on learning to finish

finishing

I started writing what you’re about to read 5 months ago, but it remained unfinished until now.  I have an honest confession to make about the pain of creativity in a world of shortcuts. As part of the Millenial generation, we’re immersed in a world of technological advancement that trains us to value the speed and efficiency of things, and therefore devalue that which seems slow.

So, I ask, what does it take for you to be creative? What does it take for you to finish?

Take an honest look at yourself: How good are you at reaching your goals? Do your Monday goals get forgotten by Wednesday? Do you start things with excitement but forget about them shortly after? Are you a master of finishing the projects you start? Do you ever get excited about something new–a hobby, a sport, a project, a goal, only to neglect it after a few hours or even overnight?

I’ve learned this about myself: I love to learn, and I love to get excited about learning new things. But what I know too well is that I prefer the novelty of learning, the idea of it, than the hard work it takes to truly learn. I am, I guess, a compulsive learner. I’m becoming aware that the interests that plague me today, will likely be boring old news tomorrow. I move on.

I have tons of examples from my life. Recently I found tutorial videos on a topic that interested me so I started to binge-watch them. After an hour of watching, I started to  watch the videos at twice the speed to hurry the learning process. I crammed as much as I could in a short period of time. Why? Because I seemed to have known that I’d lose interest the next day. I knew that tomorrow, I won’t real be motivated to explore this subject the way I do today. Tomorrow, the subject will lose its shining novelty.

Another example: A few weeks before my tutorial binge, I found a syllabus on a topic from a well respected school and told myself that I’d fulfill all the reading and the assignments, totally on my own. I had a second, more sober thought, which said: “no, that’s too lofty of a goal… how about you read just the articles mentioned in the syllabus. ” I thought, great, that’s what I’ll do. Then closed the syllabus and moved on. I never opened up the PDF again.

I do the same when it comes to creating.

Have you been there?

There are tons of unfinished projects sitting in the no-man’s land of computer folders, and basement closets. There’s always something new and more appealing to get on with in our information age, whether it’s something we’re learning or something we’re making. I often believe the myth that “I’ll go back to that,” but I rarely do.

Perhaps one of the problems is that I like a lot of things, but don’t really love any of them. I’m over-curious, over-distracted, undisciplined, and too easily bored. But how will I learn to love? The problem is with my expectation of love to be something I discover rather than work towards. This is something that stood out to me so powerfully in a talk given by Simon Sinek which you can listen to here.  Love is not something we simply “fall” into, nor something we discover. It’s something that emerges because of commitment, endurance, and all the small moments of attention we give it.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn is to be willing to meet the boredom head-on and drag our feet through it.

We walk away from the creative projects we start for a lot of reasons, sure. But how dreadfully tragic to walk away from from creativity because of boredom. Our romantic notions of love can be so tragic. True, deep love experiences moments of boredom; it takes endurance through the boring bits to experience the transcendence of love. To love something or someone is to give oneself to it despite the desire to be stimulated by its novelty. This isn’t just about creativity anymore, this is about being a human being in relation to others, and learning to love them with a love that is divine.

So don’t just start your projects, but stick with them and love them until the end. Be willing to endure the boring stages of creativity, and fight through them.

What are some things that keep you from finishing your projects?

Thoughts on Art, Salvation and Being Human

The question of vocation has loomed over my head and heart for many years. I’ve heard that most people don’t discover their true vocation until their mid 30s, likely because they’ve reached a certain degree of self-awareness. I’m in my late 20s and fighting to discover where my heart is. I’ve heard it said that God calls us to things we love, and makes us love the thing he calls us to. Joy is a big part of the process. Someone asked me recently: when did you last experience joy? Sadly, I couldn’t remember. As I thought about it, I realized that one thing that gives me great joy is helping others discover their creative potential, whatever that may be.

A few months ago I taught a two-part series on salvation. The first part was more of a doctrinal survey, and the second part asked the question: what does salvation have to do with culture? What are we saved for? With help from Andy Crouch, I discovered that salvation has a lot to do with restoring our human, creative calling. Man’s ability to create was not lost at the Fall, but his motive for making was marred. After the Fall, Mankind explored his creative powers for his own glory—for violence, oppression, idolatry. Christ, the true Culture Maker and Redeemer, transformed a cultural symbol of violence and evil—the cross—into a symbol of victory, power, forgiveness and redemption.  In our being reconciled to God, we are being restored to our original human calling as co-creators with Christ in this great drama of redemption.

I am thrilled to help others find their creative gifts, move past the insecurities that inhibit them, and watch them flourish as they contribute to what God is doing.  Let’s move past the typical stereotypes of who an artist is and what art is.  If you’re a human, you are made in God’s image, and you were made to create–you are an artist. Cultivate those creative impulses and put them out into the world in a way that glorifies God—and by that I mean, in way that reflects his plan for a New Heavens and New Earth—one in which suffering, oppression and injustice are wiped away.

“The Garden” by Phil Aud

I found this song online here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1bvlU8eKTss. It beautifully conveys the biblical narrative and human longing for true home, that can only be found through and in Christ. Here are the lyrics:

I remember / days of pleasure / days of purpose / filled with laughter and song
Sights of beauty / and sounds of waters / in the garden that I once called home
East of Eden / I am broken / east of eden / I feel shame / I feel cold
I am left with / my decision / as I work this hard soil
As I work this hard soil.

I was weeping / when he asked me / why the crying / who do you seek / As he called me / my eyes were opened / on the first day of new creation’s week /
in the garden I find healing / in the garden I’m made new I’m made whole /
I find life and restoration / in the garden of the Lord / in the garden of the Lord

No more weeping / no more sorrow / no more pain and / no more death / but sights of beauty / and sound of waters / in that City that we’ll soon call home / in that city built from a garden / there the lamb will / be our source / be our life / there the nations / find their healing / coming from / the tree of life / coming from the tree of life.

Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son

I am finding myself drawn the beauty that comes from candid concession of  inherent brokenness. Truthful transparency is vulnerability, which by definition, is the “susceptibility to physical or emotional harm.” Yet paradoxically, in it, there is much strength and freedom. There requires a sense of confidence and self awareness when one musters the courage to confess their needs – and thus confess their lack. Confession of lack is to admit that I can do nothing without Jesus.

Today I started reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I was impressed with his self knowledge, his recognition of weakness, and his ability to articulate it with such forthright honesty.  What begins as honest self knowledge and confession turns to Christ awareness and reception.  In this book he speaks of his mesmerizing experience with Rembrandt’s painting, The Prodigal Son, which led him to his reflection of Jesus’ parable on the subject. Initially, Nouwen sensed a personal identification to the youngest son, which drew out his admiration for the painting. He then tells of his subsequent realization that he, in addition to the brash recklessness of the younger son, has also tended towards a behavioural pattern much like the pharisaic older brother.  Even more surprisingly, Nouwen admits that through the words of a friend, he is called live like the father:

“You have been longing for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right.  The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.  Look at the father in your painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

These words have rung true for me. My hope is to reflect and confess my own weaknesses as I consider Nouwen’s, and, like him, reveal my personal tendency towards the two son’s in the parable, while simultaneously  becoming increasingly aware of the calling to adopt the father’s mantle.