Thinking Out Loud

June 15, 2017

Keeping Creativity When Originality is Elusive

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

Sometimes I relax at the end of the day listening to old songs on YouTube. I’ll hear something and be struck by the fact that they were doing whatever makes that song unique for the first time. “Just think;” I will passionately preach to my wife, “Nobody up to that point had ever done that before.” She just goes back to her knitting.

I would think for musicians and writers and fine artists, there must be a constant frustration that all the mountains have been climbed and the flags have been planted. In a competitive world, it’s hard to come with an idea that is a true first.

This is a guest post from my son Aaron’s latest blog Voice of One Whispering. Aaron is a writer, actor, and armchair theologian. Later on today I’ll ask him for permission to use it here.

Nothing Under the Sun

All creatives I have known have run into the situation where they set out to do a project and then find that it has already been done before. Someone had the same idea and got there first. You’ve worked weeks or maybe months on something only to discover that it’s not as original as you imagined.

I personally find that this experience is sort of like the stages of grief. Not step for step identical but we still wrestle through reviewing the value of our work which tends to involve a lot of denial and bargaining. I try to come up with new justifications for my work. “Do I approach the subject matter from a different angle? Do I present it in a unique style? Can I add insights that this other person can’t? Can I do it better in general?”

The objective is to not scrap everything you’ve accomplished so far but giving up can be awfully tempting.

Sometimes you do find that different angle, unique style, insight, or means of improvement. Sometimes it’s obvious and easy to build on what has already been done. I think that’s the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is when you can’t re-justify your work to yourself and your standing there staring at your notebook, computer, canvas, or whatever and honestly can’t see anything in your own work that hasn’t already been accomplished. Then what?

The trash can is right there. You could just give up and move on but something in you is reluctant. Why? Because you’re doing this for yourself. You didn’t sit down in front of the canvas or word document just to have this or that impact on society. That may be a big part of it but you’re also doing it for yourself. You’re doing it because you were made to make things and have works to call your own. Who cares if it’s identical to something else? Let someone else be the judge of that. Chances are your perspective is too clouded to see something that would be obvious to an outside observer.

Throw that trash can in the trash can where it belongs and finish what you started. You will likely find a purpose to your work when it’s done that you couldn’t see before. If you can, forget the other thing exists.

Do the best you can, wrap it up, put a bow on it. To respect and finish your own work, in the spirit in which it began, is a gift you give yourself. And I guarantee that at least one other person in the world will be glad you did.

October 4, 2013

Creativity Block

Filed under: blogging — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:28 am

One of the four summers I worked at a Christian summer camp there was a management team that was considered by many staff to be particularly oppressive. People coped with them in different ways, but generally there was much dissatisfaction and unrest.

CreativityWhen it came time to leave after ten weeks, I got in my car for the two hour drive home and instead of turning on the radio or CD player — back then it would have been a cassette deck — I started singing. Some of the songs that came were things I was making up on the spot, and by the time I arrived in Toronto two hours later, I had written and memorized three complete songs, which I quickly wrote down as soon as I could find pen and paper.

As I later explained this to a friend, he told me that all that creativity had been locked inside while working at the camp, and as soon as I was physically free of the place, the creative juices started flowing like a river…

…I mention all this because over the last few days I have felt a creative block where Thinking Out Loud is concerned, but I realized later that this is only because I have been trying to write more original articles at Christianity 201, instead of harvesting them from other sites.

You can only be creative on so many fronts at a time.

Thinking Out Loud started shortly after I finished a two-year stint of leading worship every Sunday — solo — in a local church. I worked hard on those weekly worship sets, including stringing together medleys of songs from a variety of musical influences in order to give worship opportunity to a broad mix of generations.  Some Sundays the song list incorporated fragments of up to 17 songs.

I could not have done that and done this at the same time. The creative energy to create Thinking Out Loud only happened when I stopped being creative on another front…

…Years ago I heard a story about a man who had never written an original song in his life, but then he became a regular on a Christian television show that was broadcast regionally in Canada. He discovered that while radio stations play royalty based on a partial sample of station playlists, television is (or was at the time) done so that royalties are based on a 100% audit of music used. The money turned out to be significant.

So he started writing songs. While I can’t applaud the motivation, and I doubt that any of those songs had the staying power to be used anywhere today, the point is that the creative resources were resident within him, but had been untapped.

So what’s your creative gift or talent that you’re not using to fullest? What abilities lie untapped for whatever reason? I encourage you to put yourself in a position to find out.

November 2, 2008

Canada’s Worship Gala: Heaven’s Rehearsal

Filed under: Christian, Christianity, Church, music, worship — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:07 pm

Last night Mrs. W. and I joined about 30,000 others to attend the second edition of Heaven’s Rehearsal (tag line: “A Moment In Time, To Prepare for Eternity.”)   Essentially, this is a large scale worship and arts event.   In a country where over 50% of all churches have less than 100 people in attendance on Sunday morning — nearly double the U.S., where only 25% of churches are that small — this is the closest we get to getting that “megachurch” vibe.   It’s great to be able to worship together with that number, and know that someday a much larger group of us — from every tribe and tongue, and from every era in history — will worship together in eternity.

The first event was held last year in the Air Canada Centre (that’s Centre not Center for my U.S. readers) where the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League and the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association play.   This second event was held at the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome) where the American League Toronto Blue Jays and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (three down American-style football; not four) play their games.   The roof retracts in summer, and closes in inclement weather and cooler temperatures.   The roof was closed this night, though I kept thinking that having someone sing the Sandi Patty classic, “We Shall Behold Him” as the roof retracted would be totally in keeping with the heaven theme.

The format was thus:  The evening was divided into three acts with a total of ten ‘scenes.’  Each scene contained a couple of scripture readings and two or three musical numbers, some of which were performance pieces for us to watch, and the rest were worship songs with fully animated lyrics projected for us to sing along.    The second and third acts were shorter however; I wasn’t clear as to the nature of the divisions between acts, and the point was moot as there were no intermissions.   Our tickets said 6:30 PM was the start time, and we arrived dead on; but entered to a countdown clock indicating that the event would start at 7:00.   A number of things were happening on stage at 6:30, but with the countdown clock ticking away minutes, most people talked through this section.   In fact, the event fully kicked in at 7:10, and ended at 10:00 PM.

It was the intention of the organizers that the event would be seamless, without announcements, and especially, without introductions of the participants.   Therefore, everyone performed anonymously.   Mrs. W. recognized a few of the singers from various Canadian Christian television shows; but only one of the male vocalists was known to me by sight.    I really liked this idea.   I think it helps people put their focus on the things that matter.   Even the printed program did not list names.   However, the drawback is that there is no clear indication to the audience when to stand and when to be seated.   In our particular section, people didn’t seem to know when it would be better for those around them if they were to sit down.  Of course, a few of them didn’t know when to shut up, either.    We were seated in a Pentecostal section, I wondered if the Anglican section held audience members who were a little more polite.

Technically, there were four highs and one low.   The sound was good.   The lighting was good.   The computer graphic lyrics for the audience  participation songs were the best I’ve ever seen; fully animated, and always onscreen on time, except for a few songs where they simply late in switching in.   The choreography in getting people on and off the stage and those who took part in the three processionals was handled not badly.   The low had to do with the video coverage.

It seemed like those running the cameras had no idea what was going to happen next; where they should be aiming their cameras; or when it would be best for the video director to simply stay on a shot if he actually had captured the place where the action was.    The program suggested that a video of the event could be purchased, but I think the purchasers would find that an exercise in frustration.   Furthermore, the largest Jumbotron screen in the Rogers Centre was used exclusively for graphics and song lyrics; an odd choice since many of us knew the lyrics anyway; it was the action on the stage we really needed to see.   I suggested later to Mrs. W. that this might have been a deliberate choice, since the camera coverage was so abysmal.   This was doubly odd in that the first Heaven’s Rehearsal got a large promotional kickstart from the country’s national daily Christian television show.

The scripture readings were presented by pastors and leaders from various ethnic churches in Toronto.   This is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, one of the most diverse, one of the most multicultural.   Having stated that three times, I hope I made it clear; there’s a vast number of ethnic congregations in this city.   Each pastor read his prescribed text, and ended with “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches,” in his native tongue.   The only lighter moment in the evening — something notably absent otherwise — was when one of the ethnic pastors deviated from the script to add a short poem about the people we’ll meet in the next life.   If this was a rehearsal for heaven, apparently there’s not much laughter in the place.

However, for an event that was so infused with “worship arts” the scripture readings were all one-dimensional, one-person readings.   There was no direction for audience response, no antiphonal readings, no choral readings.   Nothing.   To add to the blandness, as Mrs. W. was quick to point out afterwards, all of the readers were male.   I guess that’s because all the pastors of these ethnic congregations are male.   It’s only us crazy white guys who have churches with female pastors.   This meant however, that there was not the sound of a woman’s spoken voice in the entire three-and-a-half hours.   The purpose of women in the church today is to sing solos.   That’s the message.

The partnering with various ethnic churches also left me confused at one point, the inclusion of dance numbers from Canada’s aboriginal people.   My understanding was that most of the ‘arts’ of Canada’s first nations’ peoples had to do with their animistic beliefs; the worship of nature.   I am not opposed to including our native people in an multi-racial event; I was probably told and always took many of those dances, and even the costuming itself as having nothing to do with the Christianity I grew up with.

The aforementioned liabilities in camera coverage and live action projection could not diminish the quality of the other dance numbers.   In addition to partnering with a number of ethnic churches for some of the choreographed pieces, the organizers also joined forces with either individuals or troupes professionally trained in ballet, be they Christian ministries, or Christian performers working in the secular dance industry.   I’ve always enjoyed the quality of the visual worship going on during the musical worship of Brian Doerksen’s Today DVD, and this way, I got to see what it would have been like to be there.   Especially good were the dance numbers involving children or teenagers.  They added to the musical numbers and were never distracting.

But surely there were other types of arts organizations that the promoters might have partnered with.   For example, with the vast proliferation of companies producing video clips for churches, I thought they might cut to three or four short vidclips during this event, especially given the size of the Jumbotron.   But apparently anyone  with the gift of videography was consigned to producing backgrounds for other performances.   Again, this was surprising given the role that 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show played in the promotion of the first event.

The singalong numbers were all good strong worship songs that appropriately fit the theme of their respective scenes.   Many songs were recognizable before the lyrics appeared onscreen, and for “Awesome God,” the conductor turned and faced the audience and we sang it about five times without the aid of projected text.   Many of the songs began with the opening verse in a foreign language.   In my section, people just started singing the English lyrics.   On the second verses, the lyrics appeared and the song reverted to English.   But I was surprised there were no projected lyrics for the French first verses.   This is a somewhat bilingual country; every child, be they Italian, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Greek, etc., learns French in school; we’re all familiar enough with it that we could have sung along had some lyrics appeared on screen.

The weakness in the singalong portion of the event was the choice of final numbers.   I thought they would end this on a high note, but the audience was clearly waning in the final scene.   I’m sure that sitting around the conference table, ending with an augmented version of The Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, seemed like an inspired choice; but again, this audience was more Pentecostal than Anglican, and they were totally lost trying to join the chorus.   At that point, a reprise of “How Great is Our God,” might have been the way to finish off.   Or inserting the chorus from the hymn classic, “When We All Get To Heaven.”   Heck, they could have done better with “I’ll Fly Away.”

Which did beg the question, ‘What was this?’   At first I thought it was like the musical cantatas of my youth.  There was, as mentioned, a conductor. It even began with an overture.   Then, I figured it was patterned more after large-scale worship events in the U.S. that I’ve heard about.   Certainly the singalong sections reinforced that.    I’m sure the organizers have visited a few of those.   But sometimes the arrangements seemed too contrived, too slick; and this left me thinking it was more of a grandiose cantata.

There are theological questions, too.   We all look forward to “heaven” and the fulfillment of John’s vision in Revelation, the scriptures from which dominated the readings.   But I kept thinking of all I’ve been reading this year in Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven, where he talks about “New Earth” being the thing to which the church is really heading towards.    So theologically, I really think that this rehearsal for heaven is only narrating a small portion of a bigger story.

My ‘What was this?’ question is answered partly by, ‘This was a night out for Christians.’  It was a chance for some, like me, who’d never seen the inside of the Rogers Centre a.k.a. Skydome, to have that experience.  An opportunity for a city that once hosted monthly “All Night Sing” events in the gospel music genre, to get the large group, interdenominational event feeling.   A last gasp for those too old to attend a major venue the next time The Newsboys or Casting Crowns passes through Toronto, which is almost never.

The problem with a ‘night out for Christians,’ is that it’s heartbreaking to see a gathering for the religious set have all this time, energy, and money poured into it; and when I say money, I’d hate to think what percentage of each ticket sold went to marketing this thing.   I said ‘religious,’ because, as Mrs. W. points out in reviewing this in her blog, the Good Samaritan story was playing live outside, where everyone ignored the request for money by a homeless man outside.    (Without turning my head, I slowed down at that point, knowing she had stopped to give him a coin or two.   Working with people in this plight means she can no longer walk by.)   We were provided with an offering envelope to give towards the production’s deficit, but I think an offering for the people living on the streets within a one-mile radius of the Rogers Centre might have been a more productive effort.   Alas, however, that would have been off-message.   In any event, the scene my wife describes outside is a rather sad indictment against us ‘church people;’ I hope some others did as my wife did after we left.

So let’s play, “What if?”    What if all this effort had been put into something a bit more evangelistic?   Something you could take your brother or cousin or mother-in-law to?   Something you could take your neighbor, or the kid who has the locker next to you to?   Something you could take the boss, or the guy in marketing, or the woman who works in the next department to?     Maybe they wouldn’t sit through three-and-a-half hours, but somewhere between a Billy Graham crusade and this there has to be something that is more un-churched friendly.

I guess the problem I have with this event is that for nearly four hours we were all so heavenly minded that we were no earthly good.

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