In late 2014, I began consulting with the College of Entertainment and the Arts at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. The college’s dean was considering adding a commercial music program. He was curious to know how I’d sustained meaningful work, artistry, and commercial success in the music business for over four decades. “If we wanted to replicate a musician like you in a degree program,” he asked, “what would the curriculum look like?”
I was curious too. How had I been able to survive, and often thrive, in an industry that favors the young, requires repeated commercial success, and has an attrition rate like no other? In short, if you’re 58 years old (as I was then) and you’ve just had a number one Billboard hit, you have beaten astronomical odds. Could I create a university curriculum that would prepare young musicians to walk a similar path?
Against this backdrop, I set out to aggregate and analyze my musical life, my vocation, from birth to present. It was a privileged exercise. With the help of two real academics, all my discoveries and descriptions were shaped into a four-year bachelor of arts degree. Before I could blink, I’d founded the commercial music program, had become the director of the School of Music, and was teaching in the classroom.
The course closest to my passion was a freshman seminar, Identity and Artistry. Before any music got made, I wanted my students to know two things: that the art of music is rooted in their identity and that the kind of people they become while creating is just as important as the music they create. Identity and artistry, I would say, are meant to be seamlessly integrated.
As part of the course, students would choose a second subject of interest unrelated to music–something like organic farming, cycling, or fashion. Ambitiously, I tried teaching the students to tease out the creative connections between their music and their secondary interests. The artful life, I would tell them, is first and always a way of seeing.
Steven Garber’s latest book, The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work, could have been the primary text for my course. Garber is a professor of marketplace theology at Regent College in Vancouver, where he directs a degree program in leadership, theology, and society. For decades, he has sought to understand why Christians, who have Jesus in common, live such puzzlingly different and often contradictory lives. If we all follow Jesus, shouldn’t our values, cares, and commitments have a great deal more in common?
After all, the divisions in Christ’s body can run deeper than nuances of opinion, lifestyle preferences, or doctrinal scuffles. Too often, Christians (especially) are seeing entirely different realities. This phenomenon leads to dramatically different conclusions about the meaning of life and what it means to follow Jesus, caring for the people and planet he loves.
The beating heart behind Garber’s “seamless life” ideal is a truth that bears repeating: Christians aren’t meant to be divided in their mission and motivations. To step into the story of Jesus as active participants, we must part with any notion of a bifurcated life–one divided between Christian cares and commitments on one side and those of everyday life on the other.
Combining tight, artful essays and evocative photography, Garber’s book shares insights on how to steward the one undivided life we’re given. A good life, he writes, “is one marked by the holy coherence between what we believe and how we live, personally and publicly–in our worship as well as our work–where our vision of vocation threads its way through all that we think and say and do.”
Elsewhere, he adds, “For most of my life I have been drawn to the vision of coherence, believing in the deepest possible way that that is the truest truth of the universe. There is an intended seamlessness of human life under the sun–if we have eyes to see, there is congruity, and our task is to make sense of what is there.”
Garber argues that every believer is “implicated by love” in the work of enabling as many people as possible to enjoy a coherent, seamless life. He describes this work, which is fueled by love and carried out through God’s superintending power, as a matter of “repairing the world.” In other words, we’re called to participate in what the writer Wendell Berry calls “the Great Economy,” his resonant image for the kingdom of God. Garber and Berry have many shared points of vision, among them the idea that all economies, personal or national, operate rightly only insofar as they are guided by this greater economy.
If following Christ as a coworker in the new, unfolding reality is our true vocation, then everything and everyone matter. Living a seamless life tells your family, neighbors, and coworkers what you value. For Garber, it answers the question–incrementally, over time–of “why we get up in the morning.”
What I believe about God, people, and place is reflected in how I work and contribute to a common future–imagining and creating by faith in Christ alone, giving all glory to God, and living the whole of life unto him. My work becomes, as Garber puts it, “labor … written into the meaning of life.” This is why a coherence of faith and action is so important.
A Vision for Everyone
But Garber is not content to leave us with aspirational talk. He affirms that living a seamless, coherent life is never easy and always messy. And for some, who are understandably concerned mainly with paying the bills or putting food on the table, the ideal of a seamless life might sound either hopelessly vague or endlessly out of reach. Perhaps the phrase itself carries a whiff of elitism or, even worse, white privilege.
And yet, if living a seamless life is analogous to living a Christian life, then we can’t write it off as something that only a fortunate few can attain. It is a vision every bit as applicable to a Syrian refugee displaced by civil war as it is for someone like me, a musician making a good living in an entertainment capital like Nashville. It is for everyone, everywhere, even when the world seems irreparably broken.
Even so, Garber is quick to acknowledge how our pursuit of a holistic, God-centered purpose never quite comes to fruition. Life is hard and not what we want it to be. The conspiracy against the good takes many shapes, including what that novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, in words cited by Garber, called the “fat relentless ego.” As Garber himself writes, “sometimes in a wounded world we make choices we don’t really want to make, and sometimes there seems to be little relationship between what we long to do and what we end up doing.”
The trick, for Garber, is to remember the proximate nature of all the good work we do in the world. I’m reminded that even the best work of every person is marked by sin. The truth about the human condition is that every seamless, coherent life is only an approximation, a signpost, and not the destination itself. We must be content with what the novelist Walker Percy called a “hint of hope” in the new mercies of each day.
Garber asks whether we can make peace with the proximate when it comes to life, love, and justice. Can we know this world and its people and still love them–“glorious ruins” that they are? We must. It is our calling. What Garber calls “holy coherence” is nothing more or less than all things working together for good for those who love God and all that he loves (Rom. 8:28).
And all good progress, aided by God’s holy hand, counts as “something,” writes Garber, “because it is not nothing, even if it is not everything.”
Charlie Peacock is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist, composer, and record producer. He is the cofounder of Art House America, an organization with locations in Nashville, Dallas, and St. Paul. He and his wife, Andi, blog at The Writer & the Husband.
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