Photo: Colouring in and outside of the lines
I have the joy of caring for two of my grandchildren this week. They teach me so much.
The three-year old (I’ll call her Daisy) is full of profundities and observations on life. When she said she was hungry I suggested we could take a peek in Nana’s pantry to see if we could find something good for a snack. She looked at me suspiciously, then said softly to her mommy, “But I don’t want to take a peek in Nana’s panties.” (Please read the scenario again carefully if you feel the need to accuse this red-faced granny of improprieties.)
Daisy teaches me about the importance of clarification and that people do not always perceive our offerings the way we intend them to be perceived.
When Daisy told me about all the things she could do on her little white table and chair set –like put puzzles together, play with her tea set, and play the matching game– I asked her if she coloured on her table too.
Again she gave me her patient look as she explained, “No. I don’t colour on the table. Mommy doesn’t let me colour on the table. She says I have to use paper or a colouring book.”
Yesterday she taught me about the difference between making a mistake, and sinning. Making a mistake is colouring outside the lines when you are learning to colour because sometimes even when you try hard your hand slips. Being seriously in error — or sinning is when you know Mommy said to colour in the colouring book, but your crayon doesn’t just slip outside the lines. It slips right off the table and across the room and colours on the glass door to the patio. When that happens you need to take responsibility for your deliberate choice and use the damp cloth Nana hands you to scrub the door until your mess is cleaned up.
I read a book review this week by a popular Christian blogger that upset me for some reason. Usually I shrug that sort of thing off, but this felt like an irritating hangnail that kept snagging on my peace for days.
People have differing opinions on literature, of course. Not everyone appreciates a poetic imagery-bound gift. I’ve heard enough left-brained friends bewail subjective marking styles of English teachers to know poetry baffles them. I hear their frustration with trying to guess what they need to do to get an A when there are no answers in the back of the book. It drives them as crazy as the just-the-facts-ma’am, right-or-wrong-answer-at-the-bottom-of-the-page writing style that bores me into a nap on the desk. I get it. Tomayto/tomahto
The critic later issued an apology on his blog, admitting he lost sight of the fact there was a sensitive human behind the words in the book. Wow. A critic issues an apology? There is a God.
He didn’t back down on his stance on “not recommending” the book, however, because he found some things that did not line up with his theological viewpoint based on his and Et Al’s interpretation of scripture. He also used the guilt by association marking pen when the author admitted to receiving helpful glimpses of insight from people and institutions who did not have evangelical seals of approval stamped on their undersides.
Here’s my problem: this book, like many other books, (or youtube videos) experienced unanticipated popularity. It was not written as a theological treatise at the end of a lifetime of study. Should a book presented for use as a textbook in seminary be subject to rigorous doctrinal examination? I should hope so. Should a book that was intended to be a sharing of the author’s personal experience of endeavouring to change her attitude be subjected to the same scrutiny?
I remember having to fill out a workbook for Sunday School class when I was about eleven years old. It had a lot of those frustrating what-am-I-thinking-of-in-verse-six kind of questions, (I always seemed to see something different from my teacher) but at the bottom of the page there was a big open box which allowed room for “sharing” how I felt about concepts covered in the lesson.
My teacher marked it with a red X. WRONG.
Wow, that hurt. I remember telling my dad that I would have understood that red X if I answered the other questions wrong, but who gave her the right to mark my feelings as wrong? My feelings and opinions were my feelings and opinions. Should I lie? (Alas I did learn to lie to pastors and teachers. I told them what they wanted to hear for many years after that. Not a good idea. That habit set me up for a lot of wasted time.) What I needed was a loving, mature person to come along side and help me to reach for a higher goal -not to invalidate my attempts at expression.
Art is an attempt to connect with others. A creative writer’s intent may be more about making connection with fellow sojourners than lecturing on doctrine. It strikes me that when communicating some aspect of experience of God in a deeper way, we need to have a little grace space. To grow in grace we need to be in an atmosphere of grace. Does a child’s work need to be perfect before it may be displayed on the fridge? Are we in the family of God not all children in a process of learning? Did Jesus ever say, “Except ye all become as big old experts ye cannot see the kingdom of God?’ (in archaic English just like that.)
Ideas about God and how he created us to relate to him which ignore the manual handed to us (the Bible) raise alarms all over the place for me too. Indeed, there are times when artwork can be the result of a sinful rebellious attitude, when inappropriate scribbles appear on the patio doors, for example, and when those in a position of caring authority need to lovingly hand the author a wet rag and say, “Seriously? Come on, clean up your mess, sweetie.”
While I do not agree with every thing in the reviewed book, and some ideas are definitely discussion-worthy, I relate to the experience of the writer and appreciate the extremely important discovery of having a grateful heart. I do not believe it is motivated by self-seeking rebellion.
One of the hazards of popularity is that works of people in progress can be suddenly elevated to the level of works of studied authority. (The Bible says “Let not many of you become teachers knowing you shall incur a stricter judgment.” It just doesn’t tell you that most of the critical stricter judgment comes from people who consider themselves more studied teachers.)
My point? Art is an expression of where we are at the moment we create it. It is not the final conclusion of a lifetime of learning. Art fills in the big empty box at the bottom of the page where we have a chance to share how we feel about what we have learned. Art asks the observer, “You know what I mean?” If it goes viral on a giant public fridge with greater exposure than we anticipated when we created it, if it becomes extremely popular because a million people connect with it as a familiar stage of learning in their own lives, the onus is still on the reader or observer to use discernment. I wonder about the need of self-appointed guardians of perfect theology to tear it down publicly and give it “not recommended” status because they do not like the creator’s style or question whether it has stayed within lines the artist may not know about.
Worship of anything or anyone other than God is always idolatry. Yes, pop culture can promote idols, but to assume that a popular work will become an unexamined object of idolatry to other believers is to assume people observing the art are far less discerning than the critic. In an attempt to protect the naive by issuing a public judgment and condemnation of a work for failing to be something it never claimed to be, the present handed to us may not necessarily be a gift tied up in ribbon. It maybe just be an arrogance-bound box of envy.
In my humble imperfect opinion.