Today I Saw God
I'm still relatively new to Northern Virginia, but in my year of living here, one thing stands out far more than the horrific traffic, the well-educated population and even some of the social and political crises we face on a regular basis. Our busyness requires so much attention for the things we have to do that we have squelched our creative capacities for thinking about the people and communities we could become. Of course, bright lights of imagination and innovation pop up around us all the time. But I think we can all identify with the rut that work days and weeks can become.
In this rut, we rush past our neighbors (if we even know their names to begin with) to get to our cars, become our worst selves as our rage boils over in traffic, work with only the day's end in mind, endure more traffic and come home to more tasks, crises or sheer exhaustion. Our tasks dictate our lives beyond a reasonable measure of responsibility. Do we ever ask, "Does it have to be this way?"
Yes, work is good and necessary. And yes, not everyone has the privilege of asking these kinds of questions. But no matter your career or professional trajectory, Jesus offers something far more meaningful than a monotonous daily grind.
You don't have to quit, retire or get fired to experience the new life Jesus offers. In fact, Jesus offers us the Holy Spirit, whom we can invite into every moment of our lives as God's constant, loving presence. This gift isn't confined to your particular worship community on a given day, but can in fact fuel your imagination for a new routine.
Imagine what could happen if we took Jesus' call to love our neighbors seriously, beginning with those who live right next door. Imagine what could happen if our commutes turned into opportunities to (safely and hands-free) call friends or partners in faith to encourage and stay connected to one another. Imagine what could happen if we saw our co-workers as fellow human beings who experience joy, sorrow, beauty and pain just like we do. Imagine what could happen if home became a rejuvenating place, even as you check items off your to-do list.
My generalizations cannot possibly give you solutions to breaking out of your own rut, but right now, take five minutes and ask that question: "Does it have to be this way?" Like we encourage recent college graduates in Wesley Fellows, you do not have to join a convent or work at a church to take Jesus' call to discipleship seriously in your life. However, you do need to take time to imagine who you want to be and consider what steps you can take to get there. Don't be afraid to unleash your creativity; this God-given gift, expressed in countless different ways, helps us achieve the unimaginable.
Open Mic Nightwhat does that mean? For some, you might envision karaoke night at which a gaggle of girls climb on stage to sing Shania Twain. Others might picture a local comedy club or a coffee shop evening filled with aspiring songwriters. However, for some of you, the thought of an open mic night might be terrifying. Perhaps you associate the term with more painful memories as you recall a time when you stood up to share a new piano piece at your school talent show, only to be mocked by friends later. Others could recount an evening in which a new song you wrote fell flat on a disinterested crowd.
Anytime a person shares an artistic gift, it comes with a level of risk. Art is vulnerable. It is rooted in a part of your core being that is deeply connected to your soul. Believe it or not, there are still times when an element of fear accompanies me as I lead worship. Any time I try something new or share a song I've written, I guarantee that my hands are trembling. It is because art opens you up to others and shows the true self. The thought of exposing this piece of you to a group of people can be intimidating.
It is for this reason that we created Open Mic Night at Floris UMC two years ago. The purpose is to provide an open and welcoming forum in which members of the church and greater community can come together and share their gifts. At first we didn't know what to expect or who would come, but it has grown into something truly magical. There has not been a single Open Mic event that I have walked away from without feeling some form of inspiration or a Godly touch.
The beauty of Open Mic Night is that no two events are ever alike. We have enjoyed a high school improv group, newly budding songwriters, an Indian drummer, songs from various languages and an Italian aria. Ballerinas, hip-hop dancers, Bollywood dancers and modern dancers have all graced the stage at one point or another. Actors have shared monologues before magicians dazzled the crowd with a new trick. There is no experience required, as you will see brand new performers mixed in with people who have spent their entire lives honing their craft.
Recently I asked some participants to share with me why they are involved in Open Mic Night.
"I love open mic because it gives my [dance] group an opportunity to share with others about the beauty of God while presenting it in an entertaining and fun way!"
"Open mic is one of our favorite events in Floris. The reason being, it has helped my kids a lot to share their talents for the Glory of his kingdom. Looking back at the very first open mic in 2014 I attended with my family, until the last one, it has made a big difference in the way they have grown with their musical skills. This skill that they developed has helped [our kids] to perform at various other events in Floris. Last year we even did a neighborhood Christmas caroling!"
"Variety of performances, coffee house feel and free snacks is a hard combination to beat!"
"For me, Open Mic is a joyful event to experience what happens when God encourages folks to share their gifts with others."
If you are an artist of any flavor, or merely someone who respects the arts, this is a place for you. Come take that leap of faith with others by sharing your gift in a community built to embrace one another as we say, "I see you. I feel you. Your art is special." This is a safe space, void of any judgment, and filled with nothing but love and acceptance of the creativity with which God has gifted each person.
Creativity – the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations; originality, progressiveness, imagination.
My eldest daughter and I had the privilege several years ago of being in the cast of an original musical. The story and the music of the musical were written entirely by my friends, Don and Zoe. This particular story, the melodies and the lyrics were not present in our world prior to Don and Zoe deciding to bring them into existence. Something within them decided that, in a world full of songs and stories, something new was neededsomething different, something beautiful. Something we didn't know we were missing until we experienced it. As actors, singers, artists and musicians, we then became part of the creative process by adding our own touch to the story, a collective work of creation that further touched the lives of both the participants and the members of the audience.
Multiply our experience by every song you hear, every play you watch, every book you read, every piece of artwork you enjoy. What causes someone to decide the world isn't enough with just the status quo? Why do we build a more beautiful building, sing a different song, paint another painting? What inspires us to dig deep within ourselves and expose ourselves to criticism and judgment by offering up our creations to public scrutiny?
Although creativity is often associated with more traditional forms of "art" such as theatre, music and painting, looking back over the life of Apple founder Steve Jobs reminds us that creativity occurs anytime we allow ourselves to think outside the confines of that which already exists. Mr. Jobs, in his short life, created products that we didn't know we needed and now are quite sure we can't live without. He didn't allow failure to stop him from imagining something new, something better or something different. I don't know whether he was a man of faith, but it seems to me that he lived his life with an understanding that being in touch with his creativity meant making a difference in the world. I love these words from his address to Stanford students in 2005:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
Creativity is at the heart of what makes us fully alive. On a spiritual level, creativity is our very connection to our creatorthe life force that makes us most like our Heavenly Father in whose image we were created. As a person of faith, following my "heart and intuition" is directly related to staying connected to the originator of that creative spark within me. Knowing that God made each of us with the ability and the yearning to be creative forces within this world challenges me to pay attention to those opportunities that I am given to step outside of the status quo and do something different, even when it feels risky. Creating something and offering it to the world is an act of vulnerability. The question vulnerability asks of us is this: "What is worth doing even if you fail?"
"The Artist's Way" author Julia Cameron says this about the reasons we might take the risk of creativity, "We are ourselves creations. We are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves. This is the God-force extending itself through us. Creativity is God's gift to us. Using creativity is our gift back to God."
Embracing my creativity, in whatever form that might take, is an act of worship and an act of bravery.
Originally published on www.kellyjohnsongracenotes.com.