Pain and Beauty

I teach creativity and imagination.  I know, why assign such topics to someone deficient in both?  Go figure.  Eat your heart out, etc.

I require some students to write reports on creators they choose from Daniel Boorstin’s The Creators.  Amazing book, and improbable to be equaled in a generation as he was the Librarian of Congress tapping an astonishing group of researchers to help research and tell the stories.  He achieved lucid, clear, salient story telling at its best.

So questions about creative people lurk in the literature.  Are they more avant-garde, anti social-conformity, rule busting people?  Are they more broken, prone to mind and mood altering substances?  Are they more gifted?

Sixty years ago Guilford showed a scatter graph supporting his “intelligent enough” theory of creativity.   IQ correlates positively with creativity up to @ an IQ of 85, and then any correlation vanishes.  Hmmm.

Creatives come from all manner of socioeconomic, religious and family backgrounds.

Now some research suggests we are “happier” in the left side of our brains, and “sadder” in the right side; and many associate creativity with that right side, although, in truth, when you’re in the creativity “zone”, your brain draws on the left and then the right side some — 300 times a second.

Also, remembering sadness, pain, or loss is easier than joy or happiness: which begs a question.

Do creatives know they live out their lives with more pain, or that creativity is born of pain?  Do we all sense that, and avoid or seek creativity based on a desire or fear of pain?

If you interviewed King David, The Rolling Stones, U2, Coldplay, Hip Hop Kings, Ray Charles and Billie Holiday, Rich Mullins, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci — how do you see them answering, “What percentage of your life have you been “happy” or “joyous”?

Even if their answers suggest beauty is born of pain, art is born of suffering — why seek to create, to innovate, to make art?  That provokes two hard questions for me.

One, did God know His stunning creation, and the people who he made the crowning aspect of that creation would bring Him unfathomable pain?  Why create anyway?

Why do some of the most haunting, intense, overwhelming things of beauty; why do they push us to that pain in the throat, choked tears, impossible to swallow, quivering smile that mimics stunning moments of worship for believers?

Have we been wired for far more than we dare create, hope for, or desire?


Hurricane coming in on Texas coast.  Three or four hundred.

Hurricane and twisters hit Tampa, St. Pete;  fifty five ish.

Gas explosion in Dallas kills twelve year old girl.  One.  Once removed,

One dies in chopper crash in Afghanistan.  One.

Myanmar is killing ethnic and religious minorities.  One and potentially one hundred.

Snowstorm in Colorado.  One hundred and fifty or so.

The more people you know, care about, pray for, and love around the world, the more likely it is that any given piece of news will touch you, hurt you deeply.

So the choice is, fewer connections, and lesser chances of getting hurt through events, or enjoy the rich network of people and souls; at risk of getting hurt by Acts of God or terrorists, or disease, or accidents.

Fewer is less in every meaningful way.  So, not the richest option.

Buck, Kaden, Texas Football

My dad was not as religious as most Texans.  Don’t get me wrong, he was Baptist, loved God, was a deacon, and he and mom served as medical missionaries on every continent but Antarctica.

But on Friday nights, he was unlikely to be watching High School Football.  Friday night football gets more Texans to pray than any hurricane and some wars.  It is arguably Texas’ state religion.

My grandparents cheered for Temple High, but the gene skipped dad, which points up a failing.  He did not see my older brother, Buck, play much in Junior High, JV, or Varsity.  Buck had two stats that held until the end of South Park High, I think.   1) His punts had the longest hang time, which Buck kicked barefoot.  2) Buck was the leading tackler on special teams: he hung the ball in the air long enough to get down and nail the poor sucker who caught it and failed to signal “fair catch”.

He lamented seeing mom in the stands, without dad, who was saving lives in the emergency room or surgery.  Life saving, true, but as important?  That judgment is above my pay grade.

Things that befall us shape us, one way or another.  Since Kafka, many become angry, or wounded at their dads’ failings — okay — probably long before Franz wrote his heart breaking stories that his dad never read.  It broke Kafka.  He had no sons.

The story is Buck was recruited by Darrel Royal and told he could kick, but not attack.  Buck rabidly cheers for Texas, but never played under such panty-waist limitations.

Dad is long gone, Buck had two boys, made enough mistakes to know fathers need grace, and Hunter and Leigh now have their strapping son, Kaden.  Kaden plays football.

Buck has traveled with Carole from their mountain hideout in Mora, New Mexico to see Kaden play ball a few times.

Buck and Carole dropped the bombshell last week.  They’re selling the house in the mountains, and moving back to Central Texas.  Carole said simply, “Buck wants to watch Kaden play ball.”

Buck thinks we choose in what direction things that befall us shape us.




My Life.Church Sermon I will never preach

This is too long for a blog, so if you don’t read it all, I get it.  Should you read it, I hope it encourages you.  I did the whole thing in a dream this morning, and I almost never share dreams, but, here goes.  Sermon follows:

I have listened to speakers speak here for years, and they begin the same way.  “I love Craig and Amy so much, you have an amazing church, and I am so delighted to be here today.”  It is that last phrase where I listen, you know, to hear what they say.  Are they saying, “I am humbled and honored, truly!” Or, does it smell a little more like “You are in for a treat!  I think I have something amazing.  In fact, a lot of folks think I am amazing!”

So how could I possibly be preaching here?

What I think happened was that we made a small mistake!  You know how when a manager walks to the mound and he starts to touch one fore arm, but he puts a couple of fingers on the other, like he wasn’t sure, and he could not remember who was warmed up in the bullpen?”

I am the bullpen.  I am that guy in the bullpen whose name is Tom, or Tim, I am pretty sure it wasn’t Tammy.  He is a member that we don’t call members at LifeChurch, but we have a couple of hundred thousand of those.  He tithes most months, but more people are completely faithful there.  He and Jill lead a life group just like 251 others at Stillwater.  And the Stillwater campus is a mistake.  If we had not added it when we did; we would not fit the profile where they hope to expand these days, but GT and Megan were commuting every weekend and God was working, and today, one in ten staff members in all the Life Churches have passed through Stilly.

That kind of “mistake”.

So, they called the wrong guy out of the bullpen.  In fact, someone might investigate where I got a uniform and dropped down into the bullpen with my glove and enough swag to act like I just got traded from a Canadian hockey team where I was the equipment manager.

Wrong guy.  I am a small mistake, but LifeChurch is a great place because I have been comfortable in the dark watching Craig on screen.  He is really taller in person.

Well, maybe I am here because you are a small mistake.  Maybe you have a sin or two because you somehow think they make you cool.  See, I swear for effect some days when teaching or making a point.  And like everyone who smokes I have it under control, except when my daughter in law, Fair Claire, sends a request through my son that I watch my mouth during Christmas in front of the grandkids.  You see, “under control”.

It is freaky, but sometimes when the stress is bad, or my health is in the toilet I swear more.  Isn’t that the dumbest thing?  I think I can pin my potty mouth on something outside me when the Bible says, “The stuff coming out of your mouth is the overflow from your heart.”  Oops.  My heart’s overflow must resemble my toilet overflowing.

So there you are, sitting in the dark, or with your computer using earphones so your family and neighbors don’t know that Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to you, but you seem to make more mistakes than progress in following Him.

It could be that you love Jesus, and are astonished that He left heaven, lived and did all those astonishing miracles, and got religious people angry at Him — and they crucified Him thinking, “That takes care of that;” only God raised Him from the dead to emphasize His boy was telling the truth.  All along.  Every day.  In every miracle for undeserving people.  Jesus was telling the Truth, and telling Truth so well that it turns out that Truth is one of His Names.  Truth has a Name above all names and it is — wait for it: Jesus.

And that right there makes Jesus, forgive me, unbelievable.  I mean Jesus was just like us except for the perfection thing, having Satan give Him the VIP tour of earth and testing, miracles everywhere, demons testifying to who He was when He was trying to be cool about it.  Okay, not exactly like me.  I am an example of human, I think.

And that makes me uncomfortable even in the dark some weekends at LifeChurch.  Jesus was true to His calling, true to His message.  And I fail my calling, and some days I fail His message that I deliver.  You know how people say Craig is the same in the pulpit and at home except when driving?  My wife and sons and daughter in law would all say, “He is the same in both places” with all their fingers crossed in back of them.

When Jesus walked out to the mound, Heaven rushed the infield to breathlessly watch.  When I walk to the mound, people are checking their programs and smartphones and shrugging at each other, “Who is that guy?”  No name on the back.  His pants are too big, and why can’t he stand up straight?  How come he isn’t even listed?

In spite of all that, I found some small things that surprised me in the Jesus story.

There is this day when Jesus has been feeding thousands and the people want to make Him an earthly king, and Jesus realizes that before He can address the crazy crowd, He has to get rid of His disciples.  All of them.  He puts them in boats and dismisses them, and only after sending away His own does He lose the crowd.  The disciples were wanting to drink the Kool-Aid.  They were ripe for everything except what Jesus was doing.

Jesus also had been handing out freebies on miracles, food, healings, casting out demons and He knew it was time to ratchet up the message, call people to faithfulness, to followship, to maturity — and people were walking away — and this is the part that froze my heart.  Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Do you want to walk away, too?”

And all of God’s plans and power, and all of God’s predestining, and all of God’s plan for planet Earth comes to this point.  Jesus hands the ball to failers (not failures by God’s grace) but failers like me.  Like you.

And obviously, at this moment, Jesus is thinking that handing the Gospel Football to these guys is maybe not going to work.  He is looking at Peter who suffers from foot in mouth disease.  The two Sons of Thunder who think the coolest thing about Jesus is that He can call down fire from heaven and maybe blow away an entire town.  Matthew is a never ending fountain of questions.  Mary of Magdala is still conflating a puppy love for followship.  And Judas, Judas is stealing from the till and will pointlessly betray Jesus at the critical time, just before Peter denies Him three times.

Do you want to walk away, too?

I don’t know any mature Christians who have not made some sort of truce with church and religion, and decided to still love Jesus more than what they see in other Christians.  Ouch.

Some of them believe Christ even though what they saw in me made believing Jesus tough, because what they saw in me made them want to walk away.  OUCH!

My wife, Jill has this thing that thunders in the silence, “Your Plan A was to use us all along?  Even with the Holy Spirit, what were you thinking, God?”

Which forces the question.  Is God missing something, a lot of somethings, or did God decide what was most true about us before He began the experiment?

I am a creature saved by God’s grace and I lust for if-not-sex then intimacies where I should not, and toys, and money that buys toys.  All are true.  Now for the HUGE question.  What is more true?

Life and faith have daunting conundrums.  The light coming out of these lights, is it waves or particles?  Yes.

Is Jesus fully God and fully man?  Yes.

Is God three or One?  Yes.

Am I a sinner or God’s dearly bought son?  Yes.

And Jesus knows how I struggle here!  Remember that night before they killed Him?  No?  Let me tell you how crazy this is.  The die is cast.  The trial members have been assembled in two houses.  Soldiers are following Judas to find Jesus, and Jesus is in this Garden with his sleeping disciples, yes they failed Him this time as well, and Jesus is sweating blood!  No kidding.  Think about it.  Sweating blood.  I would say He was really wrestling, wouldn’t you?  And here was the question.  Here was Jesus’ big question.  It was time to die.  It was time to suffer.  For better or for worse, there was nothing more Jesus could do for the disciples.  And it all looked impossible.

Jesus was asking for a bye.  Jesus was asking to be let out of this part of the contract.  He went from thinking about it, to truly tempted to bail out.  He was sweating blood.

Jesus was asking if God could be happy with less.

And God thundered back in silence to His beloved Son.  Sure you feel this drag, this bent to failing, and this understandable horror at dying.  Now, which is more true?  You’re wanting to bail out, or you are My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased?

He knows when I want to fail.  When I want to be let off the hook.  When I want to be left alone.  When I don’t want to measure up.  How afraid I am to walk out to the mound some days.  When I want God to settle for less from me.

Occasionally God sends someone to remind me who and Whose I am.  Occasionally, He puts me in the stands to remind some friend, or student, or colleague what is most true about them — that he or she is a son or daughter of the High King and He was right to give her salvation and call her to follow Him.

But sometimes, God is silent.  He and heaven hold their breath to see me come through, to see me come true, knowing that I face bogeys.  Some days, I am sweating bullets, and God nods silently to His angels who will never understand why God trusts us, and he says, “Let the bet ride on my boy, Thomas.”

The angels can think of as many reasons as I can, maybe more why God should spread His bets, and God laughs, and according to Ephesians 1, He is gesturing that He was right to let anything ride on me.

God’s bet is riding on me because He has given me Jesus and Spirit, and watches to see me act on what is most true about me.

How about you?