It was a good idea to set up the sabbatical in "chunks". Yes, it prevented me from doing grand things that I wasn't going to be able to do anyway (no retreats, no yak herding expeditions, etc). However, returning to work after the month of October has enabled enabled me to refine my goals for this time. I tested some things out and now I have some--granted anecdotal--information that I can use over the next few months. This is the biggest chunk of time, so it is important that I can make the most of it.
With this in mind, I told the Parish Committee (think "church board", but quite a bit more "churchy" in its culture than many boards) that I would be focusing on a few specific areas. Each of these overlap, but thanks to my Advent work-time I have been better able to tease out the parts that go in each area. Today I will address the first, and perhaps most obvious area...
A) Faith, Worship, and the Arts:
Readers of Burbania Posts are well aware, I think, of my interests here. The magic uke has made appearances in nursing homes, as the primary accompaniment on Sunday morning, and as a part of my sermon. Less obvious would be my renewed interest in some of the liturgical arts, like poetry that can be used in worship, and ritual that expands the palette offered in many congregations while also maintaining the "feel" (and telling the story) of the specific congregation I serve. I will continue to explore these issues while also keeping in mind the flaws in much of the resource material out there.
Yes, flaws. I have found that a great deal of the work around the arts and how they intersect with religion doesn't quite answer the questions I have. Granted, this is my bad as the question, itself, is a bit amorphous. I am trying to address two areas under this heading during the next two months.
1) God and Creativity: Good theist that I am, I believe that true acts of creativity are ultimately inspired by God and bring us closer to God (or "gods" or "goddess(es)" or "the ultimate" or "the Divine" or Allah or...well you get the idea). The question for me is, in that sense, a personal one. I write sermons which differ from lectures (and the should differ from lectures) in this explicit seeking of connection to the Divine. This year I am exploring other media (music, photography, poetry and other writing). Sometimes I am participating in the creative act myself as a beginner. At other times, I have been seeking out those who have some mastery of their craft. The question for me is whether my theology of preaching is expandable. Can it become a theology of creativity?
2) Art and Worship: There are a few colleagues of mine who have been cast over time as the "sensitive music in worship workshop" ministers. Each has a strong fan-base of other colleagues that really gets into them (or one of them) and their work. This isn't really a problem. In fact--though my personality doesn't allow me to be quite as much of a groupie--it is a good thing. However, I do think that at times what is taken from these (actually often quite deep) practitioners is rather shallow. "Music moves people. I am moved by music. Why don't I sing my sermon or just invite Rev. Music-Workshop to do a service at my church?" There has to be more to it than that!
I also find--as with any person or institution that is able to propose a "plan"--that there is a certain tendency to make sweeping statements that may be true in the planner's experience but may not be true in another setting. Why, for example, should a fairly traditional congregation be interested in contemporary worship music? Is there really a "deep spiritual hunger" for this? Are they really missing anything? Or is it that there was a workshop that got a minister psyched? I have too often seen communities that do worship well beat themselves up because they don't do the "cool new thing" well. I like Heavy Metal. I like various ironic and alternative strains of folk and country. Should I beat up on Metallica (or should they beat themselves up) because they don't sound like the Waco Brothers?
There is a great deal of material--both in book-form and in the air--that accepts the fact that "the arts" (and I include the art of preaching and worship in that category) help us to connect with something great than ourselves in ways that are both intuitive and emotive rather than simply--not "merely" but simply--through rational and logical means. Less time is spent figuring out what this connection might mean other than a warm fuzzy feeling.
Even less is said about context. What does the experience of worship mean for me (as an individual) and us (as a congregation). What "Amazing Grace" for example, means to one worship community may well be quite different from what it means to another. It may affect me differently when I play and sing it privately. The degree of difference may be quite wide if it is played by me (semi-competently) on the uke (a less traditional worship instrument) as a sing along (non-professional performers and collaborative worshippers) at a nursing home (non-church setting) rather than at an orthodox (small "o") Christian church.
The question I am trying to ask and answer has to do with the problem of organic worship which may be the overall question for me as a pastor. Well...at least the organic part. In this first area, then, I am asking "how can a community of faith make its arts offerings reflect their own faith and culture?" I will take this broader question of the organic church up again in my next section...perhaps tomorrow.
Coming Someday Hopefully Soon: Section B: The Life and Culture of the Future/Present Church.