Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CONNECTING THE DOTS: The Decline of Creativity and Christianity in America

Dot # 1: They say that creativity is on the decline in America. There was an interesting article in Newsweek about it recently. I don’t doubt it. I’d noticed this long ago. At first I thought it was me, that I was being the usual social misfit, never fitting in, always being left of center. Even in a place where creativity thrives, the creatives are going to be in the minority.

I suspect that God, in God’s infinite wisdom, knew that if everyone had the creative jones, then civilization would be a disaster, or maybe even impossible. There would be plenty of ideas, inventions, and soul food, without a way to make any of it useful or available to anyone. It’s not that we’re impractical; it’s that once you create something out of nothing, you have to do something with it. The mad scientist has to comb his hair back into place, step back out of the real world, the one he sees that nobody else does, and make a convincing presentation. Then someone has to build a platform, a stage, or a business.

I have a sad tendency to run back into my cave before I can get to the presentation part. I have, however, peeked my nose around that virtual corner enough times, shaking in my shoes, and found acceptance and appreciation. But you know what I find even more? I find people who are inspired by my courage to create, who want to find their voice, too. There may be a decline in creativity, a sleepy trance cast by the glare of gigabytes and the phenomenon of incommunicable communication, but there is no decline in the need for creativity. Hearts don’t change.

They’ve placed some of the blame for our diminished afflatus (divine creative impulse) upon video games. I’m not sure why. I don’t play video games, but from what I can see they are one of the more creative aspects of our daily chillax time these days. It’s certainly no worse than the couch potato syndrome so popular among the baby boomers. At least now there’s a reasonably healthy aspect of tactility. You can’t snarf down as many chips when your hands are occupied on a keypad.

What exactly is creativity, anyway? The dictionary calls it “the use of the imagination or original ideas.” The thesaurus names it synonymously with “inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality, individuality, artistry, inspiration, vision, and initiative.” No wonder we need it. Creativity registers a culture’s vital signs.

According to the Newsweek article, the gravest concern regarding creativity’s decline is for the very young and what will become of them, and of future generations. There is a breakdown in the educational systems. Art is secondary. This misplaced priority is taking quite a toll. It is the soul of humanity that concerns them. A reasonable concern for any generation, wouldn’t you say?

Dot # 2: There’s a connection I see in all this. They say (they have a lot to say, don’t they?) that Christianity is on the decline in America, too. Newsweek did an article on that last year, as well. It almost made me tremble, and then I just cried. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said there is a  “post-Christian narrative animating large portions of this society.” My heart is racing at the thought of this, racing as though a monster is waiting around the corner to grab me; or maybe it’s a red tailed long horned devil. (A little Southern superstition lingers in my imagination and mingles with my faith). Yet, I don’t think the “post-Christian narrative” is animating anything. Numbing society, perhaps, turning hearts to stone.

But here’s the line I’m drawing from dot to dot. Is there a connection between loss of creativity and loss of Christianity? You see, for me, my religion is not an institution or a set of rules. My religion is an art form. I use the word “religion” synonymously with the word “faith,” but I know that is politically incorrect these days. I am comfortable without the mincing of words. I like the word “religion.” It is not my opiate, it is my heart-felt expression, like a song. I keep it in my private thesaurus synonymous with “spirituality,” “art,” and “faith.” My religion is a palette full of colors from which a canvas is filled with  a beautiful portrait of life and praise. My religion gives me a language, albeit limited, and a community, albeit flawed, where I can pour out my heart in gratitude and trust. My religion is a story and I am participating in it. It is only an expression of a deeper spirituality. It is not political, elitist, exclusive, or empty. It is both personal and corporate, a celebration of our individual uniqueness and our unified love for our Creator.

My faith plugs me into the source of my creativity. I co-create with God. This is why I cannot separate creativity and my faith.

But why Christianity? What if our country becomes Muslim? Or pluralistic? We’re already pluralistic, but it doesn’t seem to want to stay that way. We humans tend to take sides. Will this change our creative trend more? For the better or for the worse? I have only known a Christian United States of America, whether or not we were good Christians. Some things go without saying. “God bless America, land that I love” spoke to the Christian God, the One true and living thou shalt  have no other gods before me God.

If we lose our faith, we lose our creative spark.

I remember when the main proof we had that there is one true and living God who sent His son Jesus to save and bless the world, was the Bible. The Judeo-Christian Bible. Now, it only seems to hold weight in certain circles. To some it is nothing more than a cliquish bunch of narrow-minded backwoods jargon, or at best, something that used to mean something to somebody’s grandma.

I’m hoping the Bible will make a comeback. It was my first inspiration for my writing.

I read the Bible as a creative work first, never as a manual. Yes, I am guided by those life-giving words. I see a world in those texts more flamboyant than Harry Potter’s, more real than Brave Heart’s, and more mysterious than Narnia’s. The Bible is first and foremost, story. Vital, true, relevant, story.

I must admit, though, that I do not see so much creativity in the Christian church these days. Maybe stained-glass and statues don’t get us to God, but those Byzantium artists sure had a way with icons. Images throughout history that I have never even seen have spoken to my heart, such as Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel or his Pieta, which has inspired a song or two for me.

Christianity began to lose ground in this country when it got stupid and greedy. Greed is cold-hearted. People may respond to marketing plans and choreographed worship for a season, but whether they know it or not, they have a higher standard set for church. It is, indeed, a matter of the heart, of healing, of peace of mind, and of caring. Caring for every person. Christianity is about the Light of the World, not the spotlight.

 Christianity distracts itself with issues of politics and power around it’s self-imposed round table. It’s concave agendas alchemize it into something dark, something Jesus Himself disdained. Read the book of Matthew lately?

It isn’t just money and politics that has quenched the Spirit and brought decline to the faith of our fathers and mothers. It is also fear, too much worrying over who’s wearing the right thing or who’s keeping all the rules. But the answer is not Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops in the pulpits. It’s like Aunt Bea deciding to get a tattoo and some go-go boots and calling herself “hip.” If you’re “churchy,” be churchy; if you’re a hippie for Jesus, be a hippie. Just be real, and do it out of a sincere heart after God and love for His world and all the people in it.

Forcing Christian prayer out of schools was a bad step for this culture. Taking art out may have been even worse. Maybe the answer begins with being alarmed over both of these tragedies. Then, go buy a box of Crayolas and color the sky green and the grass blue. Open up your heart to new possibilities. Write a song. Doodle a prayer. Is there room in cyberspace for another Rembrandt, or Chopin, or Hemmingway? Is there room in the church for unabashed miracle working faith? Is there room in this nation for a little more faith and poetry, and the intangibles that keep laboring humanity alive?

Contexts may change, but hearts never do.

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