The tagline for the Blue Room is "a space for beauty, ideas, creativity, and the life of the Spirit." I tagged it thusly because that's the purpose of the Blue Room in our house. It's my home study, the homework place, the kid arts and crafts room. But it feels high-falutin' to have that tagline. I don't feel worthy of it. Then yesterday I listened to Creativity and the Everyday Brain, an interview with neuroscientist Rex Jung on Being. And it encouraged me.
You can read the whole transcript, but here's the pertinent bit for me, and I suspect, for many of you who plan worship, education and mission in the church. Prior to this, Krista Tippett and Rex Jung had been talking about Einstein's term, "spiritual genius," and what it meant:
Ms. Tippett: One of the people I've interviewed is Jean Vanier. Are you familiar with him? He started the L'Arche Movement, which is a global movement of communities centered around people with mental disabilities, especially Down syndrome. I think, if Einstein had known him, he might have said 'there's a spiritual genius.' But even if you put that language to one side, I think that's a form of creativity — there's socially useful, novel and useful, creativity.
Dr. Jung: Yes.
Ms. Tippett: Right, that — that fits your definition, but it's not immediately what comes to mind. We think of artists, we think of scientists.
Dr. Jung: It's not, but I totally agree that that is a form of creativity and a very valuable form of creativity and perhaps something that we're moving towards in our increasingly complex society. It's not just going to be a product. It's not just going to be an artifact like a painting or a dance number. It's going to be moving groups of people together and motivating groups of people in certain ways, and that's a creative endeavor in this L'Arche Movement that you're talking about. This is a kind of — sounds like a new creative endeavor that we should start to recognize.
Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I mean, people think differently and live differently as a result of this.
That's the goal, isn't it, of that kind of creative endeavor? That people think and live differently. That's why we worship leaders pore over books to find just the right prayer of confession. Or comb our archives looking for a quote for the bulletin cover that will set the right tone. That's why groups of pastors fly off for a week of lectionary study with other trusted colleagues every year. (OK, one of the reasons.)
The transformed life is the artifact we're looking for.
But works of spiritual genius also happen on a level that's beyond us and our efforts. During Sunday's service I saw at least three people with tears in their eyes. That's not all that unusual, in my experience. Church is a place where people can tap deep wells of emotion. You don't force it or manipulate it. You just create a space where it can happen.
What was a bit unusual is that all three of these people were big strong men. It was holy ground.
In my work with NEXT Church, I've sometimes felt an insecurity among pastors of mainline churches. Are we dinosaurs because we offer a more traditional worship experience? Sometimes, yes, if it's not indigenous to the people we serve. But it's like we equate spiritual genius with tattoos and funky glasses. I feel this sometimes myself. I am in awe of the way some people think. I am creative, but within a form. I'm not nuking the Presbyterian order of worship, as many have (faithfully). It's the sandbox I'm playing in.
For others, there is no box.
But artistry comes in many shapes and sizes. During the NEXT conference, we sang a setting of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" that was utterly fresh and new, with guitar and percussion. And the music we made was like a wall of sound---I've never heard a congregated people sing that song like that. And at the end of the conference, the organist played the Widor Toccata, and dozens of people stood and soaked it in... even came up into the chancel to behold an artist at work.
Both experiences were traditional. And both were of the moment. Both were moments of spiritual genius.
Be of good cheer, friends who work in the church. There is an artistry to what you do.
Image: from the New Yorker article referenced in the On Being program, about how brainstorming doesn't work. Off topic for this post but worth a read.