"The theme is not the plot, not what happens to who and when. The theme is the overarching principle that holds the story together, that helps to make sense of what is happening."
What is the theme of your life? What is your world view?
I was recently in an online conversation regarding Archbishop Goh's recent statementabout the upcoming concert by Madonna on her world tour stop in Singapore.
It soon became apparent that the person I was trading emails with had a completely different view of the arts and the responsibility of the artist because they had a completely different world view.
So what is the world view of the Christian artist (indeed, of all Christians)? What is the theme of our lives?
Barbara Nicolosi of Act One trains writers, particularly for the entertainment industry. In her workshops she talks about the theme of a story. The theme is not the plot, not what happens to who and when. The theme is the overarching principle that holds the story together, that helps to make sense of what is happening.
For example, in the movie "A Man for All Seasons," Thomas More resists the incredible pressure that he is under to recognize King Henry the VIII as supreme head of the Church in England. A recognition that would challenge the authority of Rome and deny More's deeply held beliefs. Because of his resistance he loses his position, his power, his authority, and his wealth, leaving his family in very dire straights. He could recover all these things if he simply signs his name to a piece of paper but he refuses to do so, why?
He refuses because he believes that there is a life after this one and that what we do in this life matters very much in the life to come. This is the theme of the story, that man is immortal, if you do not at least understand Thomas More's world view, then his story makes no sense.
In contrast there is the pagan view that this life is all there is and that we should make the most of it while we are here. The difference between these two "themes" is illustrated in a story related by the Venerable Bede regarding the conversion of Briton.
Paulinus, a missionary, presents the Gospel to Edwin, king of Northumbria. This proposed Christian faith is debated among Edwin's counselors. Finally a pagan priest named Coifi addresses the king.
“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a moment of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”
The theme of every Christian life is that we are immortal, that life here on earth is not the end, it is just the beginning, and that what we do here and now affects how we will live in the life to come. This worldview is reflected in the work we do and our consideration of how our work impacts our brothers and sisters. For artists of every stripe, it is reflected in the art they produce. It is therefore incumbent upon artists to produce the very best work they are capable of. It is the responsibility of the artist to sharpen his skills and he has a very limited time to do so.
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells the arable of the Barren Fig Tree.
"A certain man had a fig tree, which was planted in his vineyard. And he came seeking fruit on it, but found none. Then he said to the cultivator of the vineyard: ‘Behold, for these three years I came seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I have found none. Therefore, cut it down. For why should it even occupy the land?’ But in response, he said to him: ‘Lord, let it be for this year also, during which time I will dig around it and add fertilizer. And, indeed, it should bear fruit. But if not, in the future, you shall cut it down.’" Luke 13:6-9
Like the parable of the fig tree, we are running out of time to show that we are worth saving. It is not that God’s patience with us is limited, but it is we who are limited to our own lives. We have but a short span of time to bear fruit, and we cannot hope to be rewarded if we are unproductive servants.
The gardener who intercedes on our behalf is Jesus. Nourishing and working the soil of our hearts is the grace that He offers to us.
In the eyes of Jesus we are all equally at risk. The danger is not from physical death, which is temporary; it is from spiritual death, which is eternal. To spare ourselves that fate we must respond to the offer of grace and work with Our Lord to bear fruitful lives. By this path, we will be saved.
What is the theme of your life? What is your world view? How is that reflected in the work that you do and the art you produce?
this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org