“The artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation.”
–Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker
Artists see the world differently. You may recognize Dorothy Sayers as the mid-20th Century murder mystery novelist. Detective fiction, particularly for Sayer’s era, followed a familiar formula. Problem: who dunnit? Solution: capture and prosecute the bad guy. (Come to think of it, I’m not so sure we’ve progressed much with today’s television crime procedurals.)
But Sayers was an artist, and she thought about the world differently because she saw things differently. She had this to say about her world in 1950’s England:
“To the average man, life presents itself, not as material malleable to his hand, but as a series of problems…which he has to solve…And he is distressed to find that the more means he can dispose of—such as machine-power, rapid transport, and general civilized amenities, the more his problems grow in hardness and complexity….Perhaps the first thing he can learn from the artists is that the only way of ‘mastering’ one’s material is to abandon the whole conception of mastery and to co-operate with it in love.”
While some work the puzzle, artists reach for the paintbrush. Where some solve for solutions, artists seek to make. Jesus would answer challenging questions by telling a story that left people vexed and pulling at their beards.
When we chose the name Novo (which means make new), we did it to affirm something which has always been true about our people and our work. We are creatives seeking the redemption of all things in Christ Jesus. That means more than applying a solution to the problem of sin. It means being made in the image of the Maker and commissioned to see creative redemption flourish in a flawed world. We are looking at things differently.
We see homeless people lining up outside of a church for food and wonder, “What would happen if we turned the tables, invited them to cook with us, and then all sat down to feast together?”
We see children in Cambodia and instead of asking the problem question, “What do we do with these kids?” we see a choir of praise and prayer. What if the ‘solution’ here is to a new kind of question: what kind of strategic prayer movements will such children herald for generations to come?
We see a basketball tournament in a South African township as an opportunity to grow community leaders who then multiply a network of Bible studies into the next township over.
We see the Church in North America awakening to its spiritual authority.
We see closed areas and difficult-to-reach people groups as opportunities for God to work through unexpected means.
For Novo, Creativity and Redemption isn’t just a motto on a motivational poster on some office wall. It’s both the method and the result. We know it will take creativity to see the renewal of all things. We know that redemption involves not just making new but re-creating with the raw materials we find around us.
What does this mean in practice? Three things come to mind.
Permission to experiment and freedom to fail.
The story goes that Thomas Edison experimented with 1000 different failed attempts at perfecting the electric lightbulb. When asked, his answer was that he hadn’t failed but discovered 999 ways not to do it. For Novo, mission includes taking the risks, seeing what works, and adapting from what doesn’t.
Being a learning community.
When we collaborate for the Kingdom, we practice creativity that flows from the heart of the Trinity itself, “Let us make man in our image.” We don’t just share out of an obliging sense of good practice but because creative redemption by necessity is collaborative. Artists have guilds for a reason.
Recovering the lost art of celebration.
Creativity isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. There are setbacks, challenges, and the always enduring heartache of things not yet being right in the world. In the midst of that, a community that experiments and learns together must also learn to celebrate together. This includes the big victory, game-changing moments and the small wins that can easily go quietly unnoticed. Celebration reminds us that creativity is worth it because redemption is the result.
So what is it that we want to see? Calvin Seerveld, a Christian professor of aesthetics in Toronto, said it like this:
“Fire your art until it emits sparks that warm or burn those it reaches.”
Mission in the modern world can be all about engineered solutions to all-too-human problems. Novo wants to see redemption that reaches because of its warmth and fire. We’ve been accused of being fire-starters. If so, let that be by sparks ablaze with God-like creativity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darren Prince lives in London, UK with his wife, Pam, and their three children. Darren has ministered with InnerCHANGE, Novo's missionary order among the poor, since 1997, and is now serving as their general director.