Tragedy, Artists & Generative Thinking

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4503 Tomorrow morning I leave for Grand Rapids, MI for the Breathe writing conference. I am presenting two sessions—my first time presenting at a writing conference. I should be working on the final edits and notes for my second presentation. But instead, my eyes landed on something written in one of the books I’ll be referencing in my talks—Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care—and now I can’t stop wondering about it. I need to get it out of my brain and onto paper.

“Every challenge is an opportunity to exercise generative thinking, to think through the fears and seek out the light that still shines, however obscured.”

He is speaking to artists. By “artist” he means:

“Anyone with a calling to create—from visual artists, musicians, writers, and actors, to entrepreneurs, pastors, and business professionals…anyone who feels the cultural divide, especially those with a desire or an artistic gift to reach across boundaries with understanding, reconciliation, and healing.” (p. 12)

By “generative thinking”, Fujimura means at its most basic level: fruitful. “When we are generative, we draw on creativity to bring into being something fresh and life giving.” (p. 22). He devotes an entire chapter to generative thinking. But, here are a few key points I hope will help us in considering this idea I can’t get out of my mind:

    • Generative thinking involves: genesis moments (an initial act that feeds the soul, burst of creativity and its outcomes), generosity (an act that works against the mindset of survival and utility), and generational thinking (an act not isolated to one generation, but rather a gift passed on from one generation to the next) (pp. 17-19)
    • Generative thinking inevitably involves failure—it often starts with failure to think or act in a particular way (think of Genesis and the Fall), yet something is awakened in the failure. Instead of just staying a failure or disappointment or tragedy, it becomes a place of learning and opportunity for something new. (p. 17)
    • To be generative is to think and live in ways that make possible creative work and movements that make our culture more humane and welcoming. Generative thinking inspires us to be more fully human. (p. 24)

Why. Why am I stuck on this?

Because. This life is full of challenges.

  • We live in an increasingly fractured culture where tragedy happens and finger pointing rules the day. Everyone knows the root cause of the thing and it’s clearly someone else’s fault. And all forms of media—social and otherwise—become ever more toxic with their poisoned arrows.
  • I am taking a class that has me rattled every week at the visceral disdain for a particular type/class/group of Americans. I’m all for calling a spade a spade; but not sure wallowing in its spade-i-ness is either necessary or helpful. Nor am I sure the spade is always to blame.
  • There is the on-going, years’ long challenge in my home with a particular child. We’ll leave it at that.

All these challenges—and a thousand more besides—have had their way with me. I can’t seem to generate any creative ideas. My personal writing is flat. Unimaginative. I’ve let the fears of others—of this hurting culture—seep into me.

And yet…

“Every challenge is an opportunity to exercise generative thinking, to think through the fears and seek out the light that still shines, however obscured.”

If I take what Fujimura is saying to heart then I must, as an artist, believe that each of the challenges I mentioned above are opportunities to create something of beautiful, generous, and lasting value. To create in such a way that moves past my fears of those challenges and seeks light. Light, as Fujimura wrote, that still shines, however obscured.

I have no idea how to do this. What it will look like.

But that’s okay. It has to be okay, because the alternative—to not exercise generative thinking, to not create and seek out the light—is not an option.

So, I pick up my pen to write. Through the writing—the creating—I trust I will discover it; or it will discover me. Madeleine L’Engle calls it bringing “cosmos from chaos.” Walter Wangerin Jr. says, “Write first, and the writing will reveal the deep principles by which you have always ordered and interpreted the world.”

“Every challenge is an opportunity to exercise generative thinking, to think through the fears and seek out the light that still shines, however obscured.”

“Finally brothers, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”       —Philippians 4:8

I guess the question now is: How will I create something generative out of the challenges I (we) are facing today?

I am picking up my pen. Please, please, in your own unique artist way, join me.

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