Search Results: 'Creativity'

The Blue Like Jazz Movie, The Blues, and the Warrior Phase of Creativity

One of my favorite books on creativity is a bit dated, but the wisdom holds up. A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, by Roger Van Oech argues that there are four phases of creativity:

  • The Explorer observes and gathers new information.
  • The Artist creates
  • The Judge edits.
  • And the Warrior does whatever it takes to get the art noticed.
The Warrior phase might be stage of creativity that trips most of us up. I recently talked to an author who was discouraged over the difficulty she’s facing getting her memoir published. She worked hard writing her story, and God knows that she paid a terrible price living that story. However, she’s found herself faced with the realities of the publishing market in a tough economy. She gave herself a weekend to be upset and stew. Then two weeks later she self-published the book. She decided to be her own best advocate. She’s fighting. It doesn’t matter to me if she “wins” or not. From my seat, the fact that she loves her art enough to go to the wall for it makes me want to read it.
My wife is a vocalist in a newly minted blues band. The conventional wisdom is that blues bands don’t fly in this town. This information only makes my wife work harder. She never leaves the house without business cards and promo packs. Date nights have become networking opportunities. 9 out of 10 times we end up at events hosted by local jazz and blues radio stations. Amy works the room looking for new contacts and new places to be booked. Amy knows that nobody will champion her band more than the members of the band. She’s not waiting to be discovered. She’s bringing the new world to the explorers.


Which brings me to the Blue Like Jazz Movie. I’ve blogged about why I want this film to succeed before. I’ve got a new reason: Don Miller and Steve Taylor have donned their Viking caps and are demonstrating some serious warrior creativity. They’ve worked through the first three phases of creativity and now have adaptation of Don’s best selling memoir. They’ve overcome obstacles in the funding and got the story on film. And now they are championing the movie. I had read that Steve Taylor took out a second mortgage on his home to help finance the film. recently released a story that mentioned that Don sold his home and moved into something smaller to marshal more funds toward the promotion of the movie. Both men are living in a tour bus for thirty days to promote the film and to create buzz prior to the opening date.
Why? On some level they know that no one will believe in their art more than they do.
In a little over a month, I’m going to a writers’ conference. Writing this blog post has made me rethink how I’m going to be approaching the four days. I was viewing this as a bit of a retreat. But I have two manuscripts that need an advocate. For the next month I’ll be writing and memorizing pitches, printing business cards, and trying to make appointments with editors and agents.
There’s nobody who will fight for my art more than I.

Limits Breed Creativity

I’m working on a curriculum for Mark 6:7-12, where Jesus sends the twelve disciples out on their first full-fledged mission.  The writer, Mark, is known for his economy of words. In this passage, he is downright misery in his description. Jesus tells his disciples they can’t pack an extra tunic or shoes. They can’t carry a beggar’s bag to collect alms. They may not carry food rations. And Jesus does this because…

…yeah, Mark doesn’t bother filling in that blank. Thanks, friend.

Some commentators believe that Jesus had a sense of urgency about the coming devastation of Jerusalem and didn’t want this men bogged down with gear. Other scholars think Jesus wanted his disciples to be walking illustrations of the spiritual poverty of their audience. The truth is, we don’t really know.

All we know is that Jesus gave his disciples a big, important job in one breath and then gave them big, nerve jangling limitations in the next.

“Go call Israel to repent. Do the impossible tasks of curing without medicine and ordering malevolent angels around.  I’ll give you the power for that.  This trip will take potentially a few months. And, take no more than a day’s provisions.”

Jesus is either being sadistic or he knows something about faith and creativity. Perhaps some modern wisdom might shed some light on Jesus’ actions. Consider this article from Wired Magazine:

“Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development—removing low-hanging branches—and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won’t waste precious resources on growth that doesn’t serve its ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources, you have to make better decisions.

For proof, just consider these cultural and technological high points of the last century: Piet Mondrian helped usher in modernism by limiting himself to 90-degree angles and primary colors.Miles Davis conceived Kind of Blue without the use of a single chord. More recently, the very iPhone on which you listen to Davis’ landmark album is a one-buttoned example of restraint in pursuit of an ideal, while the sublimely simple Google homepage is forever limited to 28 words.”

Scott Dadich, Creative Director, Wired

Sometimes, we find ourselves trying our best to do God’s will and we find ourselves limited by budget, or volunteers, or– God forbid– our own imperfections, finiteness, or even foolishness. Here’s the challenge for you and I: Instead of blaming God for the lack of adequate resources, we can look for clues for the type of art God is calling us to create. Sometimes the answer lies in our limitations.


Making Space for the Creativity of Others

This morning I read a brilliant blog post on creativity. The article articulated what every writer knows: Make a time and space to write and keep it. Guard that time with the fervor of a militant cleric. Then write. This, of course, is brilliant advice. There is one clause the writer omitted: You cannot have children.

Years ago, I  read Stephen King’s excellent memoir on writing. I swooned with jealousy when I read that he wrote “Carrie” in a cramped apartment with two young children, a wife, and a stack of papers needing grading from his day job teaching at a public school. I felt completely inadequate for not possessing his presumed Zen powers of tuning out the world and for not requiring sleep. I nearly cried from a sense of relief when he admitted, several chapters later, to being addicted to cocaine at the time.

I live in a house of musicians. I play piano. Amy is in a handful of local bands and is constantly singing, playing her guitar, or listening to her set list on her ipod. All three boys take piano lessons. We bought my oldest son  a drum set a few years ago. Amy and I learned a few things from this experience. First, Alex is quite passionate about his craft. Secondly, placing a drum set in a cinder block basement turns the foundation of your house into a giant speaker cone. True story.  I cannot count the times when I have sat down to edit a chapter, only to have Amy grab her guitar and Alex his drumsticks. After about ten minutes I abandon my writing and visit Web Md. to see if hearing loss is listed as a possible symptom of coke addiction.

Alex is a teen and doesn’t fully appreciate how his drumming can be a barrier to my creative process. This is because I’ve never attempted to shove my laptop between his ears while he’s laying down a rumba beat.  That’s okay. Sometimes I ask Alex to get his practice in before I get home from work. Sometimes, I’ll pack up my work and go to a coffee shop. Or I’ll set my alarm an hour earlier the next day. And sometimes, I close my laptop cover a little too hard and fantasize about kicking Stephen King in the groin.

I am becoming convinced that there is something good and beautiful about making space for the other’s creativity. All artists need some time of canvas. My canvas is silence. Alex’s canvas is, literally, all air space in our house. I could insist that there’s a basic human right to think interrupted, but that would stifle Alex’s development as an artists. So I yield someday. And when Alex can, he alters his practice time.

When this compromise doesn’t happen, an artist suffers. I have a friend from college who recently expressed some frustration over my recent post on using our spiritual gifts. She is a highly intelligent leader. She is passionate about leading. But her church’s theology doesn’t allow her any canvas to creatively exercise her God-given spiritual gift. She has a brush, but the leaders in her church are effectively hoarding the canvas she needs to serve God the way she was create to serve.

Years ago, when Shaq and Kobe were both on the Lakers and they were winning championships, Phil Jackson noted that these two superstars could co-exist on the same floor because each player was willing to give up a piece of their game to make room for the other person to shine. This is what it means to create in the context of community. We all need to take turns sharing the canvas.

The Unseen Mediums of Our Creativity Matter

Last night my oldest son and I watched John Stewart’s reaction to the news Bid Laden was dead. In the middle of Stewart’s quips about the demise of the enemy of New York, he made a powerful observation. Al Qaeda failed, in part, because it lacked a constructive agenda. The terrorist organization was able to vocalize who it hated and to destroy buildings and people. Al Qaeda, however, lacked the capacity to actually create anything.  The uprising in the Arab world that Al Qaeda yearned for came to pass this year, but not by their hands. The uprising came in a more secular form, from young Arabs who had a vision for having more participation and voice in their respective governments. Al Qaeda’s creative medium was Chaos and could not create the change it vocalized.

Our Creation Story in Genesis One suggests that there are two mediums from which to create: Chaos and Order.

Chaos is mentioned briefly at the opening of the chapter. It is amorphous and void, dark and barren. Throughout the chapter we see God transform that Chaos into order. The Spirit doesn’t fear Chaos. It hovered over its shapeless surface. The poetic structure of the chapter communicates that the Father spoke designed creation with  deliberation and order. Chapter Two provides us with the relational implications of this order: Shalom. Adam and Eve are created to live in intimate harmony with each other. They are at peace with God and in deep relationship with him.

Their relationship with the earth captures the tension by Order and Chaos. Eden is the paragon of perfect order. But Eden is just a “starter kit” to steal a notion from N.T. Wright.  The first couple is to be fruitful and multiply and to extend the perfection of Eden across the whole planet. This is God’s way of allowing humanity to experience the god-like joy that comes with being creative.

Unfortunately, we know what happened. Adam and Eve chose to create with a medium other than the one God intended. They wanted the knowledge of right and wrong apart from an ongoing relationship with God. They bit the fruit and painted with chaos. Instead of expanding Eden’s order, they unleashed Chaos on the garden and themselves.

Al Qaeda’s demise was inevitable, because the moral medium of their creativity was Chaos and not God’s Order– that elusive Shalom. And like Adam and Eve they were destroyed by their own art.

I think that many of us who expressed ambiance over the killing of Bin Laden did so because even though we believe that his death or imprisonment was necessary, that we were forced into triage: We painted with Chaos to defeat Chaos. The venerated Dietrich Bonheoffer was confronted with the same situation when he chose to participate in the failed bombing plot to kill Hitler. And this decision made Bonhoeffer deeply reflective. He wondered out loud if he sacrificing his salvation in order to save the Jewish people. His life and writings lacked bravado but not bravery. He was willing to help extinguish a great evil from the earth. But he fully appreciated the moral and spiritual price of doing so.

I picked up Richard Dahlstrom’s new book The Colors of Hope: Becoming People of Mercy, Justice, and Love this week. I’m about a third of the way through and loving it so far. Shortly, I’ll be making a few posts on the book. Dahlstrom offers a positive vision of what it means to be an individual who paints with the medium of a creator. He breaks down this notion of painting  Shalom into three primary colors: Mercy, justice, and love. I’m looking forward to interacting with this book because even though we paint with small brushes than governments or terrorist organizations, we’re all still painting with our lives.

Creative Tension One: The Two Paces of Creativity

I’ve noticed that the creative process demands two different paces of work. Early on in the creative process, whether its at homewriting or in the office doing church work, there’s the idea gathering phase. I’m collecting and reading books, surfing the Internet, and then mulling over what I’ve read. This phase of work requires acres of leisure, you simply can’t rush it.  I read a creativity book years ago where the author called this the “composting” phase. Time is needed for the ideas to break down and mix together to concoct something altogether new. The metaphor of composting reminds us that the process is organic and takes as long as it takes.

I think this is the favorite phase of most creative people. It is for me. I get to sip good coffee and listen to Miles Davis in the background. I wear soft T-shirts and skip shaving in the morning. I’m working, but it feels a bit like a sabbatical.

But there’s that other, more demanding pace of creativity where we have to strain to drag an idea out of the realm of dreams into the world reality. I have a friend who hunts bear every Fall in the forests of Pennsylvania. He and his friend trudge miles into the woods, climbing hills and crossing streams. The hunting trip isn’t over when the bear is shot. A black bear carcass can weigh upwards of 500 pounds and it must be dragged for miles over rough country back to the car. Its hard work.

I have a friend who I think is one of the most creative people I ever met. She’s on the staff of a church and she was leading her co-workers to adopt a new database. She navigated the “cultivating” stage of creativity well enough. She researched databases and convinced leadership to purchase the right tool. But purchasing the database was just the start of the creative process. I remember her telling me how frustrated she was with all the meetings, the trainings, and cajoling her coworkers to take this seriously. She was frustrated that she wasn’t able to spend time on the creative aspects of her job.  The truth is that she was being creative. She was dragging her bear through the woods, finishing the creative process.

These two paces are incompatible with each other. I can’t be bothered with “dragging the bear” when I’m trying to cultivate a new idea. When I’m editing a chapter or recruiting a team, it’s distracting and even annoying to be presented with a blank slate. I’ve trying to be a “balanced” person and give each side of the process equal time, but I find that I end up not doing justice to either phase.

When you look at the accounts of how God created in Genesis, you see rhythm instead of balance. God worked six days and rested on the seventh. Of course, creating the universe hadn’t depleted God. He was showing his creative image bearers a sustainable rhythm for creativity. Open the creative process with restful cultivating. Gather and enjoy ideas and information. Eat well. Rest. Worship. Invent. Then work. The period of work might end up being six times as long as it took you to dream the idea. Toil: Outline, edit and do it again. Recruit, execute, and evaluate.  And then do it all over again.

What do you think?

Which pace of creativity do you naturally gravitate towards?

Are you more comfortable with aiming to a balanced person, or a person living within a rhythm?

Football, Writing and Ministry Creativity

I’ll confess, I’ve been grumbling. At least I’ve had the good sense to not move my lips while I’ve been doing it. We’re in budget season and the cuts are deep and going deep. The great news is that we are moving to our new $6M campus… finally. We received our zoning permit and ground breaking should be weeks away.

So money is scarce. I just cannibalized the children and student budgets; My attitude curdling the whole time. After a few days of wrestling with God and praying, this is what I will remember and stand upon:

Take What The Defense Gives You: In football, offenses exploit whatever the oppossing defense allows. If the defense focuses on stopping the pass, then run. And vice versa. This year, my budget is behaving like a defense instead of an ally. So what is it allowing? Relationships. Small groups are cheap. Relational evangelism is inexpensive. There will be no bells and whistles in this year’s ministry. But the defense is daring me to drive my energizes around the two greatest commandments.

Limits Provoke Creativity: Each time a publisher invites me to write a book, I’m given a limited number of pages that I’m allowed to consume. And every time I’ve finished the book, I’ve gone over the limit by several dozen pages. And the writing improved when I had the challenge of saying everything God has called me to say with fewer words. Sentences tightened, metaphors blossomed. The quality of the writing improved because the limits force me to edit more closely. The same is true for my budget starved ministries. My programatic creativity will have to increase… God has placed a monetary limit on what I can spend, but my vision didn’t get slashed with the dollars. So if I choose not to shrink, my ministry will increase in it’s uniqueness. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Discovering Haiti One Biteful at a Time

Back in the day, when I was a children’s mental health caseworker, we were trained that culture was the sum of a group of people’s beliefs, habits, customs, relational patterns, celebrations, and foods. I never fully appreciated why “food” was pulled out as its own category until I got married. I remember during the first few months of the marriage, I made a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. I had gotten the recipe that had been in a buddy’s Italian family for four generations. I started with fresh tomatoes and spices and hour and let it simmer for hours.

Instead of the enthusiastic response I was anticipating, I was met with “can you make it more of the consistency of Prego next time?”

I might have snarled. One doesn’t aspire to imitate factory made sauce.

What I didn’t realize in the moment that we were experiencing a clash of cultures. I grew up in an intact family where homemade meals were more common. And then I spent the majority of my twenties single, with far too much time on my hands. I used some of that time to discover I loved to cook.   My wife, on the other hand, was the child of divorce. Her mom worked full time, was raising three kids, and did the best she could do get dinner on the table. More times than not, that meant Prego.

Food is one of the keys to decode a culture.

So I decided to start cooking some Haitian cuisine for myself and the boys in preparation for a missions trip that my fifteen-year-old and I will be making in February of next year. I started with three simple dishes: Poule en Sauce (stewed chicken), Diri Ak Pwa (rice and beans), and Salad  Zabok (Avacado Salad). Here’s what I made, I want I learned, or a was at least reminded of about Haitian culture.

Haitian Poule en Sauce

Poule en Sauce: I found myself wanting to “fix” this recipe I went. This is a stewed chicken dish that reminded me a lot of the Creole cooking found around New Orleans. The Haitian recipe called for a few tablespoons of tomato paste, but  I wanted to substitute a can of stewed tomatoes. I wanted my boys to experience Haitian cuisine and at the same time, I wanted them to be nourished. For a moment, I felt the tension that a Haitian parent must feel three times every day. That said, I was shocked at how tasty the dish was, despite the meagerness of the sauce. The Haitians have learned to make do with little. They are masters at using spices to make simple foods taste like five star meals. A little online research taught me that Haitian culture is a fusion of French, Spanish, Lebanese, and African cultures. In their kitchens, this diverse heritage results in some amazing flavors.

I also learned that Haitians wash their poultry in lime juice to kill bacteria before they cook it. Their resources are limited, but their resourcefulness is not. As a result, it’s impossible to recreate an authentic Haitian chicken dish without first washing the chicken with the juice of a few limes and then rinsing it with hot water.

Diri Ak Pwa: I love rice and beans, although I eat this dish less frequently since I adopted the Paleo diet for myself. Again, the creativity of the Haiti palate surprised me. The recipe combined the heat of scotch bonnet peppers (I substituted a habernero since it’s what was handy) and coolness of coconut milk. That’s not an unusual combination. You’ll find that combination in dozens of Thai recipes. However, the recipe called for cloves, which added a complex earthiness to the recipe. This dish is an artifact that points to the nation’s storied history, including slave trade and French Colonization. This small nation has been touched by so many nations and cultures in its tumultuous history.

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Salad Zadok: I have to admit, I didn’t pick up any cultures about the culture from making this dish, other than noting the availability of the fruit on the island. This dish is similar to guacamole and was quite tasty. The boys turned their noses up at this dish, so the leftovers ended up in an omelet the next morning.

If you want to know more about my trip to Haiti and how you can become a partner, click here.

Book Review– Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers

My review of Troy Bronsink’s Drawn In is up at The Englewood Review of Books. Here’s a teaser. You’ll need to scoot over to Englewood to get all the goods:

A Christian, by virtue of the very title, is someone whose character is shaped in the process of imitating Jesus’ life, resulting in sanctification and the character of Jesus is formed in the individual. The Apostle Paul used the language of Genesis to describe this transformation by audaciously claiming a Christ follower was part of the New Creation. If emulating Jesus results in sanctification, then, according to Troy Bronsink, the imitation of God’s work at creation results in increased creativity and generative capacity.

Drawn In is Troy Bronsink’s labor of love in which he shares lessons learned along the his decades long journey of attempting to understand the creative process. Troy is a Presbyterian minister, musician, and workshop leader who has expressed his creative gifts in parachurch, emerging church, and pastoral ministry for over twenty years. He admits that process of writing this book took eight long years, in part due to arduous battle to birth a creative faith community in Atlanta. This experience resonates with his conviction in the book that the creative process is cyclical not linear.


Becoming Planet Eden and the Daily Grind

I’m prepping for a class I’m teaching and I’ve spent the weekend visiting Genesis 1-3 are, in N.T. Wright’s view, some of the most explosive pieces of Scripture in the Bible. I’ve been reading how our creation story compares with creation accounts in other Ancient Near Eastern religions. It’s fascinating, really.

In the Mesopotamian Epics the creation of the worlds was always the unplanned result of the gods having sexual relations or as the result of a war. In Genesis, creation is a divine act of hospitality. God makes the heavens and earth and earth, specifically, is the place where he intends to pour his love out on humanity.

Work, in the Mesopotamian myths, was inherently a burden. (more…)

The Bible’s Moral Authority Demands That We Grow and Not Shrink in Freedom


I wasn’t planning on a follow up post to yesterday’s thoughts on reading the Bible moralistically. However, this question was posed to me on Facebook:

“I must be a bit of a simple guy, but I fail to see the danger in looking to scripture to provide a reliable moral foundation. The bible obviously, speaks to moral issues. If it can’t be trusted to provide an accurate moral foundation, what’s the point? The fact that the desire to find moral truth in scripture has led to extreme views, positions, etc in the past doesn’t mean that the desire is flawed only that it was poorly executed. What’s the alternative? Pick and choose the moral positions in scripture that appeal to our individual sense of right and wrong? Are you suggesting that there are no moral rights and wrongs or simply that we can’t know them or that they can’t be known from scripture. I’ve generally found the position of moral relativism impossible to defend. Is that the position you’re endorsing?”

These are questions worth addressing.

The quick answer to the question is “am I a moral relativist?” is “no.” I believe in absolute truth. Synthetic a priori knowledge even. I know, I’m a caveman in that regards. I’m not questioning that the Bible is our moral authority. I was trying to address just how the Bible asserts its moral authority over us. I’ve toyed with several approaches to answer this question. Most of the approaches would require multiple posts and technical jargon that would bore even Jesus, I think.

Let me try a story (I’m not sure if this illustration is mine or if I lifted it somewhere. If so, tell me who and I’ll quickly credit the proper person) and see if that helps…

Imagine a father who gathered his family around the table each day and handed down strict marching orders for each family members. The father tells the wife to button that top button and get exactly 1/2″ of hair cut at the salon.

“A tender roast, served promptly at 6 PM this time.”

He tells the son that he must tuck that shirt in and that the B in science was unacceptable. The father hands him a list of approved and unapproved friends.

“I expect you to refer to this list during your lunch period. It’s for your own good.” 

He turns to his preschool aged daughter and scolds her for coloring outside of the lines.

“And for God’s sake, could you use primary colors? Those dark tones are depressing.” 

By now, you’ve (hopefully) developed a negative opinion of that father. “Control freak”, “oppressive”, and “abusive” all come to mind. (more…)

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