collaboration

Solidarity

Have you ever watched pole vaulters? Terrifying. What are they thinking using a flexible and (by all appearances) flimsy stick to propel themselves into the air at ridiculous heights? I'm sure a pole vaulter would assure me it's safe, detailing the technique, and the precautions, and the NASA-designed material the poles are made of, and I would smile and nod my head politely, internally dismissing all of it as nonsense. But it does look exhilarating, the thrill of being catapulted like that. For a few moments your feet leave the domain of mere mortals and you fly through the air, thrown into weightless euphoria. Food is my pole. The right food can lift me right up and out of whatever funk I'm in.

Depressed? Ice cream. Frustrated? M&M's. Stressed? Snickers. Just funky? Nearly a whole bag of tortilla chips. No salsa. Salsa just impedes the rapid progress from the bag to my mouth.

This is not healthy by the standard of any physician (nor therapist, I imagine).

In the home-stretch of the Easter season I ate a lot of... well... everything. Everything in sight. I used that pole again and again, but it sure didn't throw me into weightlessness. After Easter I decided to try to get this area of my life on track.

(This is a bit of a theme for me right now. A lot of things have been off track lately.)

I started cycling again. I started doing some cheesy workout videos where they kept referring to me as "ladies." As in, "Come on ladies, you can do this!" And I started running, something I've always hated but somehow don't this time around.

And I noticed something strange: Exercise makes people nice. Almost without fail, every person I pass gives me a smile, a wave, a breathless "good morning," or at the very least a nod of the head in acknowledgment.

In contrast, through the course of the rest of the day I might pass people in parking lots, at the grocery store, or even at work and not be guaranteed a single indication that I exist. I used to ride the bus to work and was always struck by the ability everyone had, myself included, to pretend we weren't all pressed together like pork in a sausage, joined as we were at the hips, shoulders, and everywhere else during the rush hour commute. It was like an hour-long masterclass in avoiding eye contact. We are experts at ignoring one another.

But not when we're exercising. Young and old, thick and thin, sprinting smoothly or huffing and puffing, people are nice out there. Each time I pass someone going the other way and we politely nod to one another, I feel like there are silent conversations passing between us:

"Home stretch." "Yeah."

"We can do it." "Yes we can."

"This is good for us, right?" "That's what they say."

"What were we thinking?" "Are we in hell?"

There's amazing power in solidarity, especially in the solidarity that comes from doing the things we know we should be doing and doing them with other people. I've experienced deep and meaningful connections with people in the midst of  collaborative ministry and art-making. Some of these have been mere moments, and some of them are stretched out over seasons and even decades as we've criss-crossed paths in the process of doing what we're each put here to do. Some of the joys along the way are the people we find and the ways we get to partner.

The tiniest bits of unity form community, even if only for the moment it takes to pass one another on a misty forest trail in the cool of the morning. I enjoy my quiet and solitary runs and rides, but I also love the moment when I notice a distant figure advancing, anticipating a fleeting friendship forged in solidarity.

Hi friend. Bye friend.

How Not to Be a _______!

Feel free to fill in the blank with any unsavory title you’ve given someone when you think they’re being an arrogant _______. But don’t pretend you haven’t been the arrogant ______ once or twice. Pride.

It comes before a fall.

It lingers in us all. 

I sat down with a friend of mine the other day, and had one of those great, life-giving kinds of conversations. We talked about a lot of things—ideas and where they come from, what inspires us, where we are when they come and whether they come to us in colors, pictures, dreams or words, etc.—but it seemed that again and again we returned to the topic of pride.

Pride is in each of us, and as artists we all struggle with it in different ways. For many of us, the work that we do, the things we make, the stories we bring to life are coming from the deepest parts of ourselves, so to remove ourselves from those things and remain humble can be a difficult task. Pride is certainly an ugly thing, and it’s not easy to set aside.

So how do you remove pride from the equation?

I don’t have hard and fast answers, but I can share with you how I sometimes fight the battle. Here are a few ways to delfate our inflated egos:

Get some collaborators.

One of the greatest things I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of was this past year’s Easter expression at ROCKHARBOR. (You can see the video here.)

All I brought to the table was a bare-bones idea, and even that idea was struck upon in collaboration. And when I brought that idea to my friends and collaborators I wasn’t even entirely sure it was possible. Over the course of the next couple months a number of talented people spoke into that idea and made it something that was not only possible, but was wildly beyond what I could have hoped it would be.

It was beautiful. It was moving. It was surprising. It was a spectacle.

And I really couldn’t use it to fuel my ego because I didn’t feel like it was really mine.

If the idea isn’t entirely yours, if you can’t draw clear lines around who did what or who had which idea, then you can’t really take too much credit for it. And that’s a good thing.

Get a critic.

We all like to receive accolades, but we all know that sincere criticism is more useful for growth. I work closely with a couple people who keep me grounded. They let me know when they love what they see, and they extend me a lot of trust. But they also tell me the truth when they think I’m headed in the wrong direction. They even care enough about me and what we’re trying to communicate to tell me the truth when they don’t get it at all.

A good critic who is on your team but who isn’t a “fan” is a good thing.

Get out of the way.

This is somewhat related to the first one, but sometimes we have to get out of the way of our own ideas.

Again, back to Easter:

If I had held onto my sad, half-baked idea like it was my only child, if I had coddled it and tried to solve its glaring problems on my own…well…there would have been disaster. By turning it over to talented friends—and I mean really putting it in the hands of those people, people who could point out its weaknesses and turn them into beauty—we arrived at something better than I could have conceived on my own. But what’s more, in the process I saw just how creative, strong, gracious and humble my friends and collaborators could be.

Get busy.

I really think the best way to avoid getting wrapped up in the pride of your last project is to get on to the next one. Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t bask in the praise. Get to work. As the wastebasket fills with discarded ideas and you find you’re back at square one you’ll quickly remember that this creating business doesn’t come easily to anyone, including you.

Get blocked.

I know, this isn’t really one you can control, but if you haven’t been there yet…you will. And you may just find that it’s the greatest gift you could be given.

Without fail, the projects for which I receive the most numerous and effusive compliments are the ones that have been born out of the ideas that came to me when I was fresh out of ideas.

A few months ago I was right there. Stuck. I began to read Genesis. I began to reaquaint myself with my creative God. As I began to make space in my life for prayer, quiet, inspiration and study the ideas began to flow. Instead of ramming my head against the walls of my limited knowledge, I turned to laying the foundation for a bigger understanding of my Creator.

And the ideas came. I don’t believe for a moment that those ideas are ones over which I can claim ownership.

By no means is this list an exhaustive study of the weapons in our war against pride, but these are some of the ways I have tempered a bit of my own arrogance. If they’re helpful in any way…don’t tell me. It will just go to my head.

Freedom

I have not written in almost three months, but I have not been silent. A few months ago I started working out again. As usual, the impulse took me by surprise. One moment I was in a lazy/binging stupor, and the next I was resolute, passionate and disciplined. My mind makes that shift quickly, but my body…not as quickly.

As I threw myself into a rigorous routine of strength and cardio work my body cried out in protest. Each morning as I stood to get out of bed every muscle would seemingly tighten and cry out in complaint. I would hobble to the kitchen, bent over like an old man. There was pain on top of pain, and it seemed that I had discovered new places to hurt, new muscles that had never been called into action.

Lately, my creative life has been a mirror of my physical one. Writing is my comfort zone, the creative place to which I can escape. It is life-giving and is fulfilling, but it is…it is safe.

God has not been satisfied with safe.

He’s been pushing me. He’s been inspiring me. He’s been motivating me to stretch creative muscles that I don’t usually acknowledge. Thus I’m forced to rely on him and the wonderful community of artists of which I am a part. It’s been painful and wonderful.

This Easter our task was to capture the essence of freedom through creativity. We set out to express the childlike, rebellious, preposterous, joyful nature of the freedom we have in Christ. And in the midst of it I learned how freeing it is to surrender to the Creator and to the beauty of a creative community. Freedom in collaboration.

This is what that freedom freed us to create…

Colorful | Easter 2011 from ROCKHARBOR on Vimeo.