Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on education reform, describes how we are training ourselves to abandon story and creativity. Writing about divergent thinking (the ability to think of multiple possibilities out of the box), he notes a famous study where he gives kindergarten students one paper clip each and asks them to think of as many uses for it as they can. The study was re-administered to the same kids every three to five years until they graduated from high school.
Of the fifteen hundred students, how many scored at the genius level for divergent thinking as kindergarteners? Ninety-eight percent.
Every time the test was re-administered, the percentage of geniuses dropped. This is fascinating. You’d think children would improve at problem solving and innovation, especially in an educational system. “But one of the most important things happened that I’m convinced [sic] is that by now they’ve become educated. They spend ten years in school being told there is one answer, it’s at the back, and don’t look – and don’t copy because that’s cheating.
I can’t help but think of some church circles. We don’t realize our industrial revolution and assembly line mentality has crept into the church, virtually stealing people’s creativity and sense of wonder. We go around saying, “You need to be born again.” And to the next person: “You need to be born again.” And to the next person: “You need to be born again.” We industrialize and assembly line salvation. Just give me the formula!
But guess what? Jesus doesn’t like formulas. Even that phrase born again was only mentioned once by Jesus in scripture.
In the very next story in John, Jesus tells a woman she needs to drink of the fount of living water and stop trying to satisfy her thirst other places.
Jesus was creative and made a habit of meeting people right where they were. Like a doctor, he prescribed exactly what was needed in that moment. By the way, the first story was a religious man who thought he was “good to go” because he had been born into the family of Abraham. In the next story, Jesus sat at a well and explained to a woman that well water doesn’t satisfy an eternal thirst.
What if we taught people to eat, drink, and breathe the story of the Scriptures? To see their own stories within the big story? To tell a better story than the world’s narrative?
The fascinating thing is that there is some good science to show this is how God meant for us to learn truth, in story.
A recent study showed that the right-brain hemisphere – the one that controls creativity, story, and art – is wired and designed to receive and compute information before the left-brain hemisphere – the logical side that controls analysis and understanding. Meaning, we were created to take in the big picture and engage on all senses through art and beauty before we go hash it all out.
Instead, letting our left-brains take the lead, according to N.T. Wright, is the “cultural equivalent of schizophrenia. But these assumptions run deep in today’s world, and they have radically conditioned the way we approach everything, including not least the Bible.”
No wonder Jesus didn’t have his disciples sit down at desks, with him at the whiteboard.
Jesus’ followers walked with him. And while they walked, he told stories – stories of sheep, lost coins, wedding banquets, different types of soils, a rich man and a poor man, two lost sons, someone coming knocking at midnight, and so on.
Jesus is the most creative, dynamic, and alluring teacher to ever walk the earth, and we relegate him to the mantle of our fireplace. No one’s words explode with more power and draw out more wonder and awe than those of this first-century man from Nazareth, yet we prefer to give someone four spiritual laws or the Romans Road.
It’s about time we stop with the formulas and start with the truth and beauty of story.
We have the greatest story ever told, so let’s start living in it and let’s start telling it.