arts & creativity, Scripture, spiritual, theological

There Is Nothing New

It’s January 31, 2016. The new year has undeniably settled in. And with it some new inspiration…maybe?

On December 31, 2015, I officiated evening prayer at my church and read aloud the day’s assigned New Testament lesson from Revelation 21, which says in part: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

Everything new. I believe there’s truth in that. But I also wonder how to hold that famous revelation of John alongside this also-famous assertion in Ecclesiastes 1: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’?”

Nothing new. I also believe there’s truth in that.

With the new year, I would have loved some of the truth of Revelation in my writing life — finding freshness, newness, and exclamation points. Instead, I find myself in more of an Ecclesiastes mood — encountering some staleness, nothingness, and question marks. It’s not exactly writer’s block (thank goodness). I know I can write; I just don’t always know what to write.

In day-to-day life, too, I don’t always know what to cook, wear, read, or watch on TV. We all experience this. We look through the refrigerator, closet, bookshelf, or Netflix offerings, and every now and then it feels as though there is nothing new. “I had a grilled cheese yesterday,” we say, “so I don’t really want one today.” Or, “I saw that movie already. I don’t really want to see it again.” Sound familiar?

I sit down to write a blog, as I have every couple weeks for some years, and WordPress looks basically the same as ever and the white box I’m supposed to type into looks basically the same as ever. And the white box taunts me, saying, “There is nothing new you can type here. You and your life and your words are basically the same as ever.”

What’s a creator supposed to do if we can’t create new things?  

We cultivate the old things. 

This notion of cultivating creativity has popped up in my little world more and more in recent years. Because I’ve been involved with Art House America and Art House Dallas, whose mission statement is “cultivating creativity for the common good.” (If I had a personal mission statement, that might be it!) And because I’ve taken a class on Theology and Culture with Rev. Aaron Jeffrey, now Director of Partnerships for New City Commons. And because I’ve read Andy Crouch’s seminal book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP, 2008), which claims that “creation begins with cultivation — taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us.”

What does that “cultivation” look like?

Maybe it looks like a kaleidoscope containing the same colorful beads — but shifting and sliding and slipping them around to see them differently.

Maybe it looks like a painter using the same color spectrum as ever to make a masterpiece or a pianist using the same keys as ever to conconct a concerto.

If you’re not a Michelangelo or a Mozart, maybe cultivation looks like re-arranging your furniture, recycling your usual clothes in a mix-and-match manner, or remixing your “same old” grilled cheese with some added bacon, tomato, or avocado (pro-tip from a household of poor twentysomethings right there).

Maybe cultivation even looks like taking two very old texts — like Ecclesiastes and Revelation — and considering creatively how they might possibly be understood, expressed, or applied in a new way. As they interact, I think we see that there is indeed “nothing new” to create under the sun — and there is indeed “everything new” about how we cultivate the culture under the sun.

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