In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield poetically reveals the wall everyone faces when they feel the urge to be their true selves, to give humanity what they’ve got. He names the foe “resistance.”
Our urge to co-create with our Creator meets with many obstacles. Freud even called resistance a “death wish” — a destructive force that rises up every time we want to be good and do good. One of the great joys of counseling of every kind, of loving someone enough to struggle with them, is witnessing the emergence of a true self, a self not bounced off the wall. The Apostle Paul demonstrates this struggle when he tells the Galatians, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19-20). My amplification is: “You stopped creating and clamped the manacles of “law” back on? Why? Where is the true you?”
Why do we tend to do clamp on manacles, as a species? Why do 20% of scripted dramas on TV have cops in the lead role? Why do parents abdicate their parenting and church members sit on the sidelines of their own body? Pressfield wonders whether humankind is even ready for the freedom they are granted to become their true selves and to give their gifts of creativity to the world.
“I wouldn’t be writing this book, on this subject, if living with freedom were easy. The paradox seems to be, as Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of [their] own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”
Pressfield is also perplexed about us, like Paul. But he is not deterred. He is gives his gift of writing to call out the best in us, to open us to inspiration that sparks our contributions. We are meant to bear fruit, fruit that will last.
“Fundamentalists” and their hate
Galatians is a masterful diatribe against the fundamentalists who promote a safer route than the freedom Paul insists upon. Pressfield says (language uncorrected),
“The fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life. Like the artist, the fundamentalist experiences Resistance. He experiences it as temptation to sin. Resistance to the fundamentalist is the call of the Evil one seeking to seduce him from his virtue. The fundamentalist is consumed with Satan, whom he loves as he loves death.”
Does any of that sound familiar? I think it should. The whole world is so distressed, so tired of the relative “freedom” of democracy, that government and all sorts of other institutions are running towards fundamentalism – both in religion and in the political right and left, and running toward authoritarianism — let the rules and rulers steer me.
Several people called me this week — out of the blue, really, to get some advice for how to survive on the other side of communities they cared about. They felt like they fought the law and the law won. One was summarily dismissed from a community group. One was stranded by the leaders of their church in a new “unapproved” territory. One was subject to leaders who are just a “new regime.” One was subjected to HR maneuvers they did not imagine were even legal. I am not sure I gave very good advice or even demonstrated enough empathy.
But Pressfield has me thinking in the right direction, I think — the Apostle Paul was there for me, too. They both teach it is our innate creativity, freely exercised in spite of fear or criticism, which is the seed of the good we desire. The exercise of our creativity not only makes us feel better, it is the best antidote we contain for the poison of power used for safety instead of community, for coercion instead of trust building.
It is a good day to read all of Galatians 5 again, since the trouble Paul addresses is everywhere, it seems. He says,
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then,
and do not let yourselves be burdened again
by a yoke of slavery.
We’re set up for self-destruction
Capitalism, it must be repeated, is an economy best suited for slavery. The U.S. perfected that principle and became rich. U.S. Christianity has often been slaveholder religion. Most people assume capitalism is reality.
A truism in human development says things like, “The abused abuse.” And I think it is true, “The enslaved enslave.” So Paul’s admonition is not easy to hear or heed, even though it is innately alluring. There is a lot of resistance to standing firm in our freedom.
Paul goes on to say:
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)
It is amazing how many extended families, churches and whole denominations are devouring each other right now! Even serving one another in love can easily be perverted into hate.
Howard Thurman cautioned against bearing the fruit of hate. For the oppressed, hate may be a first step out of slavery and into dignity. But there is no ongoing place for hate in such dignity.
“Above and beyond all else it must be borne in mind that hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment. The urgent needs for creative expression are starved to death. A man’s horizon may become so completely dominated by the intense character of his hatred that there remains no creative residue in his mind and spirit to give to great ideas, to great concepts…
Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial.” (Jesus and the Disinherited)
Live your creativity
Looking back on those phone conversations, I wish I had said better stuff. My friends were struggling, up against a wall of their own resistance, innate to them but also reinforced by the godless society in which they live. That struggle is an old story Steven Pressfield tries to put in a new poetic form. He ends his book with this encouragement. I hope you can receive it.:
Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be
a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end
the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were
meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack
cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt
yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your
children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite
the Almighty, who created you and only you with your
unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human
race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for
attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the
world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your
contribution. Give us what you’ve got.