Nothing’s Original: A plea for the revival of imagination

Recently, I took a short little quiz that tested whether I was primarily left or right brained and the percentage of each. I knew basically what the results were going to be, and this ended up being the result of my test:

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.32.16 PM

The result didn’t surprise me one bit. I know that I’m very right brain inclined. What caught me off guard was the primary word at the top of that right brain list.

Imagination.

This surprised me, quite frankly. From my perspective, I feel that my imagination died years ago. I grew up without many friends, there weren’t any kids in the neighborhood I lived in, and I never really played with my siblings, so I grew up primarily watching TV and playing video games to pass the time. I owned tons of toys and action figures and, honestly, I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I played with any of those toys and used my imagination. I made this thought clear when I posted my results on Facebook, stating that I honestly believed that my imagination died when I was around eight years old. It was then that an old school friend of mine reminded me that I wrote my own fictional stories all the way up until I was in middle school. I shared a lot of these stories with my friends as I wrote them. And I honestly forgot about them. Then I remembered that, even early on in high school, whenever we had any sort of creative writing prompts, my wheels usually started turning pretty rapidly. I remember one prompt in particular based on a short story called “The Scarlatti Tilt.” Although I suppose “short story” is an overstatement. The story, written by Richard Brautigan, is as follows:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.” That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

That’s it. Two sentences. Our prompt was to write a story based off this story. As soon as I read this story, my brain started to kick into gear. What I eventually ended up with was a story of a man who lost his job as principal violinist of the orchestra, who, driven by sorrow after losing everything he’d worked for, ended up murdering his roommate and jumping out the window. The short story above ended up being the final line of my story, delivered by a police officer at the scene. Super dark and grim, I know, but it was unique. It was something different than what most other people would think of. I used my imagination to come up with an intriguing story. This was early in my high school career. Then, suddenly, my imagination just…Stopped.

My question is why? What happened to me so that I stopped using my imagination? So I stopped writing, dreaming, and creating?

I feel like this is a question that many people in our culture nowadays could and should ask. What happened to us so that we stopped dreaming and stopped using our imagination? Because I would argue that the vast majority of creators, particularly in film, TV, and literature, have lost their imagination. Nothing’s original any more. Nearly every movie that’s in theaters nowadays is based off of something: books, “true stories,” TV shows, or even other movies. There’s nothing original any more. And most things that are considered “original” are incredibly cliché and predictable.

So what happens to people? What happened so that creators and artists stopped imagining and using their own unique creativity and started copying other people’s work and making it their own? Where did the epic stories of valiant heroes and adventures disappear to in our culture? And why did they disappear?

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, and I have a theory. Unfortunately, it’s due to the same reason most people quit most things: they’re afraid of what people will say. Most likely due to the fact that someone probably put down their imagination and creativity at some point in the past. And I believe that part of the reason this has become so widespread throughout our culture is due to the way that American public schools operate. Everything is graded. From attendance to participation, everything is graded. In classes with creative writing, students’ assignments and prompt submissions are picked apart in detail. Their grammar is graded, their spelling and punctuation are graded. And, ultimately, and unfortunately, so is their creativity.

When students write a story that follows the traditional hero’s journey, their writing is praised and celebrated, as they effectively used all of the different parts of the formula they’ve been given. When students stray from this recipe or use different ingredients, they’re criticized for not focusing on addressing all parts of the assignment, being sloppy with their schoolwork, and, overall, just not doing a good job.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that Jamey and Jordan are both working on a creative writing assignment. In this scenario, Jamey has a very original idea for his creative writing, something very unique that captures his personality very effectively. Jamey, though he’s very imaginative, isn’t very good at writing with proper grammar and has trouble with spelling. When talking to his friend Jordan, Jamey talks about his story and everything he plans on writing for this assignment, incredibly excited about his ideas. Jordan, who hasn’t been able to think of something, finds Jamie’s idea incredibly interesting and decides to adapt it and use it for his own creative writing response. Jordan won the school spelling bee in elementary school several years in a row and knows in the ins and outs of proper grammar in the English language. When both of these students’ assignments are turned in, Jordan will, more than likely, get a higher grade than Jordan, and even be praised for his creativity and imagination. Jamey, on the other hand, will be marked down for spelling mistakes and improper grammar, and possibly even be accused of cheating off of his friend Jordan and stealing his idea.

How would Jamey feel in this situation? My guess is pretty crappy. He’s now been told that his original, creative idea is garbage simply because he isn’t as good at conforming to the obscure rules of English grammar that, quite frankly, most people don’t care about. How could he not take this criticism and apply it directly to his own ideas? After imagining this story and being so excited about it, his thought after receiving his grade would soon become “Oh, I guess my ideas weren’t very good. I guess other people don’t think it’s as good as I do. Maybe all of my creative ideas are bad.” Jamey stops using his imagination. He feels like it’s pointless, that his own creativity “isn’t good” and is uninteresting to other people. On the other hand, Jordan, being praised for his effective use of prose, feels incredibly accomplished after stealing his friend’s work and using it as his own.

What’s wrong with this picture? If you don’t see something wrong, I’ll be honest, I think you have a problem. When imagination and creativity is graded, students can easily feel that their own imagination is bad, and the natural response from experiencing this criticism is simply to stop imagining things. Stop dreaming. Stop trying to be creative. Because, obviously, no one else appreciates it.

There’s something I feel I need to say here. This isn’t a blog where I propose a solution to the problem I’ve discovered. This is simply the rambling of someone who has discovered an incredibly disheartening reality and has decided to ramble on about it in the hope that other people will become aware of a major issue. This is a plea for the revival of imagination. Children and students should be encouraged in their imagination and creativity. They should be encouraged to dream. And when they dream, when they create, when they use their imagination, they shouldn’t be put down for it. Adhering to the rules laid out by social constructs shouldn’t be what determines whether or not the art and imagination of a child, or anyone of any age, is good. Creativity should be appreciated what it is: Imagination that reflects the unique individual identity of each person. A look inside the heart and mind of the person who creates it. Imagination, dreams, and creativity need to be encouraged. There are stories to be written, art to be created, songs to be recorded, without fear of the judgment or criticism of the people that may encounter it.

I’m not encouraging the praise of mediocrity (which is a blog post for another time), but creativity and imagination should be encouraged for their own sake. Criticizing imagination based on someone’s adherence to socially constructed rules leads to disappointment and, ultimately, shutting down the imagination and leaving it to die where it got shot down. If stories and original art are meant to progress, imagination needs to be allowed to run wild and flourish. I hope to live in a reality where deviance from what’s normal is encouraged in all forms of art. Until then, I’m going to be trying to find my imagination again.

Note: I kinda wrote this stream-of-consciousness with little to no editing, so if it makes little to no sense or seems like there are jumps in logic or that I’m missing points, well, that’s why.

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I Can’t: The lame man and the importance of surrender

Recently, I decided to go through the Gospels one chapter at a time with new eyes and ears to hear what God is speaking through them, as if I’d never heard them before. This is due to a lot of recent realizations and revelations about a lot of things that I may write a blog post about sometime soon. Maybe. I don’t have all of my thoughts on that organized yet. But today, I was reading through John, specifically John 5, which starts with the story of the lame man.

In John 5, Jesus and His disciples come upon the pool of Bethsaida which was surrounded by sick people of all varieties (namely blind, lame, or paralyzed according to the NLT). Not everyone knows the importance of the pool of Bethsaida. Basically what happened at the pool of Bethsaida is that at different times, an angel would come and stir the water of the pool, and the first person who made it into the pool would be healed of any affliction they may have. There’s a lot of controversy and debate about this particular instance in Scripture, but I really don’t care because that’s not what I’m focused on. What I’m giving particular interest to is what happens when Jesus walks by the pool, starting in verse 5 of the New Living Translation:

One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!

John 5:5-9a, NLT

Something important happens here. Something that I never noticed until reading this passage again today. First off, Jesus asks a question: “Would you like to get well?” Other translations read “Do you want to be healed?” (ESV) or “Do you wish to get well?” (NASB). Wait…Isn’t that obvious? Of course he wants to get well! He’s been in this condition for thirty-eight years! Why would anyone in their right minds want to stay like this? Who wouldn’t want to get well?

All of this seems painfully obvious. So, therefore, the question becomes: Why did Jesus ask this question? If Jesus knew what the obvious answer would be, why would He ask a question like this in the first place? Jesus knew what He was doing, so there has to be a purpose. And that purpose was this: Jesus wasn’t asking if the man wanted to get well. He was testing his heart.

Imagine the scenario here: Jesus, Savior of the world, Son of God, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, walked up to a man who hadn’t walked for thirty-eight years. This man, who has likely been lying here for an incredibly long time, knows that if he can make it into the pool, he will be healed. By his understanding, this was his only chance to be freed and saved from his current condition. There’s a problem here, though, that Jesus sees immediately. Thus, Jesus asks him, “Would you like to get well? Do you want to be healed?”

And the man’s response?

“I can’t.”

His answer wasn’t “Yes.” His answer wasn’t “No.” The man says “I can’t, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up.” This is the answer Jesus was looking for. Obviously the man wanted to be healed. But what Jesus wanted to see was whether or not he had come to the realization that he couldn’t do it on his own. By his own power and his own strength, he wasn’t capable of receiving the healing that he desired. He couldn’t pick himself up and make it to the pool. He was completely incapable and unable to save himself. In the midst of his hope and desire to be healed and to be made well, he recognized his own problem and his inability to accomplish that dream himself.

And Jesus, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, met him where he was.

This is where Jesus wants to find us.

Jesus asks every single person, “Do you want to be healed?” Often the answer is no. Other times the answer is yes. But not frequently enough in this day in age is the answer “I can’t do it. I can’t be healed. I’ve tried.”

The answer of “no” is a complete refusal of the gift of God. They see what Jesus has to offer and don’t want it. They’re supposedly satisfied where they’re at and don’t want that drastic of a change, so they decide to remain lying by the pool.

The answer of “yes” is an acceptance of the free gift of eternal life that Jesus offers to every person. It is a decision to take what Jesus has offered, the very thing He died for. But, nowadays, more and more frequently, people say “yes” to Jesus and then wander around as if they haven’t been healed, trying to do things in their own power to save themselves and completely forgetting what they’ve been given. They still think they’re able to do something to save themselves from…Something.

The answer of “I can’t” is surrender. A realization that, no matter how hard you try, you’re unable to achieve what you’re trying to do. You can’t save yourself. You can’t heal yourself. All your best efforts will leave you worse off than you were before. It is complete and total surrender. It’s a cry for help. “I can’t do it, will You do it for me?” This is where a true life in Christ begins. This is where Jesus wants to meet us.

I’ve realized recently that this really isn’t where I was when I first gave my life to Christ. I was originally in the category of people that just said “yes” and then tried to keep doing things myself. I tried to follow all the rules as best as I could, because I felt that was what I needed to do. (Not to say that following rules is a bad thing; in fact, it’s a good thing. But it shouldn’t be something that we try super hard to do, it should be something that results from surrender to Christ. Also not to say that after surrendering your life to Christ you should be perfect, because that isn’t possible. That’s where grace comes into play. Anyway…) Obviously, this didn’t work out well. I tried to make things happen myself, which led to years of looking at the world through the lens of comparison, feeling like I was never able to measure up to the expectations that people had for me, and that I was never going to be as good at x, y, or z as the people around me.

I realized that this is where I was before. And that’s why I’ve been starting over with the Gospels with new eyes, soaking in every word that Jesus has for me. I want every promise, every reality that Jesus says that I live in to be the one that I know I live in. And this started with the realization that I had been trying so hard to do things on my own; that I didn’t surrender all of my expectations, hopes, dreams, and flaws to Him. Trying to live a Christian life any other way is missing out on the life that God has for you. Surrendering everything to Jesus, every hope and fear, every sin and prayer, every single facet of your life, is the only way to truly walk in all of the plans and promises that God has in store.

If you’ve experience a life even remotely similar to mine, having been raised in the church and having this entire concept of complete and total surrender ultimately lost on you, I would encourage you to see yourself as the lame man by the pool of Bethsaida. Reposition yourself and redirect your thinking to realize that you can’t do this yourself. You need help. You need someone to pick you up and bring you to the pool. And then you’ll receive something even better.

If you’ve never given your life to Christ before, maybe you’ve come to the realization that your best efforts have failed you, that you’ve just felt stuck and maybe that life is pointless or meaningless. If that’s you, I would encourage you by saying that Jesus is the answer to whatever problem you may be going through. Not the judgmental Jesus that has been portrayed in the media, but the Jesus who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with you and for you to know Him because He loves you more than anyone ever could. That’s my Jesus.

Regardless of who you are or where you’re at in this regard, I feel like there’s no better time than right now to think about who’s controlling your path and who’s in charge of your destiny. Whether it’s you or Jesus.

Conclusion: I can’t. But Jesus can. And He strengthens me to do things every day that I never thought possible.

My prayer is that, at the end of the day, this would be the heart cry of each and every one of us.

Blogging Again

Well, it’s been a couple years, but I’m going to start blogging again. But this time it’s a little bit different. I’ve gone through a ton of life change in the past two years, and especially in the past three months, that has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. Not like, my core beliefs or anything, so all of the stuff I wrote about two years ago is all still perfectly valid. In fact, I read through my old blogs the other day and laughed about it because I still think all of those things. I’ve discovered a lot about myself in these past couple years. And a lot about God. Like, a lot about God. And so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking again, a lot of reflecting, and, most recently, I’ve been reading through the Gospels with new eyes, as if I’m hearing it all for the first time in my life. Primarily because after all these years of living the Christian life or whatever, I’ve realized that there was something that I completely missed. So I’m going back and soaking in every single word that God has given us so that I can be sure I don’t miss a thing. So that’s been very eye-opening. And as I’ve been reading, I’ve realized a lot of things I haven’t realized before and I’ve been thinking a lot about that kind of stuff.

So here’s the main thing: A lot of my blogs now will probably be focused primarily on God, Jesus, Scripture in general, etc. Which, I mean, technically they were always about Jesus before, just in a more roundabout way. There will probably be fewer random rants and more stuff about my own revelations that I’m having, though I still hope to have my long, rambly blog posts about holidays, Valentine’s Day, and stupid people. Those are just fun.

But anyway, if you read my blogs before, thank you! If you didn’t, that’s totally fine! If you want to keep reading them, that’s great! Ultimately, I really don’t care! Do what you want! But if you happen to be reading this and want to read some of my other blogs, I really just hope that you’ll find something encouraging in the midst of all of my rambling. I don’t make much sense, so that’s why I write all my thoughts down in some form. But hey, it makes life interesting.