Before I went into Christian ministry as a vocation in 1973, I was planning on going to art school to become an illustrator. My interest in art was sparked when I was in the fifth grade. For an anatomy class we had to draw pictures of the human body, so I drew guts. My teacher praised my drawings. She even let me be in charge of "Herman," the human model with the removable guts! Geee, that was keen!
I focused on art in high school and majored in art in junior college, eventually getting an Associate in Arts degree. I loved drawing, particular the human figure. In 1968-69 I would visit art galleries in Los Angeles, where I went to college, and got a small scholarship for my art work. Often I would visit the Art Center College of Design in L.A., a world renowned art school, and dream of studying illustration there.
The Vietnam War and the draft put my dreams of art school on hold. I did a lot of drawing in my free time when I was in the Army. When I got out of the Army in 1971 I started attending my home church again, went back to school studying art, met my wife, Iris, and then … had an overwhelming experience of a call to ministry. One thing that kept me from immediately going into Christian ministry was my passionate desire to become an illustrator. My wife suggested that I go ahead and get my degree in art and then go on to seminary. I would have something to "fall back on" if somehow ministry didn't work out.
At the time I felt that if I were to go on studying art, my strong passion for art would take over and keep me from going on to seminary. I might drop Christian ministry as a vocation. The idea that I needed to leave behind everything to do with art and singlemindedly focus on studying the Bible, theology, and pastoral ministry didn't last long. In seminary I ended up illustrating for the seminary newspaper, doing numerous paintings for friends and family, adding my drawings to church bulletins, and painting murals on the walls of a Christian coffeehouse my wife and I started in San Francisco. My wounded passion for art just kept bleeding into my ministry.
For almost 30 years as a youth minister and a pastor I often drew my own church bulletins, painted murals for musical productions, illustrated some sermons, designed worship spaces, and drew Christian cartoons. But, I never had as much time to spend on art as I would have liked, since Christian ministry, and raising a family, take a lot of time. For many years in church ministry I did no art work at all.
There are times when I feel like my vocation as a Christian minister has not always been as fulfilling as I expected it to be and sometimes has been downright frustrating. At those moments I look back over 35 years and wonder where my talents would have led me if I had become an illustrator instead. Not long ago I had those feelings again, but instead of focusing on regrets, I decided to intentionally work on illustrating again.
So, I am now creating a series of illustrations called "Artisans of Social Change." It is a series of ink drawings of peace and justice leaders accompanied by one of their quotes. The posters can be downloaded at: <http://peace.mennolink.org/artisansposters.html>. Again, my wounded art bleeds into my ministry as Minister of Peace and Justice for Mennonite Church USA.
My hope is that these drawings of "Artisans of Social Change" will be a visual "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1), an inspiration to keep on keeping on in the work of peace and justice. If there is a lesson here I guess it might be that each of us has gifts that can be used for ministry and for peace and justice. Don't let your gifts gather dust on some shelf somewhere. Take them down, dust them off, and use them for that realm the prophets visualized as a day when the lion will lie down with the lamb.