When you were a kid, you just did it. No one ever came up and told you to make someone’s head purple or their arms red and their feet blue. No one. But if you’ve had kids or worked with kids and have seen them color, you know that’s what you get, especially when they are little. I’m pretty sure I kept some of Emma’s early artwork in coloring and basically it was a free form expression of the world – and by that I mean she took one color out of the Crayola crayon box and furiously scribbled back and forth across the sheet until it was covered in swirls and strokes of that one color. She would rip it out of the book and give it to me as a present. She was so proud of it, and why shouldn’t she be? It came from her. But as we would color together, she would watch to see what I was doing and sometimes would get frustrated because she thought her pictures didn’t look as pretty as mine. I thought hers were great! But mine looked more like what you saw on the cover of the book. Mine looked more like what you would see in cartoons on television. And I’m sure that is what she was comparing it to. I remember getting praised when I was little for coloring within the lines and people giving me oohs and aahs the more “realistic” I got. Looking back, I wonder if I was the one who was less creative. Maybe my picture was the one that wasn’t really as pretty. Maybe the problem is us.
We teach conformity.
In school, at home, on TV. We teach conformity. We teach people how to see the world the way we see it. Maybe in small, subtle ways, but it becomes a part of our lives and we end up having a much more narrow view of the world because of it. We teach people how to color within the lines. And when people violate those rules, we become uncomfortable with it. We try to steer them back toward what is in our comfort zone. But maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should be encouraging people to do things outside the lines, have more “outside-the-box” thinking. In doing so, we might unleash a firestorm of incredible ideas that could change the world for the better. In the course of history, there have been many incredible people who have colored outside the lines and thank God they did so. They didn’t follow conventional thinking. They didn’t do things the way they were supposed to be done and they ended up breaking down barriers we didn’t even know existed. Things we take for granted today at one time were thought heresy or useless or a waste of time. Copernicus advanced the theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe and he was scoffed at for such thinking. Even Martin Luther, the famous theologian who himself had some pretty radical ideas at the time, said of Copernicus “This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but the sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, not the earth.” When Walt Disney was making Snow White and the Seven Dwarves many were calling it “Disney’s Folly” sure it was going to bankrupt him and his company. But when it came out, it broke records at the box office and was the biggest hit for over 10 years until another little movie came out – Gone With the Wind. Snow White became the foundation of Disney animation into the next century. There are literally dozens of stories out there like these, stories of people who were thought foolish or silly or dumb because they had ideas that were out of the box but who were groundbreakers and revolutionized how we thought about the world. We need these creative sparks, these new ideas. We need these to grow and learn and evolve into the kind of people who can explore our untapped potential. If we want to be all God created us to be, we need to explore our creativity.
And we can be sure that God is a God of boundless creativity!
Just look at what he has done! The book of Genesis, the very first book in the Bible is a testimony to God’s creative act. At a conference I went to, Erwin McManus was speaking. Erwin is the lead pastor at Mosaic. He calls Mosaic a community of faith instead of a church because he has learned the very idea of church comes loaded with all sorts of fixed images and expectations and he wanted to create a space where God could be expressed in many different ways. He’s also the author of many books and is passionate about creativity. And one of the things he talked about stuck in my mind. He said, “We’ve turned the Bible into a manual of conformity. It’s time to redeem it as a manifesto of creativity.” He was telling us about how difficult it is to get a book published about faith. His publisher told him that if he wanted more of his books to sell, he would need to stop writing about things that challenge our perception of faith and instead write books that confirm what people already believe. They told him that people have fixed ideas in their heads about the nature of God and faith and they don’t like to buy books that challenge those perceptions. They may be right, but what does that say about us? Is it true we only seek out those things that confirm what we already believe? You only need to look at Facebook and Instagram to see that model works out. Can we train ourselves to overcome that limited perspective and learn something new? I believe we can. It’s in our nature.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. – Genesis 2:4-9,19-22
I like this account of creation.
When we talk about creation we often read from Genesis 1 because it really expresses the POWERFUL nature of God and gives scope to the immensity of what God can do, but this account in Genesis 2 really puts God in the center of his creation. He literally breathes life into us. And I love this image of God creating the world with humanity in mind. Adam gets the opportunity to name all the animals. I think he could have done a better job with “aardvark” but that’s just being picky. Still this passage is a great example of God’s creative genius. God formed man with his own hands. Then he formed all the animals again with his own hands. He created the water and the trees and everything around us. Our God is a God of boundless creativity! And if we are truly created in God’s image, don’t you think God created us to be creative as well? We need to challenge ourselves to color outside the lines once in a while, to challenge old ways of doing things in favor of new ways of expressing ourselves. The world around us is constantly changing and to meet the needs of a changing world, we need to change with it. We need to explore new ideas and new ways of understanding God in the world today instead of trying to shove God inside of a book.
People use the Bible as a weapon of conformity.
They read into it what they want it to say. Like in accounting, you can pretty much manipulate God’s Word to get it to say anything you want. For centuries the Bible was used (and is still used today) to suppress women from serving as teachers of the Word. Even though any actual reading of the Bible shows women who were leaders and teachers for God. For centuries the Bible was used to take away the rights of those with dark skin, calling them cursed of God even though the Bible doesn’t say that anywhere. It takes a really twisted reading of the stories of God to come up with that interpretation. Today, we use the Bible to condemn and oppress people for all sorts of other ways of living and ignore God’s command to love one another. Christ tells us specifically in John 13 that by loving one another, people will know we are his followers, but we still fail to do that. We have very fixed ideas about worship, about prayer, about communion, about a whole host of other things that we claim come from the Bible when they actually do not. And when life happens different from our fixed ideas we can become critical and mean. At almost every church I’ve been at, I would preach from in front of the pulpit. It felt it gave me a better chance to connect with everyone and most people seemed to appreciate it. Except for one person who hated it. She even told me she thought I was being disrespectful to Christ by preaching in front of the cross as if I thought I was more important than Jesus. Her concept of what worship should and should not be was being challenged and she responded fiercely.
If we really are the people of God, we need to listen HARD to what God is saying to us.
We need to expand our ways of thinking and be open to how God might be communicating to us today. We should open up our minds to new and original ways of conceiving God’s grace and mercy in the world and see if how we are behaving and how we are reacting to the world around us is in line with what we know about God. We need to remember that God has used some of the most unlikely people to be his representatives in the world. Abraham and Sarah were literally the parents of Israel even though they were advanced in age and Sarah had been infertile. Moses would become the spokesperson for all the Israeli people in captivity despite his speech impediment. And Cyrus, King of Persia, was blessed by God to be the one to bring the Israeli people back from exile – even though he wasn’t even a believer! What would our faith look like without these champions of God? What if they weren’t open to God’s creative work in their lives? Spend some time this week being creative. Do something different. Whether it’s cooking a new food, eating a new type of cuisine, picking up a coloring book and drawing outside the lines, whatever it is try something new. Be open to God’s creative work in the world, dare to be different, and keep an open mind about what might happen to you!