In Search of Beauty

boyThey looked neat and tidy. We noticed it when we moved into the village to live with the Canela people of Brazil. Their appearance was clean and sharp and it wasn’t their clothes—they wore hardly any. Their faces, hair and bodies were striking, even beautiful. We had been in contact with other indigenous people groups who, in comparison to the Canelas, were unkempt, messy and scruffy looking.

One of the principal reasons the Canelas look so good is the way they wore their hair. Both men and women cut their hair into bangs across the forehead, and then cut around the sides of the head leaving just a few centimetres at the back uncut. The hair below the cut is left to grow long. The result is that their faces are always free of hair. They also bathe at least twice a day and, for special occasions, they decorate their bodies with intricate red and black designs.

spear manThe net effect is beauty. This drive for beauty extends to other areas of Canela life too. When our mud and thatch house was almost finished, one of our Canela neighbours came along with a sharp bush knife and trimmed the overhanging palm thatch so that it would be neat and straight. It didn’t make the roof any better able to shed rain or provide shade, it just looked better. He needed it to look beautiful.

God needs things to look beautiful too. An inspiring story comes from the history of Israel after Moses had led the Israelites out of their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God wanted a portable temple, a place where the people could meet Him. He provided the design and the finishing details. Exodus 35 and 36 tell the story of its construction. Only the finest materials and the very best work were acceptable.

God picked two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, filled them with His Holy Spirit, not to preach, not to speak in tongues or do miraculous healings, but to create beauty and teach others to do so. “God filled them with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills, to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.” (Exodus 35:31) He also gave them the ability to teach others to work as engravers, designers, and embroiderers.

JohnKeats said it well, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Bazalel and Ohaliab would agree.

Human creativity comes from God. Our imagination, from which flows good things—inventions, solutions to problems, works of beauty—was built into us by God. He means for us to use it to make beauty around us. He means for us to use the beauty that comes from Him to bring Him glory.

Satan, of course, seeks to pervert our abilities to create beauty for our own glory. Or worse yet, to do evil and produce ugliness instead. There was a time, long after the creation of Adam and Eve, that God saw that “every imagination of human hearts was only evil continually,” so He sent a flood to wipe them out and start over again with Noah and his family.

I see God given creativity in relatives all around me. An architect nephew who designs skyscrapers. A carpenter brother who builds houses. An artist niece who, although housebound because of a chronic illness, produces amazing creations out of old socks. Check out her creativity here. Others are skilled painters, interior decorators, designers, artists, and carvers. Each member of my family has skills to create beauty around them. By the way, we are not an exceptional family, all families have the potential to create beauty.

And God has given me, the old grandpa, the ability to write stories and blog posts, putting words together in creative ways, to produce new and distinctly different writings. All this creativity to bring glory to the God who gave it.



What Makes Us Human?

As a shovel is made for digging, a knife for cutting, and a hammer for striking, so you and I are made for creating.

To say, “Oh, not me, I’m not creative,” isn’t humble, it’s ignorant. You might as well say, “I’m not human.”

The Bible is extremely clear on this subject right from page one. After each act of creation—light, night and day, land and sea, fish, birds and animals—God checked his work and pronounced it good.

But when He created human beings in His own image—as micro-copies of Himself—He did NOT say it was good. No. Instead, He looked at the final result of creation and said it was VERY good!

God spoke the universe into existence, and commanded vegetation to grow, but when He created the animals, He formed them from the ground. He did the same to create Adam, the first human being, but then went one step further—He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Adam was kissed into life by the Creator God Himself.

Then God set Adam to work. His first task was a creative one, to name all the animals. He brought each animal to Adam to see what he would name them, and whatever name Adam came up with, that was its name. God didn’t interfere or correct, He trusted Adam’s creativity to come up with a suitable name. And he did.

God made human beings with the capacity to imagine—to picture in our mind, to visualize something our imagination. We see the finished product with the eye of our mind. Our imagination is God-given, it is one of the things that sets us apart from animals.

When our first grandchildren, twin boys, were about two years old, they loved to “fix” things. From their favorite kitchen drawer they would equip themselves with “tools” such as mixer beaters, a metal spatula, an egg beater, etc., and crawl under the dining room table to tap and rattle their tools on the bolts and metal slides. In their imagination they were repairing cars, trucks, rockets, and who knows what?

Creativity, unfortunately, is trained out of us by our culture. It is not welcomed in most schools, the military or in factories. Naturally creative children are taught to color between the lines, creative men to march in lockstep, and to do the same thing over and over. There is no room for exercising creativity—thinking of other, better ways to do things. That’s why, when you ask a roomful of adults how many of them are creative, few people will put up their hands.

Jo pot fire2However, when we need to solve problems we have not encountered before, our creativity has a chance to emerge. During our decades in Brazil, for instance, Jo creatively adapted recipes substituting Canadian ingredients with whatever was available in the Canela village. Yes, she used crackers, lemon juice, and cinnamon to make a pie that tasted very much like a good apple pie.

As it did in God’s mind, all creation starts in our imagination. He imagined light, expressed it in words, and it sprang into being. So it is with us. We imagine an improvement to our home, a story to write, or a solution to a social problem. We express it, talk about it with others, put it on the calendar to be done, and begin to work to create a reality.

God expects us to serve Him, not by blindly obeying a set of rules—a list of do’s and don’ts—but rather by using our minds and hearts, our experience and skills, and our relationships and resources to do His work. No, most of us don’t need to name more animals, but there are problems galore to solve in this sin cursed world.

We are to love our Creator God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

May our Creator God guide us as we commit to using our creative imagination to love God by meeting the needs of others in this needy world, from the homeless man around the corner to Bible-less people groups around the world.

Be Like God, Be Creative

You are so inventive and resourceful,” my wife said, “you’re a creative genius!”

I modestly accepted her praise and walked back into my study carrying the camera tripod I had repaired in an unconventional way. Seeing a broken locking tab, I had asked myself, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” I was not always that inventive.

Little Jack, the Copycat
When I was seven years old and living in the Netherlands at the end of the Second World War, I had a problem but asked the wrong question.

Some of the older kids were making patriotic signet rings from pieces of Plexiglass windows salvaged from shot down airplanes. After shaping the rings they drilled three holes in the head of the ring and filled them with red, white and blue paint, the colours of the Dutch flag.

I was one of the little kids who wanted to do this too. But instead of finding out where they got the airplane glass and how they shaped the rings, I was obsessed with the problem, “How do you get the paint inside those little holes?”

“You use the pointy end of a file.” was the answer, and forthwith all my energies were fixated on trying to find a pointy ended file. I never did. Instead of blindly trying to copy one small detail of what some else had done, I should have found out the answers to the main questions and then asked myself, “In what way can I get paint into those holes?” I may have thought to use a toothpick or a small nail.

Tradition Trumps Creativity
While we lived among the Canela people of Brazil we often saw the same copycat attitude which blindly followed the traditional way things had always been done. One day a friend complained that his family had lots of sugar cane but no way of squeezing the juice out of it.

A Horse? A Horse Has No Horns!

A Horse? A Horse Has No Horns!

“What about the cane press out by the old chief’s house?” I said, “Is it broken?”

“No,” he said, “but we don’t have an ox to yoke onto it to make it go around.”

“There are lots of horses walking about,” I said, “why don’t you harness one of them onto it?”

He laughed and said, “You can’t do that! A horse has no horns. How can you tie the head yoke on?”

And that was that. He simply could not imagine taking the head yoke off the press and attaching a horse collar harness. His final word was, “No one has ever done that with a horse.”

Cultural Heritage Affects Creativity
My wife and I were doing some shopping with a local pastor in Barbados. She found a shirt she liked but the pastor pointed out that it had a stain near the shoulder. My wife examined it, and said, “No problem, I can get that out.”

“You North Americans can do anything!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how to get that stain out, and my wife couldn’t. I don’t know of anyone who could, but you glance at it and say, ‘No problem’.”

The pastor was right. Many cultures like our North American one, have a rural, pioneer history that tends to ask, “In what ways can I solve this problem?” whereas tradition focussed, copycat societies ask, “How has this been done?”

God, a Copycat? Never!
We are called to be godly, which means god-like or being like God. God is creative; He made us in His image. Like Him, we also have the capacity to create. We need to practice this creativity in every area of our lives, not just in solving home maintenance repairs, but in strengthening our marriages, or raising our children or grandchildren.

In our careers, businesses, ministry or professions, God expects us to learn from others to see what has worked in their cases, but then to creatively adapt what others did to our own unique situations.

God is no copycat, who would He copy? He creates unique solutions to specific situations.

Let’s be godly and look for creative solutions.

So, are you godly? Or are you a copycat? What creative solution have you come up with lately?

Return of an Old Love Affair

Wow, I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing this!

Elkwater Lake Cypress Hills

Elkwater Lake Cypress Hills

I was enjoying the scene of a placid lake reflecting some low hills at the end, the mirror image so perfect the hills looked surreal in stark contrast with the clearly focused flowering shrubs and bushes in the foreground.

I had just copied some photos to my computer from a new camera and looking at the first few photos on my 23” monitor brought tears of nostalgia to my eyes.No, it wasn’t the summer vacation memory that jarred my emotions. It was the realization that for far too long I had been suppressing a creative urge, denying an emotional need, and neglecting an area of my life that in my younger years had given me great satisfaction.

I was 32 years old when a friend took me into his photo darkroom and taught me to make black and white enlargements. I was instantly hooked on cropping, burning in, and lightening my blowups. Within a few years I was developing not only film and photo paper, but my photographic creativity in my own darkroom in Brazil. I also had a Minolta slide camera with multiple lenses, but used it mostly to shoot photos needed for slides to show on furloughs or pictures to illustrate newsletters.

But then, in the late 1980s the pressures of completing the Bible translation project and looming life changes squeezed artistic photography out of my life. I sold my darkroom equipment, and my large format film cameras and took snapshots, not photos with my 35 mm Minolta camera. After 24 years in Brazil I returned to Canada with hundreds of black and white negatives, and 3,000 slides of our family and ministry among the Canelas.

Leadership responsibilities and blog writing filled the creativity gap. Or so I thought.

About 15 years ago I stopped using the 35 mm film camera and bought a small automatic digital camera good for taking snapshots. Then, about a month ago, I finally listened to what my wife had been saying for many years. “Jack, you need a hobby, something that has nothing to do with words.”

She had often been after me to relax, get out of the world of ideas and into the world of nature. I should have listened to her years ago. I bought a new camera, a digital Nikon with a Nikkor zoom lens, a famous brand I had lusted after in my youth, and now forty years later was finally within my reach. The next day we left on a two-week combined ministry and vacation trip . . . through the mountains! Oh yes!

It was love at first click. I shot 25 pictures a day . . . for two weeks! Some of them even turned out to be good photos showing care for composition, colour, and contrast. And being digital, there was no worry about expense! Great!

But wait! There’s more!

Our four American teenage granddaughters are very much into drawing, painting and photography. So I started a Photo of the Week project where we each share a photo via email telling what we like about it, and how it could possibly be improved and, sometimes, what it teaches us about God. Afterwards we comment on each other’s photos. Now I not only feed my own creative urges, I am helping some talented photo artists to develop their talents. Life is good!

The lesson in all this?

Be open to God’s urging. Listen to your heart. Give in to your gut feelings. And, if that fails, listen to your spouse. Your life will take on more colour, have better compositional balance, and certainly show more contrast with your everyday world.