One of the constant laments here at CAPC is the loss of creativity in the Christian sphere. Really, it’s a funny problem. The church is flung far and wide across ethnicities, cultures, geography, and political spheres. Is it really so hard to find a few creative Christians?
A short, sweet article by Frank Bures in Poets & Writers (Way, Way Too Much Information) makes the case that problems with creativity, at least in the field of writing, may have something to do with the constant flow of information we face. Often we have multiple e-mail accounts, dozens of websites we check constantly for updates, cell phones and pagers, news tickers, television (sometimes with multiple information flows happening at one time), newspapers and magazines, radio, snail mail, and advertising that manages to fill nearly every corner of our daily existence. Oh, right… we have to deal with the real world, too.
I recognized my personal struggles with this problem just the other day. After working through a, “stack,” of e-mails and clicking through a dozen websites, I attempted to read some poetry. I found myself impatiently skimming entire lines, checking the clock, and skipping ahead to find out what happens in the poem. Just for your benefit, I’ll let you in on a secret- that is NOT a helpful way to study poetry.
As Bures points out, using plenty of helpful testimonials from other writers, all of that information can easily waste our time, reduce our memory, and even temporarily decrease our IQ. Even worse, though (he says), it crowds out some of the most important characteristics of creative thought. He describes two of the key places where creativity is born; First, time spent doing absolutely nothing, and second, the mental state of forgetting the world around you, which writers call flow.
The article is excellent and I urge you to read it. The challenge for us as Christians, I think , is that we are generally no better at carving out or prioritizing time for unbroken reverie and creative thought. We allow our world to become so furiously full that we lose our ability to generate creative articulations of our physical and spiritual lives. When was the last time your church community worked together to do less of something? The nearest example I can think of is young couples babysitting kids for a, “parents night out,” but that time is usually spent (rightly!) on relationships rather than writing.
If we desire the Christian community to increase its depth and spirituality, we must begin thinking strategically about how to promote time for reverie, quietness, and unbroken thought. It’s nice to think of quiet times that way, but too often we only use that time to cram in Bible reading, active prayer, and a book chapter. If we want Christian art rather than culture-copying swill, we may need some systematic changes in how we disciple church members in the wisdom of building time away from the information flow. (And frankly, by that I mean systematic changes that go beyond a single Sunday school lesson on how to solve the problem by yourself. Our individualism is getting out of hand, and it isn’t solving problems.)
But even if we do set aside whether churches should be approaching this systematically (or, as is likely, if your church is not interested in addressing something like this), it’s good to consider how we can implement more time for creative thought and reverie into our lives. You may think that you don’t need it or that you are more productive without it, but there is a simple test for that- try it!
As I mentioned, I struggle with this issue a lot. In fact, one of my odd-but-explainable habits is that when I’m trying to solve a problem in my head, I go take a shower. This gets strange when I might take three showers a day while doing a paper for class, but perhaps I just have not bothered to discover any other place where my thoughts can simply run. So, I intend to work on carving out some time for reverie in the coming weeks- time uninterrupted by television, e-mail, cell phone, or even (gasp!) books.
My problem is that I let information overwhelm my ability to think creatively about the world God has placed me in. Is it also a problem for the church? Is it also a problem for you?