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Does the church really want creativity?

Does the church really want creativity?

In our search to revitalize the church we say we want creativity and that we want to support new initiatives, but do we really? Slate offers the thinking of Barry Staw and others that we really don’t like creativity or “outside the box” ideas:

In the United States we are raised to appreciate the accomplishments of inventors and thinkers—creative people whose ideas have transformed our world. We celebrate the famously imaginative, the greatest artists and innovators from Van Gogh to Steve Jobs. Viewing the world creatively is supposed to be an asset, even a virtue. Online job boards burst with ads recruiting “idea people” and “out of the box” thinkers. We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea. …Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid…

Read it all here.

There is hope if one is resilient: “To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.”


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Bob McCloskey

Thank you Cynthia! It could not be better stated. As a former cathedral organist-choirmaster and parish priest for 48 years and liturgical leader,IMHO your articulation is greatly appreciated.

Bob McCloskey

Michael Russell

I suppose it depends on how you define “the Church”. As an institution its agenda is always about control. Bishops are Guardians of the Faith not innovators. The Church has power and influence and resources and it seeks to protect them, not put them into play.

The Church is a slow moving glacier, not a volcano. It has a hard time with new ideas or new forms until it makes sure they meet the “specs” of orthodoxy—however they are defined.

One problem for the Church is that the Gospel is about upheaval and a turning over of existing orthodoxies. The Gospel points to a renewed world in which all the powers and principalities are overthrown, not entrenched all the more.

Another is that change comes via innovators and innovation is frightening. So churches and other institutions always prefer to get more rigid, rarely do they choose to be more flexible. That is why they crack and crumble in time.

Moreover each institution creates a culture that exists to protect itself and its staff. Changing or innovating is not high on that list, but protecting the status quo is. And that status quo means that “innovation” is usually about moving the same people into new titles and calling it change.

The church may eventually embrace change, but only when forced. Until then the momentum of institutional inertia (yes I mean just that) will result in little or backwards movement.

The church at all levels as an institution will resist change voraciously. So don’t count on TREC suggesting anything too rapturously innovative. (I do hope I am wrong here)

Innovators work at the edges and remain outliers until their ideas build enough momentum and community to make their change irresistible. But change will come from the edges, not from the center.

Paul Woodrum

If the church really wanted creativity, Almy’s would go out of business.

Rod Gillis

The article from Slate is dead on, and the conclusion on the money.

Notwithstanding,(1) the jury is often out for a long time when it comes to adjudicating the difference between genuine creativity and schlock, and (2) we live in a pluralistic multi-cultural world. What may be regarded as a creative break through in one culture (especially if that culture is oppressed)is often disparaged by the mainstream.

My age is showing, I know it, but I have a copy on vinyl of Father Malcolm Boyd’s prayers accompanied to jazz music by Charlie Byrd.In its day it was dismissed by some as a “fad” . Now it is a period piece ( what art isn’t), but it captures the sense of the thing in poly-medium. It fits the bill outlined on the very thoughtful post by Cythia Katsarelis, in that it strikes a nerve and certainly moved me, when I first heard it, beyond my local community.

I encourage folks to watch the live performance by Bob Marley, “Africans Unite”, especially in this the week of Nelson Mandela. It says something creative that a long litany of dreary verbose liturgical collects can never say.

In many ways, its the difference between the light borrowing windows of Gaudi’s Sagrada and predictable windows picturing old males with crosiers and beards.

Ann Fontaine

I was thinking of whether or not the church wants creativity in governance. I think this article will prove true as the TREC process continues – I hope not though.

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