Highs, lows, and building character

We have been conditioned to celebrate mountaintop moments and smash successes. We've also been duped into believing that our work is measured in wins and losses; as if it all boils down to our great victories and our major misses. It appears that our only options are to become a #1 New York Times bestseller or a pajama-clad shmuck writing in the basement. You can either be an award winning filmmaker or a hopeless dreamer adding to the noise on YouTube. The next progressive business leader or a mindless cog in a cubicle.

Although it is our highs and lows that often reveal our character, we continually forget about the slow, hard work of everyday faithfulness that builds our character. Although Jesus compares God to a vine, we discount the importance of simply staying connected to our source of life.

This is a preview of the Creative Theology 2.0 ecourse. I’vs just opened a pay-what-you-can ticket so price is NOT A BARRIER for you to learn more about how to align their life and work with the Gospel.

Eventbrite - Creative Theology eCourse 2.0

Identity & Value Pt. 3

Final post on identity and value...

We are like a nation in exile

In Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh requesting that he release the Israelites from their slavery to present their offerings to God. Pharaoh responded negatively, as he saw their request as a result of being lazy.

Taking time off work to offer up their hard earned goods to God was, by economic standards, wasteful. The people's worth was entirely wrapped up in their work. Their value was quantified in bricks. A slave was simply worth the bricks he could produce.

It is in this context, where for 400 plus years the Israelite nation was worth only what they could produce, that God commands rest.

To a people whose lives were centered around productivity, God commanded that they take time out to pause. To recharge. To rest.

Sabbath tends to make us uncomfortable for the same reasons Pharaoh found it repulsive. Much like Pharaoh, our society sees taking time out to pause as wasteful, lazy even.

We have commitments, deadlines, soccer practice, dance recitals, church services, and dinner parties. We have all these things which make us feel like we're worth something. Our value, then, is often determined by how much we can get done...

This is a preview of the Creative Theology 2.0 ecourse. I'd love to have you join those who have already registered to learn more about how to align their life and work with the Gospel.

Eventbrite - Creative Theology eCourse 2.0

Identity & Value Pt. 2

A few more thoughts on identity and value:

Understanding the importance and significance of our work is one side of the coin...

The other side is not allowing ourselves to be defined by our work. You are not your art, even though you are all tied up into it in weird sorts of ways, and a part of you is exposed when you create something for the world to see.

You are not your failures, even when they deeply impact you and those around you. And you are also not your past. Every day is an opportunity to turn the page on a chapter in your life and move forward in creating a body of work with your life you'll be proud of.

You are not your successes, even when those around you begin to feel and think differently about you because of them. Celebrate successes, and then carry on. Refuse to define your worth and value by how or what you produce. Eventually you'll fail, and in that moment, you'll need to understand that you are not your failures.

This is an excerpt from the first lesson in the Creative Theology 2.0 ecourse. Register now for only $10!

Identity & Value

One of the most daunting challenges facing artists is navigating the tension between taking their work seriously and being defined by their work. Although I say artists, I really mean anyone. We all create, and we are all creating a body of work with our lives. So while artists feel this more acutely than most, we can all learn from this concept: we all must understand the significance of your work without being defined by it.

And for Jesus followers...

You see for those of us who believe that God is in the act of setting all things right and mending our hearts as he mends the entire cosmos, our work here is a part of his grand renewal. The body of work we are creating with our lives serves as a signpost to a kingdom that is breaking forth in this world and to a reality where all things are being made new. Needless to say, then, our work is important. And it carries eternal significance...

This is an excerpt from the first lesson in the Creative Theology 2.0 ecourse.

Sign up here for only $10!

The Voice of God in Human Form

I had a friend recently point me to the work of Andrew Sullivan by way of The Dish. Feel free to stop now and just go read through the site; it's really, really good. He's heard me speak on Creative Theology and pointed me to this article, The Voice of God in Human Form, a piece on Bach.

The article is a reflection on the book, Music in the Castle of Heaven, which is now on my reading list.

I can't get over the closing line...

We are made in the image of God, the Bible tells us; in the same way, our music is a distant echo of Paradise.

Preach.

Communicating Mysteries

I'm always happy when I get a request to contribute to the online magazine for church leaders, @sundaymagtv. The most recent edition was all about the theme Level Up, and I was asked to write about the need to engage in, and communicate, the mysteries of the Christian faith.

This is my favorite article I've written to date. And the article artwork was great as well. How about this image? Melissa Watkins did a fantastic job. So fun!

20130902-152545.jpg

You can read the article here.

The Work of Silence

After last year's Luminous Project gathering, Ian Cron suggested I read Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain. I'm finishing up the book, which has been an incredible experience. Merton's work, much like my experience at Luminous, has been deeply formative as I work through what it means to respond to God with my life and work. Silence has been a reocurring theme, and I've been wrestling with how to facilitate silence in my life nearly every day. It sounds ridiculous to say, "how to facilitate silence" but it's true. If it were easy to just shut up, I'd be well on my contemplative way. But it's something that takes tremendous effort. I would love to give you a series of practical take aways that we are accustomed to in these types of posts. I could tell you to take longer showers, turn the radio off during your commute, wake up 30 minutes early, stay up later, etc etc etc. But the truth is, silence, just like any other spiritual practice, takes...practice. You must be intentional, you must facilitate silence by finding a rhythm. I am still searching for mine.

Here's the great news: when you find that rhythm, it becomes natural to respond to God with both life and work out of a spiritual depth and grace. I've known this to be true in my own life. I also heard Pete Wilson say once that writer's block is really just being empty. To break through the block, then, you just need to fill yourself up. Of course, there is no greater way than by spending time in silence and prayer. Here's a bit from Merton on his writing (and on life):

...I had found that the interval after the night office, in the great silence, between four and five-thirty, on the morning of feast days, was wonderful time to write verse. After two or three hours of prayer your mind is saturated in peace and the richness of the liturgy. The dawn is breaking outside the cold windows. If it is warm, the birds are already beginning to sing. Whole blocks of imagery seem to crystallize out as it were naturally in the silence and the peace, and the lines almost write themselves.

Yes, you will be more productive, more creative, and more pleasant if you find room for silence. But productivity and creativity are not, cannot, be the end goal. A life more firmly rooted in Christ's grace is the aim, and the rest are byproducts. Keep your eye on the prize. Find your rhythm.

This post was inspired by the Luminous Project. Luminous is a creative spiritual event in Nashville May 1-3, 2013. To find out more, check out www.luminousproject.com. You can use the promo code ‘BRINGitHERE’ to get 35% off the registration price.

 

 

Creativity Spawns Creativity

This is a guest post by my brilliant friend, Sam DuRegger Fertile creativity is a creative product or process that has the ability to propagate further creativity into perpetuity, that is to say – creativity spawns creativity.

I came upon this concept in Eugene Peterson’s book, “Working the Angles” in which he states..."The variants of error are finite. The 'deadly sins' can be numbered; it is virtue that exhibits the endless fertility of creation."

I really like the idea of sin being finite. It makes sense when you think about it, as sin cannot lead to life, as it only leads to death and/or destruction.

Wrath begets murder. Greed begets taking. Sloth begets nothing. Pride begets stumbling. Lust begets wanting. Envy begets resenting. Gluttony begets devouring.

But, what about virtue?

Temperance begets enjoyment. Prudence begets wisdom. Fortitude begets courage. Justice begets equity.

Faith begets conviction. Hope begets expectation. Love begets love in return.

My hope is in your creative endeavors. That each of the projects you pour your heart into will overflow with fertile creativity. A virtuous creativity that will propagate your artistic legacy as one of hope, love, and strong conviction -- positive and long-lasting impressions meant to give life in a world driven towards destruction.

An Orthodox Prayer, Remixed for Writers

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. I can't unplug the phone. I can't silence the Twitter bird. I long for the screen.

Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!

I resist the silence. Anything but being present. Anything but depth.

Holy God! Holy Mighty! Holy Immortal! Have mercy on us.

No solitude. "Distract me!" I scream. I can't bear me.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I cannot rest. I'd rather not have peace. I forsake being still.

O most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us.

I stand alone. I stand in the whirling of many voices. I stand.

O Lord, cleanse us from our sins. O master, pardon our transgressions. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy name's sake.

I am not sick. I need no healer. I cannot still myself for examination.

Lord, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

 

on creative work

A few thoughts on creative work... 

stampede

But a Vapor

When an artists creates out of an awareness that they, and their work, is but a vapor, and that no amount of acclaim will satisfy the deep longings of their soul, the creative process can begin in a healthy way. From this place, an artist can create out of a fullness of the soul that only comes when our value is measured inside of our relationship with the Creator. In these moments, we refuse to pick up the burden of making something of ourselves in our attempt to make something for ourselves. We simply follow the whisper of the Spirit, and respond in whatever way we know how.

 The Artist's Human's Struggle

I had a professor in college say all great writers struggle somewhere between extreme egotism and severe self-deprecation. I think he’s right.

I think it’s indicative of the artist’s soul.

I think is indicitive of the human soul.

Bastardized Creativity is Utility

The couple in the garden was instructed to join God in the creation process. To reflect his creative spirit in their tending to his creation. After the fall, however, they transitioned into creating for utility. Rather than dressing the garden, they began to use the garden to dress themselves. They created to fulfill a need; to make themselves feel better. To borrow a definition from the dictionary, utility is something, “designed chiefly for use or service rather than beauty, high quality, or the like.”

Quotes

Creativity is an instinct to produce.

Bruce Ario

Creativity shouldn’t seem like something otherworldly. It shouldn’t seem like a process reserved for artists or inventors or other “creative types.” The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code.

Jonah Lehrer - Imagine: How Creativity Works

The thing is not to get self-conscious. It’s like playing the piano; if you play the piano and suddenly start looking at your fingers, thinking ‘what the hell is all that about?” the music will stop.

- Sir Ken Robinson

The reason I keep making movies is I hate the last thing I did. I'm trying to rectify my wrongs.

Jaoquin Phoenix

 

Ian Cron on Beauty

Some brilliant quotes from the video:

Quoting Pope John Paul II, Great art makes us nostalgic for God.

That universal desire for redemption, when you touch that place in the human heart, that's heartbreaking in the best sense of the word.

More and more and more, the gaps of time between when you last saw Jesus and some moment...the gap just gets shorter and shorter until finally all you see is God.

I discuss in Creative Theology the idea that beauty causes us to long for the Creator. Nature and art and stir something in us that longs for the Garden, immersed in beauty and in communion with God. It's heartbreaking, like Ian says, in the best sense of the word.

Some Things Aren't Theoretical: A Baby Announcement

You can talk about God and faith and creativity in theoretical terms.But then you behold your newborn baby and all things theoretical go out the window.

20120629-210219.jpg

Oh, and then you see your firstborn daughter holding your new infant daughter and suddenly you realize how unprepared and ill equipped you are to be a father. And in that same moment, you understand nothing will get in the way of being Daddy above all else.

Love is no longer a theoretical idea reserved for romantic comedies. Love is no longer a theological concept used to explain the state of the world. Rather, love is something that resounds deep within your soul. It is truth.

20120629-210523.jpg

Welcome to the world, Estelle Rennae Mahlstadt. You are loved more than you know.

Economics, Creativity, and Value

This graph is from a fascinating article in the Atlantic, regarding the economic history of the world.

While the industrial revolution certainly marked a turning point in the global economy, I'd agree with Seth Godin that those outputs are being challenged in our present economy. It's no longer about who can work the fastest, for the cheapest, in a factory. The global economy will be impacted by the present and next generation more so in their ability to connect, adapt, and innovate.

I think we are living in the beginning of a creative revolution.

Here's the thing about creativity/prodcutivity talk that makes me a bit nervous: when we talk about those who are the most innovative or most creative or the most prolific, it adds a sense of pressure to those of us creating important work. We often make the mistake of creating to feel valued, rather than creating because we're valued. We don't create for God, we create with and in response to God.

The goal isn't to be the pioneer in the creative revolution, but to rest in the fact that you are valued by God. From there, you will create meaningful work with your life. And who knows, maybe even be a pioneer in the creative revolution.

Insurrection in the Empire

I am meeting with people from my workplace over the lunch hour to read scripture from the Common Lectionary and discuss the implications of following Jesus in our culture. We met yesterday, and got to know each other a bit more, and had some lively discussion. Then, we read through scripture together, read a poem from the Desert Fathers, and shared the peace of Christ with each other. This all happened in a little conference room in the heart of what many would call the center of the Empire. And we kept that in mind as we wrestled together with what it means to be followers of Jesus right here, right now. It feels like a small gathering of rebels. A true insurrection. :)

I don't share this as a way to spotlight my holiness or anything like that. Far from it. I share it to encourage you. As I've blogged through Lent this year, my eyes have been opened to the depth and mystery of the season. I have, as I've shared, never observed Lent, and never paid much attention to the Church calendar before. While attempting to establish a rhythm to my spiritual practices, I've become (at least it feels like it) increasingly in tune with God. And this little burst of insurrection happening in a conference room has made my soul come alive. I'd like the same for you.

Grace and peace to you on this Holy Tuesday.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Rest and Lent

I took a few days off of work (my 8-5 job) and away from online work. I didn't blog, tweet, facebook, etc. I made reference to it here, as this is a daily series and I would be missing a couple of days. Turned out I missed three. And. It. Was. Glorious. :)

A bit about the psychological impacts...

I have to say, I had no idea how stressful it would be to disconnect from work. There was a part of it that was simply hard to break the habit, and alter my routine. For example, I wanted to kick off my time away with the Unplug Challenge.

I failed that challenge simply because I have formed habits around social media. I got my phone out, fired off a tweet, and then remembered the challenge. Woops. It was eye opening to see just how engrained social media has become in my day-to-day. Eye opening of course here really means horrifying. I have allowed my social networks way too much space in my life, and I'll be making adjustments in the near future regarding boundaries.

(Side note: if you haven't already, pick up Justin Wise's ebook The Top 10 Mistakes I Made in Social Media - I got it this past weekend. It was a timely message. Justin is a brilliant friend.)

On a deeper level, I felt just how important it is to my self esteem and ego to interact with others and add my voice to certain conversations. I went through what felt like a healthy detox. Through the process of disengaging, I was able to gain some perspective on what I value and why I value it. Although I can't say I was surprised by what I observed about myself, the honest look at how I spend my time and spend my attention truly helped me to gain some fresh perspective. I have a lot of work to do in order to align what I want to do and what I actually do. I'm sure you can relate.

My biggest takeway

Since I wasn't engaging in social media, and I wasn't writing a daily post here, I was able to reset my focus and reallocate my attention to other things. My spare time wasn't spent on adding to the world wide web. And you know what...? The internet didn't shut down. People didn't run out of things to read, say, or respond to. Everything simply carried on. You probabaly didn't even realize I was gone. Who would have thought?

Most importantly, I spent a lot of time with my family. We relaxed, ran errands and spent much more time outside than we normally do in our daily routine. I never knew yardwork could be so relaxing. I was reminded that my family is the most important gift God has given me, and just how little time I make for them in my day.

A little bit of rest went a long way. I'll be making some major adjustments by making lots of small tweaks in my life. I'm curious, do you have a rhythm of rest in your life? If so, what do you gain from it? If not, I'd challenge you to give it a try.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Immediately A Rooster Crowed

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed.

This is one of those events leading up to The Passion, where we feel Peter's emotion, doubt and fear deep within our bones. It's almost too much to read the next verse that says Peter went outside and wept bitterly.

We know this story, because it's our story.

Lord, help me to understand the ways in which I deny you. Help me to overcome my fear by clinging to your promise. As we weep bitter tears, we thank you for the act of redemption that you showed on the cross, and we thank you for setting all things new.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Strong in Toungue, Weak in Faith

Then Jesus said to them, All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee. Peter answered and said to Him, 'Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.

Jesus said to him, Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.

Peter said to Him, Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!

I often relate with the Peter we see in moments such as these throughout scripture.

Strong in tongue, weak in faith.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Productivity and Guilt

I often struggle with the pressure to be productive, and the guilt that comes along with a lack of productivity. Hear me out...I'm not trying to make excuses. However, in a productivity obsessed culture, it can become overwhelming when you feel the constant pressure to perform and produce. When this pressure permeates our view on what it means to be valued, we face the temptation of buying into the lie that we are worth what we create. This pressure creates a burden that enslaves us, and can also end up with us projecting unrealistic expectations on others as well. Needless to say, this is toxic for all involved. This is especially true to the person of faith who creates art, but that's a different conversation entirely.

While it's important to be cognizant of how much time we waste, especially among the jungle of information feeds, alerts and pushes, it is vital that we don't get sucked in to equating our worth with our productivity.

You are not your work.

You are not you expectations of yourself.

You are not the expectations other have of you.

You are valuable because you are you.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Bread, Wine and Proclamation

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

That's us, right now. Any time we take the Eucharist, but specifically now, in this season of Lent. The depth and beauty and power and agony and glory of taking the bread and the wine and proclaiming the Lord's death, is heightened during Lent.

We yearn for Resurrection Sunday as it serves to remind us that the first fruits of the Resurrection has occurred. That Jesus is risen and he will return to restore all creation. He will set things right.

Today, we wait. We proclaim his death, knowing the story doesn't end there.

 This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.

Poison Ivy, Metaphors and Observing Lent

I did some yard work last weekend, and ended up covered in poison ivy. I'm sure there's a metaphor there, but I'm not sure what it is...and I'm too itchy to think much about it. As it is with Lent. I've been attempting to extrapolate lessons and observations while ruminating on the season, but there have been moments where there's nothing to say. There are deep truths being uncovered, moment by moment. There is pain surfacing as I've spent more time reflecting. I have certainly experienced the hopefulness and anticipation for Resurrection Sunday, more so than any other year in my life.

But some days, there is no metaphor, there is no lesson. There is only rest, and quiet, and pain, and joy, and waiting. Some days you're just itchy because you came into contact with a substance that your skin does not agree with, and that's that.

This is a part of a series of daily reflections on the season of Lent.