Creative Fires

In the last few days, tensions have built to almost unbearable levels in my city. In case you haven’t heard yet, Colorado Springs, CO, scenic outdoor paradise, is on fire and has been for six days. People have lost their homes even as firefighters desperately defend our city day and night. (We are safe, by the way). The air reeks of smoke and of fear. What can we do?

Living in Colorado, I’ve never tasted the fear and uncertainty that accompanies natural disasters. Along with this week’s fire in Colorado Springs has come a new compassion for the victims of Katrina, Japan’s tsunami, Ground Zero, and the countless other disasters worldwide. At this point, no one has died in the Waldo Canyon fires, and for that I am extremely grateful. Even so, it’s frightening and painful knowing that my parent’s home has likely burned to the ground, along many of my friends’ homes as well.

It’s easy to feel helpless, restless, and angry. I can’t fight fires. What could I possibly do to help?

Two days ago, a friend of mine and owner of a local design firm, sent out an email to a few designers and artists who live and work in Colorado Springs.

“Let’s make some t-shirt designs and give the profits to the relief efforts,” he said.

Everyone was in and “all-in” at that. We worked with feverish energy, fueled by those same feelings of restlessness and frustration. Our creativity burned as fierce as the fires outside. My friend Troy’s design said, “fight fire with fire.” We nodded somberly and kept working.

Within 24 hours, we had three shirt designs and a website. We had hoped we could sell maybe 200 shirts and raise $3000 (much more than any of us could have donated). The site went live the other day with eight shirt designs, and in the first hour sold 50 (my design is below). Last I heard we had made $50,000. I’m still astonished. (UPDATE: we have now raised over $120,000 $200, ooo $270,000.)

My wife Liz is pregnant. During a recent “nesting energy burst,” we rearranged our small house to make room for our little girl who’s on the way. But suddenly, with uncertainty hanging densely in the air, Liz found herself listless and on edge.  What could she possibly do except try to stay cool and out of the smoke? It was simply maddening.

“I need to process,” she said to me yesterday, getting up and grabbing her iPad. “I’m going to a coffee shop to write.”

“Alright,” I said, “try to stay cool and out of the smoke.” We kissed and she left.

Two hours later she returned with a beautiful piece of writing about the fire, about this place we love, and about fear and trust. She submitted it to the arts magazine The Curator, and this morning heard it would be published. (UPDATE: the article can be found here.)

We all have destructive energies inside us. We all have the potential to act out of fear or out of apathy. But there is a better way. We can choose to be creative. We can choose to walk in trust and faith. We can choose to trust in Jesus who was called “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us.” Jesus who was called “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We grieve as the land around us is turning to ashes, yet even so, scripture says that God creates “beauty from ashes.” He CREATES. And in the single greatest creative act in all history, Jesus turned a horrible and disgusting death into redemption, into freedom from guilt, shame and fear – for absolutely anyone who believes in him. That’s pretty creative.

I can see beauty from ashes. I can see this community coming together to help the helpless. I’ve read about teens buying toys to give to children in the shelters, children who have lost their own toys to the fires. My co-workers have made care packages for displaced employees, and they have donated to Care and Share. And these creative friends of mine have channeled their energies to help raise money with a few t-shirts. We are fighting fire with fire.

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