Archive for category: Creativity

Resisting the Politics, Exploring the Beauty

This is how a new year comes: there is an anticipation, a countdown, the building tension in the room, a Happy New Year!, a kiss. It’s predictable if nothing else, maybe even cliché.

If cliché is the vehicle that carries us into the new year, it’s the alarm clock that jolts us out of bed the next morning, too. In our first real waking hours, those sleep-deprived hours of regret on January 1st (Why did I stay up till 2:00?) we turn to new clichés. And the January 1st cliché we love the most?

The annual creation of the new-habit-for-no-more-than-one-month resolution.

(Does it take more resolve to keep a resolution or to make it knowing it’ll be broken? Humans are nothing if not predictable.)

This year I set out to do things a little differently. Instead of the audacious disposable resolution, I set a few simple goals. They’re highly personal and written in my journal, and I don’t intend to share them all with you here. (Some are quite tedious.)  But among those goals-I-refuse-to-call-resolutions is this: I’d like to enter into the political antagonisms less on social media.

Why?

Yesterday, I put it like this:

The truth is, like so many, I found myself sucked into the Presidential vortex in 2017. As I found myself spinning into the black hole of the media–social and otherwise–I found nothing but angst, outrage, and a strong sense that our country is divided beyond repair. (What is a black hole but a soul sucking vacuum of despair?) What’s worse, I found myself addicted to the media, to scratching my need to feel that angst and outrage. I found myself stoking the division just so I could be on the right side.

In 2018, I’d rather not be part of that division. I’d rather be part of a more unifying collective, and what could be more unifying than beauty? So, as 2018 opens, as I push into a year-long exploration of what it means to be sober in my media use, I’ll put aside my knee-jerk responses to the presidential Twitter feed. When I feel the itch to enter those antagonisms, I’ll try my best to identify some beauty in the world around me. If you’ll indulge me, from time to time, I’ll share that beauty with you here.

Exploration of Beauty #1:

The arctic weather moved into Northwest Arkansas, and last week, I set out to capture it. Among the beautiful things I saw was this: tiny flowers, clustered against the cold, swinging in the wind as if tiny silver bells.

 

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Choking Creativity (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my series, Choking Creativity. To read Parts 1 and 2, follow this link.

1. The Politics (But this is not about politics, per se).

The first few weeks of the Trump presidency have stoked the fires of outrage in this country (the fires of both left and right) and if the fires of outrage are good for anything, it’s powering the engine of opinion. The news (and #FakeNews) has an endless stream of topics to cover–the Muslim travel ban (“your words; not mine”); the Department of Education tweet; the Sessions confirmation; the Dakota Access Pipeline; #ShePersisted. CNN, BBC, Fox News, all of Twitter, everyone on Facebook, they’re all producing content these days. And here I am, producing content relating to all the content that’s been produced. (The irony is not lost on me).

There is a river of information, gigabytes streaming through the air and into our pockets.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

Buzz… swipe… read… opine.

This is the endless rhythm of so many of our lives these days.

2. The Problem

In the first quarter of 2016, it was reported that U. S. adults consumed 10 hours, 39 minutes of media, up a full hour from the corresponding quarter of 2015. On average, two hours and ten minutes of that media consumption was through a smartphone or tablet. I suspect that during the first quarter of this year, media consumption will be even higher, the current political climate being what it is. Our smartphones and tablets, these have become the portal to the digital town hall, and meetings are always in session.

Don’t get me wrong, digital media is not all bad. It allows us access to news, commentary, and that long lost friend from Plano, the one that stuck the raisin up his nose on a third-grade dare. (He’s a brain surgeon, now; funny how life turns). But when digital media becomes habitual, addictive even, our consumption of it robs us of creative space.

“It’s so hard to find creative time,” so many of us say. But what if we carved out twenty minutes of creative space from those two hours (and change) of digital media consumption? What if instead of scrolling Apple News, or YouTube, or Facebook, or Twitter, we sat outside, pen and paper at the ready, and stretched into the quiet space of creating? What if we started our day this way, and ended it this way, too?

Would it hurt you to lose twenty minutes of digital media a day?

3. The Practice

We’ve discussed the practice of setting aside twenty minutes a day to practice creativity. Today, let’s consider another practice. Let’s consider the practice of unplugging.

Would you consider living the first and last thirty minutes of everyday digital-media free? If the pull of your smartphone is too much, charge it in another room instead of by your bed. Set aside this beginning and end of your day as a dedicated creative space. Journal; doodle; write a poem; brainstorm solutions to a tricky problem (even a work problem); mindmap; whittle; carve; sculpt; bead; play guitar, or piano, or banjo. The output of creativity matters less than the lack of digital input. Follow this practice for a few days, then ask yourself: how do I feel?

 

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Choking Creativity (Part 2)

1. The Pace

Drag to the kitchen. Pour the coffee. Wake the kids.

Stop that jabbering and eat your breakfast! Make your lunch! Brush your hair, for Pete’s sake!

The carpool, the drop, the hustle to beat the clock. Push the papers. Please the boss. Check the list. Microwave supper and scarf it down.

Stop that jabbering and eat your dinner! Gymnastics, basketball, karate, whatever is in thirty minutes!

Peddle down. Sit in the bleachers. Make pleasantries with the other parents. Slog through the bedtime routine, the endless cups of water, the infinite one-last-kisses. Find the bed, the recliner, the couch, whatever. Fall to veg.

What’s on Netflix?

2. The Problem

It’s a cultural rhythm, one with which so many of us are acquainted. The breakneck pace of activity–isn’t it all-consuming?

Yesterday, we spoke about consumption, and I made a working hypothesis, which is as follows: over-consumption kills the creative drive. And isn’t our anxious pace emblematic of over-consumption? Don’t we all try to suck the marrow out of every day, out of the endless opportunities? Are we told we should parent, work, and carpool our kids to every activity? If we do, what energy is left to create? How can we nurture creative thinking when every spare minute of thinking-time is consumed? Perhaps this kind of over-consumption is why American creativity scores are falling.

Consume; consume; consume–is this the thing that’s doing us in?

3. The Practice

Let’s not stop at the point of problem identification. Let’s take it a step farther. How can we break this endless energy suck? How can we incorporate spaces of quiet creativity?

For the next five days, carve out twenty minutes of uninterrupted quiet time. You might need to wake up early, or incorporate it into your lunch hour. Perhaps you’ll sit in the car during your child’s evening activity. Could you reserve twenty minutes at the end of the day, just before you scroll through your Netflix options? However you do it, make it your first priority to carve out twenty minutes of quiet, creative space.

What should you do with that space? I suppose that’s up to you. You might journal, or doodle, or brainstorm solutions to problems that have been nagging you. You might scribble a poem, or a short story, or start that novel you’ve always wanted to write. There are no rules to how to create, but it all starts with a conscious decision, a decision that may well turn into a manifesto: I choose creativity over endless consumption.

How will you use your twenty minutes? Jump over to Facebook and let me know.

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Choking Creativity

Man was the envy of the animals, first known for his opposable thumbs, then his creativity. We are an ingenious species, aren’t we? Innovation, ingenuity, genius, creativity–it’s all baked into our DNA, made in the image of God as we are. And throughout the millennia, we’ve applied imagination in every facet of life. We’ve become poets painters, sculptors, storytellers. We’ve created new means of value, have bartered and bargained our ways into new ways of doing business. We roll, rail, fly, and soon, we may be zipped down pneumatic tubes. Communication has been reimagined, and our virtual selves amplify messages that might have once been heard only by a handful of local folks sipping Saturday coffee in the town diner. Spirituality–we’ve innovated there, too, reimagined the limits of human enlightenment. (Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of new religious movements, most of which sprung up after 1900.)

Innovate; innovate; innovate.

Create; create; create.

We are a people made to make things. And yet, with each passing day, I’m finding more and more resistance to the practices of personal creativity. The tank runs dry far too often, and instead of creating, I found myself spiraling down the consumptive drain.

What’s on the tube? What’re the masses on Twitter saying? Which political thread is 100 comments deep on Facebook? The Times. The Post. The Gazette. CNN. Fox News. BBC. Whatever.

We’re known for consumption these days, and so often it displaces creativity in my own life. Do you know this feeling? Be honest.

Over the next few days, I’d like to explore the things that choke our creativity. I have a working hypothesis–one I can’t get back up just yet, but it goes something like this: over-consumption kills the creative drive.

We’ll continue this series in the coming days, but for now, tell me: have you found it difficult to carve out creative space these days? Why?

Please join the discussion on Facebook.

 

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Scriptural Imagination and Ferguson (Part III)

In light of the Ferguson protests,  I’ve been exercising “scriptural imagination,” and reading the words of Jesus with fresh eyes. (Follow this link to read the entire series). Yesterday I examined Matthew 7:1-23. Today, I’m taking a fresh look at Matthew 7:24-29.

Follow the hashtag #ScripturalImagination on Twitter for more renderings, and feel free to add some of your own.

*****

Matthew 7:24-29

The Two Foundations

Jesus drove the point home. “Everyone who hears and acts on my hard teachings—the teachings on secret prayer, mindful action, bearing the sorrows of others, and bearing peace—is like a wise person who builds their house on the high ridge of reconciliation outside the flood zones of violence. The rain of terror and violence may fall, the floods of oppression may breach the sandbag wall, and the winds of propaganda may blow and slam against that house to the point of great fear; and yet the house will hold strong. It will not fall, for it has been founded on the rock of a correct and active faith. It has been founded on the rock of my teachings.

“But what about those who hear these words of Mine and do not act on them, who opt instead for violent revolution, the terrifying teargas oppression, or who otherwise seek glory through contrived and false reconciliation? Or what about those who see a ‘good crisis’ and act in self-interest, self-righteousness, or self-indignation? They will be like foolish men who built a high-rise apartment complex at the lowest point in the flood zone. The rains of terror will fall. The floods of fear and oppression will come. The winds of propaganda will blow and slam against the building, and because the high-rise was built on an incorrect faith, it will fall. And its fall will be loud and raucous, and it will be broadcast on CNN for all the world to see.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their politicians and pundits.

 

*Photo by Debra Sweet, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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