July 29, 2022
Bringing the Story to Life
Our church Book Club is currently reading a novel entitled, The Paris Library, by Janet Skeslien Charles. It is an engaging story based upon true events surrounding the American Library in Paris before and during the Nazi Occupation of Paris during World War II. It is a story rich in characters, in the love of literature, and in the joy of reading.
As one of the main characters of the story talks with another of the library workers, she speaks of reading books from her favorite living author, and says that in her reading she “gorged on those, too, like chocolate cake, like love. I cared so deeply about the characters that they became real.” (p. 51)
If a novelist writes well, the characters do indeed become real, we care about them, we resonate with their emotions, we long for them to be safe and well. In the same way, when we watch a movie, if we can forget that we are seeing a famous actor or actress on screen and instead experience the character come to life, then both the screenwriter and the actor have done their work well.
This certainly is what we hope transpires in church dramatic presentations, where we go beyond cheering for Jane or Bob, and we experience them becoming Michel and David, or Mary and Jesus. When we participate in our church’s Zoom theatre presentations, we hope to move the audience to see and hear the characters we have created, rather than just being encouraged for reading our lines well.
For preachers, for other leaders in worship experiences, this is so important as well. Yes, in one way, we are to be proclaiming our own message, sharing our own story and faith experiences. But when we share scripture stories, when we tell stories, we too should strive to make biblical figures come to life, to allow characters in stories to speak such that their story is more than just our telling of it.
It takes engagement and creativity to bring a story to life, and yet, it can make all the difference for people.
July 22, 2022
I was recently re-reading portions of a book entitled, God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art, by Daniel Siedell. In the introduction to the work, he suggests that art needs to be both engaged and experienced. I certainly agree with him, and have expressed that in various ways through the years.
As I had lunch with a colleague, he spoke about the ways in which he invites people to participate in worship experiences, including simply reading scripture and then asking people how it has affected them. This invitation to share, he explained, can lead the congregation in unplanned, but very important, pathways.
Whether it is in the gallery or the worship space, engagement and participation are important. We can certainly absorb a certain amount of information and other input by merely being present in a situation. But to fully engage the art in a gallery or museum, and to engage the time of worship with all of our senses, it to expand our experiences and to enrich our lives in wonderfully greater ways.
In either setting, actually in any setting, such engagement asks us to focus our attention, to devote our time and our energy to what is before us or is happening around us. When we do this, then we glean incredible benefits.
Someone once said that “worship” is “the work of the people.” This means that a time of worship is not just something which we allow to happen to us, but it is an experience where we truly are involved, such that we are doing the acts of worship. In the same way, engaging with art is a way of responding to the invitation of the artists to see and experience life in new and profound ways. And there is indeed much to see, and to experience.
July 15, 2022
Culture and Arts
It was my privilege recently to attend a gathering of the Los Angles area group of members of the Cherokee Nation. It was a time of sharing about culture, participating in traditional Cherokee games, and of learning about the creation of objects that have meaning for Cherokees and that are artistic works at the same time.
Among the craft projects were the making of a necklace that has meaning in regard to the history of the Cherokee people, clay turtles that also have a specific significance, and basket weaving, which was fascinating to watch as people worked their unique creations.
One of the messages of the day was that in Cherokee culture the focus is on maintaining balance in our lives. Part of this balance comes from an attitude of approaching life with gratitude. Part of it comes from the activities we engage in and how we allow them to touch our spirits. The process of creating the crafts was as much an act of maintaining balance as it was an artistic endeavor.
When we approach our lives, and our common life in religious communities, with a drudgery or an attitude of maintaining the status quo, then we will experience lives that are actually out of balance. When we invite creativity – in planning, in artistic expressions, in asking about the vision that we have of where God is leading us – then we move toward a balance and harmony between ourselves and God, both individually and communally.
Involvement in creativity, in acts that create balance, is invigorating. I watched as my Cherokee friends, and new friends that I met for the first time, allowed themselves to be engaged in the activities of the day. There was laughter, there was encouragement of one another, there was joy evident and expressed in wonderful ways. It was a beautiful day, and provided a glimpse of what we can all experience as we engage in creativity and seek to discover balance in our lives.
July 8, 2022
Patrons of the Arts
As our church prepares to host its first musical concert in more than two years, I am grateful for those individuals and organizations that have supported our series throughout the years, and have given their support for this season as well. Since we have tried to keep our ticket prices quite modest, while still offering fair honorariums to our artists, we have depended upon the generosity of our patrons to make each season a success.
I have been thinking about these patrons even as I was reading a review in the “Art and Christianity” magazine I mentioned last week. This particular review was of a recent exhibition in Birmingham, England. It was a gathering of the works of Carlo Crivelli, whom I had not heard of, and whose works have apparently been mainly ignored within the art scholarship field.
At one point the reviewer makes the comment that Crivelli “seems to have been less constrained by his patrons than many of his contemporaries, allowing his imagination free range.” (Summer 2022 issue, page 6) It was an insight into not only the works of Crivelli, but also into the relationship that many artists did have with their wealthy patrons, which affected their creativity I imagine in greater and lesser ways.
It is natural, when we support an individual or a cause, to want to have input into how our gifts are used. In fact, we of course support causes that align with our values and visions, and leave it to others to fund the ones that support their values. But when it comes to the arts, it seems to me that there is a fine line between encouraging creativity and imposing our own visions upon the artist.
If we are choosing to be a patron of a classical composer for instance, we would certainly be justified in expecting classical compositions as opposed to country western themed works. But to demand that the classical compositions have a particular flavor, for example requiring that the works resemble the compositions of John Williams, would be to thwart the creativity of the artist we are supposedly supporting.
The relationship between an artist and a patron requires trust and faith. Yes, the artist needs to use the time and funds well, but the patron needs to be willing to welcome and even celebrate the unique creativity and creations of the artist. I think this may be especially true in the world of the church, where we tend to have particular expectations of both pastoral leaders and artists. The freedom to use the gifts that God gives to each of us, the freedom for artists to bring their unique creativity to the church, is an important consideration as we celebrate the gifts that both patrons and artists bring to the church, hopefully each depending upon the inspiration of the Spirit for their collaboration.
July 1, 2022
Opening our Minds
I recently paid for a membership with Art and Christianity, the London-based organization that provides educational projects and publications that further connections in the field of visual art and religion. I have mentioned this organization in previous blogs and have finally joined as a member. One of the benefits of membership is a quarterly publication with articles, exhibition reviews and other contributions to the dialogue between the visual arts and religion, and specifically connections with churches and Christianity.
They quickly sent me a letter of welcome, a copy of their annual review of their activities and the current issue of their periodical. I have only just begun to read the Summer 2022 issue of the publication, but as I carried it around with me to read as I had opportunities, it happened that someone picked it up to glance at it. That person’s reaction was rather negative after viewing the artwork included in the issue. The comment was that the works of art were not particularly beautiful, and that most lacked a sense of realism. So, this provided an opportunity for dialogue. It turned out that the person prefers art that depicts realistic subjects, and indeed their favorite art medium is photography. It was an interesting conversation.
I will say that the fact that all of the artwork shown in the publication is via black and white photographs does give a certain sense of the works and does remove them one step from the way in which most of us view art, that being in the colors that the artists have chosen. That being said though, there is a deeper issue here. Much of contemporary art is indeed quite different from what one would find in guidebooks to art history. And, such works are meant to challenge us, to invite us to see and experience life in ways that are often beyond our prior exposures to art and even life. At the time that the Impressionist movement began to impact the art world, many people found the works of those artists to be beyond what they were willing to consider to be art. Today, of course, a great many people love the works of the Impressionists and will sit and admire them on repeated visits to galleries. When Picasso moved into his Cubist period, his works challenged conceptions about art, and while many people today still do not care for his work, there are many who appreciate the perspectives he was trying to share.
While none of us will ever appreciate every form of art, the invitation from artists, and through the sharing of their works in publications such as “Art and Christianity,” is to consider new and different ways of viewing life, viewing the world. This is indeed a very Christian way of approaching life, as Jesus himself came saying to people, “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” Jesus invites us to consider an ever-new way of living our lives. Artwork, of whatever century, invites us to also consider new opportunities to experience life, and to perhaps be transformed in the process.
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.