In my last email I meditated on the word “serenity,” and how the morning light in my apartment (paired with Verve coffee) has been bringing me a sense of calm.
I asked you to share your own photo as answer to this question:
Where have you found serenity?
Here are some of your responses:
“This is the photo that came to mind when I read your question at the end. I took it a few weeks ago one morning in our bedroom. It’s my favorite plant I’ve ever owned and it sits in the corner of our room. The sun hits the window and makes a little orange glow on the wall for an hour or two some mornings.“
“Our tomatoes are sprouting!”
I find my serenity on a bench in my backyard with our dog. The bench is tucked in the corner, under the shade. I sit there with my tea pretty much every single day. It’s far from peaceful and quiet. The background noise is filled with shrieks of laughter from my daughters but honestly, that’s one of my favorite sounds. It may not be quiet and I may not be by myself but it’s a spot where I feel at peace.
Orange glows, sprouting tomatoes, family buzz 😍
Also can we take a moment to acknowledge that it took a pandemic for me to realize that placing your replies at the top of the email (where it’s right after the previous email recap) makes so much more sense than the placing them at the end?
As a designer, I consider creativity as one of life’s essential virtues. So I love that out of all the possible ways God could have been introduced in the Bible, creative is the very first attribute used to describe him. The opening line of the Bible says:
”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Creativity, or being inventive, is a direct reflection of God. If God is creative, we should be as well. And yet, I’ve rarely seen the concept of “creativity” consistently embraced or discussed within the faith communities I’ve been a part of.
Prayer? Yes. Scripture? You bet. Creativity…?
I think creativity is generally overlooked (and not just in faith communities cough Silicon Valley cough) because of two myths:
- The myth that only some people are creative
- The myth that creativity is a result of inspiration
In reality, creativity is less of a lightning strike reserved for the hallowed few and more of an iterative process accessible to anyone willing to work hard and stay open minded. Unfortunately many people never get the privilege of formally learning — or trying — a creative process for themselves.
But the secret ingredient to an effective creative process is pretty simple: just add constraints. Even God only gave himself six days to create the world (and I gave myself one sentence for this joke). Constraints provide edges to the void of potential.
When I started 100 for 100 back in 2015 as a way to develop my writing, I gave myself two constraints:
- I had to write every day for 100 days
- Each day I had to write at least 100 words
That was it! As long as I met those requirements, I could write about anything. The outcome of this process — which I didn’t anticipate when I started — was a small run of books that I funded through Kickstarter. When I started Technicolor last year, I decided that I would only use my phone for shooting photos (instead of a DSLR) because it reflects the intimacy of the interviews and today’s zeitgeist.
While these are just two examples of how I’ve imposed artificial constraints, sometimes constraints come from external factors that I have no control over.
Like a pandemic.
Because I’m healthy, social distancing is the biggest constraint in my day to day life as a result of Coronavirus. Like everyone else, Nidhi and I have had to find ways to engage with our community beyond physical presence — video chats, texting pictures of meals, syncing Netflix episodes, surprise doorstep gifts of homemade banana bread.
I’ve seen lots of creativity from individuals, communities, and industries that wouldn’t have happened without sheltering in place (especially through the use of Instagram Live). Did the NBA televise a H-O-R-S-E tournament on ESPN? Yes! Was it entertaining? No! But at least they tried (and I don’t mean that sarcastically).
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a trend in the news of the American church refusing to even consider creativity as an option. CNN reported that “a group of pastors is suing California’s governor over restrictions on religious gatherings.” And in the days leading up to Easter, the pastor of a Louisiana church was quoted by BuzzFeed as saying:
“My government is not my creator, my president is not my God,” continued Spell, who was charged with six misdemeanors last week for continuing to hold in-person services despite the coronavirus pandemic. “The president did not give me my rights to worship God and to assemble in church, and no socialist government or godless president can take that right away.”
Woof. If I unpacked everything in that statement we’d have enough to fill a 20,000 square foot Colonial mansion (though you could read this earlier Valleyist for a taste), but it’s worthwhile to list a few of the implicit assumptions I think this pastor holds:
- Assembling in church is a right
- Worshipping God can only happen while assembled in church
- Church must be a large, in-person gathering
- Socialism and/or godlessness (these might be the same?) — not a deadly virus — is the primary reason he can’t hold church
- Potential risks to public health and safety are less important than his rights as an individual
The constraint of social distancing is forcing him to face an existential question: what is church if it can’t be a large, in-person gathering?
Searching for an answer requires a heart that’s receptive to (yearns for?) creativity. He doesn’t seem to be looking.
Thankfully, some people are.
As reported by The Washington Post, this church in West Virginia skipped their traditional Easter service to make face shields using 3D printers:
“On Sunday, each of the 25 volunteer groups were family units already in quarantine together. The facility was sanitized on Saturday, and everyone entering the facility put on gloves and a mask. When their shift was over, stations were sanitized before the next group took over. The church made sure the designs for the PPE met the hospital’s needs and government guidelines. Families took one-hour shifts to produce hundreds of masks, gowns and face shields and plan to deliver the finished products to the hospital on Monday.”
“Crossroads member Kerri Parris said volunteering on Sunday was an ideal outing for her husband and three children on Easter morning…Parris’s 77-year-old mother, who lives with her family, has long been a seamstress and she used a sewing machine to sew masks together. Parris cut the material while her 12-year-old traced the pattern.”
Of course, this act of creativity wasn’t a result from a lightning strike. The church had access to these resources because their pastor had co-founded the “community-operated makerspace” in November 2019 as
part of a larger local government effort to revitalize the area. The company sells memberships to people who want to use the space for prototyping or crafting. It has 20 members so far, including a graphic artist, who printed six-inch prototypes of seats planned for the renovation of a local theater.
This tiny faith community is oozing with creativity — they took the constraint of social distancing and turned their church into an intergenerational, mask making, pop-up factory.
I’ve been wondering about what the longterm affects of the pandemic on me will be. Once the constraints of the pandemic are lifted, how will I see the world differently? What will I be scared of? What new habits will I have?
If nothing else, I hope that I’ll start to incorporate creativity into my life as a spiritual discipline in the same way I regard prayer or reading scripture.
The world can always use more mask makers.
How have you been (or seen others be) creative during this pandemic?