Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity, ed. Nathan Brown & Joanna Darby (Signs Publishing, 2013) AU$ 24.95
As cultural and economic shifts continue to take place, more people are calling themselves “Creatives.” It seems almost anyone, doing anything, can be a virtuoso, cultural kingmaker, filmmaker, or the catchall “artist.” But whether these people are formally trained, self-taught, or simply seeking value for their uniqueness, the Church has not yet begun to tap into the energy and creativity of congregants who are pursuing their passions. Pews and folding chairs both remain empty as religious leaders persist in thinking that the biggest creative choice they will make this year concerns the color of the carpet.
Genuine creativity is, in many ways, absent from our sacred spaces. The evidence is all around us. More churches are turning to portable buildings and weekend rentals that discourage decoration, stained glass, or anything that might develop into differences of opinion. What is it about congregations, committees, and Christians that sidelines ingenuity, given how many of us are designers, painters, musicians, and creative in some many profound ways? And what if the choice were not always presented as creativity or faithfulness?
Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity is a collection of essays addressing those kinds of questions.
Most of the contributors are from Australia and the essayists are, for the most part, located within the Adventist tradition; this limits the scope of the book somewhat. It is perhaps a testimony to the work of the editors that these essays are at times generalized to apply to other denominations. There are few “That would never work for our church!” moments. The pieces are applicable to churches primarily in the West or rather applicable with a Western mentality, despite the fact that many of the essayists are located in the Pacific Rim It is a truism that depending on what a reader brings to work like this and expects from it – accessibility of ideas, or thorough cutting edge tips tailored to your own tradition – will determine how they see it. Very much like a piece of art.
The writers seem to get the irony of creatively writing about creativity. As Jothan Kingston puts it, “To a certain degree, we write for ourselves. As Creatives, we like the sound of our own voices. We like showing other people our stuff. We like being the Writer, rather than the Reader.” But, at times, the essays are all hype without true content. Kingston, for example, while one of the more revealing and introspective in the collection, attributes the desire to be creative not to our personalities and unique bend, but to a salvific drive. We are creative because the inhabitants of the world “do not know Jesus and are ignorant of their inheritance rights to the universe… This is why we write. This is why we create.”
Not all Creatives have such divine intention. I might have said something similar when I attended youth rallies, but certainly not as a 30-year old living in Los Angeles. Something within me balks at casting my creative energies in those terms. I create because others don’t know Jesus? What? Yet, what I found in reading these essays, sitting with them, and allowing the words to sink in rather than blow past me—rather than rushing through the gallery, so to speak—is that each essayist brought attention to a different way of understanding what it means to have that pull, that divine gift of meaning-making, and what I rejected became something that I am continuing to weigh in my mind days later.
Other contributors, like Ryan Bell’s “Room for the Spirit to Blow Through” are practical, making suggestions of how to best nurture not just Creatives in the congregation, but also to make a congregation of Creatives. Bell shares his insights on working at Hollywood Adventist where creativity is not about art necessarily, but “the creation of something new and valuable to the community” based on the assumption that everyone has a gift or talent worth sharing. Other essayists share ways in which faith communities tend to locate creative energy among young people exclusively, and children specifically. This should not be so, for creative ideas often come from experience – knowing what blends well, and how to capture a long legacy of wonder.
Overall, the ideal readers for a collection like this are young Christian artists in the West who aren’t sure how to inspire or be inspired. What you will find in this book is passion, energy, ideas, and a collection of writers, musicians, pastors, visual artists, and designers trying to recapture wonder and a sense of beauty for, from, and by the Church. There are so many good, sound, well thought-out ideas here meant to inspire you that I find myself needing a second run-through to feel validated as a Creative myself. If I had a book like this ten years ago when I was working in student ministries I would have felt a sense of solidarity with like-minded Christians and surely would have done a lot more to inspire my students.
 Full disclosure: Ryan Bell is co-founder of The Hillhurst Review.