Saturday, March 21, 2009

There Is No Box (or, FX Stole My Idea)

Oblivion can bring about revolution. Allow me to explain.

In my position, I'm compelled to operate as much in the realm of creativity as I possibly can. I've been reading a book by Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Texas, called The Creative Leader. So far, it's an engaging, critical read that I need to study in great detail as I go from chapter to chapter. There are few surprises that I've found so far, at least for me, but I've also found that what's written in this book needs to be communicated to people in the most sincere sense of urgency. I don't know if this entry will be seen by many, but I want this to have a legacy-type impact, regardless of who reads this.

When I was younger, I always believed that as my Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ was the most creative being in existence. I mean, He created the world, the universe, and everything that ever was, is or will be. It all came into existence because the Word spoke. And if I'm a child of God, or at least one of his creation, and I am made in his image, then I have the same capacity for creativity that he did. To anyone that doubts that, I challenge you: Witness the visual landscapes created on the page and on the screen by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Alan Moore, Isaac Asimov, J.K. Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, Richard Attenborough, Terry Gilliam, Guillermo del Toro, and David Fincher. Listen to the massively impacting songscapes of Prince, Beethoven, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan, Jyro Xhan, Chopin, Usher, DMX, Ray Charles, Etta James, Vivaldi, Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash. Peek at the still visuals of Van Gogh, Ansel Adams, Rembrandt, Warhol, pollack, Rockwell, and Monet.

Since I have the ability to create, that also means that I have the imagination to be creative. Since the imagination knows no boundaries, I can choose to exercise this option when I create. What's more, since I believe that God asks for my absolute best in everything I do, then when I create something, I want to stretch myself as much as I can, and not be satisfied with the status quo. In fact, the portion of scripture to which I'm referring is Colossians 3:23-25, and The Message translation goes like this . . . "Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work."

There have been songs I've written that made me feel as though I was cheating myself, and unfortunately, some of those were worship songs. I wrote something that I thought would translate well to a corporate worship setting, where people would be able to sing the songs easily, the words I'd chosen wouldn't be too difficult, some of the phrases might sound familiar or at least believable, and the lyric would very blatantly point to the object of my praise. One or two of those songs sit very well with me, but the rest of them do not. The rest of them make me feel as though I compromised my integrity when I wrote them. I think some people might respond to them, and it may cause them to worship God . . . and that possibility does give me some comfort, but I know that's it's not my best effort, and it bugs the crap out of me.

In october 2006, I accepted a full-time staff position at my church. I am the operating director of Corporate Worship for our O'Fallon, Illinois campus, our second campus, and am currently trying to find someone to replace me as director over the Alton campus. My role involved overseeing everything that could be heard, seen, or felt in the auditorium during Sunday morning services. Part of my responsibility is to create, but I'm leading a team of people, so I can't be the only one creating stuff. So from time to time, I meet with my teams to make sure we're on the same page.



In the film The Matrix, the Matrix is a computer-generated ream world that the machines keep human beings plugged into in order to keep them from knowing the truth of their existence -- that they have been conquered by Artificial Intelligence and are being used for their electrochemical energy so that the machines can operate continuously. If you've seen the film, you know the story.

Neo goes to see The Oracle, and in the living room of her apartment, there are several "hopefuls," little kids who believe they might be The One spoken of in a prophecy. Neo watches a little kid in Dalai lama dress pick up a spoon, squint a bit, and the spoon becomes limp and bends to one side. Neo watches his, captivated. The kid hands Neo the spoon and says, "Do not try and bend the spoon; that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth."
"What truth?" asks Neo.
"There is no spoon," replies the kid.

The kid knew that because the matrix was an artificial world, the objects inside didn't actually exist in reality. Knowing that, Neo was able to pick up the spoon and watch it bend just like the little kid had done.



I often hear the phrase "thinking outside the box" thrown around, especially in churches. I think people want to compartmentalize God, to think of Him in terms that they are most comfortable with, or in ways they have been taught all their lives, whether correct or not. I hate that phrase, though. I even know a guy who started a ministry called Outside The Box Ministries, and when I found out the name, I just kind of cringed. Here's why I don't like that idea:

(By the way, if you think of "the box" as the way the church has operated over the years, this will make total sense.)

As a church, you can think outside the box in terms of the way you worship, the way the message is presented, the words you speak from the platform, the images you utilize, the way you decorate the stage, the dress you wear on the platform. But thinking outside the box, while great in theory, leaves us with a problem -- the box is still there. And it beckons to us, giving us the remembrance of something comfortable, something we've been used to for such a long time. So the natural tendency is, from time to time, to go back to that which is comfortable. We go back to the box, step inside, sit back, and wax philosophical about how it was nice to do something different, but how great we feel now that we're "back home". We're thinking outside the box, and we occasionally say it's a nice place to visit, but we don't live there.

Or sometimes we'll look at what other churches are doing as a model of what we can do. Most of the time, we take our cues from things that have worked for different churches, in different areas, in different times, for different people, and we often get very different results. Sure, we're trying something new, opening ourselves up to the possibility that more exists beyond what we know in the here and now, but churches tend to be on the conservative end of the scope. So while we're thinking outside of our own box, we're looking into someone else's box for inspiration. We're not dealing with our own limitations anymore, but we're relying on someone else's limitations and claiming them as our own when we have no business doing so.

What's more, we're Christians! I mean, we've got a close, personal relationship with The Man himself! The very one who created everything on this planet gave US the ability to be creative. And if we claim to love Him so much, we need to be doing what we do better than anyone else. There's no reason not to! There's no room for us inside this box if we really want to stretch our boundaries. We can't do it better than anyone else if we're stuck inside of our box, because we can't see the world from the inside. Suffice it to say the stained glass obstructs our view, or makes it look different than it really is.

My frustration has led me to one conclusion, by which I treat everything in my life. Every song that I sing, lyric that I write, script that I pen, and team that I oversee are hinged on one thought:

There is no box.

I've decided to blow the box completely out of the water. It can no longer exist. The limitations have done nothing to help expand my horizons, because before, my horizons could only go as far as the edges of the box. Thinking outside the box doesn't satisfy me anymore; I need to BE OUTSIDE THE BOX. I can't maintain successful rapport with people outside of the church if I stay inside the church mentality all the time. I will never see personal growth unless I step out of my comfort zone and meet other persons. I will never survive if I don't move. I will never grow unless I go. If I maintain a small-church mentality, I will bring about a small-church reality. And since we're broadcasting on television, making our video and audio messages available for free on iTunes podcasts, streaming our weekly messages at our website, and operating 2 campus in a major metropolitan area, I can categorically say that we are not looking to remain a small church.

No longer do six panes in three dimensions confine me in the way I think, live, act, or create. We must realize that when it comes to creativity in the church, the only way we can realistically limit ourselves is logistics. Do we have the room, the money, the time? The actual Hard Facts of Reality rather than the perceived limitations of small-minded people who think they know everything because they've been around longer. Well, folks, i've been around, too. The difference between people like them and people like me is that they've been around only one place for all that time, and they haven't seen anything else.

There is no box.

Nothing is taboo. No subject cannot be breached. no idea is bad, no suggestion is out of place, and no truth is trendy. No six walls will ever hold me in. I'm going to take the box and smash it, destroy it, take a wrecking ball to it and mangle it beyond recognition. I'm going to affix explosives to its supports to that nothing will be left but vapor.

In other words, oblivion can bring about revolution.


There Is No Box.
Zach

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