On Making Good Shoes and Bridges

by Heidie Raine

Regardless of your job, Jesus would be better at it. 

That fact should draw us to our knees in worship. It should also make us consider what influence we grant Him in our 9-5. He’d be a far better nurse, librarian, engineer. He’d build better bridges, teach better lessons. 

That question—what impact does being a follower of Jesus have on our work—led me into a liberal arts squabble last week as I listened to a slew of answers I hate:

We tell happy stories in creative writing because Jesus makes us happy.

We don’t talk about dark themes because Jesus gives us hope.

We make sure to write about the Gospel in all we make because it’s the most important thing. 

Disclaimer: I love Jesus. He ought to change every iota of what we do. I am a different artist because of His grip on my heart. He does make us happy, and He is beautiful, and the Gospel message is the most important thing. 

Now that we’ve established some ground rules, I’d like to introduce a thought in defense of my gentle disdain for the “all art has to explicitly point to Jesus” principle: a quote from The Cedarville Review, penned by its then chief editor and advisor, Andy Graeff. 

“Bridges can’t preach, and we don’t expect them to. Bridges are the wrong medium for writing sermons.”

In his forward, Graeff is arguing for a proper view of the role of art. He’s explaining—pleading, even—for an understanding of craftsmanship that doesn’t constantly require a woven-in sermon. Bridges aren’t pastors, and they can’t exegete texts. In the same way that sermons don’t allow us to cross the Mississippi, bridges don’t shepherd the flock.

Some products lend themselves to overt evangelism. We cherish worship music, ministry books, creeds and confessions. We hold them dear in our hearts because in a bleak world, they provide rich Truth. The Truth that swirls through Scripture telling us of our sin, our Savior, and our hope of eternal life through Him. John 6:40 kind of Truth. Capital-T Truth.

But there’s also truth. Lowercase t-truth. A quality description of what it tastes like to brush your teeth after drinking orange juice. Poems about the physical ache of a breakup that make you cry amen into your toilet-paper tissue. Stories about fake families and fictional problems that make us feel real love, rage, jealously, hope. This is the truth that portrays the world and its beauty and ugliness not to glorify it, but to let us know that other people see and feel what we do. Good lowercase-t truth tells and shows what we experientially know. It feels like an affirmation of our joys and pains. It’s artistic community.

Some art tells both types of truth. Sometimes, this is on purpose. Sometimes it’s not. Happy stories about happy families with happy churches make us happy. We love those stories. But what about stories that make our hearts curdle? What about Anne Frank’s diary? What about William Blake’s poetry? Pagans make glorious art and tell fantastic truths too. They feel what we do. 

It may feel jarring, the fact that we’re sharing truths with the unsaved world. It may make us fear that our “Christian truth” isn’t pure enough. May we not forget that Solomon’s temple was built with help from the hands of Hiram, an idolatrous, wicked man who contributed heartily to the object of God’s glory (1 Kings 5, if you’re curious). God is concerned with—alongside our hearts—the work we do.

I think Luther said it best:

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship. 

Here’s where I land in talk of shoes and the Gospel and pagans and bridges: we are not little Hirams, accidentally glorifying God with our work. We are God’s children, servants, and followers, and we seek His glory in all we do, remembering that He must increase and we must decrease. Every story, bridge, or shoe we produce must be signed, earnestly, Soli Dei Gloria.

But how we do that is by making good art. I am less concerned with cramming a Gospel allegory into my poem as I am with hitting the syllable count and maintaining its thematic core. We earn a voice in the unsaved world by creating work so stunning, so striking, so soul-touching, that Babylonians and Israelites alike are forced to stop and stare.

If they ask? We proclaim Jesus. We show that we have a comprehensive faith that covers and considers every corner of this universe. If they don’t ask? We glorify God and remember that these feeble hands, formed from dust, are a reminder of our gracious King. We go to bed, and wake up, and pray to follow and please Him. We continue making sturdy bridges and artisan shoes. 

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

     -Colossians 3:23-24

Heidie Raine is a junior English major at Cedarville with concentrations in creative and journalistic writing. In addition to working for Cedarville public relations and the writing center, Heidie loves perusing her local Goodwill, drinking iced cortados, watching videos of sea otters, and caring for her small forrest of plants.

1 Reply to "On Making Good Shoes and Bridges"

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    Jennifer October 10, 2021 (8:58 pm)

    Very thought provoking essay on an important subject. Well done, Heidie!

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