November 24, 2017
On Being Thankful
When our church’s Associate Pastor and Artist-in-Residence preached on Thanksgiving Sunday, the text was from Luke’s Gospel, the story of the ten lepers who were healed and of the one who returned to give thanks. In addition to my enjoying the sermon a great deal, one of the most poignant remarks he made was that our healing, in whatever way we experience that, is not complete, we are not totally whole again, until we have said thanks. He was saying, in part, that while God may not need our thanks, it is an integral part of our healing and wholeness to offer that thanks.
As the church engages with the arts and artists, is important to develop an appreciation for them, and to express our thanks for the ways in which they enrich the church. I say this because sometimes, I think, churches sort of tolerate the arts without embracing them enough to truly feel thankful. Yes, most churches do express appreciation for their musical programs, but it can be more of a stretch to celebrate other artistic expressions. Truthfully though, part of that attitude lies, I believe, in the ways in which churches have for years focused their energies around the spoken word. People are used to words, and to giving thanks for the preacher. But it is often a whole new experience to welcome the arts in the church. It takes time to develop an appreciation for them.
That being acknowledged, when one looks for ways to celebrate other people, and in this case the artists who share their work with the church, in the very act of giving thanks one forms a bond with the person and the work. Even if folks don’t appreciate everything about a work, one can usually find something that connects, just as we can find things in other people in general that we can celebrate even if we don’t like everything about that person.
Giving thanks in the church is part of what makes us whole, all of us together. That offering of thanks may be a word to the person who prepares the sanctuary for worship on Sunday, or an acknowledgement to the cleaning crew that their work is noticed, or an appreciation for the people who prepare food for events, or words of thanks to artists of all kinds who add richness and joy to the church. Offering thanks for the gifts that people share is truly an important part of the bond of being Christ’s people.
November 17, 2017
The Passion of an Artist
When the church book club meets, it is always a group decision about what book to tackle next. I sometimes offer a suggestion, but encourage the members of the group to bring their recommendations and ideas. So it was that at our last meeting one of the people suggested that we read, The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman. It is a historical novel about the extended family that came to be the family of Camille Pissarro, a wonderful Impressionist painter. To limit the discussion to Camille would be to neglect so much more of the story, but I nevertheless want, in this space, to briefly reflect on Pissarro and the story that is woven about him.
As the novelist tells it, Camille is drawn to artistic expression at an early age. He has a deep appreciation for the world around him, and especially for the colors that were in full richness on the island of St. Thomas. He sketches numerous subjects in such great detail that they become a part of his being, and he is able to recreate those images any time he wishes. He uses as much time as possible to sketch and paint, and sometimes is unable to sleep for all that is running through him.
While some of the events in the book are surely imagined through the creativity of the novelist, Pissarro’s body of work that graces the walls of museums and private homes is certainly testament to the depth of engagement that Pissarro had with his craft and the world around him. The vividness of the colors in his works, the emotions that the paintings evoke, speak to a lifetime spent in observation and creative endeavor.
Whether we are an artist, or a person dedicated to the work of the church, a passionate commitment makes a tremendous difference in the living out of our calling. We may not always feel that we have everything we need to help the church thrive, but if we passionately approach all that we do, then God will do incredible things through us.
Finally, I do recommend the book, both for its interesting content and for the richness of words that the author uses, the amazing images that she creates. I found myself quite absorbed in her writing, and would be interested to hear your thoughts about the book as well.
November 10, 2017
The Deep Desire to Create
At the heart of much of life, I believe, is a desire to create. It may be working with the inspiration to paint with oils or watercolors. It could be the vision to bring life out of stone, either in sculpture or in architecture. It might be an idea to be brought to life in literature. It may be the creation of a business or a non-profit. It could be the creation of a loving family and home. The possibilities are of course endless, but the link between all of these endeavors is the desire to create.
And what if we were unable to engage in the act of creation?
I was watching the movie “Castaway” on a recent evening, and began to reflect upon the experience of being stranded on an island without books to read or materials with which to write. The character had no musical instruments or art supplies at his disposal. Survival was certainly his daily occupation, but in most instances life is given meaning by what we create in one way or another.
Interestingly, at one point in the movie, the character paints a face on his volleyball companion, “Wilson.” Without any paints at hand, he uses his own blood to paint the face. Yet, in this very act he gives a distinct personality to his inanimate companion. He creates that personality.
Whether we are creating art, or using our imagination in a joint venture with others, or are simply, on a daily basis, doing our part to re-create ourselves in God’s image, the act of creation is a fundamental part of who we are. And we bless one another as we engage in that creativity.
November 3, 2017
The Power of Film
When I was first introduced to the idea of using movie clips in worship, which was quite a few years ago, the professor who was sharing the idea saw the use of such clips as a way to connect with people’s everyday lives. His premise was that when they watched a movie at home, and came to the part that was shared in worship, they would re-connect with that worship experience and with their life in the church.
I haven’t gotten particular feedback from people about making such connections, though that may indeed have happened. And when I use a clip from a movie that we have shown on a movie night at church, those who have seen the whole movie certainly do make connections between those different events.
But what I have gotten in response to the clips in worship is a desire to then see the whole film. As I stop the portion I am showing, I invariably get a comment such as, “Wow, now I want to see the whole story.” And, I then offer the movie to that person, or arrange to loan it to several people, that they can experience the entire story. That viewing no doubt becomes a time that connects with the moments in worship.
As I wrote last week about the ways in which art in general connects people’s experiences of church with their everyday lives, so too film in particular is a medium that many people experience at least weekly at home or at a theater, and which provides a continuity between those times away from the church and their times involved in worship or other activities at church.
In these ways, people’s experiences of God and the church are not separate from the rest of what they do, but are woven into the daily and weekly fabric of their lives.
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.