Dr. Mark J. Chironna
Thinking Outside The Box
Creativity isn’t the domain of only a few. It is actually the birthright of every human being. Somewhere between youth and adulthood, most of us have learned how to add fear and worry to the burden of life on our shoulders, and we lose our creative edge.
Creativity is inborn and any casual observance of children anywhere at play, reveals how creative we all truly are. Yet in that transition to mature adulthood, one of the reasons we often stifle our creativity in favor of being excessively concerned about “making it” in life is because we have forgotten how to play.
Brian Sutton-Smith’s The Ambiguity Of Play informs us that play-like activities invite us into a domain where we are given permission to fail. That permission to fail releases us into a world of possibilities where we become as children again and imagine “what if” and then act “as if”.
This kind of “what if” thinking is the exact opposite of the negative inefficient “what if” thinking that feeds anxiety and worry. This kind of “what if” thinking invites us to think outside the box of our perceived paradigms of reality and explore territories we don’t normally give ourselves permission to explore.
Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, we adopt an anxiety-driven “what if” thinking that stifles our ability to playfully imagine some “what if’s” that are rooted in what lies beyond the realm of what we have perceived as possible. “What if” thinking from a root of anxiety constrains us and restrains us into a limited and limiting existence. It reduces us to survival mode thinking and can often lead to “playing” the role of being a victim, having believed that life itself is victimizing.
Sutton-Smith reminds us that play involves entering the realm of Victor Turner’s “liminal space” because it requires crossing that “threshold between reality and unreality”. Ironically, for adults, entering liminal space, which requires crossing thresholds, always involves some level of anxiety, because you have to step outside the box of your preferred paradigm, and think in alternative ways. However, if you give yourself permission to fail, your psychological state will change in favor of curiosity, discovery, and new learning.
It seems to me that creativity and play, which requires thinking outside the box and then acting outside the box, can elicit intuition at a new level in our lives. Intuition is that instinctive knowing where you become aware of something without have to discover it or even perceive it. You just “feel” it and that “feeling” at a gut level is actually a “knowing”. It could be linked and connected to Micahel Polayni’s “tacit knowing”, which in his work “The Tacit Dimension” as well as in “Personal Knowledge” is a kind of knowing and a kind of knowledge that is quite difficult to transfer to someone else by way of describing it or verbalizing it. If you were to ask Barry Bonds to describe how he actually hit 762 home runs in his career to become the greatest home-run hitter of all time, the chances are he couldn’t describe it to you. He just “felt” the connection between the ball and the bat that was a “knowing” as to how to put the ball out of the park. He “played” with the bat and the ball. Intuitively he felt something.
It isn’t a whole lot different than when I lived in Calgary in the early 1980’s and saw that north of us in Edmonton, on the hockey team of the Edmonton Oilers, there was a young Wayne Gretzky, who was gaining momentum and fame because of his success on the ice. One night on the Canadian Broadcasting Network he was being interviewed, and the commentator asked him what the secret of his success on the ice was. Gretzky replied in that now famous response, “I don’t play to where the puck is, I play to where the puck is going to be!” Think about that for a minute. Given that there are 12 men on the ice, and that there is one puck that travels each time it is hit at about 120 plus miles per hour, and the mathematics of how many directions that puck could take, how could Gretzky know where the puck was “going to be”? He didn’t have time to figure it out mathematically, or logically. He had to go outside the box of his normal thinking patterns, and elicit his intuition playfully, and know in his knower, if at all possible, the future before it arrived. Not only did he have to know it, he had to act on it and go to the future ahead of everyone else, and ahead of the puck itself so it could meet him in the future he already “knew” was headed his way. He was “playful” in his imagination!
Gretzky, like Bonds, “knew” something because they thought “outside the box” of rational, logical, sequential, analytical thought. So what about you and me? How do we learn how to play and release our creativity in our own sphere and domain of life?
It was Albert Einstein who said, “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.” Start living and thinking as if everything is a miracle. What have you got to lose? Be playful! In a day of complexity, uncertainty, challenge, change, and high stress and anxiety, eliciting your intuition is more needed than ever. Innovation and creativity require you learning how to give yourself permission to play again. You know how to play. You have to learn how to give yourself permission to do so. You have to cross a threshold and enter liminal space, outside the realm of your predictable comfort zone (which is rarely comfortable when it is filled with stress and anxiety).
Kids play because they easily accept randomness and chaos as their playing field. If Einstein taught us anything, it was that things are not as they appear. He was actually quite playful in his journey and it was his playful intuition and imagination that led to the discovery of E=mc2. The mathematics came after his playful imagination, not before.
There is a leap of faith you need to make in this current culture if you are to become innovative and creative. You have to be willing to become childlike all over again and learn how to play in an imaginary world. You have to stop seeing the world the way you think it operates and start seeing the world the way it really operates. You can’t do that until you step outside the box, think outside the box, and act outside the box!
Dr. Mark J. Chironna
 Brian Sutton-Smith. The Ambiguity Of Play, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997, p. 1
The Unforced Rhythms Of Grace
Dr. Mark J. Chironna
I happen to appreciate Eugene Peterson’s adaptation of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message Bible:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I especially love the phrase that has actually gone around the world “the unforced rhythms of grace”. Peterson is unpacking in current culture expressions the profound truth of living and traveling through life without a lot of excess baggage.
You can’t separate genuine rest, or better expressed, Christ as our True Sabbath rest, without integrating the “unforced rhythms of grace” into your life, seemingly especially in the hour in which we live.
When I was in High School in 1970, the late Alvin Toffler released his landmark book, “Future Shock”, and it was widely read, even as it still is today. His entire evaluation of the flow of history from the first wave, to the second, to the third was brilliant. The “third wave” referred to the digital age that was then just dawning. If you never read the book, the “first wave” referred to agricultural society which lasted globally for thousands of years until the Industrial Revolution began in Western Europe in the 18th Century. He called the Industrial Revolution “the second wave”.
With the dawn of the digital age, Toffler’s “third wave” he accurately stated that change was occurring an an ever accelerating pace due to the increase of information available and the influence of the computer, and what would eventually become the world wide web. That “third wave” brought with it an increase in knowledge unprecedented in all of human history, something which is strikingly similar to what the prophet Daniel is told about in Daniel 12:4
But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
All of this relates, in my estimation, to the desperate need for a recovery of ‘the unforced rhythms of grace” in our daily lives. The sad reality is this, the information age has aged this generation. The increase of knowledge in the day in which we live has led to the increase of stress at every level.
Our ancestors faced great stress, however it was stress of a different kind. It certainly impacted them, and they had to become stress-hardy and resilient in both the agricultural wave, and the industrial revolution wave. However, the stressors were tied in the agricultural age to food, shelter, barbarians, and the threat of plagues, famines, and contagious diseases. In the Industrial Age it was tied to adapting to city life, and finding gainful employment in factories, and finding adequate means of learning a new trade and developing new skills sets to keep up with where industry was taking things.
Advances in medicine, technology, food production, economics, and government worldwide has changed the playing field. In fact, that third wave saw all of these areas explode with information that has proven helpful as well as harmful to our well-being.
So we face stress in a context that is totally unlike what our ancestors, or even our great grandparents and grandparents faced. There is no question that stress causes psychological pain because of the events that trigger it. In a fast-paced culture where even change itself is changing, according to the experts, the very foundations of people’s well-being can be shaken. The levels of unhealthy tension are increasing in our day.
All the more reason to rediscover the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Christ has promised us.
Unhealthy tension makes it more difficult for us to function at our optimal best. At a physical level our brain and nervous system get caught in that tension. That tension makes it difficult to be able to discern the healthy impressions of the Spirit that come from “the unforced rhythms of grace” which are usually quite subtle (i.e. – the still small voice), and more often than not drowned out by the “noise’ of the culture that is driving it.
In a needs-driven culture, we need to take a step back and learn how once again to be led by the Spirit. You will either be swallowed up by the activities of coping with change and be needs-driven, or you will intentionally slow down to the speed of revelation and become Spirit-led by “the unforced rhythms of grace”.
The stressors make so much noise in our minds and hearts that they block our whole being from discerning those impressions that are designed to help us carry out our intention in the most creative way possible. There cannot be creativity and true knowledge, true knowing, without us “coming to the quiet”. “Be still and KNOW that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), is an invitation to slow down to the speed of life, light, and revelation, and learn Christ’s “unforced rhythms of grace”.
Eugene Peterson uses three phrases to capture what he sees in relation to unhealthy tension, even as it relates to rules and regulations about your life in and with God. Those three phrases are:
2. Worn Out
3. Burned Out
The last of the three is actually horrific. Burn out is not fun at all. By the time someone is in that place, so many areas of their life are out of cadence, out of sync, out of sorts, out of touch, and out of rest. The burned out individual has become so driven to achieve that there is not cadence or rhythm of grace in their life. They are more than tired, they are more than worn out; they are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually weary. When someone is burned out they are in a state of chronic, unrelieved stress. Not only can they not manage their time, they cannot manage the very energy of their life. They are physically and emotionally wiped out. They become cynical and start detaching from people and places that once were important to them. The feel powerless, ineffective, and is if they have no accomplishments they can celebrate.
They suffer from all sorts of physical and emotional issues. There is also a profound loss of joy. They become pessimistic and irritable. Their ability to be renewed becomes all too challenging because they are running so fast on the treadmill of the needs-driven culture, and going nowhere fast, that they don’t know how to slow their pace down. They lose their equilibrium and head for a big disruption when they lose their balance and fall from the false momentum they have been building.
The real hope for restoration and renewal, in a consumer-driven, exhaustion-driven, no-boundaries-between-work-and-play culture, is in Jesus and His “unforced rhythms of grace”.
Getting in His yoke and learning “the unforced rhythms of grace” means at the very least, learning the dynamic balance between what is necessary and what is unnecessary in your efforts and actions to bridge the gap between our current unhealthy tension-filled reality, and God’s desired “effortless-ease” reality of His restful and relaxed place in Christ.
Effective action in the current culture is impossible without letting go of the unnecessary so that there can be a “letting come” of the fruits and rewards of “the unforced rhythms of grace”. Grace is a RHYTHM that is governed by God and does not change. Of His fullness we have all received and grace upon grace. There is a constant movement of waves of grace. One wave comes in as another is going out. Unlike Toffler’s “third wave” the ebbing and flowing of the waves of grace leads to deep transformational change that shifts our observations of reality. Those shifts change our perceptions, our interpretations, our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and actions, and yield results that exceed our highest expectations.
In the movie “TAP”, starring the late Gregory Hines, the movie opens with Hines in prison, listening to the sounds as well as the silences between the sounds from everything outside the prison taking place on the streets of the city, from jack-hammers at construction sites, to footsteps walking every which way. Hines’ character, a phenomenal tap-dancer who was down on his luck and limited by prison bars, could still move his feet to the unforced rhythms he heard coming from the street outside his prison window. He turned those sounds and patterns of sound into dance steps. He ultimately danced his way to freedom in the movie.
The passage in Matthew that this series of statements from Jesus flows out of is His prayer to the Father, whom He thanks for “hiding things from the wise and the intelligent” and then “revealing things to babes”. In a day when knowledge is increasing, change is changing, and stress is increasing, our driven-ness for knowledge and wisdom sometimes wears us out and burns us out. It seems according to Jesus, that being a “know it all” is precisely the position of someone who knows nothing at all, because they are out of sync with His Father, who actually “hides” things from know it all’s, and reveals it to “babes” who have learned “the unforced rhythms of grace” and are willing to hear the sounds of God’s cadence in the silence, and then dance with the Lord and let Him take the lead.
© 2016. Mark J. Chironna
Faith To Leave The Familiar
Dr. Mark J. Chironna
Over the years I have spent a great deal of time sharing on the journey Abram took from Ur of the Chaldees to the Land of Promise. I have been couching it in the language of “leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar” for decades. When I first began to share the concept of “leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar” it was a seed. I had observed that seed as carefully and intentionally as I knew how at that season of my life. Yet all seeds grow, and as I sowed that seed into the hearts and minds of the faithful, I began to reap a harvest of insight, and that harvest continually grows. Let’s see if that harvest of insight can strengthen you in this season.
Here is the text from the first 3 verses of Genesis 12:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“Leaving the familiar” isn’t always easy. It indeed requires faith. The word “familiar” has its etymology from mid-14th Century France, where the word began to be used to describe that with which one is intimate, very friendly, and on a family-footing. As you can obviously tell, the word “familiar” is tied to the word “family”.
It was a real stretch of faith for Abram to leave his country, his relatives, and his father’s house. God addressed his relationships from his largest “family” (his country), to his extended family (relatives) to his “father’s house” (immediate family). A careful reading of the story tells us that he didn’t quite leave well, and it caused him delay of entrance into the purposes and promises of God because of his failure to leave his father, and then warfare because of his need to bring along his nephew Lot. Before we castigate Abram for his failure to full obey, we need to remember that we too have a difficult time letting go of all things familiar no matter who would ask us to do so, even God!
So what lessons can we learn about the faith necessary for leaving the familiar? Plus, who really gets excited about launching into the realm of the unfamiliar, since it is way past our normal and preferred living space? In other words, it is outside of our comfort zone.
At some point in your journey with God, He is going to test you and see if He has your whole heart. He will invite you to “leave the familiar for the unfamiliar”. That may not mean your family necessarily, or even your occupation (though for many who have followed Christ it has indeed cost them such a high price throughout Church history). Yet there are some things that we have become attached to, that we have a high emotional investment in, that when God requires of us to let them go, it really isn’t “fun”. Anyone who will tell you that the walk of faith is a “cake walk”, has NEVER had to walk by faith.
Yet here is the dynamic that we need to consider: if God is requiring of us to move into a new dimension and arena of faith, of necessity we have to move past the current arena of faith we have been walking in. That is the reason that Paul the apostle tells us that we go “from faith, to faith” (Romans 1:17). In the Greek language it indicates going out from one dimension of faith in order to enter into another dimension of faith. You have to exit out so you can enter in!
When God told Abram to make an exit out of a chapter in his life, He made it clear that He would not reveal the entrance to the next chapter until he had fully departed from the former chapter. Notice what the Lord says in verse 1 of Genesis 12, and pay attention to the italicized words:
Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you…
God had not shown him yet the place he was going to. How come God didn’t do that? Doesn’t God understand the nature of sound psychology? He built us as goal-oriented creatures. Our plans are aborted when we have no destination. That is simply the reality…at least from a natural understanding of things. If you don’t know what port of all you are sailing towards, your ship won’t be navigated well at all, and any view of the horizon will serve you. It was Seneca the Younger who said, “When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
However, what do you do when God calls you to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar and doesn’t show you the final destination? Do you resist? Do you move reluctantly? Or do you implicitly trust His goodness in the midst of every conflict and decision and move forward by faith?
Moving forward usually implies a direction does it not?
However, with God, moving forward always implies the direction known as “faith”. It is about walking by faith and not by our senses.
When you are exiting a chapter of your life because the Lord has seen fit to bring that chapter to an end, there are all sorts of dynamics that actually take place in your life to assist you in moving forward by faith. What sort of dynamics might they be? The answer is simple: things change circumstantially, attitudes change internally, and when they interact, something in you realizes you need to make some sort of a shift positionally!
The journey of faith isn’t first and foremost about progress, it is about process! You and I live by the “proceeding word of God”. The Word of the Lord over our lives releases a process because everything for you as a believer emanates from and results from what God is speaking over your life. The process implies a journey. It implies development and continuation. Progress is made because you trust the process!
Trusting the process isn’t always easy, because when you leave the familiar and crossing a threshold into the realm of the unfamiliar, it is as if you are in a rowboat without any oars. I tend to think that when the Lord called Abram to leave the familiar it released no small crisis in his heart. That seems evident by the fact that he took his father with him and delayed his hearing from the Lord any further, and his father had to die before the Lord would speak to him (see Genesis 11:31-32). Terah was Abram’s father, and Terah means “delay”, “wander”, and “turn” (implying deviating from a particular path). Abram was at a season in his life when he was to take the lead in his obedience and faith, and he gave away his power of choice to his father, who by this season was never meant to lead him any longer.
The encouraging aspects of this story is just how human Abram was, and he is called the “father of faith”, and how human you and I are. Abram ultimately was going to have to cross the threshold of the familiar and enter into the unfamiliar whether he wanted to or not, because God intended to make of him the father of many nations. In order for God to multiply him, he first had to subtract everything around him until it was Abram alone with a barren wife who couldn’t give him a child!
Consider Isaiah 51:2
Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.
The phrase “he was but one” implies in the Hebrew “alone”. God had to reduce Abram down to his irreducible minimum before he could bless him and then multiply him. This is the stuff of faith that releases God to move in power. If we resist leaving the familiar when God says it is in His timing to do so, God will strip us of everything that is familiar so we can say “yes” in faith and obey and cross that threshold.
God rarely if ever shows you the “next” thing unless you have been through a period of not knowing where you are going and having had to leave where you have been. Leaving the familiar for the unfamiliar is disruptive. It is God leading the blind by a way they do not know (Isaiah 42:6). You do realize that for a blind person, they rely on the familiar to survive. If you lead a blind person into the realm of the unfamiliar, they temporarily lose all “sense” of where they are and where they are going. THAT is the walk of faith when God calls you to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar. So if you find yourself trying to figure out what is “next” because you are in a season of disruption, trust the process, and walk by faith and not by sight. There will come a “now what” moment when that moment is ready to present itself.
Dr. Mark J. Chironna
Economic growth is important for the well being of families, communities, and cultures. Economic growth cannot occur without a certain degree of inspiration that leads to innovation. The myth that only certain people are inspired needs to be dispelled, and what needs to be realized is that anyone, regardless of their current state in life can be inspired, express their creativity, and be innovative enough to start something that can blossom and flourish into an entrepreneurial enterprise that not only enhances themselves, rather also it enhances everyone impacted by it.
It is important to recognize what hinders the entrepreneurial mindset from being developed and groomed in our lives. When we are driven by fear based on negative economic forecasts or “doom and gloom” thinking, we shut down our own creativity. That creativity is the very thing that will shift both the individual and the collective mindset to a place of genuine hope that things can change. There are habitual actions that take place when we are driven by fear that mitigate against being innovative and entrepreneurial. Peter Senge has spoken often of “reactive learning” as a “learning disability” in his landmark work, “The Fifth Discipline”.
Senge’s observation in many situations is that we have learned how to react to circumstances where we are unconscious for the most part of the part we actually played in causing those circumstances to occur. As a result, we keep recycling the past instead of inventing the future. This becomes a “comfort zone” that is rather uncomfortable, because it locks us in between the tension of the fear of failure and the fear of success, and as Robert Fritz made plain in “The Path of Least Resistance” years ago, we end up in an oscillating pattern between these two poles and get locked into a paradigm that blocks our ability to see clearly and create freely.
We become all too committed to our comfort zones and then actually unconsciously defend our right to remain in a self-sabotaging state of inefficiency. Our observations of reality are skewed by our limited perceptions of what is unfolding before our eyes because we are doing what I heard as a phrase years ago in South Africa, “looking at the dawn through the eyes of yesterday’s sunset”.
When you continue to look at what is unfolding in the now through the fractured lens of what didn’t happen yesterday, you discount new interpretations of what is unfolding and opt for what is familiar because as uncomfortable as the familiar is, we have learned to trust it and rely on it. If we are going to be entrepreneurial, we have to leave the familiar and cross the threshold into liminal space, that in-between place where uncertainty looms large, and learn how to press through the uncertainty to new places that we are being invited to pioneer with creativity and innovation. “How can we improve things” is the question that drives the entrepreneurial mindset. Start asking it for yourself: “How can I improve the situations I am seeing and involved with?” Live with that question long enough and you will start getting some great answers. Act on those answers and you just might become an entrepreneur!
Scribbles is a potpourri of all things inspirational, motivational, and at times even theological. It will offer a diverse menu for every appetite.
© 2016 – Mark J. Chironna