Should a pastor be an artist? Can a pastor be a cartoonist (is cartooning even art)? Isn’t a pastor’s job to focus on the people and the business of a congregation? There are hurting people to visit in the hospital, a neighborhood to engage, meetings and staff to lead, budgets to balance, buildings to build. This is serious business. Who has time to draw funny pictures? What a waste.
I wrestle with this question almost daily.
I am a pastor, and an artist. Can these two energies work together? Should these two energies pull my life forward?
The question arises today because I will teach our Middle School Confirmation students about the Art of Hebrew Poetry tonight.
Poetry is a form of art.
Listen to what Mary Oliver says about the task of the artist,
Say you have bought a ticket on an airplane and you intend to fly from New York to San Francisco. What do you ask of the pilot when you climb aboard and take your seat next to the little window, which you cannot open but through which you see the dizzying heights to which you are lifted from the secure and friendly earth?
Most assuredly you want the pilot to be his regular and ordinary self. You want him to approach and undertake his work with no more than a calm pleasure. You want nothing fancy, nothing new. You ask him to do, routinely, what he knows how to do — fly an airplane. You hope he will not daydream. You hope he will not drift into some interesting meander of thought. You want this flight to be ordinary, not extraordinary. So, too, with the surgeon, and the ambulance driver, and the captain of the ship. Let all of them work, as ordinarily they do, in confident familiarity with whatever the work requires, and no more. Their ordinariness is the surety of the world. Their ordinariness makes the world go round.
In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook — a different set of priorities.
Is the pastor called to be the pilot who lives in the realm of the ordinary, to help the church go round? Or is the pastor called to help the church move forward?
I constantly daydream. I read something and then get fixated on interpreting it visually. Hours go by before I come up for air. When there is a moment of space in my schedule I conjure up another project like A Cartoonist’s Guide to Matthew. Why do I do that?
I read Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness last week. Here’s what she has to say about art,
Art has the power to render sorrow beautiful, make loneliness a shared experience, and transform despair into hope. Only art can take the holler of a returning soldier and turn it into a shared expression and a deep, collective experience. Music, like all art, gives pain and our most wrenching emotions voice, language, and form, so it can be recognized and shared. The magic of the high lonesome sound is the magic of all art: the ability to both capture our pain and deliver us from it at the same time. When we hear someone else sing about the jagged edges of heartache or the unspeakable nature of grief, we immediately know we’re not the only ones in pain. The transformative power of art is in this sharing. Without connection or collective engagement, what we hear is simply a caged song of sorrow and despair; we find no liberation in it. It’s the sharing of art that whispers, “You’re not alone.”
King David was an artist. He was also a warrior and a king (and an adulterer and murderer, let’s not forget the whole package). David wrote a vast majority of the Psalms. He plunged the depths of human emotion, explored the wide range of human experience from the holy to the heinous, and recorded the journey through art.
The Bible Project’s video helps us understand why poetry and art is so necessary.
This is my lifelong journey and struggle. I have been pulled by this quarrelsome tandem of art and pastoral leadership my whole life. Sometimes they fight in the yoke and nearly flip the cart. When they catch their stride, however, it’s as if I can fly.
What do you think?