Categotry Archives: creativity

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Embracing the Changes

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Categories: creativity, How I am, missional, moments of truth

So you’ve probably noticed that over the past few weeks, the number of my posts here has been dwindling considerably. I generally try to get over here at least three times a week, but lately I’ve been fortunate to post once a week. A couple of weeks ago, I simply asked a couple of questions, and the comment section ended up providing enough content to do us all for a month! 🙂

But there is a reason for the reduced posting. I’ve been working on some things on this end, and now it’s time to let you know what I’ve been up to.

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Who Does She Think She Is?

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Categories: creativity, healing wounds, women's issues

Yesterday afternoon, blogger friend Kathy invited some folks over to her house to watch a movie and discuss it, and the family and I went. We can do that now, being that we now live near her. 🙂

The movie was called Who Does She Think She Is?, a documentary about women in the arts, their struggles to find their voice, the obstacles they face–and the price they often pay for their choices. (No–I was not the only man in attendance.) The movie made was by the same people who made the Oscar-winning film Born into Brothels.

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The Big Reveal (part 2: The Foundation)

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Categories: creativity, Things that are too good to keep

Normally, today I would post an excerpt from my bi-weekly contribution to Communitas Collective. However, I’m in the middle of something here; so today I’m just putting up a link to the article, so I can continue with “The Big Reveal.” 🙂

I started this yesterday by sharing a dream in our hearts that still lacks detail, but is taking shape–a dream of an out-of-the-box creative community for the mutual nurturing and encouraging of the arts, one in which the love of Christ can be ministered without it taking on the churchy cultural feel, and without attempting to create “Christian” art. (Remember–“Christian” is supposed to be a noun, not an adjective. People are Christians, not art.)

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The Big Reveal (part 1: The Dream Takes Shape)

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Categories: creativity, Things that are too good to keep

For a number of months now, I’ve been teasing and baiting my readers about something BIG coming in my life, dreams my family and I are dreaming, changes happening.

The wait is (almost) over.

I say “almost” because this thing is so BIG that I’m taking more than one post to reveal it. Starting today.

And I say “BIG” because it’s huge for me…it might not be so big for you once you read about it. Just so you won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t blow you away. 🙂

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My Changing Views on Worship

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Categories: changing mindsets, creativity, Meanderings (look it up), music, worship

So lately I’ve had worship on my mind, and have been observing a shift in my thinking about worship in the past couple of years. Seems I did some of this before, in a blog series called Re-Thinking Worship. But I’d like to revisit this from a different angle, less from just tossing around ideas, and more about how those ideas are reshaping my whole approach and belief system about it–sort of comparing how I used to see it, and how I see it now.

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The Rape of the Media

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Categories: creativity, food for thought, Meanderings (look it up), Rantings

Now THAT title ought to get me some Google hits. 🙂

Actually, at first glance, that title might seem to some like a contradiction. It sounds almost like “the media” (meaning the news media) are the victims, rather than the perpetrators as many of us often think of them.

However…that’s not what I mean by “media” here. 🙂 I am referring to the broader definition; any form of communication, particularly public communication, is a medium, not just journalism. Art, music, dance, literature, television, movies…all of them (and others) are the media I’m talking about.

So…who has been raping the media?

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I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means (or, Why I Split Hairs)

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Categories: creativity, food for thought

So I’ve spent a couple of posts now rambling on about things like creativity, performance, and excellence. Don’t know if you are bored with it yet, but it’s entertaining me plenty. 🙂 So…

I have to admit, as a creative type, musician-type person, I feel a little bit like a crybaby when I start defending things like performance and excellence in the setting of church. Like, “Hey, don’t mess with my stuff!” But really, honestly, although some might think I’m splitting hairs over what words like these mean, there’s a legitimate reason why I do it. You see, miscommunication mainly happens not over what people say, but over what people mean by what they say. And when certain words mean different things to different people, we can send the wrong message without even realizing it.

I know that a lot of the people I contact on this blog are in different places of re-thinking church as usual, and come from a variety of backgrounds and a diversity of beliefs. But at heart, it seems like most of us have two basic shared desires in common:
  1. We want our expression of faith to be authentic (real, approachable, believable); and
  2. We want our expression of faith to be inclusive (reflecting Christ’s love to all people without condition and without regard to the state of their soul).
These two priorities fly in the face of most of what we see in the institutional church, especially in the evangelical/charismatic branches of it. Too often, our super-polished services and cliche-filled rhetoric seem anything but authentic; and our celebrity-status platform personas (not to mention our unspoken rules of protocol) seem anything but inclusive. So I completely understand and agree that we must take tangible steps to distance ourselves from that scene. We want to welcome people into active participation in our gatherings (whatever form that takes), and we want to let people know it’s okay if their contribution is unpolished or messy, because it’s okay that we are messy Christians. If we want to be authentic and inclusive, it’s absolutely necessary to free people from the unfair expectations of polished professionalism and super-Christian spirituality.

But here’s the problem. Because we are a task-oriented, performance-oriented culture that wrongly measures one’s value by one’s ability–we tend to use words like “performance” and “excellence” as comparison words that measure how “good” a person is at doing something. “Performance” and “peformer” become words that negatively represent the phony, slick, polished churchy image; and the word “excellence” comes to mean perfect and flawless (which is unattainable to nearly all mankind, and therefore exclusive).

In other words–performance becomes the antithesis of authentic, and excellence becomes the antithesis of inclusive. Meanings unintended for either word.

In the words of the great Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 🙂

Now, to clarify, I understand why people use these words this way–they are viewed as comparison words, words that measure people by their abilities, words that make us feel like we mustn’t goof up…words that (when misunderstood) intimidate the heck out of the very people we’re trying to include. I also understand that when people say we should do away with “performance” in the church and not demand “excellence” of people, what they generally mean is that we need to be authentic and inclusive! And…I agree with what they mean! In that sense…we’re basically saying the same thing.

So what’s the big deal? Why split hairs over this?

Because one of our goals is to be inclusive…and that includes people in the creative community. And that includes people who want to be creative as more than a hobby…who want to excel at their art. When words like performance and excellence come to mean things that should be avoided–even in the name of being inclusive of everyone without regard to skills or staus–we run the risk of alienating some people while trying to include others.

Let me make it just a little more personal. When performance and excellence become negatives…I feel like the one excluded. I become the one marginalized. I, and many other creative people like me who constantly seek excellence in the things we perform. These things are part of who we are, part of our underlying passion. When these words come to mean something else, something comparative, something negative…it sends the unintended message that we might have to deny part of ourselves–to become, well…inauthentic, in order to be included. I hope that makes sense.

By affirming and defending the concepts of performance and excellence, I’m not suggesting we keep church as usual. (What has the last year and a half of writing this blog been about again?) I’m not suggesting that ministry and music should continue to be the exclusive territory of the best performers. I don’t believe that at all. If it seems that way to you, it is because you are still thinking of these words as comparison words. And I do not think they mean what you think they mean.

So what do these words mean? Or at least, what do I think they mean? 🙂

  • To perform means “to excecute or do something.” That’s basically it. (In this, I am right there with dictionary.com in my definition. We all perform.)
  • Excellence means “virtue or pre-eminince; to excel.” (In this, the dictionary actually does imply comparison; but from a Biblical standpoint, it speaks of that virtue of spirit that brings forth the best of itself–like Daniel’s “excellent spirit.”)
Taken together–to perform something with excellence simply means to do your best, and do it with all your heart. No comparisons with others; only yourself. How does this exclude anyone? Shouldn’t we all be this way?

And when we approach our tasks this way…is this not just about as authentic as we could be?

So if my hair-splitting troubles you, I hope you’ll extend me some grace. And regardless of what these words actually mean, or should mean…I understand that so many people perceive them as intimidating. So if you want to shy away from using words like these to keep from intimidating people, I understand. But at the very least, please don’t use “performance” and “excellence” as words with negative meanings. For at heart, these words really aren’t in opposition to an authentic faith, or an inclusive one.

And neither are the creative people who hold these values so dear.

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Excellence, the Widow’s Mite, and the First Church of the Mediocre

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Categories: creativity, food for thought

My previous post, which was initially inspired by some interaction on Communitas Collective, has deepened my stream of thought on some things. So I’m going to launch out and paddle my rowboat (read: blog) into the current, and let it ride, to see where this stream goes.

(Translation for anyone who might be totally lost by my elaborate and over-dramatic use of metaphor above: I want to jump off the previous discussion about performance, showiness and authenticity, and do a few posts exploring the idea of creativity in the church.)
The first stop along this stream comes courtesy of Erin, whose comment on the last post mentioned a worship-leading couple who left their church because of the excessive “demands for excellence.” Toss the anchor, mateys (oh, wait, this is just a rowboat)…but anyway, let’s stop here and talk about excellence for a bit. Specifically, the demand for excellence in the church, and its implications.
I’ve talked about the concept of excellence quite a bit in sharing with different worship teams and church musicians over the years, because it’s a concept I think is largely misunderstood. In recent years, in the attempts of many institutional churches to be more relevant, respected, or culturally accepted, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the need for “excellence.” Only the most skilled musicians are allowed to play on the team; only the most dynamic speakers get to talk into a microphone; often every element of the service is planned down to the minute, like a television show, so the meeting is executed flawlessly; and of course, everyone needs to be happy. Spit-and-polish. (I know a guy who runs the PowerPoint program at his church who is required to attend the worship team rehearsal, to make sure he synchronizes the song lyric projections as they run through the worship set.) And in the interest of disclosure–for many years I was right in the middle of this way of thinking.
This show-must-go-on mentality has (understandably) provoked a negative reaction from those whose hunger is driving them toward more authentic expressions of faith. These people realize that so much of what is projected from church platforms is neither real nor accessible, and that the true church (i.e., believers) should be participants in the gatherings, not spectators watching a bigger-than-life production. And I really get this–especially as in recent years God has reshaped my view of “church”, and moved me into a more relaxed, organic expression. I really like open participation in church gatherings, and I believe it most parallels what the early church looked like. It is good and right for people to be welcomed and encouraged to engage one another, and their Lord, regardless of how “good” they are at doing a certain thing. And although, as I mentioned in the last post, anything we do is technically a “performance”–that doesn’t mean church itself should be a performance, or that we are performing for one another. In other words…church is community. Church is not a show.
I get all that. Buuuuuttt….
…as some regular readers might have already figured out, I’m one of those people who wants to be careful to toss only the bathwater, and keep the babies. And I think we take it too far when we start downplaying excellence, acting like it’s a negative thing. I know why we do that–we want to draw in the people who are self-conscious and intimidated by all the church shows they’ve seen. But I think when we extend that to mean excellence is not something to be desired or expected, that swings the pendulum too far the other direction, and a baby gets lost. And here’s why…
“Excellence” does not mean “perfection.”
The definition I use for “excellence” is doing the best you can with whatever you have. It has nothing to do with skill level. Excellence doesn’t mean being the best; it means giving your best. Excellence doesn’t compare one person’s performance to another; excellence compares our own performance with our own potential.
And unless I’m reading this Book totally wrong…it seems to me the Bible is replete with admonitions to give God our very best at all times. A couple of times it is worded this way: “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart.” That is excellence. And that should never be discarded, either in a public gathering, or in our personal life.
How does this look in real life? As an example…if a man who is prone to stuttering stands up and reads a prayer in a church gathering, and mumbles and stutters through the whole thing with great difficulty, but does so with all his heart because He loves Jesus…I believe that is excellence in the eyes of God. (In fact, I think He would find that absolutely beautiful.) But let’s say a professionally trained musician gets up and plays a worship chorus, and does it half-asleep with no energy or sense of meaning, forgets the words because he just didn’t care too much about learning them, and is obviously flying by the seat of his pants and bored with the whole thing. Even if that guy’s half-hearted performance was more skillful than anyone else in the room could have done, that is NOT excellence. That is mediocrity, because he was capable of much more, but he brought to God that which cost him nothing.
For that matter, when it comes to talents and abilities, raw talent alone does not equal excellence. Excellence is what compels a person to take that raw talent and work and shape it to be all it can be. I have personally known musical geniuses at the level of Mozart or Bach who doomed themselves to mediocrity simply because they didn’t regard their own gifts enough to cultivate them.
So when the worship-leading couple Erin mentioned left the church because of the “demands for excellence”–and realizing I don’t know them and can’t say for sure–I would venture a guess that what they were really leaving behind was the church’s demand for perfection.
Because excellence in God’s eyes really isn’t about polished performances. Just like authenticity–excellence is more a matter of the heart. I think specifically of Daniel, whom the Bible says possessed an “excellent spirit.” I believe it’s that kind of excellence that God honors and memorializes. It isn’t the excellence of the rich man who gives an offering equivalent to a year’s pay for most of us; it’s the excellence of the widow’s mite.
So in our continuing quest for authenticity in our faith, I think it’s important to remember this. It is right to question the modern church’s current fixation on polished productions and professionalism. It is not right to allow this to become an abdication of excellence or an invitation to mediocrity. We aren’t called to be the First Church of the Best Show In Town; but neither are we called to be the First Church of the Mediocre of Heart.
It’s important for us to remember what excellence really is, and where it resides. May we continue to challenge ourselves, and one another, to be free–but not driven–to offer God “widow’s mite” excellence, the very best of ourselves at all times. No matter what form our gatherings may take, now or in the future–may we always pursue the excellence of spirit.

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Rockstars, Church, Performers and Authenticity

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Categories: church, creativity, food for thought, music

I was meaning to bring this up on its own, but since it works as a point of introduction for this post…I have been asked to be a regular contributor to the site I told you about the other day, Communitas Collective. I will be posting every other week to the “Survivor” blog, the “recovering church leaders” part of the site. My first post is already in the cue for Friday, although by coming into the mix at the last minute, I don’t feel like I’m quite in sync yet with the cool blogger vibe over there (be patient, guys, I’ll find the beat!). But anywhoo…I count it a great privilege to be participating with CC, and look forward to what is happening over there.