August 25, 2017
Annie Dillard wrote a book years ago entitled, Teaching a Stone to Talk. I loved the title and enjoyed the book immensely.
As I was walking along the ocean shore with my wife and a couple of church members recently, one of those friends said, “You can hear the stones tumbling over one another as the water washes ashore.” And sure enough, it was fascinating to listen as they tumbled over each another.
And my immediate thought was, “the stones are talking.” I stood and listened to them talk. I was entranced by the wonder and the joy of it. As I walked on and continued to reflect on this conversation that the stones were having, I decided that I wanted to capture the talking in a photograph. There were only sparsely scattered stones where I stood at that moment, and I couldn’t hear them talking, so I walked back down the beach to where they were talking. The photograph that serves as the current header of the website is of those stones.
One rather obvious connection that I made, both reading Dillard’s book years ago, and through this recent encounter, is of Jesus telling the religious leaders that if the people were silenced in their celebration of him entering Jerusalem, then the very stones would cry out. The Bible of course has numerous references to nature singing, trees dancing and more. In my church’s Sunday worship, we close most celebrations with the singing, hand clapping and dancing that goes so well with a song entitled, “Trees of the Field,” the biblical reference coming from Isaiah 55:12.
But more than having these images refreshed in my mind by the talking stones at the seashore, the experience was a reminder that creativity and wonder are always around us. It is our task, and our joy, to notice such things. In fact, if my friend hadn’t pointed out the tumbling stones, I would not have noticed them. But his gift of sharing his experience reminded me that I need to always pay attention, for there is much more to see and experience than we would ever guess.
August 18, 2017
Using the Art We Have
Most churches have artistic expressions in their worship spaces. It could be the way in which the communion table is presented, with perhaps a seasonal banner and a display of grapes and wheat. It may be the stained glass windows that are so familiar to people that they have just become part of the walls. It may be a cross that draws the attention of worshippers as they face the front of the church. Except in rare instances, there are artistic expressions that can have an impact on people.
While we sometimes may wish for new art forms, perhaps a painting or collage, even fresh banners to bring color into the space, there can be great joy and meaning is using what we have in place. I recently delivered a message using the 23rd Psalm and images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and drew people into the message through including our stained glass window that depicts the shepherd bringing comfort to a sheep. It not only made the message more effective, but it reminded people of the power of the visual images which are readily available to us.
Having mentioned banners as well, let me say a little more. Whether they are cloths which bring the colors of the season to the pulpit or the communion table, or are commercially available ones that hang from the rafters of the church, I prefer banners that speak with images rather than with words. While we have some banners that employ words, and which are quite attractive, it is the power of the images that I believe touch people most deeply. To use words on banners is most often to tell people what is before them. To use images alone invites people into the conversation, asks them to discover the meaning that they see rather than just accepting the reality that the words offer to them.
Banners are also a way to invite and celebrate people’s creativity. While ones that are made by the members of a congregation may not be as polished as ones that are bought, to display banners that share the created efforts of members is to expand the worship celebration in wonderful ways. Generally speaking, quality is always important, but this is one time when the creativity can certainly offer more to everyone.
Banners, whether created or purchased, are a wonderful way to bring moveable art into the worship space. While we certainly don’t change stained glass windows on a quarterly basis, and thus they may in some ways be less seen due to familiarity, we can change banners regularly, so that they are frequently bringing fresh life into the worship celebration. And when they are well done, people will enjoy having them return in their due season.
Using the art that we have, and adding to it in even low-cost ways, can make it an engaging part of every time of gathering for worship.
August 11, 2017
It suddenly felt right to diverge from comments on churches, the arts and more, and to be immersed in the artistry of creation. What follows is not great poetry to be sure, but it is meant to evoke a moment of worship, and to encourage your own adventure beside the still waters that feed your soul.
Beside Still Waters
Steadily it flows, the stream of living water.
Teeming with life, it is home to a multitude of creatures
Seen and unseen through our human eyes.
Flowing with purpose and desire
The stream feeds and ignores the pools of stiller waters.
Without the vibrant, living water
The still water will not exist.
The flowing stream inspires action.
Quiet pools seem of no consequence.
Yet the creatures of that living water
Cherish the rest that comes from being quiet and still
For a while.
Instinct guides them into still waters,
Wisdom encourages that they linger.
As the physical rest
Touches their spirits.
Steadily flows the stream of living water.
Silently sit the pools of quiet.
They feed each other.
August 4, 2017
It is always of great interest to me when I encounter people who are either speaking or writing about their poor experience with a church. It may have been the church of their childhood, or it may be the one that they visited last Sunday. It is of interest to me because I want to learn from the mistakes that other churches may have made, and if someone is giving me feedback about my own church then I want to know what we could have done differently in order to touch that person in a positive way.
At a different level, when people speak about such poor experiences, it interests me because somehow people often expect that churches will be perfect, and they are disappointed when that is not the case. Of course, there are certain things, things that somehow exclude people or treat them poorly, that are never acceptable in my opinion. But sometimes a poor experience means that the sermon was too long, or the singing was off-key, or the room was too hot. Those are things that vary from week to week in most cases. Sometimes the preacher is great, and sometimes not so great. I would judge my own messages to waver between those two indicators, although I certainly always strive for the great end of the scale. Yet, often, it seems, a visitor’s repeat showing up for worship is based on how great the message was, or how wonderful the other elements of worship were when they visited.
Now I understand that sometimes the style or theology or feel of the place is just not what the person was looking for in a church. And, truthfully, if someone shares their honest reservations with me, I will try to direct them to a church where I believe they will more likely find what they are looking for. But sometimes I just don’t get it. I have seen smiles on a person’s face, they have been warmly greeted by members of the church, they hang around for the food afterwards, they even say they will be back, and then we never see them again. And I know it is uncomfortable to say that they aren’t coming back, but I’m honestly not sure what else we could have done to be welcoming and hospitable.
But when people are down on a church, or on churches generally, because of one experience, I want to ask why they don’t give a church a second chance. And if they just can’t see themselves in that one particular church, why write off all churches?
If I go to a doctor, and I am not real comfortable because she or he isn’t like my beloved doctor who moved away, I am still going to give this new doctor at least a second chance in order to see if things click better. Or, even if I choose not to go back to that doctor, I will ask friends for recommendations of doctors so that I can try someone else. I certainly wouldn’t say, “Well, that doctor just wasn’t right, so I am not ever again going to see a doctor.” And yet that seems to be what some people say when it comes to churches.
I do know that my church, no matter how great I think it is, is not going to be for everybody. But when people visit, and then never return, I hope they have given another church a chance rather than writing off churches altogether.
Welcome to my website. I hope you will discover a connection to the life of small churches, and the richness that the arts can bring to these churches.