Archives For Creative Juice

One of the hardest things about being a teacher is that I want my students to be successful.

I want their projects to look good.

I want them to be proud of their work.

But, I need them to fail, and fail quite a bit on the way to success.

At least three times last week, with three different classes, this came up. Kids wanting to know how to do some complex thing, create something for which there is no rubric, no step-by-step or color-by-number. They want me to walk them through the process.

Part of me wonders if it’s a result of my own shortcomings. Maybe I’ve held their hands too much, made my instructions too explicit. Maybe I have implied that there is always a right way or a single way to solve a problem.

Part of me wonders if it is our educational environment. We teach kids in math that there is a formula for everything. Plug in the numbers and out pops an answer.

Either way, I feel a little guilty, a little unloving, as I tell the students that the answer to their question is just figure it out.

Take the clay or the paper or the paint and move your hands around them until it all looks right. If it doesn’t look right, you haven’t worked long enough.

That really is the most loving thing I can tell them. Eventually, maybe some of the students begin to realize what I am doing. They realize that the mold they fit comfortably inside all day doesn’t really work for the Art room. Maybe they realize that no one is telling me exactly what to do as their teacher, or how to do everything. It takes improvisation. It takes instinct.

failure

Mostly, it takes a willingness to fail, to make bad work.

Success, real success, is just that: the result of a lot of failure, a lot of bad work.

There are many days when I want to shortcut that process and just tell kids the answer. I want their work to look good now. 

But I know better. When I do that, it isn’t real success. It’s just a pretty picture.

Why do people love power so much?

Why do some people conquer others, enslave others?

Why do some people become dictators?

Why do some people run for president, even if it’s just president of the homeowner’s association?

Because people love power. We love to feel a sense of control. And the biggest variable in our lives, the thing that makes us feel the most out of control is other people.

That’s why some marriage break down. Because both people are vying for control, trying to get the upper hand.

It’s why churches split. Because someone is trying to get control of the group who should not.

The love of power brings down companies, empires and marriages.

On Sunday, we were discussing what Jesus was doing in the garden at Gethsemane, how he is resisting evil with every fiber of his being. And yet, when the guards come for him, he doesn’t break free or get control of the situation. He submits. We all know about non-violent resistance. Well Jesus practices non-violent non-resistance. 

He empties himself of all power.

Ordinary humans aren’t so good at that. Even when we say “hate the sin, love the sinner,” the hate part tends to overshadow the love part, and we go on another quest to control others. Jesus, on the other hand, hates sin and evil so much, that he refuses to do anything to take away evil’s power over him.

power

The thing about power is that it is always tempting and always fleeting. We humans are able to feel very puffed up when we come into an exceedingly small amount of it. And yet, no matter how much of it we ever get, it never feels like enough, because there are still people who are outside our control.

So if our agenda this week includes gaining more power, maybe we should recalibrate our priorities.

I have a question for you.

Do we want to change?

Not just change the rules or change the system, but change ourselves as a people.

I ask this because last week, we had an event happen that, let’s admit, we are all used to happening.

Another shooter. Another gun. Another campus.

You and I sit at home and say, “How sad.”

But we also think to ourselves, “It could never happen here.

I fully admit that’s what I think. And so, we allow another event to slip through our fingers without anything being done about it.

The fact is that you and I and every other human being on Earth does not like change. We are creatures of habit and inertia. We like our mess just the way it is, thank you very much. And usually on a micro level, it takes a significant event to make us clean up our mess. We have to have a medical emergency, or the threat of divorce or some other “wake up call” that motivates us to actually do hard things.

The other fact of human nature is that we worry about “number one” first. We may give enough time or money to feel “generous” or “moral,” but we protect our nests and our own baby birds above all else. And so when a problem is “out there,” we let it lie outside and don’t make it our responsibility.

There is no single person in America, not even the President, who can change the nature of our society. No single person can stop shooters from shooting up campuses. There is also no single solution that will stop the problem. Taking guns away won’t do it. National mental health screenings won’t. Better security, or anything else we could dream up won’t fix anything.

The solution is much more complicated than any of those things. It may or may not involve any of the above.

But it also involves each of us. 

You and I don’t have the ability to change our society. But we have some little corner of the world that we watch over. We have some circle of influence. And we have the ability to make that circle more a more peaceful place, more loving, more kind, more generous.

change

We don’t have an epidemic of “crazy people with guns.” We have an epidemic of disenfranchised, isolated people.

We all have the ability and the responsibility to see those people.

The world does not change unless each of us moves to change it.

There was a time in my life when I tried to do everything.

If someone asked a favor. Or if someone had an odd job. Or maybe someone thought I’d be good for a task. If someone asked, I complied. I thought I had to say “yes.”

I thought saying yes to everything was how adults worked.

Maybe I did this because of my time in high school, the one stretch of time when we have the opportunity and are encouraged to do as much as possible.

Whenever someone asked me to do something, I had even trained myself to think of the request, not as a task or a burden, but an opportunity. 

I felt I had to do this, not just to do things for people, but to be things for people. I thought I had to be the guy who always showed up, always pitched in, always carried the load. If I did that long enough, then people would appreciate me, would respect me, even love me.

The problem with those “opportunities” is that most of them do not lead anywhere. They do not get you ahead. The people asking are usually not really thinking about your time or talents. When they say you’d be “good” for a task, what they really mean is that you could be useful to help them get a task off of their plate. And helping people with their little tasks never bought me appreciation, respect or love.

These days, I have become well practiced at a new discipline of saying no. 

And it’s such a relief.

I don’t always show up. I don’t always help out. I don’t help with things that are not in my wheelhouse.

I have started to see “opportunities” for what they are. I now see the time-wasters and dead-ends. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because I can’t be everything to everyone. I have to choose to be someone for the people who are really counting on me. 

So I can’t take care of some menial task this week. I have to be a teacher today.

No, I’m sorry I can’t make it to your little event. I have to be a husband.

Sorry, I can’t take care of that for you. I have to be a dad tonight.

something

That is plenty. And I think we might all be a lot happier if we structured our lives more in that way. Taking fewer “opportunities” from the people on the periphery of our lives, and investing more in the people who need us most.

You and I will have opportunities today.

Tomorrow.

The rest of this month.

In fact, every day, you and I are probably bombarded with opportunities, all competing for our attention.

The events of the world present us with opportunities to respond. Some people choose to respond to refugees by opening their borders and their homes. Others put up fences, or dredge up reports that say the refugees are “economic” rather than “war” refugees.

The issues of our times present us with opportunities to respond. We can pretend that our society’s institutions are blameless and upright, even in the face of damning evidence. Or we can face the truth and help convince others.

Our everyday interactions present us with opportunities to respond. I am not so sure that social media has made us any more “social.” But every day, we are presented with a million opportunities to get into an online word brawl, to be sucked into foolish arguments over nothing at all.

Last week, I said off hand that the opportunities we take say as much about our character as the opportunities we pass up. And I’ve been thinking about that since then.

There are plenty of opportunities we should pass up. The opportunities that waste our time, waste our words, or waste our energy are good places to start. We can stop throwing our full-hearted allegiance behind big-egoed politicians. We can stop sharing inflammatory half-truths on social media. We can stop towing the party line.

But there are many opportunities that we ignore, and in so doing, we commit the sin of omission.

The words we did not say.

The love we did not share.

The truth we did not demonstrate.

The generosity we did not demonstrate.

action

This week, you and I will be pummelled with a million opportunities. Some will come our way at work or at home. A few will come through the nightly news or at church. A whole bunch will come through Facebook or Twitter.

And all of those opportunities are choices about the kinds of people we are going to be this week.

Perspective is important.

Everyone has one. The word “perspective” is often interchangeable with “opinion” or “worldview.”

And it is everyone’s perspectives, when they come into contact with one another, that we have conflict.

The problem with perspectives and worldviews is that they are limited.

When I was a child, my worldview was very small because my world was very small. The world was made up of my home, my family, church and school.

When I was a high schooler, my perspective was only slightly bigger. Even at a school of two-thousand students, that makes for a pretty small world.

The problem is that for most of us, our perspective never outgrows the little pot we have ourselves planted in. Most high schoolers have a perspective that is about as big as high school. And most of us adults have a perspective that doesn’t really outgrow our little world – our family, job, bank account, and whatever little extracurriculars we drive the kids to.

I do truly believe that this is why public discourse in our culture is so awful.

Lack of perspective.

Small perspective.

We Americans hear statistics that were sampled from Americans, but they are portrayed as if they are global. 

We assume our famous people are famous everywhere.

We Americans make up such a small part of the global population, but we can be endlessly egocentric. It’s why we think our problems are the biggest, the most important. It’s how we get away with telling ourselves that we are poor or persecuted. Just by reading this sentence, you prove that you are among the top income earners in the world.

If only we had the courage to get a bigger perspective on ourselves, we would stop thinking of ourselves as perpetual victims, and start being empowered to reach out to others and solve problems.

perspective

I truly believe that our culture would change, our discourse would change, our faith would change, if we were able to collectively see outside of ourselves, look beyond our horizons, put our priorities in perspective.