this beautiful altar | surrendering the creative process


(originally posted by Allison Keeport at Crabapple Creative)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve considered my creativity and sensitivity to beauty to be among my most defining personality traits. I once was mildly irritated that I am right-hand dominant because (supposedly) left-handed people are more creative because they use the right side of their brains more, and the left hand is controlled by the right side of the brain, or some such nonsense. I’ve since learned that creativity really isn’t controlled by one side of the brain over the other, that we use each half of our brains equally, and that my frustration (like so many of my neuroses) was unfounded.

But, still, I am driven by beauty. The search for beauty compels me to create. Beauty often aches, but as Rich Mullins wrote, ‘it’s a hurt that can heal with its pain’. That aching beauty binds me. It is elusive, and my best efforts to capture it are often insufficient, but I believe that if a thing is beautiful, it reflects Divinity in some way, and so I pursue beauty. I create so that I will be a part of Divinity. After all, the first thing we learn in Scripture is that God is the Creator, and shortly after that, we learn that man was made in His image. To bear his image makes us natural creators. Consequently, artists have striven to create perfect beauty for millennia. They may not recognize it as such, but that passion for beauty and the pursuit of perfection reflects the Triune God of the Bible, for God is the Most Beautiful, perfectly holy, and the consummate Artist.

My own search for beauty as an artist and creator is bound inextricably with my communion with God, my pursuit of meaning, and my bedrock belief that all beauty in this world is a dim reflection of YHWH the Most Beautiful. And yet, my own creative development is strangely divorced from this understanding that God is the Most Beautiful. I approach a practice room as my jurisdiction, as if I am the law of the land and my voice is some renegade that must be brought under my rule. As if God does not really care about what happens in a practice room, or that he does not have a vested interest in my creative development.

But how could He not care? If there is any beauty in this world, it is His beauty. It is our charge as artists who bear His name to steward that beauty well, to ensure that it reflects Him well. What a fragile thing he has entrusted to our care! Beauty is easily broken.

But what if he does care? What if the tasks of a practice room matter profoundly to the heart of this God who calls himself not only Creator, but Father too? What if our frustration during a practice session gone wrong, the elation of mastery, and the twinge of heartache that accompanies beauty evoke the same responses in the heart and mind of Almighty God? I think they must matter to Him. Our art tells His story, those joys and frustrations are the first-fruit offerings that we lay on the altar, and beauty aches because we are longing for Him – our Maker, Father, Lover, and Friend. Even one of these elements would be sufficient reason for Him to be concerned with our fledgling creative efforts. How much more must He care when so much is invested in our art?

And yet, I enter and leave my favorite practice room with a blind determination to succeed apart from Him, and with no recognition of the sacred thing I am about to do. If I were wise, I would perhaps take few moments to dedicate my effort to Him and to ask that he be  pleased with it and be pleased to bless it. I would perhaps revel more, as He does, in what I can do and grieve less what I cannot do. I would ask for His help in reproducing what I learned at my last lesson. I would squander less time on my phone. I would thank him when I am singing well, instead of wallowing like a pig in mud over the sound of my own pretty voice. And when nothing is going well – when my voice creaks, goes flat, and screeches out all the high notes (as it did today before I wrote this article) – I would thank him that He loves me apart from how well I tell the story or how clearly I reflect His beauty.

I would remember that He walks into that practice room or onto that stage before me and beside me. I would remember that whatever good I do as a musician, He did it first and best. I would remember that he made the overtone series, the singer’s formant, Puccini, and the minds that formalized the common practice theory and Western music that we all love and slave to perfect. I would remember that the morning stars sang together when He created the foundations of the earth and that one day we will sing a completely new song that will eclipse every aria yet composed.

Above all, I would remember that the beauty and the music are His, and that he has graciously loaned them to me for a season so that I would learn to use them as well as I can and then offer back to him in worship what was never mine to begin with: a passion for beauty and a mind that creates.

Take joy, my King, in what you hear – may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear…


content warning


So I was planning on watching Deadpool.  Seriously.  I was psyched.

But then I tried to convince my wife that it was worth it.  She applied the appropriate amount of disdain for the idea (yes, I had her watch a trailer), but that wasn’t the motivating factor in the end.

What transpired was an in-depth conversation about how much VSL content (violence-sex-language) was too much with my brother-in-law.  As I was driving back after our weekend with them, I was verbally-processing to my wife.  It went something like this:

C: “Not engaging is not an option for me, even when content is heavy.”

L: *silence*

C: “There’s a lot of truth and beauty in some content-heavy material, besides the importance of understanding situations realistically.”

L: *silence*

C: “I mean, there are things I won’t watch because of content…”

L: “Are there?”

C: *silence*

The truth of the matter is that there haven’t been for quite some time.  Walking Dead is “worth it” because of the interesting moral dilemmas.  House of Cards was politically intriguing and c’mon, it’s Spacey.  What an antihero.  Who engages in awful, horrible things.  Jessica Jones was not only excellently acted and written, it was a riveting depiction of abuse and manipulation in relationship.  Which makes the content… apropos?

I guess I’ve always had a scale in my head that weighed artistic quality and imperative dialogue against offensive content.  The problem being that while I was defining it as offensive and leaving it at that, I was gradually becoming less offended where it mattered – in my spirit.

In other words, I’ve been choosing my level of engagement by my ability to ignore offensive content rather than by obedient holiness.

Here’s the thing – engagement in the arts and cultural streams of communication is vital for us as creative people who are the salt and light in this broken world.  However, to think that mere engagement for the right reasons makes me immune to unholy pressure is ignorant.  Intaking sinful acts, usually portrayed with all of the allure that they inherently hold, is not without consequences.   But we are also called to confront darkness with the light of Christ.   How do we reconcile our own weakness with our call to courageously and lovingly proclaim Christ to a dying world?

Recall the oft-quoted: “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret”?  With some context comes further understanding:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  

It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.  But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:8-16 (italics added)

In other words, our involvement in culture is an “in-the-world-not-of-it” variety, in which we choose to expose the fruitless deeds of the culture rather than ignore them while we look for truth.   Part of living in a truth-suppressing culture is shining the light of Christ into each situation (and media stream) we see.

This is holy obedience.  This is faithfulness to Christ. This is believing that our weakness is transformed into strength by His redemption.

Questions we should not ask ourselves are:

  1. How much can I handle?
  2. Is the engagement worth the content?
  3. Will knowing about this increase my street cred with unbelievers?

The prayers we should offer are:

  1. Lord, what do you want me to do in this moment?
  2. Help me to see my weakness, and rely on your strength for courage.
  3. Guide me to holiness and love that will transform my perspective, my soul, and the lives of those around me.
  4. Guide me through Your Word to know the next steps in this conversation.

This could mean engaging in cultural streams with content depending on the context and the leading.  This kind of engagement involves dogged reliance on Scripture, prayer, the Holy Spirit, and the communion of believers to guide our interactions and conversations about culture as we encounter it.  It involves the recognition that we sometimes have to sacrifice our own fleshly desires or pseudo-spiritual comfort-fear to clearly communicate the Gospel.

And it also involves humbly listening to those closest to you when they rebuke you (thanks, sweetheart).