Sunday, November 02, 2014

looking up

I love the creativity by which spaces are changed. Here is a wonderful example from our recent holiday in Turkey. The interior of a large room, and from the ceiling had been hung bright yellow coloured rings.


Walking inside, we noted a change of colour, from yellow to green, along with a change of shape. It seemed invitation, pointing toward another room.

lookingup green

They had even placed a swing inside. Which sure enough, you were allowed to play on. I watched a young child head straight for the swing, and another young couple enjoy some fun together.


It changed the entire look and feel of the place, from large and stark, to playfully invitational. I have no idea why (not being fluent in Turkish) but it was a memorable and striking way to invite us to “look up.” It created interaction, built conversation with strangers (Wow, what is it?) and offered a set of memories that walked with us into our week.

A church could use their “looking up” to change with the colours of the church year, to hang angels at Advent, to create more intimate surroundings in winter. For a positive, practical, example, Cityside Baptist in Auckland were superb. They had strung wire across their auditorium and this allowed them to attach spots, but also to provide a range of creative offerings – flowers, poppies at Anzac Day.

Up is as much of a space to be curated as the front. (For more on curating and worship; see Jonny Baker, Curating Worship and Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader)

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM

Saturday, October 30, 2010

creationary: Luke 19 and Zacchaues as babe in womb

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

I’ve been pondering this art image through the week, from the so visually helpful, Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource (which offers art in relation to the Lectionary readings) in relation to the Zacchaues story. It suddenly struck me how “fetus like” is Zacchaues. Not sure it’s the artists intent, but the linking between Zacchaues and that sense of being born again got me thinking …

like a baby in womb

Held by tree cleft
Like needle eye
rich baby this one

like umbilical cord
stretching toward

Toward heartbeat
with life
of the Christ

I see you, little babe
I’ll grow you, little babe

Toddler step down
Teenager make meal

Challenge us
Sorry in cash
and half my retirement
So boldly brash
little babe to man

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Monday, August 09, 2010

rant on creativity, or lack, in preaching and proclamation

This post has been bubbling for a while and should not be read as a reflection on recent sermons I’ve heard and worship I’ve been part of.

Back in May, someone pointed me to a few lines from Uniting in Worship 2. (See a fascinating ABC introduction here). This book is like the official worship book of the Uniting Church in Australia. It’s meant to be important in shaping Uniting worship.

On page 134, in a section titled “The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word”

“People are shaped by story, by narrative … When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. Christian people are shaped by the story of Jesus …. The story is told through proclamation – which may include reading the Scriptures, preaching, reflection on Scripture, drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence … ”

When I read that, I began to scratch my head. Which may include … stories and art and multi-media and movement.

Here is clear and written encouragement to be creative. Yet my experience is that in 99% of churches (all churches, not just Baptist and not just Uniting), proclamation is only every the first two, “reading the Scriptures, preaching”? Words, words, words. And rarely, if ever … stories or art, multi-media or movement.

Or to quote from Jonny Baker’s new book, Curating Worship, which I reviewed over the weekend …

“In many church circles the only gifts that are valued for worship are musical ones or the ability to speak well. This attitude needs shattering, and opening up so that poets, photographers, ideas people, geeks, theologians, liturgists, designers, writers, cooks, politicians, architects, movie-makers, storytellers, parents, campaigners, children, bloggers, DJs, VJs, craft-makers, or just about anybody who comes and is willing to bounce ideas around, can get involved.” (Baker, Curating Worship, 12)

What a gorgeous list. So with such encouragement and such potentially creative people sitting in our churches, what is it that so limits the church’s proclamation to spoken words?

Posted by steve at 10:42 AM

Saturday, July 03, 2010

God at feast, a further re-imagining of God and creativity

Following on from the image of God as musician, here’s one about God at feast – What does this quote say about God? What does it say about being human?

“All the senses are involved in a good feast. We taste, touch, smell, see, hear. Salvation as health is here vividly physical. Anything that heals and enhances savouring the world through our senses may feed into a salvation that culminates in feasting ….

As millions starve, ought anyone to be feasting? Ought there not to be a long detour of working to feed anyone, postponing the feasting till that has been achieved? Or should we keep alive the hope of food for all by working for justice, and, if we have food, simultaneously celebrating the goodness of God? Can we even sustain work of compassion and justice in the right spirit if we are not also having some celebratory foretaste of the Kingdom of God? …

That combination of sharing and celebrating is, perhaps, the most radical of all the implications of the teaching of practice of Jesus. Feeding the hungry is not a matter of the well-fed offering handouts and getting on with their private feasting: the vision is of everyone around the same table, face to face. Even to imagine sitting like that gently but inexorably exposes injustice, exploitation, sexism, hard-heartedness, and the multiple ways of rejecting the other …

To envisage the ultimate feasting is to imagine an endless overflow of communication between those who love and enjoy each other. It embraces body language, facial expressions, the ways we eat, drink, toast, dance and sing; and accompanying every course, encounter and artistic performance are conversations taken up into celebration.”

David Ford; in Theological Aesthetics: A Reader which has over 126 such readings, original texts from diverse places in history and location, on the theme of creativity and God.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM

Friday, July 02, 2010

God the musician compliments of 4th century poet Paulinus of Nola

Imaging God, imaging humans – What does the following quote say about God? What does it say about being human?

“Think of a man playing a harp, plucking strings producing different sounds by striking them with one quill … This is how God works … the Musician who controls that universal-sounding harmony … God is the Craftsman of all creation natural and contrived … Like a musician strumming the strings of the lyre with fluent quill, the Spirit proclaimed the same message in different tongues, instilling into men’s ears the varying sounds.”

From Paulinus of Nola, a Bishop around the 4th century, most famous not for his name, but for his poetry. (In Theological Aesthetics: A Reader which has over 126 such readings, original texts from diverse places in history and location, on the theme of creativity and God.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM

Thursday, June 17, 2010

leading from your strengths. gift or curse?

What if you are really good at something. You have a passion for it and over time you invest in it. You develop skills and you become good at it.

Really good.

But over time you begin to wonder if there are some potential downsides to your gift.

Some people tell you they could never do what you do. That your gift leaves them feeling somehow inadequate and so they close down.

Still others begin to place you on a pedestal.  In your presence they become less forthcoming with their opinions.

Still others ask what happens when you leave, with the assumption that somehow you are invaluable, that things should continue with, or without you.

Such reactions, observed as I watch people respond to creative people, leave me wondering. What do gifted people do with their strengths? Should Da Vinci have used his gifts less? Or differently? How much of how a creative person is perceived and processed is their responsibility? What is involved in the shift from creative individuals to creative communities?

Posted by steve at 03:55 PM

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

a contemporary cry of Old Testament Hannah, the poetry of Kate Tempest

One of the highlights for me of Spirit of Wonder (week on ) was discovering the poetry of Kate Tempest. Care of (Jonny’s Thursdaysession on Spirit and pop culture.)

The night before I’d been teaching a (Sociology of Ministry) class. We’d been talking about different ways the church relates to society and as part of that, exploring Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. The context is a society in transition, moving from tribe to state, from judge to king, from charismatic to bureaucratic. In this transition, comes the song of a barren mother, a speech from the margins of that world, with a dream rejoicing in a swift transition, the rapid and abrupt inversion of the upside-down Kingdom.

The Lord makes poor and makes rich
He brings low, he also exalts
He raises the poor from the dust
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with princes
And inherit seats of honor.

The song anticipates a new social reality, a radical change. It comes not as a memo or a legal document but as a poetic “song.” Such is the power of poetry and causes Brueggemann to write that “liturgy and all artistic acts as crucial for mission.” (Brueggemann, Walter A. “The Bible and Mission: Some Interdisciplinary Implications for Teaching.” Missiology 10, 1989, 397-412.)

And the next day, Jonny played some Kate Tempest poetry. And it felt like a contemporary Hannah, crying for justice, dreaming of an upside down world, not in dusty Palestine, but consumerist urban cities. Have a listen, it’s powerful stuff.

Posted by steve at 04:14 PM

Friday, March 12, 2010

creativity, spirituality and mental health (and the prodigal son)

What is the place of spirituality and creativity in making mental illness more manageable and aiding recovery? Should God-stuff be allowed in the treatment?

That is the question asked by academic and clinician, Kelley Raab Mayo in her new book, Creativity, Spirituality, and Mental Health: Exploring Connections.

As one specific example, she notes how hope is considered essential for healing from mental illness. She then considers imagination, and how it can be fostered by story and then uses the Prodigal Son as a case study. It offers hope, of a different future. It also hopes in the way it allows identification with different characters – those who feel cut off can identify with the younger son, those who grieve lost relationships can identify with the father, those who feel treated unfairly by life can identify with the elder brother. Thus the story reduces a sense of aloneness and offers meaning.

Whlle she sounds a note of caution –

“An approach centred on human depravity and an authoritarian God can take away personal agency rather than promote it. In contrast, a perspective centred on the loving, forgiving divine nature … is wholesome, healing, and entertains a hopeful future. Fostering hope is a core feature of any spiritual intervention.” (79)

– her conclusion is an overwhelming yes. That while drugs and therapy have a place, so do the resources of church attendance, prayer, meditation, dreams and working with sacred texts and these need to be facilitated in our work with those suffering mental illness.

“cultivating a rapprochment between psychiatry and spirituality is essential, I believe, to the future of treatment for mental illness.” (143)

This will include listening, encouraging healthy spirituality and challenging unhealthy spirituality. In so doing, we are taking seriously people as integrated whole and this is a key challenge facing both the church and the current medical profession.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Saturday, March 06, 2010

the curse of creativity: all those voices in my head

I am creative.

It took me many years to discover this. When I was 13, I went from 29th, out of 29 students, in the compulsory music class at the start of the year, to 28th equal at the end of the year. Since creativity was linked to music and art, and at the age of 13 I couldn’t sing, strum nor draw, I realised I was not creative.

It took me many years to recognise I actually was creative, and to begin to re-right (pun intended) the voices in my head.

The realisation began to dawn as I began to write sermons. Firstly, I found I was loving the writing – the crafting of words, the building of rhythm – the creative task. Secondly, I started to realise the curse of creativity. When I started writing sermons too early, I kept wanting to fiddle, change, re-create them. They felt boring once they’d sat on the shelf for a day or three. Such was the curse, the need to feel my material was fresh, connective and so something I could get passionate about.

This week I am participating in Spirit of Wonder, what should be a great week that will mix multisensory multimedia, worship, conversation and creative input. I have been asked to speak two times, once on creativity and leadership (on Tuesday) and again on Spirit and culture and creativity (on Thursday).

And I am facing the curse of creativity.

You see, 18 months ago I wrote a presentation that directly addressed the Thursday topic, on Spirit and culture and creativity. 12 months ago I turned that into a book chapter. This week the book, with my chapter, has been published and my copy should arrive any day. It’s a big deal!

The book has been called a work of “outstanding scholarship”; “profoundly theological and sometimes provactively challenging”; “scripturally responsible, historically informed.” And my chapter exactly addresses the topic I’ve been asked to speak to on Thursday.

But in my head, it’s like 18 months old. Boring. Dated. Such is the curse of creativity.

I’ve tried to play with it – considered using godly play, written a new introduction – twice, sought a new integrative metaphor – and nothing clicks. The chapter stands now as it stood, than, as a fine piece of work that makes sense best when presented as written.

But it’s still so long ago, so dated, so 2008 ….

Posted by steve at 05:14 PM

Sunday, November 29, 2009

advent blessings creative prayer stations

Updated: based on the interest in this post, I’ve added another post with four more creative advent ideas, this time more do at home, type stations.

We kicked off Advent at Opawa today. Someone noted how much work is involved. “Too right,” is my response. It’s like adding a tablecloth, some flowers and mood music to an everyday meal. It draws attention to the church seasons and gives distinctive shape to the church year. It’s an essential spiritual practice to the Christmas consumerist frenzy.

This year we are tracing Incarnational themes through four church blessings/benedictions. The hope is also to add some content to what we hear regularly as church services end, plus ensure a real God focus as I conclude my ministry at Opawa.

Alongside the first Advent banner (which looks stunning against the black background curtains), three “blessing” stations were presented. Physically, they are marked with black wooden stands, draped in cloth. They will be with us for the weeks of Advent, with the “blessing” texts changed each week.

Scriptural prayer: (Spark from here) Consider the words from Numbers 6:24-27. What strikes you? What questions would you like to ask the writer? In the white space, around the words, write or draw your comments and questions.

Intercession bowl: Write or draw the names of people and places you want to see blessed this Christmas. Place them in the bowl.

Fridge magnet prayers: (Spark from here) The Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek. As words are translated, they take on different shades of meaning. This provides an opportunity for prayer and reflection. First, consider words of similar meaning.

(spread on table — lord/protector/saviour/redeemer/provider/the/and/you/us/his/her/with/in/be/bless/benedict/kiss/impart/watch/guard/keep/strengthen/sustain/protect/shine/glow/highlight/enlighten/illuminate/magnify/reflect/gracious/kind/merciful/give favour/hug/lift up/hold/extend/face/peace/shalom/tranquility/whole of life)

Second, arrange the words into your prayer of blessing. When you are satisfied with your work, write your prayer in the Advent journal. Please note that by writing out your prayer, we are asking your permission to display it publicly, perhaps on the church website or projected at a service or in an outside art installation.

So here are three of the “fridge magnet” blessings. (more…)

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM