We would each like to think we are part of the solution rather than the problem. However, our story is, of course, more complicated. We discover an immeasurable amount of good in our lives when we truly realize the depths of our depravity and indifference.
There are degrees to how we contribute to the decay of society. Passivity and avarice are dangerous contagions. We fall prey to them when we assume that our lives and work have no adverse impact on the people around us. Add to that assumption our arrogance in thinking our ideology is inevitably right, and we have a problem.
So, while we can each richly contribute to the flourishing of a blessed society, let’s first get centered. Let’s see ourselves rightly, not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. Only then will we know our real ability to give good to those around us.
What is good? How do we center our creative contributions? God has told us what is good. Those good instructions are “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” He gave more instructions too — “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” These instructions have two facets: inward devotion and outward duty. The Christian faith is one both of mind and of body. It is cognitive and corporeal. No one is excused from these commands.
The command to love — in all the fullness and justice of that word — is laid on all, from politician to painter. With every policy pushed, every stroke of the brush, we put forth what we believe about God and about good. With what we make, we affect the world. For better or for worse.
To build a good culture, you need a good memory. To be a good artist, you honor the past and learn from those before you. Strangely, this sense of where our culture has been sets us free to chart our course into the future. There is nothing new under the sun except those who are renewing their minds under the Son. When “progress” rejects the past, we all lose.
We all want our work to matter. We all want to create from a deep place, a good place. And this is how we start well: It should be a daily practice to look back with wisdom while looking forward with optimism. That perspective helps us ask the important questions: How can knowing history help me make better contributions tomorrow? Do I use my work for good, or is the outcome avarice, shame or demoralization?
Each of us is creative. Each of our lives becomes a canvas displaying what our idea of good is. But without humility, we make terrible gods. The same talent that can help us shape the world for Christ can be used to carve dark idols. We all live with an
image of the Chief of the tribe. Sometimes that image is just a slightly bigger effigy of ourselves. We all have gold and shadow—the light and the dark sides of our creativity. We all carry a bit of sensitivity about our work, beliefs, and identity. We desire to create a world that would honor and protect those aspects of us. That desire is often admirable, but our methods can be dangerous.
The creative life seeks to produce or restore the blessings of a truth that benefits more than just ourselves. It seeks to reform our souls and society. It recognizes the evils around us while not allowing them to paralyze us. To do this work well, we must always be doing inventory on our hearts and hands. Why are we making, and what are we making? The creative life honors the Spirit that inspires us while fixing our eyes on a redemptive future in which God has invited us to participate.
Again — we all are creative in some way or another. No matter the work, it can contribute to the good of society. But we still need to ask how we can fully live into our creative calling, how we can find transcending principles that will help mature our creative life.
If I can make it plain, as my dad would say, “All money ain’t good money.” Dare I say it? All work ain’t good work.