In my first few posts, I want to carve out my understanding of creativity.
The Bible begins with the sentence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Some of the confusion I have had in my life about God and the Bible has centered on understanding the first two chapters of the Bible. I have been in places where people have treated them as though they were rigorous peer review scientific treatises on cosmology, and in other circles where it is simply a children’s story.
There is error at both ends of that spectrum. This piece of literature has been deeply influential for thousands and thousands of years. So, for thousands and thousands of years this poem has been meeting people of diverse ethnicities and locations in their fears, questions, concerns, hopes, joys.
This is a story about who God is, and it is a story about what it means to be a human being.
In verse 26 the reader finds out that the first quality of humanity is that it is made in God’s image. Before one can go that far, however, God…creates…
God forms, God shapes, God imagines, God draws, paints, sculpts, models and sings (literally the entire Universe moves at varying frequencies and if it were not in a vacuum it would make music…perhaps it does make music, but it’s a song only God can hear). God creates.
What I find most interesting about this poem is it was written during the Jewish exile.
After establishing a kingdom in Palestine and a capital city with a temple in Jerusalem, the Hebrews are overcome with political and religious corruption and they are carried off into slavery by the Babylonians.
…and it’s during this time that it seems like a good idea to write poetry?
On the surface this makes no sense, especially in a time in history where being conquered meant your god was weaker than the god or gods of the people that conquered you.
…but the poets get to work.
This is interesting because this would be my last impulse. If I was part of a slave or oppressed population I would be thinking about getting out. I would be with Malcolm X and try to achieve freedom “by any means necessary.”
Counter intuitively, however history tells a different story. Where is some of the most interesting music and art created?
It is created under oppressive regimes. Slave spirituals, street art, chants, manifestos are all created under oppression. One of the most popular images of the 20th century is of Che Guiivarra a symbol of a people’s movement against an unfavorable government.
Modern hip-hop is a great example. Racism is still alive and well in the 21st century. In America, the “Land of the Free” minorities still experience systemic racism and classism!
And a group of modern prophets have created protest music.
Why is this? What sparks this creativity?
Oppression is designed to strip people of their humanity. In Egypt the Jewish slaves were simply brick makers. Their function was their identity. Bricks. In the United States, oppressed groups are given less than equal pay, subject to irrational law enforcement, sent message after message about how they are not good enough, not smart enough, rich enough, capable enough, thin enough, pretty enough, and on and on.
This is dehumanization.
Any system, anywhere, no matter what language it uses that explicitly, or implicitly supports inequality, segregation, classism, racism, and does not seek the good of the entire global community is in the business of oppression.
And the message that is sent by these practices is simple: YOU ARE NOT HUMAN, YOUR GOD LOST.
The Jewish poets chose to write. The oppressed sang, painted, spoke, sculpted, photographed and told stories…
The first verb.
In the beginning God created.
One of the first ways to reassert one’s humanity in the face of forces and evils and evidence that wants to strip someone of their humanness is to create.
Look at the Berlin Wall:
Humans create. We are hardwired to! Because we are in the image of the God who creates.
To keep hope alive people create and reassert their humanity.
The brilliance of Genesis 1 is that by simply writing it or reading it, one has taken a subversive step against oppression.
God is still alive. God is still capable. God will rescue us! How do we know this? Because no matter how hard someone tries to cheat, steal, kill, or oppress, People can still create. They can tell stories, sing songs, and make images.
If there is a devil, he must hate art!
If you are at all like me at this point the obvious question is….why is Christian art so terrible?
The reason for this is simple: Christianity has a mixed history. There are stories of great healing and hope, but there are also stories of genocide, war, slavery, ethnic cleansing, crusades, and inquisitions.
Art, if it is really art, must stand outside the regime.
Christian art is so bad, because it tries to take creativity and retrofit it into a box that cannot hold it. It is not art, it is propaganda. It is designed to reinforce the same old ideas. This is why Christian “praise” songs say almost nothing. If one was to deconstruct a Christian praise song, they would be left with a bunch of random claims about God’s “majesty, beauty, and might,” which are at best enigmatic and totally removed from anything that matters.
I know God is powerful and can do anything, but what about cancer? AIDs? Suicide? Murder? Rape? Greed? Divorce?
From most Christian art that I have seen, God appears to be oblivious to the realities of the world He created.
There is no such thing as Christian art, because any art or creativity that is genuine is already God blessed, and if you try to carve off a piece of it, especially the worst piece, and claim it for one tribe, it has ceased to be art and it becomes party propaganda.
I think people feel this at an emotive level. They know it isn’t honest. Someone had a creative impulse, but then they tried to fit it into some group’s theology and its brilliance and honesty was lost.
All art belongs to God.
I find great hope in this verse by J. Ivy on Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout’ album. This is true of every human everywhere:
We are all here for a reason on a particular path
You don’t need a curriculum to know that you are part of the math
Cats think I’m delirious, but I’m so damn serious
That’s why I expose my soul to the globe, the world
I’m trying to make it better for these little boys and girls
I’m not just another individual, my spirit is a part of this
That’s why I get spiritual, but I get my hymns from Him
So it’s not me, it’s He that’s lyrical
I’m not a miracle, I’m a heaven-sent instrument
My rhythmatic regimen navigates melodic notes for your soul and your mental
That’s why I’m instrumental
Vibrations is what I’m into
Yeah, I need my loot by rent day
But that is not what gives me the heart of Kunte Kinte
I’m tryina give us “us free” like Cinque
I can’t stop, that’s why I’m hot
Determination, dedication, motivation
I’m talking to you, my many inspirations
When I say I can’t, let you or self down
If I were of the highest cliff, on the highest riff
And you slipped off the side and clinched on to your life in my grip
I would never, ever let you down
And when these words are found
Let it been known that God’s penmanship has been signed with a language called love
That’s why my breath is felt by the deaf
And why my words are heard and confined to the ears of the blind
I, too, dream in color and in rhyme
So I guess I’m one of a kind in a full house
Cuz whenever I open my heart, my soul, or my mouth
A touch of God reigns out!