December 10, 2003
At Messiah College, you are required to write a Faith Integration paper, describing how you plan to integrate a Christian Faith in the workplace.
Mine is a little different, though, and here it is.
An integration of faith and profession is an interesting topic for the pinnacle of the stack of papers that have comprised my college career. It might be amusing in some ways simply because it is a current debate as to whether or not I am to be considered a professional (since I have been doing professional freelance work for some time), but career aside, an integration’s first supposition is that there had to be a divide somewhere that now must be repaired. For me there is no divide, or at least it’s not completely apparent yet.
My faith could be represented as a suit, through which I do everything. It is something I see the world through, and everything I do in life—work, play, schoolwork, relationships—is done through it. The popular model of faith in this society seems to be that faith (among other things) is only a part of a person, and the different divisions (their culture, upbringing, personal views) make the person up; and how well they create things using two or more “parts” is where the integration comes in.
However, because I see these different “parts” inextricably fused together to begin with, I get a lot of confusion and dire misconceptions by others about how I view the world. Because I see them as already combined and an irremovable part of me, people around me have a misconception that somehow I have got all the answers and have everything together. I am still learning, just like everyone else. Unlike everyone else, it seems, I am learning with a different foundation. What exactly this means for me, I am uncertain. This brings me to the realization that I do not see the world like everyone else. Naturally, for this I receive a lot of guff as being stuck up, usually by people and do not know what I am like or fully understand what I am trying to say. Most get very defensive when they feel like I am trying to say that my worldview is superior or more complete than theirs. That’s not what I am saying at all. I simply am pointing out I come have different point of view.
A large part of who I am comes from my upbringing on the Native American reservation of Kawawachikamach in Northern Quebec. I moved there with my parents when I was four as missionaries, and spent most of my time with the Naskapi tribe. The community and my own parents raised me both about equally, and I spent a great amount of time with the Naskapi elders. I would often go out with them and my father on hunting trips, deep into the bush. The elders would often explain to me the way things were before they settled down. The Naskapi peoples were originally a nomadic people, following the caribou herds in their migrations around Northern Quebec. Because they often had to move quickly and set up camp, they were mainly confined to small family groups. And with food being very scarce, the husband of the family might have to go out hunting on his own for three weeks at a time simply to bring home enough game to last the next three weeks.
This led to a very solitary life, with a strong connection between the hunter and the Creator, being at the complete mercy of God while out in the bush. There were two things important to the hunter: his own ability to sense his surroundings, and the gift of dreams from the Creator. The strength of the senses was critical: being silent and listening to the world around you, learning to watch the skies for changes in the weather, sitting still and watching a valley for signs of movement, noticing the tiniest change in the folds of snow as animal tracks from weeks before, each is important and crucial to survival. Listening to God is also extremely important. Not only does He talk to us through our senses and by making you aware of things you might not otherwise notice, but also especially in dreams. Dream analyzing is very important to the Naskapis, because dreams are treated as special insights from the one who sees everything. Often on the hunting trips the elder will get up in the morning, knowing exactly where he needs to go for game because of a dream he had.
These things were ingrained in me by the elders at a very young age, and continued in my teachings from both my parents and the Naskapis as I matured. The elders also taught me to see beauty in everything. The younger generation of the village has been grossly corrupted by the outside world (streaming into every house via satellite TV), and it transformed the community into a veritable ghetto. The Naskapi peoples were one of the last tribes discovered; and by the time they were the Canadian government had changed its ways of dealing with Native Americans to much more humane and diplomatic methods, so the Naskapis got a very good deal in terms of support. However, though money keeps pouring into the community, it keeps getting worse and worse through the corruption of the youth. Drug wars and fights are a common occurrence back home, and a big thing that they picked up on from watching TV shows with appearances by Native Americans and African Americans was a strong racism against white people. Though it was contrary to everything that Naskapi elders valued, I was severely abused in high school by the teenagers. Beatings were a common occurrence outside after school, despite the fact that by this time the only thing that separated them from myself was my skin colour.
The elders were very aware of the corruption of their grandchildren, but felt powerless to change it, so they took me under their wings. One thing that kept the Naskapis alive as nomads was a strong, persistent sense of optimism, no matter what came their way. The elders taught me to look at every situation as something of beauty, no matter how difficult it was, and to make the best of it. This literally kept me alive through high school, and enabled me to deal with the incredible mental, spiritual and physical battles that I went through as a result of racism.
An attempt at eternal optimism seems to be something that some people strive for in this American culture, but I haven’t come across too many who in their heart of hearts see the way I do. A large bulk of the population seem to believe that optimism is linked with idealism, and as such is directly opposed to realism. And to the neo-postmodern point of view, realism is the entire basis for everything. Though postmodernism attempted to be quite accepting of everyone’s point of view, neo-postmodernism realized that you couldn’t really get away from science and reasoning, and from the point of view of the anti-spiritual scientist, the world is a pretty dire place. If you have anything that resembles a fairy-tale outlook on life, you’re shot down by a horde of angry, depressed youth who see very little joy in the world; they despise anyone who would raise any hope… since it would only be in vain anyways.
When I was in the Naskapi high school I knew God had given me a specific set of gifts, but when it came down to it, I really wasn’t sure which of those gifts God wanted me to use. I prayed and prayed trying to figure out which gift to use. I didn’t get much of an answer, but finally with the approaching deadline to pick a college, I decided to go with Engineering. I came to Messiah because I was looking for a Christian Engineering school, and by my second year as an engineer, I was feeling pretty comfortable that this is what God wanted me to do.
Spring Semester of 2001, I took Engineering classes, Calc II, World Views, Philosophy and Ethics all at the same time. I worked hard in the classes, but I kept finding that there was something missing. My World Views, Philosophy and Ethics classes talked a lot about how Christians should be working in their careers, and how they should leave their lives. Naturally, since I had chosen to be an engineer, I applied these ideas to my work.
I took Calc II from Prof. Hare, and every morning she would give devotions in the class. One day, she spoke and mentioned that the best quality of a job was one that you would do whether you got paid for it or not. I doubt I got anything out of the rest of that class, but it caused me to think very hard.
I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure I would do engineering for free. That with all the work I had put into it, I felt somehow that I deserved some sort of … compensation for all the effort. Calc II was undoubtedly the hardest class I had, and I had frequently been visiting Prof. Hare for extra help. So struck was I by her comments, that I decided to visit her office.
We talked a long time, about my studies. And then she asked me if I had a passion for engineering. I answered that I wasn’t sure. She recommended I think about it. I thought and prayed for a long time. I began looking through my notes, and began noticing that all the margins were filled with drawings. Sketches of my classmates, cartoons written about life at Messiah, renderings of my professors and the objects they taught with. Suddenly I realized I might have been missing out on something God was trying to tell me. I felt as if I was at peace when I drew. I wasn’t the best, but for someone who knew nothing about art, I wasn’t bad. I thought and prayed some more.
I was also taking a Circuits class, one required for engineering. During a break, a couple classmates and I had a drawing contest. Each would draw a Christmas light on a string, to see who could draw the best one. Finally it was my turn. I did a little offhand sketch and passed it on. My friend Erica picked up the paper and stared at it.
“Ben, this looks real.” She said. I laughed, of course, thinking nothing of it. But she pulled me aside later. “Why aren’t you an art major?” she asked. I laughed again and replied I knew nothing of art. She nodded. “But you have a gift. If I had a gift like that, I wouldn’t want to waste it.”
I was in a difficult spot. I didn’t know anything about art. Engineers don’t have any time in their curriculum for any art courses. I didn’t know anyone who was in art. But suddenly everything was making sense. All the classes I was taking, everything everyone said, even the clue that I knew deep down that it was I who had chosen Engineering and not God… everything led to this.
My dad is a missionary in Northern Quebec. Because of how busy he is, I don’t always get to talk with him on what his life was like, but I had assumed that he had been an engineer. I had wanted to follow in his footsteps, and this had played a great part in me choosing my major.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that God was leading me elsewhere.
Finally, with much deliberation, I called my parents, to give them the news that I wanted to switch my major to Graphic Arts. My hands shook. It took me 4 or 5 tries to dial the number, cringing at what I thought my father would say.
The dial tone seemed to go on forever. Finally, my father picked up the phone. With a sinking gut but a strong will, I spilled my entire story. My father exploded on the phone. He was thrilled! It turns out; he had studied and had been a Graphic Designer before becoming a missionary!
I could still have been an Engineer; it was something I had the capacity to do. But I had the gift to be a Graphics Artist. It was where I found freedom, where I felt complete, where my soul simply rejoiced in what I did. Nothing else compares to that feeling. I couldn’t care less if I got paid for it or not. Because giving away what you have been given as a gift is all I could ever ask for.
And so, there you leave me: the eternally optimistic dreamer, placed in a position where I have the opportunity as a graphic designer to influence people. Suddenly I was strongly aware that I had the power to affect people with my work, and that I had better figure out what I held as important so that I might articulate it. This did not prove to be as big of a challenge as I originally thought it might be, because I was able to uphold the values I already held in other disciplines in art.
One of the main things I strive for in my art is the hidden details and bits of care that go into each piece. When someone realizes and figures out something I have put into the work, I have a point of commonality for a brief instant with the person, because in my everyday life I am constantly aware of these little details that most would simply pass by. It’s a sense of belonging, a feeling that I am not completely alone in what I see. And it gives me hope each time.
I find that many of my peers seem to be very concerned in defining what art is. There are huge debates in class as to what art is, what it embodies, what its significance is, and how it affects the world. I do not really feel compelled to define art at all, because I do not really see the point in a definition. Art, to me, is simply another fused part of me. It’s no different from anything else I do. I see beauty in either my surroundings or in my head, and I work to explain it, with art being simply one of the many outlets. I have other outlets in music and writing and many other things– but why I must take great pains to define this one is beyond me. Sportsmen, Musicians and Engineers are not required to define their professions in order to be able to carry them out successfully. In fact, I feel one of the main reasons I create art is because it is inexpressible in any other of my available mediums. I create art because I can’t define it.
At the same time, however, I have also come to realize that though beauty can be seen in everything, there are things that are easier to see the beauty in than others. Some things seem to be more positive expression of splendor than others. While there can be beauty in intense sorrow or unrequited love, it does not have such a strong apparent beauty as a glorious accomplishment or a passionate friendship. And I believe that those untrained in art recognize that. There seems to be a sort of acquired taste of beauty in the professional art world; artists seem to appreciate things for all different kinds of reasons other than this very base view of beauty. Rushing through a Graphic Arts education in very little over two years, I find this acquired taste strikingly absent from my own view. While I understand the arguments for the taste, and understand those who feel that way, I simply do not feel it. I can’t help looking at certain pieces and being completely revolted at their appearance while my classmates praise them for other reasons.
My view of beauty is still developing, but I can’t force myself to see certain distasteful things to me as emanating beauty, though I am still able to see their appealing qualities. Therefore, this greatly influences how I conceptualize my work and whose opinions I hold of value. I work hard at creating something that is visually stunning, touching, or simply “cool.” An audience’s positive reaction is the most important thing to me, for it is at that moment that I am finally able to communicate this beauty I see. I feel like a little kid sometimes, tugging at an adults’ pant leg, begging them to come to my level and see this gorgeous thing I see. The more effectively I am able to convey this; the better I feel my accomplishment as an artist.
I am realizing this brings me into a lot of conflict with other artists, particularly my friends in art classes. It lets me see works that the rest of the class defined as kitsch as objects of beauty. Though I have a few allies in defense of comic work and cartoons as beauty, I am pretty much on my own with the extremities of my point of view.
I really could care less, however. As long as it does not affect my grades or my health, my aloneness does not particularly bother me. I do my best to appease my professors and spend the rest of my time studying on my own and practicing drawing and graphics. Interestingly enough, I have come across a rather high number of professors who agree with me on various points, especially on seeing the beauty in “underdog art forms” such as graphics, screen printing and ceramics, as well as agreement on matters of revulsion in some of the just plain weird pieces that bloomed from Modern Art. I am still trying to figure out why exactly I am being agreed with, but my best guess is that it comes from their upbringing in the traditional values of beauty in art, as well as from attempts at acceptance of my ideas through post-modernism. In any case, it is of value to me that I am at least supported by my mentors in part. Though I do not mind being alone, it’s very difficult to be impartial when you on your own (it’s very easy to have a twisted point of view when you have no input), so it’s helpful to get input from professors as to how they see the world. Most professors seem reluctant to share that however, for fears they might “taint the class” with their worldview.
It might seem at this point that I am avoiding the aspect of faith in my work, supposedly what this entire paper is supposed to be about. However, in all honesty I am not sure God is calling me to be a Christian artist; giving me deliberation in calling it my profession. I know I was called to choosing Graphic Arts as a major, but whether or not God wants me to do this for the rest of my life is still unclear to me. In addition to the ability to see such an intense beauty, I have also been given a lot of other gifts and abilities. It might seem very confusing to some people, and indeed for many of my friends their biggest struggle is which gift to use for God. But the way I see it, I have been put together in the certain way that God wants me to be, and all I need to do is the best I can for Him in whatever I do. My artistic ability isn’t separate from my Engineering ability, nor my gift at Sociology, or Writing, or Theology, or Music, or Philosophy; it’s all still completely me. And the best way I know how to use them is to be the absolute best I can be at each, and live as if He were looking over my shoulder and examining my work. I do not always succeed, but this is my goal.
It is most likely that I will use all of my gifts, simply because they’re all so very much a part of me. I think that they all can be integrated with Art, and as much could be said about any of the other gifts I have been given. The ideas I learned up to this point (both at home and in college), I have learned for some reason, and no matter where I end up, they will help me in carrying out my portrayal of the beauty I feel God has let me see.