Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Sojourn into the Shadowlands

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
-Revelation 21:4

The photo series of ‘Murder She Wrote’ by Angelique Strum is a rare example of a provocative, thought evoking and truly artistic endeavor by an artist who is a Christian. Although the definition of what makes a Christian artist is a topic better left for another essay it will suffice to say that by using such an uncompromising theme in her work it is pointing to higher things than the frivolities found in works by the likes of Thomas Kinkade. Similar to the gospel of Jesus, her art is forcing people to move beyond mere religious sentimental platitudes and force people to deal with the taboo and awkward subject of death in incredibly concrete terms.

In Jungian psychoanalysis one of the most recognizable archetypes is that of the Shadow. This Shadow is made up of the darker aspects of our inner conscious and the biggest pains that people seek to repress in their lives. Jung wrote that "Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” By acting as a sounding board art is able to draw out these darker thoughts and repressed emotions that would otherwise never be considered or properly dealt with.

One the single most difficult subjects for me to write, speak or much less talk about is that of family. The Christian subculture in the southeast tends to portray the typical all-American Nuclear family as the norm and anything existing outside of that as being abnormal, dirty and something to be ashamed of. Given the choice who would want to grow up barely having contact with their father and then loose him at the age of eight? Who would want to grow up having to navigate the conundrum of life, having to discover what it really means to be a man and having no one to guide them by the hand?

From some of my earliest memories up until today I have dealt with issues of low-self-esteem, bouts of deep depression and intense moments of social anxiety. Based on my brief reading of the work of Jung and the intense reaction I had from viewing Strum’s art collection I believe there is a correlation between these issues and my inability to properly confront the Shadow dwelling in my soul. I have come to believe that the longer I go without reconciling my perception of reality with what is true, the greater the crash will be when I can no longer go about living as though everything was alright.

One of the ways that this Shadow has manifested itself in recent years is concerning my ability to follow through with my faith in feeling called to serve in ministry work. Even though I have had a deep seated faith in Jesus Christ since I was nine years old there has been this hole in my heart, this deep aching that will never be filled because of my dad being taken away from me. The reality of the situation is that I am human. I am a paradox that is simultaneously full of faith, hope, fear and doubt about the goodness of God in a world marred and in decay because of death and the evils of humanity.

There are enough wolves posing as sheep that inhabit the pulpit, the last thing the church needs is another actor pretending to have their life in perfect order. In the course of examining this art I heard the word of Jesus echo in my head, his demand in Matthew 16:24-26 that:

“If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?”

By refusing to confront the darkness hiding in this Shadow I have been refusing to be myself and refusing to accept the fact I am in fact human. To carry the cross of Christ means to accept my broken nature and the absolute fact I cannot live this life on my own. I have to cast aside this addiction and crutch of hubris before it envelops my soul. Instead of a lifestyle based on the lie of "do it yourself Christianity" I must come clean about my weakness and my need for a Savior outside of myself.

True art will only change the world if it forces people to examine who they are, what they believe and why they believe it. Unless this confrontation occurs than a person will continue on a religious path best describe by Marx as being the “opiate of the masses”. A person can only begin to truly find themselves when they cast aside the charade they have grown comfortable with and begin to look deep into the Shadowy abyss of their broken soul and cry out for help.

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