creative theology

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Writers Are Observers

Response to Creation, which is section 2.3 of Creative Theology has the following sentence:

Even patches of the man-madecounterfeit can bring pause

The sentence, which is about the impact creation can have on humans, came out of a writing exercise I completed as part of a non-fiction writing course at the University of Iowa. Not the sentence itself, but the epiphany that had to take place in order for the sentence to be written. The exercise was to carry around a notebook, everyday, and observe our surroundings. What struck us as unusual, or out of place, or mysterious, or beautiful?

Although I walked the same paths to and from class, sat in the same classrooms, roamed the same hallways, and maintained the same schedule, I began to notice peculiar things. One day, I remember being particularly struck by a bright red fire hydrant planted in a swatch of prairie grass. I was also struck by the beauty of the pentacrest lawn. The manicured shrubs and mowed grass, the precise spacing of trees, and the mixture of giant aged trees and young saplings. This was the landscape that surrounded me everyday, but I had never allowed myself to observe.

I learned a great lesson that day. Writers, along with anyone who wishes to have a deep connection and relationship with those (and those things) around them, need to master the art of observation.  

In this lesson, I uncovered a concept of the book: creation brings pause when observed. Of course, as I dug deeper, I realized that this observation spoke to the core of what it means to be human, what it means to be created in the image and likeness of the Creator, and what it means to have a relationship with the creative spirirt that set this whole thing in motion. I pray that those who read the book are lead to a place where they step into a deeper and more fruitful relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth.

A Body of Work

I believe that a life well lived is not recognized solely by our shining achievements, but rather a mixture of those achievements with a faithful persistence through mundane and through failures. In that space, people get a glimpse of the story God is telling through us. Have courage to keep walking, have courage to keep creating, have courage to allow God to speak into you, and then speak through you. You are in a unique place in an unfolding story of grace, redemption and restoration. Your life is a body of work, not just a highlight reel.

Keep moving, and keep your eyes up.

The Relational Bond of Creating

When someone critiques (or celebrates, or belittles, or disrespects) an artist's work, there is a powerful dynamic that occurs among the participating paries: the audience, the art, and the artist. The artist creates a piece of art, and develops a bond with the art. A creator is mysteriously and powerfully connected to their creation.

And then an audience interacts with the art, and develops a different type of bond with the art as the artist, but a bond develops nevertheless.

And the bond between the audience and the art leads to a bond (often unspoken but very palpable) between the audience and the artist. An interaction with a piece of creation speaks to that person's interaction with the creator.

The art/creation is the conduit.

Participating in The Story

If we think about the storyline of our faith it is relatively easy to see our place in the falling action of the epic. The falling action often serves to tie up loose ends, and provide the author a way to close any unresolved or unresolvable issues. All too often, the falling action is where a story slips away from the reader, coasting to a stop devoid of much impact. The falling action of a story can quite simply kill the entire book if not done well. It can lessen the impact of the protagonist, it can create emotional distance between the story and the reader and it can cause you to feel as though you've wasted your time.

This difficult place in any story, is where we find ourselves in the story of our faith. The climax, featuring our messiah hung on a cross for all to see, and rising to take his place in glory, has passed. His story lives through us, but we are still not to the final page. The unresolved issues are being cleaned up and the unresolvable issues are refusing to budge. There is a great tension in the falling action, as everyone awaits the conclusion. Will it be worth it? echoes around both the participants and the spectators alike.

The promise of a new creation keeps us moving. The promise of a renewed kingdom with all things restored carries the story on. And we are the fabric of the story, the flesh and bones that get to walk out the final pages. We get to help usher in the new creation. It's an active role. We are not here to simply watch the story resolve itself, but rather, to help bring resolution to the story.

We are all creators that greatly reflect the Creator who spun the story together.

Understanding The Storyline of Our Faith

If you think about faith as a storyline, you can determine the essential and fundamental proponents. Our faith is a great story. Creation serves as our exposition. It is in the creation story that we meet our characters. God is the mysterious force behind creation, and is actively introduced. We don't get a bunch of back story or theological disposition - rather we meet him while he is doing what he does. Creating. You can be told that someone is a powerful, beyond-your-comprehension creator, but to understand the characteristic fully, it needs to be observed. So in Genesis, we meet this creative spirit that brings order to chaos. Then, we meet the first human, thus finding our place in the story.

The rising action is the story of the Israelites. From God promising to create a mighty nation by way of an old man and his barren wife, to God extending his hand to bring the Israelite nation out from under the fist of the Egyptian Empire. Even as this nation enters the Promised Land, the story is just getting good.

We see the climax in the scene with a Suffering King hanging on a Roman crucifix. For those of us who claim to follow Jesus the Messiah, the savior of the world, our faith hangs alongside his sweaty, bloody, beaten and maimed body. On the cross is where we see God join us in our pain with a promise of hope and a future kingdom.

The falling action is seen in the Scriptures with the letters to the early church. As we read about the exciting explosion of Christ's church across Europe and Asia, we see the kingdom that was promised flourishing admidst our sins and failures. The future promise is being realized by those who claim the message of restoration, even now.

Of course the book ends with more promises of what is to come, never fully wrapping up the story. As the final pages of Revelation close out the story, we find ourselves all throughout the text. We see our history, our anscestors, and fathers in the faith. We see ourselves in the characters who continually fall short and in the glimpses of mighty revelation. We see ourselves in the flux, in the tension of a kingdom that has come and that is still coming. We find ourselves in the falling action, awaiting our grand resolution. To be in the presence of the King, for eternity. I can't wait for the wedding banquent, and the good news is that the table is prepared.

It is a great story crafted by a masterful creator. I just hope that we can embrace the creative theology and realize a depth and dimension to our faith that has been long overlooked.