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Friday, April 02, 2004
ON "THE ECONOMY" OF ARTISTIC GRACE

Probably my favorite phrase from theology is "the economy of salvation." Referring to God's creation and management of the world, and particularly His plan for salvation accomplished through the Church, the word comes from the Greek oikonomia (economy), literally, "management of a household" or "stewardship."

I just like that metaphor of God, CEO, Universe, Inc., parsing out graces and private revelations, inspiring charisms and investing gifts of grace and nature inj them, folding other charisms as they have stopped being profitable for souls. He seems to me to be absolutely in the mold of venture capitalist with His personal power ideal sign hanging over His Office desk in heaven:

"To those who have, even more will be given. To those who do not have, even the little they have will be taken away." (Das Biblical)

There is also a risk whimsy about Him that seems to me to be predicable of most wildly successful investors. There is nothing Socialist about God. He isn't in the least interested in the fair distribution of gifts and graces. He does whatever He wills.

(To whining vineyard workers) "What does it matter to you how I spend my money? Or, are you envious because I am generous?

(To Peter who wanted to know whether John would get martyed painfully too...) "What business is it of yours what I dispose for Him? Your business is to follow me."

I met two billionaires last year and they both struck me as having this kind of risk-whimsy. Particualrly, Phil Anshutz, outlined his own philosophy of financing movies in Hollywood as, "And if I lose tens of millions of dollars, that's my business. I've got it to lose!"

As someone who instructs and works with artists, I come face to face with the "Divine economy of artistic talent" every day. It's one of the reasons running Act One has to be such a patient, deliberative, almost "twiddling the thumbs" kind of process. Because, ultimately, no matter how great our classes, mentorships, community and ongoing formation are, 'if God doesn't endow the artist, than in vain does the Act One programmer program.'

It's such a hard reality to have to engage - and all of us who work in the arts have to evolve a strategy to deal with it. Most of the people who come to us for guidance and help, just do not have the talent to make our efforts on their behalf worthwhile. The trick is, to still give help - but to give the kind of help that will actually be of use to the person really who only wants you to hand their screenplay off to Steven Spielberg.

What makes it all worthwhile is that every so often, when you are probably over-tired and really don't have the time or energy to 'sell everything you have and buy the field,' you come face to face with the Divine Economy in the arts. And it is such a rush.

I am an adjunct professor of screenwriting this year at Azusa Pacific University. My class of eight seniors and juniors just turned in their first drafts of the first acts of the screenplays they are writing for my class. So, the other day, I am plodding through their stack of projects, covering the white pages in red notes. Typos, grammatical errors, word usage problems, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....oh, oh, where was I? Oh yes... formatting errors, style problems, unimaginative scenarios, tedious characterizations, stilted dialogue, wasted transitions, overall clunkiness of prose...You know, just what you expect to find in any stack of screenplays that ever land on my desk from beginners. I'm not picking on APU here. Ask anybody who has to read writing for a living - or audition actors - or supervise painters or sculptors....

So, in the few minutes before class started, I realized that I hadn't looked at one of the student's scripts. It had gotten lost in the bottom of "My bag with my APU stuff in it - the one with the large Indian elephant on it." While the students were shuffling in, I flipped open the draft and uncapped my red pen. And then it happened again. And suddenly I'm thinking of that Emily Dickinson poem...

#208

Beauty - be not caused - It Is.

Chase it, and it ceases -
Chase it not, and it abides.

[Try and] Overtake the Creases in the Meadow when the Wind Runs his fingers thro' it -

Deity will see to it -
That you never do it.


Took me only half a page to see it. One of my students has talent.

My students were throwing me greetings and questions while they settled in. All I wanted to do was duck under my desk and read. "LEAVE me alone! Can't you see I have a good writer here!?!"

I finally pulled myself back to my duties at the bottom of the second page. I looked the writer in the eye with the kind of suspicion that always follows when you find raw talent. (Dark voice from unhappy wounded center:) How many scripts have you written before?

The twenty-one year old, blinked back in confusion. "Three. I have a novel too. And other things..."

I immediately started a kind of Machiavellian planning as to how I could get this young person under the collective wing of people I know who could help her. It will be a joy for us all.

I'm not saying that my other students might not have the chops to make a go of it as writers. They might. They will have to sweat and work very hard and take every opportunity, and cultivate other skills alongside their writing talent to make up for the fact that the Divine Economy of Artistic Grace has not made a lavish investment in them. And sometimes, people make it on will -power because the Divinely gifted people frequently have other huge emotional/psycyhological/spiritual holes that God had to puncture in them to make them good vessels for what He wanted to say through them.

It's all so terribly unfair and wonderful.