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

1 comment:

  1. First your report from the Venice Coloquium brought the ¨pictures¨ of NY artist Doug Blanchard immediately to mind..he quietly (mostly) goes about the business of letting the holy flow into his reality at unexpected, but regular, *stations* of known time. He explains/paints truth, sometimes surprisingly and always beautifully from yet another point of view. There are so many points to view...let them continue as stark and true as Dougs!

    Then, as you told of your recent travels, my thoughts drifted away to my own life experience...mostly creative with or with out canvas, brushes and paint...the creative unfolds before me and often offers up unexpected points of view too....what a grand landscape of reality was put before me since birth...I experienced reality with sensual touching/smelling/gathering of flowers and climbing trees (or sitting under them) and swimming and running and sloshing and sunning. Other people, may have had to run for cover and reach out for/to care for themselves and others. Mostly they find their way, I pray. Sometimes not. For me it's about expressing feelings all the time...beautiful or not, dangerous or not, intimidating or welcomed. My feeling are quickly available right here and right there. Letting go of the apprehension and permitting creativity to take flight (it grabs me by the hand) is a big, available force that astonishes me. Off we go now, ready or not!

    I always knew a kiss to be like this. Like an invitation to give of oneself freely..giving or accepting a kiss is nature, natural, exciting...there is no desire in me to hide from the thrilling experience of kissing a person or a flower, a puppy or a tree. When I make a tiny effort to give back every moment I feel from the sensation of love...divine or human, balance in my life comes. Gracias a Dios

    Thank you Mark Harris, you always remind me of spontaneous good.



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