Create! a ★★★★★ book review

If I were to copy anyone, I’d copy Ken Wytsma. He is lead pastor of Antioch in Bend, Oregon, president of Kilns College (where he teaches philosophy and justice), creative advisor for non-profits and founder of the Justice Conference. Additionally, he is the author of three great books. His latest, Create vs. Copy, digs deep into the theology and practice of creativity. So yeah, I’m overawed and would love to copy Wytsma. Only I couldn’t (and shouldn’t).

9780802413499Create vs. Copy doesn’t have much to say  about copying, outside its introduction and first chapter (SPOILER ALERT: don’t do it!). Wytsma’s focus is on creating. Creativity leads us to blazes trails, innovate, and try new things(14). Copying does not (although there is space for creative borrowing).

The book unfolds in two parts. Part one presents a theology of creativity. Part two explores the practices which bring creativity to life. Of course it isn’t quite that neat. Wytsma’s thoughtfulness about the ‘why’ behind the creative process underpins his practical suggestion; practice bleeds out of his theology.  The whole book is an invitation toward creative action.  Here is a closer look at what to expect:

Part 1

In chapter one, Wytsma quotes Genesis 1:27, observing the one aspect of God’s nature described in the verse is this: God creates (24). So Wytsma identifies creativity as part of what it means for us to bear God’s image. This means all of us:

Yes, artists, but also everyone else. While artistic ability is a talent few possess (and/or cultivate with time and hard work), creative capacity is something all of us are born with. Put another way, artists are skilled with unique talents, but creativity is part of what makes us human. (27)

Chapter two, “Continuous Creativity,” begins with Wytsma’s  reflections on the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Increased Entropy) which states “All closed systems tend to move toward a state of greater disorder and dissipated energy” (37). Wytsma connects this with our experience:

This dissipation is familiar in nearly every area of life.  If not renewed, donor bases will erode over time. Congregations will shrink. Family dynamics will tense up. Relationships will fade. Leadership strategies become stale and ineffective. Even our bodies and minds lose their vigor (38).

But entropy characterizes closed systems and creativity is our means to crack them open to allow life back in (39). Wytsma links the work of ongoing, continuous creativity to our image bearing and Gods redemptive plan: God created the world, is in the process of creating, and will create a new heaven and a new earth (42-43); we were created as creative, are creating and are reaching forward with our creative potential. Wytsma closes this chapter with practices for incorporating creativity at home and work (48-52).

Chapter three gives shape to how creativity brings life to our decaying systems. A closed system leads to narrowing horizons, creativity is aimed at making space for life to flourish (51-53). The process is organic: a narrowing horizon is a fear-inducing-context or problem requiring a solution; by responding with intentional creativity (a pattern of life emerging from a nourished imagination) innovation occurs (67).  Chapter four describes the outworking of this theology of creativity and innovation in our globalizing world.

Part 2

In chapter five, Wytsma explores the ways imagination helps us see what is and what should be. As we age, our capacity to imagine possibilities is constrained by our culture and peer group (110).  Our creative impulse atrophies, but Wytsma contends, through its exercise, we can reignite our creativity (114).

Chapter six probes the role of imagination in creative process. The comprehensive imagination names our ability to understand the relevant data for seeing  current problems (120-121). Our artistic imagination helps us envision what could be (122). Our practical imagination helps envision and enact solutions which will work, leading to innovation (122-123). Wytsma also identifies challenges to our imagination (i.e. knowing what ideas to ‘prune’ and convincing people that imagination isn’t the purview of the few).

Chapter seven identifies the process of intentional creativity as both movement and alignment (136). Movement means doing something. “Our natural response to change is to buck against it, to dig in our heels, to wish things would stay the way they are or go back to the way they used to be” (136-137). But inaction leads to the dissipation of entropy, and our best ideas will come in the midst of our work. Drawing on Robert Epstein, Wytsma suggests we sharpen our creative skills by taking notes of new ideas, seeking out challenging tasks, broadening our knowledge, and surrounding ourselves with interesting things and people (138-140). Yet undirected creativity without healthy constraints won’t get you where you want to go (142). Our creativity is aligned when we  understanding our role in “God’s creative, redemptive work” (143). Wytsma observes, “When our values guide our whole creative process—imagination, intentional creativity, and innovation—something beautiful happens” (147).

The final chapter discusses ‘generous creativity’: the  ways in which creativity is collaborative, ‘in-processs’ and is aimed at relationship more than results. One example of creative-collaboration is how each chapter is punctuated with Paul Crouse’s stunning illustrations, making this book  practical AND beautiful. A brief conclusion summons us to creative action (don’t just be a copier or a critic).


 

I was predisposed to like this book. I am artistic and have read Wytsma’s previous books appreciatively. I also love the interactive aspects like the additional reading suggestions from Ken’s blog and reflection questions appended to each chapter. But this book  was also very helpful for me. Despite my love of creativity, my last leadership role was in an entropic system where I failed to lead a process toward vitality.  I didn’t know how to lead innovation. Wytsma gives shape to how the creativity makes space for life to flourish. As a rookie pastor this would have saved me a lot of grief (in a way  vision-casting exercises didn’t).

According to Wytsma, all of us have the capacity and ability for creativity; however he favors leadership in his examples. He states, “Those who create blaze trails, take risks, and try new ways. . . . They lead. . . .Copiers by definition, will always follow” (14). Creativity is defined as leading; copying means following. Maybe so, but not everyone leads (processes or people).  More ought to be said about creative following. For leaders and artists, creativity is explicit. It is what they need to do in order to thrive in business, art and life. In other vocations creativity is implicit. How does creativity play out in the lives of accountants (creative accounting isn’t good, right?), nurses, housekeepers, or whatever?  Creativity is essential to all our image-bearing,  so I wish there were more examples from ordinary lives.

None of this detracts from my enjoyment. This was a fun,fruitful read which pushed me to think and act with more creativity in ministry and life.  I give this five stars and recommend it for leaders, artists, innovators, and yes, copycats, followers and ordinary folk. It calls us to embody the spacious and life giving. ★★★★★

Note: I received a copy of Create vs. Copy as part of the launch team for the book. I was asked for my honest review. The book is slated for release on March 1, 2016 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and can be ordered directly from the publisher’s website.

 

Drawing On Creation, Getting Drawn In: a book review

I confess that I am a better buyer of books on creativity than I am a reader of them. My shelf is loaded with books on the creative process, on writing, on drawing and painting, on making beautiful things. I tend to see these books and dream. I rescue interesting books from bargain tables and bring them home with best intentions. Often I puruse the introduction and the first several pages. Invariably, these books collect dust on my shelf. Often I wish to get back to a book, but time and busyness keep me from my goals.

Drawn In: A Creative Process For Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers by Troy Bronsink

Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists and Jesus Followers was a book that I read cover to cover. I found more here than interesting exercises to explore (though yes, there are some). Troy Bronsink lays out a theological foundation for the creative process which can be applied to whatever medium we work in. Hence the insights of this book are applicable to both artists and activists. Bronsink seeks to ‘sketch out the correlations between “the creative life and the life of faith by tracing how God creatively draws all things into one vision of a new creation (2)” Artists and activists in their own way participate in ‘new creation.’ So does every follower of Jesus.  Bronsink has plenty of personal examples of each. He is an artist (and musician), an activist, and of all things a Presbyterian pastor.

While Bronsink writes as a Christian and with an explicitly Christian, theological vision of the arts, his method is broad enough to accomodate artists and creatives from other faith perspectives. This book is evangelistic in the best sense–it gives a Christian vision of creativity and the arts without manipulating and demeaning the creative vision of those outside the fold. Anyone interested in Creativity or art will find much in this book which is instructive and helpful.

Bronsink develops his vision of creativity in two parts. Part one looks at God’s relationship with creation while part two examines our relationship with creation.  There is a self conscious patterning here. Bronsink believes that as artists (and activists) create, they are ‘imaging God’ and participating in God’s New-Creation. God’s creation of the world recorded in Genesis provides the basis  for his vision of the creative process.  Bronsink proposes a cycle of six waves (which reflect God’s role in the creation account):

  • Dreaming– God dreamed our future into existence, likewise our creative projects all begin with dreaming, meditating and brainstorming.
  • Hovering– The Spirit of God hovered over the chaos before the creation.  Our own creative process includes a period of incubation where we wait patiently for our dreams to bear fruit.
  • Risking–God created the heavens and the earth and we must risk creating if our artistic vision is to become reality.
  • Listening–God listened to his creation and heard its voice. We too must listen and hear from the stuff and material we are creating. This step is dialogical. Creator and creation listen to one another through the creative process.
  • Reintegration–God (re)integrated everything with the rest of creation.  Our own creating as ‘God’s comissioned artists’ involves are sharing generously our ‘art’ with the world: no strings attached.
  • Resting– As God rested at the end of His creation so we too must end creating and surrender our creation to its fate.

These six waves are repeated twice in the book. The opening chapter in section one presents God’s creation and the “Lost Arts” of creativity. The final chapter, “Make Your Life a Monastery,” presents our human appropriation of the process. Between these two  poles, Bronsik reflects on the medium of God’s work, materiality, space, time, working with others, our senses, how work relates to our vision and how we are ‘drawn in’  to participating in God’s creation.

I appreciate the richness of the theological reflection that went into this book as Bronsink reflects on the creative process.  He was a student of Anna Carter Florence (preaching), Darrell Guder (Missiology) and Walter Brueggemann (Old Testament). The stamp of each is evident in his theological vision, but he is unique in the manner that he appropriated their insights.

Bronsink is a good companion in the creative process. I liked this book a lot. I have yet to complete the thirty two creative exercises included in the book but they offer a chance to cement the lessons in these pages. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review