Monday, May 28, 2012

The Greater Risk?

A few years ago our son Joshua had just started college on a Theatre Arts scholarship.

His mother was concerned about him.

She was concerned like any mother or father would be; she wanted him to find the best direction for his life and to follow the path that would make the best use of his gifts and allow him to make the best contribution possible to this old world.

I was sharing her concerns with a friend of ours who was and is a successful professional and whose own children were on a track that would likely take them into successful careers in the business world.

When I said that my good wife was a little concerned about Joshua finding the right way for him, our friend responded, "If one of my children was pursuing the path he is, I'd be worried, too."

I've been thinking about what she said for almost ten years now.

I think I understand what she meant; she meant that (a) the artistic life is a difficult one in which to make a living, (b) the artistic world is filled with, shall we say, "offbeat" people, and (c) the artistic life can be filled with temptations that can threaten the very soul of a young person.

The more I've thought about it, though, the more I've come to wonder what kind of career path, when you evaluate the situation from the perspective of Jesus' life and teachings, puts a young woman or man at the most risk.

Granted, Jesus did have some harsh things to say about actors--that's the root meaning of "hyprocrite" and Jesus didn't cotton to folks acting like they were different--and especially better--than they in fact were.

But Jesus sure had a lot to say about people who put pursuit of the dollar--or the denarius, if you need to be a literalist--at the heart of their life and who make it the point of their life's work.

He did not say, after all, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an actor or actress to get into the kingdom of heaven." It was not, after all, an actor who said, "I have more awards than I know what to do with; I know what I will do--I will tear down my awards room and build a bigger one and say to myself, 'Eat, drink, and be merry.'"

Now, please don't hear me wrong. There are many people who are successful in business who also keep their priorities in the right order; there are many people in the business world who make lots of money and who still maintain their Christian love, their generosity, and their integrity.

Indeed, I have often told the Lord that I believe it is possible to be simultaneousy rich and righteous and that I'd appreciate the chance to prove it. Clearly, the Lord does not share my confidence in me.

Still, from the perspective of Jesus as it is revealed to us in the Gospels, there may be no greater risk to the souls of our children, or to our own souls, than putting the accumulation of wealth first in our lives--which let me again hasten to say is not the goal of everyone who becomes a stockbroker or banker or construction contractor or merchant or you name it. The great risk lies in the temptation, in the lure of money and of the supposed power that comes with it.

So, if your son or daughter wants to be an actor or painter or dancer or singer, don't sweat it too much. Their soul could be at greater risk if they go into one of the more "conventional" professions.

By the way, it all worked out ok for us. Joshua decided not to be an actor after all.

He's a poet...


Greg Millette said...

Thanks, Michael. As a person who spent his college days studying classical music, it is refreshing to hear your perspective. Though I can vouch for the fact that the true weirdos were the ones just around the corner in the theater department. Just Kidding! :)

In all seriousness, I think your post points to a deeper issue in our society. We, individually and collectively, place far too much emphasis on what a person does rather than who that person is. Typically, one of our first questions upon meeting someone is 'So, what do you do?' or "Where do you work?", and we instantly begin to attribute value to the person and to the potential relationship based on the answer.

More on point to your post, I agree that access to money combined with love of money is certainly a combination that leads to 'all sorts of evil'. To the extent that business people have greater access to other's money, I suppose they face a greater amount of temptation.

As for me, I've ended up with the best and worst of both worlds. I still get to play music in front of people every weekend at church, and I get to run a non-profit business dedicated to improving our communities. During the week, I could be tempted to take money given to us in trust and ultimately belonging to the community we are meant to serve. (Fortunately, on that front, love of money has never been my sin of choice.) And on the weekends, I can be tempted to allow a couple of hours of paid service to stand as my pubic and private testament to faith, eschewing anything deeper for the good feeling that I just played for God and His people. Regrettably, I am much more prone to fall into this latter temptation than the first.

And so, temptation, I think, lies around every corner in every life. The way we handle it has a lot more to do with who, not what, we are.

And that's my two cents...

Michael Ruffin said...

Thanks, Greg. I agree with you. It is also possible, of course, for artists (and pastors) to give in to the love of money just as much as anyone else. It's interesting to me how we in the church, though, so often seem to value the very things that Jesus warned us about. It is so important to find out who we are and to be true to the way that the image of God works out in our own lives...