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Innovation and the spirit of the age

Dr WhoRev Suzanne Cooke looks at what it takes to be a cultural innovator and what this might mean for the church.

I have a great admiration for the creators of the BBC TV series Doctor Who, for it really is a remarkable achievement to maintain the popularity and relevance of a prime time TV show over such a long period of time.   One of their great strengths of course is the ability for The Doctor to be able to ‘regenerate’.  In this way they can regularly change the identity of their lead character and keep up with or maybe even ahead of cultural fads and trends. 

Even if you wouldn’t necessarily agree with my admiration of what is effectively a children’s television programme, I wonder if you can think of a person, a musician, artist, fashion designer, philosopher, writer or poet, who does not just follow fashion, but creates it.  The people whose creative genius is such that they map out for the rest of us how we express and define ourselves as a culture.  The people who, as was quoted in a recent Radio 4 programme, ‘Devine and define the spirit of the age’.  I wonder if these people have an awareness of just how much they are to change the worlds in which they live?  Or, if truly operating from that inner place of certainty and personal truth they have a fearless confidence in what they see as their inescapable vocation. 

I’ve been wondering what this quality might look like if it were applied to church.  Maybe some of you believe that your church, your pastor, vicar or priest has this quality – but many of us will not.  Anyway is it not the case that the church’s paradoxical mixture of ancient and modern mean that ‘innovation’ is a complex matter at best. 

I suppose I believe that the most valuable ‘innovation’ will inevitably include a healthy understanding and appreciation of just where it is we may have come from.  After all we are all a product of our past and trying to ignore that fact is, in my mind, some how dishonest.   But might we go a step further - maybe embracing our past is essential if we are to be truly innovative; not a reaction to what has gone before but a response to it.  A response is quite different to a reaction.  A reaction can lack empathy for the thing it reacts to – it can be self -serving and lack insight or awareness.   I think the kind of cultural innovation I am speaking of is profoundly empathetic.  I think that knowingly or not it seeks the good of the people and places it affects, embracing its past but wanting to think positively about the future it points towards. 

Whatever traits are needed to be a cultural innovator, to be one of the extraordinary people that propels us forward towards a new era, that define that era, it seems that it amounts to a rare and wonderful gift.   And like many of life’s most precious gifts they become most valued when they are given away, when they are shared; creative talents that become a selfless outpouring of compassion and generosity.  And I am completely sure that innovation such as this is fuelled by the Holy Spirit, mysterious and powerful, it is the Spirit described in the Gospel of John - ultimately resisting definition, timeless, resting in a place between past, present and future. 

Suzanne CookeRev Suzanne Cooke is the priest-in-charge of the Upper Tas Benefice in South Norfolk and the founder of Soul Circus, a regular creative, experimental service supported by the Diocese of Norwich and the Youth Task Force.  You can find out more at www.soulcircus.org.uk

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