March 29, 2019
At the Heart of Art
I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at a writing conference called, “Publishing in Color.” It was focused on helping people of color to tell their stories, with opportunities to meet authors and editors. Anyone was welcome to attend, and so I did.
While I have independently published the book featured on my home page, I would like to connect with a publisher in order to bring out a book on the arts in local congregations. Toward that end I spoke with a couple of editors, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the content of a workshop entitled, “The Arts and the Spiritual Journey.”
The speaker is an editor for a publishing house, but he is also the author of a number of books. Terry Glaspey is his name, and one of his books that sounds intriguing is entitled, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film. I am looking forward to exploring it.
His presentation was focused on engaging with art in ways that take us beyond the usual reasons that churches use art, such as for illustration or decoration. In particular, he spoke about how art can open us to mystery, how it can teach us to see more deeply, and he shared some ways in which art can help us to imaginatively enter into another person’s world.
Although this conversation was not an entirely new concept for me, there were some fresh insights, and the content of his presentation was an affirmation of ideas that I too have gathered along the way. And, as workshops in conferences should do, it has prompted me to reflect upon the approaches that I want to suggest in the book that I am working on.
But with or without a book in progress, the idea of slowing down, of really looking, at art, at the world around us, is something that will truly nourish and fill our spirits.
March 22, 2019
Journeying with Jesus – Three
As we worship each Sunday, we have a bulletin prepared for people, so that they can easily follow the flow of worship. Most churches, I imagine, do that. We print our own bulletins instead of subscribing to a service that provides them. That allows us the flexibility to change the cover picture at any time. So, for this Lenten season, we are placing maps on the cover, such that each week we can highlight the location of the city that we are “visiting.” It is a visual way for people to enter into the worship time, before anything is said or done.
We also have a weekly discussion group that meets throughout the year, but which during this Lenten season serves as an opportunity to further engage the places and themes from the previous Sunday. For example, after exploring the city of Cana in worship, and experiencing the story of the water become wine, I asked people in this group to reflect upon something miraculous that they had seen or experienced, and to share how that happening had impacted their life. With the focus on the visit to Capernaum being on Jesus’ time in and around the synagogue, I invited people to share about one of the most interesting things that they have learned through their experiences in churches.
It is our practice in this group to not only discuss various topics, but to also spend time reflecting on questions through having people write out their responses. To form answers in this way helps people to engage the process in a more orderly and often more thought-out way. On the writing pages that I provide to people, I always have some kind of photo or clip art that helps to prompt their reflections and their writing. During this Lenten season, I am providing them with photos of the cities and regions that we are “visiting,” but these could just as easily have been images of artwork that depict events in the various cities. Either way, this provides a visual element that compliments their writing.
While worship can stand on its own, linking the focus of worship with an educational component, either before or after that worship experience, helps to bring things to great life and adds another dimension to people’s journey.
March 15, 2019
Journeying with Jesus - Two
As I shared a brief message on Ash Wednesday, I laid out the course ahead for the Sundays of Lent. I suggested to people that if we imagined being on a tour of the places that Jesus visited, even frequented, then it would be as though Jesus would be our host, the preachers each week would serve as tour guides, and everyone would get a window seat on the bus.
We started with a visit to Cana last Sunday, and will arrive at Capernaum this week. Cana is of course famous for the wedding that Mary and Jesus attended, and the transformation of the water into wine. There are numerous paintings that depict the first of Jesus’ miracles there in Cana. These works of art can serve as a resource in preparation for worship. While commentaries add to our own observations of the text, the viewpoints of artists across the centuries can spark new insights and offer possibilities for exploring the story with worshippers. Some of those works of art might also be brought into the worship time, to not only add to the leaders’ knowledge, but to visually guide others through the story and into its significance.
Such explorations through art can also help define the “visit” to Capernaum. Here, though, there are numerous events and stories that unfold within the confines of that city. One might visually explore the variety of stories through sharing artworks, and then narrow the focus of the day down to just one event. With that one event having been placed in the larger context of Jesus’ activities in Capernaum, greater understanding is opened up for folks.
Artworks are always a resource for us, and can enrich both leaders in their preparations, and the beauty of worship together.
March 8, 2019
Journeying with Jesus
Our congregation’s Lenten journey begins with an Ash Wednesday soup supper and service. About the only thing that smells as good in a church as does fresh-baked bread, is offerings of homemade soup. While some churches begin Lent with an emphasis on the meagerness of the journey, and the sacrificial nature of the season, we begin with a meal that is simple, soup and bread, but that is rich in smell and taste, appealing to the senses, attempting to set the stage for rich experiences throughout the weeks ahead.
As people enter the worship space after the meal, quiet reflection and meditation is encouraged. A depth of experience is opened up for those who choose to enter into it. At the same time, the placing of ashes on the forehead is made available for those who wish to experience that tradition. It is a visible and tactile way to begin the season.
I have written before about the large, hand-made cross that hangs from the center of a long wall in our worship space. This cross was taken down before the Advent season began, and had not been present again until Ash Wednesday. The symbolism is of course obvious, but the reappearance of this artfully created work brings yet another dimension into this night.
While the reading of the scriptures, the music and the message may not seem uncommon, the celebration of communion being different on this night is one more way of emphasizing the uniqueness of the gathering. Having everyone walk up to receive communion, which provides a feeling that is very different than being served communion in the pews, adds to the uniqueness of this Ash Wednesday experience. We of course pay attention to anyone who is unable to walk forward, but even then folks who receive communion where they are seated are partaking of the bread and the juice in a way that is different from most Sundays.
The Lenten season is an opportunity to engage all of the senses, as a congregation makes the purposeful and steady journey toward Easter. Setting the tone on Ash Wednesday gets everything off to good beginning.
March 1, 2019
I am appreciative of the fact that we have an Artist-in-Residence who is also an ordained minister. I am also grateful that we each have our own views for approaching the texts of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. In addition, his expertise as a playwright and screenwriter, and his love of movies, all bring unique perspectives to things that we do.
So it is that as our Bible study group both reads the story of the Exodus, and intersperses that reading with clips from DeMille’s classic film, we engage both the text and the film in marvelous ways. I approach things more as a student of the Bible, fascinated by both the text and the scholarship that surrounds it. He comes to things as a minister, yes, but also as one who more fully understands the creative process of filmmaking and the demands of telling a story with dramatic flair.
Thus, as we both read the story of the Israelites fleeing from the pursuing Egyptian army, and viewed the parting of the Red Sea and the saving of the people through the thwarting of the Egyptians, we brought different responses to the table of our group.
DeMille employed biblical scholars in the production of his work, as I mentioned last week, and sought to achieve an accurate telling of the story. I thus found it interesting that the character Dathan, who is played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie, is portrayed as the dramatic foil to Charlton Heston’s Moses. Although Dathan is a biblical character, and is part of a rebellion against Moses, that is not a part of the Exodus event. Yet, DeMille portrays him as a central figure who repeatedly tries to convince the people that Moses is not the one to lead them, unless they want to be led to their death. Of course, we know that the sea parted and the people were saved.
This prompted a wonderful discussion both about the accurateness of the portrayal of the events, and the dramatic, conflict-producing role that Dathan played by being inserted into the story at this point. Viewing the movie clip alongside the reading of the text provided a fruitful encounter with both. It will continue to be interesting going forward with the story as well.
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.