Artists and Saints

The art you create may relegate you to the margins of our community of faith. Church discipline seems very unlikely in most cases. Perhaps more likely: getting labeled as an “alternative voice” (e.g., a source of non-correlated content, an independent thinker). Depending upon the cultural penetration of your work, such reputation may prevail among your friends and family, your stake and ward, or the general counsels of the church. Such reputation may work as a disability. Particularly, it may mean limited official church service and responsibility.

Consider the following two quotes. The first had me both nodding in agreement and cringing in discomfort when I read it earlier this week. You’ve seen this (Richard Dutcher, Parting Words on Mormon Movies) unless you have spent the last week off the grid in a serious way.

Stop trying to make movies that you think the General Authorities would like. General Authorities buy very few movie tickets. Make films that the rest of the human family will enjoy. Stop being afraid that if you put something “edgy” in your films then maybe you won’t get any important callings. Who cares? Someone else can be in the bishopric or the Relief Society presidency, but no one else can make those films, those very personal films, that only you can make.”

The second passage comes from Armand L. Mauss’s essay, Alternate Voices: The Calling and its Implications. Link. Do read both Elder Oaks’ talk and the Mauss essay if you have not already done so. These are two of the ten “commandments” Mauss propounds for those who would be “alternative voices.”

3. Relinquish any and all aspirations (or even expectations) for leadership callings in the Church. Actually, that is wonderfully liberating. In any case, stake and ward leaders, to say nothing of general authorities, rarely call people to powerful positions who are suspected of too much “independent thinking.” To be sure, the ranks of “alternate voices” have provided occasional examples of bishops, stake presidents, and Relief Society leaders, showing that there may be some happy exceptions to this generalization, but don’t count on that. If you have a career in C.E.S. or in any other Church bureaucracy, don’t expect approval or promotion to accompany your identification as an “alternate voice.” * * *

6. Pay your “dues” as a member of the Church. Pay your tithing, make clear your willingness to serve wherever called, and do your best to get your children on missions. Try as hard as anyone to “keep the commandments.” You still probably won’t get much Church recognition, but you will win over a few who once looked on you with suspicion. More important, you will make it difficult for your critics to dismiss you as an apostate, for all will see that “thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:44).”

I think Mauss strikes the right notes. And perhaps Dutcher means essentially the same thing. But to my ears, that “who cares” reads like a flippant dismissal of actual engagement in the community. It seems to assert (in so many words): any idiot can render church service! You are a capital “A” Artist! Unfornate.

There are many ways to serve. Many parts in the body of Christ. Looking at the church as a whole, I am optimistic that the costs (some members bearing the “alternative voice” reputation and the related disability) will justify the gains in cultural production. Whether the benefits justify the costs to particular individuals is a different question. You know (or you can know) the answer for you. If you decide to put art out there that may earn you a reputation, recognize the costs for what they are: an unfortunate reality. And like Mauss says, “pay your dues.” Be as available as possible to our community of faith.

[Dear reader: this post is not about Richard Dutcher the person. If you feel so compelled, there are plenty of other places to go to gaze at his navel, wish him well, damn him to hell, and so forth ad nauseum. I am in the mourn the loss of a brother/wish him well camp. But that is neither here nor there are far as this post is concerned.]

4 thoughts on “Artists and Saints”

  1. Well crap, Shawn. This all sounds like a lot of hard work — pay your dues at church, pay your dues to the muse, pay your dues in the market.

    I’m not sure it’s worth all the fame and glory. 😉

  2. Anyone who keeps the commandments only so that he can not be perceived as being apostate in his “free thinking” is missing the point.

    Living a spiritual life is a reward in and of itself.

    In fact, a true free thinker would do well to follow Paul’s advice, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” 1 Thes. 5: 21

    In other words, if living the gospel works for you, hold fast. If it doesn’t, then let go.

    But don’t hold to the rod just because someone else is looking at you.

    MRKH

  3. I don’t think the point about keeping the commandments only “to be seen of men” gives a fair reading to Mauss or my post. Trying to maintain one’s credibility in our community is one of many legitimate reasons to keep the commandments. Also, context is important: this is about coping with fear and suspicion that would not exist in an ideal world. (You know, the place where “[l]iving a spiritual life is a reward in and of itself?” Emoticon.)

  4. That’s right. We don’t live the gospel in a vacuum. If we know that we can foster better relations in our religious community by making a few personal adjustments that, in the long run, will be neither here nor there with regard to our “principles” or our “integrity” then do it by all means.

    I’m sure that something like keeping the commandments would, in the end, square with our personal integrity.

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