January 25, 2019
Language and Visual Art
I recently came across a movie entitled, “Words and Pictures.” As any good movie does, it included multiple layers of interaction and significance, but the thrust of the title was a competition within a school about whether words or pictures were more powerful. The main characters are an English teacher with a love for words, and an art teacher who pushes her students to allow their art to truly express their own feelings.
Interestingly, (some would say that God does place things before us if we choose to notice them), I received an email the next morning (a daily one that I subscribe to) in which Frederick Buechner was reflecting upon the power of language. In an excerpt from that email, taken from the larger work that it appeared in (The Sacred Journey), he writes, “I had always been a reader and loved words for the tales they can tell and the knowledge they can impart and the worlds they can conjure up like the Scarecrow’s Oz and Claudius’ Rome; but this teacher, Mr. Martin, was the first to give me a feeling for what words are, and can do, in themselves. Through him I started to sense that words not only convey something, but are something; that words have color, depth, texture of their own, and the power to evoke vastly more than they mean; that words can be used not merely to make things clear, make things vivid, make things interesting and whatever else, but to make things happen inside the one who reads them or hears them.”
The school competition in the movie could have drawn strength for the argument for the priority of words by quoting that passage from Buechner. However, I personally don’t find a need to have a competition between words and pictures, but would rather celebrate each of them in the unique gifts that they bring to us.
Within Protestant worship, words have long had a priority. And, truthfully, a well-crafted sermon, can indeed touch people’s emotions and fill their spirits. But thankfully, within the last few decades especially, visual art of varied mediums has begun to find its own voice in Protestant churches. It too is a powerful expression of communication, but one that most often relies upon the viewer to bring their own interaction and interpretation to the encounter. That has been the difficulty for churches, being willing to trust the viewers to engage in fruitful ways. But in that trust is also the blessing, for it allows whatever level of engagement the viewer brings to the moment. It offers the opportunity for involvement in powerful ways.
Both words and pictures have power to touch our lives. That truth is what the students in the school competition discovered as well.
January 18, 2019
Searching Yard Sales for Treasures
Our church holds one or two yard sales a year as a way to help raise money for our annual budget. Many churches no doubt do the same thing. What has always been amazing about our sales though is that we sell items for two days, we make a significant amount of money, and yet we still then donate a truckload of things to another community organization at the end of the sale.
But in addition to yard sales serving as fundraisers, they can also be a time of discovering items to use in telling the story of our faith. Now some of those discovered treasures can be obvious in their usefulness. I once bought a small lithograph that is a scene of a church at Christmas, with the crowd of people outside the church, having celebrated worship. It is colorful, definitely tells the story, and gives an artistic view to Christmas that is unique in its artistry.
There are of course also the numerous books that are donated to the sale, and through which I enjoy perusing at several junctures during the sale. The religious books are sometimes interesting, though often not all that exciting. But books about creativity, photography, and travel can certainly prompt ideas for exploring our faith story. Then there are usually also a multitude of novels and even some plays in the display. The themes that such books offer, the connections with life, can serve as starting points for exploring themes in worship.
Then there are the wide variety of odd items that challenge one to use their imagination in seeing how they might be useful in worship. We usually receive donations of fabric, some of which might be useful in creating banners such as I mentioned last week. There may be some cable for hanging a banner, or a braided cord to edge that banner. There are unique items that have a story behind them, and that long for a story to be newly created about them. The possibilities for discovery are endless. There truly are treasures to be found.
January 11, 2019
A Fresh Palette
This is the week, following the celebration of Epiphany, when we take down and store away all of the decorations from the Advent and Christmas seasons. Once we have done this, it is always striking to walk into the sanctuary and to be met by empty walls, with no manger scene present, and no Christmas beauty in evidence. One member, who offered to help with the work of undecorating, asked if we could leave up two angels hung on the back wall of the choir loft. Although they do look great, I said that we needed to remove even those angels.
Part of the rationale for me, in removing the angels and the other decorations, besides the fact that it is just time to do that, is that it sets up an anticipation of their return next time Advent rolls around. But, in addition, doing so signals that something new may be coming.
As to what is next, there is an open palette before us. With only the stained-glass windows and altar furnishings remaining, anything is possible. In our case, because the largest bare wall begs for something to appear, one option is to place banners on that wall, and perhaps at other places in the sanctuary as well.
There are of course two ways to go about that. Banners can certainly be purchased. But it is also a powerful experience to create banners for the specific space of one’s church. We have a collection of both kinds of banners, so let me reflect a little on these two options.
It can be an especially creative venture for a group to create one or more banners. In thinking about Epiphany right now, those banners could either speak specifically to themes of the season, or could more generally draw upon themes of baptism, living water, and so forth. For a group, large or small, to engage in such creativity, leads to feelings of accomplishment, and results in well-deserved pride in seeing their banners hung in the worship space.
There are plenty of resources available for such an activity. You can find numerous books about making banners. You may, as well, have resource people in your congregation who can assist in the process, whether they be artists, theatre people, or those who sew in various ways.
If, however, you don’t choose to create banners, or perhaps don’t have people who are interested in such a project, there are certainly companies that produce good quality banners for worship spaces. The task then becomes choosing those banners that are most appropriate for your space.
One decision that you will face is whether or not those banners will include the use of words. From an artistic standpoint, I think that it is intriguing to hang banners with no words. In letting the images speak for themselves, we then trust people to arrive at their own interpretations of meaning.
Sometimes, though, you may want to highlight a particular theme through the use of a scripture quote or other words. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. It is a personal choice. But in those times when we allow visual images to speak for themselves, those images then open up a wider palette of creative interaction for people.
The season of Epiphany is about revealing Jesus to the church and the world around us. May your renewed creativity help to do just that.
January 4, 2019
Setting New Directions
When we first began our Artist-in-Residence program, I had a hope that one aspect of the program would be to put together an annual drama production. I had no idea exactly what that would look like. I had no idea about what was really involved in such a production. But I could envision us doing one theatre production each year.
As our Artist-in-Residence has taken us through a year of workshop gatherings, and the production of two experiences that were presented in the Sunday worship time, I have begun to realize how ambitious it is to mount a full theatre production.
But the groundwork has been laid, and now he is going to begin the planning for such a production. Even in our initial discussion about it though, I realize that it is a complex undertaking. While he is going to draw upon the writings from our workshop gatherings for the first draft of the script, he will be both editing those writings and expanding the script through his own creativity. At the same time, we will be developing a budget, looking at the possibilities of hiring a set designer, and all the while keeping in mind that everything we do will need to be coordinated with other church activities, and especially with our worship gatherings since the play would be produced in that same space.
While I have gotten used to producing musical concerts in our sanctuary, and have even helped to prepare several art exhibitions in our social hall, the logistics and dynamics of a theatre production seem to be on a much grander scale. Fortunately, we have our Artist-in-Residence to guide the way, using his experience and expertise.
Although we are just now taking the first steps, I am already anxiously awaiting the production that will come sometime late in 2019 or in early 2020.
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.