Dreaming the Church that wants to be - the Venice Colloquium and the Presiding Bishop's Sermon

The meeting of creatives:

This past week I was in Venice, Italy, as a member of a small group of artists, writers and musicians who came together around the possibilities of "Dreaming the Church that wants to be." 

The Venice Colloquium was a self-starter, Neil Lambert and Jim Friedrich hosting, inviting and planning, all of us shaping the days together and our discussions, worship, explorations and quiet times.  We each brought our dreams, and we shared from our experience as "creatives" in the context of the church and its life. The Colloquium can be found on Facebook HERE.

As creatives we kept returning to the question of just how our work connects to the work of the Church universal and the church local. We met, of course, in the midst of great art, often in the service of faith, and often in churches. Yet the churches were not filled with worshipers, but with tourists. The connection was not so much present as historical. The art was awe inspiring, but not  received too often as reflective of the greater awe, the awe of the divine. 

So I was left wondering if the "Church that wants to be" was in any way connected to the dreams and visions that arise out of art, or if the two - art and religion - are so tangential or tenuous in their connection that artists who "dream of the Church that wants to be" are dreaming a fantasy to think that that dream might have anything to do with artistic creativity. 

Perhaps there is no part in the "Church that wants to be" for art, except as propaganda. And if that is the case, artists and creatives need to be careful, for if art does not serve the church, then it easily becomes the enemy of the church. Perhaps art and church are connected, just as art and state, by the prior needs of those institutions - church and state. In which case anything deviant from the needs of those institutions is potentially dangerous. The State and Church often have similar reactions to dangerous subversion.  Art is risky business, for it is not in the control of the ideologues, although ideologues indeed want to control art.

Most members of our little band are doing wonderful and strong work as artists, and doing that art in the context of both church life and deep faith. We all yearn for the wider embrace of creative artistic expression in the context of the church's worship and common life. We were a little band of many opinions and ideas, but I think we widely agreed that there is something about creativity that echoes the creativity of God, and that in that echo there is room for exploration and new life.

Remembering those who have died

I came away from the Venice Colloquium with greater resolve to take risks for that creative, and to be glad to do the work we do. 

The Sermon by the Presiding Bishop

On All Saints Day, November 1st, we had finished our time together, having celebrated the evening before with Eucharist where we met. We scattered out across the great City of Venice, each taking in one last taste of the art and beauty on a fine fall day. About our sundown, midday in Washington D.C., those of us part of the Episcopal Church were particularly conscious of the installation of our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.  I wasn't able to view the service, and more particularly the sermon, until Tuesday when I got back to Delaware. 

Presiding Bishop Curry anchored his sermon on Bobby McFerrin's song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy." The under story of the words, of course, is very similar to Uncle Duke's rephrase of a Chairman Mao quote, in Doonesbury, that "there is chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent." I kind of wish the PB had used that quote, but the point is the same. The world of desperation and despair is the very world in which we are pointed to the world as God would have it be, the world God dreams. Love of God and love of neighbor, of all, including the world itself, is the way, and Jesus is the way, and love can and will prevail. And the PB preached it!

The PB spells out in his sermon what he means by being part of the Jesus movement. It is a powerfully presented statement, done with exuberance and grace. You can see it HERE. What ever else being part of the Jesus movement is about, in the PB's read, it is about taking risks for the end, that God's love is all in all. So, here too risk for the sake of God's dream is commended.

I thought of the command, "Be happy" and of course went to   Philippians 4: 4 - 9. It begins "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice," which sounds a lot like "be Happy in the Lord always, and again I will say, Be Happy." The text then goes on, 

"Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you."
I had referenced in conversation at the Colloquium the Philippians passage about what we should think on:  "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise."  Others pointed out that here was the link between art, truth and justice. These things are part of some larger realm of God's dream.

My sense is that art, not for its own sake, but for the sake of God's dream, is not about the beautiful, but about the lovely. That is God's dream includes all of us in the artistic enterprises and the work we do, not because we produce beauty (which gift comes only to some) but work that is pleasing to God, lovely in God's eyes and for God's dream.

The four year old's drawing of a butterfly is as lovely as the most beautiful of classic paintings, for love measures not by the level of talent and technical abilities, but by the delight in creating. The creative work we all have to do is to work for God's dream, in which truth, beauty, justice and mercy are all together, and in that artistic creativity has its part.


I came away from the Venice Colloquium and from the PB's Sermon with the same resolve:  That using what creative passions I have I can participate in the fulfillment of God's dream of a creation in which truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness and commendable are bound together and creation made complete.  And in that I need not worry about my failings, for as the Presiding Bishop said, the work is not mine our ours along, it belongs to all of us and finally to the source of all, the Creator from whom all our creativeness comes. And the Creator's dream will prevail.

The Colloquium as a group made no resolutions, no manifesto, no "letter to the church."  And rightly so. Our time together became, as we lived it out, an occasion for mutual support in being who we are in the world and in the church. And the Presiding Bishop made no resolve, no manifesto, no letter. He too used the occasion to encourage and support all of us in dreaming the Church that wants to be.

Rejoice, and again, I say, rejoice.

Full Moon rise over Venice


The Episcopal Church is a National Church.

The title of this blog is a simple declarative statement.  The Episcopal Church is an national church. Well, yes, of course. The official name, aka known as The Episcopal Church (TEC), is The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

In the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church it states that this church is "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."

The Preamble to TEC's Constitution, lifted mostly from the 1930 Lambeth Conference, assumed that "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America," was a jurisdiction primarily determined by the jurisdiction of The United States of America. The primary "region" of this church is the entity called the United States of America. That is what "in" means.

National history has led the USA to hold various overseas jurisdictions in which TEC began to be active. And through missionary action TEC determined to be present in a number of other countries, building an Anglican presence there. It has always been part of TEC's mission policy to encourage the development of national churches themselves as Provinces, or parts of regional Provinces, in the countries where it has been present.  In that TEC has been mostly successful. Brazil, the Philippines, Mexico, IARCA have become provinces of their own. Other provinces are in formation. 

The missionary objective has been the implementation of national or regional provinces in all those countries where TEC missionary activity has been present.

At the same time there has been considerable affirmation that "The Episcopal Church is a international church."  It is certainly true that we are international, in the sense that we have member dioceses in several countries and a regional jurisdiction in Europe. At a time when our critics were saying that TEC was acting without any commentary from Anglicans in other parts of the world it was useful to remind those critics that the voices of people not from the USA are included in the life of this church.  And it was useful to remind ourselves that we need to include our international dioceses as integral to our own life. But it has also been confusing to others in the Communion and awkward, in that our listing in the Anglican Communion website makes no mention of its location. And yet we are, for all intents and purposes located in the USA and its territories.

In a letter to the Church posted today, Presiding Bishop Kathryn Jefferts Shori wrote, "We are clearer about who we are – a multinational church, with congregations in 17 nations, worshipping in countless different languages, thriving in international, immigrant, and multicultural contexts everywhere, and discovering the abundant life that comes in turning outward to love the neighbors nearby and far away."

The phrase "multinational" is much to be preferred to "international." The first is the reality that fits both the facts on the ground and the canonical sensibilities.

It is time to more strongly reaffirm that we are a church "in the United States of America." And we are THE church in the USA that is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. 

We need to affirm our "national" identity for several reasons:

(i) In order to maintain the missionary emphasis on encouraging regional and national churches in those places outside the USA where TEC has diocese. We may now indeed be international, but the hope is that our international dioceses will become part of new Provinces of the Anglican Communion. 

(ii) The Lambeth Quadrilateral holds that one of the marks of the Church is 

"The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church."  The determinants of local adaption assumes bishops in synod, which synods involve nations or peoples. If TEC wants to maintain that it shares the marks of the church, its body of bishops, working as the varying needs of the peoples of the United States of America requires, needs a national or regional identity.

(iii) The canons and ecclesastical practices of The Episcopal Church assume a US context. Outside that context they are clearly not the organization of the church in place.

(iv) In what is likely to be an even more complex bit of inter-Anglican life, ACNA is acquiring recognition by more and more Provinces at their "partner" in North America. Understood as an ecumenical partner, fine. But within the Anglican Communion we hold as well as we can the notion that in every nation, region, where there is a Province of the Anglican Communion, there is only one Province, although there may be several partners. A number of Provinces that are aligned with the Global South and have ACNA as their North American "Partner" have not broken ties with TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada, the official Provinces in North America (where do we put Mexico?) So they continue relations with TEC and with ACNA.  This is a pattern which may emerge with other Provinces. Our clarity about being the Anglican Province "in the United States of America," a church rich in religious, cultural and social diversity, is important if we are to maintain the claim that we are the Anglican Communion jurisdiction in the USA.

(v) Most importantly, TEC needs the focus on its primary task, to proclaim the Gospel in ways that will reach the wide diversity of peoples in this place, and to do so with what I would call  "poetic sensibility" of the deeply spiritual life of the peculiar religious community called The Episcopal Church. 



What is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing? Mucking about.

It's high stakes time out there in Anglican-land. To wit:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is apparently pushing for direct "in the same room" conversations  between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America.  He has called a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and has invited the Primate of the ACNA to attend at least part of that meeting.  He has requested that The Virginia Theological Seminary invite representatives of ACNA related seminaries to the celebration of the new chapel at VTS, and  VTS has agreed.

The stakes are high for several reasons: 

(i) The invitation for ACNA to attend part of the Primates meeting carries several risks.  If the Primates of the GAFCON cluster of Provinces attend at all it may be for only for the session where ACNA is present. GAFCON Primates have indicated their unwillingness to be present if the Primates of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are present. If the invitation to ACNA is meant to encourage the presence of GAFCON Primates, the backfire could take not only the form of continued outright boycott of the meetings but perhaps also the attendance at only part of the meeting.  Either way the ABC will have allowed the GAFCON Primates to upstage his efforts. The GAFCON Primates are meeting on this matter in Cairo.

(ii) If ACNA comes and the GAFCON Primates decide to come as well, then a new course for the Primates Meetings will have been set.  To this point the meetings have been of those heads of churches part of the Anglican Communion, not as determined by the ABC, but by the "schedule" of member churches on the Anglican Consultative Council.  If the ABC can call into this meeting, on a unilateral basis, representatives of churches not part of the ACC, he is acquiring powers no previously his to exercise. The Primates Meeting is supposedly an "instrument of communion" established in the context of the ACC.  If this meeting takes place as planed the Primates Meeting will be an instrument of the ABC and his priorities. If it doesn't then the Primates will be reduced in numbers by the absence of at least eight Primates, and the ABC will less leverage in working for the re-establishment of order in the Communion. Either way we need to ask, "so who gave the ABC the authority to invite churches to send their primates into this circle?" The ACC should be concerned.

(iii)  The reports are that the ABC has asked VTS to invite members of seminaries related to the ACNA to the celebration at VTS. Why?  For possible talks on a Seminary level of Theological Education folk "across the divide"?  It is unclear which Seminaries might fall into this particular subset -  seminaries related to ACNA - and how many of them are already in the invitation list by virtue of being seminaries related to TEC anyway.  (Nashotah House and Trinity School for Ministry come to mind.  One assumes they are both invited anyway.)  The article from Anglican Ink refers only to the inclusion of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary.   

So what's the big deal? It's hard to say. Perhaps the ABC believes he has to intervene in order to get people talking to each other.  Maybe so. But the backfire is this: The ABC is clearly becoming an activist in the effort to get members of  ACNA and TEC (and the Anglican Church of Canada?) in the same room together. This may be a good idea indeed.  But here's the rub.  For the ABC to mess about in his own yard is fine. For the ABC to mess about in our yard, for even the best sorts of reasons, is exercising a ministry of uninvited super - primatial oversight.

Somewhere along the line someone will notice that this represents a serious incursion into the life of a partner church by some one who apparently believes he is "higher up" and knows better what needs to be done, and who is working to effect change. The fact that the change is arguably a good one is beside the point . But we don't know that it is, do we, since we have not the slightest idea as to what he is really about in all this. We might wonder just how the ABC would feel if our Presiding Bishop were to come to England and make a similar request.

The whole thing smacks of new assumptions of pastoral authority by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

And when did we Churches, members of the Anglican Communion,  either ask for or agree to these possibilities?  Never.


The Anglican Communion not Empire, not Commonwealth, but a fellowship, and probably a historical accident.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called a meeting of the Primates (the lead bishops) of the national and regional churches that together constitute the churches of the Anglican Communion. The agenda of this meeting will provide a context for rethinking the way in which Anglicans think of their "Communion" as well as the way others understand the Anglican Communion.  The meeting is widely understood to be an effort by the ABC to keep the Anglican Communion going in spite of the disintegration of full communion among its members. 

There have been many responses to this announcement, and in particular to the "meaning" of the meeting for the future of the Anglican Communion and the extension of an invitation for the Primate of The Anglican Church in North America to attend part of the meeting.

Two responses, one an article by Ruth Gledhill and the other a response by the GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference) leadership are of particular importance.  Ruth Gledhill's article in Christian Today is about the best summary of the reason for the meeting from a CofE viewpoint. Read it HERE

The GAFCON statement makes it clear, from the viewpoint of those Primates that have broken communion with The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, that they remain committed to the principle that they are unwilling to attend a meeting where The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are in attendance.  The GAFCON statement can be read HERE.

Full attendance not likely.
There one point on which the proposed meeting is likely to fail to materialize as planned. 

The ABC is inviting the heads of all the Anglican Communion members (the list of such members being that promulgated as Anglican churches with which the Church of England is in full communion).  

That list does not include the full participation of The Anglican Church of North America, a church formed from a collection of clergy and people, some of whom left The Episcopal Church because its actions and theology had moved and they had not. Others in ACNA came from other parts of the communion and still others of earlier breakaway groups. The Archbishop of Canterbury's invitation to ACNA is for part of the meeting (which part is unspecified). This signals that ACNA is not a member church of the Anglican Communion by the ABC's standards, or at least that he stands by the niceties of the Anglican Communion as those churches in communion with the CofE. 

The Primate of ACNA knows that and takes his marching orders from GAFCON, the organization of Anglican Provinces that does recognize him, and does not recognize TEC or the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Primate of ACNA has stated that "If my fellow GAFCON Primates accept the invitation, and I am expecting that they will, then I have also pledged to attend."

ACNA then appears positive about going. But the statement from the Primate is an "If - then" statement.  "If GAFCON primates accept... then I accept." 

The GAFCON statement gives a less positive sort of response. 

"We are now a global family standing together to restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion with a strength and unity that comes from our common confession of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely from historic institutional structures.

It is on this basis that the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded."

The meeting invites (for a time) ACNA. It also includes (for the whole of the time) TEC and ACoC. Apparently the meeting fails the criteria for purity set down by GAFCON.  

Unless GAFCON leadership changes its tune, some eight or so primates will not attend, nor, if that is true, will ACNA.

Is such a meeting the proper venue for exploration of reunion or reconciliation?

Bringing ACNA into the meeting might well be an effort towards reconciliation, however the focus of such reconciliation rests with the churches where communion is already broken - namely TEC and ACoC, and possibly the Church of England itself - and the Churches aligned with GAFCON. This is not an agenda that can be handled within a Primates meeting. I believe the possibilities for reconciliation rest not at the top, but at the bottom, with local churches finding ways to relate across the divide and ways to reestablish trust.

Matters have already proceeded beyond disagreement among Primates. There are now two distinct communities of Anglican Churches where formerly there was one. Now the efforts towards reconciliation will have to be direct and differentiated: (i) efforts need to be initiated by two groups of churches in communion with Canterbury, but not with each other, an (ii) efforts need to be initiated between ACNA, not in communion with Canterbury and TEC and ACoC which are. Even on the level of provinces the front edge of ecumenical conversations will need to be below that of the heads of churches.

This meeting of the Primates will likely get caught up in thinking of models for the future - Federation, Communion, World Wide Church.  

That is a losing proposition and will be a thankless job, possibly costing Archbishop Welby his spiritual sanity, for most of the models are based on past experiences in the divisions that constitute the Church in modernity. It makes little difference if the churches are in the "first" world or the "developing" world, across cultures and across the world Christianity exists in the modern world of denominationalism and its models reflect denominational concerns for place and power. For the Primates, the question as to what sort of thing the Anglican Communion is to be will be filled with the subtexts of the power issues of the churches as they exist in modernity.

Giles Fraser, in a short and quite fine piece in the Guardian outlines outlines another possibility - that the church of the present and future is based on the  "hypertext church – connected horizontally," based on a model derived from the Internet, and not on hierarchical authority models. This of course will be far from the Primates minds since they are the prime examples (pardon the "prime" thing) of people who get to speak on matters of governance because they govern.  Fraser suggests that they can go ahead and govern as they will, the matter is already out of their hands. True interaction and governance will reflect practice, which is much more based on a neural network and less on a organizational chart. 

This is, of course bad news for episcopal churches (churches with bishops) because we have mostly forgotten any other way of thinking about ecclesial roles than in terms of hierarchy and power. But I believe that can be turned. 

I am an Episcopalian because I continue to believe that the fourth element in the Lambeth Quadrilateral - bishops whose roles are molded to local needs and times - is still of the essence of church. It has nothing to do with bishops as "princely powers." It has little to do with bishops as administrators. It mostly has to do with persons called by God and community to reflect with us on how the Holy Spirit works in our midst.  Bishops might be thought of as pastors or maybe guides, rather than as kings or queens.

In an Internet sort of way we would begin to sort out those who provide this guidance and their ordination would be by acclimation or recommendation or more importantly USE. 

I wrote in "The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post Modern Era," about 20 years ago now, that the Anglican Communion is an organic thing, and as such came into being (about 175 to 200 years ago) and will do its work and will eventually die. At least we can hope it will in its present state, die. 

The future does not belong to a church modeled on the British Commonwealth of Nations any more than a church modeled on the Roman Empire or one modeled on Greek City State ideas.  The future belongs, as does the present, to the church as neural network, with some really fine people emerging as guides while we work out how to be the church in place and for the time to come.

Will there be an Anglican Communion in the future? Yes, but not this one. This one is falling apart. The one to come may consist of people informed out of Anglican Churches by Anglicanism, churches who find their spiritual and social energies informed by the their predecessor church - the Church of England and its pastors and thinkers.  These churches may or may not get along with each other. They may not hold together as one in various jurisdictions. But their members will strive to be members of a way of being Christian, sort of a religious order, one called Anglican, and who we will recognize as cousins, sometimes twice removed.

It will be alright. Really alright.


Art as Participation in the Creation of the World.

(This was a talk given at St. Peter's, Lewes, Delaware, in their "Summer Spirituality Series" this year.)

August 27, 2015

“And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.”  Revelation to John the Divine, 21:5

The spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards. This movement is the movement of experience. It may take different forms, but it holds at bottom to the same inner thought and purpose.”  Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art.
What am I doing?

This is a meditation on participating with the Divine in making all things new. The shorthand for this is that Art is participation in the creation of the world, which means that you and I as artists are the divine creative energy made flesh, incarnate. This is of course a well known spiritual experience, one which is both empowering and potentially heretical in the extreme.
The basic idea is that in our participation in art we are participating in the remaking of the world, in the broadening of our world and our ability to connect to it, speak of it, live in it. Ancillary to this is that creativity in art is the work both of the artist, composer, musicians, painters, printers, cooks and so forth, AND the persons who listen, look, see, taste, and smell.  That is art is a participatory affair in which people of very different levels of artistic engagement create a new world, in which all things are made new, if only for a brief while.  In the process of making all things new we all have creative roles.
That being the case, what then of art as participation in creation, along with the creator of all, and the created, namely the world itself? What follows are some hints about the relation between the creator, the creative and the created.
A graphical rendition of the question

Note that I have placed Creator, Creative, and Created all in the same “sphere”, the world of actualized or realized “things.”  This is not about creation from nothing, but about creation from “stuff.”  It is all incarnational.
Biographical beginnings to what I have learned.
 I have been writing poetry for most of my life. Here is an early poem, from my mid teens – some sixty years ago:
“When I die,
the earth my bed,
I shall have acted once in life,
As if it were a retribution
For things unsaid.”

Not bad for a teenager… thoughts of death, of limitations, of overcoming those, of “getting even.” Just a touch of anger, a touch of hope. Good, maybe not great, but good.

My first efforts in writing poetry were related to two things: My seeming inability to speak clearly about, act definitively about, or even engage with out great awkwardness, in anything having to do with sexual feelings; and my distress at injustice and war making in the world.  I wrote essentially, about sex and politics, looking in both places for a new world, a new creation.  I still do.

More importantly, I discovered the world of music, musicians, artists, poets, street performers, shouting preachers, divine wackjobs… the workers making the new world. (It helped to be young in New Orleans.)  The thing is, it was not only contemporary poets, musicians and visual artists that were making this new world, it was also ancient artists as well, which made me believe that artists were “making all things new,” in part because you and I, so called “consumers” of art took it all in and informed our lives by that. So I began to answer the question, “When did you become an artist?” by saying, “as soon as I could reach into the words and pictures and experience new life in the making.” 

Observation I.  Participation in the arts by being present as receiver - seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling, “getting”, gronking…. is itself participation in the creation of a new world.  Artistic endeavor then includes the appreciator as well as the maker, for it is art to experience the created as well as to create.  Creatives then include both artists and those who engage the art.


“A long time ago in China there were two friends, one who played the harp skillfully and one who listened skillfully. When the one played or sang about a mountain, the other would say: “I can see the mountain before us.” When the one played about water, the listener would exclaim “Here is the running stream!” But the listener fell sick and died. The first friend cut the strings of his harp and never played again. Since that time the cutting of harp strings has always been a sign of intimate friendship.” From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones,  collected by Paul Reps, Charles Tuttle Co, Rutland, Vermont.

I have been, if you will, an art consumer all my life. I have been engaged in presenting artistic “objects” – poems, songs, watercolors, prints – for most of my adult life.  I am convinced that Art, and my participation in it, make me (and you) creative partners with what we have come to think of as the Creator, and with the whole world, which we often think of as the created.

I agree with Marx: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”  But don’t hang that on the philosophers alone. Much of the reaction to art is to see it as something to be understood, and see it as a way of interpreting the world. But I believe the object of art is to make the world new – that is, to change it.

So dumb as a post (as teenagers often are) I think I did hit on something… the payback for “the unsaid” is to speak, write, paint, print, whatever… the new, and to experience the new in the work of others.

Now to the meat of the matter:  I’ve several propositions, growing from recent work as a printmaker, poet, and preacher (gasp, even that). They are pretty simple and many of you already know them to be true, or worse, know them to be limited. I am accompanying them with images and poems. That’s it. This is my defense of the notion that art is a means of changing the world (or at least my world), and my defense in saying that we are the incarnation of the divine when we do so.

A Creation Poem:

Grass And Stars

Longing to be fecund
in Spirit and in Truth,
the Source of everything
surged and boiled over.

Ideas poured out onto the grass
took form,
and began the long dance
towards the present,

giving us the wilds of the Amazon,
the silence of permafrost,
the cities of the lost past
and more by chance, Chicago.

Verdant gardens and steamy nights
gave Way to logic, tight pants
and circumscribed thoughts.

If we must give thanks to God,
give thanks that nature’s complexities,
great as they are,
are not made Worse
by unbridled production
of lush ejaculations,
surprises of momentary excess.

For, in true fecundity
the unexpected outcomes
rapidly expand
with the madness of passion,
and one fine afternoon,
while on a country ride,
we might make a turn
and find a vista with two suns,
or the beasts of The Revelation
ready to destroy one in three.

Perhaps we might also see
a small band of beings,
like ourselves, but with wings
and faces that shine,
come to take us home
to newcreationville,

where cats finally speak out loud
of higher things,
and dogs of other dogs,

where no mystery is in the stars
that cannot be explained by any child.

Yet even there, love
will remain as arousing
as in the first,
or even this world

and deep green and damp
we will,
as did the original mind,
birth ourselves a new creation
between the grass and stars.
From SHARD, poems by Mark Harris, 2008, Preludium Press.

Four Women:

                                        Woman from the Sea, linocut 8 x 10 in, 2014

Woman, linocut 8 x 10 in, 2014

unknown woman, engraving, 2 x 3 in, 2015

Mary, from icon, linocut, 10x 12 in., 2014

These images are of unknown women, who are apparently part of my new creation. Two have the marks of holiness… the halo, two do not.   In creating these images, I am, of course, making things new. It is unclear how much is projection, how much is wish fulfillment, how much is just curiosity. But there they are: Four women.


When she smiles
white herons
lift into the night.

Two blue moons of Mars,
the golden shore,
the wild creatures
of the coastal plain,

all, all quiet:
we wait the sounds to come.

Observation:  Art is about waiting on, with, for what might call us, urging us forward to what is to come.
Creating the world to come…the “new world,” is no easy thing.  If we are caught up in making all things new, perhaps we might begin by listening to the sounds that come in what already is.
In this poem written sometime before 1980, I tried to be clear about waiting. Waiting for the creation itself to inform us of what we ought to create is participation in divine action, and is one of the practices of incarnation.
Image the Divine One, at the end of each day of creation, waiting to see what the created has to say about what ought to happen next.  Suppose creation was from the beginning a dialogue with what is not yet fully realized and what already is present.
A cautionary note: I speak as if my statements about art were definitive…they are not. Rather they are in a sense a “program” of my own choosing. They are statements about what I think art is about.


St. Martha, pissed,
3x5 in. linocut, 2014

“Jester,” monoprint, 12 x 18 in, 2015

Two images, both of real people, imagined. One Saint, Martha, whose grousing comment is remembered forever, the other an icon of a woman, or at least an androgynous, jester, whose features we have seen before.  In creating, even in making all things new, we drag the past with us, for nothing is forgotten.
Observation: Art, as creative of the new, is so in part because of the experience of what has been.  It is not that there is no new thing in art, but rather that all art builds on the whole of creation before, and all the reaction to it after, the creative action itself.  Art is finally experiential.
The poems I write (and I write mostly poems that are reports of reality viewed from a political or sensual side) are experientially grounded. They are (I hope) what Ed Sanders called “Investigative Poetry.”  The various visual works I have made find their grounding in images, quite often images of faces.  We look to faces as the first incarnational place where feelings, thoughts, fears, joys, hidden from words appear. As we are more skilled, of course, other body expressions expand on that, but the face is for me the first place of contact with unspoken fears and hopes.
Here are some more faces:

Norman, woodcut, 8 X 10 in. 2014

Jim, Woodcut, 10X12 in. 2015

Olrich, linocut, 10X12 in. 2015

Bonnie, Woodcut, 8 x 10 in., 2014

These are faces of people I know well.  What am I creating here? Images of reality, or of idealized reactions to what I experience in these people?  How much is my creation a product of knowing these people, and how much a product of their forming me and my images of them?  And is there a place for divine intervention in all this… where the Creator engages the artist, the subject of the artist’s interest, and the creative actions themselves?  The questions grow and grow, but I am convinced that these small efforts to scratch out an image and print that image are creative precisely to the extent that the subjects press me to work up the image to some end, some world made new.
An observation:  Art provides a context in which experiencing others becomes a window to a new creation.  The images here are a way of seeing again, and seeing in a new way both.
If you remember my early poems and efforts – sex and politics.  Sensual, sexual, engagement and its wonders are one thing. Political strife and engagement is another. They are windows.
Most of my thinking about political matters grows from living communally for many years and from my engagement with people in Haiti. No wonder then that my creative expression includes themes and questions that arise from those experiences.  Some images:
Yvan the Gardner, woodcut, 12 x 12 in., 2014

Sitting Bull, linocut 10 x 12 in, overlay on linocut background.   Gift to the Council of the Cheyenne River Reservation, Eagle Butte, SD.

His Eye, linocut, 6x8, with type, 2014

The Storm to Come, monoprint with linocut overlay, 12x18 in., 2015

From the beginning poem of Requiem for the Dictator (1992)
[Voice 3]

The death of the dictator
requires that We seek forgiveness
for suffering his rule of arbitrary might,
for not finding new calls
beyond his power,
beyond the President for Life.

[Voice 1]

Our first cry is that the mercy of God
and of his Son,
replace the mercy of the dictator
and his.

From The Octararo Anti-War Manifesto, in SHARD, (1980)

The body remembers love,
without arrogance or pride:
in the body’s streams and rivers,

small creeks and crevasses,

in its thousand hidden places,
in the curve of a shoulder,
in the way the hand spreads
and then grasps,
In the grasses
Below the now rounded belly,
in the tilt of the head,
in a glancing smile -
the body remembers.

The gaze and body
and the love are one.

I suppose
the smells of all the terror
are not to be compared
to the scent of grass
and clear streams
and the glance -
    grace on grace.

From Requiem for the Dictator. (1992)

I believe in only isolation
On Haiti’s southern coastal road.

I feel it,
jarring as the ruts,
delicate as the light on cane leaves
in the late afternoon.

Still, there is the hint of more,
of beauty seen in people
who suddenly appear beside the road -
not seen exactly, but sensed.

Around the edges of reason's limits,
and in the reach across
broad rivers of injustice,
and estrangement,

I see Wood nymphs,
satyrs, Pans,
in Haiti.

Raised on brambles, cactus, sisal,
African born,
borne on Haiti's body -
in them there is the beginning
of the new,
the promised Haiti,
the Republic yet to come.

Isolation,  woodcut, 10x12 in. 2015

The Dictator is not our Friend, woodcut, 10x12, 2014

Seminarian, linocut, 4x6 in. 2014

The Presidential Candidate becomes President, linocuts, 4x6 in, 2014

I see my creative activities as political, that is as building for a new creation as community. So in my poetry and printmaking both I work at images that suggest that from the experience of community arise hints for a new world, a new society. Some of the hints are cautionary:  The Dictator is not our Friend; The Storm of dictatorship can still come.  Some are celebratory: We can find community in places of isolation, our bodies remember the community of one and one.  Some are about having a sense of place and role in change. But again, the connection is between a sense that Creation has purpose or value, and that as creatives we enter into dialogue with the source of creation and with the created universe, always pushing “forwards and upwards.”
Observation: In Art, the good, the true and the beautiful are linked, and thus creatives engage in making the whole creation new.

And, not to put too fine a point on, we creatives are the incarnation of the Creator for our time and place. That is, we are the makers in fact of all things new, and if new, possibly most like the intent of the Creator in their newness.

The Observations:
  1. Participation in the arts by being present as receiver is itself participation in the creation of a new world.
  2. Art is about waiting on, with, for what might call us, urging us forward to what is to come.
  3. Art, as creative of the new, is so in part because of the experience of what has been.
  4. Art provides a context in which experiencing others becomes a window to a new creation.
  5. In Art, the good, the true, and the beautiful are linked, and thus creatives engage in making the whole creation new.