January 29, 2016
Patron of the Arts
When I go to a music center or a theatre, I am one of those who glance through the list of names of people who have supported an organization and are designated in various categories. Chances are slim that I will recognize any name, but there is still a fascination for me because these individuals have found an organization to be meaningful enough in their lives that they have given financially to support the artistic creativity of that organization.
In the concert series that my church sponsors each year, we provide an opportunity for people to be patrons of the arts as well. We are a small church and so it doesn’t take long to read our list of names. But I am incredibly grateful to each and every person who gives in that way. In truth, because we keep ticket prices modest enough for anyone to be able to experience the fine music and art that we offer, these patrons are the ones who help us to bring such fine programs to our community.
There were times in history when the church universal was one of the prime patrons of the arts. Sometimes that was a matter of wealthy bishops having a commitment to the arts and the inclusion of the arts in churches. Sometimes there were wealthy church members who served as patrons for artists whose work they found impressive or inspirational.
But with the advent of the Protestant churches, the preaching of the word became the primary means through which God was revealed to the people. The arts took a back seat in many cases, and in some churches the visual arts disappeared altogether. Music has remained a staple in most churches, and when funds have been available, often through memorial gifts, stained glass windows have graced the sanctuaries of some churches. However, the reality in many churches was not only that patronage of the arts disappeared, but the visual arts themselves were nowhere to be found.
Fortunately, in the last hundred years especially, some churches have reawakened to the power of the arts in their midst. There are churches that have art on their walls, others that host art exhibitions, and still others that have art galleries where they display the collected art of the congregation. It is heartening to hear the stories of these people who have opened their hearts and minds to the arts again.
I wonder though whether the church in general will again emerge as a patron of the arts. I hope so. I think it can be a wonderful partnership between the church and artists. It does involve a willingness on the part of churches to being open to seeing life expressed in a variety of ways. It does involve a willingness on the part of artists to help nurture an understanding and appreciation for such expression. It can be an enriching journey for both the church and the artist. I hope it happens more frequently.
January 22, 2016
It is no fun having a cold. It is no fun being sick, whatever the particulars may be. It is decidedly unproductive being ill.
I work hard to stay healthy, but I have been down with a cold for a couple of days now. I haven’t felt like doing anything, and I haven’t done hardly a thing. Being sick is indeed counter to productivity.
One thing I realize, that I remember recognizing the last time I had a cold, is that I need to value the times of health, and the opportunities that I am afforded through being well. When I get tired, I may need rest, but I may also need to remind myself that I am well enough to do the things I need to do and that I need to be thankful for that.
The other realization that comes through being ill is that we are all vulnerable. At times we may like to consider ourselves to be invincible, but illness reminds us that we are vulnerable to things that are sometimes beyond our control. In a more general sense, recognizing my vulnerability also reaffirms my need for God. In fact, when I am vulnerable I am most open to God’s presence and peace, and yes, healing.
I don’t write any of this to seek your sympathy. We all go through times of illness, and I know that it will eventually run its course and I will suddenly realize that I am well again. I do write however to remind myself that there are lessons to be learned in any experience, including being ill. I share my learnings only that it might prompt your own reflections, either now or maybe the next time you are ill.
Of course, best of all, stay healthy.
January 15, 2016
Music of the Youth
I recently asked some of my youth about the kinds of art that they like. Some of them had general preferences in subjects of art, such as being drawn to landscapes that tell a story versus finding no interest in still life or portraits. Others had specific artists and art movements, such as Impressionism, that they particularly liked.
Then I asked about music. There was a definite inclusion of Rap in their preferences, but, by their standards, the origins of Rap did much more for them than does the Rap of today, because the beginnings of Rap told much more of a story and today the words don’t always make sense. There was also a preference for Classical music, including Baroque music and the Romantic period. However, no Beethoven, thank you. And, alternative Rock was included in their choices as well.
Then, later, as I began to talk with them about our planning a worship experience together, I asked them what music we might bring into that worship time. I expected perhaps some ideas related to what they had already shared about music. But I was immediately met with the conviction that they like what we already have in our worship experiences. They like a time of being immersed in music that is different than what they usually listen to. I asked about times when they would visit other churches with their friends (yes, I know they do that, and I think it is great for them to experience different traditions and forms of worship). One said that the contemporary music that is sung at her friend’s church is loud and just doesn’t do anything for her. Another said that the band at her friend’s church was just weird.
I was amazed at their answers; they were so unexpected. Now you could say that because we don’t have a band and play a lot of loud music that the experiences at other churches were just very unfamiliar. But I heard something more. What I heard loud and clear is that they appreciate stepping out of the usual when they come to church. They like to experience something different than they do with their friends or even in the solitude of their own rooms.
It returned me once again to a basic premise of being the church, and of particularly being a place to experience God through worship. It is a time set apart. It is an opportunity to engage in something different than those things that we do daily. And we don’t need to bring along all of the comforts of daily life in order to survive the hour or so of worship. As we leave those things behind for a brief time, we can then infuse daily life with the fruits of our encounter with a set apart time.
So often today we try to figure out how to bring regular life into the worship time. Perhaps the greater challenge is to bring the encounter with God through worship into that regular, daily life. I thank my youth for the reminder.
January 8, 2016
The Christmas season ended on Tuesday. I know, for most people Christmas ended on December 25th. In fact, on the 26th I began to see Christmas trees being hauled out to parkways and left in the local park for recycling. Come and gone. In the church, however, there really are the twelve days of Christmas, absent of course all the gifts from the song of the same name. These twelve days form the brief season of Christmas, which ends on January 5th. Then the season of Epiphany begins on January 6th. That day is traditionally associated with the visit of the Wise Men to the place where Jesus and his parents were by that time. The gospel writer Matthew in fact says that they were in a “house,” certainly an upgrade from the “no room in the inn” of the Gospel of Luke. That doesn’t mean there is biblical conflict here, merely that they moved out of the stable as quickly as they could, and stayed elsewhere in Bethlehem until it was safe for mother and child to travel to their home.
The season of Epiphany takes on the character of being a time of recognizing and celebrating the revelation of Jesus to the world. It starts with the showing of the child to the Wise Men, takes us through the story of the baptism of Jesus, the early ways in which he was revealed to more people, and includes his own choices to begin to show people his true being.
Every now and then people use the word “epiphany” to refer to an experience that they have had. Not too often, but every now and then. But whether we characterize it as an epiphany, or a revelation, or a moment of enlightenment, we do at times speak of such experiences. Perhaps the infrequency of such references means that we reserve such terminology for particularly meaningful moments. Or, maybe we don’t speak of them often because we aren’t paying enough attention to our life to notice them.
Life is busy for most people, no doubt about it. That busyness can lead us to get stuck in routines, and doing enough to manage each day and even survive each day. But life is enriched as we discover things along the way. Those discoveries, those epiphanies, keep life interesting. They lead us to a greater sense of meaning. And they are there, daily. Our challenge is to pay attention, to open our selves up to what is there, and to rejoice in what we see and hear and experience.
January 1, 2016
The Twelve Week Plan
I was recently listening to an interview with Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Chef. The interviewer spoke about the trend away from goals that focus on a year, or even five years, instead working with short-term goals such as one might accomplish in a twelve-week span. The idea, supported by Ferriss, is that such shorter periods of time encourage one to make full use of one’s talents and energy, rather than under-performing over a longer period of time.
So, reflecting on this, I began to think about a book that I have been working on writing for years now. At one point in time I thought that I was close to being done with the writing, and I found a publisher who showed some interest in the project. Then the editorial team wanted to change the focus of the book, and so I made some changes. Then, just as quickly, the editor left that publisher and I received no further contact from anyone.
I contacted another publisher where I received some interest as well. Here too, though, the interest was in a somewhat different focus than either of the first two attempts at getting the book published. So, I am now working on a third version of book, which has in fact been energizing for me and which I hope will find continued interest from this publisher.
At one point in the interview that I referenced as I began, Tim Ferriss shared that when he tried to publish his first book, the journey took him through twenty-six or twenty-seven publishers before he found one who was willing to take a chance on it. After that first book spent four years on the New York Times bestseller list, I imagine many of the other publishers wish they had given it more thought and had gone ahead with the project.
His experience actually gives me some hope, even if the current publisher I am contacting decides the project is not for them. That being said, I am wondering what might happen if I now give myself twelve weeks to finish the book. And, going beyond just wondering, I am setting that goal for myself. I will complete the book by March 31st. Getting it published is something else. But, I will complete it within these next twelve weeks.
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.