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Creativity Requires Vulnerability

Creativity Requires Vulnerability

Creativity requires vulnerability. Any time you begin to express or create something new, and present it to others, there is the hope of acceptance and the risk of rejection. We cannot take new risks and new chances in our art and in our life without being vulnerable. It is part of who we are as people made in the image of God.

To create is to become vulnerable

This is true whether you are creating a new business, a feature film, or a sculpture. Every time you create, there is risk of misunderstanding, lack of appreciation, or rejection. This is why some people give up on trying to write a book, make a movie or shoot their first YouTube video. Creativity requires vulnerability. But the same vulnerability is necessary for creative success. There is no way around this and no road to great success that avoids vulnerability. This is the challenge for every entrepreneur and every artist, and by the way – nearly all artists are entrepreneurs.

You can play it safe when you are a child. Or you can start by copying and imitating the artists who have gone before. You learn by imitating what has worked for the greats that have gone before. Or you may learn about great filmmakers, painters and performers. You may imitate their art and their philosophy. However, if you remain in the state of imitating others, you have failed to grow up. Maturity in life as in art, requires putting our hearts out there and letting our ideas be tested in community.

When we become adults and become experienced in our craft, we put away the childish limits of imitation, bringing forth new expressions of our creativity into the world. We make bold choices, with a bold new juxtaposition of themes, genres, media, and mindsets. We take the risk, and become vulnerable to rejection- that rejection can come from family, friends, critics, and audiences. So we may wish there was another way, but that wish is a return to the childish ways we have left behind. Maturity bears us greater freedom, and greater opportunities, but it always demands of us greater vulnerability.

God was vulnerable in His creation

God was fine without us, without the animals, water, land and universe. He didn’t create out of need. He created because he desires something that required risk- He wanted community with men and women made in His Image. His creativity required vulnerability too.

The heartbreaking truth is God took a risk in creating men and women. He gave them the freedom to choose wisely or poorly. They chose sin, and in so doing wounded the heart of God. God is not wounded the way we are wounded, but we see throughout the Old Testament how he is personally offended over the spiritual affairs of his people. He is not a dispassionate God, but as Hosea tells us, he is a jealous God. We usually focus on how the sin in the garden of Eden impacted Adam and Eve, and the rest of humanity. But what about God? What did he feel and experience in that moment? He poured himself into creating the world, he created man and woman, he took a risk and it became a bitter pill.

Adam and Eve were vulnerable and unashamed

Adam and Eve were vulnerable. They were naked and unashamed. It was in this state they were called to create. Specifically, they were called to Pro-create. The most vulnerable act, in the most vulnerable bodily expression, is the one that produces the most amazing results. It is here, in the beginning of Genesis that we see our ability to create is tied to our willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability was easy when all was right. When Adam and Eve were walking with God in the garden and there was no sin, there was no reason to hide. They were naked and unashamed.

Vulnerability and sin

Once Adam and Eve ate the apple and sinned, vulnerability became unnatural and terrifying. Now, the vulnerability we needed in order to create and to develop new ideas, was anxiety producing. Yet, it cannot be avoided forever. Vulnerability is woven into the fabric of reality. In order for Adam and Eve to grow with each other and take new risks they would have to be vulnerable.

Where all was well, there is now a fear of the other being critical, withdrawing or criticizing. The physical fig leaves they wore were a symbol of the emotional and psychological fig leaves that they quickly used to cover their shame in their deepest heart of hearts. The innocence was gone, and shame was now present. New opportunities for discovery and creativity would not come without vulnerability and risking shame.

The God of love meets us in our shame

“Where are you?” This was the question God asked when Adam and Eve sinned. God did not ask because he was unaware of their location. He was inviting them to come clean, be vulnerable, resist the shame, and reconnect with the God who loves them. God did not abandon them in their shame. He did not storm away in some epic, deified temper tantrum. God did the most surprising and most loving thing he could do: He pursued them. God pursued them in order to establish deeper intimacy. He called them back to the vulnerability, and the creativity they had experienced before.

It is important to notice we are tempted to spend our time in the information age pursuing knowledge, but what we really need is more than facts and principles. What we need is to be known. To know something is to become aware of something external to us and to gather information through observation and assessment. To be known is to be vulnerable, and to enter into a deeper intimacy with others. One cannot take the place of the other.

Hardwired for intimacy

We are hardwired for intimacy. There is no cheat code. There is no short cut. The only path to healing is to be known, and complete joy is to be completely known. This should be a significant goal of all healthy churches, community groups, ministries, etc. Unfortunately, I have rarely seen it outside of my few visits to be with friends at various 12 step groups and in a Los Angeles chapter of Celebrate Recovery. It seems like most of us need to ‘hit bottom’ before we will face the agony of shame and push through until we find real intimacy, hope and joy. This is why we find such comfort in verses like James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

Jesus endured shame

Jesus models for us the healthy response to shame. It is the response we long for, but find terrifying. Jesus is teaching us that shame must not have the last word. Jesus was naked, mocked, betrayed and crucified. Any other man would resist the shame, but Jesus “scorned the shame of the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) as he focused on the glory of overcoming death. He was exposed for all to see, but Jesus did not allow the shame to define him. He listened to the voice of his Father saying, “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.” He knew what he was called to do, and he knew that the suffering was necessary before accomplishing the final victory.

Satan wants to cripple our imagination, dis-integrate our heart, and isolate us from others. Shame is the tool of choice. This is why Shame tells us we are not valuable and tells the story that we will never be loved, understood and embraced the way that we long to be. Jesus shows us how to maintain our identity in the father’s love.

Jesus heals our shame

The greatest example of this is in John 21 when Jesus restores Peter after he has denied Christ three times. Verses 15-17 show us how Jesus loved Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

Jesus doesn’t leave Peter in his failure and in his shame. He pursues Peter, speaks to his soul, and restores him. Jesus does not believe that the failure defines us. He shows us that our failure can become an opportunity for deeper love, and a deeper relationship. This is the restoration that lifts our soul, allows us to breath deeper and to dream vivid dreams once again.

Vulnerability, the path to healing and creativity

Our instinct is to avoid vulnerability because it can lead to rejection, but it is also the only road to intimacy, and being known. The narratives we see in creation and in the crucifixion show us a God who calls us to scorn the shame of our sin, and to find our identity in God’s love for us. This is not some abstract, spiritualized love. It is a love expressed through our close friends and our relationships.

Our shame wants to tell the story of abandonment, isolation and rejection. It makes us fear that we can never recover from our shame. Jesus tells us a different story, and it is the story we must remember and recall when we are discouraged. The story we hear when we listen to Jesus is one of hope. He calls us to choose vulnerability so we can find deeper, and richer relationships. It is only in that context where we are fully known, and thus fully alive. This is where our creativity soars because our brain is no longer taxed by our fears, anxieties and doubts.

What we really need

Great worship, great sermons and great fellowship are not enough. What we need are confessional communities where we can drop the façade, be honest, and let others join us in confession, so we can be known and find healing.

Curt Thompson, in his book Soul of Shame, said so succinctly, “We can love God, love ourselves and love others only to the degree that we are known by God and known by others.” God told us to love one another, and he told us that we are all members of one body. We cannot grow spiritually and we cannot overcome shame without a community willing to confess, repent, and then to grow in grace.

We need communities that focus on being known over knowledge. When we are known more fully, and still loved, we can breathe deeper, relax more fully, and begin to dream and imagine more fully. This is where our fountain of creativity is meant to emerge.

Surface level answers

Pixar has been astonishingly successful, and they attribute much of that success to their unique creative culture. They made an effort to encourage taking risks and offering up new ideas with sayings like, “fail early and fail often.” Clearly, they succeeded in creating a culture with greater freedom to try new ideas. Yet, this did not prevent inner turmoil and relational problems evidenced by allegations about sexual misconduct by John Lasseter.

The goal cannot be simply greater creativity. The goal must be a healthier culture which in turn provides a creative environment. This comes when we follow the model of our Father in heaven and what he has shown us in creation, and in the life of our Savior, Christ – who endured shame, and offers us love, hope, forgiveness and grace. This will primarily happen in small gatherings where people can mutually commit to vulnerability. The more authority you have, the more important it is that you have a community that can be there for you – without excusing your behavior or placing you on a pedestal. This is essential for those in leadership because they will be tempted to abuse their power and authority. It has been this way from the beginning.

Final charge

The final charge to the disciples was to go two by two, stay in community, and build communities committed to this new way of living. His promise: shame shall no longer have the last word, and cripple our cultures and societies when they are built on the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the peace of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel will overcome, as God has planned it and as he is working that plan through us. Creativity requires vulnerability, just as our deeper need for spiritual growth requires vulnerability. We ought not to be satisfied with taking mere creative risks. Let us go deeper, doing the soul work we desperately need, and take risks in our relationships and in our spiritual walk with God. This is the grand journey that will nourish our souls even as it inspires our art.

Creativity requires vulnerability, and there is no way around it. We cannot go under, over, or find a short cut. God is calling us to step into the space of vulnerability, living out the conviction he knows us and he loves us.

Be brave.
Have confidence in the love your God has for you.
Be vulnerable in a healthy, confessional community.
Create for the good of the city in which you live and for the Glory of God.

(This article is adapted from our Artist Forum Presentation in Los Angeles. The content was inspired by Author and Psychologist, Curt Thompson. I highly recommend his book, The Soul of Shame).

Copyright © 2019 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.

6 comments on “Creativity Requires Vulnerability”

  1. Steven Cooper Reply

    Great article, Joel and Michelle. This is deeply moving. If one of our core problems is isolation, it makes sense the being known would be one of the most powerful realities we can experience. It also makes sense that being known/seen/heard TRULY is a gift that we all deeply long for. Since this is true, the art and stories that reflect any aspect of this kind of brokenness and healing would stir our souls deeply. If an artist hasn’t experienced this, how can they invite others to experience it through their art?

    • Joel Pelsue Reply

      Steven,

      Well stated. We cannot offer to others that which we do not possess. We need artists who have found this kind of community to express the joy and powerful transformation that is possible through their art. This could have a transformative effect on their community and their culture. May God raise up many artists who can do just that! Thank you so much for a Great comment.

  2. Sarah Reply

    Just confirms the need for my Lifegroup and the power not of the study but of being known in community. I sent them all this Article. Thank you for using your gift to articulate Gods plan.

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