To get the creative juices going

(Confession: This subject is never far from my mind, and this article was months in the writing.  I send it forth not because it’s finished or has “truth,” but in order to light a match under someone else’s thinking.)

I slipped out of the house this afternoon with no particular destination in mind.

I drove to the mall, a mile from my house.  I’d not been inside Dillard’s Men’s Store in six months, and I’m always on the lookout for their sales.  The “Gold Label” dress shirts are the best anywhere, but I buy them only when they’re half price or less.  Today, I bought two shirts that had originally sold for $115 for $9.95 each.  Even if they don’t work out–always a possibility with me–I’ll pass them along to nice people at Goodwill.

Then, I stopped at McDonald’s which is a few blocks  from home.  Inside I ordered a small caramel mocha and sat in  the back reading a “business” book I’d bought on sale in Office Depot several weeks ago.  That book and one other, bought for 3 dollars each, had been waiting in the trunk of my car for the right moment .  Today was that moment.

Note: I love to read outside my field.  I’ll find an insight that works for a sermon or has an application for pastoral ministry, and feel confident no one else is using it.

Tracey Kidder’s “Truckload of Money” tells about an entrepreneur who made a billion dollars with his computer savvy, then went out and started over.  The insights on every page about how he dealt with people are easily worth the price of the book.

After a few chapters, I came home and turned on the laptop.  What I’m writing on my website will have nothing to do with buying shirts on sale or reading a business book in McDonald’s.  But these started the creative juices, and that’s all I wanted.

Here is what I have learned about this process…

–Creativity needs quiet and peace.

–It helps to get out of the routine and do something different.

–Ideas from unlikely sources will always spur the mind to thinking differently.

–I start writing without an end in mind, not knowing where this piece wiill end up.  I leave it and will return to it on another day and see if anything of value has been uncovered.

–A great verse of Scripture, a jaw-dropping story, a funny incident, a great observation from a C. S. Lewis-type, that’s what gets my juices flowing and excites my brain.


I read of Sir Christopher Wren’s work with the Windsor (England) Town Hall and loved the little trick he pulled off.  This great architect, who designed many of London’s greatest churches and public buildings after the great fire of 1666, was hired to design and construct a new Town Hall for Windsor.  When it was finished, the mayor refused to pay the  bill unless Sir Christopher added more columns to hold up the roof.  When Wren pointed out that the roof seemed to be staying in place adequately with the columns he had installed, the mayor was adamant. No additional columns, no pay.  So, Sir Christopher added four more columns identical to the first in every way except one:  They lacked an inch reaching the ceiling.  From the floor all the columns looked the same and all appeared to be load-bearing.  But four were fakes.

Four columns were cosmetic only.

That story stayed with me for weeks.  I wondered what there was about it that intrigued me.

Eventually I saw how it applies to structures in any society.  Some are loadbearing and essential to the well-being of the people.  Others are cosmetic and for appearances only.  The loadbearing columns cannot be removed without endangering the whole thing, whereas the cosmetic columns may be safely removed without any danger to the structure.

In any culture, the churches and schools and hospitals, the law enforcement and fire prevention and sanitation services, are all essential. Take any one of them down and you leave a massive hole.  Which agencies and activities in a city are cosmetic and for appearances only would be debatable, but might involve entertainment venues,  stores selling luxury or non-essential items, clubs and associations that exist for less than serious purposes.  That sort of thing.

The application? Each new generation of young folks walks onto the scene and begins pushing at columns, trying to take them down so they can make room for their own buildings.  They’d better know what is essential and what is cosmetic.

That town hall still stands in Windsor, we’re told.  It’s a Guildhall now.

As a teenager, I spent three summers following the mule on our small Alabama farm.  I say about those days the same thing my Dad used to say about his six children, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for one; I wouldn’t give you a dime for another.”  And I noticed something one day….

From time to time, the point of my plow would snag on an underground root.  If it was small, the root broke and we went ahead. But if the root was large enough, the plow could go no further and was jerked back.  Toby, the mule, was abruptly yanked back while I was thrown into the crosspiece of the plow.  When we recovered, I would lay the plow down, dig up the root and cut it out.

Sometimes when I am reading–Scripture, the daily paper, a book, anything–something snags my attention.  A story, a paragraph, a word, and I’m hooked.  My mind will not go further until I deal with it.

That’s when I know the Lord in Heaven–the Author of the Creative Arts and the Prime Role Model of Creativity!–has sent me a message.

To rush past these snags-of-life without considering what message they hold for us is to miss out on some of life’s great insights.

Slow down when you read. Listen to what you read. Think about it.

“In that Law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1).  That’s the idea.

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