October 25, 2019
The Intersection of Church and the Arts
It was a number of years ago that I met Scott Colglazier at a church conference. He spoke about the ways that he and his staff had transformed a small, struggling church into a thriving congregation. One of the key elements in the new life of the church was the invitation to artists to share in what they were doing. Scott pointed to a book, One Foot Planted in the Center, the Other Dangling Off the Edge, by Gordon Dragt, as having been a rich resource in the process they used to help transform the church. He offered several copies to workshop participants, and I quickly bought one. It is indeed a resource and encouragement for the inclusion of the arts in churches, the author sharing about the wonderful ways in which that took place in his own church.
Scott pastored his church with vision and energy, doing amazing things, and has now retired. But retirement doesn’t mean that he is sitting still. He is now painting every day, enjoying life in different ways, and offering his joy to others through his thoughts and his artwork. If you are interested, you can visit his website, colglazierart.com, and explore what he is doing.
I mention Scott here, not so as to have you go to his website and buy something necessarily, but because his is one more unique voice in the intersection of the church and the arts, in this case through the work of someone who has spent his life in the ministry of the church and is now creating in new ways.
It is always an enriching experience for churches to enter into dialogue with artists. In this case, Scott is able to speak from both perspectives. Through the years I have enjoyed personal encounters with artists at our church, as well as having been enlightened by reflections of artists both about their positive experiences with churches and their encounters that have left them feeling on the outside of the church in general.
We do have much that we can learn from each other.
October 18, 2019
Perfection and Grace
It would be impossible for me to count the number of times, both personally and professionally, when I have fallen far short of perfection. That is interesting for me to consider as I dwell in the midst of two different mindsets.
The world around me is often obsessed with perfection, or at least something close to it. Just to illustrate, as we sit in the middle of the Major League Baseball playoffs, where there can be only one ultimate winner, there are several team managers who are no longer employed because they didn’t get close enough to the ultimate prize. They failed. Children in school are evaluated first off by their grades, and then with added factors like standardized tests. Seldom though does the creative student, who has integrated the material in amazing ways, yet has produced a grade of “C” in a class, get accolades for his or her achievement. Anything less than an “A” is seen as some kind of failure. And this morning, as I watched the news, there were corporate earnings reports coming out. Some companies have succeeded, and others, in some way or another, have failed to meet the expectations of analysts and investors. Falling short of perfection in any sphere certainly carries consequences.
The other world I dwell in though is God’s world, where grace abounds. This is grace that I experience daily, and that I speak about continually in my ministry. Grace, for me, is at the heart of life with God, and life in the church.
But it seems to me that often, when it comes to the arts in church, where there is such diversity of expression, and such a wide spectrum of skill and accomplishment, it is perfection that is expected. When the choir sings, it should be perfect. When drama productions are offered to the church, they should be polished. When visual art is shared it should meet the individual tastes and expectations of the viewers.
Yet, churches should be the very place where experimentation can take place, where the message is more important than a polished delivery, where the beauty of music that celebrates our faith should be valued for how it touches our spirits rather than in how perfectly it is presented.
On a recent Sunday, our resident pianist was put of town, and his substitute was stuck at an airport on the other side of the country. So, with short notice, a church member practiced the songs and service music on the piano, and a staff member found the chords on his guitar. And they played the music in wonderful fashion throughout the worship gathering. Were there a few wrong notes, or maybe more than a few? Certainly. Were they really noticed? No! And the choir, which depends on an accompanist, sang a cappella. There may have been a couple of wrong notes there too, but it was beautiful, and it was unique for us.
That entire worship experience was far from perfect in a technical sense, and yet it was perfect in how it touched our spirits. I was moved in ways that I don’t normally notice. And grace, God’s grace, and the grace of the people, was clearly evident.
Perfection is a goal to strive toward, to hope to reach. In concert halls and beautiful museums we find expressions which approach that perfection. But the church is a place where imperfect people are welcomed and offered the gift of grace. The arts in church can help us to share that gift, when we welcome them just as they are, often imperfect, yet strikingly beautiful.
October 11, 2019
Seeing What Isn’t There
In the movie, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” Morgan Freeman plays a writer, Monte Wildhorn, who has given up writing in favor of drinking. Among his summer neighbors is a nine-year-old girl named Finnegan O’Neil. She wants to learn to write stories. In order to do so, she enlists Monte to help her learn to have an imagination, paying him thirty-four dollars and eighteen cents as his fee. Interestingly, the movie has already shown viewers that she has a vivid imagination.
Having thus “employed” him, she tells him that she is ready for him to begin to teach her how to have an imagination. So, he says, looking down the car-less road before them, “Try telling me what you don’t see.” She, as one might guess, doesn’t understand. So, he rephrases, “What don’t you see?” She resists his odd logic. So, he tells her, “See with your mind’s eye.”
In so many ways, that is what we ask people to do when we talk about faith, the Gospel stories, prayer, and more. We ask them to use their imagination, to see things that were taking place two thousand years ago and more. We ask them to hear the voice of Jesus when all they have are words on a page. We invite them to meet in prayer a God whom we don’t see.
Of course, we also need to remind people that using the imagination is far different than pretending something exists. It is quite different from making something up in our minds. It is, rather, using our minds to fill in the gaps between what we know to be true, and what we cannot see with our physical eyes.
Movies, as well as the visual arts, are perfect ways to help fuel imagination for folks. Such mediums provide us with images that come from the study and insight and imagination of the artistic people who create in those ways. We do need to walk slowly though, encouraging people to use the arts to help get their own imaginations going, but not suggesting that people allow the visions of the artists to become their only views of things. Movies and visual arts are a great starting point for people. And they need to be that – a starting point – so that people can then develop their own rich imagination and their own deeper experiences of faith, the biblical story, and their relationship with God.
October 4, 2019
Doing Things with Innovation
On a recent night when I couldn’t sleep, I channel surfed until I came upon “Patch Adams” on one of the channels. You likely recall this older movie starring Robin Williams. Patch’s unconventional manner, his joy of life, his willingness to meet people where they were instead of making them come into his world, were once again brought powerfully to mind for me.
As the movie ended, I suddenly thought about one of my seminary professors, Doug Adams. And I thought, “you know, in ways, Doug Adams was the Patch Adams of the Church.” Now I don’t know that Doug Adams ever wore a red clown nose, but he would have been incredibly comfortable doing that.
When I studied with Doug, he was fairly new to Pacific School of Religion. He was the professor of Worship and Preaching. I learned a great deal from him, about the history and practice of worship and preaching within the Church. I enjoyed his classes, but I was raised in the church such that I was much more like the other students in the “Patch Adams” movie, and I didn’t quite get how to delve into the joy of being the Church as Doug knew it.
Yet, I never forgot his joy, his enthusiasm, his willingness to look silly if it served the purpose of sharing the Gospel and the love of God for all of us. When I reconnected with Doug many years later, seeing him in, of all places, Sitka, Alaska, in a Russian Orthodox Church, I discovered that his passion for the church had expanded to his mission to bring the power of the arts into seminary courses and into the life of the church.
It was through Doug that I connected with a course that met in Southern California museums, and through that course was able to experience a wealth of beauty, joy and new understanding through the works of art that we gazed upon and learned about in the course of several incredibly enriching days.
There are times when I see the arts being welcomed into the church. Stained glass is wonderful, and an accepted artform, although sometimes there is resistance to newer visions of how to use glass to proclaim the good news. The musical arts have a well-established place in the church as well. But often, certain visual arts, performance art, dance, are still seen as more experimental, and beyond the boundaries of art that is acceptable in the church.
And I can hear Doug Adams, who sadly died a few years ago but still lives in my mind, bringing the possibilities of art to the church just as Patch Adams brought freshness to the medical profession. Doug once wrote an online article entitled, “Ambiguity: A Gift of the Arts for Inclusive Communities.” In part, he said, “In an age when our single issue mentality threatens to destroy any possibility of truly broad, inclusive communities, ambiguity can be a major gift of the arts in forming these communities, whether historic or emerging. The ambiguity in fine art helps us see the flaws in our heroes and the redeeming qualities in our enemies, and so such art allows us to love our enemies and invite them to our home where we can develop wider visions of our communities.”
Two thousand years ago, Jesus brought a new vision, and shared it with people. Today, we are often at a loss to explain why all people didn’t rush to accept his gifts. Yet, today also, change, newness, fresh ideas, pose a predicament for many people. The arts certainly explore newness, and often present alternative visions. Yet, if we are open to them, they are a special gift to us.
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.