September 29, 2017
Fast Worship Times
I don’t often drive through fast food restaurants, but had occasion to do so recently. I was impressed. Even though the line wasn’t very long, still I was surprised when my order was ready before I arrived at the pickup window. It was amazing service, and with pleasant people.
Now I know from past experience that fast food can sometimes take a two or three minute wait before it is handed out the little window. Of course, that is in comparison to a home-cooked meal that can take five minutes in the microwave or thirty minutes or more of real preparation time for a truly home-prepared delight.
We do live in the fast lane, or at least we usually try to, despite traffic jams, lines in grocery stores and the like. We have, generally speaking anyway, become a people of impatience. And that, at times anyway, carries over into worship experiences.
Personally, I don’t care for slow tempo hymns and songs, although they sometimes have their place. In this case though, my desire for up tempo has more to do with feeling energy in the worship time than a wanting to get through the songs. But in a general desire to keep things moving, we usually don’t care for a message that is too long, or announcements that rival a segment of the evening news, or delays in moving from one element of worship to the next. We want to get in, be inspired, and get out. After all, there are lots of other things to do.
Interestingly, the one place in worship where I do intentionally slow things down is when we have a time of silent prayer. Now I will say that when we started that practice as part of the worship celebration, ten seconds seemed like a long time to many of the folks. But having done this on a regular basis, a minute or more of silence now seems brief to some of the people. And if we are truly engaged in the silence, then we do want to have everything slow down.
Silence then becomes a practice that leads into contemplation of works of art. It is relatively easy in a museum to blitz through a whole host of galleries. But if one artwork engages our attention, we may well spend half an hour or more sitting and soaking in the painting, drawing or sculpture.
So it is then that when we provide opportunities for people to experience art in the church, and in our worship experiences, it is important to allow time to explore the richness of those creations. We do well to slow down here too, that we might draw upon the gifts that are before us.
Fast food meets a need at times. Fast worship, while it gets us in and out and on to other things, can at the same time cause us to miss some of the gifts that God is offering to us. And some of those gifts are marvelous indeed.
September 22, 2017
A Tradition of Movies
“People” magazine was
lying on the table in the waiting room. On the cover was a photo of Goldie Hawn, with an article inside about her and husband Kurt Russell.
While I didn’t read the article, seeing the magazine got me to thinking about movies, and how the movies of today are so different from those in the early years of filmmaking.
As people view the movies of today, especially those with spectacular stunts and special effects, and those with incredible animation, sometimes even animation and human acting working hand-in-hand, it is easy to laugh at the simpler ways of doing things, the non-technological efforts of the past. It is, in fact, even possible to be amused at the movies made just twenty or thirty years ago.
And yet, the state of filmmaking today owes its existence to all that has come before. Certainly, there have been advances in technology that have affected every aspect of filmmaking. Because of those changes, creativity gets expressed in amazing ways today. But the creativity of years past, which did not have the advantages of current technologies, was incredible too. It was those film pioneers, who kept experimenting, and seeking after better ways to do things, who helped lead the way to the films of today.
In most cases, we would have little or no desire to return to those early years, and yet we should take the time to honor and appreciate every step along the way. While we certainly don’t want to live in the past, and we do want to be striving forward, we need to recognize the journey that has gotten us to where we are.
This is also true in the life of churches. While we do want to live looking forward, and responding to the needs of people today, we do well to also recognize the people and movements that have helped to shape the church through the centuries. Indeed, although we want to be careful in our interpretations, and should recognize that the culture of particular times shaped its writing, the Bible itself is ancient while also speaking powerfully to us today.
As small churches gather for worship and other activities, it can be tempting to keep doing the same things that have been done for the last fifty years or more. But many of those things were also anchored in the culture of those times past, and need to be adapted to the present day. That is not to say that everything needs to change. There are traditions of caring and hospitality that are always important. The reading of scripture, and even the sharing of the Lord’s Prayer, are elements of worship that are at the heart of the church of the past and the present. The music of the past needs to be acknowledged and even celebrated, but members need to recognize that many of those hymns do not speak to the people of today, either through the lyrics or the music. It is thus always a challenge to blend the old and the new. But the process of engaging that blending, the communication that can happen in that, can be both fruitful and enlightening. To hear how important the older things are, and to appreciate the value of newness as well, can draw people together in ways that make for a stronger and more vibrant church.
Whether it is movies, or cars, or homes, or the church, there is always value to appreciate in things from the past. Those creations and celebrations of years past have led us to the threshold that we stand on today.
September 15, 2017
A Man Called Ove
The interesting thing about being a part of a book club is that one is introduced to a variety of books, many of which may have otherwise gone unread. The current selection, A Man Called Ove, is one of those. A friend who had read it was generally not impressed. The title wasn’t very intriguing to me. And yet, the others in the group chose it for this month, and so there it was.
Now I imagine that in some book clubs if a person doesn’t want to read a book then they can just skip that month. Being the minister of the church, and the book club being composed of church members, and being the person who coordinates the discussions of the books, altogether makes it rather impossible to just skip a month. And I am glad of all of that.
I remember Fred Craddock, a well-known and loved preacher of my denomination, saying once that he felt preachers should read novels at least now and then, because doing so takes one out of the usual theological and practical ministry works, and exposes one to creativity and stories that can teach a great deal in unique ways. I spent many years seldom opening a novel, but now that the book club involves me in such reading, I am certain of the wisdom of his suggestion.
A Man Called Ove then has impacted me in the ways that most novels of late have, with the beauty of the craft of writing and with the content that is presented. To be honest, I was not touched as much in this book by the crafting of words as I have been in some works. Yet, there were times, there were phrases, that so caught me, so as to have made the reading of the book quite worthwhile. There were even times when a word, seemingly out of place, and yet exactly by its use in that out-of-place way, gave new meaning to the word. Just one example: the author used the word “incandescent,” which for me normally refers to a light bulb, to describe the action of one of the characters. His use of the word in that exact place, transformed the word for me.
Then there is the content of the book. In this case, there was much, early on, to make the book rather unlikeable. Yet, just as in life, when we allow ourselves to engage people and we discover a greater depth to them than might be seen at first glance, so too here the author did well in revealing the deeper character of Ove as the story went along, and in staying with the story it became a very worthwhile endeavor.
Book clubs have become popular in many circles. I would recommend finding one to join, or even starting your own. There is something different here than just reading, for you make a commitment to do the reading as a group, and you benefit from the insights shared in the discussions. The whole experience provides a certain connection with folks, and a vocabulary of words and books that one shares with others.
September 8, 2017
Artists and Churches
As I was working on my Doctorate in Ministry program, I had the pleasure of studying with Catherine Kapikian, an artist, educator and author. In addition to learning from her in the classroom, I found her book, Art in Service of the Sacred, to be a wonderful introduction to both the intersections of art and theology and the possibilities for engagement between churches and artists.
As my church has just begun an Artist-in-Residence program, I have been re-reading her chapter about such programs and their possibilities.
As I have read and listened to various persons, including Catherine, it has been clear that one of the important parts of welcoming artists, and perhaps especially visual artists, into the church, is for the members of the church to be willing to receive the gifts of the artist, rather than expecting that the artist will merely illustrate the seasons and activities of the church. In particular, the guidance has been that artists need to be free to express their art, even if it may, at times, be abrasive or difficult to understand and appreciate.
I do understand the idea of encouraging artistic freedom, and of not expecting artists to just fill a role that is more like decorating than it is like art. At the same time, this is something that is arrived at over time, and as the result of a care-filled process of interaction between artists and church members.
For many church members, art in the church is a new concept. For some, and perhaps most, art is something that should add beauty to our lives, and by extension to the life of the church. Works of art that are filled with shadows, or are abstract in nature, or are abrasive in content, all have their place, but it may not be in a church in the early stages of introducing art into the church. Now, this is not to say that art in the church should just be illustrations of biblical stories. Rather, the introduction of art, and the welcoming of artists into the life of the church, needs to happen in a way that is educational, and that is sensitive to where people are, so that then the artists and church members can walk a pathway together toward greater challenge and appreciation.
Art in the church can touch people’s lives and souls in so many profound ways. But the process of engagement is as important as the art that is presented. When that process is well done, then people will be ready, and perhaps eager, to welcome even more diverse artistic expressions into the church. Absent a good process, people may just decide that art belongs in museums, and in homes, but not in the church. And that would a great loss for both churches and artists.
September 1, 2017
Seeing What Isn’t There
In the movie, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” Morgan Freeman’s character is beginning to teach a young girl how to use her imagination. He has her look down a street and asks her to tell him what she sees. “Nothing,” she says, “just a street.” Then he says, “Okay, try telling me what you don’t see.”
Our imagination can be a peculiar thing, for out of what we don’t see we do create a vision that can become something that we do see.
There is a sense in which having faith involves the ability to see something that many people might consider not to be there, but which is visible through the eyes of faith.
In the life of a church, developing a vision of something that is not currently a part of things, involves using the imagination to see what is not there, but to at the same time see what might be there.
I can remember a time when “the imagination” was just a way of saying that things were made up, that they were not real, just imagined. Yet, I have come to believe that “imagination” is one of the key ingredients of forming a vision, whether it be for our life, our family or our church.
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.