The courage to take a risk

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I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago for Story, a conference for those who are engaged in the creative world—storytellers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, among others. I went to this event a couple years ago and found it… weird, but interesting, and a bit scattered in its message. This time around, it had its elements of pretension—the standard “You are creative and the world needs you!” type stuff—but it wasn’t all rah-rah this time. Instead, I noticed a pretty consistent theme come through all the speakers’ addresses: this idea of courageous creativity.

What do I mean by that? Being willing to take risks—real risks. Being willing to try something and fail.

This is something few of us are good at. In fact, it’s not something I’m entirely sure I know how to do. Working in the non-profit world, where we deal with money entrusted to us by donors, it sometimes feels as though we can’t afford to try something and have it fail. We can’t really take risks, which means we can’t really innovate.

Or so we think.

I wonder, though, how much would change for us if someone just said these five words: “You are free to fail”?

Would we be more willing to take risks? To experiment?

To maybe even have a little fun with our work?

And moving beyond creative work, consider how these words affect our relationship with God. Just as many of us who work in the non-profit world believe failure isn’t an option, many of us believe the same thing about following Jesus? That if we’re not “all-rise” in our approach to the Christian faith—always more baptisms, more bums in seats, more services—we’re blowing it?

Why do we keep forgetting that, although we will always progress on our march to holiness, it’s going to be of a stumbling, faltering sort? That there is a sense in which we are told in the gospel, we are free to fail? Not in a way that minimizes or blesses sin, but in the sense that it’s our failures more than our successes that we see our need for Christ—and God uses to shape us into the image of Christ?

This, too, requires courage. A kind of courage we too easily set aside for the sake of appearances. We want to be seen as godly, without actually wanting to take the risks associated with becoming godly. Confessing sin is a risk. Repenting of sin requires courage. But the reward—while it may never be fully seen in this world—makes the risk worth it, doesn’t it?

God, the original fashion designer (a theology of fashion, part 1)

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In my vanity, I’ve always liked to think of myself as a serious-minded woman. In high school, I didn’t go to parties; I stayed home and did my German homework. And although I like to consider myself an intellectual, I can’t help one thing:

I love clothes.

My favorite recurring dream is one in which I find my closet stuffed full of dresses I didn’t know I owned. I watch Downton Abbey episodes twice: the first time for the plot and the second time to stare at the costumes.

But I’ve always dismissed my love of fashion as flighty and shallow. The weak underbelly to my otherwise oh-so-wise self.

As I’ve grown older, my delight for clothing has only grown stronger, although my main accessories these days are spit-up and a diaper bag. What I’ve only begun to accept recently is that my love for fashion might not simply be a vain pursuit of youth—as I so snobbishly supposed—but a genuine, God- given love for creativity and beauty.

“See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28)

I often think of this verse as I hike in the mountains near my home in Colorado. The tiniest wildflower of the tundra will have the most extravagant and intricate design. Looking at nature and the animal world, it’s clear that God has a flair for design. A God who creates the peacock is not a purely utilitarian God.

Recognizing the God-given creative spirit, Christendom has often embraced the arts, from music to sculpture to painting.

But many of us still eschew the realm of fashion.

So often fashion is fraught with vice. Whether vanity, excess, immodesty or the backbiting world we envision in The Devil Wears Prada, clothing hardly seems like an arena for worship.

But zoom back from our own culture and picture the dress of past times and other places. The intricate beaded collars of the Maasai tribe in Tanzania and Kenya. The stately headdresses of Native Americans. The scarlet pomegranate tassels on the Israelite High Priest’s garments.

God is the original fashion designer. He specifically enumerated how Aaron’s garments should be made, from the turban to the tassels. He also gifted certain individuals in clothes making:

“Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest.” (Exodus 28:3)

Just as God gifted some to be wood cutters for His glory, He created others to be clothing makers. If we look at almost any culture, we see the inevitable desire to adorn the beautiful form God created with beautiful attire. Even the noble woman of Proverbs 31 is clothed in fine linen and purple.

But often, in an attempt to dodge the many moral trapdoors, we Christians have turned to asceticism when it comes to fashion. The Bible certainly does give guidelines and warnings when it comes to dress (more on that in the next post). But this doesn’t mean the wholesale abandonment of this expression of creativity.

My point is not that we should all run to the Banana Republic for some dangly earrings. But I think we should reclaim creativity—in all of its forms—for God. He is the one who put the seed of fashion within us.

If you aren’t the fashionable type—as I suspect some who read theology blogs might not be—that’s fine. But encourage the people around you whom God has gifted in creativity to embrace it for God’s glory. This might look different for different people.

In my own life, I’ve found an outlet in making paper dresses with my preschooler (whose current passion in life is twirling in circles wearing dresses). She loves it as a way to spend time with mommy and play with scissors. I love it as a way to infuse some creativity into my daily life with two kids.

God created us in His image and that implicitly means we are creative beings. When we allow ourselves to express that creativity in its various forms, we are paying homage and honoring His original design.


Amber Van Schooneveld is a writer, editor, wife, mom, nature lover, world traveler and follower of Jesus Christ. She is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration and can be found online at ambervanschooneveld.com.

Photo credit: Alba Soler Photography via photopin cc