On Tuesday, October 14th, the Sojourn staff was privileged to sit down with Dr. Harold M. Best, emeritus professor of music and dean emeritus of the Wheaton College (Illinois) Conservatory of Music. Sojourn pastor, Mike Cosper, began the time by stating our desire to see the next generation embrace creativity that is informed by the gospel. In a Leadership U lecture, "Creative Diversity, Authenticity and Excellence, Best writes about the kind of creative pluralism that should be fostered in church communities. He states that children are natural pluralists who must be cherished and nurtured:
These wonderful and inherently creative people are the true naturals at diversity. They are multi-lingual; the width of their perceptual and cognitive proficiencies is astonishing. They are our intrinsic pluralists, the ones in whom the first day of creation is summarized. They are at once as capable of cavorting to a Bach gigue, as of being quieted by a Nigerian lullaby, as of being enamored of a Picasso, as of learning several languages at once. They dance, they improvise, they imagine, they ask profound questions. They are idiomatically diverse. Their world is of one cloth and they have a need for it as boundless as their need for their mother's breast. They not only must live but they must abound within the abundance around them. They are scribbling, babbling poets before they know what grammar is. Yet, early on they begin to sense the importance of imposing structure on their poetry. Somehow they intuit that order and syntax are part of the relational, communal side of life. And the poetry and the grammar grow up together. As the linguist Noam Chomsky would put it, they bring the sentence with them, we just give them the vocabularies.
When speaking to us about children, Dr. Best emphasized that children are at base poetic. Affect is so important for a child because propositions are secondary developmentally. Yet if education is poorly done while teaching children the necessary grammars to "fill their sentence", it will cut off their poetic nature-the speculative, imaginative gift with which we are all born and by which we enter into the world of holy and sanctified guessing. While it is necessary to use propositions (after all, we must get the truth across), we must not limit children to thinking linearly, from A to Z or in outline form. With this in mind, we can examine our institutions and church education programs to see how and if we have mixed up poetry and grammar? What are we doing here? Are we simply teaching our children to think about the Bible and about the arts? Or are we leading them to know Christ and then to experience what it means to creatively live within the Creator's world? In the same essay quoted above, Best goes on to survey the way that our culture quashes a child's creativity:
But to our dismay, all of this wondrous stuff begins to be constricted and shut down by a slickened and cynical culture in which our children and young people are made to think that they are personally unique, while unwittingly being made into each other's image. It is really commercial totalitarianism: this massive hype, this cynical flattening of human diversity, this ornamented stasis. Our children are Michael Jordaned, and Barneyed, mega-churched, Sandi Pattied, Nintendoed, and MTV'd clean out of their uniqueness. The local, home-grown heroes--those necessary stay-at-home mentors--are almost no more. They have either left us, trying for bigger things, or if they humbly choose to stay at home, their worth is belittled by the steroided hype and illusion which surround the super-stars. Their options are curiously shut down by the gatekeepers: these product mongers who choose our culture for us and then manipulate us into thinking we have freely chosen it.
In his essay, Best makes clear that the solution is a group of local heroes who while embracing the gospel also embrace creativity and kids.
Above all, these are the ones, who, by choice, stay close to our children, to nurture them in the rich context of creative diversity.
Let us pray that there will be many of these at Sojourn. We need every one of them.
Hear Harold Best lectures, “What Creative People Can Learn From The Creation,” and “Art For The Church, Art From The Church, Art Facing The Church,” delivered at Sojourn’s home, The 930 Art Center
Hear a Q&A panel with Harold Best and Sojourn's Pastors, “Thoughts for Christian Artists And Musicians."