Posted by: gmscan | July 28, 2012

On Creativity

I am reading Dorothy Sayers’ “Letters to a Diminished Church.” Sayers is, of course, the author of the Peter Whimsey mystery novels and a contemporary of Agatha Christie. But she was also a classical scholar and a defender of orthodox Christianity along with her friend and other contemporary C.S. Lewis.

I want to spend a couple of posts on her, but right now I want to focus on one of her key messages. The book is a collection of sixteen essays she wrote during and after World War Two as Great Britain was struggling to find itself. Some of these essays are wonderful and would be worth quoting here in their entirety. Others, not so much. But all are urging the church to return to its basic creeds, rather than softening its message to be all things to all people.

She argues that people who are floundering don’t need platitudes, but rock solid truths to hold on to. I am reminded of the pastor I met many years ago in Maine who told me that if I smile when the sun rises in the morning, I am a Christian. “Huh,” I thought, “what kind of religion is it that demands so little and offers even less? Why bother with pablum?”

She begins with the Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things.” She explains –

That is the thundering assertion with which we start; that the great fundamental quality that makes God, and us with him, what we are is creative activity. After this, we can scarcely pretend that there is anything negative, static, or sedative about the Christian religion. “In the beginning God created;” from everlasting to everlasting. He is God the Father and Maker. And by implication, man is most god-like and most himself when he is occupied in creation.

She says when Scripture states that man is made in the image of God, this is what it is talking about. It is not the juvenile idea that God looks something like us but with a better beard, but that man is able to create. Man can take a word, a thought, and turn it into a reality.

Being a writer, Sayers sees man’s creativity expressed in the arts, especially in poetry. She writes –

It is the artist who, more than other men, is able to create something out of nothing.

In this she is joined (some sixty years later) by N.T. Wright who says –

It is, I believe, part of being made on God’s image that we are ourselves creators, or at least procreators.

(It is) the beauty of creation, to which art responds and which it tries to express, imitate, and highlight.

I disagree.

Artists and writers are fine as far as they go. They can inspire both hope and despair. They can take an idea that never existed before and expand on it until it affects many millions of people. We see that phenomenon all the time in music, film, and literature. The influence on our culture can be permanent and profound.

But the real creators are business entrepreneurs.

Both Sayers and Wright are contemptuous of business. Both go on very long rants about this. Wright calls it “glitzy, glossy Western capitalism…. (that) amounts to theft by the strong from the weak, by the rich from the poor.” Sayers decries a system in which “the value of all work and the value of all people are to be assessed in terms of economics (and in which) the production of anything … is justified so long as it issues in increased profits and wages.”

She goes on –

The one and only thing that ever seems to have roused the meek and mild Son of God to a display of outright physical violence was precisely the assumption that “business was business.” The moneychangers in Jerusalem drove a very thriving trade and made as shrewd a profit as any other set of brokers who traffic in foreign exchange; but the only use Christ had for these financiers was to throw their property down the front steps of the temple.

She could not be more mistaken. Jesus had no particular problem with moneychangers (or tax collectors, or owners of vineyards). He had a problem with violating the Temple.

Earlier in her book, Sayers wrote –

It is … startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion what it is.

I would suggest that she and Wright, and a whole lot of other church people are guilty of the exact same thing when it comes to business. They have never engaged in it and don’t have a clue about how it works. They “dislike and despise” business “without having the faintest notion what it is.”

In fact, business is the ultimate example of man using God’s gifts to create things that never before existed. It goes far beyond taking pen to paper as an artist might do. Business involves creating systems, mechanisms, people working together cooperatively to do precisely what Christ commanded – feed the poor, clothe the naked, house the homeless, care for the sick.

I have started a lot of businesses in my life, and have ideas for many others. In every case, I began with nothing more than a thought, an idea. One that no one else had, or that no one else was able to bring to life. This is how every business begins – without exception.  If they are successful they may grow into vast, global enterprises, but they all start with one person having a thought.

We really should know this these days. One has to be purposefully ignorant to ignore the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both began by working in their garages with no more than an idea. And both have transformed all of our lives for the better.

But the list of similar efforts over the years is endless – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John Deere, and on and on and on. These people did not create just to get rich. Like every artist they had an irresistible impulse to turn their ideas into reality. Where did that impulse come from?

Now, it is absolutely true that there is a risk to creativity. As with all human enterprises, we can become prideful and lose our way. But this too has always been the case and infects every sphere of human activity, from the builders of the Tower of Babel, to the makers of idols and Golden Calves, to artists who put Christ in a jar of urine, to employers who treat their workers like slaves.

All of these people are lost. But when did the Church start despising the lost? Can there be anything less Christian than despising the very people who Christ came to save? If the slave trader John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”) can be saved, who cannot be?

What Sayers and Wright should be doing is encouraging the God-given creativity of artists AND entrepreneurs and showing them that their abilities are gifts from the greatest Creator of all.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Outstanding post! I have always maintained that God in creating the material universe had more in common with the entrepreneur than anyone else. I appreciate wordsmiths, and I enjoy Wright’s scholarly approach to Scriptures, but many writers, like scholars, musicians and other artists, live in world full of ideas and theories, sometimes insulted from the “real world” where there are consequences to every transaction, good or bad. This would seem to be a weakness, but it probably allows them to function in the world of the imagination and intellect. Sometimes I wish folks like this would just stick to their areas of expertise (murder and mayhem, Bible commentaries, etc.).

  2. Greg, what a resounding rebuttal of the British Christian view of business. Rather like the comedy that has been running in downtown London theatres for years, “No Sex Please, We’re British.” (By the way, I am British, I love England, I am a passionate Christian and an incurable entrepreneur!) Why so many Christians are negative about business has never been clear to me. How else are jobs created. It certainly is by government! Keep speaking loud and clear with that creative mind (and pen) that God has given you.

  3. Greg:
    Creativity extends to business ventures as well as painting, writing ,etc.
    The key is to use our God-given talents and abilities to help repair our world.
    One of the problems of business can be when the big boys try to stifle creativity, maintaining the status quo, in order to protect their turf.
    I believe the health insurance industry to be an excellent example of creative blockage.
    In that situation, money is abused, rather than properly used for material and spiritual progress.
    From a Jewish perspective, creativity is very important.
    That is why on the Sabbath, Jews cease from creative functions, of which there are 39.
    Then, with the needed respite, we are able to go continue our creative journey, in the semblance of God, the greatest Creator of all.
    Shalom,
    Don Levit

  4. Greg,
    I have so enjoyed following your journey and walk with the ways of Christ. Also, your comments Don, are wise and winsome. Shalom, back at you.

    God calls us all to live in the world and not be of the world. There seems to be at least seven centers of influence in the world. Church, Family, Government, Arts, Media, Government, Business and Education. Wherever, God has called you, love your neighbor and serve to the glory of God.

    I will have more time to blog on this later, I am not a blogger or writer, but I love all that is going on here.

    I look forward to breaking bread with you Greg and any other of your followers in the Frederick, MD/DC area.
    Dennis

  5. Greg,

    That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing your journey.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: