Creativity—Thinking Inside the Box

Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell once said, “If everyone has to think outside the box, maybe it is the box that needs fixing.” The over-used mantra, “think outside the box” may be misleading to a naturally creative people or someone who struggles with perfectionism. The continual pursuit of one-upmanship in developing more creative and unique ideas can lead to an increase in stress. The great English poet T.S. Eliot declared, “Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” Oftentimes, apprehension goes hand in hand during a creative endeavor that I am pursuing. Whether it be composing a blog post or writing an article for Catholicstand.com or determining the type of art I desire for the board game that I am developing, a dally exists within my mind.

In an effort to think outside the box, I forget to consider options/ideas that worked for me in the past. Instead of thinking beyond the “guidelines”, it may be helpful to reflect on creative ideas that worked previously. According to Anthony J. D’Angelo, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it!” My most successful posts actually involve the least amount of mental strain. Creativity comes naturally in writing such articles. Only in giving up my need for control and desire for absolute perfection do I experience the freedom of creativity—these writings also tend to appeal to a wider range of audience as well.

Trust in your natural abilities. With regard to your weaknesses rely on others for advice. I will make use of Gladwell’s insight again. He stated, “Success has to do with deliberate practice. Practice must be focused, determined, and in an environment where there’s feedback.” Creativity need not always be an anxious and exhausting endeavor. Thinking inside the box does not stymie creativity. In fact, in some cases revisiting the bounds of the box will lead to the recipe to replicate past creative ingenuity with greater ease and ability than thinking outside the box!

3 Ways to Stay Relevant as a Catholic Blogger

“The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud,” St. Maria Faustina wrote in Divine Mercy in My Soul. I am a proud man. Proud in the sense that I strive for greatness daily. I am proud of my accomplishments. I am proud of my growth as a writer.

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There are periods in my life when pride is healthy—I am confident in the gifts and blessings God gave me to lead others to Christ. Lately, I have been veering closely to the sin of pride. I look inward at my accomplishments as if I am the sole reason for my successes. I need to be constantly reminded through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Mass that humility of heart and mind leads to true success. My best writing does not stem from my intellect. From my experiences I have learned that listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit along with relying on the wisdom of Mother Church and Her saints provides the greatest fruits in my writing and personal satisfaction. I want to share three ways that one can remain relevant as a Catholic blogger [or really a Catholic evangelizer in general!]

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  1. Testify to the Truth: According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2465-2466,

The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His “faithfulness endures to all generations.”255 Since God is “true,” the members of his people are called to live in the truth.256

In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.257

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This seems like an obvious statement. Of course, any Catholic needs to testify to the truth. It should go without saying…right!? Perhaps, testifying to the truth is a self-evident statement. Regardless of whether it is obvious or not, it is always good to be clear with our mission as followers of Christ. I am as guilty as anyone of preaching the Word of God, but not living it to its fullest extent. I struggle with anger, pride, gluttony, greed, doubt, and sloth daily. I need to renew my mission as an evangelizer of the Good News and it starts with me being reminded to remain steadfast to the truth that has been safeguarded and passed down by the Catholic Church.

My former self used to fall into theological rabbit-holes of speculating random questions about Catholicism that did not truly lead me to an authentic love of the Triune God. As a practical step towards keeping my old self at bay I removed myself from occasions to unhealthy theological speculation by leaving groups on social media that did not lead me to greater love of the Catholic faith!

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  1. Trust in the Truth: Along with testifying to the truth professed by Jesus Christ and passed on down through Apostolic succession, I need to TRUST in that truth. My penchant toward rationalism and analysis sometimes leads me to scrupulosity in matters of challenging Catholic doctrine. I desire to know all. That is quite prideful! The desire for knowledge about God and Catholicism is not bad in and of itself. When I fall into the extreme of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge that it becomes problematic. St. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s famous quip helps give me perspective. He stated, “Regarding Christianity, ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

I do not have all the answers. In fact, the Catholic Church does not have all the answers either! Some things are left to ponder. God is ultimately a mystery beyond our total comprehension. However, the Catholic Church does have answers to all the most important questions like: what is the purpose of this life? Can we know God? How can we grow in relationship with God and our neighbors?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us one of the most important things Catholics should ponder daily: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.”

 

  1. Be Creative: Truth housed within and safeguarded by the Catholic Church is universal. It applies to everyone across the globe—and across time. Different approaches need to be made to teach the truth to different audiences. I have learned that people are at different stages of belief. Even in my own life I need to read various passages of Scripture and diverse writings of saints to help me growth in my spiritual life. Variation in teaching and communication applies to writing as well. I have developed my tone of writing to be less severe.

 

When I become a father and learning that our children have special needs opened my eyes to the message of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Our youngest son has cognitive delays and requires weekly special education. My previous vision of a black and white, simplistic world was challenged. So was my Catholic faith. I believe the Holy Spirit provided me these difficulties to plant—and later harvest—a creative spark in my writing! The Good News is akin to an acorn that develops from a small seed to a magnificent and beautiful oak tree. The Church wants the world to realize that truth is able to develop and we are still in the process of learning about how to fully describe God’s revelation.

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According to Dei Verbum 8 the Council Fathers declared,

The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

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Change is inevitable. Since I started blogging several months ago, my writing and approach to publicizing my message has changed. According to St. John Henry Newman, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” I have to constantly shift my gaze upward to God. I have learned that my successes are gained only through the power of the Holy Spirit, preaching, trusting, and being creative in how I convey the truth of the Gospel!

3 Thoughts on Why Peter and Paul Share the Same Feast Day

Early on the history of the Catholic Church an admiration existed for Peter and Paul. Aside of Jesus Christ himself, these two men are the main characters in the New Testament. In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, church leader Clement of Rome tells of the leadership of Peter and Peter. He wrote,

There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves (First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians 5:4-6:1).

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Living in the 1st century A.D., Clement’s praise of the first leaders of the Church is evidence that something special changed these men. God selected a simple fisherman and a reformed murderer to head the Catholic Church. I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Church to forever link these two saints lives through having the same feast day on June 29th.

1. Creativity of Truth [St. Paul]: Having the ability to think outside the box and preach to vastly different audiences is a gift. St. Paul possessed both creativity and the flexibility to frame his thoughts to fit the needs and understanding of his particular audiences. Writer of almost 2/3 of the New Testament, St. Paul represents the creative aspect of the Catholic faith. He brings to the table dynamic, vibrant, creative theology to teach Christians in the early Church and today.

The Apostle of the Gentile used many tangible and relatable examples to teach the faith. One of my personal favorites comes from 1 Corinthians 12. Paul clearly and succinctly communicates the fact that unity is found within diversity. He provides the analogy of the Church consisting of one body with many parts and Jesus Christ as the ultimate head of the body. Another clear and understandable example of the love and teaching of God is St. Paul’s frequent references to Christians as adopted children of God. In Romans 8:14-17 he writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.j 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba,* Father!”k 16The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,l 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

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2. Stability of Truth [St. Peter]: Unlike Paul who represents the intellectual, creative, and theological side of truth, Peter is a model for the consistency and enduring nature of

Catholic teaching. Jesus instituted the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. According to the evangelist the charge to the future pope went as follows,

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18k And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The lead up to this significant institutional passage is Peter’s realization of Jesus’ true identity is the Christ. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter led the Catholic Church after Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. He led the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and displayed the ultimate mark of faith in his martyrdom. The papacy continues to be an office guided by the Holy Spirit by which unites Christianity and acts as the supreme authority on matters related to faith and morality.

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3. Analogy of Tetherball: Truth is unchanging but our understanding of truth developed over the centuries. The genius of the Catholic Church is apparent in the consolidation of Peter and Paul’s feast on a single day. There is a schoolyard game that comes to mind to describe the relationship between the first pope and the great Apostle to the Gentiles—tetherball! Incidentally, it was not until my early twenties that I discovered the joy and fun this recess game provide despite its simplistic nature. I even purchased a tetherball at my local sporting goods store in hopes to eventually install a tetherball post in my background.

To get back from my tetherball tangent, the post in this game reminds me of the stability that the papacy of St. Peter provides. The ball and rope represent the creative theology of

St. Paul. Both are essential aspects of the game [and the Catholic faith]. Without the stability of the papacy, truth devolves into subjectivity and confusion ensues. Likewise, an absence of dynamic theological thought [represented by Paul] leads to staleness, rigidity, and irrelevancy of Catholic teaching. Remember kids recess is an important subject in school too—you never know when you can apply lessons from leisure to real life!

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I find no more appropriate way of closing my thoughts on these holy individuals than to cite the words of the successor of Peter. Pope Francis on June 29th, 2017 stated, “The Fathers of the Church liked to compare the holy apostles Peter and Paul to two columns, on which the visible building of the Church rests. Both sealed with their own blood their testimony to Christ of preaching and service to the nascent Christian community.”

 

Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music

Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.

1. Aslan’s Aria: Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,

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A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.

2. Evidence from The Silmarillion: According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,

Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).

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I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!

3. Musicam Sacram: Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”

The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world and the height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass. I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.

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Cardboard Boxes, Zoo Animals, and Creative Joy!

One of the more interesting and exciting days of the month for my children is the day our monthly Amazon prime orders of diapers arrive. There is an inherent excitement in their eyes at the knock of the FedEx delivery on our front door. What truly enlivens my children is not the package of diapers themselves, but rather the cardboard delivery box itself. I can only use mine and my wife’s experience to draw on. Nevertheless, I will contend that one of the only thing a person is certain on in this life [along with taxes and death] is that children love cardboard boxes!

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Today, I want to share my observations about the creative joy that my children found, and continue, to find in the seemingly mundane realities of cardboard boxes and McDonald’s HappyMeal toys.

1. Animals Assemble!: The first step towards my children’s goal of transforming our home into a furry zoo was to acquire a cadre of little stuffed animals. One of the blessing my son has with his autism is the ability to hyper-focus on certain subject and quickly learn about the topic. Passing by the golden arches on a Saturday morning errand drive, my children’s stomachs started to take control. As a result, my wife and I decided to get them Happy Meals. Immediately seeing his stuffed lion, my son knew he wanted more animals for his collection. Koalas, elephants, bulls, seals, moose, and a jaguar eventually picked up residence with the lion at our home. I think we almost have the entire animal collection. Our furry zoo assembled!

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2. Researching Residences: Stage second began when my son took a cardboard box and started putting grass, rocks and rhubarb leaves into it. That coupled with his keen interest in animals and daily watching of an educational animal show on PBS and bringing his zoo-themed books to bed allowed my children to learn more about animal habitats. While this stage is technically never over, my kids gather enough information where the single cardboard box was not enough for their animals. Now they want separate zoo habitats for each kind of stuffed animal.

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3. Burgeoning Biomes: Earlier this week I noticed a careened cardboard box at the bottom of our basement stairway. My OCD tendencies involve making sure all recycled materials go into our recycling bin as soon as possible. As I was bringing the cardboard box out the door to our recycling bin, my wife stopped me in my tracks. This box was for our kids’ animal biomes. My actions almost proved fatal to our furry friends’ way of life! Thank God for my wife’s quick thinking. We acquired two additional smaller cardboard boxes from another online order yesterday. As soon as my kids saw the boxes they immediately gathered their entire miniature stuffed animal collection. Imagination ensued as I heard lots of laughter and animal sounds coming from their room. We hope to decorate the boxed biomes with crayons, pictures, and other art supplies to create greater habitat diversity.

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It is truly the simple things in life that elicit authentic joy. Seeing the enthusiasm in my children at the arrival of mere cardboard boxes reinvigorates my outlook on life. I need to be reminded sometimes that life is too fleeting for me to take things so seriously. Joy may be encountered in simple, daily, and normal activities. I am grateful to view joy through the lens of my children. I hope you stop and examine the world around you and experience the joy among you!

3 Ways I Encountered God on a Playful Thursday!

Yesterday, I encountered God and reflected on his majesty during three rather sprightly activities: lifting weights at my local fitness center, reminiscence of my childhood through classic youth books, and playing a game of cornhole toss in my basement with my toddlers.

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After eating breakfast, I went to my local fitness center to do my daily 45 minute exercise routine. Since Thursdays are chest/back exercise-days I bench-pressed. I have been lifting consistently for a while and I started to notice that I improved on my weight goals. Great. But how does this relate to God? Well, a motivational quote posted on the mirror in the weight room stated, “If it does not challenge you, it won’t change you!” This means that if I want to get stronger I have to increase the amount of weight I lift. From the eyes of faith I interpreted this as “While God is everlasting and eternal, he sent his Son in the world to give us a path to change humanity for the better. This is known as the way, the truth, and the life and it is preached by the Catholic Church.” Just as reaching a weightlifting goal is challenging, so too, living a life of love and forgiveness is challenging.

Secondly, I noticed the creativity of God during my time of scanning through classic books I purchased from a local used book store. Authors like Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli were just some of the many writers that I recalled from my childhood as I peered over the yellow-paged, but still nicely preserved copies of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Ramona Qumiby, and Maniac Magee. Here I realized that the genius of these mere human writers pale in comparison to the Author of the Universe–who composes each and every one of our stories. Nevertheless, it is through human ingenuity that God can be glorified. I mean God did inspire human authors to write out his love story to humanity and that collection of books would be canonized as the Bible. In other words, the brilliant human mind–in this case, I noticed it in children’s book authors– is a reflection of the creativity found most perfectly in God. To briefly quote the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters”. A more literal translation Genesis 1:2 has the “might wind” rendered as the “spirit of God”. This matters because the creative power of God the Holy Spirit has in fashioning the universe in 6 days [stages]. I refer to this passage because the first biblical image of God, as creator, highlights his creative energy.

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My third and final example of how I encountered God through play this Thursday occurred during my afternoon cornhole toss game with my children. For my readers that live outside of the Midwest, cornhole toss is lawn game with a objective similar to horseshoes– one must throw an item to score points. In this case, there is two inclined wooden boards with a circle in the top. The boards are placed 20 feet away from each other and two teams compete at trying to reach 21 points by tossing beanbags either onto the board itself of into the hole. That is the game in a nutshell. If you want more information I check out the American Cornhole Association’s website [yes this is a thing and the website is AWESOME].

To get back on track, cornhole toss is a remarkably simple activity and people of all ages can play. While playing this game with my children I realized that there is a certain type of beauty to cornhole toss–that although is is an incredibly simple game I could play it for hours and still be captivated. Analogously, God is a simple being do the fact of his remarkable unity and oneness. God is not composed of multiple deities but rather simply one Lord over the whole universe. Like cornhole toss, I can contemplate the beauty of God for hours on end.