Thursday, February 24, 2011

"I Remember" an assignment from my dad

My father has a blog, Pitt's Viewpoints. In his second blog of all time (two of two), he assigned someone - the internet? his students at school? to "remember." And then he lists fourteen random memories he has, none of which i knew about him.

So, because I am a good girl and does what my father tells me to (i know their will be backlash on that last sentence, but lets keep it to a minimum), here is my paper. I hope I get an "A."

I Remember...
  • I remember which bedroom was mine in my grandparents' house when we would sleep there occasionally.
  • I remember when the wasp landed on me in our tree-house - the worst thing that could ever happen to a nine year old - and Amy and Andee ran to get my dad who flew to the tree house, flicked it off my chest and swooped me out of the tree.
  • I remember spinning in circles in the living room of our old house, spinning around and around as I sang along to the Annie record we played before preschool. I can still see that carpet and those circles.
  • I remember each window I was scared of as a child, in every room I ever slept in.
  • I remember arguing with Paul Kuhlman in the music room at school that yes, indeed, Santa Claus did exist because, like my dad would climb up on our roof and leave orange peels up there, pretending the reindeer had eaten the oranges we left for Santa.
  • I remember peeing my pants playing outfield near third base because I couldn't hold it any longer. I think I remember that...
  • I remember talking about how Paul Kuhlman kissed Sugar Ocker in the first grade at the reading table for years and years to come.
  • I remember making a village in my favorite teacher, Mrs. McFall's third grade class, and my house was clear plastic. A glass house if you will. I remember volunteering at church as a youth and always hearing the joke, "glass house, Ann, glass house." Who would have known...
  • I remember being sent to the principal's office when Paul Kuhlman slapped me in the face with a dirty rag off the playground. (Paul Kuhlman caused me a lot of problems as a child).
  • I remember my first kiss was actually a stage kiss. And we bumped noses.
  • I remember dance classes with Cliff and Paul. I remember that I refused to take it the first year it was offered because Amy was in it and I was sick of being around my little sister. But I wanted in that second year, and even now, even this week, I thought about Paul and how much I miss his dance class.
  • I remember what I wore on my first date with the first person I really loved: short khaki skirt, white button down shirt, pastel green and pink and purple handkerchief around the neck (yes, that was cool then).
  • I remember the first time I got a dozen roses from a boy.
  • I remember how Jake Camp stunk up the room so much in Chemistry our Sophomore year (first hour), the teacher would make him sit in the hall most days.
  • I remember avoiding the smoker's bathroom my freshman year in high school.
  • I remember avoiding Jock Hall too.
  • I remember when the boys came back to school the fall of our 8th grade year and wondering where all that hair came from and what in the world happened to their voices?
  • I remember telling Nancy Nelson I wouldn't be able to call her Mrs. Nelson just because she was now my school guidance counselor. Nancy would just have to do.
  • I remember declining the invitation to change someone's Latin grade on my mother's home computer. And I remember knowing who cheated in French class, but not telling my mother.
  • I remember the first boy I thought was a "creeper." Of course, we didn't have that jargon then.
  • I remember the trip my dad took our family on to Excelsior Springs and how Amy, the swimmer, did laps in the saltwater pool and ran into the side of the wall.
  • I remember my mother reading to me from giant art and mythology books as a child.
  • I remember the layer of smoke that hung across the lobby of the Missouri Theater (back when you could smoke anywhere) as I watched my father give notes to the cast of one of his many productions.
  • I remember the first time I was offered alcohol (and not by my parent).
Oh my gosh, this is so fun, I can't stop. I'm sure y'all are bored stiff, but this is awesome. Great assignment dad.

  • I remember eating pizza on the beach in Oahu with my family in the seventh grade and watching the sunset. I remember always wanting to recreate that moment every time I visited Hawaii after that.
  • I remember practicing kissing on our balled-up fists with Kara Elder in her bedroom.
  • I remember when my father told me he was sorry he hadn't prepared me for real life.
  • I remember how proud I was of my mother at my sister's wedding - that she wasn't stressed at all, but just had fun.
  • I remember eating hamburger party pizza and playing Life with Amy on the den floor over and over again until I was so sick of both that we never did that again.
  • I remember how pretty I thought my mother was when she was pregnant with Emily.
  • I remember my mother's fortieth birthday party at Diane and Terry's house.
  • I remember the present Nancy Nelson gave me when I was sick in the hospital as a young child with a stomach virus. It was a book about a bird who was a mailman.
Okay, I could seriously go on forever, this is a great writing activity. And I didn't even get to college or seminary or real world or whatever. Thanks, dad.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Art & Faith, Session One

Art and Faith:

The Art of Storytelling

(from my lecture to Guatemalan Pastor's conference, January 2011)

To begin our session this morning, I would like to look at a story we are probably all familiar with. It is the story of David and Bathsheba. Do you remember it?

King David, a man after God’s own heart, is supposed to be off at war with his army, but is instead lounging around his castle in his capitol city. While wandering around one afternoon on the terrace, he spies Bathsheba, one of his top soldier’s wives, bathing. He sends for her, he has his way with her, he sends her home, and assumes his sin has gone undetected. But sin always complicates things and the next month Bathsheba sends word to the King that she is pregnant.

This is, you remember, a problem because her husband is where King David is supposed to be… off at war. And the punishment for adultery (well, for women who commit adultery – not that she had a choice) is stoning. As if being forced to participate in an adulterous act weren’t enough, now Bathsheba faces certain death should her neighbors notice she is showing. King David tries to cover his sin by bringing Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, home from war, congratulating him on his hard work and giving him a few days to recuperate with his wife. One would think the unsuspecting Uriah would be thrilled! A compliment on your service from the king and paid vacation with your wife, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity?

Unfortunately, what King David forgot was that during the last war, in a moment of zealotry, he had made a law forbidding anyone in military service to participate in sexual acts. Their devotion must be reserved only for God and winning the current battle. Uriah was a faithful man, and even though the King granted him permission, he couldn’t break the law by going to bed with his wife when all his comrades were still at war! So passing off Bathsheba’s pregnancy as Uriah’s own doing wasn’t going to be an option for King David. And as David’s sin entangled him even more, he sent Uriah back to battle with a letter to the general of his army Joab, “put Uriah in the front line of battle.” Yes, Uriah carries his own death sentence to Joab. But of course, because Uriah is a faithful man, he doesn’t open the letter. King David’s request to Joab that he put Uriah in the front line of the troops and then have the rest of the troops pull back seems suspicious to Joab. Don’t ask questions, just do it, the letter read. But while Joab doesn’t know the King’s reasons for this strange act – putting one of his best military leaders in the front line to have him killed, Joab devises a better plan and puts Uriah on the task of fighting near the wall of the opposing city, also a position that would ensure his death, but one that would look much less suspicious to the troops. Uriah goes there to fight and of course dies.

Upon his death, King David and Bathsheba mourn for the required period and then in an act of false chivalry, King David takes Bathsheba to be his wife so the his valiant warrior’s wife is taken care of. Sin committed. Sin protected. It took a lot of work, but King David got away with it.

Or so he thought.

Because who then pays a visit to the King at his castle?


And what does Nathan do when his request to see the King is granted?

He tells a story.

He doesn’t read from the Mosaic Law scrolls, he doesn’t call down the wrath of God upon him. He doesn’t even ask the King what really happened.

He tells a story. "Once upon a time," Nathan starts, "there was a man with a little lamb..."

Nathan uses his imagination to communicate creatively with his king, to help him understand what he had done wrong. Nathan used a familiar art form to talk about God.

The imagination is inseparable from the human mind. It is a gift from God to color our language and brighten our minds. Whether or not we pay attention to it, the act of imagination is all around us. We must first recognize this. Recognize our inability to escape imagination and its function in our language and theology, and secondly we must allow our imaginations to be used by God to help us better understand theology and ultimately our relationship to our Creator. Imagination must not be seen as secondary to intellectual pursuits or theological propositions, imagination is not superfluous or something we do when we have time. To fail to use our imagination or render it secondary to theology or hermeneutics or morality is to deny a part of whom God has created us to be – imaginative people.

When we hear the word art, we often thing of the physical arts: paintings, sculptures, mosaics. But for this session, I would like to focus on an imaginative art form that we cannot see with our eyes, but rather hear with our ears, process with our minds and connect to in our hearts. I want to talk about preaching, the art of storytelling.

One of our greatest preachers spoke mostly in stories; often using the rhetorical device we call parables. Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ. Think back with me. What did Jesus say when the Pharisees would approach him with a trick question? He told a story. What happened when the disciples asked him to explain something they’d been arguing about? He told them a story. When he preached on top of the hill we now call the Mount of the Beatitudes, he told stories.

Once upon a time, there was a woman searching for a coin. Once upon a time, there was a farmer planting seeds. Once upon a time there was a Samaritan man traveling on a road…

Jesus was a great storyteller and we can learn from him how to design our own sermons. But first, I would even like to look even further back than Christ’s lessons and return to the book of Second Samuel.

While many of you may probably remembered the first story we re-told today, there is another story just a few chapters later that I would also like to examine. After the Bathsheba incident in Second Samuel, King David has a string of bad things happen to him (most of which the prophet Nathan predicted would happen as a result of his sin with Bathsheba). The son born to Bathsheba and David becomes very ill and dies. David’s son from a different marriage, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar. And his son Absalom, from yet another wife, murders his half-brother Amnon for the sin he committed against their sister Tamar. Absalom then flees Jerusalem and David in left to mourn the division of his household and the violence that has befallen his family. Turn in your Bibles to 2 Samuel chapter 14. Remember Joab, King David’s general from the last story? Well he returns in this one. Noticing how devastated his King is over the loss of two sons (one to death and one to exile), Joab devises a plan. Read 2 Samuel 14:1-11:

Now Joab son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s mind was on Absalom.Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman. He said to her, ‘Pretend to be in mourning; put on mourning garments, do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. Go to the king and speak to him as follows.’ And Joab put the words into her mouth.

When the woman of Tekoa came to the king, she fell on her face to the ground and did obeisance, and said, ‘Help, O king!’ The king asked her, ‘What is your trouble?’ She answered, ‘Alas, I am a widow; my husband is dead. Your servant had two sons, and they fought with one another in the field; there was no one to part them, and one struck the other and killed him. Now the whole family has risen against your servant. They say, “Give up the man who struck his brother, so that we may kill him for the life of his brother whom he murdered, even if we destroy the heir as well.” Thus they would quench my one remaining ember, and leave to my husband neither name nor remnant on the face of the earth.’

Then the king said to the woman, ‘Go to your house, and I will give orders concerning you.’ The woman of Tekoa said to the king, ‘On me be the guilt, my lord the king, and on my father’s house; let the king and his throne be guiltless.’ The king said, ‘If anyone says anything to you, bring him to me, and he shall never touch you again.’ Then she said, ‘Please, may the king keep the Lord your God in mind, so that the avenger of blood may kill no more, and my son not be destroyed.’ He said, ‘As theLord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.’

So what happens in this text? Two things that I see: again we have a woman telling the king a story, using imagination to communicate a message of truth, but because she is given the words to say and told to act them out, I think we also have one of the earliest recorded theatrical plays here in this chapter! While many of us know Nathan’s story to King David about the rich man and the poor man and the many sheep versus the one little lamb, often we skip over this similar passage where Joab hires a woman to tell David another story to help him see the grievous sin he is committing.

Let’s go ahead and finish reading the story so we know how it ends… verses 12-23.

Then the woman said, ‘Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.’ He said, ‘Speak.’ The woman said, ‘Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again. We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished for ever from his presence. Now I have come to say this to my lord the king because the people have made me afraid; your servant thought, “I will speak to the king; it may be that the king will perform the request of his servant.For the king will hear, and deliver his servant from the hand of the man who would cut both me and my son off from the heritage of God.” Your servant thought, “The word of my lord the king will set me at rest”; for my lord the king is like the angel of God, discerning good and evil. TheLord your God be with you!’

Then the king answered the woman, ‘Do not withhold from me anything I ask you.’ The woman said, ‘Let my lord the king speak.’ The king said, ‘Is the hand of Joab with you in all this?’ The woman answered and said, ‘As surely as you live, my lord the king, one cannot turn right or left from anything that my lord the king has said. For it was your servant Joab who commanded me; it was he who put all these words into the mouth of your servant. In order to change the course of affairs your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.’

Then the king said to Joab, ‘Very well, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.’ Joab prostrated himself with his face to the ground and did obeisance, and blessed the king; and Joab said, ‘Today your servant knows that I have found favour in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.’ So Joab set off, went to Geshur, and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.

Storytelling. It’s not just something we do to entertain small children or make people laugh at parties, storytelling is essential to our very nature and when used creatively can communicate with people messages from God.

How many of you can tell me the story of the Good Samaritan? How about the story of the 10 Bridesmaids? Or what about the story of the shepherd and the one lost sheep? Or the story of the wicket tenets?

Now how many of you can recite the laws concerning violence from Exodus 21? Or can you tell me the decree made by King Darius in Ezra chapter 6? Or can you list the neighbors or even the tribes of Israel who receive Judgment in the book of Amos?

Maybe you can. But I can’t. What I can remember though are stories. Because storytelling is art. And art changes us.

Let’s review the overarching Biblical story…

  • Creation
  • Patriarchs/Matriarchs (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel... and Joseph who ends up in Egypt)
  • Egyptian Slavery
  • Exodus (Moses!)
  • Wilderness Wanderings (40 years)
  • Period of the Judges (Deborah, Samson...)
  • United Monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon)
  • Divided Monarchy (Israel & Judah, a whole slew of kings and prophets too)
  • Babylonian Exile
  • Second Temple Period (Persia conquers Babylon and lets the Israelites return to Jerusalem)
  • (Maccabbean Revolt – Apocrypha, intertestimental books)
  • Jesus
  • Church

If we want to reach our congregants in a new and fresh way, we need to learn how to be storytellers. We need to learn how to re-tell the text for the week in our own language. You’ll notice that at the beginning of our session, I re-told the entire story of David and Bathsheba. Often when a text is read, people zone out, they stop paying attention. They’ve heard the words too many times, or maybe the style of the words is so foreign that they’ve learned to mentally check out before the text is finished being read. But when we, as pastors, retell the story in our own words with our own language, then the people begin to hear the story fresh and new again.

Retelling the stories we hear over and over again in our own words is one way to engage our congregations creatively.

When we read a biblical story, we are already hearing it filtered through many people and communities already. Think with me. We have the author of the text who is first telling the story. Then we have the biblical redactors, the people who put the story like the one of King David and the wise old woman in the specific book like Second Samuel and then there was a community of people who decided which stories needed to be included in the canon of the Bible and where they should go within the canon. Then there is the church’s interpretation of the biblical stories throughout history from the first church fathers, to the Christian mystics, to the Roman Catholic Church to the Greek Orthodox Church to the early Protestants to Christians who were born after the Enlightenment and the list goes on and on. And finally we have the story filtered through our own tradition, and we interpreted by our pastors, teachers and parents…

In other words, these stories are complicated and before we even read them out loud, they have thousands of years of interpretation and storytelling already imposed upon them.

And when we read the stories, we bring our own story to the text as well.

Flannery O’Connor writes that “What we bring to and do with texts matter… as much as what texts… bring to and do with and to us.”

Our stories are important, and they affect how we read the Biblical story.

And truthfully, God is not just asking us to tell the biblical story. God asks us to tell our stories too. And so today I would like to give you some time to practice that.

Your story is sacred. My story is sacred. Why? Because it is the story of the people of God and we are God’s creation. God, the first artist, molded us from clay, breathed into our lungs and offered us this world to live in and create our own art in.

So we need to tell our good stories. We need to tell our bad stories. We need to tell the story of a good God who is at work in our complicated lives. We need to tell our stories of life lived abundantly.

Now, there’s a catch. You live in a predominantly Catholic/Protestant nation. You are in the majority. And when a religion is in the majority, just like we Christians do with texts we’ve heard over and over again, so do our neighbors begin to tune out the Christian message when it is told over and over again with the same foreign jargon.

So when you begin to think about your story, I want you to think about telling it creatively. It is easy to tell your story using church or religious words. I could probably write each of our stories out here on the board.

"I grew up in church where I received the gospel of Jesus Christ when I was years old. I confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in my heart that God raised him from the dead and I was baptized in town by Pastor . And I felt the joy of my salvation and have been trusting in the Lord’s providence ever since."

If this is your story, scrap it. Wad up the piece of paper and throw it out the window and start over. Instead, when you tell your story, you need to tell it the way you would tell any story. Make it creative and make it yours. Leave the churchy talk behind and use your own words, your own metaphors, tell your own story. Jim Rayburn once said, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel." What he means is, be creative. Don’t preach doctrine. Preach your story.

When you are speaking to people who aren’t Christians, or to people who are hurting and need to hear a story of hope, words like salvation, justification, sanctification and all those other “tion” words don’t make since. Those are words that shut people out. They are words and concepts that people “within” the club of Christianity know and they are not words that invite people into conversation or into the church.

In other words, you don’t have to know a certain language to be able to tell your story. You and your parishioners can tell your story with the two things God’s given you: the language of your culture and the imagination in your mind.

What makes your story sacred is not the verses of the Bible you can recite or the path to salvation that you can lay forward, what makes your story sacred is that it’s yours. When the Pharisees come to Jesus and ask him about the laws of adultery, Jesus tells them, “You’re missing the point.” The point of the law is not who can deliver a letter of divorce and in what time frame. The point is we are supposed to love one another and do our best to respect each other.

You don’t have to know a single thing about the Bible to tell your story. The members of your congregation don’t have to have memorized the Baptist distinctive, the four spiritual laws or even the 10 commandments. They just have to be able to talk… about their parents, their first job, their spouses, their children, their jobs, their hobbies, their pain, their passions, their traditions, their favorite song on the radio, and in that, they are telling the story of them and God.

A pastor in my hometown writes, “The Western church has had four centuries of viewing salvation in a mechanistic manner, presenting it as a plan, system or formula. It would be much better if we would return to viewing salvation as a song we sing.”[1]

Your story is sacred simply because it is yours and you are a child of God. My story is sacred not because I’m an ordained Baptist minister from the United States of America with a Masters degree from a seminary there, but simply because I am a child of God.

Good art points beyond itself and helps us recognize the human condition and hope in a divine intrusion. Good art calls us to more faithful relationship with the world, a relationship that witnesses to beauty of a Creator. In this way “art can be a powerful source of truth-telling, sometimes even uncovering the stories we would rather forget.”[2]

And we were fashioned by a creative Designer. Vigen Guroian writes, “God is more like a cantor who chants his Creation into existence and rejoices everlastingly over its beautiful harmony. His song continues, and its melody moves and inspires humankind to restore beauty and harmony to a Creation that is fallen and misshapen.”[3]

So What’s Your Story?

Art & Faith, Session Two

Art and Faith:

finding beauty and claiming it…

(From my lecture series to Baptist pastors in Guatemala, January 2011)

What is art? It’s a question my professor posed to us in my seminary class my final semester seven years ago. What is art? Is art good?

Art, I believe looks like a lot of different things, and art, I believe, has a lot to do with faith. James writes, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”[1] James echoes the Psalmist who writes in chapter 16 verse 2, “I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You’.”[2] In other words, all good comes from God. If we see something in this world that is good, that is of God, for goodness cannot be attributed to anything but God.

It is with this presupposition that we approach our topic “Art and Faith” today. All good comes from God.

I would also like to presuppose that Beauty exposes God. We see beauty, which excites us, and reminds us of what is good. Beauty allows us to catch a glimpse of the deep longing of the soul. As such, Beauty mediates truth and goodness to us. And in that way it is wonderful when it reminds us of all that is good in the world and of the goodness of God, but beauty has a painful side too, because it represents what we cannot yet have.

While in the United States art in churches has made resurgence in the past fifteen years, in the grand scheme of church history, art and faith were not concepts that remain segregated. Rather, art has played a vital part of Christians worship and faith journey since the beginning.

In archaeology we find fresco walls and floors in houses of both Jewish and Jewish-Christians. We find mosaics and drawings, sculptures and paintings. As the church developed into a separate entity, indeed, a religion of its own, iconography developed as a way that people could connect with God. If you’ve ever heard a song that stirred your soul, or seen a painting that moved you to tears, or watched a play in a theater the drew you into contemplation of the divine, then you understand the point of iconography. And while in the US, we worship in boring square buildings with grey walls and brown folding chairs, early Christians took great pride in their worship buildings and even their architecture was designed to draw people’s eyes heavenward.

There’s a beautiful story about Prince Vladimir the Great, the pagan monarch of Kiev, and in this version of the story, Prince Vladimir was looking for a new religion to unify the Russian people. He invited missionaries from many countries to come to Kiev: Moslem Bulgarians, German Latins, Jews and Greeks. Islam, Judaism, Roman Catholic, and Orthodoxy.[3] The Prince asked them about their creeds, and each of the visitors offered him a summary of his own belief system. Upon counseling with his boyars, Vladimir sent 10 wise men to check out each of these men’s worship places in person. The envoys that had investigated Christianity in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople reported finding a faith characterized by such transcendent beauty that they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth. "And we went into the Greek lands, and we were led into a place where they serve their God, and we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth; and do not know how to tell about this. All we know is that God lives there with people and their service is better than in any other country. We cannot forget that beauty since each person, if he eats something sweet, will not take something bitter afterwards; so we cannot remain any more in paganism."[4] When the Russian envoys arrived in Constantinople they were impressed to the depth of their souls by the splendor of the St. Sofia cathedral, the harmonious singing of the royal choir and the grandeur of the service conducted by the Patriarch.[5] What affected the envoys and persuaded Prince Vladimir to embrace Christianity was “not its apologetics or ethics, but its aesthetics—its beauty. Thus we might say it was beauty that brought salvation to the Russian people."[6]

Additionally, much of the beautiful art that decorates cathedrals and churches across Europe came from Papal Commissionings. In the Pope’s budget was a line item for “Art.” Beautiful physical expression of what we believe about God. Of course from this Papal Commissioning we get one of the most famous works of Christian faith: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote. And my former pastor, Kyle Lake, at the end of every service would say, “Love God, Embrace Beauty and live life to the fullest."

What these two men were getting at is what we noted before. Beauty is redemptive and it is all around us. So we must cling to it.

And we must claim it.

A pastor in my home town asks and answers his own question, “Along with apologetics and ethics is there also an aesthetics that belongs to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Yes! Beauty is integral to the gospel."[7]

Oftentimes as Christians we try to separate ourselves from our culture. We try to be “in the world, but not of the world.” And in the U.S., many Christians reject what they call the “secular” world because they figure what good can come from people who aren’t of God. Well, a lot of good, I’d wager. Remember those verses we read earlier? All good comes from God. So when a Hollywood movie teaches us about peace, I can call that story good. Or when a novel about politics exposes corruption in the world and demands restitution be made, I can call that good. Or when a song on the radio tells the story of love conquering all, I can call that good. And all of that goodness comes from God.

Enuma Okoro, a conservative Baptist woman who gives conferences about art and faith in the U.S. writes, “I've come to believe that the arts are an essential tool for spiritual formation. Perhaps surprisingly, I've also come to recognize and appreciate that even art devoid of intentional Christian imagery can have transformative effects on how I understand the human condition and my relationship to God."[8]

As Minister of Discipleship at my last church, I was given a grant to create an intimate Black Box Theater (seating between 50-115 people). With a team, we began the theater troupe: Trinity Street Players (our church was located on Trinity Street). We used this sacred space on this fourth floor quadrant of our church to produce not "Christian" plays meant to manipulate or moralize our audiences, but good theatrical works, that we invited the city of Austin to participate in watching, laughing, crying and learning from. It was a theater that could produce well-written plays and musicals for the entertainment, education and enlightenment for not only our own members, but the greater Austin arts community. And in doing that, people began to audition for these shows who were from other churches (I'm always a fan of collaboration!) and some were people who don't attend church at all. One person who hadn't even come yet to see one of our productions but heard about our theater and our church said, "Now that's a church I could get behind!"

Regarding worship...

“We are generally more accustomed to defend Christianity in terms of its truth and goodness. But beauty also belongs to the Christian faith. And beauty has a way of sneaking past our defenses and speaking to us in unique ways. To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure.”[9]

Liturgical elements to consider when reflecting on how to integrate art into worship...

  • Architecture
    • Building structure
    • Interior – baptismal fonts, pews, chairs, etc.
    • In a worship space/d├ęcor
      • Interior Design
      • Colors
      • Wall art
      • Stained glass
      • Pews/ chairs
      • Pulpit, choir, etc.
  • Music
    • Lyrics
    • Musicality
  • Story
    • Sermon Testimony
    • Retelling scripture
  • Poetry
  • Dance
    • Liturgical dance
    • Congregational dancing (children’s movements - putting motions to songs)
  • Theater
    • In worship
    • As an art form (Trinity Street Players performed The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence, Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, You Can't Take It With You by Kaufman & Hart, The Fantasticks by Jones & Schmidt, and Shadowlands by William Nicholson.)
  • Film
    • In worship – illustrate a sermon or illustrate a theme
    • As an art form: Films and Faith, or God In the Movies small groups or sermon series...

To elaborate...

ARCHITECTURE: God specifically requested "Bezalel ... to devise artistic designs" in Exodus 35, God requested that the tabernacle curtains be made of "fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns, with cherubim skillfully worked"[10]; not to mention the breathtakingly beautiful detailed tailoring of the priestly vestments in Exodus 39.[11]

ART: used in worship “in a culture that has become increasingly visual, the traditional spoken sermon is failing to reach people, he said, and may explain why attendance has fallen off in many mainline churches."[12] Check out the following images (more were used in my powerpoint and are listed below):[13]

Portrait of You As the Good Samaritan by James B. Janknegt

Praying at Gethsemene by He Qi

SONG: George Frideric Handel found the lyrics for his Hallelujah chorus in the book of Revelation which would be read better not as a document telling us about the end time, but as a book of songs and poems for a persecuted people to recite and sing and give them hope. Revelation doesn’t have any plans or formulas, but the songs of a broken people.

SERMON: Gail Godwin says, "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater." We addressed this yesterday.

POETRY: Walt Whitman writes, “After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemists, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.” Use poetry in your worship services!

THEATER: In worship – "If dramas are performed and immediately interpreted propositionally for the community, this is an act of irresponsibility toward our mind’s ability to imagine and discern and toward the Holy Spirit’s working power. Theology must always be watchful lest anything in the church’s way of stating the gospel reduce rather than enhance its credibility.”[14]

At my last church, I ran an experiential, alternative worship service. Each week I brought in a different worship leader and speaker. The service was created from my ideas about the Genesis 1 creation story: lots of colors and sound and movement. So, on one wall of the chapel where we met, I ran a powerpoint of works of art related to the theme or text and quotes from theologians, historians, comedians, etc. On the other wall was our liturgy which included biblical readings, poetry, prayers, responsive or congregational reading, songs for the congregation to sing, solo pieces by the musician of the week, etc. Lighting candles was another liturgical element (we tried even to engage our sense of smell - without offending any allergy sufferers). In addition, we had silence as a part of our worship service, and the sermon was limited to 10 minutes long. And speakers could do one sermon or two shorter 5 minute spoken words. Remember, in the Genesis text God said, "Let there be... and it is good!" And that's it! So the entire service was not centered around a sermon that served as the climax to the service, but rather all elements of the service were given (or tried to be given) equality opportunity for God to communicate with the people and for us to worship God.

I tell you this not so that you can go recreate this service in your own church. Be yourself! Allow for indigenous worship in your community. Don’t imitate!

Helpful Resources

“It is difficult to pinpoint what it is exactly that makes our spirits respond in a raw and instinctive way to the arts. Perhaps it is because engaging the arts reminds us that we are made in the image of a divine artist, a God who colored the sky and the flowers; who delights in trees that are pleasing to the eye; who specifically requested us to make things that are beautiful."[15]

It is imperative that we let the imagination and God do their work…. Key is spotting goodness and allowing it to be good. All good comes from God. We don’t have to re-appropriate everything cultural to make it our own, but we can learn from our cultural arts, we can let them teach us. And we can offer back to them…

[4] (Primary Chronicle, trans. George Kalbouss)

[12] Diane Reynolds summarizing Douglas Adams.

[13] White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, a Jewish artist; The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner (an Episcopal Minister’s son); Praying at Gethsemene by He Qi a Chinese Christian; Portrait of You as the Good Samaritan by James B. Janknegt; The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt; The Baptism by Maria Alquilar, a Haitian; Sistine Chapel: Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo, Italian renaissance (commissioned by Pope Julius II); Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus ou Crucifixion) by Salvador Dali, a Spanish atheist turn Catholic Nuclear Mystic; Japan's Madonna Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth.

[14] J.I. Packer

Thursday, February 17, 2011


So after quitting my job last September, I wrote a Mondo Beyondo list on my blog. And as of tomorrow, one goal on that list will be crossed off.

I will open in Evita at the Georgetown Palace Theater, and I will be playing Eva Peron.


Just a little bit.


And on the stage, come to think of it.

Oops. Spoiler alert. Too late. Eva dies. In case you don't know your world history (or your musical theater history), she dies. Young. 33 years old.

One of the fellow cast members (a drunk, a dancer, a worker, a newspaper man, a mourner, an oligarch, everyone kind of plays everyone in this show) is super tech savvy. He's also looking for a job right now, so hire him! He made an iPhone app for The Palace Theater, so you can check out how many seats are left for a certain performance, and reserve your ticket. (Note, there will always show more seats available than there actually are because some seats are taken out for handicapped accessibility, etc. So in general subtract 10 and that's how many seats are left). Download the free app!

Local G-town photographer, Elaine Funk, did a photo shoot with me to get the picture for the poster, and one of the young girls in the play (I call her "mini-me" because she sings "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" with me at the start of the show), her father, Rich Simms, designed the poster! Awesome!

Over the past few months I've read several books on Eva Duarte de Peron and her husband, the President of Argentine, Juan Peron. They were an interesting couple and hotly debated among politicians and Argentines. Much myth encapsulates the couple, and it is often difficult to know what really did or did not happen, so grandiose are the stories told praising and criticizing them on both sides of the fence.

A short synopsis though? Eva was born in the lowest class system (one could argue "caste" system) in Junin, Argentina. She was the youngest of five children born illegitimately to her mother and Senor Duarte, a man, who like most men in Argentina in that time, kept a mistress in addition to his wife and children.

Eva's father was middle class, a step up from the lower, working class. This caste included educated persons and university students as well as business men. And the cream of the crop? Who sat first class? The "oligarchs." Landowners, so wealthy, they made the disparity between rich and poor Argentines one of the most divided in the whole world at that time.

Eva escaped Junin by joining a theater troupe, a very rough vocation for women and men of that time. Poorly paid, she managed to survive in Buenos Aires, and worked her way to eventual stardom in radio and film. After a devastating earthquake in San Juan, Eva and many other actors met General Juan Peron at a charity event to raise money for victims of the tragedy.

It was love at first sight. Or something like that.

After a series of coups, including one that left Peron (at that time, a minister in the President's cabinet) in prison, Eva and Peron rose to power, and he was eventually elected President of Argentina in 1946. Campaigning on behalf of the descamisados, or "shirtless ones," social justice was Eva and Peron's political platform. And indeed they brought about much reform in Argentina. Fairer elections, women's suffrage, hospitals, schools, unions, all instituted under their leadership. However, the propaganda required by the Peronistas (members of the political party) to keep the Perons in power, was overwhelming. And those who opposed Peron or Eva, or even voiced moderate criticism of their endeavors, were silenced and often disappeared. The Perons were a paranoid pair who spent as much time giving voice to those without one as they did silencing those who spoke out against them. They were lavish spenders as well, and Eva was known for her Parisian dresses, closets-full of furs and beautiful jewelry. On her "Rainbow Tour" of Europe in 1947, it is said that she had a separate airplane just for her clothing. By the time of Eva's death, Argentina, one of the wealthiest nations in first half of the century, was now suffering and even rationing food.

Eva fell ill several years later, and died from cancer at the age of 33 (though the public was told she was only 30). Check out this video clip of her 5 day funeral... (especially around minute 1 - cue flowers, and minute 2, cue long lines).

Her death, like her life, was a mysterious one. Peron had her corpse embalmed by an Italian chemist, and it was on display for the public until Peron was overthrown in a coup. Eva's body disappeared for 16 or 17 years (buried in Milan by the army under a false name), but Peron brought it back to stay with him and his third wife, Isabel (Eva and his first wife both died young) in Spain, where they kept it on their dining room table. Creepy.

Peron, Isabel and Eva returned to Argentina when in 1973, Peron was re-elected President, and Isabel, Vice-President. When Peron died the next year leaving the unexperienced and unprepared Isabel (first female President in the Western Hemisphere -sigh) in charge, she quickly brought Eva's body back to Argentina where it now rests in a tomb in Buenos Aires said to be able to withstand even a nuclear attack.

And that, my friends, is a brief synopsis of Eva Peron.

And that is who I will be for the next five weeks.

Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Buy your tickets here or check out the Palace's website for more information. Or call 512-869-SHOW (7469) to reserve your seat. Warning, I have an understudy - and she's great! - but if you want to see me, make sure you come to one of the following performances: Feb 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, March 4, 5, 12, 18, 29, 20. Tickets are regrettably expensive for community theater, but I think it's worth it! $24 for regular peeps, $22 for seniors, $14 for students and military with I.D., and $10 for kids.