The following is an excerpt from Cole NeSmith’s new book, Spiritual Innovation. Enjoy:
I often hear people declare themselves, “not creative.” In saying so, they mean, “I don’t paint” or “I can’t sing” or “don’t ask me to get in front of people and talk.” So, let’s come to a more broad, working understanding of creativity.
We often talk about God as Creator. There’s a recognition that one of the characteristics of God and the image He’s placed in us is His identity as Creator. It seems to me this is one of those concepts we only recognize as a nice idea, but don’t see as an embodiment for the whole of the Christian life. We use it to give validity to our paintings and our songs—which is good. But I believe there’s something deeper to the image of the Creator, beyond poetry, art, and music that lies within each of us.
Creativity, in the Christian sense, is not about painting pictures of crosses or footprints in the sand or nice landscapes. It’s about something much larger. It is an integral part of what it means to be a Christian—to beincarnational. We are commissioned to access the heart of God and manifest His realities in the lives and circumstances around us. That’s creativity. That’s innovation.
Instead, we’ve reduced the power of creativity and replaced it with art that is “nice.” When we paint a cross, we cheat. For years, I traveled with some of my best friends playing music. We would often lead worship musically at camps and retreats. One of the camps we played at had hired an artist to come do live painting. He started with a large, blank canvas. The audio tech pressed play, and as the “christian music” montage began, he would dip his hands into various buckets and begin to paint. This night, his pallet consisted of the colors of a sunset. He painted the orange sky, some brown, rolling hills, and a large sun toward the top of the canvas—all this in about 3 minutes. It was pretty impressive. Then he dipped his hand in some black paint and began painting a path through the rolling hills and off into the distance. From my perspective, it was a fairly clear message: “We’re all on a journey in life. We have ups and downs, but there’s always a path to follow.” After six or seven minutes of painting, the last song of the montage was winding down. The painter dipped his index finger in a small cup of white paint and there, at the top of the hill, at the end of the path through the mountains, he placed three small, white crosses. And suddenly, the painting became “Christian.”
What’s ironic about using the cross to give us a sense that a painting is “Christian?” The cross is about pain. It’s about suffering. It’s about hard work and figuring out and working through and not knowing. And we strip it of its meaning by making it the cherry on top of our art work. Rather than making a piece of art which invites people into a moment of reflection or introspection or conflict or emotional response, we make the art easy for the consumer. If it has a cross or a fish or Jesus or a lamb or a (curved) rainbow, then it’s Christian. It can be hung in a church office or a good Christian home. If any of these tell-tale signs are not apparent in the work, it has not been pre-approved by the Christian industrial machine for safe consumption by the masses. Beware.
True creativity is not this clean, this easy—neither is truly, authentically, living a life with Christ.
And yet we’ve done the same things with our church buildings, our music, our sermons, our church gatherings, and our Christian lives. If they have the cultural signposts of what it means to be “Christian” in our culture, then they fit into our “spiritual” box. If not, they are threatening or frivolous and, therefore, dismissed.
Sure, Jesus plainly said exactly what he meant sometimes. But more often than not, people walked away from their conversations with Jesus wondering. Creativity does something exposition cannot. It is a delivery method like no other. That’s one of the beautiful things about Jesus’ use of parables. While our era wants to satisfy intellectual curiosity by providing satisfying answers to life’s questions, Jesus responded to questions with stories. He didn’t answer in a way that people would walk away satisfied. Rather, he told stories that resulted with people coming back to him with more questions. Isn’t that interesting? The stories Jesus told caused people to keep asking more and deeper questions, which led them deeper into relationship with Him.
He certainly didn’t make the “A” list when it came to the external, cultural indicators of what it meant to be a first century Jew. And yet, rather than spending his time fulfilling other’s expectations of him, he gave his time and energy to creating a whole new world (don’t you dare close your eyes). That’s what it means to be creative. That is Spiritual Innovation.
That’s what it would really look like to live like Jesus.
Creativity, in the Christian sense, is about manifesting the fruits of the Spirit in situations where it might seem impossible. It’s about manifesting love in an environment that is love-less. It’s about manifesting peace in the midst of chaos. It’s about overcoming depression with joy, hate with kindness, evil with goodness, hostility with gentleness. That’s what it means to be creative, to be innovative, to be Christ-like. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I can get behind.
Cole NeSmith is the Creative Director and co-pastor of City Beautiful Church in Orlando, FL. His new book, Spiritual Innovation, helps us move from the need for control to a new level of exploration, expectation, discovery, and creativity in our faith and lives. Get it at http://spiritualinnovation.
He also creates interactive and reflective art and worship experiences through his company, Uncover The Color.