Combat Lies with Creativity

These are some thoughts I shared in an artist co-op meeting recently that the group asked me to write down and share.

As a culture, I think we are seeing the limits of the ability of facts to combat lies. More information exists than every before. Then there’s information about the information. And then there are arguments about what facts are true and what are not. I can think of a lot of reasons this might be happening, but uncovering the truth in a sea of information seems to be getting increasingly difficult. There is some amazing scientific work going on. There is some perhaps-less-amazing study of human behavior (judging from what gets sifted down to me through the news, Facebook, etc.) But being an informed person no longer seems to pack the punch that it used to. Information seems to be losing its power to help me navigate life in a meaningful way. It does less and less to help me combat the lies in my head about who I am, why I am on this planet, how I should behave toward my fellow human beings in the time that I have.

Where do those lies come from, anyway? As a Christian, I believe there is a spiritual entity who is the “father of lies”. He is jealous of God. He can’t make anything himself, so he uses all of his formidable strength and intelligence to try to destroy what is and what is good. We often think of good being the cessation of bad, particularly moral good. I stopped drinking, and my life got better, etc. But I think, in fact, good is infinite. God spoke the universe into being and it has been expanding ever since. He saw it and it was good. Good doesn’t stop evil, evil stops or obscures what is good. Lies obscure what is good, distort our perception of it, but they do not have their own raw material. Lies eventually end in the ultimate cessation of good—Death.

Unlike Satan, people have creativity. However, our power to create is not raw. I can creatively combine sounds on my violin. I could even make the violin from a tree I grew from the ground. But I did not create music itself or even the idea of the tree I used to make the instrument. The raw materials came the universe, from God, not me. Since I am imitative at my core, the power I have is in what I choose to imitate. I can either imitate the lies constantly poured into my ear like poison from the Father of Lies or I can imitate the creative goodness that has been exploding into being since the foundation of the world. Imitate death-dealing lies or life-giving creativity. If Satan’s lies stand in opposition to God’s creative power, my creative act becomes a weapon against the evil of the universe, potentially one much more potent than facts (or “facts”). “Because no Good has a limit on its own nature but is limited by the presence of its opposite, as life is limited by death and light by darkness. And every good thing generally ends with all those things which are perceived to be contrary to the good.” (Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses) The more we reflect the the creative Light, the more we are unstoppable.

Why “Trivial Circumstances”?

“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some to see.” C.S. Lewis

I grew up hearing my dad opine about Gemütlichkeit. It’s a German concept that combines coziness (which my introverted American mind associates with solitude) and community. It’s the warm feeling of friendship around a fire, a shared pot of tea and the discussion of a good book, the comfort that comes from joining of mental and emotional forces with a true friend. He always prioritized people and relationships—growing up, we spent summer weeks road-tripping from friend to relative to friend. As a teenager, I rolled my eyes and responded by diving into French Existentialism, drawn by the solitary but existentially engaged figures found in the writing of Sartre and Camus. “Hell is other people”, truth must be grappled with in the face of expectations from others. The Big Ideas were larger than life in every sense. Instead of traveling to visit friends, I traveled to see art, to experience ideas. I read to feed my intellect.

I listened for the voice of God in doctrine and theology. I knew the Bible backwards and forwards the way a student preparing for a test knows a textbook. I studied the rules and form and moral structures spelled out in it. The morals of the stories written about presumably real people where the focus was the lesson more than they lives they described. I was dedicated to a God who made sense, whose philosophy was structured and tidy—identifiable, understandable, consistent. I served a God who commanded. It was an economy of beliefs where God’s laws provided wisdom, comfort, and protection from difficulty in exchange for obedience. Christ’s death simply took away our inability to conform to His wishes and adjusted the balance book when we screwed up.

That worked for awhile… until it didn’t. In my mid-thirties, I began to feel the strain of my theology on the relationships that were important to me. I faced the question of whether I would attend my best friend’s (hypothetical) same-sex wedding. As a guardian of Truth, as a warrior in the battle for our culture, I had an obligation to use my life to model what was good and true and righteous. But I loved my friend. And I struggled. Then I read a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With eyes fresh from the story of a man who died trying to assassinate an ideologue for the sake of Life Together, I read the book of John for the umpteenth time. I saw—for the first time—the Christ the Pharisees criticized as the “Friend of Sinners”.

As I started to catch glimmers of something new and different, my thirteen-year marriage to someone who shared my background and ideologies collapsed. The economy of beliefs failed me spectacularly. I grieved by running away from the rules that seemed broken, the obligations that I thought would protect me but hadn’t. And there, in the middle of hookups and way too much alcohol consumed alone on my couch binge-watching “The Good Wife”, I found what I’d always thought was a cliche meant for people who didn’t already go to church—Christ in the middle of my pain and weakness, closer and more real than I ever realized He could be.

The Friend of Sinners didn’t speak the language of obligation or condemnation. He didn’t do an altar call or recite the Ten Commandments at me. He didn’t argue predestination versus free will. He sat with me in my difficulty. He was simply there, and He found small, loving, kind ways to show it. He cared about my heartache, my broken ambitions, my desires—straight down to the color of my boots. He re-awoke the desires of my heart and made sure I knew that what He wanted more than anything was to talk with me about them. When I couldn’t see Him in the big ideas any more, He surprised me by meeting me in the small things of my own life. He introduced me to Love in and through the trivial circumstances.

“The everyday. It is not merely ennui, pointlessness, repetition, triviality; it is beauty as well; for instance, the magical charm of atmospheres, a thing everyone has felt in his own life: a strain of music heard faintly from the next apartment, the wind rattling the windowpane; the monotonous voice of a professor that a lovesick schoolgirl hears without registering; these trivial circumstances stamp some personal event with an inimitable singularity that dates it and makes it unforgettable.” Milan Kundera, The Curtain

Red Boots

RedBootsWalkingIt had only been a year since my divorce. I was being careful about budgeting, taking toddling steps into an adulthood discipline at 37. That said, I’ve lived long enough to know that shelling out extra dollars for shoes and handbags typically paid off since the quality is so much better. So, I’d made the one-hour trek from my home in Anchorage to the nearby ski resort town, Girdwood, where I knew the resort gift shop carried good boots. I walked in and there they were—beautiful, bright red, Doc Marten-style, lambskin boots. Warm, comfortable, and unforgettably cute.

“Can I try these on in a size 7, please?”

“The red ones? Oh, everyone LOVES those boots. That’s actually the last pair and they’re size 2. I’m sorry. How about the ones next to them? The black ones in the same style.”

If I hadn’t seen the red ones, I would have been all over the black ones, so I tried to get excited about trying them on. “Yeah… Size 7, I guess. Please.”

My feet are really size 7-1/2 and the 7s were a little too snug. “Do you have a size 8?”

“Yeah, but they’re in the display down by the pool. Can you come back in a little while? We’ll bring them up to the store for you to try them on.”

“Sure. I was planning to go for a hike in the woods anyway. I’ll come back afterward.”

It was a bluebird Alaskan fall day. The kind that reminds you that you’re breathing because of the cool freshness of the air in your lungs. I walked, I talked to God, I enjoyed the trail with Him. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” what a glorious thought, God. All of this—you made it and I get to enjoy it.

It is beautiful, isn’t it? I’m enjoying you enjoying it… Ask me for something.

I want those red boots!!…Oh wait. No, no, no. That’s not a good answer. Ummm… I would like eyes to see the work you’re doing. Yeah, that’s a righteous kind of thing to ask for, right?

You already asked for that and I’ve already given it to you. Go on… ask me for something. What do you want? Honestly.

Ok, honestly… I’d really love those red boots. That’s what’s in my heart right at this moment. Red boots.

OK

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) Really? Every good and perfect gift? Many people I tell this story to are completely dismayed that when God told me to ask for something, I didn’t ask for world peace or parents for orphans—the Big Things. He’s not a genie granting one wish before disappearing. I have and continue to pray for peace, for Big Things (although I will admit my gifts are more in the small things at this point in time. This blog is called Trivial Circumstances for a reason.) But if every good and perfect gift is from Him, can’t I ask for those and red boots? There is no shadow with Him due to change—His goodness does not shift from one person to another, one situation to another. It pours out abundantly, filling my life to overflowing. His wealth poured out on me in one area of my life doesn’t detract from His goodness in another area, and it does not leave someone else impoverished. His goodness is beyond my capacity to contain. And His lavish giving challenges me to give lavishly—how can I not?

I wonder how these boots are going to come to me. They’re friggin expensive boots—I’ll blow my entire clothing budget for six months on them. Maybe someone will walk out of the resort and hand them to me for free…?

When I got back to the store and walked up to the counter, a box of boots was waiting for me. I opened it— they were red, and they fit perfectly. I paid for them and walked out wearing them, heart overflowing and tears in my eyes.

That was an amazing gesture of love, but it didn’t stop there. I had blown my budget on those boots. I needed a hat and a new bra. In my honest moments, I admitted that I also really wanted some new leggings. I eyed some cute slouchy hats and leggings everyone was raving about on Facebook. Oh well, I will be responsible. I don’t need leggings. I can live with the bras and hats I have a little longer. And I have red boots from God. I’m more than content. A few weeks after I got my boots, I went to a baby shower put on by a woman who owns a clothing boutique. I won a silly baby shower game. The prize? A bralette, a slouchy hat, and some matching leggings. The hat was aqua and the leggings were aqua and red, a perfect combination with my red boots. God didn’t just give me red boots, he gave me an outfit.

RedBoots2

Every time I face difficulty and doubt God’s goodness, I think of my boots. I have much greater difficulties in my life than finding footwear. But now I know that, if God cares so much about what I’m wearing that he’ll give me an outfit of my heart’s desire, He will not let me go through greater difficulties unless they are worth it, for Him and for me. “But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.” (Luke 12:27-30) If He is faithful in the small miracles, He will be faithful in the big ones, too. Him caring about my boots does not prevent Him from caring about my home, my job, my church, my city, the country, the world. My boots remind me that He can and will take care of the Big Things, too. Every good and perfect gift. All of it.