Lego Masters and Communal Creativity
Human creativity is one of the amazing ways we demonstrate the image of God. Look around you right now and I’m sure you’ll see something impressive that somebody created, designed, decorated, or crafted. I say “somebody,” but it’s more likely that whatever you’re looking at was made by a bunch of people working together. God made us to be creative, but he made us so that our creativity works best with help from others.
The new Fox reality series Lego Masters is a great example of this beautiful reality. In the show, contestants work in teams to construct amazing Lego creations in limited time frames. Part of the drama of the show is to watch the contestants work together (or not) within different kinds of relationships: siblings, couples, coworkers, friends, and parents and children.
We can see relationships strengthen or strain as the work progresses. We also see how the products of that work show both the personality of the individuals and of their relationships. Often, this is inspiring, such as the intricate theme parks each team built in Episode 1, including a farm theme, space theme, and timber town, all with mechanical moving rides. Sometimes, the collaborative results are ironic, as was the case with the “cats and dogs” project created by bickering contestants Sam and Jessica.
The process of building itself tests and forms relationships. Brothers Travis and Corey talk about building together as children when younger brother Travis was hospitalized with leukemia. It’s not surprising that the teams with longer relationships have more strategies for helping each other in stressful situations than the ones formed for the competition. Even in the early episodes, you already see teams learn from each other and from their experience working together.
Something else that struck me while watching these builders work together is how much their work builds (literally) on decades of work at the Lego company. Lego masters are legitimate creators, no question, but their creativity relies on the creativity of others. Not only are their materials made possible by others, but so are many of their ideas. While their work is unique, it often draws on ideas and references stories that other people have developed, again often in groups and often across time.
Our creativity works best with help from others.
It’s wonderful that God created us so that we are image-bearers who create best when we do it with help from others—using others’ work, adapting their ideas, referencing and twisting them. As a writer who is primarily a critic, I’m more keenly aware than most that my own work relies on the work of others. But I also became alert to this reality while touring the Art Institute of Chicago with my daughter recently. She’s 3, and it was fun to talk to her about how the different works were similar to and different from each other. It was amazing to walk through a hall of ancient statues on our way to a modern American gallery and see similar subjects and poses, even as a lot changed. I saw such a web of complexity and inter-reliance, maybe especially for the sorts of people we often imagine as solitary geniuses.
In Hebrews 11 and 12, the writer lists some heroes of the faith and describes their spiritual accomplishments. But then, rather than holding these believers up as solitary figures, Hebrews describes them as a “cloud of witnesses.” We often describe ourselves as “standing on the shoulders of giants,” but the witnesses language is more appropriate. These heroes of the past don’t only create a platform for us to stand on, they serve as witnesses: encouragers, validators, evidence-providers, collaborators.
And it’s not just the famous figures mentioned in Hebrews, of course. Ideally, that’s what the church does: surround us, support us, give us materials and ideas and encouragement. Some of my best experiences of church have been that kind of joint creativity. As a musician, I see this most often when, in a first run-through of a new song, everybody slots into a part and listens and supports what the others are doing. I’ve also seen it where song choices and sermon emphases and prayers of the people all echo and comment on each other, sometimes in ways that are planned and sometimes serendipitously. And I’ve seen service projects and programs and Bible studies where a few people’s different strengths fill in exactly what’s needed.
Lego Masters isn’t church. But it does show us how everything we do is interconnected, and how the best things we do are often the most connected of all. Maybe, in fact, the connection is more important than the product—because that’s how God made us.