Being Creative (4 of 7)

Our lives require perpetual interpretation – this is simply an inescapable fact. But this is a truth we can only academically comprehend, because a life in a constant state of cognitive interpretation is untenable . . . that way lie madness. So invariably we create a shorthand in our understanding of our lives, a shorthand in our knowing of everything. Then we maintain a paradigm that largely affirms this shorthand knowing, so that we might be able to focus on one thing at a time. So like a magnetic field this paradigm keeps our lives from breaking apart into a thousand pieces, from being pulled in a thousand different directions.  But the creative process is a disruption in the compression of that magnetic field – allowing our lives to breathe just a little.

In the creative process, an artist doesn’t actually create something new, as in ex nihilo (out of nothing), because there is really nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), but only offers us an alternate interpretation, another way of knowing our world. It is an invitation to let go of our normal interpretations, if only for a moment, and remember something we’d likely forgotten – that our lives have far subtler shades of meaning.

Now consider this, because God speaks us into existence, and we are created in the image of a creator – creativity is the original ancient language that we all speak. So whether I am creating something, or in the presence of something created (speaking this ancient language, or just listening) – I am stirred by a compunction, drawn into the mystery, to catch a glimpsecreativity of God’s hand teasing the air. It is as if in this sacred dialog I can sense creation extending out, making something new out of what has already been.

Now you may be thinking “I’m not artistic at all – I can’t do any of the clever things my creative friends can do.” And this is exactly where most people misunderstand the creative process, imagining that being artistic is about having technical skill sets in a given medium — but art is far more conceptual than that, so in this regard, medium is incidental to being artistic. Because if creativity is the ancient language, as I have already suggested, then the question isn’t — “how do I speak?”, because you are already speaking — whether you know it or not. No, the better question is “what do I have to say?”

It’s an expanding universe. There is so much to interpret, so much hidden in the details, so much to be set free – and it’s all around you . . . waiting for your response. The truth is we spend so much time just skimming across the surface, in the perfunctory movement of our own expectations, never contemplating the profound thought that we are afloat above a great deep — it never occurs to us that we might sound those depths . . . by diving in.

Immersion is the method most language studies recommend for becoming fluent in an unfamiliar language – that in the exercise of listening for the patterns and following the context, you can begin to piece together a comprehension of what’s being said . . . and then eventually join in the conversation — this is exactly how I think someone learns to be more creative. Sure, you’ll be making small talk at first, but before you know it you’ll find your own voice, speak in your own dialect . . . then the next thing you know, you’ll be inviting others to see what lies just beneath the surface of this vast deep.

This Bruce Cockburn song has always struck me as a wonderfully exhilarating imagining of God creating the world.



Being Free (3 of 7)

I grew up during the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, which was intended to be the long overdue liberation from our previous generation’s repressive cultural mores that were supposedly holding us all hostage – it was to be a revolution offering unconditional freedom. So it is with no small measure of irony that it has turned out that this very same revolutionary generation is now at the helm of ever increasing government regulations, regulating our speech and conduct – which surprisingly enjoys the tacit approval of the millennials who have ironically convinced themselves that more laws are needed to make them free (from offense). Makes you wonder just exactly how do all of these people define being free – because they keep using that word . . . but I can’t help but think they really don’t know what it means.

Unlike the American Revolution, the French Revolution wasn’t so much about liberty as it was about seizing power – as the blood soaked guillotines attest. So under the guise of calling for freedom, Robespierre and the Jacobins ushered in a new tyranny in exchange for the old – just trading one master for another. So apparently this is a reoccurring historical theme – people can always tell you what they want to be free from, but they seem to be a little hazy on the details about what they want to be free for . . . and this is precisely where their definition of freedom breaks down.

Knowing that we should be free is woven into the strands of our DNA. It was part of the original design, but in breaking from that design we have perverted the original intent of freedom, allowing it to devolve into nothing more than a self-indulgent desire to be free from consequences. Freedom interpreted as license becomes a demolition derby, wreaking havoc on the lives of others as if they were so much collateral damage — a freedom at the expense of everyone else’s freedom. Which is exactly what our current culture of being perpetually offended has become – holding everyone else hostage to absurd definitions of offense . . . but I digress.

birds-cagesA slave can be bought and sold, but only a free person can give themselves away – which is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a self-indulgent view of freedom. Giving ourselves away, by design, is the whole point of being free. What did you expect – that it was going to be all about what you could get, take, or have? That is a broken paradigm that can only lead you back into bondage. Being free is ultimately about what you can choose to do with yourself . . . and not about the people and stuff you can control.

John 8:36 proclaims that we can return to the freedom of our original design – that the sin and anxious fear that drives our prideful desire to control everything has been rendered powerless by the finished work of Christ. God, the ultimate expression of freedom, gives himself away – in the selfless action of Jesus on the cross. By God’s free choice we are all set free – in giving himself away he has multiplied freedom. In this same way, our freedom is meant as a multiplying factor. So I say, give yourself away freely to everyone in your life – can you think of a better way of celebrating your freedom?

This is my performance of a song my brother Jeff wrote
as an ode to St. Francis of Assisi