Talent on loan…Fantasia. Strauss. Phish. Joan.

“Talent on loan from God,” is a phrase trivialized by the bombastic, glib, talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, yet it is a statement that bears theological gravity because it truthfully describes the nature of God’s investment of unique gifts in each of us.

This is why it is important that we not squander our talent and why it is so delicious that Fantasia won the American Idol competition. She is that rare singer who gets inside a song until it gets inside of her, and then delivers a unique package of sound, style and emotion that gets it all inside of you. That she might have lost to a sweet, perky, but cookie-cutter pop teen performer drives me too distraction. My daughter Heidi confessed she was worried about my mental health until the results were announced.

Why do I care so much? Because authentic artistry is rare and when we find it we should encourage, enjoy and elevate it.

I feel the same way about ideas, good writers, books and the enterprise of publishing to which they are trusted. Roger Strauss, the legendary, irascible publisher died yesterday. With his exit from the scene we lost the force behind a resolutely independent press described as an “object of great curiosity. Very rare like an antique spinning wheel or a nickelodeon.” His passion for writers and good writing brought us T.S. Eliot and Flannery O’Connor. He “designed his books attractively, marketed them intelligently and kept them in print forever.” He bemoaned the day when publishing and bookselling shifted from lovers of ideas to lovers of money, “accountants, businessmen and lawyers who have very little concern for the book. They could just as well be selling string, spaghetti or rugs.”

Devout Christians of all people ought to understand that stewardship of talent is about more than doing well financially or doing good morally; it is about excellence, craftsmanship and quality. It is about doing what matters and understanding that the skill and care with which we do it matters.

Phish understands this and would rather disband than lose their vibrancy and health. TV critic Robert Bianco loves Joan of Arcadia and gets doses of theology as part of the deal, not necessarily because he is seeking to know more about God, but because the young actress, Amber Tamblin, does what she does well. [She delivers] beautifully nuanced performances that can make you laugh one moment and cry the next. Tamblyn’s task is to make you believe God does and would speak to this child, and she succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

Some Christians are excited to read about Fantasia’s faith. I yearn for the day when we can be as excited about artistic craft and see faith as demanding nothing less than the best in faith and culture.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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