You Too Can Save the World: Why Craft Care is Culture Care
It’s sunny, and the city hums with a quiet bustle. I’ve come downtown on a chilly Michigan afternoon. Detroit’s been offering a lot lately: restaurants, coffee houses, storefronts--art and culture, as it were. Shinola, decked with designer bikes, watches, and leather products, is a new start-up, and it’s growing fast. The Jolly Pumpkin is hopping. People are noshing on artisan pizzas. I love it. But, not three blocks over, a line. The crowd patiently swarms a soup kitchen.
It’s common everywhere, just more recently in Detroit. A sharp contrast between those on the margins and those inside of them. Nothing special is required to help convince us of the harsh social injustices in our world, that many go hungry and countless die. We know these travesties exist. And, rightly so, many individuals act in measurable, tangible ways: doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, social workers, counselors, and pastors. They lead a perceptible charge in aiding the downcast and the hurting and disenfranchised. We look to these people for hope. They orchestrate beautifully practical acts of service, opening orphanages or writing foreign policy or establishing relief centers. They really do things.
But, then there’s me, and many like me--creatives. We are the painters, the dancers, the writers, the chefs, the sculptors, and the music-makers. Our lives are not consumed with medicine, but vocabulary. Not psychiatry, but color palettes. Not curriculum, but strings. And, because of this, we face a question: what on earth do we actually do for the world? I mean, seriously, what is our purpose? When the world is full of hurt, how the heck do we justify our choices?
To an extent, many of us have felt selfish or guilty. While others are saving the world, we’re just fooling with our hobbies. We’ve felt impractical and unnecessary, as if our passions and delights held no meaning other than mere and temporary entertainment. And, well, that’s an awfully overwhelming feeling. Ground-shaking, in a bad way.
Are we missing something? Let’s ask C.S. Lewis, who wrote an essay titled “Learning in Wartime” in WWII. As an academic, Lewis felt the need to defend school in a time of war. To concern himself with academia during a global conflict, was he not “fiddling while Rome burns?” He needed to know, so he set himself towards finding out. So, spoiler alert, he spits some truth. To summarize, “learning” matters even as the world spirals. And in a similar way, so does creating.
The world is spiraling, and I want to show up. I have two options: change how I’m hardwired, or change my perspective on it. For so long, I had subconsciously constructed this idea that only certain people and certain vocations mattered. This thought-system started separating people in relation to their value. For instance: he’s a pastor. He helps people work through some pretty real stuff. He’s closer to God. I am not those things. Therefore, the pastor matters more. Or, she’s a doctor and saves people. You do not do those things. Therefore, doctors matter more.
Doubts nagged at my mind throughout the day: “will my English degree really only be good at Starbucks?” “Why waste my time on writing? Should I just become a pastor instead?” I’d constantly fear that I was mis-appropriating my time - that I could be doing something more efficient or valuable. Creating was a delight, but only that. Not serious work. Illegitimate. Extraneous. And totally unfit to change the world.
Then, something really important happened. After further studying English, reading Lewis’ essay, meeting weekly with a pastor to just think, talking with my fiancee and family, listening to hours of Andy Crouch and Tim Keller, exposing myself to fears, and reading Charles Drew, something clicked. I mean, like really clicked. And it was this: all of us humans were intended to create and to make. Intrinsically and inherently, we are all of us mini-artists. Like a puzzle piece made to fit, we were made to create. And if we were designed to do this, then creating is worth doing.
Placing value on creativity is transformative. Because “making” matters, we’re free to create without shame, inhibition, or regret. And if painting, dancing, or writing aren't a waste of time anymore, we can build up and move outwards. I can take joy in fulfilling a facet of what I was made for. I can have peace knowing that I’m choosing to do something valuable. I can be content, not concerned with being something I am not. I can be patient as I explore the realms of my creative discipline, no longer rushed to project usefulness onto my art. There’s space here. Rest.
And, ironically, when we live in this freedom, we actually end up serving others. It’s a beautiful paradox. We don’t have to commodify ourselves, seeking only “practical” or monetized ways of creating; we need simply flourish in our intended purpose. Enacting that simple reality allows us all to benefit. The painters craft for us the most wondrous landscapes. The photographers capture the purest emotion. The dancers express a beauty in movement. Each one of them displays humanity.
Sometimes, when the world is free-falling, we need that human reminder. Which is perfect, because while we were meant to create, we were also meant to serve. And like the doctors, and the nurses, and the teachers, the creators can serve too. And like the painters, and the chefs, and the sculptors, the nurses can also create. There is no “better” or “best,” just different and unique. While I choose to write, I’m still called to serve. While you choose to prosecute, you’re still called to create. All of us bring sundry offerings to the table. And we are all equally called toward both realities.
Creativity and service are both jam-packed with value because they’re both defining factors of being human. In deconstructing, we get to see past our societally-defined stratifications of usefulness and meaning. We get to see beyond those definitions and into what this life is intended to be about. This can be a vulnerable place, but it’s also a powerful reality. We don’t get to judge someone else’s value, placing ourselves higher on the pedestal, or even vice versa. Instead we get to join in community with them, leading the charge, together, towards joy, and contentedness, peace, patience, creativity, and service.
So, I can walk through Detroit on a crisp afternoon, ready to join with those around me. With a watch-maker, maybe. Or, down the road, perhaps, three blocks away, where the soup is hot.