Listening to Words
I am slowly reading a book by Stephen King. I am not proceeding slowly because it is too deep, nor because it is boring, which it is not, but because it is recreational reading for me, and my many other reading demands take precedence. Now when I say recreational reading I mean that in two ways. The first is in terms of relaxing as I do it, doing it for fun and for my own learning. The second is that I have found this book to be a source of re-creation, renewing me as I listen to him tell stories. I am also learning things about writing, which is a good thing since the book is titled, On Writing.
As I listen to King telling stories that both share his life and his writing style, and that at the same time give clues about his view of the craft of writing, I am reminded of a weekly writing workshop that my colleague, and soon to be associate pastor, Jim McGrath taught at his church. As we would write and then read our work to one another in that workshop, I learned to listen more carefully to people’s words, and to my own words, and I found myself being purposeful in choosing my words more carefully.
To choose words carefully, as I mean it here, doesn’t mean avoiding certain words so that, for instance, someone’s feelings won’t be hurt. Those choices are important too, but here I am talking about using words to craft our writing. One of my first discoveries in that workshop setting was of how often I used a rather limited set of words. I found that one or two of those words were apt to appear three or four times each in just a couple of paragraphs. That was boring and uncreative writing. I may have been enthused about the direction my writing was going, but if I wanted that enthusiasm to come across to others then I needed to find better and more diverse words. So, I purposely spent more time choosing the words I used, even if it meant I wrote a sentence or two less before the time was up.
I would enjoy it if I earned income through being a writer, through having things published now and then. But then, in fact, I do earn part of my income already through writing. I write sermons. I write letters for a variety of purposes. I write articles for my church newsletter. And in each of those cases, no less than if I was fortunate enough to have something published, it matters how I write. I look for words that will stand out. I choose words that communicate better than other words I have used in the past. Every time I write something I have the opportunity to be creative, and I enjoy that possibility.
We each write on a regular basis. It may be nothing more than emails, texts or Facebook posts, but we are all writers. For many people, expediency is most important. And yes, there are times when I just need to get an email or text sent out. But I enjoy even those things much more when I can add a little creativity to my writing, and perhaps add a little joy to another person’s day.
The Story in Stained Glass
As we moved into the book of 1 Timothy in Bible study this week, it led to a conversation about the ways in which lay persons have learned about the Christian faith throughout the centuries.
In the great cathedrals of the middle ages, stained glass windows served not only to bring light and beauty into the space where people gathered to worship God, but they also provided a way to educate people, many of whom were not fortunate enough to be able to read and study the Bible as we do today. Many people were illiterate, and others who may have been able to read likely had little access to biblical and theological texts. So the beauty and creativity of the glass spoke volumes to them.
In my church we have three generations of stained glass windows, by which I mean that they were created in three different time periods by three different artists.
There are three windows that grace the one side wall of the worship space, all of them making statements about our faith in simple and fairly understandable ways. There is the “Chalice and Bread,” which are symbols central to our life as a Disciples of Christ congregation. There is also the “Alpha and Omega,” which may be less recognizable today, but which is understandable if explained. “The Good Shepherd” is the third of the three, and is pictured here.
When a much older window was broken in the 1994 earthquake in our area, it was replaced with one that sought to utilize some of the style elements of the other three, but which offered a more complex vision, incorporating a cross, as well as a vine, grapes and wheat, and which invites a deeper reflection on the images and creativity of the window. It is pictured here.
Finally, what greets worshippers as they view the front of the sanctuary is our newest window, with a sunburst that can be interpreted quite simply, but an image which also invites one to consider the many ways in which the power of light and the glory of the resurrection are at the center of our worship life and our life as Christians. This is a view of that window.
One window is apt to speak to several people, where the beauty and color in another window will touch other people in various ways. I am grateful that we have each of our windows, that they especially grace us with color and joy, and that each in its own way tells a part of the story of who we are together as the church.
Wonderful Variety in Worship
We have had trouble engaging a pianist to play for our worship celebration this coming Sunday. Our regular pianist has taken some vacation time. Our most usual fill-in is out of town until after Sunday. Others whom we have contacted are busy for a variety of reasons, including the fact that is it Father’s Day. So it has been a puzzle.
We have two guitarists who have played in worship a couple of times, a flutist who plays with us about once a month, and two people who can play some piano but are not used to doing it regularly in worship. And I am so looking forward to the experience this coming Sunday when these wonderful people will combine their talents and produce some amazing music.
A few years ago I likely would have been panicked about all of this. After all, it is ultimately my responsibility to make sure the worship celebrations are coordinated well and staffed with the needed musicians and worship leaders. And yet, I have come to so treasure variety in worship, that I can’t hardly wait to see all of this come together.
As I was talking with a couple of the musicians two nights ago, we discussed the ways in which people get set in their expectations of worship. They like to know what is coming, and they are often slow to respond when new elements are introduced. And yet, if we truly believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we understand that God seeks for us to be renewed in spirit in marvelous ways, then how can we expect all of that to happen if we never do anything more than the expected?
In a smaller church, there will certainly be Sundays when little is different from the week before, save for the songs chosen and the message offered to people. Yet, more often than not, I hope to include elements that are different from week to week, so that God might be experienced through the uniqueness of each Sunday. Indeed, I hope to do things enough differently from one week to the next such that people will feel that they are missing something if they are not together in community on Sunday morning.
So this Sunday will be unique, and yet I hope it will become one more option for our worship experiences on more Sundays than just when a pianist isn’t available. This is the kind of creativity and fun that I always hope to encourage in our worship times.
Collecting Art as an Individual
J. Paul Getty, in his book that I mentioned last week, The Joys of Collecting, encourages collectors to begin modestly, recognizing that if collecting art is of interest to you, there are ways to do so within one’s means. He also makes clear that his philosophy is to collect what one enjoys. There are those who have criticized his choices of purchases, and especially questioned his desire to collect art in fairly narrowly defined categories. But he collected what he found to be interesting, moving and inspirational.
As I reflect upon the idea of collecting art, I do so not with the idea of being able to showcase a great collection, or to purchase pieces with an eye to selling them later for great sums of money, nor to somehow demonstrate my sophistication in the arts. I am not an art scholar, but I do enjoy a great many art forms. I am not particularly knowledgeable about periods and movements in the history of art, but I do appreciate works of beauty or poignancy that touch my spirit.
So I do sometimes purchase what I enjoy, and I use the word “purchase” because I would not really say that I am a “collector.” I don’t go shopping for new pieces once a week, but when I encounter a work of art that inspires me, that I would like to continue to view and even meditate upon, then I may purchase that piece.
More often than not, I enjoy viewing a work of art, and then leave it for another to consider. Any purchases I have made have been modest, because that is within my means. Most works of art that I have purchased are photographs, and many of those were because I had met the photographer and grew to appreciate his or her vision and craft. Thus, in a purchase I accomplished the two objectives that I consider when buying a piece, adding something of beauty or meaning to my life, and supporting the creative work of someone who uses art to express the gifts that God has placed within them.
Just as I believe that art supports an important vision in the life of a church, so I feel that works of art that speak to us in the more intimate setting of our own home also have a profound impact upon us. It is not the size that matters. Nor is one medium better than another. It is how each work of art, each drawing or painting, each sculpture or photograph, speaks to us. And one of the messages that I believe we receive, through whatever medium we choose to have in our home, is that creativity is vital, that it feeds our soul.
Collecting Works of Art
I recently read a small book by J. Paul Getty entitled, The Joys of Collecting. Getty is known for his business acumen, and for his art collections that fill the two museums that bear his name. As I have written before, I always enjoy visiting those museums, and I was curious about his thoughts regarding collecting art.
I have no desire to accumulate enough money to buy any kind of artwork that is valued at several million dollars. I can actually think of many ways that I could use such a sum of money that would do far more good than using it to buy a painting. That being said, I am grateful for Getty and others who have used their money to collect art and, for many like Getty, to share it with those of us who otherwise would never set our eyes on such magnificent works.
A number of years ago I thought it would be nice for my church to have some art to exhibit, and through that art to hopefully inspire people as it either told a story of faith or shared artistic creativity in other ways. By art here, I mean original works of creativity, and not just posters of famous works of art. Posters can certainly serve a function, but I wanted to be able to present original works by contemporary artists.
We began with self-made art that was created in a mosaic workshop. It was simple, each design somehow involving a cross or crosses, but it was a beautiful beginning. Then, during one of our performance series seasons, we had an exhibition of collages by an artist from Cape Cod. She generously donated a piece to the church, which she had titled, “Gateway.” Another artist who was a member of the church donated two of her watercolors. Then, when our youth participated in a photography exhibition at the church, we kept the works that didn’t sell and they hang yet in a hallway of the church. It is a modest collection, but I enjoy every piece each time I see them.
My church’s collection of artworks has come about, not through purchases, but through donations, and I am grateful for each one of them. But while churches do want to respond to the generosity of people, they also need to be wise about donations in general. It can be somewhat awkward to turn down donations, and yet churches sometimes end up with things that it would have been more appropriate to respectfully decline. This I am certain is also true in the area of works of art. It would be wise then for the church, at least in this area and perhaps generally as well, to establish guidelines for its art collection, both those additions that come through purchases and those that are offered through donations.
Churches have a wonderful opportunity to serve as patrons of the arts, and especially to support the work of emerging artists. The presence of art in the church allows people to encounter life, faith and our God in ways that the spoken word sometimes cannot communicate as well. We each receive the messages and grace of God in different ways. Encouraging the arts to be one of those ways helps to complete the picture.
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.