July 27, 2018
A Creativity Toolbox
When I was in seminary, one of my preaching professors shared his method of having ready illustrations to use in his sermons. He read widely, and he would cut out or copy short stories and other illustrations and place them all in a file. Then, when he was writing his sermon, he would filter through the sheaf of materials in order to find a story to use in that week’s sermon.
As time went along, more and more collections of sermon illustrations and stories were published in book form, often coordinated with the lectionary preaching schedule. I have some of those books on my shelves, as well as also having a file yet somewhere that contains stories gathered in that older fashion that the professor suggested.
Stephen King, in his memoir on writing, speaks of authors having a toolbox, with such things in that box as vocabulary, grammar and style. In the same way, collections of stories, the commentaries that are in one’s study, along with the skills taught to help with preaching, and one’s own developed style, together form a part of the toolbox for preaching.
As churches go about planning creative worship experiences, as well as engaging educational gatherings, it is important to accumulate a toolbox from which people can draw out those things that facilitate creative expression. Some of these will of course be technology-related items, like a computer, projector and screen. There are the media resources, from DVDs, to older VHS format tapes, and a subscription to a streaming service that your church finds to be helpful. Then it begins to be a matter of what you and others in your church deem to be helpful in planning with creativity. Books about creative worship may be in the toolbox, along with things like banners to use on various occasions, and other items that you use to transform the worship space at different times of year. There may be sketch books, art supplies, construction paper and more in the toolbox.
I encourage you to do two things with the toolbox. The first is to invite those who share in the planning to bring in their own items to add to the resources. This is not just things that people want to get out of their own homes, but things that an individual would see as useful in worship or education when they are doing the planning. Then, second, make this toolbox available to all those who are interested or engaged in doing the planning. Have things in an accessible area where people can ponder and imagine the creative ways in which they will dip into the toolbox.
Wherever you locate the toolbox, or however big or small it is, allow it to be a way for creativity to incubate and take shape.
July 20, 2018
Stepping back from the Computer
One of my favorite movies is, “Finding Forrester.” It is ostensibly a story about a reclusive writer and his interactions with a teenage basketball player who likes to write, but there is so much more to it that it never loses its intrigue for me. It is a story of friendship, of mentorship, of integrity, that also connects us with the world of writing.
The teenager, whose family struggles financially, is never shown working at a computer at home. The chances are that he doesn’t have one, but what he does have is a small, bound journal that we see him writing in, whether in the hallway steps of the author’s building, or sitting on his bed at home at night.
Journal writing is likely almost as old as writing itself. Journaling as a form of spiritual practice is something that has been talked about, and written about, for quite some time now. But what makes it significant in my mind is that it requires a different mindset and a different set of writing skills.
I often sit down with my list of tasks to do, and realize that ninety percent or more are something that I do on the computer. If the power goes out then I have about three hours of battery life to work with. As a consequence, I think that many people find it difficult to any longer write in long hand, and many schools are no longer even teaching cursive writing. But there is something different, and differently creative, about sitting down and writing in a journal or even on a pad of paper. I think it engages our brain in ways that prompt something different than when we are viewing our words appearing on the computer screen.
In the movie, the writer, Forrester, has two old, manual typewriters. When he writes he uses one, and he tells the teenager to sit down and use the other. There is something about the sound of these old machines, the pressure with which one punches the keys, the physical act of returning the carriage, that transports them both into a different realm.
While I used a similar kind of typewriter back in my seminary days, and actually have no desire to return to it, I do think that journaling, reflecting on our lives while engaged in the physical act of writing, is something quite valuable. It is a form of prayer, and a unique prompt to creativity. You may already journal regularly. If not, give it a try. And, if you haven’t seen “Finding Forrester,” I highly recommend it.
July 13, 2018
Helping Artists Open Doors
Rembrandt is an artist whose work is often both acclaimed and greatly appreciated. Of course, I am certain that there are some who just don’t connect with his work. Yet, his paintings have profound messages that can help us to experience biblical stories in fresh ways, and can even encourage us to see one another in unique ways as well. I began to reflect on this after reading portions of Frederick Buechner’s book, The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life, a book that I have mentioned a couple of times previously.
One of my favorite artists is Kandinsky. I enjoy his work immensely. But for many people, I imagine they just see strange paintings that “anyone could have done.” For me though, they are expressive of spirit, something that is ultimately unable to be captured, but that I think he does very well. Now that may not even be what the artist intended, but that is what I draw from many of his works.
Thirdly, Picasso is an artist whose work many people intensely dislike. His art is strange to them, and is a waste of their time. But if we really delve into his cubist works, we are encouraged to see reality in a different kind of way.
Our task then, in worship or educational settings, is to explore what we can of the intentions of an artist, delving into his or her perspectives and techniques, that we might get past the sometimes unusual technique in order to glimpse the gift that is offered through the art, or that we might receive the message that is there to challenge us.
This certainly can take some extra research, and requires that we spend some time with the works of an artist in order that we might see the possibilities for bringing their art into our church settings. As we educate and prepare ourselves, we are more fully ready to help others to draw from the riches of visual art.
Just as can never assume that people are familiar with biblical stories these days, and that we need to provide context and background in order to help people to understand those texts, so too in using art we need to find ways to open doors for people, so that the gifts of the artists can enter into our church experiences.
July 6, 2018
Movies at Church
When I was first introduced to the idea of using movie clips in worship, I was intrigued. It wasn’t anything that I had ever experienced. Yet, the professor suggested that it was a way to connect people’s experiences outside of the church setting with their faith and their encounters with God within the church setting.
The artistic medium of film has become something that I now use not only in worship celebrations from time to time, but in educational settings, as well as in hosting movie nights at the church.
There are different ways of presenting movies to church groups. My colleague, our Artist-in-Residence, approaches the conversations about movies from more of an artistic viewpoint, pointing out unique items of interest about the actors and actresses, discussing the film from the director’s viewpoint, and examining some of the creative techniques and unique elements in the movie. By contrast, when I host a movie night, I focus on the issues of faith and ethics that are raised through the movie, directing the discussion toward people’s emotional and intellectual responses to the movie, and exploring ways in which the characters experienced transformation in the course of the story. These are two approaches, and I imagine you may even have other ways of exploring this artistic medium.
A recent resource that I have discovered that can add to conversations about movies is available through the “Christian Century” website, a podcast entitled, “Technicolor Jesus.” It appears that the podcasts are presented on a somewhat irregular basis, perhaps dependent upon the schedules of the two hosts. The podcasts connect with specific films through time spent with a guest, as well as making connections to lectionary texts, and exploring the hosts’ own responses to the film. To be honest, I haven’t yet spent much time in listening, but the approach seems interesting and the variety of films is as well.
Finally, it is certainly another option to engage movies through developing a regular practice of going together to see a first-run movie and then taking time afterwards to discuss it over coffee or a meal. This option can of course get to be more expensive for many folks, but it provides an interaction with films that are often a part of people’s everyday conversations. On the other hand, costs for viewing films in the church are limited to the yearly fee for a license to do so, the cost of renting or buying the movie, and the price of the snacks (which are often donated by people attending the event).
The artistic medium of film is one that almost everyone encounters on a frequent basis. It is fun to explore the themes of movies, and discussions about them can prompt deep conversations about faith, transformation and our shared journey in life.
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.