Posted August 16, 2013 by Marg Herder
On Saturday afternoon at the 2013 Wild Goose Festival, I made my way to one of the “in town” venues to hear Jared Byas and Levi Weaver present “Re-membering the Creator(s): How Spiritual Creativity Will Lead Us into the Future.”
The venue was about a half mile from the main stage; but it was a pleasant day, the sun was shining brightly and big fluffy clouds were passing overhead, so it was a pretty walk. I arrived early– the previous presentation was still going on. As I approached the venue I saw Jared standing just outside. I was so happy to finally have the chance to say hello in person.
My first impression of Jared? Humble. Kind. Great smile. Sometimes great thinkers like Jared can have a little bit of chaos or emotional disconnect to the way they feel. But Jared felt present and calm.
The venue was the large covered but open-sided outdoor patio of a Hot Springs restaurant and bar. I went inside to get an iced tea and a big glass of water and sat at the bar while I waited for the workshop to begin.
Twenty minutes later I emerged onto the patio in the middle of a torrential downpour. I took a seat at a table just in front of where Jared and Levi were standing. The rain was blowing in all over them and all over the sound equipment, so I ran in to get a plastic trash bag and a towel for the soundman. As can happen when there is a lot of moisture flying around, there were audio problems. The engineer was steady-on, though, figured things out, and the workshop started with only about a ten-minute delay. Attendance was good.
Jared started us off, not by launching into a speech, but by asking the audience to weigh in on why they had come. People responded by saying they wanted to be better creators. One person said that the creative process is where they find God. Heads nodded in agreement.
After the audience comments subsided, Jared spoke and told us how he was always envious of creative people. That’s why he likes to create systems in which creative people are liberated.
I had to chuckle to myself because Jared himself is one of the most delightfully creative theological thinkers I’ve encountered, and his comment implied he didn’t realize the extent of his own creativity. Like I said, humble.
Jared began talking about Sir Ken Robinson and his theory that schools are marginalizing creative people. Watch Ken’s great TED talk “How Schools Kill Creativity.” He then mentioned David Kinnaman, author of UnChristian and You Lost Me, and Kinnaman’s theory that the church is also marginalizing creative people. So Jared asked himself, what do school and church have in common? The answer is that both are systems centered around knowledge. And for those involved in systems centered around knowledge, asking questions is not usually welcome. Here’s a great Jared quote, “When you have a system founded around knowledge, questions are inherently subversive.”
Jared then told us some of his history. After college, he served as pastor at a very large church (he called it a mega-church) where he was a teaching pastor. He spoke for a bit about why this was not a good fit for him. He moved to Phoenix to accept a position at Grand Canyon State University. When he moved to Phoenix, he started what he describes as a house church. He likened it to an “AA for evangelicals.” They did a lot of processing, critiquing evangelical culture. Jared described it as moving from a knowledge-based system to a critique-based system. Both of which are fundamentally similar.
He ended this first segment by asking how one moves from a posture of critique to something completely different, something he calls “a place of profound ignorance.” Profound ignorance is a state in which we are totally open.
Levi Weaver stepped forward for his first presentation. He told us a humorous story about how, back when he used to be a youth pastor, he received an advertisement from a company selling t-shirts for Christian youth. The t-shirt designs were basically well-known product logos, with the words changed from the product name to something “Christian.” So, for example, one shirt had the Sprite logo, but the word was changed from “Sprite” to “Spirit.” He mentioned his favorite was the one with the Tommy Hilfiger logo changed to say “Tommy Hellfighter.” He laughed sadly, saying that it had to be one of the least Christian things he’d seen, someone ripping off the creative work of other people to advertise one’s allegiance to the God of all Creation.
Levi talked about how there are so many things that he just can’t know or understand.
He then played guitar and sang his song “Good from Evil.” You can find the lyrics here http://leviweaver.com/music/#goodfromevil and listen to a live version of the song if you scroll up nearer to the top of that page. It’s the first track on his album Twenty Thousand Miles.
Now, just a few words about the nature of this musician, Levi Weaver. This is one connected, creative man. If you get the chance to hear him play, I hope you won’t pass it up. His Tennessee roots wind into and through his music, not just in a lean folk-country sound as you might expect, but in his compelling humility and what I can only describe as spare yet thirst-quenching songs of hopeful and haunting desolation.
Here’s a YouTube video of Levi’s song, “Rogue Boat.”
Jared’s Approach to Creativity
After Jared and Levi’s first presentations, Jared spoke again, and Levi sang again. Jared also entertained some questions from the audience throughout. Jared speaks quickly, you can tell his mind often is stretching out a few steps ahead. So I’m going to attempt to interpret and summarize his main points from now on, as opposed to my usual method of writing a more “point by point” representation. I sent this summary to Jared to confirm that it was representative.
Jared wanted everyone to understand that ignorance plays an important role in creative systems. A creator doesn’t approach a subject through the lens of knowing, but rather from another route entirely. The creator questions the nature of the subject and attempts to portray the answers she finds through differing acts of illumination. So the creator seeks wisdom, she doesn’t seek knowledge.
The goal of wisdom is to question, not to provide the answers everybody already thinks they know. The goal of wisdom is to question knowledge.
In order to create uniquely, one must approach from the place of profound ignorance.
Grasping Jared’s concept of profound ignorance can be helped along by examining the two words. Profound is used as it would be understood in “a profound apology,” defined by freedictionary.com as “reaching to or stemming from the depths of one’s nature.” And the noun Ignorance doesn’t mean the ignorance of someone who knows wrongly, but rather the ignorance of simply not knowing. So you could say profound ignorance means “not knowing from the depths of one’s nature.”
To take this a little further into what Jared has said before, approaching someone or a subject with profound ignorance would be to approach from the standpoint of trying to create a relationship (expansive), not from the standpoint of trying to understand (limiting).
The creative act is often felt as dangerous to those who rely on, who find comfort in, well-defined systems of knowledge. Creators often illuminate not just the sturdy looking façade of knowledge, but also shine a light on the rather shaky foundations, the dangers and flaws one can only see when a system is approached from a different angle.
Ignorance plays a role within creative systems. The creator must by nature be skeptical. A creation is a new system, and the creator must come out of one system to enter into— to create— another one.
Jared feels creators do not often find their identity in external, heavily defined, knowledge-based systems;, instead they find identity in systems more unique, systems that are internal. Because of this, creators are more likely to find it easier to approach subjects with profound ignorance.
Typically, we humans come at problems with answers already in mind. Instead, we should come at problems by saying and thinking, “I don’t know,” and start by asking questions.
To enter a situation with profound ignorance we must forget all the stories we have heard about the situation and the people involved. If we are invested in these stories, problem solving becomes nearly impossible. Kids have an easier time with this, because there are a lot of things they simply don’t know. They don’t have to forget the knowledge; they simply don’t have it. But as adults, coming from a place of profound ignorance often means we have to unlearn what we have been taught.
We have to learn to start from what we do not know, instead of what we know. We must move away from critique, because critique requires a presupposition (we have to feel we understand something to critique it). We must move from critique to creation. We must move from being against something to being for something. In Jared’s words, “Once I know, I begin to oppress. Once we ‘land,’ we begin to oppress. Profound Ignorance is a nomadic journey.”
Often what we do is go from one bounded knowledge-based system to another less objectionable knowledge-based system. What would happen if we abandoned these fenced in places all together? What would happen if we embarked on a creative quest based on our own wisdom, a quest to discover what is at our own center, instead of looking to knowledge-based systems for our identity?
Just maybe we would fall in love with ourselves and start to believe in the unique gifts we each bring to the table.