1: If you were asked to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “not creative at all” and 10 being “super-out-of-this-world-crazy-creative,” where would you place yourself?
Take a moment and give yourself a number.
Then, I wonder:
2: if you were asked to rate your current life-situation job/retirement/relationships/domestic status- and asked to score the room for creativity, 1 being “not at all” and 10 being “go for it, the sky’s the limit!” Where would you rank your current life-situation?
Take a moment and give this a number.
And, finally, I wonder:
- If you were to rate the importance of creativity in achieving your best, or improving your lot, 1 being “not important at all” and 10 being “vital to success,” what would you say?
Here’s my hunch:
I don’t think that we believe, many of us, that we are very creative because we have not been given or had the luxury of the space in which to foster creativity. Some of the ability to think and act creatively requires a context in which “failure” or “unexpected outcomes” are not only anticipated, but welcome, and much of our for-profit society can’t or won’t tolerate this. Sometimes, our own personal checkbook just can’t handle it; we can feel hemmed in by our tight margins. Innovation and creativity, the grease that oils the wheel of progress, isn’t always prized, and, if we are not accustomed to thinking “outside of the box,” well, the box can become pretty comfy.
Well. How did you do on your self-assessment?
Social scientist KH Kim, author of The Creativity Challenge, (Prometheus Books, 2016) believes that our level of creativity in our country is on the wane. Reviewing Kim’s book, U Cal Berkeley student Michael Ruiz writes:
Kim has tested more than 270,000 people, from kindergartners to adults, looking at (among other things) their ability to come up with original ideas, think in a detailed and elaborative way, synthesize information, and be open-minded and curious—what she considers creativity. Her research has found that Americans’ creativity rose from 1966 to 1990, but began significantly declining after then.
And that’s a problem. “America has an increasingly limited number of individuals who are capable of finding and implementing solutions to problems the nation faces today,” she writes. “If this trend isn’t reversed soon, America will be unable to tackle the challenges of the future.”
According to Kim’s research, the cause of the creativity crisis is a “gradual, society-wide shift away from the values that were the foundation of the American Creativity.” In the 20th century, global immigration to America brought different perspectives that helped fuel the country’s creativity, she explains. In turn, the American educational system encouraged creativity with its emphasis on intellectual diversity, curiosity, risk taking, and non-conformity. However, economic realities caused a shift in these values: Starting in the 1980s, cultivating creativity didn’t seem like the path to a stable job, and schools shifted to focus on improving standardized test scores inorder to get funding, Kim writes.
So, what does this mean for us in the Church, I wonder? Especially in our diocese of Central Pennsylvania?
I believe that we need to open up the pathways of creativity and encourage a culture of experimentation in which we can begin to find new ways to be Church. Not for the sake of goofing around, but for the sake of finding better ways to serve God’s mission (isn’t that what we are doing when we choose to become Church?) God’s mission of bringing peace and justice to our world, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor? God’s mission of entering in to a deeper engagement with the Divine that we live out in sacramental worship, in study, in prayer? God’s mission of drawing closer, closer and closer, to becoming One in God? God’s mission begsfor creativity and innovation as we continually seek means to grow deeper and reach wider. We are not genius at this. As an example, from 1789 to the current time, the Episcopal Church in the United States has only had four revisions of its prayer book. We balk at the removal of pews, at singing unfamiliar hymn tunes and changing time-honored traditions. Traditions are lovely and meaningful, but if we arrive at a place of just a few tired souls wearing themselves out to do something “because we’ve always done it that way,” or refuse to try on something new for fear of failure… then… well…. we’re going to stay where we are, or, worse, decline.
Creativity can breathe a fresh bit of air into stale corners of our common life, and create generativity and hope.
Yes, it’s a little risky. But if you set some boundaries around what you are willing to try, and for how long, it can be tolerable. Setting agreed-upon boundaries can increase everyone’s comfort zones and actually create space for creativity.
Examples of “missional creativity” in the Church:
Laundry-love: a decade-old ministry in the Episcopal Church where church members travel to laundromats to offer financial assistance, conversation and prayer to those who are there to wash their clothes.
Dinner Church: a way in which we can gather for a meal, sacred story and the sharing of communion and/ or prayers.
Praying in Color: a meditative method for praying and drawing/doodling at the same time.
Motorcycle/Fleet/Bicycle Blessings: Meeting people where they are in community groups that do not always come to church.
Creating “soft space” for children in Church: the removal of pews and addition of rocking chairs for parents with infants and soft toys for active toddlers, better done up front, and not in the back.
Lectionary Readings “performed” as dramatic texts: Some of our lessons beg for dramatic interpretation.
The use of multi-media in exposition: sermons delivered through art or music.
How do we do it?
The first thing, I think, is that we need our leadership – clergy, vestries, bishops- to invite and nurture creativity. KH Kim suggests these paths:
- Offer creatives the resources they need.Innovators are like plants, Kim says; they are hungry for resources so that they can grow and develop. This includes offering them the time and freedom to explore informal activities that might inspire them, from continuing education at work to alternate assignments at school. If an employee wants to spend a work day visiting a new exhibit at a museum, you might let them—perhaps they’ve fallen into a rut and need something to spark their next project idea.
- Foster diversity.Environments that are multicultural and open to diverse languages, ethnicities, and sexualities make room for different perspectives that challenge our pre-existing thought patterns. Leaders should aim to avoid creating a community that is culturally homogenous and conformity-based.
- Encourage mentorship.Kim suggests that mentors are beneficial to individuals’ sense of creativity. “They eventually push mentees toward new opportunities to discover their own uniqueness by taking intellectual risks or defying the crowd,” she writes. Leaders can structure their organizations in a way that encourages more experienced workers or students to mentor others.
Share what you think about this in the comments section or on the FB page.
What creative ideas have you used at your parish?
What are you eager to try?
What is stopping you?