The Dancing Puritan

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cultivating Creativity and Freshness

My son-in-law Adrian--a creative guy.

If I'd know I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. Eubie Blake

You don't know how long you are going to live, so why not take better care of yourself, just in case you, like Eubie Blake, live almost a 100 years?  Why become a bitter, angry and frustrated old man/woman? Why not stay as fresh, lively and creative as possible?

If you were born in the pre-tech-centered world then you might feel today as if you were dropped into an enchanted forest (without trees) of flashing screens. The forest is intriguing but very scary. How often do you turn to your children for computer help? Be honest! Children seem to be born with an intuitive knowledge of technology. Of course that is not true, they simply learn because it is there, it is fascinating to them and they start pressing keys.

C.S. Lewis was concerned that the world was on the wrong track. On a BBC religious broadcast he said, If you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way to go on.

Lewis, was talking about the spiritual and moral trajectory of the world and perhaps about modern literature. He was not, as best I can tell, opposed to progress in general.

What are some ways that you can remain fresh and creative as you grow older.

1.  Go back.

The Bible calls us backward. If you are prone to nostalgia then listen carefully lest you misunderstand. Nostalgia is sentimental in nature. It is reflected in the person who dreamily looks back to what they imagine were better times. Mark Twain wrote, What is human life? The first third a good time; the rest remembering about it. The problem with sentimental nostalgia is that it leads to paralysis. One might so long for  the good-ole-days that they are blind to present opportunities and future vision. Psalm 78 calls on us to dip into the deep waters of the past with purpose. The purpose of the Psalmist was to invest the lessons of history into the hearts of his hearers that they would launch them into the future (Psalm 78:1-7). For the Psalmist history was not something to be admired in a museum but it was to be learned and passed on through teaching.

The path to freshness is not found in trying to stop the speeding train of progress but it does require looking back. As Lewis said, Going back is the quickest way to go on.

2.  Read, read and read some more.

Douglas Wilson in his fantastic book, Wordsmithy, makes it clear: Read. Read constantly. Read the kind of stuff you wish you could write. Read until your brain creaks. Albert Mohler in The Conviction to Lead puts it like this, Think of reading like you think of eating. In other words, pay attention to your diet. 

A good diet of reading will include the old and the new. I recently heard Dr. Joel Beeke, of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, tell his audience that he had been reading the Puritans since he was nine years old. That is why Dr. Beeke is perhaps the most knowledgeable Puritan scholar in the world. He said that along with reading modern books that he is always reading a Puritan book. Read old books and read new books. Spice up your mind by reading good blogs, articles and essays. The oldest book, that remains fresh through the ages, is the Bible. Make Bible reading your first reading each day.

3.  Sit at the feet of smart and wise people.

Creativity is contagious. Find some creative feet and sit at them and walk with them! The aroma that you smell may be just what you need to stir up freshness. For years I have wanted to return to seminary for doctoral work. For lots of good reasons I have, for  a long time, pushed that dream to the sidelines.  I have decided, God-willing, to go back to school in 2013.  For me it was a recognition that I am not getting any younger and there will never be a convenient time. I see seminary as one means to sit at the feet of folks who are more knowledgeable than I am and breathe air where deep thought is a constant. Simply put, I want to learn, grow, develop and contribute as I get older.

You don't have to go back to school to find wise feet and white hair. Look around at church and in your community. Knowledge is not simply facts and ideas but life experiences. Look for folks of discernment and ask them questions about life. You will find a lot of creativity in older people who have never lost the thirst to know and the desire to grow.

4.  Develop friendships with young people.  

To cultivate creative freshness spend time with creative younger people. In my case, I am surrounded by six bright daughters and one brilliant (and beautiful) wife. They are pursuing goals and learning new things. I learn from them. My oldest daughter married a  creative young man (Adrian) who is skilled in multi-media production. My creative juices are stirred when Adrian and I spend time together. Your friendship with younger people will help to keep you fresh and aware of the world that you actually live in not just the one you wish you lived in.

Check out Adrian's videos here: ten2ndrule And Yonderchild Media

Whether young or old it is vital to develop friendships.  As the profound philosopher Winnie the Pooh said, You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting on others to come to you. You have to go to them, sometimes.

5.  Teach.

To paraphrase something that I heard Dr. John MacArthur say years ago, Find someone who knows more about the Lord than you do and sit at their feet.  Find someone who knows less and teach them what you know. This is the heart of discipleship.  Dr. Albert Mohler in The Conviction to Lead writes of Augustine's view of teaching. He says, First, the teacher loves those he will teach...Second, Augustine taught that the teacher must love what he teaches...The third but most important thing that Augustine reminded Christian leaders was that we teach because we first love Christ, who first loved us.  Lastly, Augustine defined the ultimate goal of teaching in a powerful way that should reshape every leader's vision of what we do. The old theologian specified that the goal of teaching is to see every student instructed, delighted, and moved (pp. 71-72).

To teach properly requires love for Christ, love for truth and love for people.  You may never be a classroom teacher but as a Christian you are called to disciple others. Prepare yourself to help others grow in their knowledge of Christ. Teaching is a powerful means of cultivating creativity. A good book to help you with this is Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks (Moody Publishers).

6.  Exercise

It is true that bodily exercise is limited. It does not live up to the hype that it gets in our culture. For many people they have, what Os Guinness called, Fat Minds and Fit Bodies. However, we know that a fit body can be a powerful means of having a clear mind. Take four days a week and exercise your body for at least thirty minutes each of those four days.You will see benefits to your rest and to your ability to think. Exercise should not be an idol but it should be a servant that helps you to stay fresh.

7.  Change the Scenery.

For most of us it would be very difficult to travel to London, Paris, France, New York and Hawaii. We simply do not have the time nor the resources. However, all of us can change the scenery. There are parks, woods, lakes, mountains, beaches, pastures and beautiful architecture in the city and all likely in your vicinity. Enjoy the beauty of God's creation and let the colors be used to make you more colorful. Take a walk with paper and pen in hand. Use the change of scenery as a time to pray, meditate and dream.

How do you really want to live out the rest of your days?  A man told me that when he is old to just give me a room with a flat-screen television, remote and some Twinkies. He was trying to be funny but sadly many people choose to waste their lives away in a similar setting.  Don't be one of those folks!

I fear becoming a grumpy old man. Life is hard. It tends to wear you down. We can either die as bitter and frustrated or we can seek to grow better with age so that we can glorify God as creative people who make a difference.