MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Creativity

The Creative Apparatus of God

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Photo: jamelikat/Flickr

Photo: jamelikat/Flickr

I keep a journal that is actually a three ring binder. It allows me to add and remove and organize lots of materials. In the front section of the binder, I keep things I need to keep returning to, things I’ve written, or things I’ve copied, which remind me of the person I am seeking to become. In that section I keep a quote from Evelyn Underhill:

“Our place is not the auditorium but the stage — or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory — because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God, or at least are meant to form part of the creative apparatus of God. He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for his purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact.”

This liberty — this rigorous, demanding vocation — to form part of the creative apparatus of God, is exhaustingly joyous. We all have some beautiful art to make, perform, or sing: words to write, pictures to paint, families to nurture, gardens to grow, lessons to teach, goods to tender, worship to give.

To construe one’s life within such a purview provides all sorts of freedom and artistry and innovation that, in turn, yield serendipitous delights. I suppose “serendipitous delights” is redundant, but I do not know how to avoid such redundancy when employing mere words to get at the sort of delight one might encounter when in the midst of such a vocation.

It is the sort of freedom and joy that the famed runner Eric Liddel, was trying to get at when his character in “Chariots of Fire” says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Or the well-spoken commentary of Frederick Beuchner upon vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It is the sort of gladness I have gotten to taste in working with the Tokens Show. After one of our shows that we did on the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, our friend and supporter Rob Woodfin approached me afterwards and said, “You get to paint on the largest canvas.” It was a beautiful metaphor which I thought altogether apt: we have taken an old-time radio format, obviously indebted to Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, mixed it with what I like to call a hospitable theology, and then upon such a variety-show-canvas paint fascinating pictures employing the skills of some of the most talented people in the world.

And the results have inevitably been serendipitous — and beautiful.

Our most recent foray at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was just such a delight. Ah, to see Jeff Taylor continue to work his magic: if you have never heard Jeff play, you have not yet tasted the fullness of musical delights that Music City offers, a maestro at the piano and accordion, a composition genius who can mix bluegrass with classical music performed that night with four of the best string players in Nashville, and on top of all that he plays penny-whistles and squeeze boxes and mandolin and old pump organs, always pulling some new trick out of his bag of musical tricks. His weaving and creating with The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys — themselves constituting a wealth of talent and volumes of credits there is not here room to tell — remains a thing of beauty to me.

If I remember correctly, Jeff told me years ago that he had tried to quit music twice, sold his instruments and all, until finally he accepted it was his vocation. And all who watch can see the joy of God in Jeff at his work-bench, and it is a magnificent thing to behold.

Or to listen to Vince Gill that night: by all accounts a “super-star” in the music world, whatever that might mean to you, and yet a human being who carries about with him a humility grounded in a gratitude that is beyond reproach. It is such gratitude and humility, I think, that allows him to carry about a bag of words and lyrics and tunes that bespeak the wonder and tragedy of life, the sacramental nature of life, even, like the song he shared about his brother who sought refuge at the mission, needing a place to lay his old drunk head down, being offered bread and water, bread and water, that which sustains life and saves the soul.

Were I to give a play-by-play of all the delights of that night, I would far exceed appropriate blogging column length: but I could not but tell of the joy of Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano of JohnnySwim, singing of Home, daring even to evoke the spirits of Johnny and June on the stage of the Mother Church of Country Music — such daring, I would venture, that Johnny and June would have altogether enjoyed; the harmonies of the McCrary Sisters, calling us to go down to the River of Jordan and sit at the welcome table, as The Movement had done on that hill in Nashville some half-century ago; the “high lonesome sound” of the bluegrass strains of Dailey & Vincent whose harmonies brought the crowd to their feet; Buddy Greene leading all of us in that most wonderful old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”; Brian McLaren telling us of his post 9/11 exploits to bear witness to a non-violent Jesus; Brother Preacher preaching at the Ryman; the wondrous strains of the Nashville Choir; and Blake Farmer, Merri Collins, and Charlie Strobel all taking their very funny turns at the center microphones.

What joy to form part of the creative apparatus of God.

Exhaustingly joyous, I say.

~ Lee Camp

Written by MattAndJojang

December 28, 2012 at 5:34 pm

A TED Talk By Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

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Susan Cain, the author of the excellent Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, at TED 2012 – a fascinating and necessary manifesto for the importance of solitude in innovation and creativity.

Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

~ Susan Cain

Written by MattAndJojang

September 27, 2012 at 8:25 am

A Brief Guide To Life

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Photo: Andy Roberts/Flickr

‘A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us.’ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Life can be ridiculously complicated, if you let it. I suggest we simplify.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote… is the shortest guide to life you’ll ever need:

“Smile, breath, and go slowly.”

If you live your life by those five words, you’ll do pretty well. For those who need a little more guidance, I’ve distilled the lessons I’ve learned (so far) into a few guidelines, or reminders, really.

And as always, these rules are meant to be broken. Life wouldn’t be any fun if they weren’t.

the brief guide

less TV, more reading
less shopping, more outdoors
less clutter, more space
less rush, more slowness
less consuming, more creating
less junk, more real food
less busywork, more impact
less driving, more walking
less noise, more solitude
less focus on the future, more on the present
less work, more play
less worry, more smiles
breathe

~ Leo Babauta

Written by MattAndJojang

November 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

The Spiritual Side of Steve Jobs

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It’s well known that the secret to Apple’s meteoric success in the world of consumer technology was the vision, leadership and creativity of Steve Jobs, the company’s celebrity founder.

“Steve built a company and culture that is unlike any other in the world and we are going to stay true to that — it is in our DNA,” Tim Cook, Jobs’ successor, wrote in a staff memo after Jobs resigned from his post as Apple’s CEO in August.

What’s less talked about is what drove Jobs, who died Wednesday at 56.

As with anyone, Jobs’ values were shaped by his upbringing and life experiences. He was born in 1955 in San Francisco and grew up amid the rise of hippie counterculture. Bob Dylan and the Beatles were his two favorite musical acts, and he shared their political leanings, antiestablishment views and, reportedly, youthful experimentation with psychedelic drug usage.

The name of Jobs’ company is said to be inspired by the Beatles’ Apple Corps, which repeatedly sued the electronics maker for trademark infringement until signing an exclusive digital distribution deal with iTunes. Like the Beatles, Jobs took a spiritual retreat to India and regularly walked around his neighborhood and the office barefoot.

Traversing India sparked Jobs’ conversion to Buddhism. Kobun Chino, a monk, presided over his wedding to Laurene Powell, a Stanford University MBA.

‘Life is an intelligent thing’

Rebirth is a precept of Buddhism, and Apple experienced rebirth of sorts when Jobs returned, after he was fired, to remake a company that had fallen the verge of bankruptcy.

“I believe life is an intelligent thing, that things aren’t random,” Jobs said in a 1997 interview with Time, providing a glimpse into his complicated belief system that extends well beyond the Buddhist teachings.

Karma is another principle of the religion, but it didn’t appear to be a system Jobs lived by. If he feared karma coming back to bite him, the sentiment wasn’t evident in his public statements about competitors and former colleagues, calling them “bozos” lacking taste. Those who worked for Jobs described him as a tyrant they feared meeting in an elevator.

“You’d be surprised how hard people work around here,” Jobs said in a 2004 interview with Businessweek. “They work nights and weekends, sometimes not seeing their families for a while. Sometimes people work through Christmas to make sure the tooling is just right at some factory in some corner of the world so our product comes out the best it can be.”

Some engineers who worked tirelessly on the original Mac emerged from the project estranged from their spouses and children. Jobs’ relentless work ethic may have been shaped by some of his dysfunctional family affairs as well.

‘I’ve done things I’m not proud of’

Jobs was adopted by Clara and Paul Jobs, who promised his birth mother, Joanne Simpson (whom Jobs later tracked down with the help of a private investigator), that they would send him to a university. He dropped out of Reed College after one semester, and he reportedly never was willing to talk to his birth father.

Jobs had a daughter, Lisa, out of wedlock with Chrisann Brennan. He denied paternity for many years, swearing in a court document that he was sterile. Later, he had three more kids with Laurene Powell.

“I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of, such as getting my girlfriend pregnant when I was 23 and the way I handled that,” Jobs said in a statement in 2011 to promote his authorized biography.

That youthful indiscretion came before Jobs turned to Buddhism and karma.

‘The core values are the same’

The Buddhist scriptures, according to tradition, were transmitted in secret, as were many of Apple’s business dealings and Jobs’ personal struggles. Like the paranoid secrecy that surrounded product development at Apple, Jobs spurned most reporters’ interview requests, misled them in statements he did give, refused to disclose details of his cancer to investors until undergoing an operation and became shrouded in a scandal involving backdating stock options.

By all accounts, he played by his own rules.

Those who disclosed his secrets or whispered about his company were punished or threatened. Apple sued, and eventually settled with, the anonymous young blogger behind Think Secret, which accurately reported on Apple rumors in the early 2000s.

And then there’s the story of a lost iPhone 4 prototype, which was purchased and publicized by the blog Gizmodo.

“When this whole thing with Gizmodo happened, I got a lot of advice from people that said, ‘You’ve got to just let it slide,’ ” Jobs said onstage at a technology convention in 2010. “I thought deeply about this, and I ended up concluding that the worst thing that could possibly happen as we get big and we get a little more influence in the world is if we change our core values and start letting it slide. I can’t do that. I’d rather quit.”

That stance was repeated this year, with Jobs still as CEO though on medical leave, when another employee left a prototype iPhone 5 in a bar. Apple enlisted the help of San Francisco police to investigate.

“We have the same values now as we had then,” Jobs said at the AllThingsD conference. “We’re a little more experienced, certainly beat-up, but the core values are the same.”

‘We’re here to put a dent in the universe’

Perhaps the most salient of those values is, simply, to make an outsize impact on society. Or, as Jobs put it, “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” However, Apple and Jobs didn’t make much of a dent with philanthropy.

“We do things where we feel we can make a significant contribution,” Jobs told Businessweek in 2004. “And our primary goal here is … not to be the biggest or the richest.”

To achieve that goal, Jobs was an obsessive micromanager. Part of the reason Jobs’ DNA is so ingrained in Apple is because he forced his hand onto so many parts of it. He personally fielded some customer-service requests sent to him via e-mail; he was active in product design, co-authoring more than 300 patents; and he had a hand in the marketing efforts, including the famous Think Different and Mac vs. PC campaigns.

“What is Apple, after all?” Jobs mused to Time. “Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”

‘Focus and simplicity’

Jobs famously lured John Sculley, the PepsiCo president, to run Apple by saying: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” (They had a permanent falling out when Jobs was booted from Apple.)

“What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do,” Sculley said in a 2010 interview with Businessweek. “He’s a minimalist. I remember going into Steve’s house, and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around, but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.”

Restraint, at least in gadget design and interior decorating, was a primary principle for Jobs. Shortly after his return to Apple, he shuttered several divisions and turned his attention to a few key initiatives. Even today, Apple’s product lines and revenue are zeroed in on just a few industries in which the company can dominate.

“That’s been one of my mantras: focus and simplicity,” Jobs told Businessweek in 1998. “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

He elaborated in the interview with the publication six years later: “It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

‘Stay hungry. Stay foolish.’

Apple’s management team members have each adopted parts of this code.

Jonathan Ive, the industrial-design executive, echoes Jobs’ simplicity ethic.

Scott Forstall, the mobile software lead, has apparently inherited some of Jobs’ enthusiasm and showmanship.

And Cook, the former operations chief and, by some accounts, current workaholic micromanager, runs the company like he manages his private life: shrouded in secrecy.

However, Cook comes out of his shell in order to impart the ethical standards onto new recruits. He, along with other execs, teaches at Apple University.

Apple University ensures that employees are thoroughly educated on the company’s principles and that Jobs’ ideals live on. Jobs believed people never stop learning and should voraciously open their minds to new ideas.

Put another way, like in his closing statement to Stanford’s graduating class in 2005, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

~ Mark Milan, CNN