Letters From A Devastated Artist (4)

“Clearly the person who accepts the church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the church teaches” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Dear Church,

You have not loved me well. In fact, throughout our time together, I’ve felt used and abused. You use my talents to get people in the seats, but then you twist and “spin” the art I create for propaganda. You abuse by using me without any conscience whatever – for you tell me, “the end justifies the means.”

You have built a great wall between the sacred and the secular. Delineating worlds that were never meant to be separated. You have created a gray vacuum, a netherworld in between, and so I am homeless. I feel hopelessly rejected by both the church and the world. In fact, my entire life has been misjudged by parents, friends, teachers – and now you. Of all the places I thought I would surely find grace and acceptance, it was with you. But, you have not loved me well.

You value cloning, not originality. You value imitation, not creativity. You value programs, not people. You value the destination, not the journey. You value the story, not the telling.

Do you think I’m stupid? I’ll admit to being quirky, absent-minded, undisciplined, moody, depressed, to name only a few. But I’m not stupid. When I question, with an artists mind, the literal truth of the Bible, and you tell me I am not allowed to do so. Suddenly, I feel as if I’m in some sort of evangelical cult. So, if we are supposed to believe the Bible literally, then why aren’t we baptizing for the dead? Maybe that’s why the artist Madeline L’Engle said, “I believe the Bible is true, but I don’t believe it’s literal.” This coming from a Christian artist who was condemned by the fundamentalist church in the 60’s for writing science fiction.

And why do I meet so many disillusioned artists who have left you? They haven’t left their “first love”, they have just quietly left an illegitimate lover who uses and abuses them. The ominous number of artists without a church home is an ever-growing indictment against the church. As Cyril of Jerusalem was once said to have exclaimed, “The church is a whore, but she’s still my Mother”.

Thankfully, I’m finally beginning to understand that when I try to group the church and God together as one and the same – I get in trouble. God is perfect and the church is not. The church is composed of imperfect people. They are two totally different things. Apples and oranges.

And maybe I’m an idealist – I am an artist, you see. For over forty years, I have been continually disappointed by the church. But she’s still my mother. She has taught me scripture, bible stories, and songs. She has formed in me a foundation and belief system for truth. And despite the control she continually tries to exert over me, ironically, it is the very truth she has taught that has set me free. And for that, I’m thankful.

Randy

P.S. If you like my writing here at RandyElrod.com, you will love THIS.

75 Responses to “Letters From A Devastated Artist (4)”

  1. wish I didn't know what you're talking about, but I do all too well – thank you for putting into words how I've often felt

  2. Osann Heisner March 29, 2010 at 15:17

    Powerful Post Randy!
    Unfortununately or fortunately, I have lived on both sides of this story…as the artist who has not been loved well and as the church who has not loved well…and thankfully I have learned some valuable lessons on boh sides! I have also been the artist who has been loved well and the church who has loved well in spite of and often because of the former :)
    The best advice a bible study leader once told me was to take everything that I hear from pastors, church leaders, friends and others back to God (the author and perfector of my faith) and filter through prayer and scripture.
    As you said, "God is perfect and the church is not!" I pray for healthy churches full of grace and Love, who leave judgement up to God :) One of the phrases that attracted me to the church that we attended in NC was "We're a church for people who have given up on "church" but haven't given up on God".
    Blessings to YOU!

    Osann

    • "The best advice a bible study leader once told me was to take everything that I hear from pastors, church leaders, friends and others back to God (the author and perfector of my faith) and filter through prayer and scripture." — Absolutely. THAT is by far and large the hardest thing for me to learn.. and relearn and relearn.

    • Thanks so much, Osann. Great advice.

    • Thanks, Osann. GREAT advice!!

  3. Im not an artist but have experienced the embrace of the church when I "used" to be broken. And the distance of the church when it was clear that I am still broken. Thanks, Randy.

  4. Wow! Every pastor/leader in the church needs to read this. Sobering reminder.

    • Thanks, Pete. You and Cross Point Church are a wonderful exception to this post. I'm thankful for the acceptance and grace you show artists. I'm also thankful to call you Pastor.

  5. Randy — this post is wonderful! I"m at a loss for words at how deeply your recent series has touched my heart. I'm so glad you are blogging again — (I already read your book, and now I get to read the blog again — yeah!)

    This is a powerful piece that shows a powerful peace as well.

    Blessings

  6. i will be sharing this blog with friends of mine. i don't see your words as negative… i see them as hopeful. after all, when you can see a thing as it was intended and are disheartened by what is has instead become you are more inclined to fight for the intended purpose and this is where hope remains… in what was intended.
    i too have been abused and used by the institution. the quote that has kept me hopeful and rooted in love is the one that you used here "the Church is a whore, but she is my mother." Her insecurity and lack of worth & identity sadden me, but she is my mother and my love and hope for her run deep.
    Thank you for blogging this.

  7. I didn't grow up in a church where there were really any "artist" types, but they still did not love ANYONE well. I have struggled for much of the past 10 years to get to a point where I am not jaded and resentful of the church environment I grew up in. I want to echo what Lindsey just said. Being at the church where I am now, Cross Point, has been incredibly healing to me and is helping me let go of what I need to let go of and embrace the parts that will forever be a part of my story and who I am. This was powerful, Randy.

  8. Thanks, Grant. I believe any church that loves people instead of programs, originality instead of cloning, etc. will be a church that experiences exponential growth but must at the same time refuse to "believe its own newspaper headlines." Cross Point is such a place. I pray…and hope there will be more.

  9. Well, I'm not Episcopal anymore and I'm an artist. I now worship in a more modern church with a "Pastor" just as you do. So I guess I've been where you are. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks, Cyndi. There is a HUGE difference between an orator/communicator (aka "Preacher") and a Pastor.

  11. Wow. That really summed up what I've been feeling lately. I agree with Pete, I think every pastor and leaders in the church (on all teams) should read this. I do know there are some churches (like Cross Point and a few others I've been too) are an exception, but sadly they are few and far between.

  12. Fantastic post, Randy. I've been on the receiving end of much of that during my 16 years following Christ.

    What's hard for me is that a lot of churches don't know how to use the talents of and/or want to use the talents of people like me who are writers of things other than newsletter pieces. If the church doesn't have a newsletter, they think because you write a blog or write fiction that you'd automatically want to produce a newsletter every month. If they have staff that does a newsletter, they may ask you to write a small piece for it but usually the staff does it because your writing is normally on a higher level (because it's your craft, you work on it more than most folks.) Most of the time the church just acts like your gift is really meaningless for their mission and you get ignored.

    When you write crime fiction with a Christian element like I do, you usually end up with scorn from many in the "church." I've been told by many "church" that I'm honoring Satan by writing a mystery or detective novel.

    • Jason, I believe we honor God when we use our gifts. Unfortunately, many times, we artists have no outlet in the church to utilize those gifts. But use them, we must!

  13. Randy, so many thoughts come to the fore after reading your posting:

    You say to the church: “You have not loved me well.” By church, I assume you mean people. No system or structure can love, no creed can truly comfort, unless accompanying by flesh and bone. I am so sorry that you have not found people who know how to love you and love you well.

    You say of the church: “You have built a great wall between the sacred and the secular.” Isn’t this frustrating, because you and I know that the biblical record does not promote a separation of the sacred and the secular. It does speak of holy things, or if you will, things set aside for certain usages and thus different than the common. You say that the church “values cloning, not originality, imitation, not creativity, programs, not people, the destination, not the journey. You value the story, not the telling.” Once again, are you speaking of people or the blinding traditions of people. Unfortunately, for the sake of tradition, we sometimes miss the truth, and are never set free, and thus do stupid things like creating walls that were never meant to be built.
    You question literal interpretation and viable inspiration. Keep questioning my friend and you will find the truth and that being “L’Engle was correct”.
    You mourn the fact that many people have walked away from religion without leaving their first love. This leads me back to my first thoughts, if the church is simply people [not programs, property & religious structures], then wherever they are on their journey of faith, they are home. Take heart in this.
    On another note, when Cyril of Jerusalem said, “The church is a whore, but she’s still my Mother”, he was half right. We, the people of God, the church, are a whorish people. As Children of God, we have but one parent, and the church is not it.
    You discover the fact that to group the church and God together as one and the same is very troubling. God is perfect and the church [people] is not. The church is imperfect people.
    I too am an idealist, and I have been disappointed by the church, both past and present. And like yourself, I have a great appreciation for those who came before and who passed on to us scriptures, stories, and songs. I am also thankful that they built their lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ and his way of living, truth and life. May no one seek to control you in anyway or hinder you from following in that Way that leads to life everlasting.

  14. Great post. Makes me so thankful to have found a church that loves me so well.

  15. I feel what you are saying, creativity is a gift from God period. I wrote you a letter years ago about how you taught me about true worship. May the message of Gods Grace and Love stay the same, methods must change in a ever changing would. If God can use a person with ADD and Dyslexia here I am. God Bless my brother.

  16. Wow, thanks Randy. that's exactly how i have felt for many years. when i didn't fit inside the WL box that the churches had for me, i was no longer welcome. i was always wrong and made to feel that way. thanks for articulating that. thanks for being you.

  17. Louis Tagliaboschi March 29, 2010 at 23:48

    If I had read this 2 years ago, it wouldn't have resonated with me like it does now. I always tried to keep the artist inside from showing himself, because it was safer. But since meeting the artists that are part of the Re:create community, I have started letting my artistic side out. It has been difficult, and I am feeling more like your letter every day. Thanks for putting my thoughts and feelings into words.

  18. Louis, Stay gently on your present course. We MUST be who God created us to be…otherwise life is lifeless.Your words about the recreate community mean more than I can express.

  19. Have you seen this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_school
    This post reminded me of that.
    Great stuff

  20. Hi! I was wondering if you had an example of how the bible is NOT literal. I'm truly asking this out of curiosity…

    • In Job 3-31, Job and his three "comforters" have an extended conversation. If we read those passages without reading the last chapter, we could think that what the men were saying had truth–in fact, I've heard people quote from those chapters. However, in the last chapter, Job realized he didn't know what he was talking about and the three comforters had to ask Job for forgiveness because what they spoke was not right.

      We need to look at the story of the Bible. One of its biggest thrusts is the fact that the human understanding of God underwent a drastic change that started with Christ's teaching ministry and continued through the establishment of the Church. Also, our understanding of the world–both natural and human–has advanced so much since the New Testament was written that we need God's help in transposing the scriptures to our present time.

      The Bible is a work of art, not a legislated code book. Within its pages is everything we need to know and understand in order to become sons of God and to overcome and obliterate the force of evil in our world.

    • Yes. In my post. The Bible says we are to baptize for the dead. Do we? Should we? Much of Revelation is not literal. Jonah. Maybe? Much more, if you read it. An eye for an eye. Do we?

      Kelly, Thanks for your honest question.

      • Yes, figurative language abounds in the Bible–its writers certainly knew their craft. The Bible is a work of art!

        • Oops…posted my reply in the mainstream instead of here, but here it is:

          Wow!!! Patricia and Randy. Your answers were extremely helpful! I most definitely agree. I got more than I expected from asking that question. I wish I had the words to express what God just did in me through you. It set me free a great deal!! Thanks SO much you guys!!!

        • Yes it is!!! Poetry and dancing and prose and stories…extraordinary art.

      • Oops…posted my reply in the mainstream instead of here, but here it is:

        Wow!!! Patricia and Randy. Your answers were extremely helpful! I most definitely agree. I got more than I expected from asking that question. I wish I had the words to express what God just did in me through you. It set me free a great deal!! Thanks SO much you guys!!!

  21. I have been guilty of leading The Church in a way that uses people and chews them up and spits them out. Thank you for the reminder that the little decisions we make each day in leadership affect so many, and we have the potential to kill the creativity that God places in our churches.

  22. Thanks so much for your very thoughtful words, James. Hey! I really love your last name!

  23. well said, randy! love when you share your heart.

  24. I find myself fighting for breath on both sides of this conversation…. sometimes as the lone artistic voice in a room full of not-so-much, and sometimes as the not-so-much in a room brimming with true artists. I would love LOVE to hear your thoughts on how the church could do this better.

  25. Wow. I'm not crazy, and I'm not alone. I feel much better now. And now I finally feel a sense of permission to return to the creative side of me that I boxed away for too long.

    Thanks.

    • Amanda, As I have said before in this conversation, life is too short to be lifeless. Be who God has created you to be!!! Thanks!

    • I feel the same way! I’ve felt like an alien for such a long time. It’s wonderful to know I’m not alone.

      • It may be true that we are aliens in this world. But the idealist in me wants to be at home in the church.You are NOT alone. Jut read all these comments. Unbelievable!

  26. Wow!!! Patricia and Randy. Your answers were extremely helpful! I most definitely agree. I got more than I expected from asking that question. I wish I had the words to express what God just did in me through you. It set me free a great deal!! Thanks SO much you guys!!!

    • Kelly, Please understand, I'm not saying the Bible is not true. Just not literal.

      • Oh yes. No worries. I knew what you meant. :) I'm a big lover of the Word…I asked the question originally thinking you may have meant the Bible was not true, but from other posts you've had, it didn't seem like that could be what you believed. Then, when you answered, it clarified the difference between not true and not literal for me. I was both relieved by your answer and it helped explain a few things in the Bible for me that I had questions on.
        Thanks so much for your answers and for making sure I knew what you were saying…a very important clarification.

  27. Might I also offer the Bible's explanation of seizure disorders as demon posession as an example of how it is not literal. I add that because my own child has epilepsy — the shocking, heartbreaking, infuriating part of that for me was dealing not so much with his disorder and finding a cure — or at least a liveable solution, was the people who still held on to the superstition of those OT writings and told me to annoint my windows and home with oil because my child was possessed. My tradition believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, in light of his special needs, I no longer can.

    Scripture does interpret scripture and I agree with Patricia and Randy, we should not take one piece out of context and call it true as a stand alone. Context is king when it comes to understanding.

      • I do want to add that I don't mean this post as whiney as it might sound. Just trying to state the circumstance and example of where we can really mess it up when it comes to our interpretations. I do still believe the bible to be true, and I also believe parts of it to be subjective to the times written. If that makes sense.

  28. I relate to so much you write about, even though I'm not an artist. I have lived my life in the "Christian box" as a preacher's kid and wife. Now I celebrate the liberty I have in Christ. God is good.

  29. Dear Artists,

    I know we pastor types have often let you down and for that I humbly apologize. Not all of us are mean spirited or hard-headed, most of us just can't live in your head. We don't understand how you think anymore than you understand how we think. That's not a bad thing, it's just the way it is.

    If I could give you couple of suggestions that might help us understand you better and work better together they would be :

    1. If we offer suggestions, constructive criticism, or input it doesn't necessarily mean we don't like you, value your talent or we want you to go away. We just want everything to be the best it can be. BTW, if we can't take it when you offer feedback to us, you have my full permission to ignore anything we say.

    2. Talk to us! Tell me when your feelings have been hurt. I can't fix what I don't know is broken.

    3. Lastly, cut us a little slack when we are unable to fully appreciate your talents and gifts. It's not that we don't want to, it's we just lack the capacity to process.

    Now got take a hill for the Kingdom!

    Dee

  30. Thank you Randy! My wife and I grew up in "church" and recently left our role as Worship Pastors due to a difference of values that fell along the lines of what you write about here. The hardest part for us has been to re-engage, to trust again, to continue to offer our hearts without reservation…again. We CAN offer our hearts fully to God and have gained a bigger heart for people who work in the church; but can we offer our hearts to His church again…pick up the Cause again? It seems a lot more convenient [safe?] to run a parallel line in influencing the community directly than joining with the church to impact community. Thanks again…felt a part of my heart was healed while reading this.

  31. After reading this letter and many of the responses I find myself truly blessed, not only with a most worthy God, but also with a teaching pastor who has a good understanding and appreciation of what art is and all it brings to the worship gathering. Friends, IT IS POSSIBLE. The tides seem to be turning. May it come quickly, Lord, we pray.

  32. You have put into words the essence of my thoughts, struggle, & concern for over a decade. Thank you.

    Your voice is an encouraging sound.

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