Unleashing Creativity

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Before You were Told the Sun was Yellow, Would You have Painted it Blue

Unleashing Creativity

Good morning! I have to say that writing this sermon on creativity was hard. And I think it’s because Creativity did NOT want to be put into a box!

Happy Father’s Day! May all the dads be indulged and spoiled today. As I thought about this topic of unleashing creativity, landing on Father’s Day as it has, my first thought was: well, my dad wasn’t really creative, was he? I was thinking about the outward displays of creativity, like my mom, Mary’s, rhyming poems that celebrated life events. Mary whom we called, “hums a lot” because she hummed and sang her way through life, was the editor of her college newspaper and our church’s newsletter, and a masterful storyteller.

But Dad? He ran a business building custom homes. In fact, our whole neighborhood, Willowgrove, was the product of his homebuilding enterprise. I suppose there was creativity in that, especially the spec houses—those he built without a client in mind and then put up for sale. He was certainly a great baseball athlete and spent years teaching angsty boys the finer points of America’s game. Hmmm. Is that creativity?

Then I remembered: His trains! Gordon devoted the entire basement of our Willowgrove home to creating a world of his imagination in HO scale. {Bring engine}. Winter evenings he’d be downstairs adding another so-called town or another line or more little people, trees, buildings, and landscapes to his creation, the Willowgrove and Western Railroad. With wooden supports that elevated the railscape to eye level, and a hand-wired control board, my father could simultaneously run two trains from one room in the basement to the other, rounding an orange formica-topped bar before returning back to his train room.

Proud of his eight progeny and the entire neighborhood he built, or maybe feeling a little guilty for the number of hours he spent down there, Dad used one of those dymo label makers – remember those? — to name parts of his train-world after us kids and the neighbors. Among the many labels he affixed to the wooden supports were: Mimi’s Riding Stable, Hankton Junction, Julia Station, Camp Robert Vincent, and Lake Elaine. (I wanted to be named after a lake. I was boring old “Jennifer Yards.”)

If I had asked my father whether he thought he was creative, he’d have shaken his head no.

Show of hands: who here has told themselves at one time or another that they are not particularly creative? I’m one. As a young engineer, I thought I had zero creativity. And I’m laughing a little because last Sunday, Debbie Lamb and I were talking about creativity, and she declared she had none. I pointed out that her spreadsheets were quite impressive and awesome creations!

Perhaps we avoid calling ourselves creative because when we think of creativity, we think of Mozart, Picasso, Einstein—people with a seemingly fated convergence of talent and opportunity. What if each of us is born carrying a bundle of gifts that are uniquely ours, and what if, over time, we are meant to develop, and be seen in, those gifts, offering them in times of need or joy?

Life is designed to be imaginative, sensuous and full of wonder. Instead, we arrive into a strange, industrialized world, where over and over again we experience diminishment, control, programming, something that takes us away from the unique and magical expresssion of who we truly are.

Reverend Daniel McCoy writes, “Creativity brings this and that together to see what will happen.…. For example, words come together to make lines and lines become stanzas, which become lyrics, and when a melody is added. Voila! A song. Then a song comes together alongside singers and instruments. Add some listeners and soon we have a concert. Creativity brings this and that together to see what will happen. Paints and a canvass. Plants and soil. Wood and a blueprint. Is it as simple as this?

In her book, “12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women” by Gail McMeekin, I believe among the most important so-called “secrets” is to Acknowledge your creative self.

Career coach Barbara Sher writes, “your creativity is waiting for you like a dancing partner.” So ridding your psyche of “I’m nots”—is a vital step toward embracing your bundle of gifts. Try saying this everyday: “I enjoy my creativity, in whatever form and shape it takes.

Quantum Science has proven that humans are electromagnetic beings. The cells in our body act like miniature batteries or electrical generators. Our nervous systems uses this electrical energy to create nerve impulses that help to transmit messages from one part of the body to another. We are pure energy! Elizabeth Gilbert, author of BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR,says Ideas Are Energy as well.She writes, “Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. The only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.” (pp 35 Gilbert)

Creativity brings this and that together to see what will happen.

Gilbert tells the story of her novel-in-progress, with a very specific plot, about a middle-aged spinster who is secretly in love with her boss, who has gotten himself into some kind of trouble and gone missing in the Amazon delta. But Elizabeth abandons the work because she is so busy with other opportunities. Years later, Ann Patchett, whom she scarcely knew, published a novel, STATE OF WONDER, and the plot is almost identical to the one Elizabeth Gilbert abandoned. Elizabeth credits the life force behind the idea as having “given up” on her slacker and distracted writing, and found a more willing recipient in Ann Patchett.

As Pastor Paula said in her sermon last week, Jesus, the man from Nazareth, seemed to have an intuitive sense for when a story was called for, and he seized the opportunities to tell them. I imagine Jesus as a kid around a fire with his elders, listening. Listening to a story about the ancestors or the land, perhaps told by Mary or Joseph, or by his grandmother, the mysterious unnamed woman in the Bible.

Someone nurtured the innate storytelling capacity that Jesus possessed. If they hadn’t, it’s likely Jesus might not have had the confidence to tell a story when a story was called for. In last week’s gospel, we heard the story of the mustard seed, symbolizing the insignificant and unremarkable; yet when planted and tended, the seed grows into a magnificent plant.

If Jesus hadn’t been nourished in his own storytelling capacities, would he have talked himself out of sharing the story about the mustard seed? Would the idea of the story have gone to someone else to tell?  An idea needs a host, a human to make it real. If one abandons a story an idea or a creation,  another will feel the impulse to pick it up and give it life.

So what fosters the seeding and feeding of our ideas?

Briefly, here are four things.

The first is Getting Out of the Habit & Seeing Differently
Anything we do can be addressed in a creative manner, from habits to hobbies to work. My yoga instructor, Patrick, has a thing he does. Any time we are to step one leg out for Warrior 2 Yoga pose, he asks us to use the “unaccustomed” leg. The unaccustomed leg is the “not default”, like when we try folding our arms the opposite way. Time and time again, we fold our arms the same way. (Let’s all do this now. Now let’s do the opposite folding of arms.)  Doesn’t it feel unnatural? And it confirms how we often sleepwalk through a daily routine. Getting out of the habit expands our way of seeing things differently.

Harry Chapin wrote a song, Flowers are Red, and I’ll play it for you now. As I do, ask yourself, how were you programmed away from seeing the sun as blue, flowers as a rainbow of color, or any other imaginative way of thinking that was stripped from you?

Flowers are Red Song Video

I wrote a poem about seeing differently. I called it, “The Outs List” because in my family’s Willowgrove days, sometimes several of the eight of us were out on dates or activities long after my parents went to bed. (Dad hit the hay around 9; Mom waited for the 11o’clock news). Before she went up, my mom wrote an “the outs list”—the names of those still out. For some reason, we didn’t have a key for our house, so the “last one in locked up.”

Mom’s outs list” was something more than it seemed.

Seeing Differently (the Outs List)

What if your body is mostly water held in an odd-shaped vessel
What if your hands are actors
your voice a river
your heart not just a pump, but a beacon to the cosmos

What if your life is a canvas
your ears antennae
your nose deep reservoirs for fragrance
What if dimples are diplomats and freckles—

another variety of sunflower

What if everything is different than it seems?

Take the “Outs List” my mom created each night to keep track

of how many of her eight

were not at home when she went to bed.

No keys for the door, so last one in locks up.

The list of names—sometimes Gordie, Mimi, and Rozanne; in later years

Henry, Elaine, Jenny, Julie, or Robert—

more than names

a prayer imbued in her careful cursive

or perhaps a conjuring spell

like those from her Irish homelands

let them make good choices

let them return in one piece

let them hear the siren call to home

to live another day in the odd-shaped vessel,

mostly water.

The second thing I’ve learned about creativity is to lean into fear and the unknown.

Again, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “The capacity to linger in the unknown is a gateway to creativity, which asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”

Evolution has trained us to be hypervigilant and insanely overprotective when we feel fear. By learning to embrace the blank page, silence, the unknowing, the cauldron of possibility thickens.

The third thing I’ve learned about creativity is that scale is an illusion

Ssometimes, in the wee hours I ask myself, “Shouldn’t I be “doing something useful for the planet rather than writing stories and songs?

OR you might think,

“I’ll never win an award for my art/décor/golf/sailing/garden, why even waste the time?”

We’ve been conditioned to believe that making a huge impact is what matters most. Unless you are Caitlin Clark, you shouldn’t play basketball, unless you are Scottie Schleffer, you shouldn’t play golf, unless you are Beyonce, you shouldn’t sing, unless you are Martha Stewart, you shouldn’t cook—this misguided and even insane thinking is what robs us of our wonder, prevents us from developing our own bundle of gifts for the village.

Anyone who has read, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” was likely reminded that scale is illusory. Heart-felt offerings—to friends, family, and community are enough.

I turn your attention to the quote in the bulletin by Martha Graham:

She writes, “….because there is only one of you in all of time,

your expression is unique.

And if you block it… the world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is,

how valuable, how it compares with others.

It is your business to keep

the channel open…”

The fourth and last point about creativity has to do with Setting Boundaries and Staying true to your uniqueness.

The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. wrote, “Care about people’s approval and you become their prisoner.” So I’d suggest we beware anyone who starts a sentence with, “You should…..”

The poet, Billy Collins, in his inimitable way, writes about how society inserts themselves into his creative process. From Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems) here is The suggestion box (pp 197),

The Suggestion Box

It all began fairly early in the day

at the coffee shop as it turned out

when the usual waitress said

I’ll bet you’re going to write a poem about this

After she had knocked a cup of coffee into my lap.

Then later in the morning I was told

by a student that I should write a poem

about the fire drill that was going on

as we all stood on the lawn outside our building.

In the afternoon a woman I barely knew

said you could write a poem about that,

pointing to a dirigible that was passing overhead.

And if all that were not enough,

a friend turned to me as we walked past

a man whose face was covered with tattoos

and said, I see a poem coming!

Why is everyone being so helpful?

I wondered that evening by the shore of a lake.

Maybe I should write a poem

about all the people who think

they know what I should be writing poems about.

It was just then in the fading light that I spotted

a pair of ducks emerging

from a cluster of reeds to paddle out to open water,

the female glancing back over her russet shoulder

just in time to see me searching my pockets for a pen.

I knew it, she quacked, with a bit of a brogue.

But who can blame you for following your heart?

she went on.

Now, go write a lovely poem about me and the mister.

Beware those who think they know what it is you *should* play/write/paint/design/sing/plant/wear/craft/organize.

Sometimes it takes a bit of reflection to identify what inside all of us could be called “creative.”

As I look out at us gathered here, I’d like to acknowledge all of us for our creativity

Bonnie’s – signature style and table settings
Michelle’s post-sermon interludes
Patricia’s compositions
Carol’s knitting
Brad, Eileen, Ned, Heather, Denise and more of our artist’s paintings and art

Joyce’s keen eye and aptitude for beauty

Cris’s painting décor

Erv’s Stones cairns
Nancy’s love of all God’s creatures
Steven’s Wood Craft

Rob’s reading of the winds on the waters

John’s ability to manifest free stuff by the side of the road

Whether it is Flower arranging, coaching clients, Photography, Writing, Storytelling, or yes. Debbie’s spreadsheets, we are creators.

As I near the end of these musings on unleashing creativity, the message that matters most is that every moment, every day is an adventure in unleashing our bundle of gifts. Elizabeth Gilbert has her own take on Martha Graham’s quote. She writes, “Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”

On this Father’s Day, I realize that all of what my dad had to offer was creative—whether home building or coaching baseball or leading Rotary or the Knights of Columbus or his Willowgrove & Western Railroad—Dad was using the bundle of gifts he was born with.

For the sheer fancy of it, I once crafted a magic wand. And boy howdy, didn’t it feel nostalgic and right to add to it, the old dymo label, “Jennifer Yards.”

May all your gifts live fully in the world.