One plus one = 3

February 6th, 2017

Matt’s an artist. He lives like an artist. Thinks like an artist. He looks like an artist. 

A blue, knit bobble skull cap covers his brown unkempt hair, an easy smile breaks through the wispy beard and mustache blanketing his face. Tall, lanky, and super chill, the speckled and streaked stains between his fingers, on his pants, suggest a lot of time with paints, palettes, and brushes.

His eyes sparkle like he knows something about life I’d like to know too.

“Anybody can create. We all have it in us to create destruction. We all have it in us to create beauty," Matt the Artist says while we talk and admire the 4x8 feet painting just created by a group of youth in our community — a multicolored message of love made by kids representing a mosaic of skin tones. 

"We can add or we can take away. It’s what you do with all that’s going on inside you that makes the difference. If I’ve got a lot of anger, I can choose to hurt myself or someone else or I can choose to create something — use that anger and get it out on canvas or music or dance or poetry or whatever — do something that creates life for me and for someone else. That’s what I like to teach these kids.

"The first rule of art is collaboration,” he continues with his lesson.

"It’s like a different kind of math where 1+1=3. Like when a husband and wife have a baby. 1+1 doesn’t equal 2. You got 3.

"That's how creativity works. Beats and paint and dance and rap and poetry and music and singers and whatever. We all get something from all the other artists. We’re all artists, even if we don’t know it. And what we create when all the artists collaborate is more.”

Yes, Matt the Artist! You are on to something.


More than I can do on my own.

More than we could ever do alone.

Slogging through the swill of 1-1=0  world — alternative truths, rhetoric of fear, otherizing and dehumanizing each other to the point where we all end up at 0, nothing — we could use a little more of 1+1=3. 

1-1=0 leaves us disconnected from each other, isolated and alone.

1-1=0 diminishes the image of God dignity of our personhood.

1-1=0 degrades the creative and collaborative power of community.

1-1=0 deteriorates families, relationships, organizations, and governments.

1-1=0 demands I subtract from you, you withdraw from me.

1-1=0 degenerates our vision of the expansive view of God’s compassionate embrace, making each of us increasingly more puny.

Constrictive, restrictive, and weak, 1-1=0 wastes the flourishing life God dreams for all of us; the abundance of life we long for ourselves.

But one plus one = 3? 

Now that’s a loaves and fish kind of life, stretching the boundaries of what we see as possible.

The loaves and fish thing is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Why? Who knows, but perhaps it’s because it points to something we recognize — if even faintly — about how God dreams the world to be, about how we are to be in the world.

Centered within the compassionate economy of God’s grace, we are invited to move from a strangling “send them away” mentality to an enlarging “you give them something” way of being with each other. Rather than shutting down possibility by erecting barriers between others and ourselves, when we offer to each other what we have and who we are — especially the broken pieces of our lives — something of a different kind of math happens. Something of one plus one = 3 happens.

One plus one = 3 activates life where there wasn’t life before, the total greater than the sum of its parts.

One plus one = 3 is the artistry of God creating beauty on the canvas of shared humanity, mutually experienced brokenness, and our interconnected made-from-Love-for-Love divine worth.

One plus one = 3 amalgamates this word made flesh business of the divine and human coming together, an answer to Jesus’ prayer "that all may be one as we are one."

One plus one = 3 augments generosity, smashing through posturing walls, "placing fear in hospice," as a poet writes, to facilitate hospitable lives of inclusion and embrace.

One plus one = 3 authors cooperative welcome, compassionating our hurting world with a reconciling third way of being together, healing together.

One plus one = 3 amplifies a larger vision to see what is but imagine what can be. Seeing and being seen through the eyes of the God of inexhaustible grace, correcting myopic non-imaginative, small-minded and puny-hearted perceptions.

One plus one = 3 may just be the inspired equation we need. “The Broken Truth, and life itself,” writes Douglas Wood in Old Turtle, ”will be mended only when one person meets another — someone from a different place or with a different face or different ways — and sees and hears …herself. Only then will the people know that every person, every being, is important, and that the world was made for each of us.

"And slowly, as the people met other people different from themselves, they began to see … themselves.”

We are all artists, even if we don’t know it. Anybody can color this kind of one plus one = 3 life.

Moving from what is to what can be, we all have it in us to create beauty. In our homes, our work, our relationships, our conversations. Whom we befriend and invite to the dinner table. How we learn to forgive and to reconcile. How we solve problems and deal with conflict and make choices.

We do have a choice, you know. We can add to each other or we can take away from one another. And that choice also will determine whether or not we take away or add to ourselves.

It’s what you do with all that’s going on inside you that makes the difference.

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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