STiR:charlotte – Building Bridges | Inspiring Creatives

STiR image_smOn January 16th, 2016 the fellowship hall of CityChurch Charlotte was filled with the high-energy hum of Charlotte creatives in attendance at the first-ever STiR:charlotte event, hosted by SacredMuse.  The day was filled with personal stories…from table talk among artists representing almost 20 different sacred communities in Charlotte…to the panel of presenters, each sharing about the inescapable “Compelling” that has drawn them into creative careers and the unique ways they manage to integrate faith and creativity.

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The venue was filled with a wide range of ages and skill levels…but everyone present shared a deep affection for the creative process. “Compelling” may have been the over-arching theme for the day, but the tangible pay-offs for attendees were connection, inspiration and the permission to dream again.

One attendee stated:

“I’m just so inspired! I’ve alway done my art as a very private thing. But today, I realized that, by sharing it with others, my voice can actually have an impact on the world around me…and that my voice matters.”

Another said:

“It was SO encouraging! I instantly connected with everyone…even though we came from different parts of town and different sacred communities and had different forms of creative expression…we all spoke the same language. It just reminded me that I’m not alone…”

Another confessed:

“I want to go home, quit my job and do what I’ve always dreamed of doing. But even though I can’t just quit like that, I can take a big step in the right direction by getting these ideas that are in my head down on paper. I can’t wait for the next event…it’ll be a big help in keeping me on track!”

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JOIN US for the upcoming STiR:charlotte on April 23, 2016, held at 8519 Gilead Road
Huntersville, NC 28078
 (with special thanks to our friends at Lake Forest Church).  The topic will be “In the Beginning(s) navigating false starts, detours and distractions“.

REGISTRATION begins at 8am, March 23rd on Eventbrite. Tickets are FREE, but space is limited. So gather your friends, creative teams or simply challenge yourself to make it to the next STiR:charlotte event.  It’s guaranteed to be time well spent!

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STiR:Charlotte is a quarterly meet-up for creatives from sacred communities, focused on the dynamics of integrating faith and creativity, and the telling of artist stories (like a TEDtalks for creatives). It’s designed to be a powerful encounter that will encourage, equip and inspire you toward higher creativity–whether you’re a seasoned professional, hobbyist, closet artist or simply wanting to engage with the creative process.

In the Image of My Father

By Gerard Kelly

Made in the image of my father:
Breath-filled:
His will to live
Kindling my life,
His call to be
Driving my being.
My heart is sparked
By his heart;
My mind is fired
By his imagination
My animation
Is his declaration:
Because he is
I am.

Made in the image of my father:
Able
Artful
Articulate
Created to create
Pulsing with potential
Designed to design
Invented for invention
Made to make.
Through His eyes
I see possibilities
Through His ears
I hear harmonies
In His heart beat
I feel life’s dancing rhythms.
Because he can
I will

Made in the image of my father:
Dependent
Rooted in relationship
Commissioned for companionship
A free individual
Made free in community
Distinct
Yet needing devotion
Complete
But needing completion
Unique
I seek the company of others
A part
I seek my meaning in the whole.
Because of Him
I need to be needed.
Because I am loved
I love.

Made in the image of my father
Human
His word of command
Shaping flesh
His loving intention
Sculpting the soil of Earth Into life.
His voice
Causing
Calling
Claiming me
Naming me
Framing my future
Fashioning me.
Because of his dreams
I have promise.
Because of his promise
I have dreams

Ushered into extravagant existence;
Tumbling into time
Fumbling
Falling
Free
I am human
I am dependent
I am able
I am breath-filled
I am made
In the image of my Father.

Confessions of a Creative Info-Maniac

These days, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum:

Coin Side 1:  I feel like I want to use my voice to encourage the creative process and inspire people to become brilliant innovators that create cosmic shifts in the world around them.

Coin Side 2:  I don’t want to be just another blabbering person with strong opinions adding to the deafening white noise that’s already flooding cyberspace and inundating our minds with endless to-do lists and heavy duty how-to strategery.

This two-sided coin flipping around in my head isn’t just…in my head.  It’s a tortured reality I live with every day.  I would despise becoming the very thing that I am trying to resist being sucked into.

You see, I confess that I’ve become quite an info-maniac.  Nothing can trip me up more quickly and easily than a Twitter byte about some fresh-off-the-press-and-incredibly-earth-shatteringly-amazing new blog post from some uber-significant guru…or a Facebook link from some killer new website with a tribe of thousands who are flocking to gobble up the latest juicy advice on how to be better, bigger, more recognizable, more famous, more connected, more organized, more productive, more spiritual…and yes, even more creative.

I’m an addict in the truest sense.  I confess it out loud to you.  If left unmonitored, I could read that junk all day!  (This very public gesture is one of my first baby steps towards ultimate recovery.)  You see, I can never seem to get enough of how to be a better version of…me.  I don’t know if anyone will ever write the article that leaves me thinking, “you know, thanks…but I’ve already got that topic LOCKED!  I’m good. Thanks anyway.”  I’m always a sucker for the elusive tidbit that will somehow make me more savvy.

I just simply love learning about new things, new ways of doing things, new perspectives, new insight and new ideas.  I love new trends in fashion, new technology, new music and new movies.  I can’t seem to get enough of the innovative and unique, the never-before-seen, the ground-breaking and chart-topping.  I crave the fantastic and clever and ingenious and disarming. I find all of it just so fascinating.

I must also admit that I have no sustainable resistance against the allure of being one of “the chosen ones” who gets the inside dish.  So I sign up for blog feeds…like a junky would put a dealer on their speed dial. Innocently enough, most of them are about creativity, spirituality, or the business of doing art.  (Because I want to be more responsible.  I want to be a better artist.  I want my work and my life to have more meaning.  And I want to run a better business…don’t I?!)

But in the spirit of true confession, I need to admit the ridiculous thing:  I never read the feeds.  What kind of junky stockpiles the drugs and never shoots up?!  Oh, I’ve taken the time to subscribe to the feeds.  They pour into my inbox every single day.  I even created a special folder that they automatically get sorted into.  But I never take the time to read them.  At last count, I had almost 1,000 unread blog posts in the “special” folder in my inbox.  That’s just ridiculous.

But rather than beat myself up for being lazy or a small thinker or unmotivated or afraid, I’ve given myself the grace to get inside my own head and see what’s really going on…and I think I’ve stumbled on to something BIG…at least for me.

The barrage of information that I receive on any given day has morphed into some kind of supernatural wall of white noise for me…and to be honest, I can’t hear a stinkin’ thing.  I’ve taken in so much “helpful” information that I could feed on it for the rest of my life and never go hungry.  My “to-do” lists are so long, I could work on them diligently for the rest of my life and never get them all done.  I have so many “how-to” directives running around in my head that I could try a new strategy every single day for the rest of my life, and I’d never reach the levels of success or popularity or fame or fortune that they all pretend to deliver…because my thinking would be someone else’s thoughts and someone else’s plans, with someone else’s goals compared to someone else’s standards.  I would be fragmented, confused and distracted, at best.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to come across as unteachable or unduly defiant. But somewhere along the way, we’ve been force-fed so much “good” information by well-intended people that we forget how to think for ourselves.  We lose the payoff that comes from hacking through a problem on our own, because 42 million bloggers have already solved all of life’s problems for us.  We stop listening to the voice inside of us, because the myriad of voices around us drown it out…because they’re smart and famous and important and significant.  And we’re just…us.

Here’s the point I’m really getting at:  Watching re-runs of Oprah will not make you a better person.  Reading Seth Godin’s blog will not make you better at marketing. Subscribing to Indigenous Worship will not make you a better worshiper.  Getting The Wall Street Journal will not make you into a Fortune 500 company.  All of these sources have important information that will influence the you of tomorrow, but not a single one of them can MAKE you into the thing you so desperately want to become.

Quite simply, we’ve lost the courage to be uniquely and wonderfully us.  We’ve lost the patience and tenacity to see things through to the finish.  We’d rather read about the us that could be, rather than embracing and living whole-heartedly the us that already is.  It takes too much work…and it takes waaaay too much time.

The very best thing you could ever do for your heart and your art and your family and your friendships and your marriage and your community and your creativity is to just shut off all of the white noise.  Shut it off.  If it means not Twittering for a while…or God forbid, signing off of Facebook for some time…DO IT!  Have the guts to do what it takes to disconnect from the white noise so that you can listen…to YOU.

Listen to your own voice.  Listen to your dreams.  Listen to your brain crunching through a maze-like problem…and hear the sweet refrain of the solution that comes from what seems like out of nowhere.  Quiet your heart and your mind, and listen to the melody of deferred hopes and the sad songs of disappointment.  Dive deeper and listen to the complex symphonies of creativity and innovation.  Feel the reverberations of the groaning strings of desire and want and need.  Listen to the lyrics that lie dormant in the depths of who you are.  Listen to the whispers of the One who created you to “be all that you can be”.

You see last week, in a fit of defiance, I “fired” all of my “executive counsel”.  All except for a few that I would literally take to a desert island with me, like my pastors, some “fathers of the faith”, and dear friends.  I fired the dozens and dozens of blog feeds that I had subscribed to for my quick, brainless fixes for the day.  The ones that told me I didn’t have it all together…that I wasn’t doing enough…or that I wasn’t enough to start with.  I handed them and their endless supply of posts a proverbially pink Pink Slip.

And I realized very quickly, as the silence settled in…that if I am scared about anything, it’s about my own thoughts.  Owning the responsibility for them.  Having to work a bit to have a good one.  Or running the risk of having bad ones, and possibly making a fool of myself.

Today, for the first time in a long, long time, I had the panicky feeling of an addict in rehab:  I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

But there’s hope.  Because today, I am totally alright with that.

Wooden Heart by Listener

This is one of the most poignant videos I’ve ever seen.  Days after I first watched it…and I’m still mulling over its intricacies.  The lyrics pack such powerful punches, it’s staggering really…and then to marry that to such raw visuals…I feel like I’ve been hugged and torn open all at the same time.  I find myself wanting to stop after each small phrase and contemplate the deepness of intent and the elegance of the metaphor.

It’s very rare that a music video leaves me stirred up AND speechless, and yet this one does…with no apologies, no regrets.  It’s as if I was lovingly bludgeoned by its beauty. The poetry is so authentically and passionately delivered that I ache with empathy, and yet want to weep openly for my own fragile condition.

I hope you watch it.  I hope you engage with it.  And I hope it completely and utterly ruins you…forever.

The Creative Booty Call

Chances are, at some point in your creative career, you’ve fallen prey to the Creative Booty Call…maybe without even realizing it. To define Creative Booty Call we’ll use the same characteristics as those used in the sexual reference:

  • the phone rings late at night or there’s a 3 a.m. knock on your door
  • the person on the other end is looking for services they might otherwise pay for, but in this instance they are wanting it for free
  • being with them always leaves you feeling empty and used
  • you spend days kicking yourself for letting it happen YET AGAIN, and swear that next time, you’ll be smarter
  • they’ve never publicly acknowledged your relationship, except maybe casual friendship…and they make a point to not socialize with you outside of this “arrangement”
  • and when they DO choose to enter into a serious relationship, it’s always with someone else

I’ve fallen prey to this scenario more times than I’d like to admit in my creative career. Out of nowhere, I’ll get a frantic phone call or text…sometimes it’ll even be from people on my client list. They’re in desperate need of a last-minute design service from me.  The excuses for not planning ahead or not contacting me sooner are always in bountiful supply, as an attempt to somehow soften the blow of what they’re really getting ready to ask me for…but buried beneath that pile heap is still the same audacious request: drop everything, forget your life or your obligations or other clients, and give them what they need…while they wait impatiently for it.

So you cancel the appointments that have been on your schedule for weeks, you put off the current project you’ve been working on that is paying full price, you sacrifice time with your family, physical resources (like sleep…and food…and hygiene..and your last bit of sanity) to run to the aid of your comrade who is in critical need.

In the end, you’ve given them the best that you have to give, for nothing in return. Nothing beyond a rushed “attaboy”…not a referral, not a mention on Twitter or Facebook…and certainly not a penny of actual generated income.

For many, it is even more dastardly than that:  You’re called or emailed because of your creative expertise in a particular area.  You give the advice willingly, even joyfully, because it’s your passion…and you LOVE to talk about your passion.  Suuuure you could be a professional consultant, making thousands of dollars per project for all of the wisdom and insight you have to give…but of course, they’re simply looking for a little free advice.  You hang up the phone with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach…and emptiness that’s hard to describe…I don’t know, kinda like you’ve been used.  Oh, and by the way…they’ll never publicly acknowledge the great ideas you provided for them.  And the kicker is, when they DO choose to invest in a professional relationship regarding your topic of discussion, it’ll undoubtably be with someone else.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, I knew it would.  But the reality regarding Booty Calls, which ever kind they might be, is that we’re the ones that set the parameters…and if I might be so bold as to say it this way:  If you’re tired of being a Creative Booty Call…the solution starts with YOU!

Steps to help you avoid the Creative Booty Call:

  1. Business hours are business hours.  After hours are, well…after.  One of the biggest challenges of creative work, especially freelance, is the setting of boundaries between your business and personal life.  But if you don’t set some working parameters, then you will always be working…that’s just how creative careers are.  All work and no play makes Jack a cranky, burned out, uninspired so-in-so that no one wants to be around.  So do yourself a favor:  clock in and clock out.
  2. Healthy professional relationships are beneficial to both parties.  If you feel tapped after every meeting you have with a client or you feel empty and used each time you deliver advice to an associate, it may be time to have the D.T.R. talk over coffee.  Defining the relationship can go a long way to increase your productivity and your sense of satisfaction on the job.
  3. Give yourself permission to set and communicate strong boundaries. While it may feel like your being fussy or a tad bit diva, strong boundaries will simply enable you to enjoy the different parts of your life in deeper richer ways without the build-up of resentment or the cause for conflict with opposing parties.  Think about what you want and need from the relationship, and communicate that clearly to your contact.  If met with resistance,  let it be a clear indication of the other person’s lack of value or honor for your expertise or services.  While we all want to “give back” and help out where we can, even Scripture says that a workman is worthy of his wages.  In the least, consider working out some kind of barter that wouldn’t be such a financial drain on them, but that would also provide some kind of positive benefit for you as well.
  4. You don’t have to answer the door.  You’ve seen it all before on some agonizingly anemic chick flick, where in the middle of the night there’s a knock on the door…and as the actress stumbles and bumbles her way through her dark apartment, you almost feel like shouting, “Don’t be stupid!  Girl, don’t you EVEN answer that door!”…but she always does.  And the guy on the other side of that door knows that she always will.  She is the one that allows it to be a Booty Call in the first place.  If she had only stood up to him and said, “no” or never opened the door, she would be quickly be removed from the BC list.
  5. Don’t be afraid to lose out.  I think many of us mean well.  We think: maybe it’ll lead to more business…maybe it’ll garner some kind of recognition…maybe I’ll feel like I’ve contributed something or shared my knowledge.  But the stinging truth is: very rarely does a Booty Call become a long-term relationship. There are the BC’s, and then there are the one’s you take home to meet your mama.  Don’t be afraid to lose out on a few casual relationships in order to save your best for Mr. Right. It’ll be worth a little silence on the phone or a few less email requests in the inbox to be able to focus your best efforts on your best clients.  You know that the best professional relationships are worth the wait.  And they’ll treat you with integrity, respect and honor.
  6. Be ready to move on.  This is where it takes some emotional fortitude.  It’s one step in the right direction to have an awareness that things just aren’t right…that you aren’t happy with the current arrangement…and that there’s nothing about this that’s healthy.  But it’s another step…and a huge on at that…to actually muster up the guts to do something about it.  It takes a lot of guts to NOT open the door…or NOT answer the frantic voicemail…or NOT respond to the do-or-die email.  But it’s the only way to begin to set the healthy boundaries you need to sustain and grow a thriving creative career.  Trust yourself enough to know what is right for you and for your well-being.

Some things to consider:

  • It might be time to do an assessment on the services you have to offer.  Do you have valuable advice to offer people?  Do you give it the value it deserves?  Do you have healthy boundaries in place that allow you to enjoy your life and your career, separately?
  • If you find yourself offering advice regularly, it might be time to organize your experience and knowledge into a product or program that can be marketed to people in need of your expertise.  Considering other options to the “freebie” could open new professional opportunities for you that you never knew were there before.  Consultancy and other avenues may offer you that same sense of satisfaction you were finding in giving away “free advice”…but with personal ad financial rewards for you, as well.  Maybe it’s time to be paid for what you know, and not just for what you do.
  • You may need to wrestle down that pesky need to be liked in order to truly free yourself from the lure of the Creative Booty Call.  We all love to be loved.  But it’s not really love when it comes at our expense.  The more emotionally healthy you get, the more freedom you will experience creatively…and the stronger your creative career will be.

 Some ways to re-establish a healthy sense of yourself:

  • make a list of all of the things that are special and unique about your creativity or your services.  Not only will this provide you with some killer copy to use in your marketing pieces, but it will help you define who you are and what you want out of your career and professional relationships.
  • request client testimonials…you’ll discover some of your biggest fans, and be reminded of the great ideas you had and the fantastic work you did…and don’t forget:  they were happy to pay full price for it!
  • post the testimonials around your office for added encouragement on those days when it’s hard to say “no” to the freebie fix.
  • consider writing a “manifesto” for your creative enterprise that clearly states what you value most, how you want to represent those values, and who you want to be in the process.

Never forget:  you are an active participant in defining your creative relationships. Choose the kind of relationships that build you up, support you, and inspire you to be your creative best.  Don’t settle for the Booty Call.  Have the courage to wait for Mr. Right.

Theology & The Arts

I ran across this video online, and found Jeremy Begbie’s explanation of how he relates his creativity with his faith as simply elegant.  He takes a somewhat heady philosophy, and shows in practical terms how his art form, music, unlocks the truths of the Gospel in breathtaking ways.

I took the liberty of including notes below, in case you wanted to share them with your worship team or creative group.  He offers up a most interesting case for creative expression being inextricably linked to faith, transformation and innovation.  

For me, it served as a beautiful reminder of what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world–that who we are and what we believe is communicated through what we do…and that it is meant to affect transformation in the lives and hearts of people around us.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


How does an artist who comes to faith in God relate the two worlds of:
  •  Thinking as a musician
  •  Thinking as a theologian
Two ways to view creativity in relationship to your faith:
1.  Theology for the arts – you start with a Christian world view, or doctrine or biblical text…and you apply it to the art form.  So you try to understand the art form in light of the theological world view.

2.  Theology through the arts – you start with the art form (music, art, dance, etc.)…and you ask what the art form can bring to theology.  How can the powers of creative expression help us to unlock the great truths of the Gospel?

Lessons that can be learned from considering theology through the arts:
  • The most wonderful things can come out of the most unpromising/unlikely material.  The arts show us over and over again the possibilities of transformation.  They show us how things could be.
  • Even the worst can be woven into God’s purposes.  God can take your worst mistakes and make them into His beautifully unique bits in life (ie. His “passing notes”).
  • Life is full of possibilities.  Many of us think that the only two options in our lives are Order & Dis-Order.  We’ve come to associate Order with good, and Dis-Order with evil. Order is fruitful, while Dis-Order is destructive.  But there is a third option to consider:  Non-Order or The Jazz Factor – something that is unpredictable and irregular, but is not destructive.  The real skill comes from learning the inter-play between Order and Non-Order.
    All art represents an inter-play between the given and the unpredictable.  
    One form of the given is tradition.  As a creative you are apprenticed to a tradition –  the tradition of classical music, or modern dance, or Shakespearean English, Impressionistic painting.  That is the only way you will innovate in the future. Most great innovators rely intensively on their tradition…and from within it, they begin to play around with its structure…creating a play on the traditional that  becomes something unique in its own right.  Some people try to innovate far too soon, but involves a great deal of practice and being inculcated into a tradition.  
  • You’re always innovating for a particular circumstance – innovation involves interpreting the art while being mindful of the context–innovating for the occasion.  Improvisation is the exploration of occasion.  This time, this place, these people, on this occasion. A great doctrinal example of this type of innovation in the moment is the work of the Holy Spirit…he moves on this heart, in this place, or in this congregation to affect this change…

WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you have trouble relating your faith to your creativity?
What role do you think your art plays in society?
Have you considered which themes of the Gospel are represented in your art?
Does Mr. Begbie’s perspectives on faith and art influence the way you see your art? 

Good Art, Good Grief

“Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our own behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense.”

—Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Like an old friend, Gilead has welcomed me with open arms since I started rereading it just over a month ago.  Indeed, until a few days ago, the above quote struck me as mildly fascinating, but pale in comparison with all the passages that focused on the inextricable bonds between heaven and earth. When one is obsessed with the mysteries of immortality, I suppose, inquiries into the nature of earthly existence hardly ignite the intellect.

Besides, theatrical matters of a more literal sort had already consumed more than enough mental energy. Before hearing the news of my friend’s death, I’d agreed to help helm my church’s Easter play. After returning home to grieve, though, I kept wondering if there was some way to bow out and focus my attention on more important things—you know, like moping.

Eventually, I realized moping was the least productive of my options, and threw myself into writing and directing when I returned. Thanks to a shortage of available actors, I found myself cast in my own play, in the role of an apostate disciple who, at the foot of Christ’s crucifixion, confronts a loyal disciple who has been healed of blindness. Personal crises aside, I couldn’t get into the role; in fact, the character seemed to me a major flaw, a cipher that skirted dangerously close to the “murderous Jew” that so tragically populates the history of Passion plays. Even on Easter Sunday, as we donned our makeup and costumes, I’d come to grudgingly accept the character as a blemish we writers had overlooked, a problem beyond the reach of my limited acting skills.

When I assumed my position behind the curtain, though, something was changing within me, without my consent or control. As I meditated on my character in the backstage darkness, the enormity of the events we were depicting became inseparable, in my mind, from the enormity of what my friend had faced on that frozen lake. With every line I spoke over the course of the evening, all the emotional progress I’d made over the past few weeks seemed to slip away. When the time came for me to deliver my climactic monologue, it was as if the near-stereotype I’d bemoaned had come to violent life, possessed by the Lucas who, a month and a half ago, spent an entire day cursing God on his knees. I opened my mouth to speak and spat out the following ad-lib, not sure and not caring whether I was speaking as my character or as myself:

“Look, you have eyes, don’t you? You talk about them so much…well, look at him. Look at the blood and sweat dripping down his face, look at the flesh hanging from his ribcage, look at the life being sucked out of his body with every breath he expels…does this look like the Messiah?”

My cowriter, who was also onstage that night, told me later that he was nearly startled out of character, so raw and enraged was my delivery. Also, I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t exactly endear myself to the small children who were sitting in the front row. I don’t claim to be a De Niro, or even a poor man’s De Niro, but that night I definitely attained a new level of insight into acting.

Literary types often define a metaphor as consisting of two parts: the ‘tenor,’ the idea illustrated by the metaphor, and the ‘vehicle,’ the image that embodies the tenor. In that moment, the tenor and vehicle of Calvin’s metaphor seemed to merge into one. Indeed, becoming an artist of my character’s behavior was the ultimate culmination of my decision to be, as it were, an artist of my own behavior: to bring the full brunt of my grief right to God’s doorstep instead of denying it expression, and then to persevere in my commitments to the Church.

And I realize now that the intuition with which I ad-libbed those lines – the intuition with which I finally embodied my character – was not analogous to, but of a piece with, the faith with which I have learned to pray, “Thy will be done.”

In the last email she ever wrote to me, my friend concluded with these words: “My friend said something to me before about how difficult it is to try and live life with your whole heart. But what a beautiful way to strive to live.” It’s not a bad goal for an actor, either. And so I pray, in life as in art, to give a bravura performance.

By Lucas Kwong, Image Journal