Creativity and Mission, Part Two

June 18, 2010

This past weekend, I participated in Denver 2010 — a regional gathering for the Ecclesia Network. I was one of 12 speakers who gave 14 minutes presentations on a particular topic as it relates to mission. Below is the second half of my manuscript. Part one was posted yesterday.

First, creative work, when properly understood, takes the shape of an eschatological expression of hope. The faulty understanding of creativity as a means of expression alone is rooted in dualism. Ultimately, creativity seen this way serves only as a physical means to a spiritual end, ideally the saving of individual souls or advancement and growth of our churches.

But creativity as hope recognizes that this world is not doomed to complete destruction but to a renewal, a purging of corruption as God once again joins heaven and earth. The Bible begins with God walking among humans in a garden, but it ends with God living among humans in a city. Could it be that some of our most meaningful and beautiful artwork, songs, stories, even architecture have some kind of place in this renewed earth that we long for?

If that is the case, and I think that it is, then our creative work is co-creating with God in expectation of this final day of renewal. This is an understanding we have struggled to hold to in the west, and one where we can learn from our brothers and sisters in the Eastern church. Greek Orthodox theologian Angelos Vallianatos describes it this way:

“The human being, endowed with God-given qualities, then becomes God’s co-creator. God who is love thus demits from the right to be the only creator on earth, and in his love he calls the human being to take the “very good” world in his hands and lead it to its immortality. If the human being chooses this way of life, the whole of creation will follow it.”

For Vallianatos, as humans interact with God’s very good world, we take an active role not only in demonstrating, but in pulling the renewed and recreated world from the future into the present.

Alongside hope for a future not yet realized, creative work also serves as an act of love in the present. The very core of creative work is an act of giving of one’s self. It has a cost. Speaking specifically about writing, Anne Lamott describes it this way:

“You are going to have to give and give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward. There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.”

The Creator was the first creative, and that first act of creating was an expression of love. A few years ago, I was researching for a paper on creation, and I was stunned by one shared insight that came up again and again. Theologians from all backgrounds kept finding their own ways to state that God’s work of creation was borne out of love. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

“The creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love. The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do.” — NT Wright

“Because God is love, God is self-giving. Because God is self-giving, God willingly creates the world.” — Stanley Grenz

“But to confess that God is creator is to say more. It is to say that the free, transcendent God is generous and welcoming…The act of creation is a ‘fitting’ act of God. It fittingly expresses the true character of God, who is love.” — Daniel Migliore

“It was so much like God to create, to imagine possible worlds and then to actualize one of them. Creation is an act of imaginative love.” — Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

“God’s loneliness and God’s need for the other is the beginning of creation.” — Dorothy Soelle

God initiated this world with a burst of love. And every creative act since, in it’s most pure form, is an act of love. It is a gift to others, an invitation to life and goodness. The strokes of a pen, the dabs of paint, the strums of a guitar — any act of creativity is a partnering with God in re-creation.

So whatever role you may find yourself in, a pastor, a teacher, an evangelist, I pray you will see it as an act of creative work. The compulsion I feel, and you feel, to make something new is crying out from the core of our humanity. It is calling you to give yourself for the benefit of others. And that is why it is hard, and why sometimes you feel blocked. The part of you that is broken, the part of you that only wants to be concerned about the protection of self, is trying to hold back who God created you to be. You bear the image of the Creator.

May you be a re-creator
A co-creator
A dreamer
A maker
An imaginer
An artist
An entrepreneur

An agent of hope toward a renewed creation
And a giver of love in this broken creation

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