Looking Past the Obvious

I consider myself an artist and a musician, of sorts. I inherited a love for music from my father who has been singing Barbershop Harmony for longer than I’ve been alive. I’ve always liked to draw and ended up in getting an Industrial Design degree in college, initially thinking I would get into Automotive Styling. That didn’t work out, but I’m still in the design field.
For folks who aren’t musical or artistic there’s certain awe for those who have those talents. It’s almost mysterious to them. “I could never draw/sing/paint/play like that!” they say. I disagree, having been through formal training in both. The mechanics of moving a pencil or mixing paint or producing sound or playing an instrument are not out of the reach of most. You could learn to do it. But what makes folks excel in these things is the most understood of all because it has nothing to do with the actual production of the art or music.
In order to be a good artist, the most important skill you need to hone is your vision. In order to be a good musician, you must hone your hearing. Sketching methods, painting techniques, proper fingerings and vocal production techniques are all required and can be fairly easily taught. But if you want to be good, you must go deeper and, in a way, in the opposite direction. To make pleasant music, you must hone your hearing to new levels and directions. To produce good art, you must fine tune your vision.
You see your eyes and ears will lie to you. You look at a picture of a building and know that the walls are vertical and the doors and window ledges are horizontal, so that’s how you interpret them. However, if you look again you might see that the lines on the picture are at all kinds of angles, none of which are truly horizontal or vertical. Note the picture at right the top of the garage door is tilted down and the line of the curb is tilted up. Yet we know that they are parallel and we read them that way. It’s the recognition of that process of converging lines and tricks of the eye that you need to appreciate. The same happens with color. Look at the picture of my black car at right. Your mind reads it as black, yet very little is actually black. There are shades of grey and reflections of blue sky and green leaves and even bright white reflections. All of these things are processed by your mind to tell it that the car is black and the highlights and reflections describe to our mind the shape of the car. A good artist understands all of this and is able to reproduce all these nuances on paper or canvas.
About 10 years ago I played in a Motown Band in Detroit with a bunch of folks from church called West Grand Boulevard. I did background vocals, tambourine and alto, tenor and baritone sax. After playing with them for a while, the band leader pulled me aside and asked me to leave the group. Why? I wasn’t able to hear what I was playing in relation to the rest of the group. We’d be in rehearsal (and recording it) and I was playing along doing fine. I knew the fingerings and was technically playing the right notes. But upon playing the tape back it was painfully clear that I was not playing the right notes. Frankly, I sounded awful, completely out of tune. During the song I hadn’t a clue, I though I was doing fine. It was embarrassing. I had played sax and clarinet for years in High School and college, but somewhere in the intervening years I had lost my ability to hear how in tune I was and adjust to it. I had no ill feelings toward the brother, he was clearly right, I stunk!
As I contemplated this recently, I wondered if there are spiritual parallels to this idea, and I think there is. Bear with me because I haven’t exactly fleshed this out completely myself.
On the surface, Christianity is about church services, tithing, Bible study, prayer and avoiding sin. Many folks look and say “I could never live like that.” But just as the real heart of art lies beyond the techniques of pencil and paint and the real heart of music lies beyond proper fingerings and vocal techniques the real heart of Christianity lies beyond the mundane day to day practices of faith. Beyond those surface things is the real heart of Christianity and only in getting to that heart to the surface things start having meaning. Jesus expressed it this way:

Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Everything we area s Christians must spring from our love for God and for each other. That’s just the way it works. We can practice all the other things, hone them and fine tune them to perfection. In fact, it’s pretty easy to do and it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of religion and forget the heart.
In my opinion, folks that dabble at the mechanics of music and art aren’t truly artists and musicians. That is not to demean the enjoyment they get from it or to stand in judgment on them or their abilities, it’s just the difference between a hobby and true artistry. The same is true of religion. Some are content with Hobby Christianity, playing with the surface aspects of church services, traditions and sacrements. They feel good about themselves for ‘being good’ or ‘showing up’ or whatever, but it goes no deeper than that. Are these folks really practicing Christianity or are they playing some other game?
I can remember taking drawing classes in my freshman year of college. I thought I was an artist and to some degree I felt that this class was a waste of time. I already knew how to draw. I can remember however, when I went from a hobby to artistry. It was when I started seeing what was really there instead of what mind told me was there. It changed the way I was able to draw, transformed my abilities. In the same way, in recent years awareness of this perspective from Jesus on what’s important has transformed my faith. Evangelism? Yes, as a part of my love for God and his people. Tithing? How about giving generously to more than just my church, but to wherever the need arises.
Listen, I’m not here to stand in judgment on anyone and how they live out their faith. That’s not my job, it’s God’s. We all are capable of falling into a rut where our faith becomes about the schedule, the dos and the don’ts. All I’m saying is that we cannot stay there. We must get to where we are driven by our love for God and each other. When we do that, it will impact every aspect of who we are. It will transform our thinking, our worship, our prayer, our study habits and our actions.

2 thoughts on “Looking Past the Obvious

  1. Good thoughts and interesting aspects. I think you on to something so I’ll quote Lion King 1.5: “You need to look beyond what you see.” We just saw it last night so it came quick to my mind. 🙂

  2. It’s funny how my tendecy is to fall on the regularities of the Christian walk. Then, I find my prayer and bible study suffer. I appreciate you insight.
    By the way, that car (batmobile) is amazing!

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