The Creative Mess of Life in the Church

Thanks to Pastor Mark Christoferson, who sent me this quote:

The Rev. Dr. Eugene Peterson wrote:

A group of seminarians I was leading on retreat once asked me what I liked best about being a pastor. I answered, “The mess.” I had never said that before; I don’t think I had even thought it before. The answer surprised me as much as it did them. Sometimes a question does that, pulls an answer out of us that we didn’t know was there, but the moment we hear it we know immediately it is exactly true, more true than if we had had a week to formulate an answer.

Actually, I don’t like the mess at all. I hate the mess. I hate the uncertainty. I hate not knowing how long this is going to last, hate the unanswered questions, the limbo of confused and indecisive lives, the tangle of motives and emotions. What I love is the creativity. And what I know is that I can never be involved in creativity except by entering the mess. 

Mess is the precondition of creativity. The tohu v’bohu of Genesis 1:2. Chaos. Creativity is not neat. It is not orderly. When we are being creative we don’t know what is going to happen next. When we are being creative a great deal of what we do is wrong. When we are being creative we are not efficient.

An artist makes attempt after attempt at the canvas trying for the right perspective and missing badly, almost getting the right shade but not making it, realizing that this figure is an unconscious copy of a master and then rubbing it out, rejecting the imitative, returning to the beginning, refusing to quit, and all the time creating. A poet writes draft after draft of a poem, mercilessly excising cliches, feeling for the true rhythm, filling the wastebasket with crumpled paper, and eventually getting words together that tell the truth and tell it truthfully. Lovers quarrel, hurt and get hurt, misunderstand and are misunderstood in their painstaking work of creating a marriage: apologize and explain, listen and wait, rush forward and pull back, desire and sacrifice as love receives its slow incarnation in flesh and spirit.

In any creative enterprise there are risks, mistakes, false starts, failures, frustrations, embarrassments, but out of this mess — when we stay with it long enough, enter it deeply enough — there slowly emerges love or beauty or peace. Wherever two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name, our Lord the Spirit is there. The Spirit is the Creator Spirit. In every congregation (I insist on the every) creation is in motion.

Peterson, Eugene H. . Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (pp. 163-164). Eerdmans Publishing Co -