Thursday, November 04, 2010

Youth, spirituality and the arts with John Safran: morning after update

We were talking in class this week about how to stay culturally connected in ministry and I cited the Blake exhibition. I’ve written before on the value of the Blake prize as a window into contemporary culture.

Anyhow, it’s the opening of the 59th Blake exhibition in Adelaide this evening. A bonus is a session with John Safran, from 7:30 pm onward. Titled Talk your arts off, with a theme of youth spirituality and the arts. John is a comedian who has won four AFI (Australian Film Institute), including for his John Safran vs God.

It should be an interesting evening! And I’ll be sure to blog any highlights (or lowlights!)

The morning after:
1. The place was packed, with queues and a waiting list. Lot of interest in either youth, spirituality, arts, John Safran or the combo.
2. Audience is mainly young adult. Not youth, but young. A lot of young adult interest in either youth, spirituality, arts, John Safran or the combo. Would have loved to have known why people came?
3. Panel were mixed in what they contributed. Standouts for me were Rod Pattenden – human and wise – and Humma Mustafa – warm and passionate.
4. The tension between free expression and social responsibility was a recurring theme. Art and religion live at times in uneasy dialogue with tolerance.
5. The loss of context in a global world will require a greater degree of maturity and discernment.
6. Australians feel they are more and more spiritual. The loss of denominations is seen as an opportunity for a genuine spiritual search for meaning. (For more on this, see here)
7. Australians feel they have a distinct take on spirituality. This includes relation to the land. (For more on this, see here). They also like people who are secure enough in their identity that they can laugh at themselves. (For an example, see here).

Coming away, if I was serious about mission today amongst spiritually seeking young people, I’d start by ripping up my Sunday service liturgies and instead creating spaces for experience and for storytelling.

Posted by steve at 05:35 PM


  1. Do you remember the John Safran skit I showed at Grow? It was gold. I’m a fan.

    Comment by Paul — November 4, 2010 @ 7:33 pm

  2. sorry for being a pain, but somehow I get the feeling John Safran is not really thinking on “whatsoever things are lovely”

    Comment by Ingrid — November 5, 2010 @ 5:32 am

  3. if you watch someone that is not already thinking on “whatsoever things are lovely”; does that also pollute you as the viewer?


    Comment by steve — November 5, 2010 @ 7:19 am

  4. I don’t really understand your question. Would you mind rephrasing it, please?

    Comment by Ingrid — November 5, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  5. I wonder about the process of taking an already established community to a place of genually seeing storytelling as an authentic expression of worship. With a congregation of all retirees (average age of 70+) so many of them come to church to feel comfortable, and because at an age where they are losing everything else Church gives them a sense of stability and formiliarity… So for me, I regularly have people share within the liturgy. So for one month we have three people share how they came to be in this particular community. We often have people choose a hymn/song for worship and have them introduce the hymn/song and tell people why they chose it.
    I am left wondering, and trying to explore, how does one invite an established church who wise to maintain their identiy but also ‘attract’ new people find a common space?

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — November 5, 2010 @ 9:28 am

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  7. Matt, you will know I’m a big advocate of starting with the church as is. last nite reminded me that we need to start again, start clean, with some fresh spaces.

    your wider town context is not “youth” so what you are doing is rich.

    but for urban contexts, we’re naive to think that 5 minutes of tweak in an hour of liturgy will keep and gather the young.


    Comment by steve — November 5, 2010 @ 9:42 am

  8. “Would have loved to have known why people came?”

    For me, in no particular order (and not necessarily comprehensively) …

    1. I was invited by a friend (who admittedly knew I’d be interested, but she had about 15 people on that list of people who were likely interested.

    2. I liked John Safran vs God (don’t actually have much exposure to his other work)

    3. I’m very interested in the intellectual aspects of faith & religion (& everything else!) … not so much the arts, but I feel like I’m missing out on something there, so this seemed like a good way of combining those two to some extent, and seeing what others get out of the art/spirituality combo (although I was quite disappointed in that regard, with the exception of Humna)

    4. I was hoping for some insight into how artists with a spiritual dimension/motivation work … do they set out with an insight or does it develop along the way? do they hope their audience will experience something spiritual & try to “construct” that, or do they just express themselves and trust everything else will follow? Again – with the exception of Humna, I didn’t feel like that sort of thing got a lot of attention.

    I agree that Rod and Humna were the clear stand-outs. I thought the tension between free expression and social responsibility was over-done by the end of it (out of the control of the panel) … and to me suggested a fairly superficial engagement with the concept of religion & spirituality on the part of many of the audience questioners (which may have been quite different to the audience on the whole). Similarly I thought there was little discussion of what spirituality/religion actually meant to any of the panelists but Humna, which hampered discussion a bit …

    But nonetheless there were certainly some nuggets that made the whole thing worthwhile.

    Comment by IainM — November 5, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  9. Thanks Iain. That’s really helpful.

    Re 4 – None of the panel, apart from Humna, were practising visual artists. If they had got a panel of actual Blake prize entrants together, I suspect a lot more would have been said about how artists with a spiritual dimension work. Which would have opened up what spirituality/religion actually meant.

    Like you, I was surprised by the recurring questions around free expression and social responsibility. I wondered why it was such an issue. Perhaps it was because of Safran’s history of acts of provocation and so that was a natural jumping off point into cartoons, fundamentalisms etc.


    Comment by steve — November 5, 2010 @ 10:04 am

  10. Regarding your question, Steve, I would say: Whatever is polluting, pollutes, no matter who produces it.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 5, 2010 @ 10:34 am

  11. Isn’t everything we produce a mix of pure and polluted, Ingrid? Is it possible for us to produce something that is free from pollution?

    Comment by Paul — November 5, 2010 @ 10:52 am

  12. To Paul: I don’t know. This seems to me a rather abstract question. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to set the goal high and aim for purity. There is already enough garbage all over. Why not try to produce a counterbalance?

    Comment by Ingrid — November 5, 2010 @ 11:09 am

  13. Maybe I was jumping to harsh conclusions, but I felt like the obsession with controversy & offence was borne out of a perception that religious people are the ones that get offended by art. That for some sections of the community with little contact with the religious (experience), that the only way they see religion and art intersecting is via offence and controversy … a view borne out of the caricature of religion that suggests that a moral code is the primary function and purpose of religion. I doubt that the majority of attendees felt that way, but I can imagine that those who did might have been more prolific questioners.

    But your theory is probably just as likely, Steve 🙂

    Comment by IainM — November 5, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

  14. Iain

    perhaps you were being fundamentalist about people’s perceptions of religion as fundamentalist 🙂


    Comment by steve — November 5, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

  15. Oh, no, it couldn’t POSSIBLY be that!! 😛

    Comment by IainM — November 5, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  16. Ingrid, sure there is a lot of garbage out there but Safran’s stuff generally is not garbage.

    My problem is that aiming for “purity” in the arts produces shows like seventh heaven and music like Benny Hester (queue falsetto exhortations…), i.e. a strange confluence of 1950s Christian morality and pop culture.

    Comment by Pau — November 5, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  17. To Paul: Consider e.g. Bob Dylan’s texts before and after his conversion.

    Comment by Ingrid — November 6, 2010 @ 5:53 pm

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