I learned this the hard way. I will never forget the day I walked into my first art class in college. I was confident. I had always been the kid who could draw. Grandmas, aunts, boyhood friends, and my mom’s refrigerator bore witness to that fact. I had a talent. And, now I would finally get the affirmation of a degree, proving it. It would simply be a formality. My art instructors would all nod in agreement while stroking the beards on their eccentric chins. I would get the stamp of approval and be sent out into the world to officially be, what I was already pretty sure I was, a talented artist. Uhh…then I met my teacher.
He was a thin man, wearing overalls and, if memory serves me, a tie-dye shirt of some sort. He was either barefoot or was wearing sandals. I can’t remember which; I just think I remember seeing toes. He was sipping coffee from a ceramic mug that was made to look like a cowboy boot. He had longish hair- the kind that 90’s grunge singers wore. He was mustachioed and bearded before this was ever popular, and this facial hair was, sculpted, curly, and waxy. He didn’t smile much, and if he ever did, he seemed to fight it, which resulted in a curious sort of half smile. I discovered quickly that he and I had different goals for the class, and I’m thinking this was true of some of my beloved classmates as well.
My new eccentric art instructor informed the class straight away that the class would not be easy. I can’t remember how it was communicated, whether by words or some other means, but I was getting the idea that he did not consider us to be artists yet. He had a smug and irreverent attitude toward our grandmas’ and aunties’ assessments of our talents. He would not recognize them. No, we would be proven by hard work and seemingly unreachable expectations. He did not assume that anyone would make it through the class with a passing grade, nor did he assume the opposite. Though there were a variety of skill levels, experience, and talent in the room, he quickly managed to convince us we were all overrated. In one session, he had, well, humbled us. We had nowhere to go but up. To my surprise it was very liberating! I was now free to learn from the kid who had less game than I did and visa versa. We would have to band together, working as one, pressing on to the lofty goal- a passing grade.
My instructor would have been a great Church community leader. Think about it. He refused to allow us to continue our childish desire for cheap affirmation. Haven’t we seen this in our Christian community? Don’t we strut into our community groups holding up our strengths and gifts, waving them around, in hopes we will be valued for them? Or maybe we are the ones, who hope we are not noticed, because then something might be expected of us, and we will be drawn out of our comfortable walls of protection. Then, if we are not affirmed, or we are called out, we leave. That’s because we think community is an accident. In other words, we don’t see God orchestrating it. We just think it’s convenient, every now and then, to bump into other Christians, but we’re pretty sure we’ve got this. Yes, we drag that baggage right in through the doors of our community groups. But, good news! Jesus leveled the playing field for us.
He has shown us how pitiful our attempts are at the art of this life. Jesus has pointed to the fact that He did it all perfectly in His work, into which, He poured His sweat, blood, and tears. And, now we can actually delight God! We can delight in God. We can! We can by the Spirit of the greatest artist that ever lived, who now lives and moves through us. Oh, and Jesus didn’t die for a bunch of isolated loners who happen into the same “classroom” randomly. He did it for his church. He threw Himself into the messy creative process of redeeming his people. Then he rendered the portrait of His bride, like a painting on a canvas. His grace became the vehicle carrying the paint of our lives toward the beauty he envisioned. We are now transformed a little each day from rawness to refined character. No, it was no accident; it was and is His work in progress. And, some day we will enjoy the finished masterpiece in the presence of the artist Himself. -Kevin