An artist friend and I had a long talk a while back about the types of people that make up the human race.
According to him, most people fall into one of two camps: the leaders and the followers.
“Then there’s this fringe element,” he said. “You know, the gonzos, the folks that never really feel like they fit in anywhere. They wouldn’t consider themselves leaders in a million years, but they’re way too individualistic to consent to anything that looked like following, either.”
These, he says, are the artists—the thinkers, the writers, the painters, storytellers, musicians, scientists, what-have-you; the ones who observe and articulate the human condition from what often feels like the outside.
These are the ones whose notes and colors and theories and words seep into the busy lives of the leaders and the followers, influencing them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. They pour courage and insight into the human race; they affirm what matters most; they expose the lunacies of the particular generation they happen to inhabit, and they expend superhuman energy interpreting things—important things, true things, culture-shaping things—which the leaders and followers then experience and are eventually affected by.
“It’s the fringe element that changes the world,” he told me. “If they’re brave enough.”
I mentioned the excruciating sensitivity required of these interpreters, the curse of such harrowing insight into what it means to be alive—which comes coupled with the wonder and joy and sublimity of…being alive.
“It must hurt them terribly,” I said. “All that knowing and making known. It must feel like pouring out their hearts’ blood, over and over and over again. And the fringe element rarely sees the real fruit of their labors.”
“Maybe,” my friend posed thoughtfully, “maybe they,” and the look he gave me said we, “are meant to take that fall for the rest of humanity. Almost like a martyrdom for the greater good.”
His words have haunted me ever since.
What do y’all think?
I would suggest that the people categorized as the leaders and the followers, if leading and following in submission and purpose and sanctification, likely also suffer (often in their own position-dependent and personality-dependent ways) and likely also rarely see the direct harvest from their own particular work – one sows and another reaps.
Which is not to say it’s all one and that everyone gets precisely the same dole of joy and pain and visible accomplishment in this world – but that all who follow God, whatever strata they’re in socially or creatively or intellectually, will be used by God for good purposes, and no one gets out of this broken world without pain (probably?). But whatever one is called to, the attendant suffering is worth it, even if the position one has been made for looks ordinary rather than unique.
Basically, I guess, whether a poet or a paper-pusher or a pastor or a parent, being willing to set aside self for the greater good, in tiny aggravating daily sacrifices or in once-off all-in flash-floods (being willing to endure either a million paper cuts or a few gut-wounds or both), is part of what it’s about: perpetual (preferably joyous) martyrdom-of-selfishness is the duty of all Christians (although I haven’t been sanctified up to all the “joyous” in it yet). And seeing that God’s work, not our work (and God’s glory, not us, and that without love, all “our” production and insight and craft is nothing), is the important thing, is probably another part.
I think, mostly, even while creative people are my jam (okay, actually, nerds are my jam and my kind of nerds tend to also be creative people), I am, with Digory, perpetually suspicious of anything that sounds at all like “Ours is a high and lonely destiny…” – even when God is mentioned somewhere in the vicinity – which is likely unfair of me, as it seems totally reasonable that God would want people to have help and community and comfort in their callings. But not pride/superiority in addition to him, and that’s where I find the trap in “identification as an extra-special subset of humanity” for myself. Because it’s a sin-snagged point for me, I likely see the problem in places it doesn’t exist for others, what with that log in my eye.
So that’s what I think is the most hazardous part of being an identified fringe element – but it may be idiosyncratic. Sort of a “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches”… nor the sensitive man boast of his pain, nor the leader boast of his charisma, nor the artist boast of his influence, but let him who boasts boast in the Lord. And let us all follow in service, whether our pottery is crafted for humble purposes or for exalted ones. And let it all be in love and humility, thinking of others ahead of ourselves. And such. Ideally.
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