Through his writing, I was introduced to the concept of shipping for creatives; the notion that at some point, you have to quit dilly-dallying, improving, tweaking and perfecting, and just ship. Let it go. Deliver the goods.
"Shipping is fraught with risk and danger.
Every time you raise your hand, send an email, launch a product or make a suggestion, you're exposing yourself to criticism. Not just criticism, but the negative consequences that come with wasting money, annoying someone in power or making a fool of yourself."
Today, I shipped something - finally. And I've been dancing a little happy dance all day long.
Here's the story: The Christmas season is the bane of my existence. I hate to admit it, but putting together a series of Sunday services AND Christmas Eve is probably the hardest thing I do all year. It makes me anxious, it fills me with all sorts of unpleasant feelings, and causes people to say of me things like, "Oh, Beth hates Christmas."
I really don't.
But it does give me fits. See, Christmas means something different to everybody. Family traditions, expectations, sorrow, joy, carols, mangers, angels, candles, communion, stories...everybody has their own idea of what Christmas ought to feel like. Sound like. Look like. People have a lot of expectations at Christmas, and when they are not met, it's a big deal. Bigger than a regular Sunday experience. I feel like I can never please everybody.
But we're a creative church, and so we embrace the idea of being creative at Christmas, finding a new way to tell the old story from fresh perspectives. Incorporating the arts in relevant ways. Being authentic.
The second year I was involved with Christmas at my current workplace, I ran with the authentic / creative idea. We wanted to meet people where they are, and so we wrote a Christmas Eve service that was honest and raw. It was also somewhat depressing.
Because it was honest and raw.
It was called Better Days, and the stories we told wrapped around that Goo Goo Dolls song, which I'd caught on The Today Show and never forgotten. We shared moments and monologues, stories and songs of people looking for hope in midst of pain. Loss of loved ones. Divorce. Real struggles.
We answered with hope, of course; we didn't leave people hanging. It was beautiful and poignant and powerful. I was so proud of our team and thrilled that I worked in an environment where we were free to take risks to create moments.
The next day, I left town to spend some time with my brother in Chicago. I'll never forget the phone call from my boss...who told me that people were not happy with the Christmas Eve service.
And they were letting him know. They did not like Better Days. They did not like it at all.
And they were leaving the church.
They were furious. Insulted. They felt taken advantage of and hijacked. It touched emotions, but they weren't the ones we wanted to touch. They came on Christmas Eve looking for mangers and babies and swaddling clothes and angels singing, and they got pain. There was hope, but it was buried underneath a lot of dusty rawness. They did not leave feeling encouraged.
This was crushing to my boss, to my team...and to me. I had created and offered something in an effort to honor our values and the season, and I failed. In a big way. We had actually offended and hurt people.
Not a good thing for a church.
Now, later on, I did hear of people who were profoundly moved by the service; people who came for the first time that night and decided that this was a church worth coming to. They came back. There was a lady who said that she gave her life to Christ that night, because the service resonated.
So there were positive things, but they were crushed under the heels of the ones who stomped out the door and never came back.
Since then, being creative at Christmas has frightened me. I've been all those things in the Seth Godin quote: afraid of criticism, of negative consequences, of annoying my boss, of making a fool of myself. Because I got burned with Better Days, something that I'd poured my creative heart and soul into.
There's this vulnerability that comes with creativity that feels so dangerous, so shaky. You wouldn't think so, in the church; but it's there. And I've carried a huge burden every year...about Christmas.
So, yesterday I holed up in Starbucks for a long time, just soaking in the season...the story, the songs, the advent candles.
And today, I took my ideas and another couple of hours (interrupted, but that's okay) and fleshed things out. I scribbled on the white board. I got a big piece of 11 x 17 paper from the copy room and hand-wrote the entire series, using different colors and "fonts" as I wrote...making it creative. I hummed and thought and took a walk.
Finally, I bounced it off of my officemate. She understands my terror. She understands that in telling it to her, I am rehearsing telling it to The Boss. She likes it and affirms me and smiles and then we laugh a little bit and my nerves settle down.
In my weekly meeting, he says, "So what do you want to talk about?", and I unfold my 11 x 17 paper with a Christmas tree scrawled on it. I smile weakly and say, "Ta-da!" and he cheers me on.
I have a brief window to cast the vision, to get what's in my head and my heart in front of him so he can see it and hear it and decide, in a split second, whether or not he can work with it.
Halfway through, and he was still with me. I knew there was hope...
I made it the entire way through. He said, "Ummm....I like it."
Bells and whistles, people. Bells and whistles.
I don't live to please my boss, but we are creative partners, and he has to be on board for it to work. I've had some great ideas and I've had some stupid ideas. So has he. But it's October 24, and we're past the point of guessing which ideas will work. It's shipping time.
He likes it. I like it, too.
So Christmastime is here; happiness and cheer. And we have a Christmas series, a chance to tell an old story in a meaningful, relevant way. We'll be creative.
It scared the crap out of me to ship today, but I did. I walked across the hall and pitched the idea to my boss.
And it felt like a VERY good day.