Dan Harmon, Creativity, and Sanctification

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On his Tumblr page, Dan Harmon (creator and show-runner for “Community“) offers his description of how creative ideas come to him.  What struck me about this was how closely it mirrored a Biblical understanding of Sanctification (“the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God” WSC Q. 35).  In the quote below I’ve replaced the word creative with righteous.  Harmon writes:

I’m going to shift into an even more pretentious-sounding gear here, but I think of creative (righteous) acts as having a source somewhere outside our minds, and I think that what we call “making something” is actually us being “open to something that made itself.”  Please forgive me, anyone reading this, I’m just being honest about how I feel.  Anyway, the act of “being open” to these things it’s our job to channel is the agonizing part.  You can open yourself to a single idea but as soon as you have one, your ego starts going “okay I’ll take it from here” and the channel closes.  Staying open beyond a certain point, keeping your ego from spasming, is like standing on one foot or sustaining a fake yawn for 8 hours.

In a similar vein the late/great Lutheran theologian Gehard Forde writes:

The subtle and difficult thing in our talk about growth or progress in sanctification is that absolutely must be presented not as our progress toward the goal, but rather just the opposite: the goal’s moving more and more in upon us and possessing us.

Simply put, the reason Harmon’s quote on creativity mirrors a proper Christian understanding of sanctification is that he describes creativity as being “open to something that made itself.”  Simply put, our main job is to get out of the way of what is happening.  The same is true in Scripture of sanctification:

1 Corinthians 1:30-31  you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

2 Thessalonians 2:13  God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

In a similar way, our righteous acts also come from a place outside ourselves.  Again Paul writes:

Ephesians 2:8-10   For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

2 Timothy 1:8-10  share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus.

In other words, our lives as Christians are not defined by moving toward the goal, but rather that the goal is moving closer and closer to us (29).  As Forde puts it:

There is a kind of growth and progress, it is to be hoped, but it is growth in grace–a growth in coming to be captivated more and more, if we can so speak, by the totality, the unconditionality of the grace of God.  It is a matter of getting used to the fact that if we are to be saved it will have to be by grace alone.

So, as it is with Harmon’s creativity, Christian sanctification is the art of being open to something that has already “made itself.”  The tricky part is getting our egos out of the way or as Jesus says, “Matthew 6:3  do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” which is just about as hard as, “standing on one foot or sustaining a fake yawn for 8 hours…”

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Alexander, Donald.  “Christian Spirituality”

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