Letting Go of Grace

April 15, 2013

homeless_man_on_streetLet’s imagine that you give me a hundred dollars…

…not that I’m asking for a hundred dollars.

You just approach me on the street at random and plunk a hundred bucks in my hand.

“You see that guy over there?” you ask me.  You point to grimy, tattered looking homeless man slouched over on the sidewalk.

“I want you to give this hundred dollars to that guy,” you tell me.

“Whatever. It’s your money,” I say.  I walk over and toss the money at the bum, careful not to get too close.  It feels like a waste.  I know what the homeless guy is going to do with the money.

I’ve been realizing something lately.  That grace is a lot like that wasted hundred dollars.  Here’s why…

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Life After Art Sharable7Hey early birds, today is the last day!

Today is the final day of the Life After Art early bird special.  The special includes three free resources from me and Moody Publishers.  First is the deluxe edition ebook, with bonus content: more thoughts from me on pursuing beauty and creativity in life.  Second is the Life After Art Field Guide, a study guide of sorts for you to download and use with the book to really help you squeeze every ounce of inspiration out of the book.  And finally is The Art of Storytelling, from Moody Publishers.

Life After Art is just ten bucks on Amazon, and that gets you four great resources.  Just email your receipt to LifeAfterArtBook@gmail.com to claim you freebies.  After today, none of those items will be available for download.

It’s been another great week with lots of generous people hosting me on their blogs or talking about the book.

Justin Davis and Micha Boyett let me share their platforms.  Steven Brewster hosted a Q and A with me.

If you want to see a real live me talking about the book, Brad Blackman and JR Forasteros have videos of those conversations.  Donald McAllister and I did an audio podcast.  I had a really great time talking to all three of those guys.  Brad gets a medal for thus far being the only reader to mention the subtle Napoleon Dynamite reference in the book.

Jennifer Dukes Lee actually had a real live art party and read excerpts from the book to those who attended.  Awesome!

Sue Cramer featured the book prominently in the Spring issue of Praise and Coffee.

And several more people posted reviews of the book, including Zack Hunt, Michelle DeRusha, Tim Gallen, Tony Cradic, Tiffany Stuart and Sarah Elizabeth.

Some of the best news has been the little Facebook and Twitter messages from readers telling me just what the book is doing for them.  I would totally love to hear from you, how Life After Art has inspired you!

Dear kids,

I know you can’t read this yet.  You’re not old enough.  In fact, you don’t exist yet.  The only place you have been conceived is in our minds and in God’s mind.  And really, God knows way more about you than we do.

So it’s going to be a while before you get this.

But I just want you to know that your mother and I are thinking about you.  We’ve been thinking about you for quite a while now.  We’ve been praying for you.  We don’t know when you’re going to show up.  It could be very soon.  It could be a long time from now.  It’s all in God’s good time.

We know that you’re going to be younger than most of our friends’ children.  We didn’t plan for that to happen.  We had planned on you showing up by now.  But don’t worry about that.  It’s gonna be fun when you get here.

Listen up, kiddos.  This is what I want to say to you, right now.

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imagesLast week, my friend Emily Wierenga wrote a story for Prodigal Magazine.

It was a personal story about herself and her husband.  It was a story about what she felt God had shown her.  It was about the complicated, messy business of marriage and repentance.

I don’t want to talk about the content of Emily’s story.  I want to talk about the reaction it caused.

The reaction was huge.  It was swift.  And much of it was downright visceral with hundreds of comments from people who suddenly cared very passionately about Emily’s relationship with her husband.  It became an emotionally taxing day for Emily herself and my friends who run Prodigal.

Another friend, Bryan Allain, has poured a ton of effort into launching the Killer Tribes conference the last two years in March.  Obviously, the word “Killer” is meant in a completely fun, non-murdery context.

But I wonder if we as modern, educated, worldly, connected Christians – as bloggers, as culture-makers - really are becoming more tribal, more primitive, more warlike and more eager to kill people in other tribes, instead of more welcoming, more understanding, more inclusive.

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I’ve been all over the place this week.

If you read any blogs at all besides mine, you probably ran into me one or two places.

A ton of people posted amazing reviews for Life After Art.  I am so thankful to them for their generosity with their platforms and their kind words. A few of my favorite excerpts:

“As someone who always wants to create, but doesn’t feel ‘good enough’; as someone who has been stuck in the mire of depression, and still struggles sometimes; as someone who strives to be childlike, but wrestles with the grownup world – this book was like a great, warm blanket wrapped around me.”

- Lauren Dubinsky

“All in all, Life After Art nicely fills a void evident in mainstream Christian publications. With a glut of existing texts written to be encouraging, give five paths to, or superficially illustrate how we can do things with God, it’s refreshing to find an author like Appling willing to exemplify how we have the freedom to simply be with God.”

- Sonny Lemmons

“Can I be honest? I wasn’t expecting much. Which makes me sound like a terrible person, I know. And it’s NO  reflection on Matt as a writer. It’s just that when you deal in words for a living you get a bit tired of words. And are harder to impress.  Needless to say, books (and blogs for that matter) have a very hard time holding my attention these days. So I was surprised by how engaged I was with Matt’s book before I even got out of the introduction.”

- Jessica Bowman

Life After Art is not as much about art and creativity as one might suspect judging by the book cover. This book is more so about how to learn the art of making life beautiful, though it is not an instruction manual. Believe you me, you are going to find yourself immensely challenged and asking yourself a lot of questions about how you can live a more beautiful life after you’ve closed the cover . . . but you’re going to be insanely happy about it.”

- Sarah Elizabeth

There were a ton of other people who generously shared their thoughts on Life After Art: Blake Atwood at Faith Village, Addie Zierman, Michael Perkins, Stephanie May, Paul Angone, Jeremy Statton, Clark Roush, John Smith, Glynn YoungCaris Adel, Jessica Bowman, Eileen Knowles, Stephanie Spencer, JR Forasteros, Create with Joy and Wes Molebash.

Right now, the book has racked up over thirty reviews on Amazon with a 4.8 star rating (and no bribery involved.)

Another bunch of people kindly hosted me for guest posts on their blogs, including Sarah Bessey, Jeff Goins, Sammy Adebiyi, Tyler Braun, Prodigal Magazine, Ed Cyzewski, Joe Lalonde and Andi Cumbo.

I am so grateful for the conversation the book has started, and I hope you will join with me, not on a journey to becoming better “artists,” but to become more human.  You can still pick up Life After Art for just ten bucks and get three free resources when you email your receipt to LifeAfterArtBook@gmail.com

I was one of those kids who was picked last for teams in gym class.  Or maybe second-to-last.

If it was dodgeball day, I just kind of quietly moved toward the back wall.  Which seemed like a good strategy until I was one of the last kids left on my team, and suddenly it was me against three gorillas on the other team, with everyone watching.

I started to get performance anxiety…about almost everything.  

Because I learned that participating wasn’t always safe.  If you didn’t have what another kid had, if you weren’t as tall or as strong or as talented, then you would fail in front of your peers.  And failure wasn’t a safe option.

Participating meant failing more often then not.  It meant embarrassment.  It meant looking stupid.

And that’s how school started to transform me from participant to spectator in my own life.

Student Spectators

I see students in my classroom who are on this same path.

They aren’t as talented as the kid sitting next to them.

And a pre-teen’s view of the world has shifted so much since they were in kindergarten.  They are obsessed with how their peers see them.  So many of them hold back, try to shrink, try to stay invisible, so they won’t be called on, or their work won’t be seen, or they won’t feel the familiar sting of inadequacy.

They would rather be spectators than actual participants.  They would rather watch than do.

Spectator Spirituality

And look there at the church down the street.

Why, what are all those people doing?

That guy looks like he really wants to raise his hands during the worship.  But he just can’t draw that kind of attention to himself.  So he kind of bobs back and forth.  And that woman, there in the third row.  I bet she would love to lead a Bible study or a prayer meeting.  But she stays silent.  And that twenty-something, near the back.  He’s heard all of his life that God has a great purpose for him, but he still can’t find it.  He looks like he’s positively itching to get out of dodge and go on a wild adventure for Jesus.  But fear of something is holding him back.

These people, they are spectators, not participants.  I recognize them, because I’ve sat in all of their seats before.

All the World’s an Audience

Everywhere I go, I see spectators.  Someone once said that all the world’s a stage.  I think all the world’s an audience, with most of us too afraid to get up on stage.

People who are afraid that they missed out on God’s purpose for them.

But they are even more afraid to step out and participate.  They hang in the back, like the dorky kid in gym class who can’t throw a ball to save his life (me.)

That’s increasingly my heart in my work and in Life After Art - helping people not be spectators in their own lives anymore, but fully participating in everything God made them to be and do.

I’m done watching from the sidelines.  What about you?