Rest and Renewal in the Arts
I have been sending out daily emails to the folks on our church list, and I am currently sending out reflections on the theme of, “Walking the Pathway of Renewal.” To engage with the arts is a wonderful way to experience renewal. I am not here talking about producing something that seems like a work task, but of doing something for ourselves that is purely for us to enjoy.
Too often we work in ways that are judged, either by others or even by ourselves. But when we seek renewal, it is a matter of creating for the pure joy of doing so. If you paint, then the point is to enjoy the experience, no matter what the painting looks like. If you write, then to just enjoy the writing, much like novelists simply enjoy the first draft of a book.
Though I have never taken the time to buy one, adult coloring books have become popular with many people. This is an opportunity to engage with creativity in a way that reminds us of the innocence of childhood. You may decide to put one or more pages on your refrigerator, but just coloring for the fun of it is the point.
In the same way, photography is something that can be done just for the pure joy of capturing moments and experiences, and with the digital medium there is no pressure to keep any of the photos. It’s okay to just enjoy taking the pictures.
And if you don’t want to create, but desire to simply enjoy the creations of others, a good afternoon of reading a book simply for the pleasure of reading, or of visiting a museum and allowing the art to fill your spirit, are two wonderful ways of being renewed as well.
Renewal of our spirits is essential. Find the medium that helps bring that about for you.
June 18, 2021
Learning and Adjusting
As with our worship and our other weekly activities, our Scripture as Theatre workshop became a Zoom-only experience over the course of the last fifteen months. We had previously hosted one person via Zoom as the rest of us gathered weekly in the church’s multi-purpose hall. That of course all changed dramatically, and definitely changed the group dynamics as well.
One positive point was that everyone was now on even footing, each in their own Zoom square to be sure, but accessible to one another on that platform. Then there was the fact that we were able to welcome additional people into the workshop from their distant locations as well. We were able to include people from the central California coast, from Arizona and Nevada, and from as far away as Moldova. Being together on the Zoom format created a whole different kind of creative community.
Zoom theatre is actually something that has taken off in these past months, and it provides a whole new medium through which artists can share their creative works. While I would certainly not want to forever limit my theatre experiences to productions on Zoom, it does offer experiences to people who may not have the financial means to attend many live productions. It will be interesting to see how things continue to evolve.
That being said, our Artist-in-Residence has made the decision to continue offering the workshop on Zoom, even though some of us could soon gather in person. I support his decision because, again, there is an equity about the format and it continues to fully involve those who live outside our local area.
The Zoom format still affords the same depth of study and engagement with the texts and allows sharing in ways that require patience in listening to one another. Sometimes when we are together in-person we might be tempted to interrupt others, or interject comments as others are speaking. Having become familiar with Zoom, we know its limitations in having multiple people speaking at the same time, which encourages us to pay attention and listen to others, then to share when there is a pause in the conversation.
The depth of study that we do with the texts is part of what enables the creation of dramatic presentations of scripture stories. What is presented to an audience is an imaginative retelling of stories that sometimes seem too familiar, and others that are fairly unknown. Of course, the greatest learning happens among those in the workshop as they grapple with understanding the texts and then seeking to find creative ways to share those stories again.
June 11, 2021
Integrating the Arts in Education
I overheard a conversation recently about the ways in which the arts are often the first item cut from a school budget when finances are tight. This is nothing new of course, as it has been a topic of debate for quite a while. But this time I got to thinking about it a little more.
While I am not a teacher, and am certain I don’t comprehend all of the challenges that teachers face, it would seem that if we were to integrate the arts into the other subject areas, so that we receive a more comprehensive view of life, then we would be having a different conversation.
For example, if we use the visual arts and literature to help teach history courses, then we see how the arts helped shape the events being studied, as well as how those events shaped the arts. Additionally, creating art as a way of interacting with the history materials would be a wonderful way to make things quite tangible. As a small example, when I studied world history in the 7th grade, one of my projects was to create a castle, to envision what it would look like, and what it would take to build such a structure. Now my project was not a work of art per se, but through the use of empty cardboard salt and pepper shakers, popsicle sticks, and a little paint, I put together a castle that even today I can see in my mind’s eye. It was not an architectural masterpiece, but it was a wonderful learning tool.
One of my favorite classes in my doctoral program in Arts and Theology was one entitled, “The Hebrew Bible and the Arts.” As our class project, we each had to choose a story from the Hebrew Bible to explore in depth through study, but then we also had to produce an artwork that depicted the story. I chose the story of the Ark of the Covenant being brought into Jerusalem, with a dancing King David leading the way. I created three paintings to depict this story, one with the fate of the man who touched the Ark while trying to steady it, one of David dancing while moved by the Spirit, and one of Michal showing her disdain over David’s actions. In painting these three portions, I realized how challenging it is to depict the Spirit, and how difficult it is to display the emotions of people, using paint on a canvas.
One of the most significant things about that class was that the emphasis was not on the quality of the product we brought to share, but rather was on the process of creating it. There were some in the class who were artists. There were others, like me, who loved the arts but were not accomplished as artists. But there was no judgment of artistic quality by either the professors or my classmates. What mattered was being able to share, as we did in a fun, evening session, about the process of creating our works, and of how that had affected our study and understanding of the story chosen.
Such an integration of the arts with other studies holds the promise of enriching the conversation from both directions. And this is a practice that can be woven into the life of a church as well, exploring the use of the arts, creating art, as part of our study and spiritual formation. A Bible study group, for example, could encourage the creation of works which would be shared with the congregation on a quarterly basis. The persons who are engaged in the study and artwork would likely benefit the most, but others might begin to view scripture stories in new ways as well. The hurdle to get over would be that so many people feel that they have no artistic talent and would be uncomfortable in displaying their work for others to view. But the church, I think, is the perfect place to encourage growth while being clear that we are not judging an art contest but are exploring the ways in which we can each grow through the interactions.
The arts are so important, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. Let us find ways to bring them into conversations about history, culture, and new visions for our world.
Windows of Grace
Since I focused more on doors into worship last week, I want to return to the overall theme but to do so by focusing on windows, on the ways in which any window can be an invitation to grace and even a blessing of grace.
As I look out the windows of our home, or the windows of my office at the church, I can always find something of beauty, something that delivers a measure of grace to me. Often, it isn’t that something immediately strikes me and calls for me to notice it. Rather, it may require some attention, some focus on what I see, but there is always something there that can deliver grace to me.
Windows, both the physical ones that we can open, and the metaphorical ones that give us insight into something, can be powerful ways of welcoming newness, light, fresh air and imagination into our lives. In some ways, opening windows is safer than opening doors. Open windows give us access to the outside, and to new things, while opening doors reveals us fully to what is on the other side of the door, just as doing so opens us completely to what awaits us. There is no judgement about either doors or windows, just an acknowledgement that they function in different ways.
As we reopen the church, there will certainly be some who will want to throw the doors open wide, and to rush in and welcome back all that has been missed. But there will also be some who are more cautious, who want to see how things go, to see how things will work in this new time, before fully embracing what is before us. Both images, that of doors and of windows, provide opportunities to make the church experience accessible to all.
Among my favorite windows are the stained-glass creations that bring light and life to many of our churches. I so enjoy seeing the light transformed into colors as it passes through the glass, and when that light interacts with shadows it is indeed marvelous. This moving, dancing light is one way to envision the celebration of again being with one another in worship. And however much each person chooses to participate, to whatever degree they feel prepared to join in, our coming together is a time of celebration.
Depending upon each church’s individual situation, there may need to be time for sorrow, for lament, for sadness, especially if church members have died during this time of the pandemic. We certainly do not want to gloss over such loss and all of the emotions that it brings. But we also want to move into a time of hope, reaffirming our connection with the risen Christ, and celebrating that God has again brought us together in community.
Opening windows may be the first step. Eventually throwing open the doors should be seen as a celebration in which all can share.
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.