Monthly Archives: July 2009

I Found God in a Coffee Shop

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Many people know that I frequently visit a number of different coffee shops in my area. With the crazy life I lead, sometimes, that’s the only place I can go to find peace and a moment of stillness. I’ll go there to read, write, catch up with friends, or spend time with Jesus.

Yesterday, I sat at my favorite little shop in Bothell, WA for about three hours. I had no particular agenda, so I spent a good chunk of my time just people watching. The result ended up being this poem:

I Found God in a Coffee Shop

I found God in a coffee shop.
His voice I heard
Above the music, above the chatter,
Above the clanking dishes and the harsh
Grumbling of the coffee grinder,
And above the steady gargling of the espresso machine.

I saw Him in the vibrant colors of the artwork
That hangs on the walls;
For it was God, the ultimate Artist,
Who enabled the earthly artist to capture those colors.

I saw Him in the faces of the people
As they read, as they chatted,
As they took a moment to be still.
And as I watched them, I had to wonder:
How many of them are looking for God?
And how many have found Him?
God is here, for God is everywhere.
And here in this coffee shop, I have found Him.

Roller Coaster Christianity

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I don’t want to be a roller coaster Christian. You know what I’m talking about—the kind of Christian who runs to God when she feels like she’s at the bottom of the slope…but then, when things are at an all-time high, she just goes with the flow; she keeps her eyes fixed on her own agenda, her own priorities, without so much as even bothering to give God the time of day.

It’s simple and perhaps even instinctual to run to Heaven’s throne when things aren’t going so well…or rather, the way we want them to go. In those moments of desperation and despair, when everything around us is crumbling, going to God is easy—second nature. We go to Him; we cry out for mercy; we ask God to grant us immeasurable amounts of grace and the strength to make it through the trials and tribulations. We pray for refinement, saying things like: “Oh, Lord! Use this experience to shape me into the person You want me to be. Let this time of distress be a tool that You use to make me more like Christ.” But then when life becomes manageable again, when the cup passes, God takes the back burner. Our Bibles find a home on the bookshelf and begin to collect dust. Prayers become routine, thoughtless graces spoken before meals. What happened to the heartfelt conversations we once had with Christ? Those desperate pleas we once offered to God?

And so we go on with our Christian lives, hastening to the throne when things get bad and doing exactly the opposite when things are okay. Circumstances drive us. Complacency eventually sets in. Then a new wave of suffering crashes over us: some new unfortunate situation that knocks the control right out of our hands. And thus, the vicious cycle continues.

Am I the only person who does this?

I’m currently at a very low point—the valley, or the bottom of the slope if you will. Waking up each morning isn’t exactly appetizing, and it’s God’s grace and only His grace that allows me to face another day. So naturally, since things aren’t exactly peachy keen at the moment, I find myself praying and thinking quite often about God: His character, the mysterious ways in which He works, why He would allow these horrible things to happen in my life and in the lives of my family members, why my prayers seem to disappear into some unknown void, etc. But regardless of the nature of my prayers and meditations, the fact is, right now, it’s easy to go to God. It’s easy to lay my burdens before Him and wait for Him to grant me a miracle or at least an answer. But I have to wonder: when He does grant me that miracle or provide me with an answer…when this season of despair passes and when things go back to being ‘normal’ (whatever that means), what will become of these questions, these prayers, these heart examinations? Will they just fade away? Will I once again place God on the back burner?

What will it take for me to find consistency in my walk with Christ? When will I learn to push past the feelings, to let my relationship with Jesus be driven by love instead of emotions? Or will I merely go on for the rest of my life as a roller coaster Christian?

True Artist or Hack?

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I just finished reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. It’s basically a self-help book for creative individuals who find themselves feeling blocked or stuck in their artistic endeavors. As an artist, I know I’ve experience my share of moments (especially lately): writer’s block, lack of motivation to finish a painting or a poem…or a melody on the piano…or a set of song lyrics…. So I figured this book would become my new best friend.

Now, I must admit, if the choice were mine, I probably wouldn’t put Pressfield’s book on the national bestseller list.  Considering that it’s a self-help book, I really didn’t find it to be all that helpful (then again, I’m always a bit skeptical of self-helps books so this particular book’s lack of helpfulness didn’t really come as a surprise). I thoroughly enjoy reading but I’ll be honest: there were definitely times where I had to force myself to turn the pages of this one. But every now and then, I would stumble upon a chapter that made me pump my mental fist in the air and yell, “Yes! This guy knows exactly what I’m going through!”

I want to share one of those ‘aha moments’ with you. For those of you who are artists, I hope this encourages you. But first, a little background information:

As I briefly mentioned earlier, I’ve recently been struggling with many of my artistic projects. I feel as though I’ve become a writer who can’t write, a musician who can’t compose a single melody or chord progression, a painter who is too lazy to drag out her paint set, a photographer who is too unmotivated to look at the world through the vibrant eye of her camera lens. So what am I? I’ve somehow convinced myself that I am…incapable. Incapable of creating something thought-provoking or memorable, something that anyone else would find even the least bit interesting.

And then I read this brief chapter in The War of Art. And I found myself going: “Waaaait a second!”

Why do we get to these points? Certainly, I can’t be the only one who gets stuck (if I were, then Steven Pressfield probably would not have written a book on the subject). So, as artists, why do we get to these moments in our lives where we stop doing what we love—which is creating art—because we’ve somehow convinced ourselves that we’re just not good enough? And good enough for whom? Exactly whose expectations are we trying to live up to? Do we even know?

Pressfield has a few things to say about that, and I found his chapter entitled  ‘The Definition of a Hack’ particularly enlightening. So I thought I’d post the chapter here.  Again, I pray that this encourages you.

THE DEFINITION OF A HACK: (pp. 152-153)

I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.

The hack condescends to his audience. He thinks he’s superior to them. The truth is, he’s scared to death of them or, more accurately, scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he himself thinks is interesting. He’s afraid it won’t sell. So he tries to anticipate what the market (a telling word) wants, then gives it to them.

In other words, the hack writes hierarchically. He writes what he imagines will play well in the eyes of others. He does not ask himself, ‘What do I myself want to write? What do I think is important?’ Instead, he asks, ‘What’s hot? What can I make a deal for?’

The hack is like a politician who consults the polls before he takes a position. He’s a demagogue. He panders.

It can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out on your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.

I was starving as a screenwriter when the idea for The Legend of Bagger Vance came to me. It came as a book, not as a movie. I met with my agent to give him the bad news. We both knew that first novels take forever and sell for nothing. Worse, a novel about golf, even if we could find a publisher, is a straight shot to the remainder bin.

But the Muse had me. I had to do it. To my amazement, the book succeeded critically and commercially better than anything I’d ever done, and others since have been lucky too. Why? My best guess is this: I trusted what I wanted, not what I thought would work. I did what I myself thought was interesting, and left its reception to the gods.

The artist can’t do his work hierarchically. He has to work territorially.

Motives. I think that’s the heart of what Pressfield is trying to get at in this chapter. As artists, what drives us to make our art? What drives you? Is it the sincere passion and love that you have for art itself? Or is it really just some sort of longing for acceptance that you’re trying to fill via art? I had to ask myself such questions. I had to wonder if my creative ‘stuckness’ was due to the fact that I’d run out of ideas or due to my skewed motives? I ultimately had to ask myself: am I a hack?