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The Creative Apparatus of God

12/26/2012 06:07 pm ET | Updated Feb 25, 2013

I keep a journal that is actually a three ring binder. It allows me to add and remove and organize lots of materials. In the front section of the binder, I keep things I need to keep returning to, things I've written, or things I've copied, which remind me of the person I am seeking to become. In that section I keep a quote from Evelyn Underhill:

"Our place is not the auditorium but the stage -- or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory -- because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God, or at least are meant to form part of the creative apparatus of God. He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for his purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact."

We are not called, she goes on to say, to be amateurs, messy and hap-hazard in our work, but to keep a steady hand on the plow, employing constancy, subordinating our own agendas to a larger agenda one may sometimes not understand.

This liberty -- this rigorous, demanding vocation -- to form part of the creative apparatus of God, is exhaustingly joyous. We all have some beautiful art to make, perform, or sing: words to write, pictures to paint, families to nurture, gardens to grow, lessons to teach, goods to tender, worship to give.

To construe one's life within such a purview provides all sorts of freedom and artistry and innovation that, in turn, yield serendipitous delights. I suppose "serendipitous delights" is redundant, but I do not know how to avoid such redundancy when employing mere words to get at the sort of delight one might encounter when in the midst of such a vocation.

It is the sort of freedom and joy that the famed runner Eric Liddel, was trying to get at when his character in "Chariots of Fire" says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." Or the well-spoken commentary of Frederick Beuchner upon vocation: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

It is the sort of gladness I have gotten to taste in working with the Tokens Show. After one of our shows that we did on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, our friend and supporter Rob Woodfin approached me afterwards and said, "You get to paint on the largest canvas." It was a beautiful metaphor which I thought altogether apt: we have taken an old-time radio format, obviously indebted to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, mixed it with what I like to call a hospitable theology, and then upon such a variety-show-canvas paint fascinating pictures employing the skills of some of the most talented people in the world.

And the results have inevitably been serendipitous -- and beautiful.

Our most recent foray at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was just such a delight. Ah, to see Jeff Taylor continue to work his magic: if you have never heard Jeff play, you have not yet tasted the fullness of musical delights that Music City offers, a maestro at the piano and accordion, a composition genius who can mix bluegrass with classical music performed that night with four of the best string players in Nashville, and on top of all that he plays penny-whistles and squeeze boxes and mandolin and old pump organs, always pulling some new trick out of his bag of musical tricks. His weaving and creating with The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys -- themselves constituting a wealth of talent and volumes of credits there is not here room to tell -- remains a thing of beauty to me.

If I remember correctly, Jeff told me years ago that he had tried to quit music twice, sold his instruments and all, until finally he accepted it was his vocation. And all who watch can see the joy of God in Jeff at his work-bench, and it is a magnificent thing to behold.

Or to listen to Vince Gill that night: by all accounts a "super-star" in the music world, whatever that might mean to you, and yet a human being who carries about with him a humility grounded in a gratitude that is beyond reproach. It is such gratitude and humility, I think, that allows him to carry about a bag of words and lyrics and tunes that bespeak the wonder and tragedy of life, the sacramental nature of life, even, like the song he shared about his brother who sought refuge at the mission, needing a place to lay his old drunk head down, being offered bread and water, bread and water, that which sustains life and saves the soul.

Were I to give a play-by-play of all the delights of that night, I would far exceed appropriate blogging column length: but I could not but tell of the joy of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano of JohnnySwim, singing of Home, daring even to evoke the spirits of Johnny and June on the stage of the Mother Church of Country Music -- such daring, I would venture, that Johnny and June would have altogether enjoyed; the harmonies of the McCrary Sisters, calling us to go down to the River of Jordan and sit at the welcome table, as The Movement had done on that hill in Nashville some half-century ago; the "high lonesome sound" of the bluegrass strains of Dailey & Vincent whose harmonies brought the crowd to their feet; Buddy Greene leading all of us in that most wonderful old hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"; Brian McLaren telling us of his post 9/11 exploits to bear witness to a non-violent Jesus; Brother Preacher preaching at the Ryman; the wondrous strains of the Nashville Choir; and Blake Farmer, Merri Collins, and Charlie Strobel all taking their very funny turns at the center microphones.

What joy to form part of the creative apparatus of God.

Exhaustingly joyous, I say.

Lee C. Camp, Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tennessee, is the host of www.TokensShow.com and the Dispatches from the Buckle Podcast. You can subscribe to Dispatches from the Buckle on iTunes, or listen online here. And be sure to follow @TokensShow and @DispatchesFTB on Twitter for all the latest.