Sabbath notes...

One of the blessings of my current ministry is a small monthly gathering of colleagues from around the region called "a community of practice."  It is, in essence, an encounter with group spiritual direction.  There is a facilitator who sometimes guides or opens each gathering - she also cooks up a lovely vegetarian dinner, too - but the movement of the Spirit in each person's life sets the agenda.

Last night, for example, we talked about: how one of our members might fairly deal with a dead-beat renter, how to set boundaries re: receiving critical comments right after Sunday worship (self-care), how we are making sense of the latest eruption of gun violence in our violence-addicted nation, archetypal insights from the most recent Batman movie and changing thoughts about sin and atonement theology.  We are women and men, gay and straight, all serving small and sometimes struggling congregations - and each person is also an artist (of one type or another.) This fact was initially coincidence but has now taken root as an integral aspect of our group spirituality. 

The late "jazz poet," Kenneth Patchen, early influence on Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and collaborator with Kenneth Rexroth, Charlie Mingus and John Cage, put it like this in "The Artist's Duty."
So it is the duty of the artist to discourage all traces of shame
To extend all boundaries
To fog them in right over the plate
To kill only what is ridiculous
To establish problem
To ignore solutions
To listen to no one
To omit nothing
To contradict everything
To generate the free brain
To bear no cross
To take part in no crucifixion
To tinkle a warning when mankind strays
To explode upon all parties
To wound deeper than the soldier
To heal this poor obstinate monkey once and for all

To verify the irrational
To exaggerate all things
To inhibit everyone
To lubricate each proportion
To experience only experience

To set a flame in the high air
To exclaim at the commonplace alone
To cause the unseen eyes to open

To admire only the abrsurd
To be concerned with every profession save his own
To raise a fortuitous stink on the boulevards of truth and beauty
To desire an electrifiable intercourse with a female alligator
To lift the flesh above the suffering
To forgive the beautiful its disconsolate deceit

To flash his vengeful badge at every abyss


It is the artist’s duty to be alive
To drag people into glittering occupations

To blush perpetually in gaping innocence
To drift happily through the ruined race-intelligence
To burrow beneath the subconscious
To defend the unreal at the cost of his reason
To obey each outrageous inpulse
To commit his company to all enchantments. 

Being in careful, honest and tender conversation and prayer with my colleagues is rarely dramatic, but always nourishing.  Further, it reinforces my sense of calling as one who is committed to a gentle ministry of presence and the pursuit of beauty.  As I wrote while in  Ottawa, one aspect of beauty has to do with cultural resistance.  There is also the experience of God's radical and gratuitous grace in our embrace of beauty, too.  I think both truths - cultural resistance and an invitation to grace - is realized in the most recent banner we have been working on.

It evokes not only our commitment to Christ, but our response to God's grace:  we choose to live in an open and creative way by gratitude rather than obligation.  In Martha Nussbaum's new book, The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age, she notes that beyond our evolutionary origins of our fears, "recent psychological research suggests a number of specific ways in which fear may be inaccurate - or may be fomented in an inaccurate way."

One very common source of error in fear is what psychologists call "the availability heuristic": if we can readily call to mind an example of a problem that is vivid in our experience, this leads us to overestimate the importance of that problem. This heuristic is a frequent issue in thought about environmental risks. If people hear a lot about a specific danger - contamination from Love Canal, for example, or increased cancer risk from the use of alar on apples, they will tend to think that danger more significant than it is and underestimate the danger of alternatives that are not vividly depicted and that remain in the background. (p. 34)

In a post-September 11th America, it is small wonder then that not only are the images of the recent shootings played over and over again - fear is being fed and manipulated - but our fear-based politicians like Michelle Bachman find so many people ready and willing to be misled.  Saturated with anxiety and images of impending doom 24/7, instead of taking real action against Wall Street and those who play the rich off the working and middle class, those who are hurting the most - and rightly afraid for the future - find themselves part of a mob railing against women wearing the veil or neighbors building of a mosque.

As Mark Levine recently wrote in Tikkun Magazine, because Americans have been profoundly manipulated by fear - and because our commitment to the common good has been systematically dismantled - the violence that is always just below the surface sometimes explodes in inexplicable mass killings.  He notes that this rarely happens in Canada where there are many more guns but a living and viable social contract.

And so, on this Sabbath, I give thanks to God for living in such a challenging time.  I give thanks to the One who is Holy for a ministry of presence and the creation of beauty.  And I give thanks to the Lord for artists of all sizes, shapes and styles.  (Here's a winner from one of the shows we saw in Montreal taken from just about where we were seated, too.)


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