Created to Create: Reflections from Sunday
Created to Create: Reflections from Sunday Celebration Supper
The Bible kicks off with this amazing story in Genesis 1 that tells us we were (all of us) created in the image of God. But, what does it mean to be created in the likeness of God? There are lots of aspects of God’s character and nature that we could explore. God is love, God is nurturer, protector, kind, merciful, just, jealous, powerful and on and on. But, in this very first section of the Bible where it speaks about our being created in God’s image the characteristic that is most present is God’s creativity.
God is creator. And we are mandated to create just like God – with one difference – God creates from nothing; shaping the earth from a formless void and willing all of creation into being simply by imagining and then speaking. (Incredible!) We, on the other hand are given the task of taking all that God has created – the raw materials and making something of it. Taking the earth, its habitants, resources and possibilities (including our own brains) and wrestling, molding, shaping and reshaping things to help them reach their highest potential. It’s like God creates this amazing playdoh, Lincoln Log, Lego hybrid, puts it down in front of us and says with a huge smile “Ok! See what you can do with that!” We bring God glory by continuing the creation of the creator.
There is a book by Nancy Pearcy called Total Truth and in it she describes Genesis 1:26-31 (what is commonly known as the “Cultural Mandate.”) She writes, “In Genesis, God gives what we might call the first job description… ‘be fruitful and multiply’ means to develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws. The second phrase, “subdue the earth,’ means to harness the natural world: plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations – nothing less.”
We are to exercise our minds and bodies in service to God by “subduing” – observing, touching and molding the “stuff” of creation. We are to form a culture (not simply to allow it to happen to us). Think of the care God took in creating the world, the creative intricacy, the detail in naming. Then we were tasked to carry on that work.
God tasks us to “subdue” and have “dominion” over the earth and all that is in it. It is beyond the scope of this post to get into all the implications and arguments surrounding those words but I want to acknowledge their power. It has been true that people have used those words to abuse our role as stewards of the earth but there is no getting around the forceful and even violent nature of them. The original Hebrew words convey the same sentiments. They are heavy words but they are there for a reason.
We must acknowledge that healthy, generative culture as God intended it is not something that just happens. If left to its own devices the earth would reclaim all of the “civilization” we have created in a matter of years. Just as our gardens left untended and unmown become fields of overgrown weeds; our cultures, when left to simply reflect our wants and desires, what is easy and popular, tend towards parody, the grotesque mistaking glamour for beauty in a narcissistic attempt to fashion the world into an idealized version of our image (the image we wish to see of ourselves) instead of God’s. So, we are indeed tasked to wrestle and struggle with and tend and cultivate our culture just as we do our built environments.
We need to be more conscious of our responsibility to curate and create culture. Not only in our churches, but in our world. Without conscious attention we are left with a serious deficit of artistic and creative practitioners in our faith communities leaving us ill equipped to take on the task of culture making.
If we (churches) took seriously enough the “culture” part of the cultural mandate we would see our role as one which takes very seriously the responsibility to nurture and create space for creativity. We would encourage, train and theologically educate upcoming artists for work in the world not just the church. We would make cultural engagement through quality professional arts offerings one of our highest priorities. We would stand as an alternative to commodity based consumer culture by supporting arts and culture contribution as our gift to society – as a way to proclaim God’s Kingdom on Earth. And we would make engaging creative acts essential to worship and discipleship training.
Cultural and artistic engagement is not just about creating outlets for artistic people. (Though it is part of the mandate to provide them opportunities as skilled workers). It’s not just about providing “safe” alternative for our children to watch and listen to. And it’s not just about the things we enjoy in our spare time.
It is about setting the tone of the world in which we live. It’s about utilizing what Deborah Haynes calls the real power of art – “the power to name, to criticize, to heal, and ultimately to change consciousness.” It is about learning to critique intelligently and with grace what is wrong with the present. It’s about imagining and expressing multiple possibilities for the future. It is about helping others open their eyes to see God at work in the world even where nothing spiritual was intended. It’s about finding useful systems for ethical navigation by embracing principles of improvisation, rehearsal and play. It’s about vibrant faith leading to immediate and real experiences of God that spill out into action. It’s about finding ways to remain faithful in a changing world by engaging our imagination, creativity and artistry to renew – to make truths of the Bible and the rituals of our faith honest in our current contexts not simply an imitation of what has gone before. It’s the difference between mimicking old forms and passing on meaning. It’s about creating the culture of God’s kingdom in this world today as much as it is up to us.
Rev. Lisa Cole Smith
Pastor, The Church at Convergence