Finding Peace in Acadia

I daydream about taking a break from my life and living for a summer in Bar Harbor, Maine.

This summer I went on vacation to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. It was one of the best decisions for a vacation that I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to go back. I traveled by myself and camped out in the park’s campground. Several people gave me confused or shocked looks after they asked, “who are you going with?” But it was amazing to go my myself. I went to Acadia seeking the beauty and peace that only national parks can bring.

My first day there, I rode my bike along the carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. many years ago. There was beauty around every corner, Rockefeller made sure of that. The road wound back and froth between trees and opening up onto the best vantage points for each vista, lake or mountain.

Though it was raining, I set out the next morning on a hike through part of the island with a national park ranger. From watching the National Parks documentary*, I had heard about rangers who were deeply devoted to the parks, with almost endless, secret knowledge of each place. It was true. At each point, the ranger pointed out not only an interesting fact about a rock or plant, but also the history of the place. She told us of the families that once owned the area and answered any question we threw at her with great passion. As a few of us stuck around to ask her more questions, it was clear that this was not just a job. She loved this place with all her heart.

A special place in the park is a secluded beach, only a few hundred feet wide. Sand Beach’s sand is different from most, as it is made up of mostly crushed sea shells. The water is much to cold to swim in, though plenty of children did their best (I’m told the temperature is usually around 51 degrees). One night, I joined a couple dozen others on the beach to gaze at the stars. If you’ve ever been able to see the Milky Way galaxy with the naked e

ye, you know how wondrous and mesmerizing the stars can be. A park ranger pointed out several constellations, and we saw a couple shooting stars. Usually in New York City, I can see 3-4 stars if I really try hard. In fact, the ranger described the experience as something that the parks are striving to preserve along with the landscape and wildlife. In our modern cities with all of their artificial lights, there are few places where we are able to truly gaze at the stars like humans have for thousands of years. No wonder the ancients were completely captivated by the stars. They make you feel quite small.

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One of my favorite memories came the last afternoon in Acadia. The island is encircled in walls of granite that jut out into the ocean. At one bend of the island, I climbed out up to where the rocks drop off a few hundred feet to the ocean below. Sitting on the edge, you can hear the ocean waves, the occasional seagull, and the bell of a green buoy. Just off the coast are a small number of large rocks clustered together that can be mistaken for a group of fish or other sea creature (hence the buoy). It was late afternoon when I was there. I sat down near the edge, closed my eyes and listened to the buoy chime out it’s steady warning. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. After a few minutes, a large family with 6 kids arrived and disturbed my place of peace. But thankfully I had received what I needed from the spot.

My experience at Acadia was markedly different from my first National Park, Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. The Smokey mountains are absolutely fully of peaceful, beautiful places, but the surrounding area is most different.  Entering and exiting the park is a shocking experience. Driving along the North Carolina highway dotted with houses, street signs, light traffic and power lines, you’re met with the entrance to the park. Once you enter, you are surrounded by nothing but trees. No signs, houses, power lines or cell service. As you exit the park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the change is even more dramatic. The wildness road of nothing but trees in the park is juxtaposed with blatant tourist attractions from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to mini golf to whatever chain restaurant you desire just outside the park. It breaks my heart how often we choose the fickle things of life while transcendent peace is literally next door (there’s a sermon in there somewhere).

Anyone who has traveled to a National Park in the United States has certainly had a similar experience of finding peace in the parks. But Acadia is a unique national park, as it was mostly donated by wealthy landowners in the early to mid-twentieth century. So, there isn’t a point like in other parks where you enter “the park” and are cut off from civilization. Most of the interior of Mount Desert Island is national park, but the coast it is surrounded by a small harbor towns where people have lived for hundreds of years. My favorite, Bar harbor, is on the east side of the harbor. It has a number of small restaurants and shops focused on outdoor activities. There are no chain restaurants or obnoxious tourist attractions. It’s a small town that is vitally connected to the park but hasn’t been corrupted by tourism. When Rockefeller Jr. built the carriage roads I biked, the locals feared that Acadia would become like Coney Island (Gatlinburg, Tennessee). Thankfully it did not. Back in New York City, I often find myself daydreaming about spending a few months by myself at mount desert island, living in Bar Harbor. There are so few places to find peace in New York City. It’s the peace, the transcendent beauty of Acadia that calls my heart back. I can’t wait to go back.

*The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns. It’s on Netflix. Go watch it.
**Usually my posts are about church stuff. But John Muir often talked of the national parks as the most beautiful of cathedrals, so I think it fits. There’s also something to be said about the role of God in creating these transcendent places.
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Finding Peace in Acadia

The Death of Art

© Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

What is dead in your life?

That was the question that the speaker asked us to answer during our time of prayer. The point was to realize that God could bring the dead things in our lives back to life. He told us that whatever came to our minds first was the right answer.

So Nathan, what is dead in my life? Art.

Art? I really didn’t expect that. As I thought about it though, it made sense. I realize more and more all the time how much of a creative person I am – I’ve done theater, singing, improv, music, photography, writing, I even have a chalkboard wall in my apartment! Being creative has always been a part of my life, but since I’ve been in New York, it has been a side-note. I started improv because I wanted to act. I write this blog, because I need an outlet for my ideas. I’m an amateur in what I do (as opposed to a professional who can live off of his/her art). And I’ve got a little voice asking whether I should quit everything and pursue acting professionally. So, why does art feel “dead” in my life? I think it is because I’m not free to just be creative.

Here’s what I mean. There are three ways to look at our personal creativity:

1) I must be successful with my art, because success equates value. This is false. It is a self-centered view of creativity, because we obsess over the opinions of others. Unless we are recognized for our creativity, it is not worth doing. It is an impossible standard to live up to since we cannot please everyone.

2) I must do my art, because it defines me as a person. This is also false. It’s a self-centered view of creativity, because we create in order to either express our own self-worth or get something from others (money, recognition, power, etc). When we are not able to exercise our creativity in freedom, we find less value in ourselves. This is ultimately an impossible standard to live up to since life circumstances get in the way of our creativity.

3) I am free to create. As Christ-followers, we have ultimate value regardless of our creative capacities, because God found us worth the price of sending Jesus to die for us. We are therefore free to exercise our creativity whatever circumstances we face. As Christ-followers, we find motivation to be creative in the fact that we have been created in the image of God, the ultimate creator. And while there are standards of good and bad art, we are free to create without be shackled by the opinions of others.

I go back and forth between options 1 & 2. Sometimes I daydream about working as a pastor part time and being an actor the rest of the time. I’ve told people for years that I would like to model or audition for tv commercials. I haven’t done it. I’m scared to death. Death – there’s that word.

Here’s what I know: God wants us to live in option 3. He wants us to be free to be creative. I don’t know how to work it all out in my head, but I do know that the gospel is the only answer for the creative. Make sense? I’d love to hear your comments.

Also, last week I wrote more explicitly on what the gospel means for creatives. Check it out here.

The Death of Art

Good News for Creativity

“What is the good news for the group of people you are reaching?”

In April of this year our staff went to the Exponential Conference for church planting in Orlando, FL, and one of the speakers brought up this question. She talked about the need to learn the language of people and communicate the good news [gospel] of Jesus to them in a way that they will understand in their hearts. Of course, my mind immediately went to what the good news is for those we’re reaching through the Creativity Group at Everyday Church.

The “good” news is a value judgment, so how do we value creativity as a society?

We value creativity as personal expression. Talking to other improvisors, I often ask people why they do it, and the answer I hear often is: “I need a creative outlet.” In other words, they are not able to express fully who they are as a person in their work and daily life. I think that the creative process indeed has a vital role in helping us unearth who we truly are. The person who says, “I have to act. I have to organize. I have to write code.” There is something inside of them that must be expressed for them to be a whole person. The only problem with this is the finiteness of humanity. We are able to express ourselves, but only to the extent of our own lives. And even if by some chance our creative endeavors endure well beyond our lives, life itself will ultimately end with no eternal meaning. The creative process is therefore limited.

The good news of Jesus magnifies this idea to eternal proportions! It says that creativity is something that God himself put into us when he created us. It is part of the image of God. Look at Genesis 1:27:

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Let me highlight that verse in a different way:

So God created human beings in his image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Jesus himself was a creative person. His ministry was filled with illustrations, stories, teachings, and miracles exploding with creativity. We are not just a fleeting people with fleeting creative desires. God has given us each creative potential that he wants us to discover and express. The creative process is part of discovering who God created us to be. And in the end we don’t care so much about what creativity says about us as much as what it says about the eternal creator. This is what we call giving glory to God, the ultimate creator.

We also value creativity as a means to an end. We are able to make money through creativity. It improves our systems, our thinking, and our society. We become more efficient. We’re able to more fully understand abstract ideas as well as one another. We’re able to find new ways of living together (hopefully for the good of all). Finding one’s value in creativity can backfire when it is contingent upon producing something that is judged by others. Now it is not just about expression, but about what we get out of it based on what others think, whether it is money, love, recognition, significance, etc. In doing so, creativity looses its beauty, and becomes limited as only a means to an end.

Again, the good news of Jesus magnifies this to eternal proportions. Creating is something that God has commanded us to do. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. – Genesis 1:28. This requires great creativity. The good news says that creativity is not only a means to an end, but that it will continue throughout eternity. Not only that, but the Jesus says that we are valued far beyond our creative potential. Jesus himself lived the perfect life we could never live, died the death we should have died, and gives us a new life that we don’t deserve. We are therefore free to create, knowing where our true value lies. It is not a means to our being recognized, happy, validated, or fulfilled. We have eternal worth outside of our creative potential. Therefore we are free to be creative to even greater potential!

In the end, the good news of Jesus frees us from the judgment of ourselves and others. He gives us an eternal perspective, and blesses us to create in his image, the ultimate creator.

Good News for Creativity

Apparently I Suck at Vision-Casting

I have been told on several occasions that I will suck at vision-casting. A church planting assessment told me that vision-casting was a weakness, so I would not make a good senior pastor or lead planter. I have taken the tests and scored low. I’m not the charismatic, futurist, idea-person. I thought for years that I must suck at vision-casting.

I recently realized that it’s all BS. In the process of launching a new missional community to champion creativity in our neighborhood, I put together a compelling vision for the group. I met with potential leaders and walked through the vision. Everyone saw the vision, got excited, and joined the cause. I cast vision, and I did a great job!

Here are my thoughts on all this. First of all, you can get better at stuff. When I took evaluations, it was almost totally based on questionnaires and personality instead of actually doing it. Over the past few years I have read books about vision casting, seen others do it well, and tried it out in dozens of small ways. So maybe I am not the charismatic, futurist, idea-person, but I can learn new skills! Second, assessments and gift-tests are helpful and important, but they aren’t everything. Especially if you believe in God! He can empower people with gifts that they normally do not have. God is able to do more through people than they would be able without him.

The next time you take an assessment of your gifts, your skills, you spiritual gifts take them with a grain of salt and remember:
1) They aren’t definitive. You change and grow throughout you life.
2) God can do more than you can imagine in & through you! He can give you new gifts. He can empower weak ones.

In my last post, I talked about needing to have a compelling vision and plan before a passion can become reality. Below is the vision that I shared to launch the Everyday Creativity Group:


The Vision
I envision a group of people at Everyday Church who champion creativity for the glory of God whether it be in our neighborhood, our schools, our church, or our city. They believe that creativity lies within everyone, and they want to draw it out. All of us are created in the image of God, the ultimate creator. Therefore all of us have creative potential just waiting to be discovered to bring glory to God. Humanity has always been in the business of creating – culture, art, music, family, poetry, organization, dance, you name it.

Why “Creativity” Group?
It’s not just about art or artists; it’s about creativity. When we say “art” I think it makes us think of “my art” or “your art” or “the arts.” Those things are all included, but it’s not about just those things. It’s about creativity, however that might look (I also like how creativity is a long word with lots of syllables that makes you slow down and think about it).

Why start this (what will it look like)?
1) To reach artists who move uptown & don’t know anyone
–  I named  a few people who had already experienced this at Everyday, including me!
2) To reach Christian artists who have no Christian community with other artists
–  Again, I named a few people who had already experienced this at Everyday.
3) To reach people who are artists but have no outlet or medium for their art (adults or kids)
–  Art workshops for in local schools
–  Photo walks in the neighborhood
–  Art galleries
4) To help artists give back to their community (beautification)
–  Paint a mural in the neighborhood
–  Benefit concerts/shows for local schools, organizations, ministries
5) To champion creativity within Everyday Church
–  Teaching service elements (videos, props, music, décor, etc)
–  Having Everyday people get involved with our events

(At this point, people usually started sharing more and more and more ideas)

Why now?
If we don’t start this group now, I believe that eventually a group similar will emerge formally or informally. Our church is full of creative people looking for a community. The main reason we’re doing it now is because I believe that God is calling me to do it.

What will be done to get it started?
It will start with the leadership team. Our meetings will be focused on discipleship and practicing the mission of championing creativity together (living it out). We will steadily draw others to join us in our mission and eventually grow to launch as an Everyday Group.


I shared this vision along with a tentative timeline with a number of people and asked them to be a part of a leadership team to launch the new group. Six people said yes. The seven of us met to dream, pray & plan for four months. We learned to listen to God’s voice, pray for our friends to get involved, and lead this new group. This past Sunday we launched the Everyday Creativity Group with over twenty people in the mix. I’m excited to see where God will take us. But none of it would have been possible if I had not refined and cast a compelling vision. Passion isn’t enough. Mission isn’t enough. You have to cast a compelling vision.

Apparently I Suck at Vision-Casting