Fostering Resilient Hope:  Part 5 of 6 (Creativity, Innovation and the Arts)

When we are speaking about what it means to be an organization that is marked by a resilient hope, one of the key indicators of this hopefulness is that within the organization there is this propensity to be creative and innovative in the midst of the situation in which we find ourselves.  Hope is evident in creativity and innovation – in the context of what is actually the case, not what we wish was and is the case – to see what good, what constructive outcome, what possibilities can emerge from this situation.  

There is an image that has over the years captured this so very effectively for me.  A number of years ago Joella and I were having lunch with Doug and Judy Wiebe – in Toronto.   As we were ordering our meal, Joella commented on the dishes that the restaurant was using – particularly unique and beautiful.   Then, a few minutes later we heard a crash coming from the kitchen area – and assumed it was one of these dishes.   And Joella’s response was:  “pity those fragments will be thrown into the garbage . . . . because they would actually make a great mosaic.” 

Doug immediately jumped up – left our table.   Two minutes later he was back clutching a cheap plastic bag holding the shards from the broken dish.   Doug and Judy moved to Winnipeg to provide pastoral leadership for The Exchange, a congregation in the heart of the rougher part of the city.   I visited them during their first year and dropped by – mid-week – to see the venue where the Exchange met.   They were keen to show me the space but also something else:  the mosaics – 20 or 25 of them:  done by women who came off the streets of Winnipeg.  They came to the Exchange with broken lives, broken bodies.   They came once a week to work on their mosaics – not working from mass produced fine tesserae tiles but with broken glass and pottery pieces . . . bringing beauty out of that which was broken.  And, it goes without saying, coming perhaps to see the possibility of beauty and healing in their own lives. 

When we speak this way – about good that comes from a situation – this is not for a moment because we are minimizing the wrong, the abuse, even perhaps a tragedy.   It is not about downplaying the fragmentation of our situation with platitudes about “there is a reason for everything” or any other form of false comfort.  But we can still speak of how good and beauty and transformation can come out of deep pain and loss and fragmentation – as captured by the image of the mosaic from the broken shards. 

Women and men of hope have a fundamental capacity to innovate, adapt and adjust their plans and priorities and vision in response to the new reality in which they find themselves  -- even when if not particularly when their circumstances seem so very challenging and difficult.  Rather than despair they consider what might come from this.   They are entrepreneurial if they in business; they shift to alternate forms of classroom instruction if they are teachers during a pandemic.  Whatever their vocation, they have a resilience that is evident in being adaptive – thinking of what is and might be possible in this time and in this place.  Rather than bemoaning what was or what might have been, they given their mental and emotional energy to into what could perhaps be. 

This is why the arts are so vitally important in our lives; they do two things simultaneously – at least two.   They comfort and they encourage.   I think of the tremendous opportunity that my wife and I had to be present a few years ago for the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus rendition of Rachmaninov’s Requiem.   Oh yes, the Russians know how do to lament; they are masters of drawing us into a deep awareness of the human condition.  But I come away not feeling sorry for myself or despair for the world, but ever hopeful, every more encouraged to be what I am called to be and contribute what I am invited to contribute in the investment of my time and energy. 

But more, the arts also foster within all of us the capacity for innovation – possibility thinking, whether it be in business, in education and science and social work and in pastoral leadership   We need to tend to our artists:   musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, actors.  Whether in the concert hall or the theatre stage, whether in the context of Christian liturgy or when we gather around the piano in our homes, those in the arts play a vital role in sustaining the hope of a community or a nation. 

We need to stress, though, that the genius of the arts is not that they paper over our pain and loss; it is actually a pseudo form of art – perhaps mere sentimentality or kitsch – that does not speak hope very specifically into our dark circumstances.   This perspective is portrayed for us in the Japanese art form known as kintsugi – which means “golden links” or is also spoken of as golden repair.   It is the art of repairing a piece of broken pottery in a way that does not try to hide the breakage but actually treats it as part of the history of this particular object.   The crack is intentionally inlaid with gold – thus highlighting and bringing a unique beauty out of the crack.  And from a life perspective, it is a way of thinking about and acting in a way that brings beauty and transformation out of wrong.  Again:  nothing in the arts suggests that wrong is not wrong.  It is rather that we do not despair but look and see what good, what beauty, what innovation, might present itself.  And the artists in our midst cultivate this capacity for all of us, regardless of our specific callings.

Author

Gordon T. Smith

Gordon T. Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ambrose is an institution owned by the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It includes a whole range of undergraduate programs, including education, business, music, behavioural sciences an biology, as well as history, English and psychology. Ambrose also includes an undergraduate school of ministry formation. And, last but not least, there is Ambrose Seminary, a fully accredited graduate level institution of theological formation. Gordon has been the president since August of 2012.

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