition to the Amish Romance Novel

Have you ever experienced the sadness of going to the Christian Fiction section of Barnes and Noble, searching for an enjoyable, quality weekend read, and finding, to your dismay, only Amish romance novels? Or perhaps, in a similar case, you want to see a movie with your friends this weekend. You’re not pleased with the current box office hits, so instead you try to find a wholesome movie to rent online. All you find when you search for Christian Movies are films trying to convince you to convert to Christianity.

Why is this?

Sadly, our culture has made a distinction between “Christian art” and art produced by Christians.

“Christian art,” according to our culture, is only that which explicitly preaches the Gospel. Some argue that art which does not directly proclaim God’s word is secular and can be misleading. It blurs the lines between good and evil, doesn’t it? And Isaiah 5:20 specifically says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Secular art could lead us to confusion in our own beliefs and could confuse unbelievers as well, since enjoying not-explicitly-Christian art could communicate that we are not called to abide by higher standards. Often it is tempting to shut ourselves off from any art that does not clearly and directly preach the gospel.

However, others realize that the term “Christian art” should encompass a much wider range. As Francis Schaeffer says in Art and the Bible,

“Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.”

Christians need not fear the secular world, nor need we fear subtlety and symbolism. Using these in a secular setting may not as loudly scream “Christian!!!” but the messages and worldviews will be the same.

Christian art is any art that is produced by a Christian and exemplifies Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

This wider definition is perhaps more valuable to us than a restricted definition.

Christian artists are often urged to explicitly proclaim the Gospel in every work of art they produce, but isn’t this unfair to the artist? In what other profession does this happen? This extra burden on artists is like ordering the doctor to tell every patient about Jesus. That would be an excellent thing, but it should not be what defines a doctor as Christian. The call to honor God in all we do is a call to be an example in this world. It is a call to work with a cheerful attitude, uphold Godly morals, to “be imitators of God,” as Ephesians 5:1 says.

For a painter, this could mean producing his best work with the intent to glorify God rather than himself. For an author this could mean providing examples of Godly men and women in his stories. We can fulfill the call to honor God and proclaim his truth through our lives and our art, not simply through direct evangelism. By interacting with the world around us, we can use our lives as an example to nonbelievers.

Thus, when we as Christian artists create only art that will end up in the Christian fiction section, this forms a problem: we are preaching to the choir. Typically, the only people who seek out art marketed as “Christian” are already Christians themselves. Unbelievers look up the current best-sellers; they do not browse the Christian isle for a good book.

Christian artists often focus on the messages in their works rather than the quality of their works; this should be reversed. As a Christian, underlying Gospel messages and worldviews should come naturally; talent in the art is what can always be improved. This is why great authors who are Christian are not banished to the Christian section- they are great by secular standards too.

For example, let’s take the band Twenty-One Pilots. Every member in this group is Christian, and this is overwhelmingly clear through their song lyrics. We hear them calling out to God, “Can you save my heavy, dirty soul?” We hear them pleading with their listeners: “Faith is to be awake, and to be awake is for us to think, and for us to think is to be alive.”

And yet, they never sing hymns or directly mention the name of Jesus. They insist on not being labelled as a “Christian band.” Because of this, their music is played on secular pop and rock radio stations all the time; they’ve broken records and had numerous songs on top charts. They realize that without the label “Christian,” they can get the same messages out to a much larger audience.

Lastly, humans are created in the image of God, so because he is the ultimate Creator, we are sub-creators. We must follow his example and imitate his masterpiece. However, God created the entire Universe as his masterpiece, not only the Gospel story. If he thought roaring waves, mysterious forests, vast heavenly expanses, and the depth of human emotion were worth creating, should we not think them worth reflecting? He poured his abundance of beauty out for us to feast on it all.

“Art is gratuitous. Art is extravagant.  But so is our God.”

-Makoto Fujimura

And God didn’t stop there- he also gifted us with huge imaginations that go even beyond what we see around us. He gave us the capacity to understand depth. We can understand symbolism, pick up on subtlety and implications, and understand through example.

Works that directly give us the gospel story can be beautiful and beneficial. However, these are only one type of Christian art. We should not exclude all the others.

“What makes art Christian art? Is it simply Christian artists painting biblical subjects like Jeremiah? Or, by attaching a halo, does that suddenly make something Christian art? Must the artist’s subject be religious to be Christian? I don’t think so. There is a certain sense in which art is its own justification. If art is good art, if it is true art, if it is beautiful art, then it is bearing witness to the Author of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

~R. C. Sproul

It’s Like a Biscuit

“This weekend I had the honor to attend a moot,” I say with an enthusiastic smile, “Hutchmoot!”

“What is ‘Hutchmoot?'” you ask, politely feigning interest.

“Well, it’s kind of like a biscuit.”

Now your interest is piqued. How, you think to yourself, could it be like a biscuit?

Allow me to explain. Continue reading “It’s Like a Biscuit”

An Ape and a Pig

After reading this article over the weekend and watching the buffoonery of Monday night’s debate, I noticed that our current presidential candidates are strikingly similar to some characters I’ve encountered in fiction- and not characters that we would (or at least should) want as president. Namely,  Shift the Ape and Napoleon the Pig.

Shift is one of those especially delightful characters in fiction whose name perfectly summarizes his whole being. He is shifty. He constantly shifts and bends truth in order to take over Narnia.

Sound familiar? Continue reading “An Ape and a Pig”

Hamilton: Act 2

As I wrote last week, Alexander Hamilton in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show urges his audience to take shots and to stand up for what they believe in. Woven throughout the story, however, is another message. Not one that comes explicitly from any of the characters but one that comes from Miranda himself.

He understands that being forgotten is a universal fear. We all hope to be remembered. We all pale at the thought of being lost in oblivion. We want our lives to mean something, and because this world is the only place we look to for meaning and reality, we ground ourselves so firmly in this temporary life that we try to find ways to stick around even after we die. Continue reading “Hamilton: Act 2”

Hamilton: Act 1

Yes, I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about Hamilton at this point. You’ve seen one too many posts about this hip new Broadway show, and you’ve heard one too many references to it. Perhaps you refuse to give in to the hype; out of sheer stubbornness you refrain from listening to the soundtrack at all. But I am here to convince you that maybe you should give it a chance. After all, Hamilton is not just a fluffy trend. It is truly good.

Trendy media is entertaining. What sets quality media- whether it’s a book, song, movie, or stage musical- apart is its depth, and Hamilton has depth. It is full of valuable messages, it promotes virtues such as independence, forgiveness, courage, equality, and hard work, and it does not blur the lines between right and wrong as do so many stories today.

hamilton1

Continue reading “Hamilton: Act 1”

Wise Words with William

And now it’s time for Wise Words with William, the part of the show where William comes out and gives some wise words.

“The apparel oft proclaims the man.” -from Hamlet

“In black ink my love may still shine bright.” -from Sonnet 65

“But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” -from Henry V

shakespeare

Continue reading “Wise Words with William”