One of the most influential writers in my life has been Frederick Buechner. If you have read his books, then you likely have a similar appreciation for his writing. If you have not, then I encourage you to pick up any of his books and give him an opportunity to speak to you. Not only do I find his writing to be insightful, and his own introspection to lead to personal reflections on my part, but his well-crafted words stir something inside me. He is also apt to write long, run-on sentences that beg you to find a breaking point for a period and a new sentence, and yet his editors apparently never found such breaks either and allowed such sentences perhaps because that is often the way that we talk when we get involved in something that is important to us.
In his book, Whistling in the Dark, the second of his own carefully chosen dictionaries, Buechner offers his unique definitions of words that we might think that we know well, but that he shows us can contain more. Among those words that he offers us, is the word, “Art.” At the heart of his definition then, he says that art frames a moment for us. “The frame sets it (the moment) off from everything else that distracts us. It makes possible a second thought. That is the nature and purpose of frames. The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment.” He notes that frames set off moments that come to us through poetry, just as they set off moments that artists create in paintings.
This is also, in another way, what we do when the church gathers for worship. While we may read the Bible and pray on our own, and even gather with small groups during the week for various activities, it is in the common worship celebration that we place a frame around our life together as a particular family of God’s people. We use that frame each week as a way to focus our attention upon the shared needs and joys of the people. We frame the scriptures, even as the preacher and perhaps others give a specific focus to the interpretation and application of the scriptures to our lives. We include in that frame our encounters with God through music, communion and more. That time of worship focuses our lives upon the relationship between our selves and God, and between one another.
One can hope then that what we do together as we worship is indeed a work of art in its own right, an expression of creativity, brought about through passion, love and work dedicated to touching the lives of everyone who chooses to share in that framed moment.
My congregation has sponsored a concert and arts series since 2009. When we first began, knowing that finances are always tight in smaller churches, I told my Board that the Series would be self-sustaining, that it wouldn’t need any support from the church budget. As we are set to begin our eighth season, we have kept that promise. We certainly operate on a very tight program budget, but through careful stewardship and the generosity of faithful donors to our Patron of the Arts program, we continue to be self-sustaining.
I offer this brief history because, despite my vow at the beginning of the venture, there was uncertainty about the ability of the Series to function entirely on its own. After all, to undertake an arts series sounds both ambitious and costly. And, to tell the truth, it is ambitious, and it can be costly. But we have managed to offer high-quality concerts and art exhibitions, and have done so within our series budget.
Sometimes smaller churches dream small. That caution is in part due to being careful with the resources that are available. But it is often also true that people are afraid that their church may not survive if they attempt anything that is too ambitious. The trouble is that when we adopt that survival mentality, we are already close to losing something that is important, even precious, to us. When we begin to depend only on our own resources to survive, rather than on God’s leading to thrive, we have begun to defeat ourselves.
In truth, anything is possible, if we walk in faith, plan well, and find others to join us in turning a vision into reality. Our concert series is testament to that. If you had told me eight years ago that we would by now have presented concerts featuring artists from around our country, and even from around the world, I would have been very skeptical. If you had told me that the quality of music that we hear in our small church is equal to what you hear in famous music halls around the world, I might have wondered where you were getting your ideas. But we have done these things, and more.
If you are a part of a smaller church, or perhaps even a larger church with limited vision, know for a certainty that anything truly is possible. Vision, hard work, faith and partnerships accomplish so much more than we can even imagine. The fun is in watching it all come to life.
If you are interested to learn more about the Series, you can visit www.gatewayperformanceseries.org
One of the movies I find to be interesting in a multitude of ways is, “First Knight,” which is the story of King Arthur and Camelot, and all of the intrigues surrounding it. There is a point when Arthur’s to-be-bride, Guinevere, is kidnapped, and subsequently rescued by the free-spirit Lancelot. As Lancelot is resting, Arthur comes to him to thank him and ask what he can do for him to show that thanks. Lancelot says, “I did what any man would have done.” To which Arthur replies, “No, no, you risked your life for another. There is no greater love.” He continues, “you care nothing for yourself. Look at you…no wealth, no home, no gold, just the passionate spirit that drives you on. God uses people like you…because your heart is open, you hold nothing back, give all of yourself.”
The passionate spirit that holds nothing back – it seems to me that we are here talking about the very essence of a fulfilling life, an abundant life in the sense that Jesus talks about it. There are certainly other qualities that make life to be full, but a passionate spirit is so essential.
Yet, how many times do we find ourselves just going through the motions in a day, or just trying to get to the end of the day without any huge difficulties? I think that is probably quite normal, until it becomes the norm instead of the exception. If we spend more days dreading what lies before us than we do approaching things with a joyful expectancy, how full is our life really?
Passion – how do we define it, recognize it and make it our own? I have been reading the thoughts of others about passion. I have some reflections of my own. But I am also curious as to what you may have to say about it. If you would be willing to share your thoughts, I would be grateful. You can reach me through the contact tab of this website, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .
As I continue to explore the arts, and especially the ways in which they can enrich the life of smaller churches, I recognize passion in many ways through the expressions of artists. I am acutely aware that most art we see, or hear, or experience, can seem polished or perhaps even simple, but that however it comes across to us, it is the result of careful, intense work that can only happen if it is emerging from a passion within the artist. This is one of the clues that I am looking at in regard to understanding a passionate approach to life.
I hope to receive your thoughts about these things.
It was in about seventh or eighth grade that I was introduced to Haiku. Many of you may have had a similar experience. If not, in brief, Haiku is a form of poetry that is composed of three lines and seventeen syllables. The first line uses five syllables, the second line uses seven syllables, and the final line completes the poem with five more syllables. There are, of course, many more subtleties to this art form, but that basic structure is what appealed to me in those school years. You see, I wasn’t very good at writing rhyming poetry, but I was good at math. So not only could I figure out the structure of Haiku, but it didn’t have to rhyme. I had found my form of poetic expression.
Through the years I have continued to appreciate Haiku, including buying a book about it to further educate myself, and occasionally sitting down to write a Haiku. In another book on my office shelves, which offers a series of creative expressions of the Christmas story through story and verse, there are two or three Haikus. During Advent, as I gathered with my youth on a Sunday morning, I brought out two of these Haikus and we spent time reading and discussing them. Then I asked them to write three Haikus about three different aspects of the Advent and Christmas seasons. They too were familiar with this form of poetry from school experiences, and they responded with creativity. At the same time I joined them in writing, and again discovered the joy that I derive from this art form.
One part of Haiku that I believe is so powerful is that the poet needs to find the right words, and put them in the right places, in a way that is necessarily brief, because of the structure that is imposed by the art form. It requires one to think, to evaluate the possible words, and to make choices that communicate clearly in a rather minimalist way.
It occurs to me that preachers, or maybe any speaker, might benefit from the use of Haiku. If a preacher were to sit down and write a Haiku before beginning to work on their message, it might help to define the focus of that message. Too often we preachers have so much that we would like to say, even so much that we are excited to share, that we fail to establish a clear focus and thus wander around for much too long a time. By having to define the message in a mere seventeen syllables, we might be able to recognize more clearly exactly what the message is that we are anxious to share.
When I listen to a sermon, or to a speech of any kind, the clearer the focus is, the more I take away from it. I want to offer that same gift to others.
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.