Tag Archives: creativity

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Good design has dramatic effects upon the human brain. We have all sensed that in one way or another — maybe through an abstraction painted by Pollock, a computer designed by Apple, or a sunset displayed by God.  But have you ever wondered why?

“Why We Love Beautiful Things” (you can read it here) is a well-written article that explores the connection between good design and science. It is worth reading for anyone who enjoys art and its relation to our brains. Here is how the article ends:

“We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”

I would add that science, too, is a gift from God. Science does not diminish from art, but adds to the incredible wonder of our complex, yet utterly coherent, world that God has made. From a theistic viewpoint, art and science compliment each other because they have a common Creator, so these findings should not surprise us, but rather encourage us as we pursue the arts and sciences.

 

Photo:  NY Times (click image for link)

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For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.

How Sweet and Awful Is the Place

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

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I am a huge proponent of incorporating technology into the local church. It deserves to be said, however, that when it comes to technology in the local church, we need to think through our options. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should.

On a practical level, one instance of this is the recent increase of multiple video screens (usually in larger churches) and the rise of satellite churches (which incorporate sermons via a video feed). After nearly 2000 years of church ministry, only in the past decade or two has this technology been an option. In response to this growing phenomenon, much could be said about the importance of personal contact, proximity, and lifestyle as they relate to preaching. A quick illustration, however, will suffice to show why we need to think through these issues:

At the most recent Presidential inauguration, there were roughly 2 million people in attendance. Some of these people were near President Obama or within eyesight, while others were 2 miles away at the Lincoln Memorial. Those who were far away, of course, depended on video screens in order to see what was happening on stage. They were present in person, but in in a different sense.

That actual event reveals a very simple truth: people within eyesight had a greater sensory experience, while those far away (though enjoying their time) had a much different experience. For those watching a video screen (2 miles away), there was a personal disconnect that could not be fully resolved by technology. At least to a degree, they were removed from the action. They were participating, for sure, but in a more distant sense.

Of course, this directly relates to preaching because a preacher appeals on behalf of God and calls people towards a response. We should want as much “proximity” as possible and not allow technology to get in the way. On the other hand, some may argue that technology increases proximity more often than decreasing it. Maybe the question we ask is, “How does this particular technology change ministry (compared to New Testament times), and how do we overcome any potential weaknesses?”

While technology certainly has a place and can be very helpful — obviously, without technology there would be no internet or printing presses — we also need to be aware of the drawbacks. The point here is that simply adding more technology does not automatically ensure real, inner life change. Rather than simply accepting whatever technology is available to us, we need to be careful and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating technology in the local church. The solution is not a boycott of technology, but a greater effort to think through how we use technology.

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Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone.  In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it.  Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.

On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:

Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.

Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.

The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?

On one hand, I want to say yes.  Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas.  As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary.  Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively. 

However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.

For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists.  Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.

God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!

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When it comes to truth, creativity can be disastrous.

My son, for example, used to think that he could leap off a balcony and fly. He really believed he was a superhero, so thankfully, we had a chance to correct him before he tried! Although it was a creative idea, without a doubt, my son had no say when it came to the truth of gravity.

Contrary to popular opinion, truth is not “wiki” or open source, where everyone has an input; nor is it democratic, where the majority rules. Some truths remain the same, no matter what, such as 2+2=4. And our opinions, no matter how brilliant, do not change everlasting truth.

For that reason, when it comes to creativity & theology, it is not our place to create our own truth about God. That is not our responsibility, nor do we have the ability to do so. God remains the same, no matter what we think about Him.

Therefore, creativity & theology do not construct, but uncover truth — as an artist chisels away stone to reveal something previously unseen. For the Christian artist, the content of truth remains constant, but the presentation of that truth that may change. In the case of the sculptor, the rock has always been there, but the shaping of the rock expresses truth in a different way (e.g., visual representation rather than philosophical argument).

As David Fitch and others are pointing out, truth can be communicated in many different ways. Many of us are caught in a modernist mindset and are hesitant to consider other expressions of truth. However, although we are comfortable with scientific facts and logical propositions, we need not limit ourselves to those. We can be creative and discover God in more ways than through our intellect.

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Theology is different from other “ologies” in the sense that if we only engage our subject intellectually, we miss the mark. We may understand hundreds of propositions about God, but if our imaginations are not involved in the process, I would say that we have failed. (By imagination I mean “envisioning what we do not rationally know.”)

Over at Signs of Emergence, Nick Hughes was quoted as saying, “I wish that someone, some group, something, somewhere would develop a theological project that captured the imagination. All the good ideas are elsewhere.” He is a graphic designer, not a theologian, but he expresses why many feel disenchanted and disconnected from theology.

Think about it: Shouldn’t studying theology make us more imaginative? If we truly and intently focus on God and His beauty, we will be inspired to overcome our ignorance. We will want to explore what we do not rationally know.

Songwriters can testify to this. When you write a song about a person, you intently focus on that person and you are inspired. The same goes for a glorious sunset. All you need to do is look intently, and the words and melodies naturally spring forth. In this way, something “other” or mysterious becomes personal.

Studying God, then, should inspire us — not only intellectually, but holistically. When we look at God and converse with Him, we should be enraptured with words, melodies, images, ideas, designs, and so on. After all, the source of creativity is God Himself.