Brokenhearted Theology, California, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Narrative, Ramblings

Sol LeWitt and the ReCreation of the World

The other day we had the chance to slowly move through the SFMOMA, one of my favorite spots in the Bay Area.

I spent a while sitting in proximity to a few different pieces by Sol LeWitt, an American conceptualist.

LeWitt’s work appears deceptively simple, using little or no color and simple geometric shapes and patterns.

“By repeating and varying a single principle, he created sculptural structures that were aesthetically satisfying even as their internal logic was pushed to the edge of irrationality.” (SFMOMA)

SFMOMA has a room filled floor to ceiling with several of LeWitt’s wall drawings, intersecting lines emanating out from several loci in bold primary colors.

These drawings are simple and they are beautiful.

But what struck me most was LeWitt’s conviction that the true art lay not in the product but in the idea or concept. The piece of LeWitt’s art I was looking at (Wall Drawing 273) was an original LeWitt, and yet at some point the wall would be painted over and a draftsman (following LeWitt’s instructions) could recreate the art on a different wall without losing the originality of the art.

Although it would resemble Wall Drawing 273 as I saw it (LeWitt’s instructions dictate the number of lines, the number of locus points, the color of the lines, etc.), the shape and size of the wall, the lighting of the space, etc. would all change the dimensionality and feel of the next iteration of Wall Drawing 273.

Again from SFMOMA’s bio on LeWitt, “each of these impermanent artworks consists of a set of the artist’s instructions, something like a musical score, with the actual execution carried out by someone else.

Unbelievably beautiful.

And now for some theological reflection…

I couldn’t help but wonder if this isn’t the pattern of creation and recreation that we find in the Christian Scriptures:

impermanent artwork: Genesis 1’s depiction of Eden isn’t static or sculpted; the garden is meant to flourish, multiply, grow, and change.

set of the artist’s instructions: not a blueprint or schematic, but a coherent yet loose invitation into the ongoing (re)creation of the world

something like a musical score: LeWitt’s concept for Wall Drawing 273 isn’t beautiful in and of itself, although it is, in some sense, the art. But when the instructions are drafted onto a wall, the art takes a shape and form that can inspire awe, breathlessness, wonder, reflection, inspiration, etc.

actual execution carried out by someone else: This is perhaps the most profound, the openness and willingness of the artist to invite other’s into the recreation of their art (not as the artist per se, but also not not as the artist). Every iteration of Wall Drawing 273 will be different, but they can all be true.

The entirety of the Christian Scriptures invites humanity into the project of (re)creating the world with a coherent invitation into the shape and form and concept yet with an unbelievable freedom to expand and innovate and adapt within the conceptual artistry.

 

 

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Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Guide Our Feet on the Path of Peace

This past Sunday’s lectionary reading from Luke had us hear the words of Zechariah, a man whom I imagine was familiar with personal longing and societal brokenness.

As a priest of an exiled people, I imagine he was weary and tired of infusing hope in desperate and exhausting circumstances.

I imagine he regularly faced those who invoked fear and violence and rallied for exclusion of the other and the call to take up arms as the biblical and Godly way of faithfulness.

I imagine he himself wavered between succumbing to fear and holding on to hope.

And I imagine he experienced both trembling and relief as “he was filled with a fresh wind from God” (Luke 1:67) and proclaimed with prophetic confidence that God’s good news would “guide our feet on the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The path of peace, not the path of war.
The path of peace, not the path of self-defense.
The path of peace, not the path of retaliation.
The path of peace, not the path of exclusion.
The path of peace, not the path of violence.
The path of peace, not the path of fear.

Not the path of Christian university presidents.
Not the path of politicians.

The path of peace
following the Prince of Peace
who would welcome the stranger as family
before casting them away and closing the door,
who would lay down his life
before ending the life of another.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Equipping, Eucharist, Food, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Ramblings

Trampolines and Potlucks: Neighbor Love as the Necessary Way Forward

This will likely strike you as naive, idealistic, narrow or too simplistic. It’s probably some combination of all of those and a few more platitudes that you can think up. 

But since we live in a world where the best, brightest, most logical and most researched ideas do not always work (or, worse, cannot be agreed upon), maybe there’s space for a hunch that a simple and local hypothesis might play a role in navigating our world out of crisis and chaos.

Neighbor Love as a Necessary Way Forward

In light of the Syrian refugee crisis and in light of terrorist attacks in Paris (and elsewhere, but the West is primarily concerned about the West, so mainly Paris), countries, states, cities, churches and hundreds of other defined- and boundaried-groups are asking whether or not to receive the other — those who are not, in one or many ways, anything like “us.”

Many are choosing to say “no, no way, not here, not you,” and, in doing so, raise an ideological wall that may be just as effective as (if not more than) a physical wall in keeping the other out.

Part of my vocation is to help people understand, embrace and practice the Way of Jesus not for the sake of a particular, bounded set of people but for the sake of the world. This vocational calling arises out of a strong conviction that the Way of Jesus is an invitation into a better life not just “for us and also for them” but “for us because of and through and for the sake of and so that we might no longer see them as them.”

So when Jesus invites us to love our neighbor, I hear an invitation into a subversive, world-changing posture that is radically local and yet, when practiced locally, holds an uncontainable potential to spill out and ripple good throughout the world.

In a world where rejection of neighbor is the loudest story being told, neighbor love is a necessary way forward.

Safety Nets and Trampolines

A few of my friends have written and organized around the concept of neighborhood as a fabric of care. At the most basic level, this fabric of care acts as a safety net – when you need something, another can provide it; when another needs something, you may be able to provide it. Entering into the story of a neighborhood as a loving neighbor can provide support in the face of very real needs.

But beyond this safety net, a neighborhood fabric of care can also act as a trampoline, of sorts. When we extend and receive love from our neighbors, our life will not only be more ‘secure’ as we resource each other’s needs but more space is created to love, welcome, rest, and radically extend care to others.

There’s not just a safety net to rely on, there’s a trampoline to play on.

Set-Course Meals and Potlucks

Another helpful image is the contrast between a potluck and a set-course meal.

At a fine meal with careful preparation and specific invitation, it’s not easy to add space for an unexpected guest. The tone of conversation, the timing of the courses and the size of portion is precisely prepared to last for a planned amount of time for the planned list of guests.

Scarcity dictates the nature of this meal – from the place settings to the portions, there is just enough for those at the table. Scarcity, here, serves a purpose, providing a sense of safety, security, and intimacy, but the nature of this meal is restricted to those with a place at the table.

moroccan-feast-1328138At a potluck, if someone shows up unexpectedly, you invite them in. Whether or not they brought anything tangible with them, their presence is welcomed. Food, space, timing and provision are both flexible and abundant. The warmth of the shared meal is extended to all who show up. At the end of the night, which may have gone on several hours longer than planned, there is an abundance of leftovers and laughter.

There is room in our world for both of these meals, yet it seems when it comes to neighbor love we often default to the scarcity of a set-course meal rather than the abundance of a potluck.

What if…?

What if we began to live out of abundance in our neighborhoods and with our neighbors?

What if we lived into and contributed to our neighborhood’s fabric of care not just as a safety net but as a trampoline that, with laughter and excitement, we easily and often invite others onto?

What if, literally and figuratively, we began to host potlucks more often than set-course meals?

Might we…?

Might we begin to see those outside the borders of our family, neighborhood, city, religious enclave, or nation-state as those to invite rather than those to exclude?

Might we find ourselves as the recipients of unlikely invitations at unlikely tables?

Might we begin to blur the lines between ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ them and us?

Might we begin to see a way forward globally as we act locally?

What do you think?

 

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Books, Equipping, Meaning, Pedagogy, Ramblings

The Six-Step Emotional Arc of Creativity

makespaceI’m making my way through a terrific book – Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration – based on the ideas and shape of Stanford’s design school (“d. school”). Every page in the book has a thousand ideas worth considering, implementing, and sharing.

One insight that jumped out at me this week is their mapping of the emotional arc of creativity. On page 176 of Make Space, six fundamental steps of the creative journey are laid out:

  1. A sense of excitement and limitless possibility.
  2. Overwhelming complexity.
  3. Unifying insights.
  4. Complete loss of confidence.
  5. The brutal realities of implementation.
  6. Completion and reflection.

Seeing this mapped out was a good reminder of the difficult, emotionally taxing, and potentially treacherous journey that is creativity. It’s so often that I linger on Step One or get overwhelmed by Steps Two and Four!

Where do you get stuck in the creative process?

What strategies have you found to move all the way through the process to completion?

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Books, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Future, Global, Meaning, Peacemaking, Quotes, Race, Ramblings, Reading Reflections

The New Jim Crow (Reading Reflections, Part 1)

A group of us at Open Door are moving through a Circle focused on the black-white race divide in the East Bay.

One of the resources offered to provoke thought and conversation is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness. As I read through it, I’ll be posting some of the thoughts, quotes, and questions I encounter.

First, some foundational terminology:

Jim Crow: Historically, the series of laws and policies allegedly implemented to maintain social and economic order (“separate but equal”) in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Undercaste: “a lower caste of individuals who are permanently barred by law and custom from mainstream society” (13)

Racial caste system: “a stigmatized racial group locked into an inferior position by law and custom” (12)

Mass incarceration: – Broader than our physical prison system, Alexander talks about mass incarceration as encompassing the “larger web of laws, rules, policies, and customs that control those labeled criminals both in and out of prison” (13).

And some quotes from the Introduction and Chapter 1:

“The plight of African Americans is that a huge percentage of them are not free to move up at all. It is not just that they lack opportunity, attend poor schools, or are plagued by poverty. They are barred by law from doing so.” (13)

“The War on Drugs, cloaked in race-neutral language, offered whites opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility toward blacks and black progress, without being exposed to the charge of racism.” (53)

“Once again, in response to a major disruption in the prevailing racial order – this time the civil rights gains of the 1960s – a new system of racialized social control was created by exploiting the vulnerabilities and racial resentments of poor and working-class whites. More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century…banished to a political and social space not unlike jim Crow… The mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate.” (56-57)

A few thoughts:

Though Alexander harshly criticizes Republican policies (driven to extremities by the rhetoric and posturing of campaign politics), she also labels Clinton as “more than any other president” responsible for creating “the current racial undercaste” (56).

This book is not playing the game of partisan politics/ideology so much as critiquing the entire enterprise of empire as it’s played out throughout American history. It’s a pretty scathing assessment and I’m unsure (and eager to see) how Alexander proposes solutions and steps forward in the midst of a system that is seemingly being described as irreparably broken.

Thoughts? Questions? Oversights? Objections?

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Books, Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Equipping, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Prayer, Ramblings, Worship

Listening to and Learning from Eugene Peterson

I was raised with a skepticism toward Eugene Peterson.

How dare he turn Bible translation into a one-man show?

“The Message” isn’t a Bible or a translation. It’s “Eugene’s Happy Thoughts.”

This is not the stuff of serious, God-honoring Christianity.

When I found out that he was well-studied in biblical languages, that he penned The Message not for the world but as a contextual exercise in caring for his local congregation, that his writing is a deep, deep well of wisdom pointing the way to Jesus, I got over that skepticism.

And then it was that I just didn’t have time. He had written a lot of books (not just The Message). They all looked good. But when to read them?

Preparing to move, I sorted through all my books and found a few boxes I was ready to part with. I took them to Archives, the local theological bookstore, and watched them quickly flip through most of the pile, with a few cringes and chuckles. There were a few with some resale value so I traded those two boxes for store credit, enough to purchase a small stack of books to start the next leg of my journey.

peterson-squareGift card in hand, I jokingly asked where the Eugene Peterson section was. While he didn’t quite have his own section, there were nearly two full shelves devoted to his work. I browsed, checked which ones were available in used-but-clean condition, and grabbed a stack of five.

The Contemplative Pastor. Yes, this will be helpful.

Praying with the PsalmsI don’t love the Psalms but Greg is constantly carrying this book around. I should probably try that too. 

Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral WorkKurt said I had to read this one. I should read this one. 

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Integrity, yes, that’s key.

Subversive SpiritualityYes, I sometimes pretend subversive is my middle name.

So far I’ve made it through the first of the list, with a bit of time spent in the second. Embarking on this next context of vocational calling, Peterson’s words have been life-giving and challenging. I’ve underlined, highlighted, and annotated much throughout the book, but particularly appreciated these whistleblowing lines from Peterson on prayer and the vocation of pastor.

Prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.

And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now. People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

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Maps, Moons, Illusions and the Integrated Life

I’ve been paging through What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution by Lawrence Lipking, a literature/humanities professor at Northwestern. The book’s big idea is that the Scientific Revolution was only possible because of a synergy of imagination between science, poetry, observation and the arts. Galileo was not simply what we would, today, call a “scientist;” Yes, he looked at the stars through a telescope, but he also painted and sketched, he wrote prose, poetry, and essays, he manufactured and created.

Lipking notes that contemporaries of Galileo looked through similar telescopes at the same moon and made similar observations about the moon’s surface, yet because of Galileo’s unique perspective and artistic imagination, he was able to assemble his observations in such a way that radically affected the cosmological understanding of his day and shifted the course of scientific discovery.

This key moment of intellectual progress was brought about by a beautiful integration of science and art and imagination. 

I love it and have been chewing on this all week. There are all kinds of implications here for how we shift from disintegration and compartmentalization to a holistic and integrated perspective on life and the world around us.

Here’s a few quotes from What Galileo Saw (Cornell Press, 2014) that got my attention and have stuck with me.

“Eventually the story of a war between imagination and science became so powerful that it divided the world.”

“Again and again the work of scientists has resulted in new ways of imaging life and the world. This process is not an abnegation of science but part of science itself.”

“To see things is to change them.”

“The history of the arts keeps pace with technical advances: the laws of perspective, the camera obscura, photography, film stock, computer imaging. In this respect, one might argue that in practice science continually joins with art to reenchant the world.

“A map is not, nor is it intended to be, the thing it represents. Instead of an illusion of reality, it offers a scheme of relations, in which the often muddled shapes and vistas that meet the eye resolve into intelligible and clearly distinguished marks and points.

The above quotes are from a pre-publication copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

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