Christ & Creativity

The Need to Scream

That's my picture in the Fidelia's Sisters header.  The one with the pink hair and the guitar; that's me, or it was at the first conference of the Young Clergy Women Project.  A few years later, my hair is a bit more normal looking, although I suppose not everyone would consider near-platimum blonde with streaks of red to be normal.  My hair isn't my creative outlet, though.  I leave that up to my stylist, as I sit down in her chair every 4-6 weeks and she asks what we're doing to it this time.  "You know, the usual," I invariably answer.  She has been working on my hair for a while now and knows this routine.  "Something that works for my rock band on Saturday night and the pulpit Sunday morning."

Rock star hair must be more fun to style than preacher hair, because I usually walk out cracking myself up with the image of trying to do a wedding with the exaggerated spikes and dramatic bangs falling across my eyes.  Fortunately, my hair is easily calmed into a style more acceptable for my "real job," and I haven't had pink or blue hair for a couple of years, after I learned how hard it is to get out quickly when you need to do a funeral.  My hair is still a little weird for a pastor, particularly in how often it changes, but it's part of the personna I've cultivated in the creative realm of my life.  All of us have to find ways to balance our ministry with the other aspects of our lives, and I've found that it's easier and more authentic for me to tone down the rock diva a bit, so that she is a little less jarring in a pulpit, than to sling on my guitar and step into the spotlight with pastor hair.

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Pastor/Poet

Collection 

Deep purple, nearly black splotches
Mottle her arms and hands:
She laughs and tells me it took the nurses
Nine tries before getting the needle
Right in her small, wobbly veins.
She remembers when her doctor
took two samples from her husband
instead of trying to get one from her.

She’s amused by her veins.
The stories make me weak.

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Pastor and Preacher as Artist

“Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive”

-Art & Fear: Observations on The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles & Ted Orland

To be an artist one must be true to the voice that God has given you.  I came to learn this in my last year of seminary when I left the world of West Michigan where I grew up and journeyed to New York City for an internship at a church. The creativity of the city invaded my soul.  The city was like one giant orchestra and each one of the 8.4 million citizens was trying to figure out which instrument was ours to play. It is in New York where I first understood my calling as a pastor was to a calling to first and foremost be an artist. The medium with which I make art is through being a pastor and preacher.

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In the Absence of Creativity

The smell of incense hit them first, wafting out of the darkness inside the chapel doors.  Then they met a cacophony of voices shouting, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts!”  A large chair draped in white cloth sat in the center of the room, surrounded by dozens of candles, and we sat around it, not just hearing Isaiah 6 but living it.

Alright, so it probably wasn’t as terrifying as that whole having your lips burned with a hot coal thing, or as overwhelming as actually seeing God, but I had gone out of my way to evoke a sense of wonder, mystery, and yes, a little nervousness.  Instead of a sermon, we walked through Isaiah’s call story.  I had carefully woven music and prayers into the narrative, incorporating movement, smell, and sight where we are so often bound to sound alone.  If I had been able to give people a taste of burnt charcoal, I would have, but that seemed extreme even for me. 

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Vaginas Everywhere

I always thought I would be an artist.  When I dreamed of who I would be when I grew up, it was always with a set of paints.  It was always in some smock and a beret.  Yes, it really was that cliché.  

And so, I painted.  I drew.  I sketched.  I took every art class my high school offered until I reached the very last class in Advanced Placement Studio Art.  In this year-long class, I was challenged for the very first time to make a statement. After all, artists are supposed to have something to say.  Artists are the ones that muse about the world.  They express those musings in bold color and shape.  They say something for which the non-artists struggle to find words.

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Bullies, Wood Chips, and God

It was a standard day at Clover Bottom Developmental Center, a state-run institution for developmentally disabled adults.  I was a few months into my pastoral internship at Studio 1, an art studio which encourages the adults to create visual art as a form of pastoral care.  Nancy arrived at 10 am as they always do on Tuesday mornings for Studio 1.   

Nancy is a woman in her 40s.  She is one of the more high functioning individuals at Clover Bottom with a mentality of around a 6 year old.  She is verbal (very verbal actually!), she can walk, and she understands most of what you say to her.  Nancy is, probably due to her medication, a very wary person.  She always seems to want assurance of what is going to happen and she frequently talks about how someone has wronged her in some way.  

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The Art of Worship Planning

Advent wreath Worship planning is an art. It’s a discipline. It must be done over and over and over again in order to get worship “under our skin.” How we plan worship reflects what we believe worship should be — a transformative, communal experience of observing, trusting, trying, reflecting, and taking chances for the sake of experiencing the Holy One. At Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, DC where I am Minister for Spiritual Formation, we have created a process that has cultivated our skills for planning worship.

Several years ago my colleague, Jeff Krehbiel, went on a three-month sabbatical. While Jeff was gone, Pilgrims wanted to have their own enriching three month experience. We created a sabbatical planning team to plan not just congregational endeavors but worship. Together, we explored the lectionary texts, the meaning of sabbatical, and came up with the theme of “connections and clarity” for the sabbatical season. All of these elements came alive in worship during the sabbatical. While still maintaining our loyalty to the Reformed Order of Worship, our planning process opened up our imagination, courage, and curiosity to what is possible. We sang new songs, congregants told stories on connections and clarity, we created more spontaneous moments of sharing, and we explored new ways of engaging with each other during worship.

Our planning process paid off and we were hooked.

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NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul

NaNoWriMo is eating my soul.

This is how it happened: On the first day of this month, I saw a Facebook post about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  I had not intended to do this.  I had not premeditated my plan of attack.  I hadn't even heard of it.  But something about this challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month struck me.  Before I had really thought it through, I was signing up.  

I have a friend who takes a month every year to write one song a day.  "Most of them are complete crap," he says, "but at the end, I have one or two songs that are good, or at least decent starts at being good.  And that's better than having no songs at all."  I've always admired his discipline in this.  I've always wanted to commit myself to that kind of intensive creative process.  One of the things you should understand about me is that I am not the kind of person who often commits to a regimen like this and sticks to it.  I have begun and given up on songs, poetry, paintings, exercise plans, knitting projects, diets, language courses, book proposals... You name it, I've probably tried and not finished it.

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Veni, Vidi, Venti?

Since becoming a minister, one of my Christmas traditions has been to drag my sister Beth with me on my hospital rounds.  My sister is a trained opera singer whose voice makes people weep with both release and joy.  When I first began in ministry I heard folks stuck in a hospital setting say that music was one of the things they missed most about being home for Christmas.  Luckily for me, my sister is willing to be carted around from place to place, offering of herself and her voice.  I think she comes in part because she’s just that good of a sister, in part because she wants to get away from the craziness that is our family in my small house at Christmas, and in part because she takes kindness on these strangers and would do anything to keep them from having to hear my voice attempt even the most basic of carols.

A few years ago I was particularly grateful for my sister’s various talents.  She sang for our church service, she glued animal addresses together, she helped lead the kids in our children’s Christmas Eve service, and of course she came with me to the hospital to sing.

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The Language of My Prayers

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I like words. I like to use words. I like to listen to words. I like to roll them off mytongue. I like to read them on a page. I really like words.

I don’t like words in my prayers.

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