As 2017 turns the corner to go back into the dark alley whence it came, we all begin the process of looking toward 2018. Every new year seems to come with renewed optimism. Gyms are joined, new habits attempted, and lofty goals are articulated. There’s something quintessentially American about it all. The unabashed optimism, followed often by an inevitable cynicism. It’s cyclical, seasonal almost.
This time last year, I began with the idea that I would read 100 books in a year. But life, as it often does, had other plans. However, despite a job change and a move, I did get about halfway to that. Writing that stings though. That I didn’t meet my goal. But that’s the type of thinking that gets most of us in trouble. All or nothing.
But reading 50ish books is nothing to sneeze at. Neither is losing a few pounds. Or trying something new that doesn’t work out. Direction, not perfection, might be a better mantra as 2018 begins.
With that in mind, I went back to the first book I read in 2017, Rob Bell’s How to Be Here. Bell remains one of the most interesting and polarizing figures in mainstream Christianity and religious circles, even coming out with a book of the Bible in 2017 (which is excellent) and continuing to polish his craft in a podcast that is routinely one of the best in the “religion and spirituality” category. His name always evokes a reaction, be it celebration or criticism. But his real gift, at least in my mind, has always been his creativity. That’s what How to Be Here is about, and it’s one of those books that can start you in the right direction, especially if you have a tendency towards perfectionism.
The book itself meanders a bit, with several essays that seemed disconnected. Its strengths are twofold: 1) Bell’s wisdom on the creative process and his affirmation that ALL people are creative. 2) Bell’s stories of failure while trying something new. Bell has done that. Sometimes spectacularly. So take these few affirmations and quotes and do with them what you will, but as I look back on the role these ideas and the way they inspired my efforts in 2017, I can only hope they encourage you as they did me. The world seems to be tearing itself apart these days, and even the smallest act of creativity is needed. Good luck out there.
“All work is ultimately creative work because all of us are taking part in the ongoing creation of the world.” (11)
“Which is an excellent litmus test for whether the work you’re doing is work that the world needs: Does it move things forward? Because some work doesn’t. Some work takes things in the wrong direction. Some things people give their energies to prevent other people from thriving. Some tasks dehumanize and degrade the people involved. Perhaps you’re in one of those jobs, the kind that sucks the life out of your soul and you can’t see the good in it. Stop. Leave. Life is too short to help make a world you don’t want to live in.” (16-18)
“How we respond to what happens to us—especially the painful, excruciating things that we never wanted and we have no control over—is a creative act. Who starts cancer foundations? Usually people who have lost a loved one to cancer.” (21)
“Before anything else can be said about you, you have received a gift. God / the universe / ultimate reality / being itself—whatever word you want to use for source—has given you life. Are you breathing? Are you here? Did you just take a breath? Are you about to take another? Do you have a habit of regularly doing this? Gift. Gift. Gift.” (26)
“Cynicism is slightly different from boredom, but just as lethal. Cynicism says, There’s nothing new to make here. Often, cynicism presents itself as wisdom, but it usually comes from a wound. Cynicism acts as though it’s seen a lot and knows how the world works, shooting down new ideas and efforts as childish and uninformed. Cynicism points out all the ways something could go wrong, how stupid it is, and what a waste of time it would be.” (33)
“And then there’s despair. While boredom can be fairly subtle and cynicism can appear quite intelligent and even funny, despair is like a dull thud in the heart. Despair says, Nothing that we make matters. Despair reflects a pervasive dread that it’s all pointless and that we are, in the end, simply wasting our time.” (36)
“Who you aren’t isn’t interesting.” (42)
“Decide now that you will not spend your precious energy speculating about someone else’s life and how it compares with yours.” (46)
“We rob ourselves of immeasurable joy when we compare what we do know about ourselves with what we don’t know about someone else.” (48)
“You explore the possibilities because you can’t steer a parked car.” (58)
“Sometimes we discover our ikigai (purpose) by dropping the word just from whatever it is we do all day, refusing to say that we are just a __________ and instead opening ourselves up to the possibility that more is going on in whatever it is that we do all day.” (76)
“Whenever you create anything, you take a risk. And that includes your life.” (117)
“Sometimes we don’t throw ourselves into it because we believe the small things are beneath us. What we don’t understand is that what appear to be the small things are actually the big things. They’re where it starts, and throwing yourself into them inevitably creates new opportunities for you.” (137)
“If you are destined for something more, that ‘more’ will only happen because you throw yourself into whatever it is you’re doing now.” (138)
“We surrender the outcomes so that the gift we give will be given freely. If you are looking for a particular response to bring you joy, that response may never come.” (147-148)
“How you do anything is how you do everything.” (158)
“Sabbath is when you let whatever you’ve pushed down rise to the surface. Sabbath is a day when things that are broken get fixed, when things within you that have torn are mended.” (172)
“No one has ever done this before. No one has ever been you before. This exact interrelated web of people and events and places and memories and desire and love that is your life hasn’t ever existed in the history of the universe. Welcome to a truly unique phenomenon. Welcome to the most thrilling thing you will ever do. Welcome to your life. Welcome to here.” (200)