Shuck and Jive

Friday, December 18, 2009

Via Creativa!

I am designing our worship services around the four vias or paths of Creation Spirituality. Each path corresponds to a season.

  • Fall—via negativa (the way of letting go and letting be)
  • Winter—via creativa (the way of creativity and imagination)
  • Spring—via transformativa (the way of justice-making and compassion)
  • Summer—via positiva (the way of awe and wonder)
On Monday, with our Tidings of Comfort service we will wrap up the via negativa and on Christmas Eve begin the via creativa. The Christian myth of the incarnation is one of the many symbols for the meanings of creativity. Creativity, as Matthew Fox titled one of his books, is where the divine and the human meet.

If you find our webpage under the heading "worship" you can find the pdf schedule of our Winter worship services. I am using the lectionary and reading these texts through the lens of Creation Spirituality. I open the service up to the creativity of our congregation. If folks have an original reading, poem, piece of music, artwork, or dance that goes with the theme, they contact me and they are on. If you are in our area and have heard about us, now is a good time to check us out. We are calling on the artists and musicians of the Tri-Cities to help us celebrate creativity!

Remember, one of the principles of Creation Spirituality is that
everyone is an artist.

What is creativity? According to theologian, Gordon Kaufman, God is Creativity.

His two books on this theme,
In the Beginning...Creativity, and Jesus and Creativity are his attempts toward a naturalist theology as opposed to a
supernaturalist theology.

Rather than think of God as a personal being or Creator, he suggests that God is Creativity (not unlike the Johannine tradition in the Bible that imagined God as Love).

God is not a person. God is an activity. God is mysterious, serendipitous, creativity. This creativity has been active in the universe for 14 billion years.

The God with which we are concerned here is the wondrous serendipitous creativity that has brought us humans into being within this magnificent universe--this universe that continues to be creatively transformed in new and surprising ways. It is a universe of great beauty and of overwhelming displays of power; a universe populated by many utterly diverse kinds of beings; a universe within which, on planet Earth (and possibly elsewhere) living beings in countless varieties have been created--including our own human mode of existence....

....this creativity that has also, through the mission and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth in life, in death, and after his death, brought into our world the practice of agape-love and shown us its profound meaningfulness and value. This deep mystery of creativity thus becomes light enabling us to see more clearly how we ought to live and act as we move forward into the unknown future. pp. 60-1, Jesus and Creativity
I really appreciate what Kaufman is doing. He is providing a constructive, naturalist theology that connects what we know from science and radically reinterprets our tradition with its outmoded supernaturalist claims. He takes on the Trinity: is difficult to see how anything like the traditional doctrine of the trinity can still be advocated. Most of the vast universe, as we think of it today, is in no way at all affected by Jesus' life, death and resurrection; it is only the human project and its evils, on planet Earth, to which the Jesus-story--because of the healing and new life that it has brought--is pertinent.

Some may object to this argument, holding that the idea of trinity is central and indispensable to the Christian understanding of God; and it is not, therefore, a matter of choice or consent for Christian theologians: trinity is simply what God in fact is for Christians. But that is a misleading claim. We need to recognize that from the very beginning of specifically Christian thinking about God, all the major issues that needed addressing involved human choices. Doubtless the divine creativity was playing its part in these developments, but from our vantage point today just what that part was remains (as always) a profound mystery. What was visible to the humans participating--and continues to remain visible to us today--were the decisions these humans themselves made....

....We in the twenty-first century are the heirs of many different ways of understanding and interpreting Jesus: Which (if any) should we commit ourselves to and seek to develop further? Which should we ignore or discard? These are difficult questions, and in the past they were often answered on the basis of what was regarded as authoritative divine revelation, an option no longer open to us...." p. 55-6
The point of all of this is help us find the resources, the vision, and the inspiration, to be co-creators of our future. Through articulating a thoroughly human Jesus we discover
a picture of profound appeal, a picture in terms of which we may be drawn to measure and judge our own humanness and humaneness....

....At this portentous moment, perhaps more than ever before, we need conceptions of the human and visions of history that will facilitate whatever centuries-long movement there has been toward a more responsible ordering of our lives and our world, an ordering in which the integrity and significance of each tradition and community are acknowledged and the welfare and rights of every individual are respected and nurtured. New cultural patterns of association and cooperation must be developed, new institutions must be invented, new ideologies that are at once universalistic and truly pluralistic must be created.

For these sorts of things to happen, a spirit of self-sacrifice for the well-being of all of humanity--indeed the welfare of the whole network of life on planet Earth--is now needed, a spirit that can subdue the instincts for self-preservation and self-defense that so dominate our communal and ethnic, our national and religious, practices and institutions, as well as our personal lives. Just such a spirit of self-giving, love, reconciliation, and the building of community is what the image/story of Jesus and the early Christian communities powerfully present. p. 35
I offer these longer quotes of Kaufman to show what I think many people have been thinking already. Perhaps you resonate as I do. I have been drawn, despite myself, to the Jesus story. Even as I have been repulsed by the supernaturalism, the exclusivism, and the violence of the popular, so-called "orthodox" Jesus trajectory, Jesus as human, as part of the matrix of creativity, is actually quite engaging and powerful--transforming even--toward a vision of what it might mean to be a human being in a time in which we need the vision, love, and creativity of human beings and not that of supernatural gods or their spokespersons.

Creativity is not all pretty pictures and daisies. The Mona Lisa and the atom bomb are expressions of human creativity. Solar panels and eight lane highways, agriculture, industrialization, iPods, and composting are all products of our creative imagination. Creativity is arguably the most powerful force in the Universe. It is to be treated with honor and reverence and critique. Directing our creativity toward compassion and justice is our most urgent task.

“Creativity, when all is said and done, may the best thing our species has going for it. It is also the most dangerous.” Fox, Creativity, p. 1.

Here is an interview with Matthew Fox on creativity from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Check out his Stanford lectures on youtube.

He speaks here about his book:


  1. I have become increasingly interested in the idea that the universe's creativity is an expression of divinity, but I always felt that creativity per se can be used to serve a variety of purposes, good and evil, and that creativity is important as a divine attribute but that there needs to be more to it than just that alone. I wrote a commentary about Kaufman quite a while ago while ago in my blog, if you are interested.

  2. I am interested! Thanks! Creativity is amoral. Humanity is creative in very destructive ways as well as constructive ways. The Creativity of volcanoes et al is certainly "good" for some and less good for others.

    Only humans care about morality. Good and evil only have meaning in terms of human consciousness and language.

    I wonder if the "more to it" might be where Jesus fits in as well as other archetypes, spiritual figures, mythologies and so forth that speak about virtues of human creativity that is also the result of the creativity of the universe?

    For example, love, joy, hope, altruism etc. are creative expressions of the universe manifest in humanity.

    Going to check out your commentary now.

  3. You know, rereading what I wrote about Kaufman from this perspective of a few years later, I am struck by how much I used the language of process theology to express my ideas on the subject, and that probably goes a long way to explaining why I reacted the way I did. Creativity is, of course, a very important aspect of process theology, but obviously Kaufman is not a process theologian.

  4. John I am so intrigued by these seasonal approaches (via negativa, via creativa, etc.). Is there one book or set of books that fleshes this out? Is this your own approach? Is it found in Kaufman or Fox? I am so captivated by it! Please share!

  5. What is the difference between what Kaufman says and what process theology says?

  6. Maybe I am wrong, but I felt that Kaufman was identifying God exclusively with creativity without introducing any moral component to it, while process theology definitely sees God's creativity as being directed towards the achievement of positive aims. I guess I saw Kaufman talking a lot about creativity but not much about love. Am I incorrect in that assessment?

  7. My use of the four paths and the four seasons is a brazen rip-off of a colleague of mine, Howard Hangar, who is the minister at Jubilee in Asheville, NC.

    I learned how he did it this summer when Matthew Fox was there for the Creation Spirituality Communities gathering.

    There are no rules as to how one integrates Creation Spirituality with worship. It is an exciting creative time.

    Two that I know about right off are Sea Raven (who comments here on occasion!) and Donald Schmidt who takes a different approach.

    I just decided to take Howard's plan of connecting a season with a path and seeing what happens.

    I have to say it has been helpful to me and I think it has made the worship services more connected and given them more depth.

    A lot of that might be due simply to planning ahead!

  8. I would say Kaufman would say that Creativity does (or could) move toward positive aims. He would say love (and other virtues) as seen for instance in the Jesus story is an expression of the creativity of the universe/God.

    Fox and his articulation of Creation Spirituality says creativity is not enough. It must be directed toward compassion (also a fruit of the creativity of the universe).

    Now there are some (ie. Don Cupitt, I suppose) that would say the universe is nonmoral or amoral and that morality is purely a human construct. There is no reality of morality in the universe itself, but God is a product of human language.

    I bounce around on all of that. I do come back to the idea that goodness comes from the universe. The seeds of human consciousness, art, beauty, etc. were in the Big Bang from the beginning. In that sense the reality of morality has been with us since creation.

    I am not sure, I don't know about Kaufman either, whether or not there is direction in creation outside of creation. That is my puzzle with process theology as where the direction comes from.

  9. John,

    This is the perfect time for me to openly thank you for your blog, your sermons, and your perspective. You've been a big help to me of late.

    Case in point: The Harping Monkey: [Shared] Shuck and Jive >> Via Creativa!

  10. Great Theology in this post John . The future of Christianity ( I hope ).

    I take it that Kaufman is closer to Don cupitt than to process Theology and that's fine by me . I always take note of Einstein's dictum .... ' Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us , not for God '

    Regards ..


  11. I suggest that Process Theology allows for the possibility that the outcome of human interaction with God and the world may not have what we might call a "good" ending. Process Theology allows for the possibility that what God wants (or at least what God wants right now) will not happen.

    On the other hand I am continually intrigued by the work of biological and social evolutionists who say that human qualities that we might call good are evolutionary traits that made it more possible for humans to survive. Cooperation within the group so as to protect the group, feed the group and those allow for children in the group to survive and therefore for the group to pass their DNA to the next generation.

  12. Personally, I think it is pretty clear that not everything that happens in the world is a good thing--unless one thinks, for example, that genocide, war, and poverty are good things. So I think most reasonable theodicies have to accept that not everything that happens is consistent with divine will (assuming that you believe that God is good). I know that there are some theodicies that try to suggest that these evils are somehow what God wants in order to achieve some greater long range good (which goes back to Leibnitz, I suppose), but I think most people don't see that position as morally tenable (and I certainly don't.)

    Process theology does account for the possibility of such things as the evolution of positive human social or moral traits as part of the divine creativity, since it sees God as trying to influence the world towards those more positive developments. In fact, it does see God as playing a crucial role in the developments, since God is viewed by process theology as the lure that encourages creativity to work in certain directions, and as a positive source of the novelty that makes them possible. That's what I mean when I say that process theology is not just about unfocused creativity per se, but rather creativity that is encouraged towards the greatest possible good at each moment.

    I think that this is where I see a big difference between positing God as a merely amoral creative force and what process theology posits. In process theology, the creative lure that God offers is viewed as always, at every moment, towards the achievement of certain outcomes that reflect divine values. God is not just creating for the sake of creating, but rather God's creativity is value laden and has aims that this creativity seeks to achieve--and the evolution of consciousness and morality, for example, are seen as part of the divine aspiration of maximizing experience. That creativity always has risk, because it is not controlled by God but rather inspired, and the outcomes are not perfectly predictable.