Sunday, April 5, 2009

Creativity Killers

"From cradle to grave, the pressure is on: BE NORMAL. Those who somehow side-step that pressure and let their genius show are customarily ridiculed, reviled or otherwise discountenanced." —Gordon MacKenzie, Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

By Scoti Springfield Domeij

Sometimes it's nice to know that other creative souls understand the discrimination I've felt through the years. 1 Corinthians 12 states, "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons" Yet, often organized religion harbors and promotes intolerance. Their internal political machines demand that members march in lock step herd mentality with their theology, their beliefs, their mantras, and their causes.

How Often Have You Heard?

  • "You're not a fit. Maybe you need to leave." (Translation: Or we will get rid of you, even if we have to slander or lie about you.")
  • "You're rebellious." (Translation: What's wrong with you? We can't control you. Why can't you follow our man-made rules?)
  • "You're too edgy." (Translation: You're too honest. Our most strident followers don't do vulnerable.)
  • "You're a loose cannon." (Translation: Your questions or insight make us too uncomfortable. We're comfortable with the status quo.)

No Brain. No Drain. No Gain.

Believing their actions were for my own good, many religionists shot cannonballs through my heart, tearing gaping holes in my self-esteem, calling and faith. Too often religious folks prefer to discard those with whom they disagree rather than pursuing biblical resolution of conflicts, reconciling differences of opinion, or respectfully agreeing to disagree. Many religious people claim they do not believe in divorce, but in reality, they do. In defense of their theological, philosophical, or ideological preferences, it's easier and more expedient to build impenetrable, unforgiving walls to toss relationships over and out of their lives.

And we wonder why some form opinions that Christians are hypocrites.

For years, I've asked myself these questions, If Christ is so powerful, why doesn't he change the people who claim to know him?Why do religious people prefer religion to relationship with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and their fellow man? I think the answer is simple.

Fear of commitment, intimacy, and being real. Pride makes it too difficult to allow Christ to recreate us in his image. Too much open heart surgery.

Danger! Are You a Conformity Hazard?

G.K. Chesterton observed, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

Critical and creative thinking is discouraged and demeaned. It's a threat.

To what? Some claim to the truths of God's Word.

Why disturb beliefs in pet theologies? Why encourage people to think richly and deeply about their faith, when you can cling to rigidity. Black—White. Wrong—Right? When we close our eyes, we're all the same.

Sinful. Accepted. Loved. Forgiven. Gifted. Empowered.

Cloning vs. Body Building

A religious organization attracted creative, thoughtful people of faith. Yet many creatives did not feel supported or understood. Some left discouraged, stripped of their confidence in the way God created them to function and contribute within the body of Christ. Others lost their faith. The grinding corporate political infrastructure commanded allegiance to the founder—to the point of idolatry. Without question, the head honcho's views were correct—always.

Can anyone say "cult?" And some wonder why there are no C.S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton's today.

No human, I repeat, no individual's beliefs are correct all the time. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone's. Blind holes occur in every one's judgment. If the scholars are unable to agree about theology, what makes me think I'm "the" expert?

I wondered, Why do some leaders want clones, instead of mentees? Not one person is spiritually-identical to another. My spiritual DNA longs to replicate my Creator. Why not adopt a win-win attitude towards encouraging everyone's God-given spiritual and creative passions? How much better equipped would the corporate body of Christ be able to reach into all aspects of culture with God's good news? Enclosing the God-breathed creativity of others within a rigid theological and ideological grid is about as effective as herding cats.

Give Your Creativity Life

Writing provides a safe, quiet, and hidden place to express what I think, feel, and observe. After I survived the hurts inflicted by religionists, I became stronger in the Lord. I no longer believe naysayers. I study God's Word so I can ignore the roar of the herd and hear God's breath in my heart, soul, mind, and writing. I also have learned to surround my heart with friends who understand and encourage who God created me to be. Our friendships are more than cheering sections. I can count on them to hold me accountable. Gloria has cheered me on for years. And Beth has been my Velveteen Rabbit. Both are creativity healers.

Who has trampled or shamed your God-given abilities? What do you need to do to overcome the "shoulds" to break from the herd?


OdinC said...

Good article, Scoti! It was full of a good bit of pent-up hurt, but well-expressed.

I tend to like rebellious radicals, at least if I agree with them.

Nolan G

Scoti Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

MArk: Great piece, Scoti! I'm not sure I'm a healer, but I'm definitely NOT a killer. I'm too rebellious/skeptical/something to belong to a church right now, so I just don't go much anymore; some of it is for the reasons you mentioned.

Scoti: Thanks, Mark. I was actually a bit scared to post it!

Mark: Don't be. Church leaders (and others) need to get over themselves and quit doing things the "easy" way that end up chasing people away.

Julie: I needed that! I am the oddball of all oddballs, misfit is an understatement. Thanks for posting this, made my day.

Scoti Domeij, Director, Springs Writers said...

I enjoyed your article. It’s based on sound thinking and a clear-eyed recognition of the inherent prejudice of the ‘church member’. Here’s an article that I saved a few years ago, that tells the same story from a slightly different perspective. I’ve re-written and used this story a few times. I wish I had been the one to write this originally, but I was not.

C. S. Lewis always says it well, and his comment is, I believe, on point for what you were saying:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

C. S. Lewis

Anyway, here is the article I mentioned:

Think of the great artists of the Church, Michelangelo, Bach, really there have been too many to list, but one name is absent from the Who's Who of Christian artists who touched the world for God: Vincent Van Gogh.

Wait. Isn't he the guy who cut his ear off and died hopelessly insane? The same guy who suicided? Isn't he the artist who only sold one painting in his entire life but whose work today fetches in the upper umpteen millions? The same guy who died dirt poor? The same Vincent? But, but… well, wouldn't it be easier if we deftly swept his legacy aside and pretended to ignore his passion and love for God? In our `Only Positive is Good' world, Van Gogh proves an embarrassing contradiction.

Geniuses have a way of making everyone uncomfortable, forcing us to see the world through new eyes. And what do you do with the legacy of a Christian madman?

When God places His creative spark within a vessel, that vessel is then set apart for a very different path in life. Creativity is random, the ability to connect dots no one else even sees into cohesive form and substance. God is a Creator and he will sometimes uniquely gift an individual with creative ability. The greater the spark, the more random the creativity.

Van Gogh had three failed careers. First as an art dealer, then as a minister, and finally as an artist, though failure depends on your measure of success. He was notorious when selling a painting for explaining to art patrons why the particular piece they were interested in was really junk. His drive for artistic truth led him to financial ruin. His father was a successful Calvinist Christian minister, as was his grandfather, and it was expected that Vincent would follow in their footsteps.

As a young aspiring Christian, Vincent wrote, "It is my fervent prayer and desire that the spirit of my father and grandfather may rest upon me, that it may be given me to become a Christian and a Christian laborer and that my life may resemble more and more the lives of those named above; for behold, the old wine is good, and I do not desire a new one (Letter 89) . . . Oh that I may be shown the way to devote my life more fully to the service of God and the Gospel. I keep praying for it and, in all humility, I think I shall be heard . . . (Letter 92)1."

Vincent was an impassioned preacher but he failed his theological exams. He was dismissed from his church duties for, among other charges, taking the practice of Christian teaching to extremes: regarding the admonition of Jesus to the rich young ruler, Vincent actually gave away all of his worldly possessions! He would grow frustrated at trying to expound on truth and at age 27, discovered he could better express eternal things on canvas than behind the pulpit. He became a preacher in paint.

When Vincent left pulpit ministry, it sealed the rift between him and his father that never healed. The young Rev. Van Gogh could not explain his artistic passion to his father who felt he was off on some sort of pride tangent. As his mental health deteriorated, Vincent could never seem to grasp the forgiveness and free grace of God. Perhaps the stigma of not following in the pre-ordained footsteps of his father had something to do with it.

He accepted his call to paint with the fervency he felt to preach the Gospel. Painting, revealing God through art, was his passion. He would sketch and work for days forgetting to eat but even among painters, he walked his own road feeling rejected by the artistic world as well as the church. For a time, the only friend Vincent seemed to have in the world was a prostitute who befriended him. She was in ill health and he took care of her quite probably because Christ would have done the same thing.

At age 37, Van Gogh committed suicide by shooting himself through the side. He rejected the institutional church not out of rebellion, but out of a passionate, driving love for Christ. He seldom painted portraits of the Bible, or tried to illustrate the Bible: he wanted to capture the greatness of God on canvas. For one of the greatest sermons ever painted, see "The Starry Night."

In a final twist of a twisted fate, Van Gogh was eulogized by the Christ-rejecting humanist songwriter Don McLean (of `American Pie' fame.) in the haunting song "Vincent." The line, "With eyes that know the darkness in my soul," comes to mind looking at Van Goghs' haunting self-portraits.

Is it possible for a madman to genuinely love God? Cliff Edwards wrote, "Vincent through his art was able to reveal a God `so real, so direct, so visible in nature and in people, so intensely compassionate, so weak and vulnerable, and so radically loving, . . . a God we all want to come close to.'"

Will the Church continue to vanquish her poets, artists, musicians, and dancers to the world, or will we finally recognize that like Joseph's coat of many colors that provoked his brothers to envy, there are vessels that God uniquely gifts with artistic genius to display his glory to the world?

"They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they'll listen now."

jodigemma said...

Interesting article Scoti - and I love these thoughts about Van Gogh. Some of the study i've been doing in Song of Solomon charts this kind of event - a "shunning" by the religious leaders - as something necessary in nearly every believer's life in order to more fully develop our intimacy with the Lord (and not with religion or personalities or "other loves") ... it was a good way to view this kind of stuff. Just another trial in the progression of our character. Doesn't make it right, of course - but God can use it enormously if we stay true to doing the things God has called US to uniquely do