Monday, November 11, 2019

The Art of Ministry

A few years ago, British comedienne Abigoliah Schamaun wrote about her use of notebooks in composing her jokes and sets:

I LOVE new notebook day. It’s my favourite day. I usually buy moleskins, but sometimes I use notebooks that have been gifted to me. Every time I buy a notebook, there’s so much excitement and hope for that new notebook. I always think “This is the one! This is the one my first Live At The Apollo set will go into! This is the notebook my defining ‘bit’ will go into. Eddie Izzard has Cake vs Death, George Carlin has 7 Dirty Words, John Mulaney has The Salt and Pepper Diner. And I’m about to write mine.”

This level of glee and hope might be seen as childish and unrealistic. But no one goes into show-business because they have realistic expectations. Comics are dreamers who say funny things, it’s as simple as that.

I am finding more and more that there is a certain commonality between art and ministry. In fact, I think of ministry as an art (it sure as hell ain't a science). There's an unpredictability to it; a need for developing and creating in reaction to the moving and dynamic parts that you have to work with.

A painter or writer may start out trying to do one thing, and by the end they'll end up someplace completely different because that's where the moving parts led. People in ministry may have a vision of how they want things to play out, but again, the moving parts may (and usually do) lead someplace completely different.

To paraphrase Schamaun, nobody goes into ministry because they have realistic expectations. Many clergy are dreamers who preach every week.

I've been finding a lot of inspiration in Austin Kleon's work lately. He recently shared some wisdom that art is the fossil record of the artist:
This bit came from us discussing how my books are the by-products of my process of figuring out how this stuff is done.

Art is much more interesting and makes a lot more sense (at least for the artist, anyways) if you think of the finished works as just the remains — the “fossil record” — of a process of looking, thinking, making, etc.
In the midst of ministry--sitting at a bedside, negotiating a conflict, crafting a sermon or Bible study, having a difficult conversation, organizing a program--there is so much to account for and there's very little chance that things will play out the way they did in the minister's head. And then after the fact we're left with a fossil record of the creative struggle.

It's why I tend to laugh and roll my eyes more and more at ministry books that propose the One True And Successful Way of doing something. That fossil record is not going to work everywhere and for everybody. Maybe there will be a few good usable tidbits, but we hopeless dreamers are going to have to create our own thing where we are.

(Image is a recent collage I made. You can see more on my Instagram.)

Monday, November 04, 2019

I'm on Pulpit Fiction This Week

I have contributed the "Voice in the Wilderness" segment to this week's edition of the Pulpit Fiction podcast, which takes a look at the Revised Common Lectionary texts each week leading to the coming Sunday.

This time around, my assignment was Haggai 1:15b-2:9, one of the texts for this Sunday, November 10th. You can listen at their website or on iTunes.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Book Review: The Good Place and Philosophy

I have a new book review up at the Englewood Review of Books. This time, I reviewed The Good Place and Philosophy, edited by Steven Banko and Andrew Pavelich. An excerpt:

As books that analyze the philosophical themes of popular culture go, there probably was no book that was more inevitable to be written than The Good Place and Philosophy. At the beginning of the show, we meet Eleanor Shellstrop, who is given the news within the first few minutes that she has died and is now in the afterlife. Better yet, she is told that she has entered the Good Place, the show’s term for heaven, where all the most moral people who have ever lived arrive to enjoy eternity.

Read the rest of the review at the Englewood Review of Books.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Doodle the Meeting

At the UCC's General Synod this summer, they had a series of theological reflectors who would offer commentary and summations of the day.

While in years' past these had been authorized ministers or trained lay leaders, this time they took a new direction by inviting an artist, musician, and poet to interpret the speakers and business items presented instead.

The first several days saw Milwaukee painter Tia Richardson off to the side of the stage working diligently on a canvas, which she presented to the gathering at the end of the second day:

As Friday and Saturday progressed, the canvas had transformed in a way that Richardson called typical of her work, changing from what she thought it would be to what it became. The finished image features three children, one holding a flame that shines on a symbolic world that encompasses many themes she observed, all hovering over a Milwaukee skyline. She said the light on the world changed as she painted, journeying to its opposite side on the canvas, a transformation that surprised her.

Richardson allowed both the gathering and the art to direct her brush, even allowing herself to be surprised. The finished product was part her own ideas and part what she heard and saw from the meeting as she painted.

Art helps us see things in ways that plain words cannot. It helps us interpret and hold onto important ideas in ways plain words cannot, too.

I've had Richardson's painting on my mind the last few months since I attended Synod, and I've been playing with the idea of interpreting meetings through art.

Here are two pages from my notebook where I doodled during a Zoom meeting:


And here's one I did during the Ohio Conference Annual Gathering a few weeks ago:


Everything on these pages is based on something I heard during each meeting. It helped me stay engaged in a different way and even weeks later I can remember what each element refers to.

In my book Prayer in Motion I discuss how there's a part of the brain that becomes bored if you just sit for a long period of time, which can make things like prayer difficult. But if you keep your hands busy fiddling with a trinket or in some other way, you're able to stay better engaged with what's going on. These times of doodling are becoming a new way for me to do that.

So maybe if you're someone who finds themselves in a lot of meetings, doodling what you hear can be a way to keep paying attention. After all, there's a reason why mandalas and theological coloring books are popular. Using artistic activities to interpret the mundane of your day, including how God is present, can be a powerful thing.

(My Association has their annual meeting on Saturday, so maybe I'll have a new page of doodles to share afterward.)