Announcing Drawn In

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my upcoming spiritual & creative leaders book, Drawn In.  Its designed for artists, activist, and Jesus followers looking for ways beyond the Right-Brain drain and culture wars of modern Christianity. I walk readers through emerging design thought and ancient practices using biblical and pop culture imagery. While utilizing design models its more poetic than didactic in its approach. It is my most exciting work yet toward expressing my passion that beauty and creativity can draw both the church and artists into deeper collaboration with God and God's kingdom!

Here's what folks are saying:

 DI_front_cover

“...A book that combines the passion of the Wild Goose Festival and the creative insights of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, with a dash of “new monastic” spirituality and a pinch of Brueggemannian theological sensibility... Great exercises. Excellent for small group discussion.”

– David O. Taylor, editor of For the Beauty of the Church

“This fresh vision of God and ourselves draws us (rather than drives us) into a new way of being. Drawn In will introduce many to a gifted writer, reflective artist, and practical theologian sure to contribute much to the life of the church for decades to come.”

– Brian D. McLaren, author of New Kind of Christian

“This is one of the finest books on art, creativity, and the nature of God to date. It is no less than a manifesto: a call to co-create life at the grandest and most humble of scales. To make and remake the world with passionate and tangible love. Stunning, from start to finish.”

– Sally Morgenthaler, author or Worship Evangelism

“Troy Bronsink is deeply rooted in a seriousness about Gospel faith. He explores the recognition that faith cannot be held in the familiar categories of concept, proposition, rule or cliché, but is always moving toward new possibilities.”

– Walter Brueggemann, author of Prophetic Imagination

You can "look inside" it at Amazon, Paraclete Press, and soon it will be available on the redesign of my website.  Thanks everyone who helped bring this book to life!!!

Advent songs of longing

Is it poor form to be sad that Advent is drawing to a close? Somehow the more maudlin honesty about longing, with the cooler air (though Atlanta has been uncharacteristically warm this December) and the bare trees invites me to a place of peace and deep beauty more than any other of the year. Not to be confused with the 25 day calendar countdown complete with daily chocolates, the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmastide originates in the Hebrew lament and apocalyptic traditions. The prophets and prophetesses of the Jewish people anticipated a day when their suffering would be reversed and when God would usher in an age of freedom, Sabbath, and reconciliation (check out Isaiah 27.6-28.13, or Handle's Messiah). Walter Brueggemann writes, "It is for good reason that prophetic imaging is characteristically done in daring metaphor, surprising rhetoric, and scandalous utterance, for to do less is to fall back into conventional distortions of reality." (Brueggemann, NYAPC, August 2006) Music has been a vehicle for that metaphor for centuries and folks like Bob Dylan and Curtis Mayfield brought it into the fore of pop music. Christmas season in the west is filled with the kind of longing aesthetic, just check out the #sadchristmas hashtag.

In years past songs like Tom Wait's Jesus Gonna Be Here, Joni Mitchell's  River, or U2's Wake Up Dead Man have been strong Advent soundtracks, but the two songs this year that particularly captured this feeling for me were Rory Cooney's Canticle of the Turning, and Paul Simmon's Getting Ready For Christmas Day .

My main-liner colleagues love the Canticle of the Turning written by Rory Cooney in 1990 (a GIA Pub). Cooney ties a Celtic vibe with the song of liberation starting from Mary's Magnificat to Hannah's prayer in the temple, and Miriam's dance after the escape through the parted Red Sea (here's his version). Usually these women's words are absorbed in the story but Cooney helps bring this theme of God's messianic shift to the fore. One verse goes:

From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn;

In the last verse he roots the fulfilling Messianic work of Christmas in a creation theology:

This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound, 'Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

I have to admit, I was sorta hard on this song in seminary because it was always rendered with the aesthetic of a PBS special of The River Dance when sung to organ in straight 4/4. And it was a token song for youth-pastors-turned-MDiv students with djembes wearing indigenous shirts from past mission trips. But last year I heard Emmaus Way do it and then this year I was able to arrange it with the band at City Church Eastside and we landed in a more Joplin/Zepplin feel (or Blitzen Trapper for folks following current indie music) which is admittedly my own subcultural equivalent of indigenous shirts from mission trips. Anyways, the song's revolutionary tone and poetry came to life for me in this new setting. We began to joke that is was a song for 99%, but its probably more a song for the 2/3rds world (who's indigenous shirts are worn by ex-youth pastors).

This is all to say that songs, when deconstructed and rewritten by folks in your congregation can capture the imaginations of your community in ways that songs that with a educated "global" feel may actually keep at arms lengths. But I'll confess its hard to seperate my own subjective aesthetic from my argument, perhaps you'd have some better perspective to offer…

Someone who's appropriation of global and indegenous sounds has always felt more intergrative is Paul Simmon. A second song that has been working on me this Advent is from his most recent album, So Beautiful So What. The album deserves a post of its own because of his masterful poetry, clever delivery and outstanding folk/rock sensibility. But the first song on the album, Getting Ready for Christmas Day, is the one I'd love to share. The guitars are panned with a reverb going back and forth similar to T-Bone Burnet's production of the Krauss/Plant album, Raising Sand. Beneath the percussive guitars and drums you first single out the sounds of what could be party conversation but then you realize its a black church with the preacher and congregation in that unmistakable call and response. The cadence of his words are magical and makes me wonder if Simon wrote the song to fit with the sermon (but I'll bet the sermon was mixed to fit the song). The minister, Rev. J.M.Gates, was an Atlantan activist, Christian preacher, and gospel singer from the early 20th century and a pioneer of the new media of his time (its estimated that 25% of all sermons commercially released before '43 were his ). The sermon sampled in the song comes from shortly after the second world war. On Simon's web site he posts Gates' lyrics with his and it makes for a call and response of its own centered in the longing of Advent. Mike tweeted today that a conversation between a contemporary working class person hustling to live up to the acquisitive expectations of capitalism and an apocalyptic sermon about the brevity of life. Notice the interplay:

Paul Simon: From early in November to the last week of December I got money matters weighing me down Oh the music may be merry, but it's only temporary I know Santa Claus is coming to town In the days I work my day job, in the nights I work my night But it all comes down to working man's pay Getting ready, I'm getting ready, ready for Christmas Day

Reverend Gates : Getting ready for Christmas Day And let me tell you, namely, the undertaker, he's getting ready for your body Not only that, the jailer he's getting ready for you Christmas day. Hmm? And not only the jailer, but the lawyer, the police force Now getting ready for Christmas day, and I want you to bear it in mind

Paul Simon: I got a nephew in Iraq it's his third time back But it's ending up the way it began With the luck of a beginner he'll be eating turkey dinner On some mountain top in Pakistan Getting ready, oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day

Reverend Gates: Getting ready, for Christmas day. Done made it up in your mind that I'm going, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago. I'm going, on a trip, getting ready, for Christmas day. But when Christmas come, nobody knows where you'll be. You might ask me. I may be layin' in some lonesome grave, getting ready, for Christmas day

Paul Simon: Getting ready oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day Yes we're getting ready

Reverend Gates: Getting ready, ready for your prayers, "I'm going and see my relatives in a distant land."

Pail Simon: Getting ready, getting ready for Christmas day If I could tell my Mom and Dad that the things we never had Never mattered we were always okay Getting ready, oh ready for Christmas day Getting ready oh we're getting ready For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas day

What songs bring Advent home for you?  Will you miss this season as much as me?

Two Christmas Poems

This Christmas here are two poems I'm returning to: "The Invisible Seen" —St. Athanasios (c. 298-373, trans by Scott Cairns)

When our dull wits had so declined as to set us mid the squalor of the merely sensible creation, the Very God consented to become a body of His own, that He as one among us might gather our dim senses to Himself, and manifest through such incommensurate occasion that He is not simply man, but also God, the Word and Wisdom of the One.

Thereafter, He remained His body, and thus allowed Himself to be observed. his becoming joined to us performed two appalling works in our behalf: He banished death from these our tender frames, and made of them something new and (take note here) renewing.

“Nativity” —John O’Donohue (1956-2008)

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman. Even the moon leaves her when she opens Deeper into the ripple in her womb That encircles dark, to become flesh and bone.

Someone is coming ashore inside her, A face deciphers itself from water, And she curves around the gathering wave, Opening to offer the life it craves.

In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers, She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears. A red wire of pain feeds through every vein, Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn. Outside each other now, she sees him first, Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on earth.

Announcing Church As Art Consulting

Imagine Worship that Changes People Into People Who Change the World

For seven years Church as Art has worked with mainline and emergent congregations to get pastors, lay leaders, and artists onto the same page as they design worship and other church programming.  Designed at first by Rev. Troy Bronsink to bring the emergent-missional conversation to midsized Presbyterian congregations, Church as Art's collaborative process has grown to include small congregations, non-denominational groups, and middle-governing bodies. Now Joshua Case (of The Nick and Josh Podcast) joins Bronsink to bring depth of insight and experience in the fields of outreach project management, social media, non-violent communication, student ministries, and emergence from within the Episcopalian tradition.

Worship Design Webinar:  What is Emerging Worship?

July 27 @ 7PM (EST) hosted the by Center For Progressive Renewal.  Sign up here.

Emerging worship engages communities in the art of everyday life. Whether you are asked to start an alternative worship service, are exploring complimentary elements to deepen your existing worship offerings, or starting worship for a new church plant, you need to start with "How does worship connect to what we believe about church?" Of course, you also need on-ramp methods to get started right away: tips for how to find and train musicians, artists and poets; how to design the time and place; and maybe even some survival strategies for addressing the resistance you may encounter from within your congregation. We'll hit those, too. "Emerging Worship," led by Troy  and Joshua is about communities anticipating the dreams of God together by playfully sharing and trading narratives and rituals as prayer.

About Troy

Troy Bronsink is an artist and a pastor seeking the way of Jesus. He and his wife and daughter, live in the Capitol View area of inner-city Atlanta, he is the Abbot of Neighbor’s Abbey, an holistic monastic community. Their family has been passionate about community development, education, and creativity for years. In integrating these Troy has become a contributor in the emerging church conversation. He is a singer-songwriter with 15 years of experience ranging from youth ministery to worship director to senior pastor, and in both the mainline and para-church field. Troy has an MDiv from of Columbia Theological Seminary, is an ordained Presbyterian minister, serving on the Greater Atlanta Presbytery’s Emerging Church Committee, founder of the Atlanta Emergent Cohort,  and board member of Emergent Village. He is a contributing author to the 2007 Baker Emersion release, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, and author of the forthcoming 2011 Paraclete Press book, Getting Drawn In.

About Josh

Joshua Case is a blogger, podcaster, and activist. Josh and his wife live in Decatur, Georgia where he is in his final year of study at the Candler School of Theology. Josh is an Episcopalian, co-facilitator of the Atlanta Emergent cohort, and has blogged and podcasted on matters related to Christianity in the emerging culture for over 10 years. Before moving to Atlanta, Joshua worked for six years in Geneva Switzerland where he served as the executive director for an international, interfaith youth work and ministry organization.

we are already lit

I posted this back in 2007, while I was still serving a church in North Atlanta as designated pastor.  The poem came to mind recently as I've been working on my first full length book, Getting Drawn In. Its striking how we learn and re-learn things.  The allusions to Moses and Pentecost seem as important a reminder for me today as when I was writing them 4 years ago:

wicks -Church of St. Andrew, Christmas, 2006

1. Until pews are dandelions –sprig leggy levers– catapulting young minds into kingdomcome; sweeping elderminds like dreamseeds of evervision.

Until songs take wing stretching strong like the arrows of migrating Juncos lending lift, everloft, and standard. Tail feathers slicing tomorrow unto tomorrow.

Until prayers shovelset us into the red Georgia clay sinking our toes like the magnolia’s roots breaking open bone-earth’s chapped tongue making our hope particular and rooty tangling us here, now, to daily bread

2. Until our aviary, a loose canopy tabernacling for us, meets the winds of intrastators and price-per-acre and towers catch-and-releasing invisible information; until the long carving frenchdrains spoon away at its stature (walk humbly with your God) until the pieces of our umbrella –the very stones and mortar of this sanctuary– must join their sister elements that groan and clap to the song that sang  us all into

existence.

3. Until then, inhale; receive Spirit here. Spirit who practices this all like Moshe’s bush on Horeb who sings that song to which our ears belong. Take the cup, raise her, exhale the gratitude of carbon dioxide and moisturedrip for the forest, lick your lips and dig your teeth in to heaven’s sweet ‘what-is-it.’

4. Today is a Tuesday, December’s light is late as usual. Slipping past the commute into this morning’s eye, I sit in my study, a place of words, walls, and a solid oak desk that all precede me and I watch this candle devour the cold room and flicker hotter than any coal placed on my lips. And I remember,

we are already lit. Burning but not consumed. Set to flight. Racing but not exhausted. And this building already sings and breathes and joins creation. And the dead are raised in Christ, worship already working,

and the old and the future are part of today’s firelight.

Keep Singing!

I know I've been MIA, here's the latest and some of what is brewing in me... We're preparing our house and family life for our second kid, due September 28. I'm cultivating the early years of Neighbors Abbey's work in SW Atlanta and the emerging church planting that is a part of it.  Joshua Case and I have been teaming up on some Church as Art emerging worship coaching projects for this fall. I'm still working with the Village Counsel of Emergent Village as we live into our being a Village green. And I'm in the middle of curating worship for Clayfire, writing a chapter for an upcoming festschrift by Ryan Bolger about hyphenated emerging projects, curating music for City Church Eastside, and writing my first full length book for Paraclete Press about the intersection the Aesthetics and God's Mission. This book (provisionally titled, "Getting Drawn In") is about the creative nature of God's mission, and our own awakening to God's calling as we step into creative and intentional lives. In researching all this I came across an old book of poems called The Singer by Calvin Miller referred or given to me by my friend Ty Saltsgiver in the 90s. In it I found this chapter XII entitled"In hell there is no music—an agonizing night that never ends as songless as a shattered violin":

"Sing the Hillside Song" they cried. There were so many of them. He wasn't even sure he could be heard above the din of all their voices. He walked among them and looked them over. In his mind he knew that the Father's Spirit wanted each of them to learn his song.

Someone in the sprawling crowd stood and handed him a lyre. "Sing for us please Singer—the Hillside Song!"

"Yes, yes," they called, "the Hillside Song"

He looked down at the lyre and held it close. He turned each thumb-set till the string knew how to sound, then he began:

"Blessed are the musical," he said, "for their's shall be never-ending song."

"Blessed are those who know the difference between their loving and their lusting, for they shall be pure in heart and understand the reason."

"Blessed are those who die for reasons that are real, for they themselves are real."

"Blessed are all those who yet can sing when all the theater is empty annd the orchestra is gone."

"Blessed is the man who stands before the cruelest king and only fears his God."

"Blessed is the mighty king who sits behind the weakest man and thinks of all their similarities."

"Earthmaker is love. He has send his only Troubadour to close the Canyon of the Damned."

Then they broke his song and cried one with one voice, "Tell us Singer, have you any hope for us? can we be saved?"

"You may if you will sing Earth- makers's Song!"

"Is there another way to cheat the Canyon of the Damned?"

"None but the Song!"

The beauty of Miller's language here, to me, is that there is a song that wants to be played. There is a way out of loneliness and despair, that comes with willfully listening to the song within...  And that you can't short cut that listening pathway with some kind of formula or group membership.  We have to keep listening, and singing.

Have a GOOD friday

My friend Josh Case asked me to post again. I just noticed that he was the reason for my last post (I need to post more often, huh).  I want you to reflect with me on how Good Friday typically functions to form our faith, and to try a short exercise that might re-form that function: Good Friday can start to feel like a civil war reenactment once death has lost its sting.  So what, then, do a resurrection people have left to discover on Good Friday?  How does the holy-day serve liturgically to “shape” us as followers in the Jesus Way?  To answer that I want to start by throwing out ways that Good Friday might misshape us, and some guesses as to why.

So, if you grew up in a popular American Christian experience like mine, Good Friday was a time to recall the miracle of the Romans Road, when the cross was laid over the pit of hell (complete with hazard cones warning drivers to beware of impending doom) delivering to safety those individuals who would accept the torture of Christ in a representative capacity for their own cosmic debt.

And if you’ve been on a similar journey as mine since, you’ve perhaps grown a bit cynical about that thoroughfare constructed 19 centuries after the fact out of 5 sentences of a 20 page letter to the Romans as well as its complimentary campaign reducing Jesus’ Good-Friday event to a rescue mission to hack into the Matrix and change God’s rules- a mission that God would have sent Jesus to do for me if, even if I were one and only human on the earth (and yes, I’m proud to say that the “I” here is me, the guy writing this post, and not necessarily you- at least that’s how I remember the shtick going).

And if you were living and breathing 7 years ago you had to have heard of or seen Gibson’s Passion of Christ.  If it did its job, you might have gotten even more eeby-geeby about the gore and agony that Holy Week culminating in Good Friday represents.   And perhaps you shake your head, like me, at those friends who watch it year after year hoping to shame the sin away by “identifying with the pain” of our savior, or hoping to leverage the cinematic shock-and-awe to drill a deeper well toward even deeper gratitude than the year before.  But death-movies like Gibson’s have lost their sting to me.

So instead of blogging through biblical, theological or historical evidence that could either make you feel more self-confident, or could lead you to throw up your hands dismissing my argument as unfounded, I want to ask you to do a little exercise.  It is a directed meditation that will require 10 minutes of your dedicated attention.  Whether you’re reading this on your Driod or iPhone or laptop, or even if your secretary prints out RSS feeds from Josh’s blog and lays it on your desk next to your morning coffee, I need you to stop for a sec and get a blank sheet of paper.

SPOILER- don’t read ahead, trust your cells to the process and give yourself 10 minutes (9½  now) to go through this exercise.  This means you too, my old friend who is scanning this because you’ve just got a minute. Go ahead and get the paper… I’ll wait:

  1. Okay, now take your piece of paper and fold it in half twice to make four equal quadrants.  No need to draw any lines, the two creases should suffice.
  2. Turn it horizontally and write in the bottom right quadrant the names of people and organizations that fit the following categories:
    • People you are against
    • People who have hurt members of your family and those you love
    • People who hurt you when you were young
    • Groups that insult you or your friends or your religious practice
    • Countries that mean harm to yours
    • Political parties that sabotage what you see as right and just
    • Pundits and media moguls who profit from demonizing you and people you value
    • Companies, technologies, superstars, industries, ideologies, and leaders with power who misuse their power to devour others.
    • That neighbor that you just can’t stand
  3. Now on the bottom left write the names of people and groups that you self identify with:
    • Your family members
    • Those who enjoy living, shopping, eating, and working in the same places as you
    • Those who you help to get elected
    • Non profits and special interest groups you donate time or money to
    • Those who you’d take into your house when they need help.
    • Those who have given you favors, breaks, and gifted you with opportunities to progress in life.
    • Those who subscribe to and/or share your religious group’s gathering habits, styles, ideas, and language.
  4. Now draw a horizontal line along the horizontal crease above the two groups.

The gospels give us a window into three years spent by Jesus re-imagining a place over that horizon in which the divisions below the horizon no longer exist.  He saw a kingdom where those who were cursed would be blessed.  He saw a world where the oppressed would carry the oppressor’s pack an extra mile.  A future where it would be possible to love your enemies, or even that forgiving others' their trespasses would be a part of ushering in such a forgiving future. He saw a faith that would reunite the religious and irreligious.  Jesus’ mission to “proclaim freedom to the prisoner, and good news to the poor” would affect the prison guards and the wealthy as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Jesus did not say every behavior, group, or ethical decision was “relative” or that grace abounded such that injustice or self-sabotage would be free from consequences. Jesus said he’d bring a sword between parent and child.  He knew that his cruciform presence, his servant leadership would exacerbate divisions.  That either side would have to fall like a seed into the ground and die to be born anew with eyes for that other horizon.

He challenged those entrusted with power to measure out consequences for injustice and self-sabotage. And this challenge would wear out those authorities (imperial and religious, as well as the public power of social media who would cry “crucify him”) until they resorted to the last resort–violent death.

5. Now, draw a cross below the horizon, between the two sides somewhere along the vertical crease (of course I have ideas for what you could draw above the horizon, but this is a Good Friday blog not an Easter Sunday one).

Here's my beef with the Romans Road, it trains our imagination to think of ourselves first.  And when that is our primary metaphor it can pervert the power of Good Friday into a therapeutic form of asceticism. Instead of imaging this Good Friday, that it’s all about a back room deal to get you and those in your group on the bridge over troubled waters, image that the divisions of your everyday life are made physical, demonstrated in the crudest most humiliating of forms.  The cross and the torture devises of empire belong below the horizon line of the promised future. What changes the crucifixion’s cruel macabre character is Jesus’ vision for what lay beyond it’s horizon.  Empire and death are made a laughing stock on the resurrection side of that horizon. Join Christ on the road to Calvary by laying down your arms, your defenses, your revenge, your bounded sets, by daring what C.S. Lewis liked to call the “deeper magic” to happen.

No doubt, death is real.  We feel it to our bones and it is serious stuff.  But Good Friday’s glory does not come from death’s gravity. Good Friday is Good because it is the masterful cosmic foreshadowing of the prevailing community of forgiveness. The vision of the Crucified one, on Friday of Holy week, is good news to everything on this side of the horizon, it is proof that God would not want any single one to be left out of the story.  ‘Even if you or I would dream it otherwise.

Do you recall that curtain ripping in the Holy of Holies at the strike of 3pm?  Paul would later write that the dividing wall between people is also removed (Eph 2.13-16). So, what shall separate us from the fellowship forming love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing!  There is no longer Covenanters or pagans, no longer male and female, no longer enslaved or free citizen… all things are made new.  Even that old foe, death, no longer has its stinging capacity to separate us.  The empty cross proves that corporeal threat is impotent in the face of God’s love, and the empty tomb proves that sacrificial death is empty too.  Jesus was betting on that! Good Friday is the inhaling of the deeper magic.  On Good Friday, we are invited to join Christ in letting-go of the demand we hold on others and in letting-come the power to forgive, heal, reconcile and belong within a New Creation.

Have a Good Friday!

GENERATE magazine

I'm excited to be collaborating with Paul Soupiset, Tim Snyder, and Makeesha Fisher, among others, on this long awaited project. I will be editor of visual and performing arts.

HERE'S THE SCOOP...

GENERATE Magazine has been an open, collaborative project in the works for more than six years now. And after many casual conversations — and the 2009 convening of an editorial team — we are ready and eager to involve you, the larger community, in helping realize this dream with us.

The seeds for GENERATE Magazine were sown sitting around a fountain in San Diego in 2004 — a few writers, poets, artists and designers explored and dreamed about launching a print publication that would embody the ethos and tell the stories of the growing, generative conversation that some have called the emerging church conversation.

Again at the 2007 Emergent Gathering, another planning group was convened to discuss logistics, bring some leadership to the dream, and get things rolling. GENERATE Magazine is the fruit of many months of their planning.

VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS?

Art provides resistance and lift to what the Spirit of New Creation is generating. The beauty that artisans fashion, sing, and perform can testify to what is possible and evoke imagination for what is yet to come. We are drawn to paintings and songs that put us "in play." GENERATE aims to fashion a synthesis of such works of art, and to celebrate the lives of their creators, in order to put our readers in play as well.

WHY GENERATE?

GENERATE exists as a forum to retell the stories of the grassroots communities and individuals who are finding emergent and alternative means to follow God in the Way of Jesus. We hope to create an artifact of this historical conversation. These stories will be transmitted through narrative, works of visual art, documented performances, verse, fiction, non-fiction, essays, and interviews.

We/you are the conversation; our art, our lives, our hopes and failures all meet up with God’s approaching dreams for creation. We converse and in doing so spread the news that we are not alone — that joy is found in our generative friendship.

GENERATE Magazine is a grassroots-organized, independent publication affiliated as a friend of Emergent Village, but not affiliated with any publishing house. We are currently exploring ways to distribute GENERATE Magazine via the Emergent Village Cohorts and wider friendships. More on that in the days to come.

Advent and families...

So here we are, the first week of advent.  Last year, with the help of two other families, we started a ritual of reading advent scriptures (passages that announce the coming of God's dreams) with our kids.  Here's the kit to getting started, and here's the blog that tracked our month.  I'll post more later. I hope this gets your wheals turning!

make something...

So, Why is it that we always think of Pentecost as a glorified church service where everyone consumed a big 'excellent' program? One thing that I'm convinced of after growing up in the church and following Jesus into the World, is that we need better metaphors for what we dream of and what we remember. The story of Pentecost makes my point. How often have you imagined Pentecost (the first Christian experience of it recorded in Acts 2) as a picture of how your church service should be? How often have we assumed that they were building a church service for themselves, or for God, for that matter? Is it possible that Pentecost was more public? More of a cultural phenomena? Something mixing everything up to put everyone back in play instead of commodifying them to build an organization or institution? Imagine the chaos that ensued when, this sect of Jews following 'Yashua' (Jesus, literally the same name as Joshua, meaning Saving One), waited the designated 50 days after Passover and were then interrupted by synchronicity of multiple language, sharing, and neighboring. 'All because the Spirit inspired them. Pentecost was not planned, programmed, or strategic on the part of the community of Jesus... Pentecost is the name we place on the happening that occurred amidst a Jewish holiday of Shavuot- marking the giving of the Torah (10 commandments and the rest of Jewish Law) to Moses, and book-ending the two main harvests of their early agrarian culture (barley after Passover and wheat 50 days later). Pentecost interrupted that community with new Laws and new cycles. And the Spirit of Jesus accomplished this interruption by re-introducing a multi-culturallism (that was already around them, but had grown flat and unacknowledged) and agnecy (shared responsibility in making, crafting, doing, speaking). It put everyone, across their differences, in play.

Kelley showed me this video last week, about Amy Krouse and the community she was joined by, and I was blown away. The DIY/indie craft world is filled with innovators who "make stuff." And this story of Amy is what i imagine the feeling of Pentecost being as opposed to "the greatest church service ever" which is how I traditionally grew up imagining Pentecost. It's a great metaphor to replace the flattened idea of church. Every one was "in play" at the church's first Pentecost. People were around because of their media-socio-cultural practices (Jewish pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem 50 days after passover). They were a heterogeneous mix, not the same subculture. And a new "thing" emerged. The Jesus story became a story of a people at Pentecost- it was a "beckoning of the lovely."

love and silence

I've subscribed to Image journal for several years and don't always get to read the whole thing. But I love the work of Image's chief editor, Gregory Wolfe. So I recently picked up the book, Intruding Upon the Timeless, with selections of his contributions to the journal between its beginning in 89 until 2003. So I'll drop snippets of my readings as we go...

I'll be speaking in October at an Atlanta event organized by Progressive Christian Cooperative, called The Beloved Community: From Formation to Action. I met Kimberly, the inventor behind this, through the Emergent Cohort and have begun to learn from her passion to bring innovative practice of spiritual formation into the human right advocacy circles as well as advocacy into spiritual formation circles. So, though the event is in October our conversations this summer and my talk are simmering on one of my back burners along with what I've been reading by Wolfe.

In Wolfe's article "Silence Cunning and Exile" (quoting James Joyce) I was stuck by the fellowship between beauty and suffering. Almost in a vin diagram sense, these two vivid themes, beauty and suffering, overlap in the costs to access them and the effect the evoke. They have an admission and an affect. They both beg a question that is never answered until the spirit/body s t o p s and in silence hears/feels/knows LOVE. Eyes to see and ears to hear...

And so beauty and suffering, the teleological signpost of the artists and the prophet, are met in silence. These are not "the ends" they are the signs. But signs are how we see, they are the things that compel us when we see through glass dimly, when we only have a lamp for our feet and light on our path, while death valley's shadows remain. No activist can afford to stay plugged in at every movement to her iPhone, and the ticker at the bottom of CNN, and the moving messages of injustice and need outside the MARTA window. No artist can afford to stay transfixed as a doer, maker, striver. Artists and activists both require love. Their trades, sans love, will CLANG worse than a bad drum track. The access to an inner rhythm, to beauty that does not tare you away from humanity in endless pursuit of nirvana, to a righteousness that rolls down mountains in liquid inevitability–the access to this ineffability requires us to s t o p and listen to...

It is in silence that we hear our belovedness. And silence, like white space, is also a place, it is the spacial environment where our imaginations are taught/shapes/formed. Silence, though, is not a commodity to be traded. Like manna it will turn to worms should you return to it apart from an open receptive posture (maybe this is why acquisitiveness, self-aggrandizement, or scarcity rarely characterize true artists and activists). Artists and activists are shapers, whether pragmatic or romantic, we move real things into new places and lop off the corner of one thing fastening something to its other side until a new thing emerges. We are shapers, and it is in silence the we let go of our brother's heel, and unbuckle our holster, and lay down our birth-rite as shaper... and we climb up onto the easel, the wheel, into the kiln, and place our necks under the callused fingers to be shaped by...

Love.

Here are a few of Wolfe's lines and citations that have shaped me today...

There is nothing behind [silence] to which it can be related, except the Creator Himself (sic.) -Max Pickard, The World of Silence.

Out of silence emerges the creative act, both in the 'sub-creation' of the artist and in the creation of God. but there is also a sense in which the created artifact itself is something set into silence...

The space that Christ gives us to respond to him is similar to the space the the artist must give to us to respond to his or her work...

The art that emerges out of silence–the art the experiences human life and our fallen world as a place of exile–forces us to ask the question "why." -Gregory Wolfe

There can be no answer to the 'Why?' of the afflicted... The only things the compel us tot ask the question are affliction, and also beauty; for the beautiful gives us such a vivid sence of the presence of something good that we love for purpose there, without even finding one. Like affliction, beauty compels us to ask: Why? Why is this thing beautiful? But rare are those who are capable of asking this question for as long as a few hours at a time...

He who is capable not only of crying out but also of listening will hear the answer. Silence it the answer.

The speech of created beings is with sounds. The word of God is silence. God's secret word of love can be nothing else but silence. Christ is the silence of God." -Simone Weil

The Beloved Community is the nexus of action and formation. We are formed in the silent act love. And we act as ones (in)formed into lovers. This mutuality between God and creation begats mutuality between humanity in our creative ventures, in response to both beauty and suffering.

Aperture and Wendell Berry's "Sonata at Payne Hollow"

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/99/286251424_f86a9a3a36.jpg?v=0 In Wendell Berry’s "Sonata at Payne Hollow," Harlan and Anna are deceased lovers speaking to eachother in the present as ghosts. Anna comments to Harlan about the river that he’s “never seen enough of,” he keeps gazing upon it even after generations have come and gone. Harlan replies:

It never does anything twice. It needs forever to be in all its times and aspects and acts. To know it in time is only to begin to know it. To paint it, you must show it as less than it is. That is why

as a painter I never was at rest. Now I look and do not paint. This is the heaven of a painter––only to look, to see

without limit. It’s as if a poet finally were free to say only the simplest things.

Wendell Berry: from Given Poems, "Sonata at Payne Hollow" (pg 43)

http://johnwmacdonald.com/8005l_night_lights.jpg

Writing “perfectly clear” theology, as with all other arts, is like stopping the river of God’s work. Comprehensiveness and clarity are always in tension. Theology likes to be comprehensive. otherwise theology requires a slow shutter speed letting in light from all sort of angles. Theologians must choose between the benefits of darker swirling light “night shots,”like the one above ove the Ottowa River Parkway by John C. McDonald or the benefits of those surreal smoky looking shots of rivers in motion like the shot above of the Rupert River By Ian Diamond. Theology is to be done along the way, utilizing the material on the ground, fraught with its own weakness, leaving the imperfections that make each experience unique, it is to be a transitory prayer- a song of assent. Consider the evangelist John’s long, loose, time-lapsed takes:

What has come into being in [the Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

To choose a pretend “captured” portrayal of God, as a snap shot, with 400 speed film and quick shutter speed, and small aperture is to avoid the exposure to the scorching-brilliant glory of God. ‘To be like the children of Israel sending someone else up to Sinai. To cover our eyes, to resist light is to attempt mastery of it, to contain it, to domesticate it. To choose a pretend “still life” portrayal of God’s creativity is to make life what it is not. Such a choice explains away life’s rhythm: death and resurrection caught up in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, awaiting the revelation of the Children of God. To theologize is, as Wendell Berry describes painting, to “show it as less than it is.” In this case we can learn that both the personal nature of God and the created nature of God’s work is like the Word of God, it is dynamic or “living and active,” as the writer of Hebrews has sketched.

Do It Yourself Advent!

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So the Johnstons and the Ekmarks helped us dig into a family ritual of celebrating advent with Eve.  It is a long time dream of ours and we're now posting the results of the collaborative devotional and the play by play at advent waiting.

so come check it out!  Especially if you know folks with young kids hoping to build a deeper story in them for walking int he way of Jesus.

Other great Advent ideas are at the Advent Conspiracy (but their web site's been down for a few days).  more on this I'm sure in the weeks to come.

Manifesto of Hope

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I haven't posted about this yet, but I am excited to have been included with 24 folks, all better at this than me, enlisted to describe the emergent conversation. The book, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, was released April of this year, but I'm just now finding the time to blog about it.  My chapter, "The Art of Emergence: Being God's Handiwork" is a synthesis of the theories of missiology, creative systems, and anthropology.  I had a lot of fun with it.

I've you've had the chance to read it, I'd love to know what it did in you.  If you haven't you can click on the "Search inside" link on Amazon and search art, and start reading on Pg 60.  But You'll have to buy or barrow it to get the whole deal ;)

emergent cohort

Atlanta Friends

The Atlanta Emergent Cohort is meeting this Tuesday, October 30, 8-10pm at Carroll Street Cafe in Cabbage town. This month's conversation will be convened by your's truly and center around the metaphor of church as art. The following is an adapted article to prime the pump and to suggest some possible lines of discussion for the group. But as usual the discussion will be open and its outcome belongs to those who come for the fun...

We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance to be our way of life.

                                                    from Paul’s correspondence with the Ephesians

God is a craftsman (excuse the gender). God makes. You and I are among the things that God fashions. Those recipients of the epistle to the church in Ephesus are told by Paul that we who have been made in Christ (you know, the new creation) are made for the purpose of making/working.  It is important to our maker how we make- good. Rule or principals that underline how artist make, are called aesthetics. And a cohesive narrative of such rules is called an aesthetic. At the core of aesthetics are reasons for making, and postures or ways of perceiving. Our posture of making is informed by God’s posture: mission. And this making is everything, it is our entire way of life, not just what the Ephesians were asked to do when they gathered or when they were ask to give a reason for their faith. The good work of being created in Jesus is our way of life, it is an art inspired by an aesthetic, God's mission. This month’s Emergent cohort discussion is about that art and that aesthetic, and the community of artists commissioned to good lives in the inspiration of the Spirit.

God has commissioned a work of art. This art-installation has been God’s dream from as early as the Trinity’s eternal dance. Long before the Spirit of God hovered like an artist in front of a canvas over the waters that would become our studio, the triune God wanted to make man in God’s (literally the creator in Genesis said “our” implying a conversation with the creator) image. This is our commission: to be God’s art exhibit, a trail of artifacts rendered by God’s people and made through God’s ongoing relationship with creation. This commission precedes Jesus, it is what Abram and Sari were called to do and what the prophets both did and called others back toward doing. And this is our aesthetic the stories of these communities found in scripture, tradition, and experience, that narrate our work. So we are commission to make and to be made, to act and invite God to act upon us.

The examples of God’s dreams reach to us from deepest in our history. One of God’s earliest masterpieces is ha adam, literally the dirt, into whom is breathed the Spirit of life. And in Adam’s first orientation to his surroundings, God commissions him to name creation’s creatures, to be the poet lariat of life’s beginnings. Shortly thereafter, Noah, too, was commissioned to build an artifact to save people. Ten generations after him, God calls Abraham and Sara to parent a nation of people who’s art-of-life was to be a reflection of God’s plans for all creation, to bless all nations. The prophets, like Jeremiah, and psalmists like David, both live out the realization of and lament the postponement of God’s dreams. And this drama continues with some artists demonstrating courage and faithfulness and others stuck in self-sabotaging habits of self-preservation that build hedges around their imagination.

Into this drama the Author became Actor.  First, second, and third person were interwoven without being confused.  The Word was made into flesh, completely creat-ed (material) and completely creat-or (divine). God was subjective (seeing equality with God not as something to grasp but being made into the form of a servant) and objective (All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go…). It was Jesus, the one-of-a-kind perfecter of the art of living in God’s creation, who insisted that God’s art installation was open, in session, “at hand.” He fashioned withered hands into whole ones, he made party wine out of holy water, and he re-animated lifeless cadavers into dinner guests. It was Jesus who called a community of disciples to tell this story and to do even greater works of this art than he. And these disciples, in receiving the breath of the Holy Spirit, had the courage to witness to God’s plans for creation. By initiating a new art-of-life they began sharing meals, reflecting on precedents set by apostolic letters and sacred Hebrew texts, and setting new precedents making all sorts of music, adopting the exposed, and befriending the poor and widows. This is the narrative that we are a part of. This is the art we have been commissioned to make. We are apprentices who study these rhythms of life and practice them as lives of worship preparing creation for future generations. We are, like John the Baptist, and in the words of the poet Isaiah, preparing the way of the Lord.  And our practices tell an ancient story that is yet to be complete, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.”

…..

But here’s the fix we’re in today: in late modernity most churches in the Western world are stuck in creative block. These commitments betray the converting spirit of the gospel by placing equal signs between God’s work and our certitude regarding liberalism verses conservatism, contemporary verses traditional, or theology verses aesthetics. This keeps us from rendering authentic artwork and performances that witness to the kingdom of God. What if the church recovered disciplines of creativity, imagination, and ingenuity as practices unto faith? What if we stepped out of our cultural captivity to “either-or” thinking into organic habits of embodying biblical texts and reforming the tradition we have been handed? What if the church saw herself as both God’s artwork and God’s commissioned artists?

Not only that, what if the work of God of bringing righteousness like an ever flowing stream, and bringing the lion to lay with the lamb were acts that included the art of other people, other tribes, other cultures; be they socio-economically, politically, nationally, or religiously different from ours? Are these “others,” then, partners in the kingdom of God, other artists participating in God’s beautiful unfolding creation?

At the core, I believe the church does matter–but for entirely different reasons than most are fighting to keep the church safe or to make it grow. What if the church mattered as a community committed to this art: to joining God’s dreams, making God’s dreams, becoming patron’s of those making God’s dreams, and learning from others making these dreams? What would we do differently if the mission of God were our aesthetic, as people commissioned to make God’s beauty in the world?

Now here is what I’m hoping the cohort can help flesh out. 

1.    Push back at any and all of this! Let’s have some fun fleshing this out.
2.    What are the reasons we are not creating more new possibilities to participate in God’s dreams?  Or to put it another way, How does writer’s block manifest itself in the church and how have you seen it addressed?
3.    What are some entry-points to this idea of church as art?  Where does it break down for you or folks you serve with?
4.    What art are you making and seeing made around you and how do you see it participating in God’s dreams?

Ordaining Mary

I saw this entry today from a journal of mine, dated July 24, a day after my ordination.  Now, that word "ordination" brings a great deal of baggage with it, I know.  So, let me drop this quote for you first:

Nothing ontological changed.  I still perspire and regret and fear and hate to shave.  I’ve been reverend according to the traditional language of the church reforming for almost 20 hours now and I think the same thoughts and like the same things.  But yesterday during my ordination service some things new were planted and some old soil was given rest.

I’m sitting in a warehouse loft with large pieces of fine art and pop found art on the walls.  My friend Fred has spent several years on a painting he entitles the Call of St. Mathew,  it sits on the floor here in the lofts where I've managed a coffee shop.  Soon it will be brought back to him, I'm still not buying art like I hope to be one day.  Soon, the other art work will be picked up my the friends who donated it for the extended Eucharist that we celebrated here, turn tables, wine, cigars, bread left over from the worship gathering... all picked up, nothing really changed about this warehouse or the building we met in for prayer and charges.

I'm sitting here reflecting on the fact that we never really transform either. We keep being us.  After marriage.  After childbirth.  After divorse. After baptism.  After ordination.  But the names, and definitions and the dictionary change as we go.  New creation doesn't leave behind only an ex-creation.  What is born again does die like a seed, but it is not oblitherated like an atom split leaving only afterlife.... 

I was blessed yesterday, by old and new friends, playful mentors, and deep galvanic tradition. But that blessing is all around us.   In the beauty of the party, in the green of the summer fescue, in the pavers of the sidewalk and the lead paint of the old warehouse.  Blessing is waiting, everything is being anointed.  What is changed in the ordaining is our eyes, our ears, our imagination.

It's Advent and my imagination wanders to Mary.  And then to all the crazy theological gymnastics (artfully, no less) that were created to insure that what is pure is pure.  to insure that what is holy is holy... But whether the Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant theologians have this right or not it can't have unfolded that way to her.  To Mary blessing must have been an interruption of the mundane, a new set of eyes concerning her "state."  Advent, waiting for hope to be born, must have something to do with these new pair of eyes.  Yesterday,I read It Gives Me Hope, a poem by Cheryl linked from Johnny Baker:

it gives me hope

It gives me hope to believe that Mary did not always want to be pregnant.
Not at first. Not really.

It gives me hope to believe that Mary’s ‘yes’
was not always wholehearted.
That even though her body embraced this promise -
every cell of it -
her mind simply couldn’t.

It gives me hope to believe that maybe those first days or weeks
were coloured with despair and confusion
hopelessness and fear
too sharp and raw and private to ever be told.

It gives me hope to believe that one day
Mary woke
disconcerted
not quite knowing herself without the familiar feeling of dread

and found herself
instead
inexplicably bathed
in irrational
incomprehensible
delight.

And so, the mundane life, all that is disconcerting, the terror and regret, every cell in me is ordained, like it was in Mary.  A life spoken into and an utterance received.  Mary's apophatic practice of having ears to hear...

Hear the blessing
when its time, respect the yes in you (wholehearted and otherwise),
and consider what is ordained

The title of my journal was crops rotating, and i never finished it. 

But, I think this is the waiting.  As i think about it, now, six months later, I realize that our crops are being rotated as we name, as the dictionary changes, as we are "inexplicably bathed in irrational incomprehensable delight." 

 

 

"the other" and the big risk of defining what is inside or outside the system

My friend Mark had a great comment on testimony/ counter-testimony and the "double blind" of a Marxist informed hermeneutic.  I was writing earlier that "utterance" as "world making" does not sufficiently account for the pre-verbal or the elaboration practice of "world making."  Here are Mark's thoughts...

According to John McClure, Brueggemann’s goal of forming a particularidentity for a community of exiles is already a surrender to the oppressive center that sustains itself through the corruption of all language into self-serving searches for security. The resistance language of Brueggemann’s testimony becomes a necessary part of the “double-bind” in which the center needs the margins to exist...

If we changed the subject, turned our focus from a language created reality and instead turned to the other, do we begin to escape that double bind? I think this is where Anna’s understanding of testimony undergirded by Chopp’s “open sign” points us forward. Instead of countertestimony that in the end props up the hegemony, the Word creates a new space of openness that refuses to be caught within the double bind. In this openness that refuses reduction, there is no longer the center and the margins, just the other. In this space, all our labels that locate “us” are dropped and a new language that transcends the bind is engaged, what McClure calls a language of love.

In this space, there is no closure. No moves to consensus, no focus on identity. And it is here where I think your thought about art can really help us. There is something about art that resists closure, resists being identified and systematized. Something about art that defers meaning.

I agree with McClure's critique of Brueggemann's Marxist informed "counter-testimony" project with a few objections.

'You Got Served: being addressed is an artistic and not simply verbal exchange

One, Brueggemann seems to present the community as texted as well, not simply text-ers.  In this sense the the cannon then operates as a more than egalitarian testimony (requiring the polarity you mention) but a new world, one created by Yahweh who refuses the domestication of either or any ideology that would use God as "puppet."  Old orientation - disorientation - new orientation happens the system as a whole.

Second, Brueggemann's later work moves beyond Prophet Imagination (Marxism), cadences from home(exile), toward a sabatarianism of texting (p136-140 Ichabod Toward Home).  For a moment he oppens the door for pre-text when he unpacks holy Saturday as a time when all our texting is paused and either the Father self-gives (a la Von Balthazar) or the community must play and imagine (pre-texting a la Steiner) or both.  In Ichabod Toward Home, Brueggemann presents a place for the apophatic and imagination (incubation-insight-evaluation) that, I suggest, is a departure from his prior socialogially centered criticisms.  He just has not closed the loop to see art's value in witness.

The hard part here is the Barthian move to Word to define the reformed experience of Christ-revealed through the text seems to require we place art within word.  This deeply limits our ability to take seriously our practices in light of the incarnation (here is some of the genius of Newbiging's Congregation as herminuetic of the gospel- it created a way forward incarnationally).  If words are, however, a part of art, then solo-scriptura must make it past Wietgenstien's "word games" another way... I'm not sure how, yet...

Where is the other?: in the text we have and coming from the future

But I am curious about the center-margin debate and have been thinking about that myself...

Is the place of "no margin or center" simply a recreation of an ontological "outside" system.  A re-Cartetianism?  I would love a bit more on Chopp, I'm not familiar with him yet (I'll ask Anna Carter Florence too).  At the core I think the art metaphor unpacks the dichotomy between narrative and practice, regardless of  sociological bent.  "The art of Church" metaphor presses us closer to a Husserl phenomenology where our words do interact within the kingdom as creative parts of a whole, they are a part of the system here.  ie: This blog is not just an idea, but the floating pixels connect to our choices and habits and move space, as it were.  My blogg is an extension of my domain (yikes).

And so, to address the objectivity question I am playing around a with a threefold wholism (I'm sure there's a better word here but i am working my damnedest to avoid "Trinity" by default- since that is not my point, yet) drawn from narrative theology.  From Biblical texts we encounter stories in which the  actor is pressed to narrate, and the narrator is percieved by a certain audience as author, and the tangle is inescapable almost taken for granted (God's redemptive word-game, if you will).  In the counter-testimony sense, Ruth the Moabite retells Israel's story as her own, and the actor becomes a narrator.  Jeremiah's Israel becomes the author of Babylon's city.  The Good Samaritan becomes the narrator of  Israel's story of neighboring... The son of God is send, not only as actor of the messianic texts, but actor of the realized kingdom, narrating the nexus... not only that but he authored new narratives (why do you say I don not have th power to forgive sins?) and authorized the authority of new authors (as the father has sent me so I send you, whatsover you forgive will be forgiven)...

Do we ever address anyone, why?

In this, because of the collapse of narrative and practice plus the missiological view of Jesus' Incarnation as an interruptive re-texting event ( limit experience -Ricoeur), the called community are those called to be:

1. actors sent to fulfill the text of our Author,

2. narrators, retexting ourself as a community organized by the polity of the text (Yoder)

3. and authors, responding to our contextually as makers of peace, forgiveness, and justice as those who, like Abraham, become the Righteousness of God (Pilgrim people with an eschatological end) in our texted world.

I think this gives back to the interpretive community an antidote to margin-center priocupations: the place of "subjectivity and the apophatic".  Of course this includes the "other." And yet does so without setting up an inside-outside system.  Instead with the perspectives of church as artwork, artist, and currator of God's Art, we must now also face our responsibility to "make" new orientations accounting for both margins (of all socialogical sorts) and the Other met in the dis-orientation.

While the "Elijah chair" of otherness brings subjectivity into the room, it appears to me, to create a "non-space" an "ontological outside" that betrays the incarnation.  The incarnation, however, bring practice and narrative together, brings the kingdom of God into the room as a partner to join in and to be addressed by.  To realize and to miss.  My current take on this otherness approach is that it is hard to land missiologically with it (to give shape to our art).

I could have missed Mark's point entirely so come back at me.

pax

The ART of Waiting

Words take from creativity

In the beginning we must quietly hover over and protect the nascent or germinating thought until it has toughness and durability.  New and emerging ideas that have not been nurtures in their own seedbed should not be spoken of at great length, if at all.  They will not survive if they are exposed too early, partly because they are too vulnerable to resist attack or even questioning, and partly because words give them a form and launch them prematurely, taking from the creator the inner necessity to work with them and give them the shape in stone or wood or deliberate words.  If the creator does make the effort to write the story he has disclosed to another or paint the picture he has described, he has the feeling of repeating himself. 
                -Elizabeth O'Connor, The Eighth day of Creation, p 50.

               

Art as a way of life before words

Each of us becomes the artist as well allow ourselves to be open to the reality of the Other and give expression to that encounter either in words of paint or stone or in the fabric of our lives.  Each of us who has come to know and relate to the Other and express this in any way is an artist in spite of himself/herself... In the final analysis meditation is the art of living life in its fullest and deepest.  Genuine religion and art are two names for the same incredible meeting with reality and give expression to that experience in some manner."  -Vincent Van Gogh

The church and creative process

Words Do Not Make Worlds

Okay, one of my biggest mentors is Walter Brueggemann, who in step with the Yale school of post liberalism, has argued that "Words make worlds."  This is an hermeneutic argument that what we say, speak into being, changes how we behave.  Citing Freud, Bruggemann writes that speech about our memory and hope open in us new possibilities.  He also then connects this to Biblical Theology as it pertains to God.  The God of the Old Testament, Yahweh, speaks the world into being, communicates as a voice, and instructs through prophets who say "the Word of the Lord."  It follows, then, that the New Testament's extrapolation in the incarnation of Jesus as the Word made flesh, is the embodiment of God's utterance.

The Church After Words
I have been drawn to this argument for quite some time but often get stuck on one thing, "words are not the only way, the primal way of knowing and communicating."  I spent a semester in seminary trying to make sense of this and created 90+ pages of words to prove my point (get it here:  Download arts_as_witness_02_revision

).  Missiologist Leslie Newbigin proposes a complimentary idea that the congregation is the hermeneutic of the gospel.  Different than the Franciscan-Young Life motto- "preach the gospel at all times, only use words when necessary," Newbigin's argues that the congregation is a meaning making group who bear witness to the gospel of Jesus and the reign of God in their host culture.  In this way the words are only part of the witnessing component, and the gospel is not simply preached but performed.  Moving beyond Newbigin, I have seen this argument fitting well with the post-structuralists who suggest that disembodied words are actually tools of power- to manipulate others or evade responsibility.

Until today I have been stuck on how to connect the trajectories of these two formative scholars in my own approach to life in the way of Jesus.  I agree that words, utterance, change our reality starting with our own vantage point and hope.  I also agree that the church is the community witnessing to the story of this hope in word and deed, in the beauty of making a life together for the sake of its neighbors.  But Brueggemann would seem to protest that words are a prerequisite, absolutely necessary for the formation of this community and the Newbigin trajectory (now I'm projecting certain postmodern suspicions to his work, I know) would seem to argue that words are an insufficient. 

Words as elaboration
Today, listening to a pod-cast on hermeneutics and eschatology by John Green, I recognized that imagination is often pre-verbal.  That the church's failure of imagination is tied to our preoccupation with words, to well elaborated systems.  And I connected these two theologians to the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "CHICK-sent-me-high-ee).

He describes the work of creativity as more recursive than linear, but proceeding in the following progression:

  1. Preparation (immersion in a problem that speaks to one's curiosity),
  2. Incubation (ideas call to each other without the pressure of linear logic),
  3. Insight (the aha when pieces of the puzzle fall together),
  4. Evaluation (utilizing former knowledge of the domain and opinion of the field determining if the idea is novel),
  5. Elaboration (paying attention to outside developing work, open mindedness, refining for elegance and simplicity, listening to colleges, and finally articulating the complete innovation). 

Here is the connection to the church as hermeneutic and the speech act. The church requires the disciplines of contemplation on Christ to shape our imaginations.  The church (to give props to my reformed fore parents) is shaped in the the proclamation of the Word.  The narrative of scripture re-scripts our imagination so that new problems emerge, new incongruence's between our selves, our church, or our world as they relate to the gospel-shaped world of God's dreams known through the gift of the Holy Spirit, scriptures, and tradition.  The speech act is "elaboration."  But this elaboration is, as Csikszentmihalyi shows points out, is not linear but recursive and continual.  And this elaboration is the fruit of an internal creative process, one the church exists to nurture.

Words as fruit and not product

I think this gets to the bottom of my beef with "words make worlds."  In a consumer centered late-capitalist world, we rush past practices as means to a desired end.  For preachers we need the next "word" and so cheap, flaccid, or self serving words are conjured up to meet 7-day cycle of market demand.  Consequently the church has shaped a generation of eager "utterers" looking to say more than they believe and content to believe or wrestle with far less than they like to say.  Churches and pulpits become the natural habitat in modernity for "vibrato" big sexy ideals.  CCM and "praise music" is just amplifies the point.  And yet pastors who preach every week play into this by demanding nothing, by saying words that therapize, validate (from a position of pulpit authority), or demean the other side (feminazis, homophobes, or culture-haters... you pick your idealogical enemy).

But utterance is not a consumable to be outsourced to experts or reduced into microwavable single portions.  Utterance is the fruit of disciplines of readiness.  Imagination is the gift of God from the future for the community to bear witness anew.  And the congregation can bear witness anew only after it has internalized the creative process, facing emerging problems between the "kingdom come on earth" and the inspired imagination of "as it is in heaven."  The church is not just a place for preparation (singing "Lord Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary" or "Wait for the Lord") and elaboration (singing "Shout to the Lord" or "God Bless America" or "We Shall Overcome") but also for incubation (silence, and contemplation), insight (freedom to play and speak provisionally-divergently), and evaluation (lamentation, confession,reconciliation, and protest) as well.

Ricoeur reads Jesus

Here is some intergrative work between notes for a sermon on the wedding of Cana and notes on Paul Ricoeur’s “Pastoral Praxeology, Hermeneutics, and Identity” from Figuring the Sacred, (Minneapolis: Augsberg Fortress Press, 1995) 303-314.  Come play with me...

Your mind is spinning. You see dark face after light face after dirty face after clean face. There are people from all over the region.  They have traveled to this party unknowing that you will be there.  You haven’t been able to sleep for days now.  Its been about three days since you met your first fellow sojourner.  You grabbed him because he was ready to try something new.  His brother was nearby and after a few quick calls he had joined you.  As the three of you travel you pointed out the futility of life to a few other folks and they decide to travel with you as well.  One person is an idealist, the kind that could kill a party with his politics, his better-than-Ezra speak, his certainty.  And so you point out your place in what he’s so sure about and suddenly he’s on the wagon with the rest of y’all. 

You show up at the party and y’all blend right in.  It’s a Grecian environment, expansive space, marble floors, large clay jars to wash your hands in.  They remind you of the bowls of holy water outside cathedrals, like the one your parents talk about.  You vaguely remember being washed in them as a child when the wrinkled hands of a gray priest received you from your parent’s arms and held you up in front of the congregation.  But that was a long time ago now. 

The party is what everyone came here for but the marriage ceremony came first.  You sit through the rituals but your mind is somewhere else…

You notice some of the other guests and the solutes, the mozle tov, the cheers ensue. 

Then you are at the bar and your mom overhears that the crowd are heavier drinkers than they had planned on.

Then it hits, your mom says it is time to do something… the limit experience hits and you choose to lean into the future that you’ve known all along or you chose to wait for it.  Not seeing equality with God as something to hold on to you chose to be a servant, to humble yourself in the form of

But now is the time and suddenly the plot thickens, it turns, you are a different character than ten minuets before.  The servants, the baptismal water jars we all washed our hands in, grab them, fill them back up with water.

But wait, they are set aside for holy purposes.  They are god’s provision, they aren’t supposed to be used for this.

Uh, now tell them to bring it out there, lets not leave the water here.  If this is going to work, it has to be the servants, not me or any of us.  When the servant is doing this I will not be given credit, the groom will.  The people will see a new day and enjoy the hospitality, the benevolence of God, and thank their host, the organizer of the event.

And for twenty centuries since, Jesus has been writing us into the script to take the risk of bringing recycled vestments and elements into the party.  Who changed the water, who was changed?  Who served as narrators of the story?  Who served as author of the event?  Who participated in the closed story of the master of the party? Did any of them look like authors? (yes the one throwing the party).  Did any of them feel like narrators (yes the servants of the party). 

***

To create is a sticky subject with evangelicals.  We want to see that God as "the maker" and to protect ourselves from the offense of changing God or God's text.  So what roles do Mary, Jesus, the newly recruited discisples, the servant, the MC of the party play? Who is made, who is being made?  Or is it that simple?

Much of this is rooted in our understanding of self through Cartesian and Kantian categories.  We see a character’s self-hood as “sameness”  whatever belongs permanently to someone/thing.  Kant sent this knowledge into the non-personal space of thinking.  Descartes’ immutable and reflexive self. 

And so when something new is introduced it must have already existed so as not to threaten the sameness of that character.  This is seen best in theater, literature, and movies.  The character development requires a “limit experience” where the character’s sameness is threatened and the “self” the “who am I” is laid bare.

Heidegger said it this way:  Self hood is a question of who, who did this, who did that.  Hannah Arendt, said that all things labor, and that some labor is work, and that some work is action.  Action, the highest level of the three is distinguished from these three basic human activities by the function of story and history in telling us about the who/actor of action. 

If Kant was right that the permantent part of the individual is the substance of one's self-hood, then Nietzsche must also have been right in saying that the only substantial difference between people are their unique piles of meat and sinews.  So I am persuaded by Ricoeur that maybe Kant was not completely right here.

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“Narrativity” is “the intelligibility brought about by the plot of a narrative.” (Ricoeur, 308) Narrative unity (a post structuralism perspective) is a stronger vantage point in differentiating meaning than the movable rationales of structuralists and their counter point, irrationalism.  Narrative unity is constituted through the identification of an actor the objects/subjects of his intervention.  Changes or reversals of fortune that threaten concordance of plot are made significant by the plot.  When these changes are applied to characters their identity or self-hood is revised, this is called the “emplotment of character.”  In this act we recognize in ourselves/others the working of the plot.

The challenge to ministry, however, is that the plot seems open ended because life is open ended.  We do not know the last page.  We are always revising, being replotted, and changing the plots of other’s narratives.  We are simultaneously in several narratives from several point of view. 

So the church is an emplotment environment.  We re-text, reshape the identity of our self, the body of Christ as character interacting with others not in body, and the greater world as part of God’s work. 

The problem then is who are ministers, who is the church?  Are we a character, narrator, or author?  This very ambiguity creates an opening… it is a limit experience.  The ambiguity of who is in charge between Mary, Jesus, the servants, and the MC is the same ambiguity of being God's people, the church.

Ricoeur writes, “Surely we are a character but it is we who tell the story therefore we are its author.  But we cannot simply be the author because we are already caught in narrativity of enacted narratives. We are also characters in other’s stories and histories… Being caught up in others’ stories is what create an inextricable aspect to our lives” (310).

“We are caught up in stories, in histories, and in large scale narratives of salvation where one is a partner, a character who is partially a narrator and partially and author” (310).

And so we participate in life’s revisions, examining life to consider if a “closed” part of our character is to be “reopened”. In this sense we are be converted, re-emplotted, transformed by the renewing of our plot-making minds.  In this sense all of life is a potential limit experience. 

Elaine Scary writes in On Beauty and Being Just of the role of "precedence" in perceiving beauty. As such we encounter a remembered plot, a precedent,and change our character or we are surprised by an other actor or event that has no precedence- unprecedented, and are then emplotted, as it were, for the first time.  To learn then, to place ourselves in line with new meanings and to risk re-emplotment is to risk limit experiences by seeking (placing ourselves under a plot- being a community) and by being aware (finding limit experiences and trusting they are from the narrator/author and not a threat). 

With Darrell Guder we see our regular re-emplotment as the call to "continual conversion".  Like Elizabeth Barret Browning we see the potential limit experiences as “bushes ablaze…”  like Peter Mayer, we sing, “everything is holy now.”  And then we realize that everything cannot possibly emplot, we must sort out the plotters.  And then we face the challenge again of learning, we need a place where we seek emplotment. 

Imagination is a key part of this leap from a closed to a reopened self.  It is the only way to structure or adapt the plot.  The function of imagination, then, is to separate “self” from “same” to lay bare the question of “who am I.” 

This is where this brings us: to lose ourselves is to find ourselves.  To allow ourselves to be impacted by the "other" (persons or world) is to risk being in control of ourselves. A habit that Jesus demonstrates.  Moreover, to participate in another’s story is to become an actor once again.  We transform the world by our relationship to it.  Descartes was wrong, we are never detached.

And so the church is called to be a character- authored by God as God's change met in the world

And the church is called to be a narrator- heard by creation about God's change to come

And the church is called to be an author (objective) finding our lives as co-creation, as we participate in the closed/opened stories/histories of God’s created world.

This certainly is quite the drama, this thing of being church in emerging culture!