Creatively Holding Your Breath

Some may be tired of the analogy by now but it still holds truth. Creativity is like breath. You go through cycles when you’re inhaling, taking in other peoples’ works and and not necessarily producing much yourself; and cycles when you’re exhaling, creating a lot of work and perhaps wishing you had more time to enjoy that of others.

This was my experience going into university. I wrote short stories that I would share with my friends and poems that I would share with lots of different people. I would also look at other people’s work, be they peers or professionals, and I found it inspiring.

Having been out of university for over a year now, I’ve found myself in a rather frustrating state. I find myself unable to produce. Or, more accurately, the inspiration and passion isn’t there as it was at the end of highschool. The conventional wisdom is that you don’t wait for inspiration or passion to come. You just sit down and write. But write what? “Anything.” So I sit and stare at the white screen trying to think of literally anything and nothing comes. I am unable to exhale.

On the other hand, I find it very easy to lose an hour of my day going over Greek conjugation tables, learning about theology, reading poetry, learning about music, learning about literature, learning this, learning that, learning everything. When I sit down and try to do something creative – nothing. So what’s going on? It’s like I’m creatively holding my breath but I have no control over it. What gives?

And then I realized something. I was in university for four years. For those four years, I was constantly asked to exhale even when I had nothing to exhale. My lungs were empty, but I still had to write an essay about this that and the other thing. My capacity to produce was always on the verge of tanking. Not to mention that as the years went on, more and more was asked of me.

So if I was constantly exhaling work for four years, maybe I don’t panic yet if it’s been one year and I haven’t completely caught my breath yet. Especially if I can tell that it’s slowly catching up again. When you’re underwater and you come out of the water, it takes a moment to regain your breath. That’s me right now.

The frustrating thing is that creativity is a big part of my identity. It’s who I am. I’m a poet. I have been nicknamed “Scribe.” I went to university to learn how to write. There’s a bit of an identity crisis wrapped up in all this but I am confident that whatever I’m going through will lead to valuable discoveries and expand my skills in the end.

And maybe it will be something interesting to write about.

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God and the Search for Home

My love for things like choral music and liturgy have taken me away from Evangelical church circles for quite some time now. In highschool I attended a Pentecostal youth group which I absolutely loved. During the same time period, I worked at a summer camp that was rather contemporary in its style of worship.

Then I began attending a private Christian university which provided me with all the Christian community and scriptural focus I needed. After university I spent some time attending Reformed and Anglican services.

And then yesterday (which was Sunday, for future readers) I attended a local Meeting House. They sang the contemporary worship and conducted the service in the contemporary style. And as much as I love the form and the artistry of liturgy and choral music and hymns, I felt moved by something very familiar that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. These people were passionate.

Now, don’t understand me as saying mainline churches and liturgical congregations can’t be passionate (although there may be a curious trend.) The members of my university choir took their faith seriously and sang with conviction. An actor like myself knows well that the same script played over and over doesn’t have to become a meaningless and dispassionate repetition, but the personal passion and conviction of the Christian faith does seem to escape some older styles of churches.

And, of course, if you truly understand who Christ is and what he did, how can you not be passionate?

For as long as I was in the worship portion of the Meeting House service, I felt a sense of being at home that I hadn’t felt in a while. I remembered the feeling of my days in youth group and summer camp. And this is only one instance in a series of experiences in my current life that I could describe as a yearning for “home.” I have dreams about the summer camp and my home town. I have dreams about my experiences in university. And I ask myself “Why it is that God would lead me to this place in my life where I always feel disconnected from one thing or another?”

“Why am I in this time in my life where I either feel disconnected from the style of worship I love, or the passion and conviction of worship? Why have I not settled into a career? When will I get to own my own home? When will I get to start a family? What is God’s involvement in all this?”

I don’t have any definitive answers, but I do know one thing I can take away from this and that is a reminder that our home is not on this present earth but with God. Home is not a particular style of worship, a feeling of passion, a career, a building, or even any particular relationships – as vitally important as those may be. Home is wherever we are with our Creator who created forms of art, feelings, vocations, places, and people. It’s when we forget this that we become truly estranged, as momentarily at home as we may feel.

When we remember the times in the past that we felt at home, find pieces of that feeling along our path, and plan for our futures on this earth, we should remind ourselves that all good things come from God and that we will find everything we’re looking for when we’re with him.

Theology and the English Major

Philosophy courses were a mandatory part of my university liberal arts education. Despite being a double major in English and Theatre, I had to take several courses in various other fields of study and I am very grateful for this. It opened my eyes to a lot of different disciplines that are relevant to my majors to varying degrees.

Philosophy is, of course, very important to the English major. A grounding in philosophy makes it much easier to discern and engage the worldviews of the author and characters of a story. This obviously carries over to theatre, where understanding the worldview of the characters is paramount to portraying them on stage.

One of the things I remember being told in Philosophy 101 was this – “Theology is Philosophy applied to God.” We were told this in the context of why philosophy matters. Students of my private Christian university would certainly understand the importance of theology. If philosophy is the discipline undergirding theology then of course philosophy is important.

Having had four years to think about that claim, I think I’ve come to understand that it has some limits.

When I hear philosophical arguments for the existence of God, usually they begin with the nature of the physical universe or with our ability to reason and make moral judgements. Then they explore whether these givens suggest the existence of something divine and whether a divinity is consistent with these givens. A common criticism for philosophical arguments for God is that they don’t lead us to a belief in any one particular deity or groups of deities.

I do see a lot of very interesting and engaging philosophical discourse on the nature, implications, and consistency of the Christian Trinitarian God. Recently, I keep coming into the idea that the Trinity and its plurality of persons allows for God to be loving in eternity past; love requires a subject and an object so a monadic God could not be loving in his eternal nature. Complex and fascinating ideas, but you can only discuss them once you have a doctrine of the Trinity and we didn’t get that from the philosophical arguments. So where did we get it?

This is the limitation of thinking of theology as merely philosophy applied to God: it ignores one of the major fundamental believes shared by all the major Abraham faiths – revelation. We don’t just do guesswork to figure out what God may be like. He told us what he’s like. And while revelation may take different forms, one of the most important (if not the single most important) to the Christian faith is the Bible.

We have a book with recounts to us the words and actions of God and we can explore that narrative, in its varying contexts and genres, to learn about the worldview of its author and main character – hey, wait a minute! This sounds familiar!

Theology is not just philosophy applied to God. Christian theology must be the craft of the English major applied to the Bible. Anything less ignores what God has said about himself.

Any specialist in a field faces the temptation to view their own discipline with a sense of inflated self-importance and I am no exception. I often scowl in my heart at those who pick up the Bible with no experience in, or knowledge of, how to interpret the meaning of a narrative. Many different disciplines have to come together to make Chistian theology happen; if we didn’t have people working homeless shelters and soup kitchens we could understand all the mysteries of faith and never actually live them. I only wish to defend the importance of one more discipline.

And we all need to understand that the the discipline itself is not to be an object of worship but a tool we use to understand the one who is.