Dietrich Bonhoeffer Florilegium

Quote

“’Speak out for those who cannot speak’ – who in the church today still remembers that this is the very least the Bible asks of us in such times as these?”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Letter to Erwin Sutz,
11 Sept 1934
in Works, Vol 13, 217.

Has anyone else been thinking about the Confessing Church a lot lately?

In honor of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday today, the good people at The Englewood Review of Books have collected five passages from his writings to help us reflect on what costly discipleship might look like for us in the here and now.

edith-breckwoldt-pruefung

Prüfung (Examination)/ The Ordeal by Edith Breckwoldt. 2004, Mahnmal St. Nikolai, Hamburg

The inscription on the other side reads

No man in the whole world

can change the truth.

One can only look for the truth,

find it and serve it.

The truth is in all places.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Fear of the World: The Sequel

Click here if you missed part 1

Any theology of culture will intertwine with an interpreter’s rational, theological, and ideological characterization of the present condition of humanity. If culture is a uniquely human creation, its status relies on our status. Does the image of God within us validate our good creations? Does our fallen state taint our works indelibly? Does our redemption transfer to the work of our hands and minds? Most theologies of culture cite the incarnation as a model. If Christ took on flesh and lived among us, we cannot follow God in the abstract or love our neighbor in only an otherworldly sense. In fact, the Trinity as a whole, not just the second person, exemplifies God’s commitment to humanity. God created, entered, and remains at large in this world and has commissioned and empowered the Church to walk to the ends of it to communicate that good news. Turning our back on the world is not an option for Christ’s body.

This is not to say that Christians should not be discerning consumers. Discernment is a constant process that constitutes a major portion of the Christian’s job description. This discernment process, however, occurs within the Christian community, not by forcing our vision on those outside of it. Ralph C. Wood advises we become “self-critical citizens of the world as well as self-critical confessors of the Faith.”[1] We learn to critique our cultures because, like it or not, they define a significant portion of our selves. If Christ did not come to condemn the world, why would he send us poor souls to do so? Or, as Paul once put it to the Corinthians, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”[2] American Christians need to stop trying to enforce “Christian values”[3] outside of the body of Christ. If we concerned ourselves as much with keeping the Church and our own self-righteous selves on the straight and narrow as we currently do with perfect strangers who happen to act or sing for a living, we might wake up one morning to find we have a credible witness in the world.

When we come to terms with and gratitude for the fact that God has set us in our extended human families for our own good and for theirs, we begin to create within our cultures in order to bless them, rather than to curse. We stop trying to protect our own religious sensibilities and God himself by creating a safe cultural ghetto for ourselves. We can describe all our work in the world the way Tim Foreman of Switchfoot describes his band’s music: “Christian by faith, not by genre.”[4]

The apostle Paul validated what he found valid in the Athenian worldview, but sought to enlarge and inform it.  He served the Corinthians by becoming like them to win them over, for the sake of the gospel.[5]  The Church has traditionally patronized and sponsored the artistic tendencies of high culture.  Christians approve what is excellent, see nature (including human nature, in the form of the conscience) as a source of general revelation, and accept that what is true, beautiful, and good in human life represents God’s pervasive, common grace within all creation.  We can comfortably affirm ennobling tales of self-sacrifice, and the sentimental images, captured in oils, of devoted parents or a glowing sunset as echoes of God’s presence in our everyday lives. But what about Skins, Grand Theft Auto, and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?  What of the superficial and frivolous, the gaudy and offensive? Should we consume such things? Contribute to their creation?

Not all the ideals of our culture will reflect our ideals, but our convictions of how things should be should not blind us to how things are. We must become conscious of the forces at work and play in our popular cultures that shape us or attempt to shape us. Being aware of the rules and ethos of Survivor, for example, allows us to recognize and resist social currents that might otherwise carry us along to unthinking engagement in behavior antithetical to the gospel.  While the language of voting people off the island, dismissing the weakest link, and pursuing entirely wrongheaded notions of winning becomes ingrained and normalized in our collective psyche, those in discerning Christian communities remind each other that the people of God are called to live into a different reality. What if Christians created everyday culture that reflected that reality? How can we do that if we’re not familiar with our culture as it actually exists? What if we occasionally took our kids to an “inappropriate” but important movie and talked to them about it instead of forbidding them to go? What if we listened to their music with them instead of insisting they turn it down or investing our energies in keeping them culturally ignorant? Once a week ask them to play you something and help you hear or see why it is significant to them.[6]

We all have different tastes. I’m not suggesting we feign a fondness for Glee where none exists, but do I become a better witness among my neighbors and co-workers by flaunting my complete ignorance of a show that informs and influences their lives?  Dick Staub counsels us to be “serious about faith, savvy about faith and culture, and skilled in relating the two…. Culturally savvy Christians follow the path of neither the cultural glutton nor the cultural anorexic. Instead, they are marked by their discretion and thoughtful discernment.”[7] Discernment is a form of wisdom Christ offers his Church through the Spirit to enable us to walk well in a world full of falling hazards and diversions. It is a gift and a tool that we become more adept at using as we practice it. Much of parenting consists of equipping our children to make good decisions then allowing them the freedom and responsibility to do so. God parents us in much the same way. We need to develop lifestyles of prayerfully listening to the Spirit to rightly and readily discern how to relate to particular aspects of our cultures, but God’s word equips us with some basic principles. Staub summarizes the relevant guidelines in Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Corinthians: all things are lawful, but not all are beneficial. We are not to be controlled by cultural goods or to use them to occasion another’s fall, but rather to do everything we do to the glory of God.[8] We are to remain in conversation with people who do not believe as we do. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”[9] Which response best stimulates that kind of conversation: “I don’t watch that show/ play that game/ listen to that music because I heard it was evil” or “I watched/ played/ listened to that a couple times, but I was so turned off by the glorified violence/ portrayal of women as objects/ the racist-sounding lyrics I just stopped. You obviously follow it more closely than I do, though. What about it appeals to you? What am I missing?”

Sometimes our neighbors and co-workers diversions will be just that: diversions – opportunities to check out from real life. Let’s not read too much into those or pretend we don’t have our own indefensible diversions. People who consistently try to convert others to a favorite movie or band or sport, however, have probably found something that moves them and relates to their desire for more out of life. In Your Neighbor’s Hymnal, Jeff Keuss talks about pop music as one of the many cultural forms in which we may find spiritual solace or expression; chances are our neighbors already have.

“True, there is pop music fandom that draws people into the trivial and mundane just as there are some Christian worship services that celebrate consumer culture more than critique it or provide an alternative. But the drive to find something larger than ourselves and make it public is a starting point – even a shallow faith is better than no faith at all. And in this we are to celebrate rather than too quickly denounce the fanboy faith that permeates the culture around us. Our neighbor’s hymnal is filled with pop songs that are sowing the seeds of faith and pushing for a form of life that is larger than the mundane and points to a transcendence worth paying attention to.”[10]

If we dismiss out of hand the cultural texts and goods that God may use to open our neighbor’s heart to something beyond this world, we squelch the prospect of discovering an addition to our playlist that works similarly on us; worse, we hazard quenching the Spirit, who – as the old song goes – moves in mysterious ways.

[1] Wood, Contending for the Faith: The Church’s Engagement with Culture (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2003), 102.

[2] 1 Corinthians 5:12.

[3] Whatever those are; the fact that Christians can’t agree on them doesn’t bode well for their universal legislation anyway.

[4] qtd. in Andrew Beaujon, Bodypiercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock (Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo), 42.

[5] 1 Corinthians 9:9-13

[6] This will be a test, by the way. If they put themselves out to articulate something that matters to them and you only find fault with it, don’t expect them to play along next week. Even if a song or video turns you off completely, listen to your child’s heart and how media speaks to it and affirm that heart. Also, don’t expect their articulation to be particularly articulate or convincing at first. By having these conversations you may be giving them their first lessons in putting their spiritual lives into words; they’re not learning this in school. Listen for opportunities to augment their vocabulary for discussing soul issues without putting words in their mouths.

[7] Staub, The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 1, 151.

[8] ibid. 152-153.

[9] Colossians 4:5-6, TNIV.

[10] Jeffrey F. Keuss, Your Neighbor’s Hymnal: What Popular Music Teaches Us about Faith, Hope, and Love (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2011), 22.

No Fear of the World: Pop Culture in Worship

“Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.”[1]

“Popular culture” is often used as a shorthand reference to the faddish and fleeting. It flouts human wisdom to imagine that the eternal Divine, orchestrator of the heavens, who calls a universe into being with a word, cares about what is on the radio right now. God designed the intricacies of cellular biology from scratch, worked out a mathematical ratio to epitomize beauty and harmony, and built it into the most unexpected places in creation. We keep remarketing American Idol over and over and over again.

Doesn’t pop culture epitomize the world that is passing away and therefore constitute a colossal waste of time?  Following Ken Myers, Andy Crouch defines culture as “what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.”[2] What we make of the world that God created has obvious theological import.

Complete retreat from the world is not an option for the Church as a whole. Our churches represent places in which we may “withdraw from the situation, and attack the situation,”[3]  but never places in which we ignore the situation. Even while advocating a radical distinction between the Church and the world Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon remind us that “the church is not out of the world. There is no other place for the church to be than here.”[4] That said, at various times we may find the steps prepared for us leading away from the consumption of certain cultural goods. New believers often feel led to trash their old music collections and start over more circumspectly. When I can’t volunteer to serve a meal to kids on the street because that’s the night my show is on, I realize something’s amiss. If I blew so much money on concerts last month that I can’t pay my rent and my tithe this month, I recognize this as a call to cut back. Regularly taking time away from our societal responsibilities so we can reconsider and reprioritize them in relative quiet reflects a healthy commitment to responsibility, not an abdication of it. Taking a month off from a particular radio station may help correct an over-identification with the rebellious and despondent spirits of the age. I daresay the occasional fast from social media would prove valuable to many of us. We embark on these fasts and retreats, however, not because we despair for our humanity and our world, but rather because of our ultimate hope in what God will accomplish in us in our humanity and in our world. A fast serves to devote time and space to listening and waiting on God, not as a judgment on food.

Too often Christians have tried to sever themselves from their humanity and human families or cultures for fear of defilement, forgetting that Christ became human to save us from sin and its effects. Jesus taught that sin does not enter through the pores or the mouth. Rubbing up against it does not contaminate us. It’s not a thing we ingest. In pop culture terms, the calls are coming from inside the house. This is why the Church’s experiments at creating separate cultures to compete with those around us have traditionally landed somewhere between rampant abuse and second-rate kitsch. The alternative, however, is not to dissolve indistinguishably into our various cultures, but to become mindful makers within them. Andy Crouch contends that “The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”[5]

[I]f we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal. And note well that there are a number of other possible strategies, none of which, by themselves, will have any effect on culture at all.[6]

These strategies include condemning, critiquing, copying and consuming culture.[7] All of these responses are appropriate at times, but they tend to shape us more than the cultures prevailing around us. Only after Christians adopt our rightful postures as cultural creators and cultivators do these other strategies become valid gestures that we can make with freedom and integrity.[8]

Obviously we cannot live in such a way as to remain indistinguishable from the world around us, but our conduct and community should communicate that distinction, not the style of music we listen to or our zip codes. Christ did not wage war on the world to conquer it. He loved, wooed, and transformed it. There is such a thing as loving people too much to leave them where they’re at, but one does not move one’s beloved through damning criticism. If we truly believe Jesus came to make our joy complete, we will find more constructive means of relaying that message of love and joy than indiscriminately trampling the things that make our friends and neighbors happy. Churches must learn to critique the cultures in which they operate without judgment and without relying on false distinctions of us versus them. We all live in cultural contexts and the more deeply we understand them, the better we can envision our proper place as Christians within them.

One way I’ve seen this dynamic play out in our church over the years is in the offertory. Fourteen years ago, my husband and I joined a 10-year-old Gen X church plant that met blocks from the Space Needle and lived by the motto of “real, relevant… and a little bit radical.” We met in a movie theater with reclining seats, cup holders, and no outside light. The smell of popcorn signaled the benediction. We sought to provide an authentic worship experience in a safely neutral worship environment for people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t picture themselves setting foot in a church. We hired professional musicians for the worship band and every Sunday they covered a non-Christian rock song for the offertory that tethered the sermon to relevancy. We reckoned that all truth is God’s truth and we would take it where we found it, even and especially from non-traditional sources. The corollary to this premise was that if no one was singing about it, it wasn’t a pressing enough question to preach on. Sometimes the message of the song and the message of the pastor represented a study in contrasts, underscoring the difference between the wisdom from above and wisdom from below, but it kept us in conversation with the world even in our windowless sanctuary. You listen to a song differently when you hear it in church (lyrics were printed in the bulletin, for easier study) and the process of doing this weekly warped us for life. Over the years we discovered another curious and welcome effect. You’d be shopping or working out or commuting when a song you first or last heard at church would come over the speakers and suddenly it’s like you’re in a worship service.

The offertory format survived the merger with a more traditional church on a different hill. At some point in the process of crafting a “transitional” service for the newly formed church, verbiage crept into the bulletin about how we played these secular songs to listen to “the world’s” take on or longings surrounding today’s theme. The actual phrasing has been lost to time, but it had strong overtones of us and them, with the implication that this portion of our church service had more to do with them than with us. Were we playing this music for people not in the room? I doubt it was the intention, but there was a subtle sense of introducing fallen music into our worship so that it could be preached at and corrected. And yet at the same time we were trending toward somewhat “safer” musical choices, occasionally by Christian artists, that were generally and often perfectly orthodox, which made even less sense. We tweaked the stock explanation a couple of times before changing the format again. At present one of our in-house hipsters contributes a paragraph outlining the band’s relevant biographical details along with doing most of the heavy mental lifting of interpreting and putting the song in context for us. Again, this shifts the focus slightly. The songs tend to correspond more positively with the message so they often serve as a rich set-up for the preaching. Lines from the song may become a refrain in the sermon. For many in our inter-generational congregation it has become a mini-lesson in pop culture rather than an exercise in interpreting the music we would think of as our own. The significance of this signature piece of our Sunday gatherings continues to evolve these many years on, reflecting shifts in our corporate identity, theology and mission.

What practices do you or does your church engage in regularly to keep the conversation going with the culture at large? Have you ever felt or been accused of being “tainted” by them?

[1] Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), 91.

[2] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 23.

[3] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 212-213

[4] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 43.

[5] Crouch, 67.

[6] Crouch, 67.

[7] Crouch, 68-73.

[8] Crouch, 98.

Open Mics, Open Doors: Cultivating Culture and Relationships

“All culture making requires a choice, conscious or unconscious, to take our place in a cultural tradition. We cannot make culture without culture. And this means that creation begins with cultivation – taking care of the good things that culture has already handed on to us. The first responsibility of culture makers is not to make something new but to become fluent in the cultural tradition to which we are responsible. Before we can be culture makers, we must be culture keepers.”[1]

When we start talking about the church acting as a community center or a cultural center, people get understandably nervous. The local church should be much more than a community or cultural center, and those models should not constrain a church’s mission, and yet it must act in those capacities if it is to be both local and the church.

Your neighborhood may be different, but mine has some serious trust issues with “church” in the abstract. Organized Christianity has earned a reputation for bait and switch. Free meals! But I have to listen to someone yell at me about death and hell before I can eat? Welcoming community! Until my work schedule changes and no one notices I’m gone. (Or worse, they do, and hound me to come when I can’t.) Hip music! Followed by half an hour of trying to work through which two-thousand-year-old cultural mores still apply to women. Christians rationalize these kinds of disconnections on a regular basis, but we need to hear these disjointed messages as our visitors do. These scenarios come off as false advertising at best and intentional deceit at worst.

Why are there so many strings attached to the things we do in Jesus’s name? It communicates that we see the gospel as such a tough sell we have to lure people into the salesroom with a gimmick. In the words of R.E.M. “What if we give it away?”[2] What if we fed people simply because Jesus himself invites us to and tells us he’ll be on the receiving end of anything we give? What if we applied our shrewd-stewardly stratagems toward working out how to make the most of our resources to care for others more comprehensively, not how to get more out of them in return? To the degree that our churches have tried to sell and barter the words of life entrusted to us freely, we must own responsibility for the numbers of people who have chosen not to buy in to the churched life.

"Shelter?" by Heidi Estey. This was our poster monster for an outdoor group show in which almost all the pieces were eventually "taken in" by passersby - part of why we now put together our outdoor shows with in-house artists aware of such eventualities.

“Shelter?” by Heidi Estey. This was our poster monster for an outdoor group show in which almost all the pieces were eventually “taken in” by passersby – part of why we now put together our outdoor shows with in-house artists aware of such eventualities.

Considering ourselves, our traditions and our assets to be cultural and community resources would correct our attitudes substantially. A church, building and people, should be a blessing to its parish. The whole Judeo-Christian story we find in scripture is about God forming a people set apart to be agents of blessing to the rest of the world. To be chosen does not mean that we are in with God and the others are out; it means we are the ones called to invite the others in. This has nothing to do with imposing our lifestyle on others and pressuring them to conform to an enlightened Christian culture so they can know God like we do. It has to do with welcoming them in a way that communicates God’s desire to be known by them, creating buffer zones in which to hear that quiet voice, and making room amongst us for those who choose to follow it.

Few of us had any say in the physical design of our meeting places, but the onus is now on us to make them convey welcome. Our church is by far the churchiest looking church I have ever been a part of. Those of us moving in after years of worship in a movie theater and an office building suffered some serious culture shock. It’s an extremely staid and solid red brick and stained glass affair. Approaching from the front all you see are concrete stairs leading to three massive sets of wooden double doors. The view most often seen from the street is of these six immense and eminently closed doors. It’s imposing. I’ve been going to church all my life and I can hear these doors slamming shut just looking at them. The transformation when those doors are all flung open is supernatural, especially at night with warm light and music and voices pouring out onto an otherwise dark street. Suddenly it’s inviting. All the connotations of sanctuary make sense again. Strangers pop in just to say how happy they are to see the doors open.

The openness of our doors has become hugely symbolic for me. The unfortunate reality is that the cavernous open space behind those doors is an absolute bear to heat. In July and August it’s a relief to have the doors open, but almost any other time of year it’s a sacrifice. If you come to worship with us in February you will find one of the six doors propped not quite half open. If you’re fifteen minutes late the only thing holding that door open will be a tripped one-inch-wide deadbolt. We have bass and drums and lots of porous windows so if you walk by you know something’s going on, but it’s hidden behind essentially closed doors. Suffice it to say, I think any excuse to open those doors that’s not antithetical to the gospel is a good excuse. If it’s an activity that blesses our neighbors, meets needs in the community, or helps us fulfill our commission as cultivators of creation and creators of culture, so much the better.

Cultivating culture is different than conserving culture. Whether or not we avail ourselves of them, the Church on the whole has done a fine job of conserving its cultural goods: the writings of the first bishops, medieval mystics and the Scholastics; the stories of Asian martyrs; the paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo and treasured Orthodox icons; the chants heard morning and evening for centuries throughout Europe. If we only conserve culture, though, the Church will function merely as a museum. The Church is a unique institution called both to conserve and create, and as such, must be continuously reinventing the priestly ministry of representing humankind to God and God to humanity while consciously maintaining a tradition that runs back through the apostles and the patriarchs to our creation in the image of the Creator and Ruler of all. We who have historically been at the forefront of movements to recreate and reorder society have abdicated our responsibilities. Neither conservatives who commit to structures simply because they exist nor radicals who reject the very idea of structure that makes creative life sustainable are embodying the image of God or serving as Christ called us.

As cultivators we watch for the new growth peeping up from the earth around us, determine whether it’s the genuine article or a choking weed, and nurture the good growing things around us. We look for the plants in need of particular care, especially those good for food or medicine, and tend to their specific needs. As a Christian and as a poet, when I look around, one area of the garden that I see failing to thrive that I would like to help maintain for my culture is the thoughtful use of words. Dana Gioia wrote a fabulous essay called “Can Poetry Matter” in which he talks about the decay of language and discourse and offers six concrete suggestions for bringing poetry back into our public lives as a corrective to this decay.

I borrowed three of his ideas and distilled them into one event that answers our corporate call to be cultivators of what’s beneficial to our society and serves as yet another reason to have the doors open. Due to an ongoing failure of imagination, we called it a no-mic open-mic community reading, although Literary Potluck might stick eventually. We would call it a read-in, but that makes it sounds like we’re protesting something. Like an open mic, people can sign up ahead of time to read. Based on one of Gioia’s suggestions and our congregational ratio of significantly more readers to writers, we invite people to read either their own work or something they’ve read recently that they would like more people to hear. Open mic audiences tend to consist of writers there to read and close friends of writers there to read. They don’t draw a wide audience and the tenor of the events generally vibrates between ego and nerves. With this format anyone can participate and we all hear a lot of great writing. We also tone down the pressure to perform by removing the actual microphone from the scene. The first time we planned one of these we were a small enough group we could sit in a circle at the back of the church. The next time we set up a small table in the aisle in front of the last few pews. A microphone was not necessary to be heard.

As we held the events on Arts Walk nights we made sure people had easy access so they could sit or stand and listen a while and feel free to leave. Readers have ten-minute slots, but we ask them to keep individual readings to five minutes or less, so there are plenty of opportunities and to slip in and out without walking out on a reading. The Arts Walk is three hours long, so we took frequent breaks for coffee, tea and snacks people from the church brought to share and just to talk, catch up with other and meet anyone who came in during the reading.

[1] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 74-75.

[2] Mike Mills, William Berry, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe, “What If We Give It Away?” Life’s Rich Pageant (I.R.S., 1986). From the first verse and chorus:

On the outside underneath the wall

All the money couldn’t buy

You’re mistaken no one’s standing there

For the record no one tried

Oh I try to…

What if we give it away?

For years this chorus would begin to play spontaneously and, as it turns out, prophetically in my head as a response to that hard sell mentality. Our first outdoor gallery initially felt like a bust. It was the only time we issued a call for submissions and got nothing of artistic merit from the outside world. It was raining so hard we almost cancelled the show because it was so miserable to install. Then a friend of one of our artists showed up with a couple of nice pieces. It lightened to a typical Seattle drizzle by the time the Arts Walk started and we had a good time hanging out on the sidewalk with our umbrellas and loaning them out so people could peruse our quirky little installation called Shelter. Half the pieces disappeared over the weekend. An editor of a local arts magazine happened on it during that time and mentioned to a mutual friend that he was debating whether or not to take a piece home as well, and an important conversation about public art, gift culture, and the church ensued. My friend referenced that same line (“What if we give it away?”) when he emailed me to say it sounded like the church was doing something right.

Holy Days are Here Again: Christmas Edition

 “In recent years the church itself has become the target of a good deal of criticism and, for many, has simply been dismissed as a meaningful player in contemporary culture. And yet, all the while, as we have seen, there is an increasingly urgent desire for images that capture something of the depth and beauty of life, for practices that can structure one’s life and spark affection. Religion has always been the custodian of such symbols, and they were the center of the church’s life from the beginning. Yet the sad fact is that few people turn to the church for such symbols today.”[1]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously claimed that “the church is only the church when it exists for others.”[2] That means the things we do in and as a church are deeply motivated by the people outside of the church. This kind of talk sometimes devolves into a sense that we should warp all the things we do in support of our own spiritual walks and lives to accommodate a random, idealized person who is not yet interesting in living a Christian life. That’s the sort of thing that ends in worship services where we don’t talk about Jesus for fear of alienating someone not in the room. That is not what it means to be the church for others.

In order to be the church for others we must first be the Church. There must be something going on in our midst for the seeker to find. It is both considerate and constructive to consider often what others interested but uninitiated in our language and practices would take away from observing them. Do they extend the welcome of Christ? The Church talking about how best to minister to people where they’re at is one of the most Christ-like things we could be doing. The conversation about whether we do certain things or talk amongst ourselves in certain ways because they’re “churchy” or because they’re significant to us and to living out our faith should be ongoing. The best way to be sensitive to people who have not completely bought into our community’s vision of God, however, is not to make it blander and presumably more palatable, but rather to offer sacrificial hospitality, complete translucence, and the richest of fare to the best of our abilities.[3] People don’t go on spiritual quests looking for superficiality, but depth. It’s worth discussing what might make people think to include our church on their quest and what offputtingly shallow practices, attitudes, and lingo they might encounter here if they do.

Bigga Gonzalez with the mural he painted during worship for Advent 2010. Each week the sermon and music focused on a different character in the Christmas story and so did the painting. Photograph by Jenn Cavanaugh.

Bigga Gonzalez with the mural he painted during worship for Advent 2010. Each week the sermon and music focused on a different character in the Christmas story and so did the painting. Photograph by Jenn Cavanaugh.

We often talk like we expect people to just wander in off the street in search of a place to encounter God. Remarkably, that does happen almost every time we open our doors, but it’s more of a symptom of desperate spiritual starvation than an indicator that they’re ready to throw in their lot with us on this journey. Consider the kind of confidence and trust we’re asking of people: to lose themselves in the worship of God in the company of strangers. Perhaps some word-of-mouth or outward sign will mark it as a place that is safe and trustworthy enough to enter, but increasingly the church building itself is not a sufficient sign of such. It may be that the sights, sounds and actions of our worship, ministry and community, visible from street level, audible through the open doors and perceptible in our neighbors’ daily lives could serve as such signs. Even then – even if people wander in for the music or the art or the safety itself – there’s no guarantee you have drawn them into worship. On the other hand, the symbolic act of walking into a church may be for them a greater step toward acknowledging God as God than most of your regular attenders take on an average Sunday.

Holy days are prime opportunities to be church for the world. It seems that people who do not normally attend church feel freer to come by. They are also the best times to revisit, and occasionally reinvent, our most significant traditions. It honors and blesses visitors and regulars alike to take breaks from our regular programming to dive deep into the festivals of the Christian year. What if Christmas in the church were as cozy and low-key as the secular versions most of us remember fondly as the best Christmas ever, the one that restored our souls and fostered our sense of family?

Homemade Christmas

The holidays wreak havoc on schedules. The churchy modus operandi entails planning extra, elaborate, once-a-year activities and services with only a skeleton crew to run them. Under these conditions, most proposed new traditions happen exactly once. Here’s an idea for a new tradition that may be more significant for the community, but probably less work for any one person than anything else you’ve done for Christmases past.

Sometime before Thanksgiving recruit nine volunteers who know they will be in town for Christmas Eve. Try to include a good cross-section of the church: young and old, male and female, starving artists and software engineers, different ethnicities. Assign them each a passage of scripture for a traditional lessons and carols service . Let them each plan a “lesson and carol” movement with a talk or a reading or an interpreted work of art and a song or activity for the congregation to respond with. Make sure you have at least one musician at their disposal for the singing. They each need to have their plans in writing a week prior to Christmas Eve so you can be sure not everyone is planning to sing Away in a Manger. Nine people who may not normally have much of a voice in church will have just blessed your congregation and twice-a-year visitors and made them feel like family.

To file in the "not less work, but great fun" category: the Christmas Arts & Crafts Bazaar. In recent years we've taken a break from making it so sales focused and simply spent the day making art together.

To file in the “not less work, but great fun” category: the Christmas Arts & Crafts Bazaar. In recent years we’ve taken a break from making it so sales focused and simply spent the day making art together.


[1] William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 220.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, 1997, 1953:282 [Ethics]

[3] One of the most powerful forms of translucence is acknowledging the limit of our powers and abilities. Instead of presenting our efforts as the end-all-be-all, what if we offered them as offerings and articulated whenever asked our experience that there is more and greater than we can do or say? This allows us to work toward God’s will being done without limiting God in others’ minds.

Lines that Make You Want to Color Outside: Toward a Creative Rule of Life

“Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is…. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watched over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.”[1]

We do not need to learn to balance the creative life against the ordered life. For our own sakes and our communities’ we need to establish creative orders in our lives that foster creativity. We all need roomy and protected spaces in which to create. A rule of life graciously opens the door to these spaces in our lives and graciously denies entry to whatever comes around looking to squelch our work. A rule of life is traditionally designed around maintaining an orderly spiritual life, but our spiritual and creative lives are inseparable.[2] Spirituality “simply calls for connectedness… with God, with others, and with our inmost selves.”[3] Connecting to God, others, and ourselves undergirds and empowers the creative life.

Many of us suspect we are more creative than our lives really reflect because we don’t make the time to work. Many of us still need to figure out how we work and will need to experiment. We will all respond to unique rhythms; it’s something we each need to work out for ourselves and be willing adapt throughout our lives. Some need only a cup of coffee or a soundtrack, and stand back. Others will be more productive in 15 minutes of seated effort after a 45-minute walk than if they glued themselves to a desk for an hour. Some of us are so driven to work that the first key practice to add to improve the quality of our life and work would be to take a regular Sabbath from it. Structured and unstructured types alike may find establishing times for creative play motivating enough that running over the planned end time feels delightfully and productively transgressive.

For the truly schedule-resistant and tedium-phobic there are free-form ways to be more intentional about time and cultivate healthy creative and spiritual habits. At the beginning of the month identify three things you’d like to focus more on building into your life (see list below for ideas). Instead of trying to schedule each one of them into every day, identify some block of discretionary time that’s already built in to most days, even if it’s small – riding the bus, lunch, the half hour after the kids are in bed when you still have some energy or are more in need of it than ever. When that time arrives, choose the one you feel most like doing and do it. (You’ll need to carry whatever materials you’ll need for all three if you’re out of the house, so plan accordingly.) Keep a tally, if you’d like, of the days you chose each activity. At the end of the month you can see that you’ve made time and space for those things. If it was hard to do any of them during that time all month, pick a new time. If one discipline didn’t appeal to you enough to try it even once all month, pick a new discipline. You can make a new list each month or continue each activity until your tally hits 30; then it’s like you did it every day for a month – without ever once feeling like you had to!

Potential Creative Disciplines – Mix and Match:

Read a book more than one person has recommended to you

Take a class

Pray for someone else                         Write a letter

Fast from _____                          Start a poem or story

Read a Bible chapter 4 times                          Journal

Meditate                   Enjoy some silence

Listen                              Take pictures

Invite a friend over and clean the least welcoming space in your home to prepare for the visit

                         Call someone you used to be close to

Make something for someone

Plan a week of healthy meals and make a shopping list

Practice an instrument

Read a whole book of the Bible

Pray for everyone who walks by you

Calculate how much you spent today on things you don’t need and give that much to the next person that asks: fundraising letter, panhandler, tip jar, etc.

Draw

Read an in-depth article or book about a topic you wish you understood

Clean out a drawer, shelf, bag or surface that collects clutter at home or work

Institute a monthly open house

Memorize a Bible verse

Visit a gallery or museum

Ask God to remind you of someone you’ve wronged and teach you how to do right by them now. Get started on whatever it is.

Exercise to the glory of God

Go to bed eight hours before your alarm goes off

Walk someplace you’ve never walked before

Finish a project

Give God thanks for every good thing you can think of                               Study

Practice centering prayer

Identify a power struggle you can choose to lose

Take a friend out to celebrate or catch up

Start a conversation with a stranger

Take some time alone                          Ask someone for advice or forgiveness

Read a newspaper, magazine or journal prayerfully, taking time to stop and reflect

Perform a not-so-random act of kindness to meet a small need you’re aware of

Worship in a new or neglected medium: song, dance, paint, writing, etc.

For Ruth Barton, developing a Rule of Life “is ultimately what spiritual transformation is all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir.”[4] Disciplines are simply doing the work necessary for transformation. Spiritual and creative disciplines are less about becoming more rigid in controlling our environments than about understanding and articulating the terms of the environments in and conditions under which we can relate to and co-create with God. Barton counsels establishment of a spiritual rhythm by identifying motivating desires and minimum spiritual requirements, asking “which spiritual practice and relationships have seemed to be most powerful in meeting the desires of my heart… as a way of offering myself to God steadily and consistently?”[5]

In establishing a rule of life, the potential for consistency trumps radical commitments. Our practices must be practicable. Instead of setting ourselves up for failure by vowing to do something daily that we only have time to do occasionally, why not start with an intentional commitment to do it two days a week and see if it becomes a valuable enough practice that we might make more time for it later? God doesn’t bully us into pursuits beyond our capacities; we should we attempt to do that to ourselves. Another consideration: if we’re trying something new in our lives, we need time to learn about how it functions in our lives, to develop a taste and appreciation for it, or even to set it aside as something that’s not helpful for us where we’re at right now. If I’ve never really seen prayer or painting as something integral to or fruitful in my life, there’s no way I can force myself to do it an hour a day cold turkey. If I’ve never read the Bible or literature on my own before, it’s going to take a while before I feel like I’m getting it. If I fall asleep every time I try to practice silence or meditate, maybe I need to work on ordering some other part of my life first and try again when I am well-rested.

“Our rhythm of spiritual practices also needs to be ruthlessly realistic in view of our stage of life…. One of the great temptations of the spiritual life is to believe that if I were in another season of life, I could be more spiritual. The truth is that spiritual formation takes place as we embrace the challenges and opportunities associated with each season of our life. … This is a place for learning how to be compassionate with ourselves, because God certainly is.”[6]

Marjorie Thompson reminds us that “realistic commitment is an expression of humility.”[7] It is honest, empowering, and faith-building to start small and realistic and expect big, knowing God is not disappointed in me if my daily lectio time is subsumed when one of my daughters locks herself in the bathroom or the other’s diaper fails fantastically. These are opportunities just as real and just as spiritual to grow in grace. Richard Foster calls this incarnational and sacramental living.

“We must recognize that the majority of Jesus’ life – and of ours – is found in our families and homes, in our work and play, among our neighbors and in our everyday surroundings. This tangible world is the place we most fully express the outflow of love, joy, peace, and all the fruit of the Spirit. Here and nowhere else. It was true for Jesus; it is true for us.”[8]

Remember, too, that any discipline or rule of life must involve some paring away and limits. It should not be another “to do” list piled on top of our already full lives, the added weight of which makes it impossible “to do” anything. If I’m going to post a thoughtful book review on my blog once a month, I’ll need to commit to reading that book instead of Facebook one night a week. If I determine to exercise in the morning, I need to get to bed earlier. Disciplines like giving and fasting work well in tandem, as do hospitality and simplicity, because the one makes space or frees resources for the other. These practices develop “a healthy sense of being able to say no to a good thing for the sake of a better or higher one; it gives self-confidence while enabling people to serve others.”[9]


[1] Steven Pressfield, The War of Art (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2002), xiii-xiv.

[2] Of course, creative people do not always examine their spirituality and many would not typify what they are doing as pouring out their soul or spirit, but the creators among us generally recognize that something deep within ourselves is involved when we create, even if we describe it in different terms.

[3] Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 4.

[4] Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2006), 13.

[5] Barton, 151.

[6] Barton, 149.

[7] Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 143.

[8] Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), 20-21.

[9] Bradley P. Holt, Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 61.

Christ for Culture – part 1

“Seven Ages: The Walking Figure” by Ghislaine Howard

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” – Raymond Chandler [1]

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” – Cardinal Suhard [2]

Raymond Chandler’s walker of the mean streets epitomizes incarnation. Completely common and yet unusually honorable, this figure speaks the language of the age and acts as an agent of redemption. Cardinal Suhard’s witness, on the other hand, seems more steeped in the incense of holy mystery. Inexplicable and yet attractive, the witness calls us away from the world as we know it. For the Christian Church, Jesus Christ represents both the walker and the witness. In our accounts of him, he navigates the complexity between these two seemingly conflicting roles so gracefully and yet we agonize: How did he do it?  How do we do it?  There is no question that the reality of Jesus Christ can and should transform our human cultures, but how? Arguments for the creation of a separate Christian culture do not resonate with our accounts of a Savior who lived and died and lives for the sake of the world He so loves. Christ calls the Church to live as a faithful community of communities that, like Christ, transcends and critiques, but most critically participates in human cultures for the good of all. The Church distinguishes itself from the world-at-large by offering a unique understanding of reality that changes lives, not Christian knock-offs of worldly goods and services. Intentionally forging an exclusionary culture negates our human and God-given identities. While making too small a distinction between ourselves as the Church and our wider cultures is fatal, making too large a distinction is absurd. God sets us in human as well as spiritual families; sometimes we’re called to leave them for the sake of the gospel, but not because it is us versus them. God calls the Church

to be the bearer of God’s saving purpose for his whole world….  It means that this particular body of people who bear the name of Jesus through history… with all its contingency and particularity, is the body which has the responsibility of bearing the secret of God’s reign through world history.[3]

Our charge is unique, but we tend to claim things, such as God’s affection and attention, for ourselves that properly belong to all of creation. God’s incarnational economy requires us to root and ground ourselves not only in God’s love, but also in the cultures to which God wants to reveal divine love.

We the Church must not shun such grounding for fear of contamination. Rather we should broaden and deepen our personal and corporate cultural experiences so we’re better educated to critique our cultures and better equipped to understand our alternatives for living godly lives within them. Otherwise we do damage by talking about the world as we fear it may be rather than addressing the world as it is. We don’t merely absorb our cultures indiscriminately, however; we follow Christ’s example in embracing our identities as cultural beings and transforming the times and places in which we find ourselves from the inside. Christ remains our best model and representative in our relationships to our cultures. Christ loves and communicates to cultures through the Church and the Church should love and communicate to cultures through Christ. Jaroslav Pelikan points out that

as respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown…. There is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians.  Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new,’ and now he belongs to the world.[4]

Christ neither feared nor feared for the world; rather he took up residence in it and sacrificed his life for the good of all of us in it to the glory of God. He instructs his body on earth to walk as witnesses in the world, communicating, displaying and verifying in our daily lives this gospel, this reality that has taken hold of us. We do so by living deeply, freely, and abundantly into our cultures following the standard and example of Jesus. In order to do so, we will all find it necessary to reject some key assumptions of our cultures. In Jesus’s day those false assumptions included God’s favoritism for Israel, the rich, and the religious. In my place and time they include false assumptions of the inherent goodness of radical individualism and rampant consumerism that define success in life as getting what’s “mine.”

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.[5]

The world around us poses all kinds of pressing and complex questions. We cannot assume they are all the wrong ones, that they don’t apply to us, or that we have all the answers at our disposal ready-made. Along with the danger of dismissing honest inquiry, we risk missing God’s direction; we must remain open to the possibility of God guiding and teaching us through present cultural situations. God has invited us to be part of the process of Christ becoming all in all. When we approach all the times and places and dilemmas we find ourselves in with this staggering invitation in mind we become agents of redemption in the here and now. We will know God’s goodness in the land of the living.

“Sing redemption everywhere you go.”


[1] Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder” http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html (accessed June 17, 2011).

[2] Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard, qtd. in Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Commemorative Edition (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998), 34.

[3] Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 86-87.

[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 232-233.

[5] David Orr, “What is Education For?” In Context 27 (Winter 1991): 52.

[6] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live, 100.

[7] Philippians 3:

[8] Jeremiah 29:7

[9] Gregory Wolfe, “The Four Cultures,” Image no. 58 (2008), http://imagejournal.org/page/journal/editorial-statements/the-four-cultures (accessed January 31, 2013).

[10] Anthony Ugolnik, “Whose Crisis of Faith? Culture, Faith, and the American Academy” in The Two Cities of God: The Church’s Responsibility for the Earthly City, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 92.

The Creative Local Church

Our ministry began by including the arts in existing programs—from mission to worship to education. The results were remarkable, for we found that the arts touched us in all aspects of our community life: they engaged our senses, helped us build relationships among ourselves, and helped us respond to wider community needs; they expanded our theological vision, stirred our imaginations, and brought us to places where we experienced God in moving and profound ways.

       – Alice Z. Anderman “On the Cusp of a Great Adventure: One Church’s Ministry with the Arts.” ARTS 19:1

Now that we’re the better of part of a year into this blog, maybe it’s time some introductions of the bigger ideas motivating it were made. Homespun seeks to provide resources for the creative life of the local church. The idea that your local church requires a creative life may be a no-brainer or an entirely new concept for you. It may conjure up a precise image of what that could look like for your church or leave you feeling lost in abstraction. This blog is for people in the church who have an idea whose time has come and are looking for creative ways to live it into reality. It is for those who believe (or are willing to be subtly persuaded) that our churches should, by their very nature, foster creativity and beauty and who want some resources and ideas for getting started or going deeper. More fundamentally, it is for those who, in whatever capacity, feel called to help the church be the church and sense that this will require new ways of being and doing to bubble up amongst us.

Many posts on this blog will touch on the arts and worship because these are fundamental to creativity and church life, but the church’s creativity is neither tied to nor limited to “using the arts in worship.” In fact, I personally avoid the phrase, because I think that “using” the arts defeats their purpose. Artistic goods can be offered in worship by their creators, reflecting on art may assist us in presenting our whole selves before God, but “using the arts” sounds like appropriating something abstract out of context for our own ends. If you have ever been in a worship service where someone tried to use an artful good to do something it was never intended to do, then you know what I mean. Both true art and true worship resist this kind of hijacking and misuse. They work on us as we submit ourselves voluntarily to the other/ Other; they do not work for us on others. Semantics, some might say, but how we talk about what we are doing is indicative of the spirit of what we are doing. I understand the temptation to defend the inclusion and importance of the creative arts in the church by virtue of their utility, but the real reason we need the creative arts in the church is because of their power over us rather than our power over them.

Church by Hense

When creativity and artistic expression infuse the whole life of the church, not just worship, they move us toward wholeness and a holistic faith. I’ve avoided breaking down worship, spiritual formation, witness, and ministry into separate sections on separate topics on this blog, because I believe they’re not meant to be separated. Who can define the exact point where discipleship becomes Christian service? We strive to focus on God rather than ourselves in worship, and yet conversion and sanctification and all kinds of other terms we use for human transformation are natural consequences of our worship experiences. Our most mundane and non-musical ministries are tinged with worship if they’re done to the glory of God. Non-verbal actions carried out in Jesus’ name may be more evangelistic than preachments and crusades. The bane of the church’s institutional existence is that the more our activities precursor the realm of heaven, the less they’ll fit into tidy categories. They will grow like the kingdom to become more rangy and more overarching, defying definitions and requiring parables to describe. Order is by no means the enemy of originality, but isn’t it interesting that we tend to organize ourselves by dividing ourselves up when God’s hope seems to be bringing us all together? Creativity consists essentially of making new connections. Artistic expression necessarily involves mindful and heartfelt communication. Imagine a church known for the beauty of its internal and external connections and communication! Artists and their art instinctively work to dissolve false divisions which impede the coherent and creative life of the church and its members. Works of art, music, poetry, fiction and film all refuse to speak to us on only one level. They don’t work on just the emotional, rational, or spiritual side of us. We all wear many hats, but art doesn’t speak to us as roles, titles, or labels – only as complex persons. If you approach a piece of music and say “I would like to understand you… as a facilities administrator” or “…as an addict,” it will elude you until you take off all your funny hats and listen as a human being.

Creativity is not only about making art, not is it the sole purview of the practicing artist. As creatures created in the image of the Creator, we all have creative capacities, and we are not designed to function without them. Artists and artisans help the congregation by valuing and modeling the creative life, but they can’t do all the creative work of the church for us. For the church to be the church as Christ intended will require us all to walk in newness of life. Worship curator Mark Pierson describes creativity as a product of the tension between reality and desire, of dissatisfaction with what we see in light of a higher vision. I believe God does the best work on us in that tension and that we all need it to be a regular part of our lives, both individually and corporately, to fulfill our calling as the body of Christ. As we develop our creative faculties together we encourage and equip one another to respond faithfully to the realities around us with imagination rather than pretending that they fit into ideologies too rigid to accommodate them. Both the local church and the Church universal will be marked by creativity as they are empowered by God’s Spirit to act as the body of the One who is making all things new.

The Apostle’s Creed proclaims that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. That means God’s people are united in Christ (whether we acknowledge it or not), set apart for God’s purposes (whether we live into them or not), ultimately to be found in all times and cultures (i.e., “catholic,” whether Roman Catholic or not), and part of a tradition (whether we like it or not). Just as we are called individually to be members of a local body, all these local bodies are called to be members of the larger Body of Christ. As we discern and pursue our own callings within our local churches, our churches grow faithfully into their particular creative roles to do their part to help the Church body function properly as Christ’s representative throughout the whole world.

I believe to fulfill its task within the larger mission of God, each church needs freedom to embrace a unique corporate personality. This doesn’t mean forcing people into a hipper or holier-than-thou persona. It means pursuing ministry based on the gifts of all of those who have aligned themselves with our congregations. It assumes everyone in our midst is called to be a minister, but makes fewer assumptions about what ministry needs to look like to be called such. It doesn’t mean targeting your outreach and message to a narrow demographic and further dividing the Church along lines of race, gender, political leanings, age and income. It means you discern who you are as a congregation and what you’re to be about in fleshing out the realm of heaven together for your parishioners – the ones that attend your church and the ones who don’t. It means my church’s worship band has drum solos, yours has a clarinet and viola, our friend’s is alternating Youth Sunday with Old Fogey Sunday so they learn their hymns and give the organ a monthly workout, and another congregation is going a cappella for Lent. We can count on the Spirit working in and through any given church in common and disparate ways from the church down the street. Christ bids all incarnations of the Church to extend hospitality to all comers and make room for everyone who responds to what the Spirit is doing in our midst, but each of our churches will have different strangers to welcome in unique ways based on our resources and cultures. Our resultant personalities must be evolving and inclusive rather than exclusive and set in stone. The creative life is both constructive and playful. When we pursue it together we come to know one another more truly as we were created to be. Weaving creative practices into our common lives helps us know who we are together, equips us to regularly reimagine our communities for the sake of others, and keeps us all growing in and toward faith.