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Sunday, November 29, 2015


A person like me must encounter some useful information along the way after fifty years of reading, researching and conceiving and creating art. You might think I have become unnecessarily opinionated in my search and exploration of truth and beauty (which often seem to me to be the same thing). That is why I try NOT to appear to be too overbearing … or dogmatic... But sometimes I must share something so essential, that I think, acting on my conscience, I must endorse it...

In my business, I go through thousands of pages... some while reading, but often just thumbing through old magazines looking for “scrap.” Scrap is the mountain of imagery that artists collect for reference material... and old magazines are an excellent source. Sometimes an old forgotten jewel pops up, and this one was an especially valuable discovery for me, entitled THE MOST IMPORTANT THING... by Dr. Frank Crane, who was famous for his "Four Minute Essays." With a title like that, I HAD to read it. 

Unfortunately, I did not pay attention to what magazine I tore it out of, but it was something like The Mentor or some other Turn of the Century periodical, which typically did not hesitate to moralize or attempt to shape the public character. Here then is a piece of long-since discarded conventional wisdom... wisdom which I believe we would do well to resurrect... and of course my interpretation of it! [Sorry about the small print!]

Acts make Motives”; We are familiar with the Darwinian ideas (survival of the fittest) which prove that motives inspire action; hunger inspires the hunt, greed inspires deception, righteousness leads to service... but the writer flips that axiom on its head to reveal a more subtle equation- that over time repeated actions lead to adoption of motives previously uncharacteristic to our habits...

There are two kinds of people...”; This is obviously simplistic, and was said to provoke introspection, so do not get prematurely derailed over this statement. Perhaps Crane might better have appealed to our generation by merely suggesting that there are lots of different kinds of people, many of which fall into two major groups; the strong and the weak, who are by his definition “capable” or “incapable.” This writer talks to his reader as if they are already his disciples, ready to listen to the coming major points, and willing to overlook his assumptions. He must neglect diplomacy in order to cover a universe of wisdom on a single page. So please bear with him.

The difference between them is this only: that the strong change their motives...”; Another over-simplification, and built upon the first. If I were writing this, I might have said, “I have found one major difference between these two types is...” Please hold on, because the writer, uncharacteristic of other such pontificators of his day, is about to dump his load... But may it suffice to say that he wants you to want to be counted among the strong... He is betting that you are already looking for your affinity with “the capable.” In fact, it would be the “weak” who would begin dismissing this wise writer out of self-defense, even before they have partaken of his wisdom, for fear of being offended, corrected, or challenged. The strong would not be afraid to read on... regardless of broad statements, or where they might lead.

There is no art in the world so important as the art of killing one longing and creating another in oneself.” Okay, so the guy is full of dogmatic, unprovable opinions, one built upon the other. A sanctimonious tower of cards... BUT, what if he is right? Even I had to question this... and had to prove this statement to myself. But, basing my analysis from another unproven assumption, that most people spend their whole lives in pursuit of happiness (which takes different forms for each of us) there would be general agreement from most folks who have read this far that happiness comes from personal fulfillment and contentment... which usually is the fruit of security and freedom from want... which is usually the result of someone's success and hard work... which will be made easier if we ( the provider as well as their dependents) willingly, selflessly adapt our wants and expectations... It would stand to reason then that a very important art in mankind would be ADAPTABILTY; The “art” of flexing one's questionable plans or goals into healthy, attainable ones.

The idea here is that this forced adaptation comes from within. But many of man's longings are based on selfish, predatory and even sinful motives, which also come from within, naturally. Modern civilization depends on men to stifle their animalistic urges, or there would be constant pandemonium and war. Today we call it “redirection,” when people's energies and ambitions are corralled and pointed in better directions, for the benefit of everyone concerned. It is a long-lost art for people to willingly do this, without tragic mistakes first, and today without professional analysis, counseling, and sometimes even hospitalization.

Then Crane unveils his “secret.” Just entering his fifth paragraph, he is already prepared to share the central truth of his essay. “... by repeating an action one can gradually induce a desire to repeat it...” and conversely, “by refusing a desire, one can eliminate it.”

I once had a young friend who put it this way... “Do anything (good or bad) three times in row, and it will become a habit.” I can't tell you how many times I have repeated that... to myself or others. It is true. Actions do shape motives. Conduct does reflect and affirm personal character. Repeated conduct even more so, and we decide which actions which we repeat... to form good or bad habits, and to our own benefit, or peril.

All you need to climb out of the slime is imagination..” This would be, in my mind, another long-lost secret. Dr. Ben Carson talks about how his mother planted in his mind, not the hopelessness of his environment, but the potential of his situation. She could not read, but made him read to her, as if she were supervising his reading development. She used nothing but sheer imagination to do that. Without imagination, “Faith” is almost impossible. In fact Faith and imagination are gifts from our Creator God who counts on our use of these things to transcend out earthly realities.

Today our society dismisses all the traditional systems of attaining prosperity, often born of human imagining... especially religion. But hope and optimism are often born not from the harshness of reality, not from financial security, not from education, as these things can help provoke success but are certainly no guarantee of it. Hope and optimism spring from an inner confidence built on powerful undercurrents of faith... in self, in justice, in the positive forces of humanity, and in a Supreme Being who brings order and ultimate justice to the Universe. Dr. Carson's mom had faith in God to deliver her children “out of the slime,” as Crane calls it. And eventually Carson himself believed... and imagination turned humble beginnings into an extraordinary life. People who have been chained to poverty and hopelessness for generations are really just victims chained to their own lack of imagination. .. who settle for something immediate and far less than God's plan, like addiction and crime or worse, blaming others for their own anemia. And they are the ones who need Crane's essay the most. But to add to their dilemma, they as a class do not read, do not listen to good sources of solutions... and with dormant imaginations, do not seek life-changing answers, as they amble on in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The process is slow.” Amen. But only, as Jesus put it, “because of the hardness of men's hearts.” Crane admits that much of his wisdom is common among an elite group he terms the “spiritual aristocracy.” It is not that they withhold these truths. It is just that most people could not care less about doing things that require discipline or flexibility or heaven forbid, obedience to a higher power. The process is so slow, that most people, especially parents, give up way too soon.

This is the only known road to real success. It leads to kingship.” By now our haughty, would-be mentor does not try to hide his confidence in his wisdom. You can take it or leave it. Kings have followed this advice... or so he flatly suggests. Jesus spoke of a wide road and a narrow path... the former used by most people... the latter for his followers. He knew that his followers would not, could not be successful without, as he put it, “First deny yourself, take up your own cross (of personal sacrifice) daily and follow me...” Jesus suggested that everything we are meant to do is a path that starts with self-denial; personal restraint, selflessness, deferring to others, and especially God, before we can be sure we are on the right road.

Crane skipped over that part, perhaps assuming his Victorian audience already knew that... but he reminds them of the final measure of our lives; how we used what God had provided to us... Our legacies. Are they legacies of service or demanding service? Are they legacies of contentment and generosity, or discontent and greed? Of grabbing for more, or giving more? Jesus not only settles the question, by “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but Crane found where Christ pronounced a sort of eternal equation, of which we should all take heed: “To him that hath- shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away, even that which he hath.”

We all start at a personal bottom, or find the literal bottom at some time in our lives. Few of us will ever be wealthy, so God diligently directs and blesses most of us in our various states of financial and physical and spiritual struggle, where we can either choose to turn to him, or not. Those who have Faith and pray have a very decided advantage. Those who do not are also likely the ones who cannot even imagine success, much less a creator/personal God. But even believers can be thwarted in their efforts if they see God as a secret weapon or magic wand. If they fail to use what God has given them, has provided in His wisdom at that moment, to be thankful for what is, and all the while to be content and generous to others...

Read the parable of the “talents”... where those given very little, and did very little, because of fear, suspicion, or small-mindedness... Their master took away what little they had. It turns out that we can seal our fates by expecting or doing nothing... or too little. The ne'r-do-wells in those parables were self-indulgent, even willful, leaning on their own wisdom, own preferences, rather than their master's. Bottom line, they lacked imagination; trust in “the master,” and more tellingly, the willingness to risk failure. These are critical elements to success at anything. These are the earmarks of Faith.

For those who do not believe, this stripping of the underprivileged is outrageous. Like Dr. Frank Crane, the author/authors of the New Testament, aka God, seems to be a presumptuous, judgmental, illegitimate authority, based on their own twisted sense of justice. They will instead, forever look to the government to solve all ills, feed all discrepancies, make right all wrongs. They will never admit that their system has always failed, because it assumes, (falsely) the inherent goodness, dignity and even nobility of all men. Christians assign those attributes to God only. Their Scriptures are rife with great leaders who fell far short of God's righteousness. Man-made systems always fail. Only an all-powerful God never fails.

For those who do believe, this seemingly twisted formula is the key to success; Make the best with what you have, be thankful, keep the faith and hope for better, obey God, and He will justly reward his own as it suits Him... As it serves His Kingdom, fulfills His plan... In His time. Jesus explained that the only way you can move up the ladder in his paradigm is by first using wisely, obediently, what God has already given you. If you waste it, hoard it, hide it, fail to even use it, whatever your motives, you are not able to move up to the next rung in the ladder. So... perhaps Crane was right... this idea of being able to imagine the next upward move... and act on that vision repeatedly, regardless of our circumstances, to the believer and unbeliever alike, is AT THE VERY LEAST, one the most important things.

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