Creativity isn’t all its cracked up to be. I’ve written about this before in Innovation as Offensive Failure where my basic argument is that creativity appeals to the masses because it doesn’t require change. You get a lot of “ohh, that was cool” and no life change. I am so tired of cool and creative things that do nothing more than stroke the ego of the creative individual and temporarily entertain the observer. Creativity isn’t this bad beast all on it’s own, but in our entertainment driven world, creativity becomes nothing more than an exchange of ideas that don’t require anything more than acknowledgement that it in fact is creative.
This is where I risk sounding like an old man, but I find that much creativity lacks the history, depth and recognition that tradition offers. Much creativity just ends up being rehashed old ideas anyway and then needs to be explained and retold so the connection is made that it is actually promoting old ideas in the first place. When I first started reading about liturgies and understanding the traditions of the Anglican church I was shocked by how much thought and history was tied into every little piece of ritual and action. Every crevice of the building, every word spoken, every hat, every prayer – it’s all tied together as part of a deep tradition of belief that has years and years of meaning infused into it. Growing up as a Pentecostal you are led to believe that these liturgies and rituals are heartless and void of the Holy Spirit so you begin to emphasize the new and creative as central to the spiritual experience. What ends up happening though is that the ‘new and creative’ end up becoming shallow and repetitive real quick. But this kind of repetitiveness has no depth or meaning. Just look at the onslaught of worship songs and sermon series in modern Evangelical Christianity and you’ll see exactly what I mean. We are great at repeating meaningless and shallow cliches of theology and practice in creative ways.
But routine, when infused with years of history and meaning, becomes a kind of repetition that deepens understanding and forms you. Repetition in and of itself isn’t what we are going for. Repetition tied to thoughtful practices and history is different then repetition tied to addictive longings of needing to be entertained or consoled. I would much rather seek to understand and engage with why those liturgies exist in the first place than reinvent the wheel by recreating them all over again with powerpoints, video clips, and sound systems never to really do them again but only to faintly remember them as this creative thing we did this one time in the past.
Take for example the sermon. Why in the world are they forty-five minutes long in our churches? I find myself getting absolutely drained every time I have to preach to come up with enough content to engage a watching audience for forty-five minutes. People don’t learn through lecture. I’m not saying anything new. No one remembers what you said when it’s done. Few of us change because of what we’ve heard. When I go to a service with the Anglican church I am always astonished at how the ‘sermon’ is only a five minute homily and then it gets right back into the formative liturgies of song, readings, Eucharist and prayer. Why is it that I find liturgies that are hundreds of years old such a breath of fresh air? Why do such old repetitive routines enrich the Sunday morning so much more than creative attempts to do the same thing?
I say this with the caveat that whenever our friends at the Anglican Parish in town get a chance they come running to theStory because they love the ‘new, fresh and creative’ ways that we do things. But I also wonder why there is a longing of many within our ‘creative’ community that longs for the structure and liturgy of the Anglican Church?
I wonder if routine exists to relieve the burden of creativity. When creativity becomes an end in and of itself it turns up shallow and empty. We end up wasting a lot of time being creative and reinventing the wheel just to say the same things in different ways. I wonder if we give up on this pursuit to be constantly creative and just allowed ourselves to be formed by the traditions and routines of those that have gone before us then we would be freed up to actually be the kinds of people that the routines form us into being. Instead of coming up with really creative ways to tell everyone that God wants us to take the side of the oppressed, maybe we could just actually take their side. Instead of coming up with creative ways as to why Jesus wants us to love our enemies, maybe we could go out and actually love them. Instead of creatively reminding us that we need to be servants, maybe we could actually just be servants. Creativity is time consuming and can be a beautiful thing but for the most part I find that it perpetuates a system of inaction and masks our motivations with empty practices that lack the depth and clarity of those that have gone before us.
Without something there to tie us into our history, without a context, creativity is nothing more than entertainment. In Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman writes “information derives its importance from the possibilities of action.” I think that creativity in this case is the same as information. People today can experience the same truths through millions of creative ways day after day but since this creativity continually fails to actually translate to practical life change the creative messages are nothing more than just entertainment.