Creativity and Christianity

There’s an interesting article up at Christianity Today about Christ and creativity – main point being, the source of creativity, from a Christian perspective, is an overflow of mystery within the soul. (I don’t agree with everything the article says, partly because it tries to deal with a subject of infinite depth in a few paragraphs – which is probably what I’ll end up doing here – but it ties into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.)

There’s an old Hegel quote: “The mysteries of the Egyptians were mysteries for the Egyptians themselves”, meaning that while historians and anthropologists are sitting around wondering what the Egyptians were trying to express when they built their pyramids and wrote their hieroglyphics, if you went and asked them, they probably wouldn’t have a clue what they were doing either! I would argue, of course, that if indeed they were expressing some kind of inexplicable mystery, it was likely some sort of knowledge of God, or knowledge of the lack of God. But isn’t this what creativity is? The need to express deep emotional and existential mysteries that we don’t fully understand. There’s something inherently theological about that.

The big question is, why is so much of Christian creativity utter shite? If we’re meant to be creating things in response to and in worship of something as off-the-frickin-hook as Almighty God, why isn’t it better? Think of what passes for contemporary worship music. It’s crap. That said, I am more than willing to let some of my otherwise fairly high standards of taste slip a little in the name of blessing God. I have some Hillsong music on my iTunes, whatever. If I’m at church and we’re singing worship music, I’d rather just get on with the task at hand (i.e. touching God’s heart) than cynically pick apart the trite lyrics or hackneyed chord progressions. But when you compare that to artists who make indescribably beautiful art, artists like Ani diFranco, Stan Brakhage, Bjork etc. it just doesn’t compare. In comparison to that level of creativity, I don’t think a lot of Christian music/literature/film/whatever can even be called art.

(I’m leaving out a lot here, such as the doctrine of common grace, but you get the idea…)

However, around the edges of faith life (where all the interesting stuff happens anyway) you get groups like Ikon and Grace who are doing astounding, fascinating stuff – Ikon call what they do ‘transformance art’, which is really the best description imaginable. Not to mention Greenbelt festival, which I can’t wait to get to. It’s all really cutting-edge and makes me kind of excited to be a Christian at this time.

I reckon that as the emerging church develops and we enter more fully into mysticism etc. there’ll be more and more of this stuff happening, and it’ll be exciting to see how this develops.

I, for one, would love to experiment with a worship service in which everyone brings a (preferably secular) song which helps them feel close to God. I’d probably choose Bjork’s ‘Unite’ – I often pray with her Vespertine album playing in the background.

And to round off these disparate thoughts, here is a pretty thought-provoking blog post where the blogger has typed up notes on what looks to have been a spectacular talk by Rob Bell on creativity.

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3 responses

  1. Funny you should mention the desire to experiment with worship and the inclusion of secular songs. I was just listening to Premier Christian radio today, which I don’t do very often, because it can get on my “wick” at times and one of the thoughts I had was why do they always have to play the same old Christian songs, there are so many secular songs that have such depth of experience in them and from which some sort of connection with God can be drawn, songs which can be meaningful to different people in varying ways. Why do they have to be so strictly “Christian”? Wouldn’t expanding the horizons be a good way to reach a wider audience?

    • Sounds like an interesting discussion – I’ve been thinking about that a lot myself actually (can’t you tell). I have a playlist on my computer of ‘Christian’ music – Hillsong, Tim Hughes, Delirious? etc – and another one that I call ‘presence of God songs’ full of music that helps me get in touch with God’s presence – Bjork, Bon Iver, Ani diFranco, Telepopmusik, Arcade Fire etc – and the latter playlist is so wonderfully creative it makes my heart sing. Listening to it while praying feels like a playground for the soul.
      One thing I’d love to do with a bunch of Christian friends (I love dreaming creative Kingdom dreams) is to have a ‘music potluck’ party where we all bring a ‘secular’ song where we feel the presence of God, and everyone takes their turn to share their song and we all just sit and bask in the presence of God and thank him for his common grace. It’d be beautiful. [EDIT: Just realised I’d already written about that in the post itself! I blame a combination of headache and lack of tea…]
      So much Christian music is so trite that it’s hard to find God in it – a huge lack of creativity, lots of recycled chord progressions etc. It’s a real shame…

  2. Pingback: “What a marshmallow.” « head into the heavens

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