A few months ago, my husband and I attended a lecture by Dr. Jonathan Rogers on the topic of CS Lewis and creativity in Christian community. Instead of lecturing on the finer points of the nature of creativity in church life, or outlining Five Points for Pursuing a More Creative Life, Dr. Rogers began by telling us a story.
He wanted to talk about his friend who had just passed away a few weeks before. You might recognize his friend, Ben Ellis, from a viral video from last year. When Mr. Ellis was in his last days on earth, students from the high school where he taught for years, made a special trip to his house and sang to him. (Mutual friend Russ Ramsey tells more about Mr. Ellis here.)
What Jonathan wanted us to know about his friend Ben was that he was a man who pursued friends as his creative pursuit. He knew all the students, as well as their siblings, by name. He had a reputation for making students late for class because he would ask them — and really want to know — about their worlds. He was creative in the ways he thought about people and encouraging them. He made everyone who knew him feel seen and known.
Pursuing friends and Christian community as a creative pursuit — what an idea! How can we as Christians be about developing this culture? Since we are all made to be sub-creators, in the image of God, the ultimate Creator, we can order our worlds and create priorities within the freedom God has afforded us.
Pursuing people in this manner is an area where I could stand to grow. It requires effort and paying attention. Mr. Ben Ellis remembered everyone’s names, attaining for himself a reputation of thoughtfulness that was earned with hard mental labor. I’ll never forget the first day of class with one of my education professors. She took a picture of each of us. She had them printed and flipped through them each morning, praying for us by name. We all knew we were on her heart while she sipped her morning coffee.
There’s one character from recent pop culture that comes to my mind when we discuss attentive friendship: Leslie Knope, the unquenchable optimist from Parks and Recreation. Is there any other character you can think of who is a more considerate friend? It becomes a joke on a regular basis, because not one of her friends, nor her husband, can possibly keep up with her. She knows everything about everybody — and instead of using it for ill, she capitalizes on it for doing good to those people. She knows Ron Swanson’s ideal birthday would be a quiet evening (with steak, a cigar, and “Bridge on the River Kwai”) instead of a giant surprise party. Beyond birthdays, Leslie gives each of her female friends a personalized gift on her invented holiday “Galentine’s Day” — “an event for celebrating lady friends!”
Most often creativity is spoken about in terms of visual art, song, and the written word. But culture is created wherever humans make their lives together. Our homes, marriages, friendships, and family relationships are an area where gratitude, creativity, and joy in one another can be on display. We can’t all be Leslie Knope –though I have a few friends who would rival her! — but we can all grow in creatively embracing and loving the people in our circles.