Faith, Sermons, and Creative Destruction

I don’t type up sermon notes. In fact, I don’t type up anything—research, quotes, examples, etc. I handwrite it all, often with diagrams and visuals. After the teaching is done, it all goes away (well, most of it, occasionally I’ll retain the research somewhere). While I have a couple different reasons for hand-writing things (I feel the physical act actually connects me more deeply to the subject matter, for instance), I’ve found that this method actually borders on a spiritual discipline for me.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve really been enjoying Jonah Lehrer’s book on creativity, and I will reiterate: this book is really good. If you’re involved in any creative activity (and I will argue that life itself is a creative activity), you should definitely pick this up and read it. In it, Lehrer references a story about Bob Dylan.

He packed a typewriter in with his luggage and could turn anything into a desk; he searched for words while surrounded by the distractions of touring. When he got particularly frustrated, he would tear his work into smaller and smaller pieces, shredding them and throwing them in the wastebasket. (p.4)

How many great songs did Dylan tear up? Would you tear up your work if you were the most essential songwriter of rock and roll? (Actually, don’t answer that…)

I believe this is a great statement of creative faith because of this thought: tearing up the old is a bold assertion that more will come. 

More ideas.

More poems.

More songs.

More paintings.

Giving a sermon is not necessarily easy for me. I haven’t been doing it very long, and I’m still “finding my way” in terms of methods of preparation and delivery. But I’ve found that I almost need this somewhat radical step of destroying what I’ve just done in order to say to myself—and to God—“I believe another one will come; I don’t need to rely on this, don’t even need to retain it in order to refer to it in the future. The future will take care of itself.”

It’s a statement of faith, not just in myself, but in the fact that God will be with me.

However, the truly profound idea here is that the idea of “creative destruction” doesn’t end with creativity or sermons.

“Creative destruction” touches all of life.

Let me ask it this way: are there things that you are holding onto, areas of your life where you say, “I need to retain this, because I’m not sure that anything else will happen after it.”?

  • A job?
  • A vision of where you will live?
  • A limit to God’s mercy?
  • A limit to what God may call you to?
  • A certain belief of your role in the Kingdom of God?

What if these things—as good and grace-filled as they may be—are actually locking you into a pattern that may not be what God has for you?

What if God is calling you to jettison these ideas, to metaphorically (and faithfully) crumple them up in order to say, “God, what’s next?”

The past can root us and connect us, but it should not necessarily lock us into something, when God can promise something amazing and new.

Because more will come.

More life.

More faith.

More “work”.

More ideas.

More engagement.

…I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear… Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews, chapter 11)

 

But forget all that—
It is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new. (God, speaking through Isaiah the prophet,
chapter 43)

Improv Leadership

I’ve been enjoying Jonah Lehrer’s book on creativity, and something jumped out at me. In the chapter called, “Letting Go,” Lehrer describes the approach to improvisation at Second City, the premier comedy/improv school in America (with alumni that includes John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and many others):

Lehrer writes that the students “begin practicing a technique called ‘Yes, and . . .’ The basic premise is simple: When performing together, improvisers can never question what came before. They need to instantly agree—that’s the ‘yes’ part—and then start setting up the next joke.”

Often leadership can devolve into a monologue: the point leader knows “the script”, and they simply dictate their vision and directives to the audience (the staff or team), who then respond accordingly. Needless to say, there is not much creative or collaborative about this environment, and even the most talented leader is missing out on the creative input of the audience/team.

But true collaboration—and all the benefits that come with it—involves embracing the “Yes, and …” philosophy of improvisation. Basically, this means a leader must…

  • confess that he or she does not have the “end of the story” written already; the other participants (team/staff members) are full contributors to the reality of the plot
  • choose to stimulate the improvisational creativity in a meeting or rehearsal by “never questioning what came before”; this means that suggestions and ideas must be accepted and built upon and only very rarely squashed
  • realize that even ideas that seem too far outside of the box can still be agreed to, understanding that improvisation is a process, and even though you may say, “Yes” to that idea, the “and” part means that it is open to change (a reality that the idea contributor needs to own as well)
  • acknowledge the fact that—even though they still have the option to say, “No,”—if they do so they risk squashing the creative process (there will be times this is okay, but discernment is necessary)

Though this culture can be uncomfortable for some contributors (after all, not everyone is comfortable playing improvisational jazz), it can be an amazing creative tool. If you are seeking to increase the level of collaboration and creativity on your staff or team, try embracing this “Yes, and…” philosophy to your meetings. Let the ideas flow and morph and change, and watch the energy level grow and rise from your staff.