For weeks I was looking for just the right metaphor to attach to our presbytery’s commitment to a period of innovation. At the Presbytery Leadership Commission (PLC) I suggested maybe “Innovation Explosion” or “A Season of Innovation.” Explosion just made everyone laugh and I took some well-deserved teasing. A Season made it sound a little too temporary. In the end, the PLC endorsed my commitment to encouraging innovation in the presbytery during this next 2019-20 period and left it up to me to find the right metaphor.
That was a mistake!
The best I could come up with was Innovation Lab. I liked the lab idea intellectually. It communicated the experimental nature of innovation and it fit the reputation that the Pacific Northwest is getting as being pioneers in the world of shifting religious and spiritual identities. But, I have to admit, it still felt awkward and clunky. It had a sort of lifeless, clinical spirit to it.
But it was the best I could come up with. I was prepared to sell my product at this past weekend’s presbytery meeting in Ashland. Innovation Lab was on the slide and my notes were written in a way to try to make it sound more interesting and attractive than it really was.
I only had to wait for the trials of ordination of one Morgan Schmidt of First, Bend to conclude. I delightfully watched Morgan share her statement of faith and then playfully and thoughtfully answer the questions from the floor of the presbytery. Then this young millennial said it. I don’t remember the exact context, but it was something along the lines of seeing the world as a playground for God’s activity.
Playground was the word I was looking for. I was so convinced of it that I stood up five minutes later during my report and said on the spot, “I am almost for sure going to change Innovation Lab to Innovation Playground.” I exclaimed that I had been trying to find the right word for weeks and never landed on anything that made my heart sing. Playground did it immediately. It had life to it!
I especially like this word because it took me back to that day in September, 2017 when I stood before the presbytery for the vote on my candidacy for this position. During my comments to the presbytery I reminded us that we had a number of challenges to face, but that because we could trust God with our future, we had the permission to have some fun. And then the job started and I couldn’t find room to just be playful and have fun!
On my way back from the presbytery meeting I was listening to the TED Radio Hour in a program titled, “Where Joy Hides.” The first featured speaker was another millennial, Simone Giertz, “inventor of useless things.” Simone was an especially bright student in high school, but she also suffered from intense performance anxiety. Here is how she describes her attempt to be successful without the pressure of performance anxiety:
I got interested in building robots, and I wanted to teach myself about hardware. But building things with hardware, especially if you’re teaching yourself, is something that’s really difficult to do. It has a high likelihood of failure and moreover, it has a high likelihood of making you feel stupid. And that was my biggest fear at the time. So I came up with a setup that would guarantee success 100 percent of the time. With my setup, it would be nearly impossible to fail. And that was that instead of trying to succeed, I was going to try to build things that would fail. And even though I didn’t realize it at the time, building stupid things was actually quite smart, because as I kept on learning about hardware, for the first time in my life, I did not have to deal with my performance anxiety. And as soon as I removed all pressure and expectations from myself, that pressure quickly got replaced by enthusiasm, and it allowed me to just play.
What comes next is even more important. As she learned how to just play without the pressure of trying to succeed her enthusiasm for creating useless things rubbed off on other people. Thousands of people started watching her YouTube videos (now almost two million followers) and eventually she created a job for herself inventing useless things like a Toothbrush Helmet, sharing them on the internet, and creating a steady stream of income. Again, in her own words:
So as much as my machines can seem like simple engineering slapstick, I realize that I stumbled on something bigger than that. It’s this expression of joy and humility that often gets lost in engineering, and for me it was a way to learn about hardware without having my performance anxiety get in the way. I often get asked if I think I’m ever going to build something useful, and maybe someday I will.
But the way I see it, I already have because I’ve built myself this job and…it’s something that I could never have planned for. Instead it happened just because I was enthusiastic about what I was doing, and I was sharing that enthusiasm with other people. To me that’s the true beauty of making useless things, because it’s this acknowledgment that you don’t always know what the best answer is. And it turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works. And maybe a toothbrush helmet isn’t the answer, but at least you’re asking the question.
The Presbytery Leadership Commission has endorsed my recommendation (vetted through the Dream Team) to focus on innovation and creativity at least through 2020. With the timely help of soon-to-be-ordained, Morgan Schmidt, I am going to call this initiative the Innovation Playground!
It’s time to play, create, and invent.
It’s time to have fun.
It’s time to worry less about success and more about that which we can get excited and enthusiastic about.
Remember, “On the seventh day God created recess!”