September 24, 2021
Supporting Church Artists
Whether it be musicians, visual artists or other performers, or other persons who share their creative talents within the church, a gift that we can give to them in return is to support not only their artistic ventures within the ministry of the church but also beyond the walls of the church.
Most of the creative folks who enrich the life of churches are only with us on a part-time basis. There may be a few larger churches, or smaller ones that have received substantial grants, that are able to employ musicians, dramatists and others on a full-time basis. But for most churches, including mine, that is not possible.
Church musicians generally earn the majority of their income through teaching, or even through working in the public sector, and then supplement their income through sharing their gifts in worship and other settings. Sometimes a musician may play at a synagogue on Friday nights, at an Adventist church on Saturdays, and then in a Protestant or Catholic church on Sundays. Most musicians are dedicated folks, who share their gifts in love, and who appreciate it when we support them in other ways.
I was reminded of this recently as our pianist, who also composes big-band jazz music, and who has once again been able to perform in outdoor settings, was thrilled to be able to share that music with friends. When we attend concerts and festivals we support the overall creativity and commitment of our musicians.
Visual artists sometimes present shows in church settings, but more often they exhibit their works in galleries or in other gatherings of multiple artists. We can of course support these artists by attending openings, visiting galleries, and even perhaps purchasing works of theirs. And, if circumstances and finances allow, we can invite artists to display their work in a church setting, including giving them an opportunity to speak about their creativity and their individual works.
Our choir director is also a theatre professor, and we enjoy the opportunity to support her in her creativity when we attend plays that she directs. It is also a valuable opportunity to expose church members to theatre productions that they might not otherwise be able to experience. College theatre is good quality, often produced with minimal budgets, but it is also relatively inexpensive, and thereby open to whomever would like to attend.
We regularly offer words of thanks and appreciation for the gifts that our artists share with us in the church setting. We enjoy also supporting them in their activities beyond the church, and one can see their appreciation for such efforts in the smiles on their faces and the joy in their words of thanks. Such encouragement certainly benefits all of us.
September 17, 2021
Celebrating Biblical Persons
I am currently reading a book about the stained-glass windows at Canterbury Cathedral that depict ancestors of Christ. If you have read my blogs on a fairly regular basis, you have certainly picked up on my fascination with stained-glass, and the joy I find in the interactions between the colors and the light that gives them life. But rather than focusing on these windows exclusively, I want to use them as a starting point for exploring the Bible in worship through the use of the arts.
There are many figures in the genealogies of Jesus. These stained-glass windows at Canterbury reflect a primary use of Luke’s genealogy, although there were some inclusions from Matthew’s list as well. There are actually forty-three individual figures in the windows that exist today, with the conjecture that there were an additional forty-three figures represented in windows that were there in the past.
Some of these persons listed in the genealogies are names that likely none of us recognize, with little more that can be said about them. But there are others about whom there are rich biblical stories. And, as I envision how these figures might be woven into worship experiences, I think that one can easily expand the list beyond the genealogies. For example, while one could say a great deal about Abraham, Jacob, Tamar, Ruth and David, one could also go beyond ancestors of Christ so as to include people such as Mary Magdalene and Deborah.
I envision that while stained-glass windows are one source for imagining these persons, that drawings and paintings, sculptures, poetry and excerpts from novels could all be used to bring these people to life in worship. The task will be to make sure that when speaking about these figures one creates worshipful experiences and not just educational lectures.
For example, one can explore the stories about individuals, but we might also imagine what those persons would say to us today. How does their story intersect with ours? What message about their relationship with God might offer insights to us?
This could be envisioned as a series about the ancestors, and perhaps how their stories intersect with the life and ministry of Jesus. These could also be once-a-month worship experiences that perhaps work in concert with other themes of the month or season. The possibilities are open to all of your creativity.
September 10, 2021
Documenting and Conserving
A few years ago, I came across a movie entitled, “The Monuments Men.” It is a story, based on actual events, of a select group of artists from a variety of genres being recruited to help recover art stolen by the Nazis in the midst of World War II, and to then return it to its rightful places. The movie raises issues about the value of art in society and its relative value in proportion to the lives of two of the artists who die in their quest to rescue the art.
I recently happened upon a movie that came out in 2018 entitled, “Kodachrome.” It is the story of a dying man whose last desire is to make it to Parsons, Kansas in order to have four rolls of slides developed before the chemicals run out for developing Kodachrome film. Kodak had stopped producing the chemicals, and so there was both a deadline for developing the slides and a limitation on how long the man would live. So, the man (who is a famous photographer), his estranged son, and the man’s caregiver begin a journey that will lead them to Parsons, and will also lead them to deeper experiences of life, reconciliation and hope.
Toward the end of the movie, after their arrival in Parsons, this famous photographer, surrounded by fans, remarks about the craft for which they share a love. He says, “We are all so frightened by time, the way it moves on, and the way things disappear. But that’s why we’re photographers. We’re preservationists, by nature. We take pictures to stop time; to commit moments to eternity; human nature made tangible.”
Art in its many forms, is about capturing, or creating, moments. Sometimes these are moments to remember; sometimes they are moments that we might like to forget but that the artist asks us to remember. Always, the artist is inviting us into these moments, that through experiencing them we might be transformed in one way or another.
Whether it be striking photographs, a famous oil painting, an intriguing sculpture, stained glass windows, or any of a multitude of other art forms, these creations show us life in its depth, and welcome us into encounters that can be truly amazing. Art is indeed more important to society than most of us likely realize.
September 3, 2021
Illuminating Bible Study with Art
I enjoy sharing images of artistic creations as part of the interactions in Bible study. I have found that this can be a way to help add depth to the conversations, sometimes illuminating a scene that is difficult to envision, sometimes helping the people we read about to come to life through the visions and skills of artists.
There is a sculpture at Duke Divinity School that depicts the interactions of the three main characters in the parable of the Prodigal Son. I once heard the artist speak about the sculpture, and I was fortunate to see it in person on a visit to the school campus. It was fascinating to walk around the sculpture, to view it from many different angles, and to capture some of those varied images with my camera. The advantage of experiencing a story through the medium of sculpture is that one can view everything as though one is interacting with the participants in the story. While photographs of the sculpture do lessen the effect somewhat, they still provide that variety of views of the work. Each time I have used these images it has led to a greater appreciation for the emotions and viewpoints of the father, the prodigal son and the older, faithful-at-home son.
When we have studied the book of Exodus, and entered into the exacting details about the tabernacle, and the construction of the many elements that transformed a tented area into a tabernacle, it was quite helpful for folks to see artists’ images depicting this scene. From the placement of items in the space, to the overall feel for what it may have looked like based upon the descriptions in Exodus, through the sharing of the images the somewhat confusing descriptions in the text became something concrete, which helped people to envision the true role of the tabernacle in the life of the traveling people of Israel.
As we are beginning a new study in my church this week, opening up the book of Revelation, we are faced with a collection of images written about by John, and they would seem to lend themselves to an exploration through many different artistic images. At first glance though, as I have been sorting through collections of images, I am uncertain if it will be helpful in this case.
The images in Revelation are most often quite fantastic, intense and complex. The artistic depictions certainly reflect these complex and fantastic scenes. If I were teaching an art history course, it would prove fruitful to examine these images in great detail. But I have a concern that such an in-depth exploration of the images will pull us away from the text. If we become too involved in the artist depictions, we may end up studying the artist more than the book of the Bible.
So, while I am usually quite enthusiastic about sharing images in Bible study gatherings, it may be true that this is more helpful in some instances than others. I will enjoy exploring these options and may write more about this in the weeks to come.
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.