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Creative Spirituality

Justin Barber
5 min read

As a designer, I consider creativity as one of life’s essential virtues. So I love that out of all the possible ways God could have been introduced in the Bible, creative is the very first attribute used to describe him. The opening line of the Bible says:

”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Creativity, or being inventive, is a direct reflection of God. If God is creative, we should be as well. And yet, I’ve rarely seen the concept of “creativity” consistently embraced or discussed within the faith communities I’ve been a part of.

Prayer? Yes. Scripture? You bet. Creativity…?

I think creativity is generally overlooked (and not just in faith communities cough Silicon Valley cough) because of two myths:

  1. The myth that only some people are creative
  2. The myth that creativity is a result of inspiration

In reality, creativity is less of a lightning strike reserved for the hallowed few and more of an iterative process accessible to anyone willing to work hard and stay open minded. Unfortunately many people never get the privilege of formally learning — or trying — a creative process for themselves.

But the secret ingredient to an effective creative process is pretty simple: just add constraints. Even God only gave himself six days to create the world (and I gave myself one sentence for this joke). Constraints provide edges to the void of potential.

When I started 100 for 100 back in 2015 as a way to develop my writing, I gave myself two constraints:

  1. I had to write every day for 100 days
  2. Each day I had to write at least 100 words

That was it! As long as I met those requirements, I could write about anything. The outcome of this process — which I didn’t anticipate when I started — was a small run of books that I funded through Kickstarter. When I started Technicolor last year, I decided that I would only use my phone for shooting photos (instead of a DSLR) because it reflects the intimacy of the interviews and today’s zeitgeist.

While these are just two examples of how I’ve imposed artificial constraints, sometimes constraints come from external factors that I have no control over.

Like a pandemic.

Because I’m healthy, social distancing is the biggest constraint in my day to day life as a result of Coronavirus. Like everyone else, Nidhi and I have had to find ways to engage with our community beyond physical presence — video chats, texting pictures of meals, syncing Netflix episodes, surprise doorstep gifts of homemade banana bread.

I’ve seen lots of creativity from individuals, communities, and industries that wouldn’t have happened without sheltering in place (especially through the use of Instagram Live). Did the NBA televise a H-O-R-S-E tournament on ESPN? Yes! Was it entertaining? No! But at least they tried (and I don’t mean that sarcastically).

Unfortunately, I’ve seen a trend in the news of the American church refusing to even consider creativity as an option. CNN reported that “a group of pastors is suing California’s governor over restrictions on religious gatherings.” And in the days leading up to Easter, the pastor of a Louisiana church was quoted by BuzzFeed as saying:

“My government is not my creator, my president is not my God,” continued Spell, who was charged with six misdemeanors last week for continuing to hold in-person services despite the coronavirus pandemic. “The president did not give me my rights to worship God and to assemble in church, and no socialist government or godless president can take that right away.”

Woof. If I unpacked everything in that statement we’d have enough to fill a 20,000 square foot Colonial mansion (though you could read this earlier Valleyist for a taste), but it’s worthwhile to list a few of the implicit assumptions I think this pastor holds:

  • Assembling in church is a right
  • Worshipping God can only happen while assembled in church
  • Church must be a large, in-person gathering
  • Socialism and/or godlessness (these might be the same?) — not a deadly virus — is the primary reason he can’t hold church
  • Potential risks to public health and safety are less important than his rights as an individual

The constraint of social distancing is forcing him to face an existential question: what is church if it can’t be a large, in-person gathering?

Searching for an answer requires a heart that’s receptive to (yearns for?) creativity. He doesn’t seem to be looking.

Thankfully, some people are.

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