what could be: creativity expressed

creativity-expressed2

i hope everyone had a good christmas & felt the love of God and family and friends in the midst!  the part i love the most about christmas is the beautiful & necessary reminder that Jesus came into the world as a baby, fully human, in-the-flesh, born in a stinky barn to change the history of the world forever.  around here, thanksgiving to christmas is the worst time of year for so many of my friends, so i am just thankful we made it through another one with no seriously major damage, yeah!   and yes, thankfully, i am almost done with this what could be series, two more posts!  here we go…

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kids amaze me with their creativity. the games they come up with, their freedom of expression, spending hours working on projects that light their fire and they love to do. it’s so fun to watch.  one of our twins (they’re 9), has always been really creative.  jared takes paper & pens & scissors to bed with him all the time (yeah, we’re good parents); if i ever need tape or a certain sharpie pen, i can always ask him and he’ll know exactly where to find them.  a few months ago he started creating these amazing books on the computer, stories he wrote with elaborate illustrations.  he printed them all out & came to jose and i to show us. of course we were so enthusiastic at first;  until we looked at how much color printing he had done.  jared had moved on to something else and jose and i were left in the kitchen.  we started whispering to ourselves, “you know these are really cool, but they use an awful lot of ink.  maybe we should tell him not to make anymore like this?” as soon as the words slipped out of our mouths, we both realized how ridiculous it was, and we started laughing at ourselves.   we have the $10 to pay for an inkjet refill.  why in the world were we focused on saving a few bucks instead of freely celebrating and honoring jared’s tenacity and creativity?  don’t worry, we never said a word to jared and he naturally moved on to other projects that weren’t quite as expensive, but it brought to light our natural knee-jerk reaction toward what appears “practical” and how easy it is to stifle and shut down others creativity. think what happens when you or someone else creative you know tells their parents or friends “i want to be an artist/musician/photographer/actress/actor/writer/something else creative.” what is most people’s reactions?  a little eye-darting, maybe an even imperceptible wince, a throat clear, and then usually “umm, that’s great, but make sure that you get a real degree first.  get something that you can fall back on.  art doesn’t pay the bills.”

i believe everyone’s an artist.  God, the greatest creative artist of all time, put his image in us from the very beginning.  and i think like so much other good stuff it gets buried by life & brokenness & circumstance & messages we’ve been told and we lose connection with it.    for me, a huge piece of the purpose of “the church”–the wild & beautiful body of Christ–is to help uncover God’s image in each other.  to draw out the good, to call people to be who they were created to be, to restore dignity & beauty & purpose  in others’  lives. so it makes sense to me that a piece of this restoration process would be to draw out creativity, whatever shape or form that takes for a person. i think that we have limited creativity to only the arts–painting, music, drawing, acting, writing, etc.  real creativity is that & so much more. to me, it’s also a person trying something they’ve never tried before.  it’s using our voice in new ways.  it’s taking a step toward a dream.  it’s experimenting with something scary.

so how do we a people, as communities, help others & ourselves tap into creativity & fan it into flame?

acknowledge how much has likely been stifled. just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  most are just really disconnected from it.  usually when i facilitate things i try to do something that helps people tap into their creativity in some shape or form.  everyone always moans and groans and rolls their eyes and has to chime in”there she goes again, making us do hard or silly things we don’t want to do”  but always, always, always, the most amazing things get expressed.  i am consistently blown away by what’s inside people that never has a chance to come out.  and i know in the teeny weeny ways we explore it, we have barely scratched the surface.

quit measuring it as talent. this is what messes so many people up, the idea that creativity requires talent.  and if we don’t have “talent” then we don’t really hit the bar of creativity.  this keeps people stuck like none other.  every single time we do anything that requires “creativity” everyone self-critiques.  i do the exact same thing:  “oh, this isn’t that good, i am not that good of an artist, mine’s not nearly as good as hers, you name-it-we-can-find-a-way-to-self-deprecate-it.”  this will take a lot of work to shift because we have been so programmed to measure & compare talent.  i think one small way (but extremely telling in more ways than one) that churches perpetuate this idea is by knowingly or unknowingly cultivating a showcase mentality.  who gets to play in the worship band:  the best musicians, the prettiest singers.   think of how many budding singers & musicians know they will never get a shot at being part of these teams because they don’t quite “make the cut.”  they’re not good enough, skinny enough, confident enough, oh all kinds of things enough?  why isn’t just giving people who are part of the body a chance to try and nurture and cultivate their passions enough, even if they are off key or not as good?

do what we can to uncover it. this takes relationship and intentionality.  i think creativity is one of the hardest things to uncover in a person because people are so afraid and ashamed of it.   i can’t tell you the number of times i have discovered people’s hidden creativity after hanging around with them for a while.  my one friend, a single mom who struggles to make it through each and every day, is an incredible artist.  she made me a thank you card that was absolutely beautiful. since then, several times i have asked her to make me things.  to submit things to our art event.  oh, the glory that has been exposed!   to uncover what’s been covered will require each of to learn to see what usually doesn’t get seen.  to spend time with each other.  to tap into places in our own hearts, each other’s hearts that don’t usually get tapped.   earlier this year we did a grafitti art workshop at joshua station, our friends in denver who provide transitional housing for families.  so much surprising & untapped creativity & beauty was uncovered.   as brothers & sisters, i think a piece of uncovering it is calling it out, encouraging it, nurturing it.

provide safe places to try. i do think this is our responsibility as communities, to create spaces and opportunities for people to try.  as i mentioned before, creativity isn’t just art.  it’s trying things that we aren’t used to trying. this means providing a venue for people to explore some of their passions for all kinds of things that normally wouldn’t get tried out of fear or lack of support.   as brothers & sisters, we can cultivate this in each other by coaching, encouraging, cheerleading new ideas into existence. in the past few years i have seen 501c 3’s get started, ministry ideas get implemented, art be created, new careers be pursued, little & big dreams realized because of the consistent support of some faithful brothers & sisters.  a little encouragement & a safe place to try goes a long way.

pray for courage. what holds creativity back the most?  fear.  we are afraid to “fail.”  we are afraid to speak up.  we are afraid to step out.  we are afraid to put something on paper and have it look stupid.  we are afraid to expose our hearts.  we are afraid of what people will think.   to become places where creativity is expressed, we have to pray for boldness & courage, to learn the fine art of saying “what the hell, why not?” and step out of our comfort zone and tap into deeper places in our hearts.  i also think that we also need to risk “failure”  and to fail beautifully sometimes. i do not know what God is nudging each and every person to do, to consider, to try, to explore, but i believe he’s always probably encouraging us but we may be a little afraid to listen.  to become people & places where creativity is expressed, we will have to ask God to give each of us an incredible amount of courage.

uncovering God’s creativity inside each of us is a life-long, never-ending process.  and i believe wholeheartedly, we will need each other to do it.  and we’ll need to quit worrying about practical things like how much ink we’re wasting in the printer.  i love what george prince says “another word for creativity is courage.” hmm, maybe that’s the bigger story here, that we’d become places where courage is expressed.  imagine how the world would be changed if we could tap into more and more creativity & courage?

so here’s another one of my my hope for what could be as people, as communities, who provide ways for creativity to be expressed:

that we’d be people & places who helped one another discover the creativity buried down deep inside of us.  that we’d provide venues and encouragement that calls out beauty & wildness & courage in one another, no matter what that looks like.

God, help us tap into your creativity & courage in our lives & intentionally nurture it in others.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

14 Comments

  • I really, really like this one. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, of God as Creator and one of the ways that we’re created in his image is as (Tolkien’s term) sub-creators. (Have you read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories” ? Some really good stuff on this subject there.) It seems a crying shame to me that throughout the last 2000 years the church has been the inspiration and home for some of the great artwork of history, and yet recently, we just can’t seem to invest the time and money and bother to create things that are actually worth creating. In re: talent, I would add that I think that there is a right and necessary place to recognize and encourage and grow those places where people’s true gifts lie . . . I’m not saying that we need to be quick to smash the creativity of the emerging artist, but surely there are many churches that would be well served by someone telling the person who thinks that they are wonderfully creative that they really aren’t, and that all those fake flowers look pretty awful?

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  • Kathy, I love this one. I think so much of what we face as the church or where our true capacity to realize all the things you’ve prayed for in the “what could be” series lies in being creative. It means acknowledging that we bear the image of a God who has never once stopped creating. If only we started relying on the strength of the Creator…

    I guess, too, that I differ in perspective from the commenter above… first, just in the idea that the encouragement for and community of artists used to be inherently present within the church–I would say that’s in large part due to the fact that societies weren’t really secular while so many great works were created. But even that isn’t totally accurate… after Renaissance and Baroque periods, the church didn’t really have a monopoly in artistic works.

    Anyway, my main objection to the comment above would be that who gets to say people aren’t creative? Why is that a judgment call that we should make–and if fake flowers are something that somebody finds joy and connection to the Creator in, then which one of us gets to play the judge? I think that really misses the point–at least what I took from this post– of this piece. I don’t particularly like fake flowers–or quilts embroidered with wolves in the moonlight, which seem to find a way into my church’s circle–but is our ‘mission’ as a body/church/community any worse off because of something I think is un-beautiful? No. But we’re worse off if we lose that artist and her heart.

    Just some thoughts…

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  • Kathy–This post strikes a cord (or ten) within my heart! WOW! When my husband and I first moved to the town we are now in part of our “call” was due to me asking him what he thought God was calling him to do. He had been a scenic and lighting designer in an all women’s college in the mid-west, was putting in 80 hour work weeks and was losing his family. Anyway, his answer was to move west and open up a camp of some sort. When we got here we deposited a small amount of seed money in an account called OUTER ROOM MINISTRIES. The plan is to take people on various outdoor adventures, have a B&B style retreat house for burnt or burning out ministry people (So they can be refreshed) and develop an artistic ministry that can be taken to the streets (music, theatre, art stuff). The art part is my passion. It’s been six years. We currently host some people in our home whenever possible and my husband has done a few wilderness trips. We as a family also do some art but the ministry idea remains dormant. Birthing visions is often very slow going, especially when keeping a roof over your head and food on the table is also deemed necessary–ahem.
    I get the idea of encouraging creative expression in others and opening doors. (My husband saw his first play when we were in college and ended up a designer). But I also wonder about excellence and when, where, how, we encourage the pursuit of excellence in addition to tapping into previously unseen creativity. We need both, I think.

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  • I don’t know why my name doesn’t highlight and go to my blog. Maybe changing to just minnow will work.
    Another thought on tapping into creative expression–Is there a difference between expressing oneself creatively (when the message is the important part) and creative expression (when the art itself becomes important)? Certainly there is beauty in both and certainly value. They ought not be pitted against each other is a “which is more important” kind of way. Is it possible to find room to encourage one (both) without discouraging the other?

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  • Kathy, the timing of this was so perfect for me. Just a few days ago I said to my hubby, “There’s something brewing in me, trying to come out. I have this strong urge to create beauty.” I don’t know what form it will take, but I feel I have to discover what way this thing in me needs to express itself, whether learning to make jewelry or cards or something! I’m looking forward to the journey, however slow or long it may be. Thanks once again for your words–they confirm what God is up to in my heart.

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  • I guess I should have clarified a little. Who are we to say who gets to be creative? Well, reference back a few posts to what Kathy was saying was power diffused. I’ve been around/seen situations where the “creative” control was dictated by those in power . . . who also happened to have (imho) not much in the way of taste. But there was no room for anything to improve, or change for the worst even, because there was a very clear idea about “this is the way we do things and I’m the one to say what goes.” I believe in a healthy community that there will be discussion and variety in creative expressions that will eventually drive the best to the top–if those at the top don’t prevent it, either from love of power, or from love of wolves in the moonlight. I recognize that the church has never had a monopoly on artistic expression . . . but I was talking about the church culture being something that valued excellence. While recognizing the course of excellence: G.K. Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

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  • that’s cool Kathy. I really like what you said — I definitely get what you’re saying — but never made a connection between all this and the church. I think you made that link pretty clear and it makes sense to me.

    I remember that story about a man asking a group of 5 year olds who could sing – and they all raised their hands. Who could draw – and they all raised their hands. Who could read – they all raised their hands. That same man asked a group of 16 year olds the same questions. who could sing – only 2 or 3 raised their hands. who could draw – only 3 or 4 raised their hands. who could read – all raised their hands.

    when and how does that shift happen? Is it the education system doing the most harm? culture? parents? entertainment industry? a combo of all influences?

    interesting. thanks as always!!! 🙂

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  • The little boy went to school; he got some crayons and began to draw.
    He put colors all over the paper, for colors were what he saw.
    And the teacher said, “What are you doing young man?”
    “I’m coloring flowers”, he said.
    She said, “It’s not the time for art young man, anyway flowers are red and leaves are green. There’s a time for everything and a way it should be done. You’ve got to show concern for everyone else, for you’re not the only one.”
    And she said, “Flowers are red young man, green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they’ve always been seen.”

    But the little boy said, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower, and I see everyone.”
    The teacher said, “Your sassy. There’s ways that things should be. You’ll color flowers the way they are, so repeat after me, flowers are red and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they’ve always been seen.”

    But the little boy said, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower, and I see everyone.”
    The teacher put him in the corner. She said, “It’s for your own good. You won’t come out until you get it right and are responding like you should.”
    Finally he got lonely. Frightened thoughts filled his head. He went up to that teacher, and this is what he said.
    And he said, “Flowers are red, green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they’ve always been seen.”
    by Harry Chapin

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  • Hi Kathy,

    This post resonated with me in many ways. For one thing, I seem to fail every time I take a new job. I’ve learned not to take it personally, though the first time felt very personal. I’ve learned that many of the things I do to make money are not really me. They are a necessity…but that’s it.

    There is a Missy Higgins song called “Going North”. I love one of the lines:

    “I wanna know where children would go
    If they never learnt to be cool”

    I think those lyrics apply to adults too. I used to want to be “cool”…driving impressive cars, living in a house that didn’t quite match my age. I still am wrapped up in salary. Hopefully I’ll learn to let go of that too and just be happy with what I need to get by.

    That’s great that you and Jose left Jared with his success. What an incredibly safe environment you are providing for him to try new things.

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  • Sara–definitely understand more what you were saying. I guess I’ve seen it more the way I described and so I responded to that–people getting torn down because their creativity doesn’t match what it ‘should.’ I agree with you too, about excellence. I wonder how often, though, we’re afraid of anything that doesn’t have clear ‘truth’ in it and how that keeps us from pursuing true creativity. I know in some of my friends’ circles that looking at a secular song or piece of art and saying that there is truth in it is so incredibly sinful. I wonder, what if we stopped focusing so much on trying to create good, Christian ‘art’ and just focused on creating? And allowing God to speak through us. Not to put words in your mouth, but I think that’s what you’re saying too. My roommate is an amazing painter and has this quote as her “vision quote”– I really like it:

    “…each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius, or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…” -Madeline L’Engle

    Anyway, I think we agree overall–and we’re just looking at the same situation with two different ways we can control creativity…neither good.

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  • I love this post! I was so the kid who always had pen and paper and scissors everywhere I went. I drove my parents nuts as I was a constant-mess-waiting-to-happen, and they could never find the scissors. But I remain grateful to this day for a mom who faithfully encouraged it and was always looking for creative outlets for me. I’m not an artist, but just find my heart rests when I can just let go and create, make a mess. Fail, and try again. Art has taught me to enjoy the process. Creativity is so essential in navigating life too – at least my wacky messed up life – and always takes courage, in art and in life…

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  • sara – i hadn’t read “on fairy stories” so thanks. i am a little late to the conversation but i think i knew what you meant & that is what i am always resistant to–that “certain select people” get to decide what is good and what is not and it precludes so many from every getting to participate. i love the chesterton quote, so good! i think that is what i am always getting at in terms of creativity – sure there are many who are more talented than others & i so believe that it is our responsibility in community to nurture them in any way we can, and at the same time recognizing there are so many others who don’t even know yet what is inside of them and need others to help draw it out.

    ryan – i am glad you added what you added. and i so believe that the secular & the spiritual should stop being so separated. and yes, there’s the “who are we to measure someone else when they are doing what they love” thought that i never want to dismiss. that requires a huge amount of letting go and letting God move in ways that we might not ever understand. it will mean letting go of false measurements that come from the top down and a releasing of people to try, risk, create, do things they might not appear to be that great at at first but something far more beautiful underneath is at work! LOVE the madeline l’engle quote, too. lots of good quotes in these comments!

    minnow – no idea what the deal is on your link thing? looks like the minnow one worked? wow, that is so fun, i had no idea that was a piece of what your guys passion was! and in answer to your question, i don’t know (my typical answer 🙂 my two cents are that most certainly there are places and times to showcase talent and for art to be more than just seeing someone create something. that’s why there are art shows and galleries and showcases and plays and all kinds of professional amazing things. but i think in the body of Christ when it comes to average day-to-day life together that creating should be celebrated, no matter what that is or how “good” it is? i am all for excellence but i do know that so many people get precluded all the time from participating in all kinds of things that they easily could because they’re not “excellent” enough & churches/ministries are so caught up in appearances that they miss the bigger picture of the value of people participating & creating together. that’s the part that i don’t think is right. always so many things to toss around!

    tracy – can’t wait to see what emerges…

    randi – great story. i can so see that. i am guessing it’s a weird combination of systems–school, cultural, family, church, etc. that contribute. it is so sad to me, all that gets shut down. there’s got to be so much to what Jesus said about coming to him like children…

    mark – oh that’s powerful…here’s to red skies & purple grass!

    lisa – great line, i want to go back to that place, too. so much lost in the quest to be cool. ah that we could get back to that innocence, freedom, risk, courage. let’s keep trying…

    sarah – thanks for stopping by

    512 – so good. that’s so cool, your mom encouraging you in that way & i am so with you, that somehow healing comes through the process. and that it’s all somehow some big beautiful metaphor on life & risk & courage & freedom. thanks for sharing!

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