Creativity and Christianity [Biola University Chapel]

Creativity and Christianity [Biola University Chapel]


(upbeat music) – So welcome. Good morning. We have a real treat for you this morning. This won’t be the typical chapel. It will be a chapel enlivened by the arts and mediated through the arts. And we’re gonna begin this
morning with a musician. The musician is named Trevor Gomes. He’s a composer, an
orchestrator, and performer. He’s a graduate of Biola and then went on to get a Master of Music in Composition from the University of Cincinnati. In addition to being a
vocalist and pianist, Gomes’s work consists of
composing original music and orchestration, including
orchestration for films like most recently, Bridge
of Spies, the new Bond movie. His current interests include
improvisational music, improvisational creativity and creation, and today he’ll be improvising a series of musical works with us this morning. So thank you for being here, Trevor. (energetic piano music) (applause) This morning’s chapel is structured in anticipation of the 11th annual Biola Arts Symposium,
which takes place tomorrow all day in Calvary Chapel here on campus. This year’s symposium
is devoted to exploring contemporary understandings
of human creativity and imagination. We’re excited to have a
number of outstanding speakers at this year’s symposium. Scott Barry Kaufman is
a cognitive psychologist whose research is focused
entirely on creative intelligence. In fact, the title of the Symposium, Openness to Experience,
refers to what he considers to be one of the central identifiers of and key to developing, rich creativity, the richly creative life. Tomorrow we’ll investigate
that idea further by putting him into
conversation with several other fantastic artists, including Matthew Luhn
who’s a story supervisor for Pixar, Trevor Gomes, who you just heard from and will hear from again this morning, Kyle Johnson, a Los Angeles based artist who’s regularly been featured
on TEDx Talks and so forth, as well as Leah Samuelson
and Betty Spackman, who are both here to speak
with us this morning, and I’ll be introducing
them more fully in due time. In addition to the main sessions tomorrow, we’ll have five afternoon
breakout sessions devoted to specific topics,
exploring links for instance between creativity and community life, creativity and theology,
creativity and mental illness, and so forth. The entire schedule is available online at ccca.biola.edu. The symposium begins at
nine a.m. tomorrow morning and runs until five. The symposium is free. There’s no need to register or
to have tickets or anything. Just show up. You’re warmly welcome to
attend all of it or part of it. We’d love to have you there. And you can get, once
again, the schedule online to see which parts you’re
most interested in. So we’ll hear from a few of these artists today,
and hear from Trevor a couple more times. And Trevor, you’re doing
musical improvisation. Tell us a bit about that. What are you doing? – Yeah, so today I’m
actually trying something I’ve never done before. This is gonna be a little
bit of an experiment. I’m going to be reading two poems at different points during the chapel, and while reading the poem I’m going to be improvising music based on it. So, I’ve never done anything
quite like this before. I’ve done improvised
pieces but I’ve never done this sort of spoken word,
music simultaneously thing. This could either be very interesting or totally crash and burn, but either way I think you’ll be entertained,
so let’s give it a shot. – [Jonathan] Well thank you. Have at it. (gentle piano music) – May none of God’s
wonderful works keep silence night or morning. Bright stars, high mountains. The depths of the seas. Sources of rushing rivers break into song as all of
creation sings to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May all the angels in the heavens reply, Amen, amen, amen. Power. Praise. Honor. Eternal glory to God,
the only giver of grace. God, the only giver of grace. Amen, amen, amen. Oh creator God, you have
filled the world with beauty. Your divine presence can
be seen in all your works. Open our eyes to behold and
experience the fullness. Intended for each one of us by you, that by rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with thanksgiving and gladness. For from you, through you, to you are all things. From you, through you, to you are all things. For from you, through you, to you are all things. For from you, through you, to you are all things. Amen, amen, amen. Amen, amen, amen. (applause) – In anticipation of tomorrow’s symposium, this morning we’re gonna hear from three more artists. We’ve asked them to give
brief talks this morning about how they understand creativity and the creative life within
and in relation to Christianity and the Christian life. Are there particular
resources for creativity that Christianity offers to them? And vice versa. I’ll briefly introduce
all three of them now, and then they’ll each speak immediately one after another. Hannah Veramini is a Los Angeles based visual artist whose work
explores written language and its materiality, to
speak about the fragility of history and memory. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Cornell University, Hannah was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to do research at the National Archives in Namibia, and was a resident artist at
the University of Namibia. She has also spent time
teaching in northeast China. Hannah, it’s good to have
you here this morning. Leah Samuelson is an artist and professor at Wheaton College. She has a background
in high-end commercial mural painting at a Chicago based studio, and also experienced
working in urban slums, specifically with the Philadelphia based arts, intervention, and
education group, BuildaBridge. Samuelson’s work is now focused on highly collaborative
forms of art making that involve the political,
economic, social, religious, and ecological spheres of life in any given community,
ultimately with the goal of grappling with, rather
than fighting against or alienating disagreeing groups. Leah, it’s wonderful to
have you here this morning. And lastly, Betty
Spackman is a mixed media performance and installation artist who’s exhibited her work at major
venues internationally. She taught at various universities
throughout North America. Spackman is the author
of a fascinating book called A Profound Weakness:
Christians and Kitch. I highly recommend it to you. As well as a forthcoming
book about her own struggles as an artist, Christian, human being and the cost of saying yes
to the creative process. Betty, it’s good to have
you here this morning. Please join me in
welcoming Hannah Veramini. (applause) – Thanks so much. It’s great to be here with you all. Do you remember when you were a kid and built cities out of
Legos and played house or make-believe? Because we image God, each one of us is born inherently creative. We write stuff. We sing stuff. We construct things
with our hands and words and visual language. I think we all want to
contribute something or make a difference,
and that’s an extension of God’s gift of creativity. I clearly remember some wise words I heard last year, actually
here in this gymnasium. John Lennox, the renowned mathematician, apologist, and philosopher said… He asked a question that
really made me listen. He said, “Do you want to
have something to say?” And I don’t think he just
meant on Twitter or Facebook. “Do you want your life to say something?” My ears perked up. Of course I do. Of course I want my life and my art to say something
meaningful and significant. And his words stuck with me. This is what he said. “Wait around the word of God “until you see the face of God.” People who make a difference
in the world for Christ are those who have seen him. So this morning I’d like
to talk briefly to you about stillness, solitude, and meditation as essential practices both
artistically and spiritually, and how these habits and practices create spaces for us to know ourselves, ultimately to know God better. I think the knowledge of ourselves and the knowledge of
God are so intertwined and interdependent. So I wanted to read Psalm
1, verses one to six together responsively, and it
should be up on the screen. Blessed is the one who
does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in
the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers, but whose light is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on
his law day and night. That person is like a tree
planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit
in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers. (audience murmurs) For the Lord watches over
the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked
leads to destruction. Now, meditation inspired by Eastern and Buddhist practices has
had a popular resurgence nowadays, and perhaps the movement is growing as a backlash
to our fast-paced, distracted lifestyles
of instant gratification and constant bombardment. But it’s worth noting that
this type of meditation we are called to as followers of Jesus is not an emptying of our minds or a detachment, but
it’s a deep engagement. It’s a deep filling our minds and hearts with the word of God. The picture here is of a
tree planted by a stream, constantly connected to a well of refreshment and nourishment, stable and present. So as we still ourselves in meditation, as we silence our phones,
we become intimate with our own thoughts, which
is sometimes a scary thing. When we’re alone we’re forced to reflect and examine aspects of ourselves easier left ignored or unexamined. And also I might add, this
illustration of this tree. Trees grow very slowly. You can’t tell one day to the next, so we have to have patience for ourselves, especially when those ugly sides come out. I find that as an artist, when
I calm my heart before God, even before I begin to work in the studio, I’m able to think more clearly. When I’m acquainted with
quietness and trust, knowing that it’s my connection to God that my strength and
motivation comes from, my priorities begin to fall into place and find their proper order,
and things become simple. When I’m alone with God as my audience, I’m able to experiment and have confidence to try out ideas I otherwise couldn’t. When I know that even my
work or identity as an artist is not what defines me ultimately, my meditations on the
word give me security in who God says I am. I’m actually free to paint or draw or sing or dance, not in order to gain
approval or acceptance, but do what I’m just meant to do, like a little kid, not
taking myself so seriously or self-consciously, but doing
things with joy and freedom. So I’m going to read a
portion of the scripture again and I would like you to do this
meditation exercise with me just for a minute. Maybe you’d like to close your eyes, extend your hands, and ask the Holy Spirit to highlight aspects of
this particular verse that might pop out at you or convict you. What might this word
mean for how you order your life and schedule? What might stillness and
meditation look like? How might our lives bear more fruit creatively in our studies
and God-given talents and pursuits? So let me read this for you, and take a minute to
just let these words soak in your minds and hearts. Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree
planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit
in season, and whose leaf does not wither. Stillness and solitude and meditation and incorporating these kinds of practices might look like taking a walk outside, carving out a space on
campus in a stairwell or a pew in one of
these chapels on campus, or a nook in the library. Whatever it is for you,
may the work of our hands, the words of our mouth,
and the meditations of our heart be pleasing to him, bringing greater creativity, joy, and productivity in all that we do. – Good morning to all of us. Welcome to right now. I guess we can call it Friday. I try to be a clear communicator and I try to be sequential and on topic and in my head I am, but I have never had that corroborated,
and in fact people usually stare at me or they change the subject, or they tell me when I’m sharing my ideas that one of us is lost. Ideally, I were a bee, as when people don’t
know where a bee went, it’s declared to be misplaced,
but the bee, I suspect, can look around and say,
“Ah yes, this place.” So the bee’s not lost. But I may not be a bee. I may be like a leaf floating in a river, a leaf who says, “What? “What’s goin’ on?” But it’s too late to ask,
because the river interferes with its persistent bending. And maybe it’s ideal to be a leaf too, but probably not when
you’re giving a talk, so in any event, thank
you for inviting me, and I will try to be a clear communicator. And I like our topic, being creative. This is good. I see that creative means responsive. Responding means first, noticing the tenor of what’s going on, then making some motion that acknowledges your awareness, then deciding what posture or action to assume. See, I’m being linear. One, two, three. I’m enumerating things. Noticing, acknowledging, and then deciding the shape of your response. If you notice as I do at
my job, that the place is less emotional and
maybe more intellectual, then you might notice
that emotional reasons are sometimes regarded as less credible than intellectual reasons,
and emotional expressions are less heated than intellectual ones. So what I’ve done, is I’ve
acknowledged to myself, mm-hmm, it does seem that way around here, and chances are it’s
not that way everywhere in the world, so I’d better
ask some people around me what they experience, and sometimes people also assent, yes, this place
is heavily intellectual. Then, I get to decide whether
to continue that trend or to counter it. I get to be creative. And life always needs continuance and counterforce, so there’s no shabby option here and art museums know this. That’s why they have both
permanent collections and galleries that host
temporary rotating exhibitions. But I’m thinking creative
also means imaginative. Okay, so I experience
that we live by three Is, our instinct, our imprinting,
and our imagination. Instinct helps us eat and
to not walk off of ledges. Imprinting is this habitual narrative that we inherit
about who everyone is and how life works. And imagination says,
“Okay, well what else? “What if…” And imagination can counter our habits and it can explore our instincts. Imagination can be powerful enough to assist in creative
change, but it probably needs to be exercised. One way for me to do this is to make art. So one good news is that God is very kind to us. God lives with us. God abides our imprinted
realities, and also God invokes our imaginations,
and I love these stories where God asks people questions. Maybe you’ll recognize
these little moments of God asking from early in the scripture. See if you recognize. Where are you? Where we you when I… Whom shall I say is calling? Actually I just made
that one up but I thought it kind of fit in with
the rest of the questions. You know that verse where God says, “Whom shall I say is calling?” And there’s also moments
from later in the scripture. See if you recognize these. What do you want me to do for you? Who do you say that I am? Have you caught any fish? So in here, we have a
chance to be responsive and we have a listening witness who hears our decisions
and who sees our postures. I’m not sure if our
instincts can be creative, but I do feel that our
imprinting can become creative and that’s what it means to me to live as a creative Christian. It means to participate, to listen, and to be listened to. Okay, so that was the speech that I wrote and then I timed it and I found out it was too short, so I
added another story here. It’s about me. (laughter) So I know that I referenced
emotions a few minutes ago, but I am a decently robotic person and I actually don’t
like emotions very much because people have so many of them, and then other people get
on board, like emotionally. And then there’s this
whole section of life that gets motivated by
this illogical force, and I can tend to feel left out or maybe I opt out. Chicken and egg kind of thing. So in response to this, I
have been using my imagination to hear people’s expressions
about what it’s like being them, and over the years, I have been growing emotionally. Now I’m all like, “Hey, I’m frustrated “and I’m owning it.” It’s like awareness, right? (laughter) And in my case, this is
a Christianly endeavor because it’s bringing the
high places low in my life and raising up the valleys, to make level the way for the Lord. I wonder what it would look like and what kind of imagination it would take to do this with our social classes. That feels very important,
and this is what a lot of my art is about. I bet there are people
and stories among us or near us, or maybe far from us, who are good at imagining this answer. This is what I learned, same thing, about my emotional forays. Even in my advancing states with this, that I am a novice emotionally compared with someone who’s adept. But I am so happy with this. See, I’m a happy robot,
so now I have two emotions in my repertoire. But this is what imagination brings. It brings a kind of courage to be excited to acknowledge what we notice, and then we can be awake to others. We can be awake to ourselves. This is also what it means to
me to be a creative Christian. And then it was still a minute too short so I added one more story here. One time I was visiting Guatemala City, and I didn’t know how to
be anything right at all. My friend told me to say, “Buenas tardes,” as we passed her
neighbors on the sidewalk, but I would get so nervous
that I just decided to make eye contact and smile instead, and I told myself, “I can only imagine “that surely this is good
enough for a greeting.” And my friend said, “Well imagine this. “You’re wrong. “You need to say buenas tardes.” So I’m telling this story
because a lot of people in my life get nervous that creativity and room to respond and imagination are indulgent licenses for me to believe that I’m always right,
because you can’t argue with imagination, right? Wrong. Imagine that. Take a tour through the
permanent collection in an art museum. Some things don’t change, and if they did the place would cease to be itself. Some virtues live through change. Others are nullified by change. How can we tell the difference? I’m really asking. How can we tell the difference? – The scripture that I
want to share with you to run through what I’m saying is from Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live
but Christ lives in me. What does it look like to
live as a creative Christian? The older I get, and it’s happening, the older I get, the more
I think this is about a kind of disappearing
act, no longer me living, but Christ living in me,
resulting paradoxically in the amazing realization
that I am actually more and more myself as
this transformation occurs. We all want to be seen and heard, to somehow be acknowledged
as being present on this planet. As artists this is especially the case, if not directly then through our work. Sorry. – Perfect, thank you. – Thank you. It’s a very creative thing you did. (laughter) It’s the nature of
expression and communication that someone speaks and someone listens, that someone performs and someone watches. When I make something for you, I hope that you will receive it. But making something
and creating something are not the same thing. If I give you a pile of wood
and say, “Make a house,” you could do it, some with
more skill than others, and some would have to plan and measure and some would figure it
out as they went along, and some would want to do it themselves and some would organize a team, and some, like children,
would just have fun, not minding if it was perfect, just enjoying the challenge. We all make things in different ways depending on our experience
and how our brains are wired. But if I took the wood
away and then tell you, “Create a house,” what
would that look like? That’s something entirely different. To create is to bring
something out of nothing, life where there was no life. It’s a transformative act
which we know only God can do. However, it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. God the incarnate, and the life he gave us that lives in us can
be, if we let it happen, a creative force in the world. And not all art is creative,
and not all creativity occurs in the arts. I may get through this without crying but I might not. These are things that are
very dear to my heart. I had a wonderful 93-year-old friend who when I took her out for a walk, she would go into any store or restaurant on any given day with
me, and without fail, when she left everyone
in the place was smiling. Her joy was contagious,
emptying and erupting like fireworks in her wake. She told me once that
if she smiles at someone on the street, just smiles, and they return that smile, she said, “Betty, to me, this is something sacred.” This is not art, but this
transformation in people resulted from a creative
act of giving oneself in an unrestricted abandon. We all have this power to create. You can change the whole
atmosphere of a room simply by the way you enter it. In an attitude of selflessness,
even a simple smile can change so much. Bringing new life that
opens the possibility of transformation in the
other, with smiles or tears, or opens new ways of
thinking or challenges or comforts, or even provokes questions, is what I believe it is
to be creative as artists and as human beings. It is not just having
clever ideas and skillful, unusual work. It is love made manifest. It is a life lived in love. Some friends of mine who ran a group home for boys and had four kids of their own, heard that an elderly neighbor of theirs was having a birthday, so Marion decided to invite her for dinner
with all her already extended family, and she made the woman a birthday cake. The 85-year-old neighbor sat in tears in front of her cake,
and told them that it was the first time in her
entire life that anybody had ever made her a birthday cake, and out of that simple,
creative, transformative act of love, the woman became a Christian. I have come to believe in my art practice and in my life, that to be creative is to be hospitable, welcoming, inviting, to invite the other into
my presence, into my life, and to make space, a
safe place, for people to feel at home. This means acknowledging
my judgmental attitudes toward certain people,
and praying to be open to the ones who are
difficult for me to love. Jean Vanier speaks of
three stages of love, of encountering the other
of hospitality, if you will. The first is fear, fear of the unknown. My comfort zone is shaken. I remain distant, suspicious, withdrawn, unwelcoming. The second is a place of
tolerance and benevolence where he suggests most Christians get to, but it’s still a place
of power, of separation, of arrogance. I will tolerate you even though you really don’t know what you’re talking about. And the third place, he
has his wonderful word. The third place he calls wonderment. It’s a place where we stand face to face on equal ground and we
learn from each other. And it sounds romantic, but
this is a terrible wonder that requires the death
of me, requires humility, requires Christ living in and through me, and it’s perhaps the most
creative act we can do. Jesus made himself of no reputation, it says in Philippians 2. He humbled himself and became man, became other than
himself, became the other, became at home in us and invited us to be at home in him. We are all at one of those
stages with each person we encounter, but we have
the possibility, the choice, to live in fear or to be creative, to practice wonderment,
to see life in the other, to be life for the other, to
be at home in one another. So, being invisible, not
in a sense of hiding, not hiding behind the
light like an interrogator, which some of us do as Christians. I want you to see the light and not me. But being seen through,
having the light within, being transparent, requires honestly and a nakedness of the
soul, and a true humility. It requires my stepping out of the way. It requires a transformation
of all that I am, which I can only do by allowing God to live and work and
create in and through me. I believe we can in this
way, not only make houses but create them, make space for love by getting out of the
way, by becoming exposed in all our weakness, as the light of love shines through us, preventing us from just being tolerant, but
in humility inviting people into our lives as we stand together, equal before God,
creative and life-giving. So, I’d like us to practice
a little wonderment as I close. Practice a little hospitality,
a little creativity, and turn and look someone in the eye, preferably someone you don’t know, so this might mean shuffling
a little bit in your seats. And if you can, thoughtfully,
from whatever place of being genuine you can manage, that your pride will allow,
without being flippant or funny or Christian, just open the door of your being. Look at them, another human that God made, and say, because it’s true, “You are a wonder. “You’re wonderful.” And then let’s imagine as we do it, what this extraordinary
house we are beginning to create looks like, this
place of love and unity where God can dwell among us. So, I want you to just take a minute. Look somebody in the eye. Try to come from the place inside you that is honest and tell them that they’re wonderful. Thank you. (rhythmic piano music) – You are called to
become a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. No one is called to become
who you are called to be. You are called to become
a perfect creation. It does not matter how short or tall or thickset or slow you may be. It does not matter whether
you sparkle with life or are silent as a still pool, whether you sing your song aloud or weep alone in the darkness. It does not matter whether you feel loved and admired, or unloved and alone. For you are called to
become a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. No one is called to become
who you are called to be. No one’s shadow should
cloud your becoming. No one’s light should dispel your spark, for the Lord delights in you, jealously looks upon you, and
encourages with gentle joy every moment of the spirit within you. Unique and loved you stand. Unique and loved you stand. Unique and loved you stand. Unique and loved you stand. Unique and loved you stand. Unique and loved you stand. Beautiful or stunted in your growth, but never without hope and life. For you are called to
become a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. This becoming may be gentle or harsh, subtle or violent, but it never ceases, never pauses or hesitates. Only is God’s creative force calling you, calling you. Become a perfect creation. Become a perfect creation. Become a perfect creation. For you are called to
become a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. You are called to become
a perfect creation. No one is called to become
who you are called to be. (applause) – [Voiceover] We hope
you enjoyed this message. Biola University offers a
variety of biblically centered degree programs, ranging from business to ministry, to the arts and sciences. Learn more at biola.edu.

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